This post might have been titled Bike Riding in Michigan: Why did that chicken (NOT) cross the road? I’ve been thinking about writing this post for weeks, and every time I go for a ride in Michigan, I remember something I wanted to add, or I see something new that I have to store for later. Because I was spending my time in Michigan riding and cooking and going to the beach, and hanging out with friends and neighbors, I didn’t write this post there, so here, in my condo in Chicago I will write about the last gasps of the endless summer.
My theory about this endless summer’s feel of endlessness is all bound up with bike riding and making ice cream (a quick perusal of my blog since summer reveals no less than four posts about one, the other, or some combination of both). Bike riding, as I mentioned, didn’t come completely naturally to me, but it has grown on me, and now I find myself yearning to take a spin almost as much as I yearn to run really fast again. The reason? Biking in Michigan is like no other biking I’ve done.
When I climb on my bike and head off, I am sure of several things: I will see amazing sky, I will feel the cool wind and sun’s warmth, and I will smell the earth — really, as wonky as it sounds, it’s true. My rides here are spectacular, yet they are simple rides, through corn fields, orchards, pig and cattle farms, vineyards, and small towns. The rides are dotted with farm houses and fields, forests and rivers. And the sky, well the sky has been angry and furious, with clouds rushing (and slowing me considerably), it has been the brightest shade of blue, and it has been dusky orange.
Some highlights of the rides have involved fowl and birds of prey. A few weeks ago, I was cruising through a shaded roadway, and ahead I could barely see a black spot in the middle of the road. As I got closer, I thought, “No, that can’t be a turkey, but it sort of looks like a wild one.” I worried then, because I was getting quite close to the obviously large black bird, and it wasn’t moving. Instead, it was staring at me, almost daring me to make a move for the dead possum on my side of the yellow line. I made for the edge of the road while Ms. Vulture kept her beady eyes trained on me, standing guard over her brunch. Only when I was almost close enough to touch her did she saunter off to the side of the road. A quick glance back revealed that she was back to the possum. I’ve never seen a vulture at work, and certainly never seen one so close. It was eerie, and had I been near a big creepy farmhouse, I might have been tempted to stop in to see what other Halloween-like creatures might await. As it was, I emerged from the gloom of the shaded road into blinding sunlight, and on the return trip, Ms. Vulture seemed to be digesting somewhere more private than the middle of 1000 East.
More recently, on a ride out to the self-proclaimed “center of the world” in New Troy, I rode by a small farm house with a giant chicken coop that was deserted since all the chickens were roaming in the yard. Free range chickens! I noted how quaint it looked — blue cornflower house, chickens clucking and pecking. On the return trip, I noticed that even more chickens were wandering on the other side of the road in yet another farm house, but this one had no fence. What prevented those chickens from becoming scrambled? The road isn’t wildly traveled, but there were cars and pick ups cruising by from time to time. I figured these were well-trained chickens, chickens who knew the dangers of a road and cars. My next ride two days later took me by that same chicken non-coop, and much to my dismay, one of the chickens was attempting to cross the road! I wanted to shout at it, wave it back, warn it. The chicken looked at me whirring by and turned back, lazily and nonchalantly. Maybe it read my mind, or maybe the noise of my wheels jolted it back to the reality of its pecking. Whatever it was, I didn’t want to be the one to maim or kill that road-crossing chicken. Bad karma.
Chickens and their aborted attempts at road-crossing, possum-chowing vultures: what do they have to do with endless summer? Isn’t that the point of endless summers? They do, in fact, end, but they leave you with memories that linger, experiences that are rooted deeply in your being, deeply enough to sustain you through the coming fall and winter. So maybe the vulture and chicken will fade, but the feeling — the experience — that is what will linger and what is embedded in my muscles.
When it comes to sustenance, ice cream also contributes to endlessness. Sure, making the ice cream is engaging, even compelling. But it is the eating and sharing of the ice cream that sustains. Ice cream is one of those foods that lingers in memory — maybe not the ice cream itself, but the experience of it. The taste, smell, texture, and color of ice cream give it its memorable qualities, and that makes it endless. Ice cream happens when memories are being made, simple as that.
My endless summer has not quite gasped its last breath, but when it does, I will unearth those memories of ice cream and biking to bring it all back to life again.