Went for a long bike ride a couple of weekends ago to test out my new bicycling shorts with the extra padding to keep my butt from exploding on a bike seat narrow enough to cleave souls in half. I took the road through Maugerville (pronounced Majorville by the locals) and across the Burton Bridge and deep into Burton by the majestic Saint John River.
Getting there was all the fun.
I mean, you never really see a place that you’ve driven through a thousand times until you ride through it on a bike, until you’re right up close to it where you can see the bird shit on the pavement and smell the urine of squirrels. Some people think this is too close to any place and wouldn’t go through it on a bike if you set their asses on fire. But there’s something about the clarity of the scenery details pressed against your entire sensory gamut that blends your past, present and future into a single feeling that overlays the emotional content of everything around you.
Or it could have just been me dying from all that bicycling when I’m in terrible shape.
Or maybe it was just the magic of the place. Maugerville follows the contours of the Saint John River and in the summer and early fall it’s like being transported to an early European pastoral landscape. I’ve seen ancient paintings that could have been set in the bowels of Maugerville. In winter, it’s hell. Hell. But it’s late summer and I’m biking through a taste of ancient pastoral paradise.
A place like this gets you thinking, if for no other reason than to take your mind off the feeling that you’re dying from a neglected body that’s suddenly called upon to do something. I started thinking about my early childhood in Ontario, in and around Toronto. At that time, it wasn’t a long drive from downtown to places very Maugerville-ish. But it wasn’t so much remembering people, events and places as it was a sense of that time, a sense of the feelings I experienced at that time completely disassociated with anything happening then. There was nothing to see, nothing that I could point at and say, “This is what I’m remembering.” It was an amalgamation of the feeling of those times.
It was kind of cool…not knowing exactly what it was I was experiencing, but just experiencing it. And then I saw geese. Multitudes of geese. Geese gathering for the big snow bird thing in swarms, swaths, swatches, gaggles and flocks quietly swimming close to the banks of the river. I passed well over a hundred within a five mile stretch of highway meets riverbank.
Then, of course, I started thinking about geese and their eerie trip south past deadly predators sending clouds of buckshot into the blue sky. And it occurred to me that life was pretty damned hard for geese. And ducks. Everyone was out to kill them. But then I remembered how good Mandarin Orange Duck tastes and started thinking about something else. And that something else was a splash of sunlight on the river that spread over the surface of the water like liquid silver. There was something about the shimmering brightness of it that evoked a sense of sparkling calm over the water and the land. I stared into it for a few moments trying to grab onto whatever thought it was kick-starting in my head, but all I could think of was how beautiful it was and just live with the beauty of an undefined feeling that wasn’t doing any harm.
Back on the bike, both knees screaming for want of cartilage, I hung onto that feeling of things wavering in the distance of my perspectives, familiar but undefined, flowing under the surface of my days and stringing one day into the next. I had a sense of years past but nothing tied into any particular event or memory. I had a sense of the present as the road passed under my screaming knees. The sun was behind me and the moon ahead of me. Its presence evoked a sense of the future, and there didn’t seem to be anything to worry about. I felt comfortable and I relaxed into the phases of my time.
If you can figure out what that means…please let me know.
An hour into the biking, I could see the Burton Bridge in the distance, its green trusses rising high over the water, epic and otherworldly, like something off the cover of a 50s science fiction magazine.
The sheer, unexpected size of it is enough to catch your breath for an instant… and the fact that it’s suddenly there.
I thought, Oh shit, I have to bike all the way to the top of that thing. But the 560 gears on my Sirrus Disc bike got me to the top without a single heart attack or seizure.
Now…I’ve driven across this bridge a hundred or more times but this was a the first time I’d biked across it…and the effect is so much different than when you have a roof over your head and you’re zipping along at 50 an hour. I guess the first thing that comes to mind is size. It’s big, overwhelming. And complex, a maze of girders and rods, pavement and steel railings.
I had to park the bike on a narrow ledge that serves as a precarious sidewalk and get out my camera. I thought, Why didn’t you bring a tripod? This is perfect for HDR. That’s the acronym for High Dynamite Range in which you take an underexposed image, a properly exposed one and an overexposed one and merge them in Photoshop to get an image with the shadows, highlights and mid tones all equally exposed. But, as it turned out, the single images came out looking a lot like HDR.
I spent about half an hour dodging cars and trucks, motorcycles and skateboards to get a few images that I thought were OK, but it wasn’t long before the dark would be upon me and I didn’t want to bike through the narrow roads deep into Burton by the Saint John with no lights or reflectors anywhere on me…and the pitch dark of a road with no street lights. So I packed up the camera and decided to come back to the Burton Bridge another day to dodge cars and trucks again.