One Hundred Miles

After being gone for a week: a dead house sparrow in the fireplace and a live bat upstairs. The bat was easily persuaded to fly out through an open window; the sparrow I placed across the street in some tall yellow grass.  I noticed a spray of soot on our marble hearth, just outside the glass screen, and peered in to find the sparrow laying inside on the grate – a delicate creature. Soft grey – deep brown. It looked young.

My grandmother called all little brown birds sputzies but she was referring to house sparrows, I think, the birds who have been hanging around us and our buildings for centuries.

The sparrow and the bat seem quite specific signs. Surprise guests. I wonder how the bat got inside and why the sparrow fell. But the trouble with interpreting signs is the trouble with sputzies – you can’t discern any differences between them if you don’t know what you’re looking for. Or even, perhaps, that differences exist – for they are often subtle and easily missed.

For six mornings in a row I biked  up and down an old railroad corridor turned trail that cuts through the Lancaster County farmland. We were staying in Mt. Gretna, the Pennsylvania Chautauqua, visiting friends. I brought a big stack of books and plenty of things to work on, but instead I rode 100 miles over the six days, mostly up and down the same stretch of trail, mostly by myself, though Frank and Jim and Kristin came along for some of the ride. I did not start out with any goal in mind, but the trail is exceedingly pleasant and relatively flat and it seemed important to keep going.

Monday morning, after a wild storm on Sunday night, we encountered many downed trees and met SuHwan Choi who’s biking from the Brooklyn Bridge to Vancouver.  The trail moves under highways and across narrow winding back roads that I found to be mostly quiet. On Wednesday I was stopped, looking at a breakfast menu on my phone, and I missed an Amish woman and her two children riding past – they were moving at a good clip in a small wooden buggy and by the time I looked up all I saw was their short yellow horse pulling hard, buckling into the hill as they disappeared up around a bend. I felt the clip clop of their passing – the creak of the wood.  But I did not see their faces. For three mornings in a row I saw: a small dog in a yard with a much larger dog laying half in and half out of the pet door, watching, Great Blue Herons wading and eating, yellow Monarchs, Chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits — all busy. Also horses out early before the heat and the flies got too bad. Some peering out from their stalls or dozing. Fluorescent green pond scum. Invisible frogs. Spring water running past a spout and brick outpost built by the WPA in 1938. A doe. I said hello to all the creatures I ran across – even the people . There were acres and acres of corn.

 

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The trail is longer today, Frank said on the last morning. The bright yellow sumac leaf I stuck in my notebook has already turned brown.

 

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