Cutting off the other point of that mooring cleat from the frame was careless, the sort of thing bonafide to irritate my quality control sensitivities. Probably I was hurrying to get one of the Americas’ more distinctive landmarks of kitsch in this stormy panorama before arriving too close to our every-city modern skyline at the same time Oliver Fern huddled in the back of me using the inside of my shirt as a pup tent vestibule for protection from the elements.
The vivid yellow Measure Freeboard Here complements the iconic green and white of each Washington State ferry, just so. The stormy sky north over Queen Anne Hill, its remarkable contrast to the sunshine over Elliott Bay, is what caught my fancy this time. Bringing to mind if only I had a dollar for every novel I’ve read which contained a reference to “scudding” clouds I’d be a millionaire by now. Er, really though. Those clouds were scudding across the sky.
As I’ve got a terrible case of Used-Up in my stretched-out feet and the boys’ mother needed most of Sunday to work (her magic on something, she’s been gone so much it might be the Magna Carta) and the sky was that forget-me-not blue which reminds this grizzled summertime cynic of heat haze to come and how bonkers boys and girls (and they) get when cooped inside, we dusted the bicycles off for a long ride north through pleasant, leafy neighborhoods of northern Seattle to the top of sprawling Lake Washington and beyond, utilizing a combination of biking paths for carefree whistle-while-you-pedal. First, we pumped air into my thirty year old back tire which chronically, completely flaccidizes between rides, this apparently being something which afflicts a great number of riders above the age of forty or so I may have read about it in a magazine at the dentist’s office. It’s playing fire operating with a slow leak but genetically predisposed as I am to illogicality it was left to Adam (a good boy having inherited his mother’s common sense) to fish out of the junk drawer a stylishly retro tire patch kit from the 1980s and he affixed my old trip computer to the handlebar on his bike to report our distances from home in the event of a flat or some other improbable mechanical dysfunction.
Descending steeply at first, brakes groaning under the strain of that 21% grade, we then coasted into the valley, entering the Arboretum to join with the up-and-down bike path which would shortly ferry us over the Ship Canal to the real beginning of the journey. En route, we made the brief acquaintance of a uniquely intense neighbor who has made a good living consulting highly technical things while his small-sized boys seem to enjoy fighting, bullying each other in the alley behind our house to an excessive degree but what really sends chills up my spine is their prenaturally calm mother who recently acquired a license in acupuncture. After exchanging pleasantries, we made our connection with the Burke Gilman Trail on the campus of the University of Washington so as to be separated from combustible motors for the duration of the afternoon. Due to that pulsating arthritis inherited from my mother’s side (along with wide hips which would have come in handy for childbirth) I had no choice but to steer alternately one-handed as much as possible throughout the afternoon, periodically pedaling fit of pique no hands, eliciting gasps of admiration from the boys but sneers from sinewy road bikers zooming past atop space-age carbon fiber frames. The one-handed riding was all the better for flicking, swooshing away bumblebees and honeybees which bounced off my face mostly between the University of Washington and Magnuson Park (lots of brambles with flowers) but considering the alarmingly-shrinking worldwide biomass of bugs I was more than happy to serve as human windshield although this proved a ominous omen for a reason which I will momentarily divulge.
We stopped at Matthews Beach Park where the boys lunched on cold pizza. After several more miles of riding through neighborhoods with magnificent views across Lake Washington we had a short layover at that much-beloved bookstore in Lake Forest Park where used titles were heavily discounted for the weekend (discovered a truly stunning, highly technical illustrated atlas of the second World War which was far too heavy to carry for the ride). Our browsing was limited by that frayed strand of spaghetti-like cable which tenuously secured our three bikes together as you know what the creeps in the suburbs are like. It was in front of the floatplane hangar in Kenmore where poor Oliver Fern was stung in the back by a panicked junior bumblebee which had gotten mashed between his shirt and backpack. The first bee sting of his young life, it threw him for a loop, he was shrieking at me from his bike like a confused, deranged tourist while I shouted perhaps overly-clinically in return for clarification as to his oblique descriptions of searing pain and pretty soon Adam was yelling up to us from the rear to keep the whole business down. You know, just completely normal family stuff. The three of us collectively regained our composure there on the side of the path with deep breathing exercises but before continuing the ride Oliver demanded we place the poor, dead bumblebee into Adam’s backpack for observation under his microscope at home, later.
Distracted perhaps by residual throbbing pain between his shoulder blades, just a spell later Oliver executed the overcareful pass, looking too long behind him for would-be zoomers and bicycled smack-dab into a solidly built fellow from Scotland wearing sandals with white socks. Oliver took the worst of the collision, bouncing off the sturdy man’s Brunswick bowling pin calves, deflected if you will, by those giant drumsticks into a tangle of blossoming brambles which sent a swarm of bees buzzing but beset by adrenaline he leaped back onto his bike in a single bound no worse for wear.
It was to my grave consternation at mile twenty-something that the boys asked to stop at a playground where for an indeterminately long period they ran, jumped and screamed like crazies with a clutch of new best friends. While they played I ate my very smooshed sandwich (jam had leached into the bread for the classic poor man’s messy fig newton), nervously inspected the condition of my rear tire and blankly marveled at the clouds of floating fluff and dizzy, zippy bugs in the early summertime air. Starting to feel knotty in muscles which hadn’t been used since grade school, I summoned the boys before they finally completely exhausted their ridiculous energy and after cruising past strangely exurban, irrigated cropland and fancy wineries for five or six miles we reached our end point in Marymoor Park where one of the most boring sports on its face alone (cricket) was being played for an audience of exactly four people, including us. Having ridden twenty seven miles on a poorly maintained bicycle so it was that I found myself painfully captive to the peculiarities of the match getting underway until the boys’ mother arrived and carted us away like injured racehorses on oversized hospital gurneys, back to Seattle.
Postscript: Bah! Please forgive me for indulging to excess but I’ve been feeling yet another constipational spell coming on and when you’re writing and it feels kinda nice you don’t stop do you? At any rate, it turns out I’m afflicted with neither tendonitis nor periodontitis (although I’m intentionally careless about not putting commas where they should go) but a neuroma, which is scary-sounding but not a big deal. Well, maybe a neuroma. The foot doctor was dispiritingly young having recently graduated from the sixth grade followed by the accelerated program at a dubiously-accredited podiatry school. She’s still working on her rapport with old people, fascinated as she was by the crookedest, long toes she has ever seen attached to my embarrassing snowshoe-sized feet and she told me maybe I need to stop tying my shoes so tight, that was right before plunging the needle into the top of my foot.
Addendum to the Postscript (the proverbial morning-after pill): Below is a short section of explanation which originally commenced this little ditty about the bike ride, it had appeared at the top of the essay when I took a deep breath and pressed the “publish” button. Next morning, it struck me as entirely possible I’d finally “jumped the shark” for with these embarrassing, unintentionally neurotic-sounding ramblings, so I decided to post these writings retroactive to the date of the principal event in question (the bike ride). Effective immediately, I’m placing myself under metaphorical house arrest (I’ll be wearing a bulky ankle bracelet with flashing rainbow lights) and suspending all journaling on the archive in excess of one hundred and twenty nine words. When I go over the word limit, the ankle bracelet will start beeping a ridiculous commotion followed by mournful recitations of work by Edgar Allan Poe. This will be a grave challenge but I think I’m up to it. This is the probable final season of journaling like some kind of troubadour on Tyrannosaurus Fir as I’ve grown increasingly curious about the pursuance of a more collaborative venture and it would be nice to go out with at least a dignified whimper.
Prologue of Explanation (the particular matter, or item if you will, under question in the addendum to the postscript): Consideration was given to publishing this essay retroactive to the weekend before last because: 1. That’s when the events herein took place but mainly, it was because 2. its length had ballooned to presumptuously Bunyanesque proportions. Before I could get around to brush-hogging words, Oliver Fern plugged the toilet Tuesday night (with enough tissue to paper mâché a five-passenger van) and we had our own miniature Buckingham Fountain but as if that wasn’t enough excitement, during bath-time he got a small toy stuck down his ear canal, necessitating a visit to urgent care for a most delicate extrication. Suffice to say by this time Wednesday last week I’d moved on emotionally from Sunday and then I got distracted by a project requiring “real” writing on Thursday. Then it occurred to me retroactively posting this would be just another form of the pernicious echo chamber and so it is I’m dropping this on your threshold like a soggy fieldmouse because I want to provide for you, dear reader. I’m not going to sit here and wait to see what you do with it. Go ahead and wait for the next more concise thing or fold this crossways because it looks like you brought a messy lunch back with you (looks pretty tasty, though) and I don’t see any napkins, you always forget the napkins.
The boys were playing in a cubbyhole of interesting driftwood where a trickling creek braided into algebraic, labyrinth channels through still-wet sand of ebbtide. The beach was wide as a football field so we didn’t worry about them too much and their mother and I walked ahead for quite some time talking but finally she wanted to stop, to find a piece of her own driftwood to relax against and finish a stubborn novel. Despite feeling a tad woozy from a mild virus earlier in the week, I continued because the lure of the Hoh River three miles to the north was strong, nothing sounded more intriguing than to admire the river up close, marvel at the blue-green glacier water spilling into the Pacific.
The walking was remarkably pleasant on firm sand at surf’s edge. Sometimes, in the pursuit of exploring those jumbled stacks of driftwood for hidden treasure, I’d climb steep banks of cobbles which formed a bench below the hundred foot-high forest bluffs. There was no one else around (some sort of feat hereabouts for a holiday weekend) until the mouth of the river, where a posse of lazing sea lions, perhaps seventy to a hundred feet offshore, studied a leathery net fisherman hard at work. Five bored-looking bloodhounds guarding buckets higher up on the beach bounded over to me with wagging tails and sloppy sweet kisses for my hands. The fisherman smiled from the waist-high surf, he was working hard, I continued politely on my way choosing not to tarry long as usual at the splendid confluence of river and ocean, so good did it feel engaging the walking feet.
Later, upon my return south, the boys and I played Driftwood Ball utilizing a perfectly round piece of driftwood and little orange rubber ball (mistaken at first for an impossibly-adrift baby tomato) found in detritus. Other wanderings lead us south of Abbey Island to additional quiet places (caves, eagles) away from the hubbub where tannin-rich Cedar Creek empties to stunning nearshore rock formations which understandably serve as people magnets.
Along with sea glass, we discovered a long-lost, sturdy camera blanketed in kelp and connoisseurs of found objects that we are, this was a delightful find. The body was mostly well-preserved plastic but rust seeped out the guts of the thing, the LCD screen on the back was a shattered spider web and the aperture was stuck half open like a tired eye. Adam has fingers like a Swiss army knife, he pried a crusty hatch open revealing a surprisingly well-preserved memory card (the battery was gone, polluted into the ocean). We pondered the stories which may be contained inside while feeling wistful for whomever lost this photographic record. Adam is youthfully optimistic about the stories but it’s highly doubtful the card is readable, anymore. Probably it’ll end up the story itself, perched upon the shelf with our sand dollars, plastic mermaids, rusty screws, and bobbers.
Coastal indigenous peoples used the air bladders (pneumatocysts) from kelp such as the one you see above for dolls and also fashioned fishing line out of the stipes (the long tube-like structure connected to the bladder). Oftentimes, the boys and I enjoy playfully spinning ourselves about with one of these not unlike a human-helicopter rotor so as to clobber anyone within a nearby radius with the soggiest, putridest pile of sand fleas, brine and goopiness that you can imagine. I’m all too proud passing old-fashioned foolishness down to the younger generation.
In the northeast part of the range on Saturday, Oliver Fern and I descended into the canyon through which the Graywolf flows, far too early for the Rhododendron show yet the oft-gnarled, skeletal form of the wild rhodie holds its own charm for the connoisseur. Altogether with side-trips we journeyed seven miles, enjoying a long lunch at the river. Oliver whittled a branch into an arrow, blanketing himself with fragrant curlicues. We explored downstream on the other side of the river until it got too dangerous for him, the disused path is carpeted with fine grasses of the understory but traverses a vertiginously steep slope which crumbles away in places, far down into the river.
One day after school earlier this week a stressed but unpanicked August urgently summoned Oliver and I to stay with young Selestino because she needed to be at the hospital after overdoing it (tearing) and she took the baby with her, in a cab. Selestino’s father, Ernesto, got stuck down south all morning getting his documents updated, having wanted to get this off the to-do list for some time, for fear of that certain xenophobic mania. Doggone it, he hung around for the rest of the day and got sworn in as a citizen of the United States of America! Part of me wanted to be delirious when he walked in the door as I’m a sentimental fool but pardon the dampened enthusiasm seeming as how the country is swirling down the drain a bit, of late. Misty relief, certainly. Ernesto, who left Lima at seventeen and also holds Italian citizenship (his grandfather) brought Selestino across the street to our place before dinner, I called upon him regarding an urgent matter as I felt a little sheepish not taking him up on that drink back at his house (no boozing until all the kids are off the bus) and so I poured us something potent, probably only the second time I’ve imbibed this year and it was good. We chatted on the back porch while the boys guided Selestino through the rusty toy truck graveyard. Forgot but should’ve told Ernesto about this winter when the boys, their mother and I waited in a dreadfully long line at the State Department. We turned around and saw Donald Trump’s portrait on the wall and the boys burst out laughing so hard I thought they were gonna pee their pants.
postscript: For what it’s worth, in the case of my beloved neighbors I’ve utilized pseudonyms. So if for some reason you found the name “Selestino” to not seem believable, your hunch was right.