Sorry, gentle readers. The race is on to empty the construction zones in my house before the contractor shows up. I’m on my 5th pile of stuff offloaded to to sidewalk for a charity pickup, and I’ve filled I don’t know how many boxes, each one requiring that part of my brain that does triage: give away, put in storage, save for summer. It’s sapping all my creative efforts, this project. Not sure how I did this last time around, with two young boys and all their precious stuff, but I’ve decided that renovations are like childbirth: you forget the details, and enjoy the results.
And yet, even this endless packing up project hasn’t come between me and my sacred Sunday morning bike rides. Along with skiing, biking is the thing I do that makes me feel normal. Feel like myself, my better self. Well, except that I’m sticking to the bike path these days, not grinding up any significant uphills. Not setting any land speed records, either. My joints all creak when I start out, various body parts demanding to be listened to, but truly it doesn’t take long before I feel okay enough to keep going. And these days, I’ll take okay.
Three weeks ago I set out on my first ride of the season, just to see if I could, not really knowing how my newly cranky hips and long suffering left knee would react. My objective was Lexington Center, which is a pretty easy ride, requiring not much shifting. It’s gently uphill, all the way to the village green where the Revolutionary War began, and only barely downhill all the way back. Probably a good thing for a first ride.
The fact that I have photos to share is proof that I’m not the same biker I used to be. Even before the advent of cell phones that fit in your back pocket and took decent photographs, I was a determined cyclist, forever in the Don’t Stop zone. I’d go for rides with my sweetie in New Hampshire, and we’d get to Center Sandwich and turn onto the little byway that skirts around by the church where we were married, and always, I would spoil this sweet moment of reverie by wanting not to stop. Slow down, fine. Drink some water, okay. Take a minute to pull the banana out and peel it open whilst still in motion, required. The notion of stopping always seemed to me to be nothing more than an unfortunate opportunity to find out how dead my legs were, and how incapable of making it back to where we started. So I always opted for Keep On Going.
Now, not so much. I do suffer from having to remind my left knee that it really does possess the range of motion to go through the entire pedal stroke, after even the briefest of rest stops, but that seems like a small price to pay, when the weather is nice and the light is lovely. And all is blissfully quiet, early on Sundays.
I stopped to pay homage to my family’s favorite 1775 citizen-patriot, Samuel Whittemore. There’s this fantastic historic marker in the center of Arlington that I discovered with my boys, back when we had a Thursday afterschool drill, whereby Ian and I had 45 minutes together after his piano lesson and during Eric’s boys’ club meeting. Every week, after Ian’s “Use the words in a sentence” homework was complete, he and I would walk to the nearby Starbucks, past this marvelous commemoration of a remarkable man:
“He was shot, bayoneted, beaten, and left for dead, but recovered, and lived to be 98 years of age.” Unfathomable!
Honestly, I was a little shocked to find this marker was so unkempt. It was, after all, April 20th, the day after the true Patriots Day, the middle day of the three day weekend when Boston and its environs re-enact the original battles, one in Lexington, one near the rude bridge that arched the flood in Concord. Then there’s that Marathon, always on Monday, always with the added dash of an 11AM baseball fest at Fenway. Seemed just wrong for Samuel Whittemore’s memory to be soda-splashed, the ground around it trodden and dusty.
You won’t have to suffer through any other photos from that, my second ride, because the photo above was the only one I took. It was a cold, wet morning, which got colder and wetter as the day wore on, so I just got myself a bit to the Bedford side of Lexington before I turned around, short of the railway station that is the bike path terminus. As Ed Viesturs says of mountain climbing: summiting is optional; making it back is imperative. My bike rides don’t even vaguely resemble his hikes, but I was cold and wet and needed a warm shower. Oh, and as my orthopedic surgeon always says, “The enemy of good is more.” I’m all about not over-doing, these days.
But I’m glad I did head outbound from Lexington that morning, despite the weather, if only to see the flora popping in the woods along the trail. Most of the Minuteman Bike Path, a reclaimed railroad line repurposed for recreational use, is what you might expect of an urban-to-suburban passage. You see the back sides of housing developments, shopping centers, school yards. You see a lot of the sort of things that get shoved off to the the far perimeters of the property owners’ sight lines. Think of all that graffiti and garbage that whizzes by when you take an Amtrak train from Boston to New York, and you’ll have an idea of what some of my bike path offers for visuals.
But something happens between Lexington and Bedford. It gets rural. There’s the smell of cow manure, and the sound of red-winged blackbirds. There’s less graffiti and more greenery. And on that drizzly Sunday, there was evidence of a sign of spring I remember well from my growing up days in Maine: Skunk Cabbage. It’s a plant that hardly needs time lapse photography to be impressive; it just pops up and out while you’re watching. Well, okay, not exactly, but i know of no wild plant that claims more real estate so voraciously, so early in the season. There were buds when I rode by in the rain, and then, one Sunday later, this:
As you can tell, the sun was out on this, my third Sunday ride. And I now have nearly entirely shed the notion of never stopping. I was thinking about Samuel Whittemore on my way back to Arlington, and wondering if he was buried in Arlington, at the ancient graveyard near the center of town. Seemed worth a look, on a glorious spring day.
Bottom line: I didn’t find his grave, but I did find proof that he’s in there, somewhere. That’s a project for another day: Find Samuel Whittemore, and pay him my regards. Thank you, Daughters of the American Revolution!