11 March 2015, singlespeed CX bike (48×17), about an hour in West Gloucester
A winter for record books with 10 feet of snow in a month and a sustained deep freeze. So on the second day of a thaw when the temps got into the 50’s, I left work a bit early and went for my first outdoor ride of the year. There were still great mounds of snow shouldering into the roadway, and drivers seemed unnerved by my unfamiliar presence in the narrow channel. So after a few shaky miles, I rode up Magnolia Avenue and turned into Kondelin Industrial Park. (as lovely as it sounds) The road is plenty wide and with little traffic, but it’s a grody stretch even on a good day, made worse by the blackening stacks of plowed snow along the road.
Past the industrial welder, the t-shirt printer, the pipe organ builder, parked trucks and loading bays. Then there’s a steady hill of about 4-5% running for half a mile; runs right through the Waste Management transfer facility. The warmish air on my left and the chill emanating from the snow berm on my right. Despite the less than optimal setting, I decided to stay on Kondelin and wake up the winter legs with hill repeats rather than venture back out into the traffic. Something about the warm air, cracking branches, and ugly boxy buildings put me in mind of a poem by William Carlos Williams called “Spring and All.” It begins, “By the road to the contagious hospital . . . ” Williams was no romantic. He was a doctor, a GP, and writing was a side thing. But he didn’t just write poems; he changed writing. “No ideas but in things”– a manifesto declared in five words and exemplified in white chickens by the red wheelbarrow or by sweet, cold plums famously pilfered from the icebox – perhaps the most quintessential things in American letters.
Spring and All begins with such things. Mottled clouds, a cold wind, muddy fields brown with dried weeds, patches of standing water. Williams views spring not as rebirth, but as another round of brutish battle, the outcome (at least in the early stanzas) uncertain. There’s the “twiggy stuff of bushes and small trees with dead, brown leaves under them leafless vines– Lifeless in appearance, sluggish dazed spring approaches.” This could be from The Iliad, a description of the drag-assed homesick Achaians slogging off to another day in the fields of Troy. But it’s just another cold March day in New England.
First ride of the year and I sensed something of a battle, too. “They enter the new world naked, cold, uncertain of all save that they enter.” My legs creeked, like I’d just climbed out of the backseat after a long car ride. I’ve spent a lot of time on the trainer this winter and it was curiously upsetting and odd and wonderful to really feel the road – the gravel, pot holes, ridges of pavement, and the constant spray of the ongoing melt. It was the opposite of the smooth whine and steady resistance of the trainer. I was ruffled by it; hadn’t anticipated the surges and dips and drags of normal outdoor riding; had forgotten all about them.
So it was with all that in mind that I did hill repeats until sunset and thought about old William Carlos and what he might say on a day like today.
Spring and All
By the road to the contagious hospital
under the surge of the blue
mottled clouds driven from the
northeast–a cold wind. Beyond, the
waste of broad, muddy fields
brown with dried weeds, standing and fallen
patches of standing water
the scattering of tall trees
All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches–
They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind–
Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined–
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf
But now the stark dignity of
entrance–Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken.
n.b. But our day — our spring is a false spring. The skunk cabbages are still under five feet of snow and a new freeze is settling in. I don’t know when I’ll ride outdoors again. But William Carlos gives us cause for hope. “It quickens” (!) he writes, and, “Still, the profound change has come upon them: rooted they grip down and begin to awaken.” The tide of this battle is going to turn and he knows (and I believe) spring will prevail. And when it does we will dance on our pedals with joy and wonder as our creeking bones warm and something of youth is reborn in them. Spring and all.