Stealing Fall Days
Written by Patrick Stelte - November 2019
Near the end of things, time is set aside to ruminate on experiences that tie events to memory. Family often comes to mind with a resonance of tree rings that etch moments of change to a history shared and replayed. Objects take on additional meaning when possession is lost. Reflections of personal growth happen in transition rather than daily testimony. Another agency of consciousness is the change of seasons, a regulation of the senses that imprint time, place and feelings that indulge the past and foreshadow the future. My appreciation of fall reflects this dichotomy. Fall is my time to reminisce and deter the imminent gray. Cold weather is now an enemy. As a kid, snow was magical. Now, the coming winter is not a warm blanket of snuggled thoughts, but a chained ankle of daily deed waiting for a rare, warm, sunny day to mollycoddle a few hours of bliss.
Cycling in the spring and summer is all about fitness, strength and measurement tethered to the like-minded. Surroundings are a blur with twitches of cognition more for landmark than contemplation. When I cycle in the fall experiences take on new significance. Occasionally, I will take a long lunch from work or leave a little early to steal a ride that wouldn’t happen with early sunsets. These rides, my alone time, allow me to think about the year and notice details that take on deeper meaning. When soybeans begin to mature, a burst of color appears that becomes a natural contrast to the background. Recently while riding a country road in early afternoon, a stretch of yellow / green fields appeared. I stole a glimpse beyond the beans and saw a vibrant red barn nestled against a clutch of trees. The sky beyond had gradients of deep blue with wispy cloud highlights. Most of the primary colors were present to paint a canvas to memory. I felt a past life connection, a natural order of things.
When I steal a warm sunny autumn afternoon from the end of my workday, my ride will take me near the thought of twilight. Riding north, I will look to my riding silhouette as it keeps pace at my side bouncing against objects along the road. When riding east, I let my senses dance on long shadows of late afternoon amber light past the rutted bones of a fallowed field waiting for rebirth. Sometimes, a large mechanical harvester will be working a field and if the wind is light and blowing in the same direction, the combine will be engulfed in earth dust similar to the drawings of Pig Pen in the Charlie Brown comic strips. The sight is as iconic of fall as the smell of rotting walnuts at the cool of dusk. Cool air is an elixir to memory. My last ride before work this year was set in ground fog at daybreak. The fog rose about twenty feet from the ground. I could count the tops of telephone poles at distance while the sunrise reflected the density below. While riding east, grandfather country trees were backlit with fingers of hazy sundew escaping through the branches. I was electrified as the condensation filled my lungs and dappled my skin. I don’t think I felt more alive on a ride this year than that morning.
No thoughts of fall cycling can be complete without mention of wooly worms on the road. Some cyclists will take a count on rides observing the higher number closer to first frost. Others will notate color band thickness. All will take care not to ride over a wooly worm. Their delicate nature offset by speed on pavement is a balance that suggests the yin yang of vulnerability.
November is a time of diminished outdoor life. To catch a ride is theft at the end of a season. Melancholy scratches at the edge of awareness. We make do with reflection and settle into indoor life. Memory sustains and awaits renewal. I will do my best to stave off the imminent gray and look forward to warmer days. Until then, save a wooly worm or two.