Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Bicycle Ride: 5

I had been asleep and then suddenly, I was not. Crunch. Snap. My pupils dilated the green from my eyes in order to observe the darkness around me, and my eyelids complemented the action by widening the periphery of my chicken-shit sight. Stars shone through the black web of pine branches that towered over my nest, and far, far below my cliff’s edge, ocean waves swooshed hard against America’s Golden State as they have long before it was named and as they will long after the last memory of the enunciation, California, dies with its thinker. I listened, quiet as prey. Sea lions echoed from some unreachable beach, happy in the security of their congress, unaware that the greatest predator Earth has ever known lay half-reveling in his understanding of their place between land and sea, and half-trembling within his papoose as a babe without a tribe. The bicycle that had rolled me 150 miles from San Francisco leaned heavily against my guardian tree, still saddled with necessities and ready for sudden flight.

Snap. Present. Crack. Tense.

There it is again. The zippers of my sleeping back jingle as irrationality snaps my fingers over them and divest my body of all midnight trappings. I sit up in the warm night and lean into the dark, listening, still as a deer, tight as a copperhead. Tumbling waves hypnotize, and against my sense of self preservation, I am uncoiled and gently lulled back to shallow dreams on my unforgiving hoody-pillow.

Crunch. Snap.

The little Maglite I keep among clinking objects in my sleeping bag has blasted away the immediate shadows to reveal an impenetrably course tangle of Pacific vegetation. Off. Darkness. Deductions smash through my mind like wild marbles: it’s light-footed; it’s cautious; it’s making no vocalizations; it’s trying to be quiet. Distance. It’s still relatively far away. But where? The mountainside echoes down and up and sideways. Where is it? Nothing. The ocean mitigates my hysteria until the foam of my bedroll mashes into my face and I am sleeping again.

Crunch. Snap. Crash.

I am standing. The sneakers I’d worn to tatters in San Francisco house my tingling feet, hastily tied and ready for jump kicks. Whatever it is, it’s closer. With no other weapon, I fire a warning to my creeping tormentor from deep in my chest. Beware! I cry out, For however compassionate, I am the keeper of a tradition. I am Man, eater of all things, lord of earth, sea, sky, and the fledging domain of space. Come closer, creature, and you will be destroyed, decisively and completely, for you have your tooth and claw and perfect adaptation to your place and time, but I have abstraction and the Devil’s hands. “Go on!” spills from my lips as a concise alternative, and when the animal responds with a panicked run in my direction, I do the same in an explosive and magnificent show of opposing cowardice. Invisible pine switches whip my face and extended hands as I scurry back toward the highway, and the thick bed of sloping needles underfoot causes an arm-flailing wipe-out onto its spongy surface. Twice.*

Ah, the road. Safe. Predictable. Visible. It’s been quiet all night, and only the ocean and my beating heart are sounding at all. I walk a ways to see over the cliff side but my flashlight, like the dull glow of Ichibod Crane’s trembling lantern, returns nothing from the ether. All remains black and blue under the radiant moon and my adversary is once again still and silent in its canopy of light. Miles before me, the oceanic horizon is defined by the abrupt end of the moon’s elongated reflection across the water, and unexpectedly, the Pacific seems smaller with the sun gone. Nothing takes the enormous night from the wilderness between cities, though, and stars in their thousands twinkle throughout a galaxy that we have inexplicably begun to understand. Midnight’s emergency abandons my mind, and I perch onto a roadside boulder and watch for meteorites to burn into our atmosphere. My vision has acclimated to what light is mirrored from the sun, and I consider a world with two full sentries of the sundown. I consider one with three. How strange and brilliant the night would be with sixty-six Jovian daughters astounding the twilight with splendor, their colossal size pulling the marrow of our bones like high tide. It’d be easier to remember that we’re composed of the universe and that our systems extend not only to convecting air currents in the atmosphere but well into the magnetic alchemy that holds Earth’s weathered pearl of a satellite at our service. Who am I, I wonder. What am I? Why am I? The question of design and purpose and the undeniable model that all things follow from the orbit of electrons to the orbit of the earth and the orbit of the sun returns to agitate my thoughts, like an answer momentarily forgotten while in this dreary process of living and breathing and eating and shitting. Sea lions laugh at me as I stare at the dancing shadows of my cave wall. Their wild merriment spires higher and higher until it is dispersed by the same wind that tousles my hair. There’s nothing on this mountainside to fear. There’s really no reason to fear anything.

I check my phone. 3am. Low battery. No reception. The sterile glow is offensive to my existential tranquility and I am momentarily blinded as I return it to my pocket. My mind is alert but my body is heavy, and for the first time, I feel the bruises in my hands, the soreness in my back, and the tenderness of my sweet behind. My weighty feet scratch the pavement of the Pacific Coast Highway as I drag them back into the wide embrace of my tree. The cushioning layers of brown pine needles sweep my feet from under me again and I fall twice more before kicking my shoes off and zipping my sleeping bag to my nose again. The ocean cradles me to sleep and before my eyes are fully closed, a white light streaks through a tangle of branches and across the sky.

*Recognize something here, people. I’m not afraid of the wild. Remember when I so courageously confronted a little black bear cub at Big Bend?** I’m a Texas man, folks. Thus, I know Texas creatures.*** It reminded me of the time I was hitching east across Canada and had to take a whiz. The countryside there is beautiful but the thick underbrush of Canadian forests is so impenetrable that my ignorance of their fauna made for a nervous pee when my man parts were positioned only inches over a sea of alien plants and their invisible alien animals beneath. Same thing in California, only my penis wasn’t out.

**Anything to bring that story up again.

***Case in point: I once went charging through thigh-high water in a Colorado tributary because I thought a beaver was thrashing into the tall river brush I was standing ass-deep in. It turned out to be a school of ducks, but the episode was forever dubbed “The Great Beaver Attack” by my friend’s dad who saw the whole thing unfold. You may call it cowardly; I call it a bravado for life.
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