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  • Some days are not made for subtlety. They are so different from the day before and the used-to and the usually that immediate action is required. Such was yesterday.

    It was a day when nothing could keep up. Water ran off of the melting foot high snowpack on the steep roof next door so quickly that "pour" was the only verb to describe it, and the concept of icicles seemed impossible. Feet of ice on the Mohawk river, shocked by the strangeness of the steady rain the day before, dissolved into puddles like ice cubes in a glass of something that had to be gulped before it turned warm again. Migrating birds not due for six weeks suddenly appeared on ponds without seemingly have had the time to actually fly there, as if they had thawed from the ice themselves. The weather app on my phone predicted a high temperature 7 degrees cooler than it already was, and it was only noon. It was fifteen degrees warmer than it had been in what seemed like fifteen weeks. Immediate action was required. As the morning wore on, it became clear what it was I had to do. I had to go for a bike ride. Immediately. Before it was too late. Outdoors.

    The best way to get a quick inventory of things you have forgotten to do, or forgotten you have to do, is to try to do immediately something for which you have done absolutely no preparation whatsoever. I did have a vague sense that some effort would be required to breathe life into the bicycle tires that hung lifelessly in my garage, suspended in midair from the frame, a pair of co-conspirators done in by rough winter justice. I just couldn't figure out what could've happened to the pump. I had somehow forgotten that it was attached to the side of the frame facing away from me.

    Next, there was the sleek roof rack I had purchased so optimistically in the late fall, and as the nodding salesman suspected, never used. For three snowy months I had driven around with it, silently acquiescing as they whooshed with an aura of athleticism for all that I passed or parked near. (Were they ski racks? Bicycle holders? Harpoon shooters? Who cared?) The first time I lifted the entire bicycle over my head onto the roof of the car to steady it there so I could figure out my next move, the bicycle tipped back over my head and landed with a clank on the pockmarked asphalt driveway, loud enough for the neighbors to hear, but fortunately none had yet tuned in to the developing spectacle. I decided to go large, and opened a full-sized aluminum folding ladder I had found in the garage alongside the car, lifted the bike in my arms, and made it about a half step up when I realized I was moving further away from the roof. I put the ladder away and then went upstairs to retrieve a step stool. Once I finally had the bike upright on the roof I couldn't figure out how to adjust the straps. Once I finally got them in place and on, I realized the frame didn't match up to the locking bar, so I had to take the straps off and start again. Once I opened the locking mechanism and lined it up with the frame, I couldn't figure out how to close it, and spent ten minutes holding the bike in place on the roof with one hand, while squeezing every protrusion, bolt and support on the rack in the hope that the arms would release so that mine could too. After a total of 35 minutes, I finally had the bike on the roof. I tugged at a wheel, and gave myself about a 60% chance of making it to the bike path without the whole thing falling over.

    By now the air temperature--52 degrees in the middle of February is never really 52 degrees--felt like it had dropped five degrees, the February sun's half-hearted arc was already downsloping toward the horizon, and I hadn't even made it down the driveway. I thought about how I was going to get the bicycle down from the roof once I got to the bike path. Then I thought about how I was going to get the bicycle back on the roof if I actually got to ride it. There had to be an easier way to do this. I threw the stepstool into the back seat, and closed the car door. Just then my neighbor pulled her car up her driveway, stepped out to examine my handiwork, and commented cheerfully on the bicycle on the roof of my car. Yes, I said casually, going out for a bike ride, as if I had thrown the bicycle up there and clicked it in a single motion, grateful she had not arrived 5 minutes earlier, or worse still, that it had not been her engineer husband.

    The bike path parking lot was nearly full by the time I drove the 3/4 of a mile to get there, the shortness of the drive, forgotten after months of wintry isolation, the final indignity in the complicated process of moving one person with one bicycle to one bicycle path. Only the central part of the path had been shoveled out, but it was crowded as if on a mid-June Saturday. Young couples with with toddlers stuffed in their head-to-toe down snowsuits like exploded popcorn in a microwave bags. Dogwalkers shortening their leashes as cyclers tapped bells and squeezed by on the snow-narrowed path. Melting ponds across the path from the Mohawk, where ice hockey would not be able to be played for days. A man laying in the snow, holding onto his black lab's leash with one hand and stretching his arm out in the other direction to take a photo of himself and his pal. A woman, another who I took to be her sister or friend, and the woman's teenaged daughter, jawing at and teasing one another as they walked the straight and narrow, with the beginnings of a snowball fight in evidence. Joggers in short sleeves and shorts with determined indifferent looks on their faces, showing off but in a way that they were actually convincing in their indifference.

    Days outside, days in what in my limited experience passes for nature, letting it wash over me and involve me and let me lose myself, have never come easy for me, by inclination and upbringing and (limited) experience. I've always understood the attraction, but most times seem never to approach closely enough to feel less than a half step away from the action. It was during the return run on my second loop on the shortened bike path, with the chill steady wind abating for a moment, that this seemed to change. I coasted my bicycle to a stop. Thick bushes shaded me as I looked towards the low sun that shined obliquely towards me, revealing a still pond that had been frozen solid two days earlier. It was the first time I had actually seen, or more likely noticed, that water actually could be blue, the color of what I had now understood skiers to mean with all their talk of a bluebird sky now reflected in the calm chill water. I noticed ducks, or were they geese, no I think they were ducks, paddling in groups of three and four in the distance, and I tapped furiously at the circle on my phone, trying to capture them at just the moment at which the people I planned to Facebook or email or text the photos to later could make out that they were ducks. Then the white spinning circle on my phone appeared just as the screen darkened, signifying that I was out of power, and there were no more photos to take, and there was no more music to listen to. I pulled the earbuds out of my ears, wrapped the cord around my phone, and put it back into my open windbreaker pocket. I was alone. I could hear the ducks quacking, and the wind rattling some of the smaller branches in the leafless trees. I could hear my sneaker scuffing some loose dirt as I steadied myself astride my bicycle. I paused for what must have been a moment, or ten, and then lifted myself onto my bicycle, and pedaled smoothly back to the parking lot, not even realizing until I got home that one of my wool gloves had fallen out of my pocket.

    When spring actually comes, I think I may just be ready.
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