Fit Philosophy

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Location: Stevens Point, Wisconsin, United States

Monday, June 08, 2009

Biking Buffalo

We spent the weekend biking in western Wisconsin, climbing from the shore of the Mississippi up to the ridgetops of Buffalo County, getting in about a 100 miles of riding despite being rained out most of Saturday. Our Sunday ride took us north to Maiden Rock in a large loop. On the way back, about seven miles east of Pepin, we stopped at the Ingalls House, setting for Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. It is indeed a little house, about twenty by fifteen feet, divided by a log partition into a room with the fireplace, a bedroom, a smaller space, and a sleeping loft above. The marker described Wilder as a writer “beloved above all for her philosophy,” which was summarized to the effect that the principles your parents teach you are “forever true.” What a crock. I thought immediately of Philip Larkin’s This Be the Verse, which provides a bracing antidote to such treacle. It begins...

They fuck you up, your mom and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had,

And add some extra, just for you.


Thursday, June 04, 2009

Sounds of change

Just after sunup as I rode out the other day, when the only sound was the whisper of my bike tires on the pavement, I was watching maple seeds helicopter to the ground on the morning breeze. A cardinal announced himself with his characteristic six-note whistle. I craned to glance at the treetop to my left. The first birdcall I learned to identify when I moved to Wisconsin was that easy-to-mimic trill of the male cardinal. You can’t live here long without noticing, too, the male’s habit of perching on the highest available branch in his territory to greet the early sun with his song. So the sound and sense of a bit of cardinal life has become a familiar ingredient in my life here. As we invest our surroundings with familiarity, they seem to take on a kind of permanence. As if we could—as if we had a right to—rely upon them. But what struck me suddenly while biking that day is the fragility of the familiar. Every day I pass signs of the radically temporary—which is to say, temporal or subject to changes in time—character of all our surroundings. A day or so later I took this photo of the stump of an old highway buttress. It used to support the road I ride on, which now crosses Bear Creek on a concrete and steel bridge. I’ve passed it hundreds of times. It’s decaying at a rate far slower than my own life…