Wednesday, July 31, 2002

A Confession

Okay, folks. I can't fake it any longer. I am sitting writing in the air-conditioned comfort of my home. George and I got back to Chicago the day before yesterday after back-to-back 90 plus mile days.

But do not let this disturb you. Lest you are worrying you will no longer get those eagerly-anticipated little notices in your in-box, never fear. I've got a backlog of material from this trip that could keep me going for months. Just kidding.

So, everything should look the same to you, though there may be a confusion of time and space, which was already the case since one email may have been written in two or three different places at different times, which wreaks havoc with verb tenses.

So disabuse yourself of the romantic fantasy of Jim out there on the road tapping out his message to the world by the campfire on his little Pocketmail Composer. He's sitting in the middle of Chicago, trying to remember what happened when.

George and I savored the descent from the bluffs into the town of Pepin, and we agreed we were adequately repaid for the climbs. As inviting as Pepin was, with its little shops, cafes and such, we pressed southward in our search for the Mighty Mississippi. So far, we had seen lakes, tributaries and sloughs, but no River, and we were soon to have another wetland experience crossing the Tiffany State Wildlife Area, the first of several we would encounter.

I remember this dramatic change in the character of the landscape from bluffs to wetlands, after a long careening downhill, as one of the most invigorating moments of the entire trip. George indulged me, waiting as I stopped several times, once to get a picture of a snowy egret, a swath of pure white swooping skyward from the dark, shadowed greens into a cerulean sky. Back on our bikes, we began moving through the warmth and fecund odors of the lowland landscape surrounded by the garrumphing of frogs and the twittering of birds.

"Looks like a good place for duck hunting," said George as he pulled up alongside, shattering my contemplation. I was jolted by George's different view of this scene, expressing an opposing vision, though not necessarily his own, as he's neither hunter nor fisherman. He offered the regard that it wasn't a "scene," in the picture postcard sense of the word, but something to be used. This difference in interpretation of the landscape is probably related to our differences in map preferences, as I described in "the scale of things" a few days ago. And it's not, of course, an issue unique to me and George here in this Upper Mississippi lowland, but a national schizophrenia about nature dating back at least to John Muir and Teddy Roosevelt's time, if not earlier.

But I remembered that George has biked through nearly every possible geography on the face of the earth, so what's one more swamp to him? On the other hand, I know from his writings and conversations during our trip that he is extremely sensitive and just as aware of his surroundings as I am.

So there is something deeper going on. Perhaps it has to do with out circumstances. Throughout our trip, I have been humbled by George's frugality--his ingenuity in squeezing maximum benefit from minimum expense. How else could he travel so much on three month's bike messenger pay? And me? Let's face it: my income combined with my wife's over the past few years puts us embarrassingly smack dab in the middle class demographic. So while I am oohing and aahing over the beauty of nature with ample cash in my pocket, George is scanning the roadside for Marlboro box coupons.

This confirms what I predicted in my first email, that I have a lot to learn from George Christensen.


Writing in the comfort of central air

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