There are days when it would be a sin to sit inside. Those days rap on your window and beg you to come out and play. Breezes skip in to tease while birds sing your name. The sun blazes a smile in the sky, diamond prismed, making the light inside seem drab and lifeless. Given the opportunity only a fool would ignore such an ardent plea. I consider myself a fool only half of the time so, embracing temptation, I head out the door.
Such a day would be lost in a car but a bike ride will do just fine. I have my choice of two bikes that are housed in the garage. My first choice would be the prodigal son’s mountain bike. It’s a good size, well used but comfortable. Unfortunately a rim bent on a difficult trail was replaced with something less than desirable and the back tire is flat. The only remaining bike, and definitely a second choice, is the Canadian Tire special. Costing only one hundred dollars, the bike has a frame with a lifetime warranty and a seat so hard it belongs on a level of hell found only in Dante’s Inferno. The bolt on that seat has never stayed tightened and as a result the seat tips back at the most inopportune moments. All pleasures have a price and if this is the cost of the open sky I’ll not be dissuaded. I set out to see the day.
It is warm on the main road, the heat radiates up from the asphalt. The shoulder of this road is a formidable place strewn with all manner of items lost or thrown away. The gravel at the side is uneven and so thick in some places that it could be dangerous if you didn’t pay attention. A right, two lefts and I leave the asphalt behind for the dirt of Walnut Road. Each spring the county lays fresh gravel on the back roads and follows it up with a spray of oil to keep the dust down. The passage of heavy farm vehicles flattens out the gravel and oil and the sun bakes the mixture into a hard pack that allows the bike to hum along at a satisfying pace. It’s warm but the wind created by my passage surrounds me in a sweet coolness. The local traffic has worn two tracks down the centre of the road and that is the best place to ride.
The warm and breezy weather has resulted in a bumper crop of goldenrod, more commonly known as ragweed. Thankfully my nose is immune to such dangers but of more pressing concern is Katie the black lab who sees my presence on the road as an infringement on her personal space. Barking loudly, she makes a beeline to intercept me. Her master’s voice stops her short and I continue on deeper into the fields and orchards of Walnut Road. Off to the side migrant workers rest in the shade of the apple trees as the heat of the day begins to roll back its sleeves. Their faces are an exotic ripple in an area rife with the pale skin and blue eyes of British and Scottish ancestry. I can hear the soft accents of South and Central America as my bike passes the shady haven. It could just as well be the lilt of the Caribbean or the unusual accents of German Mennonites up from Mexico. The fields and orchards know no nationality or political boundaries; if you can put in an honest day’s work you are welcome here.
The day is sweet with the scent of apples and hay. The fields are a mottled mixture of gold and green as the farmers wait for corn to ripen and beans to dry out. A chorus of grasshoppers, crickets and cicadas join the whirl of my wheels as they move down the road. The orange and black wings of monarch butterflies, some 5 or 6 inches across, skim above the fields. The monarchs are heading south and most will stop for a rest at Point Pelee west of here before crossing the border into the states. The annual migration is a monumental journey covering thousands of miles that will see those bright travelers rest at last in the mountainous region of Michoacánas, Mexico.
The butterflies and I are not the only travelers on this road and we give way when necessary to trucks, tractors and one lone horse and buggy. My wheels flash bright in the sun as they kiss the road. Blond brick farmhouses and combines parked by the roadside are quickly breached and left behind. Lightening scarred trees stand solitary sentry over furrowed expanses. Cairns, heaped high with fieldstones reaped from the soil, mark the field boundaries and ditches. The pedals rise and fall as the road slips away underneath me. All too soon the dirt road turns back to asphalt and gravel shoulders.
Not quite ready to head home yet, I stop briefly at McKillop Cemetery. Leaving my bike in the shade I walk between what’s left of the old white marble tombstones trying to decipher the names, dates and messages of love. It is still and beautiful but not lonely. The silence envelopes me with unspoken memories of all the sunny September days that have passed and warmed the marble stones and the earth below.
The breeze still skips along but now it pushes me home. I left the birds behind at the cemetery to share the rest of the September day with those resting there. The sun shines diamond bright in the sky. The half shadow of a fool seared to the faintest of greys stretches out forgotten behind me as I pedal home encircled by the scent of apples and the soft brush of butterfly wings.