Retracing bike tracks

There were areas of the yard where you weren’t allowed to ride.

At our house in Portville, N.Y., I would hear Dad say, “DON’T ride in the yard.” His eyes would be open like one of those fake owls people put in their gardens to scare away the birds.

This only happened when he’d find bike tracks in the most plush corner of the yard – the one bordered by fence, driveway and trees. It went to nothing; I had no reason to ride in this useless pocket of the front lawn.

I did have temptation, though. The reason it was off-limits to begin with was all the green grass that grew there. Dad never cared about the yard a whole lot – there was too much else to worry about – but was quietly proud of the section that looked like a putting green.

I’d see it in his eyes right around spring time, after the snow had melted and scraps of bark raked away. Along the side of this part of the yard were cords of firewood (the fireplace in the house was pretty much an inferno all winter long) stacked on top of pallets Dad got from work. It would be cheaper by $10 (this is Dad’s number – I swear it was only $5) to buy a cord of wood that was unsplit; naturally, we got unsplit.

And I – between the ages of 12 and 18 – got the chore of making the family’s unsplit firewood split. I tried to do an hour’s worth every night after school or whatever sport practice I had, but this rarely worked out: I’d typically do a week’s worth until 8 or 9 p.m. once a week, relying on the floodlight over the garage after nightfall to show me where to swing the petunk without hitting (and amputating) my foot. I usually wouldn’t call it quits until I lost the stupid maul in the snow.

Months of doing this regularly in the good section of our yard caused the grass to undergo a sort of  “rebirth” each year. Trampling in the same 20-by-30-foot section of snow-covered yard is tough enough on grass. But start swinging what’s basically a sledge-hammer sharpened to a point and it gets worse: boot treads uproot the grass as they scrounge for traction with every swing, petunk heads and mauls get driven into the ground and wheelbarrows loaded with what-musta-been 100 pounds of wood don’t exactly float on blades of grass.

So when we were done splitting firewood for the year, this mud pit – which it inevitably became every year by March – got to start from scratch. No irksome crabgrass seeds or pinecones to sway the wholesome bent grass to “the dark side.”

And when everything started drying out in May, grass – not just any grass, but golf course grass – started to grow in the wood-splitting section of our yard. 

“That looks pretty good out there, doesn’t it?” Dad would say around June 1 each year of my youth. He’d go on to speculate the pine trees nearby provided lime in the soil the grass desperately needed, but I always questioned the theory. Our entire yard was laden with pine trees, yet this was the only section that didn’t look like unkempt rainforest mixed with barren desert.

I agreed with him nonetheless. That’s partly – probably mostly – why I had to hit that section with my bike … it was forbidden fruit.

Fast forward 15 years or so and things are very different. I use a water-tight car as my primary means of transportation and still avoid mud puddles. When I walk, I prefer paths; when I jog, I prefer paths; and when I ride my bike …

… I prefer paths.

It’s humbling to think this is the path my life has taken. It can be depressing as well, if I give it too much thought.

I generally don’t.

For my days of chaos have evolved into chaos that’s a tad more orchestrated. As I did in my 10-14 years, I enjoy an affinity for riding a bicycle in the woods – but on a path and with thoughts of “will my health insurance cover this” dancing in my head. Suffice to say, I see obstacles and cliffs in the woods today that make me wish I were 14 again so I’d have the reckless abandon to take them on. I don’t ride my bike in the yard simply because I see no reason to.

My path has led me to the realization I’m not invincible. It was a 23-year journey that ended shortly after college. I’m now on the path that comes after the previous – the path that embodies whatever “live every day to the fullest” saying you choose. Truly, I am thankful to be here sharing my life with the many wonderful people I am; I’m going to die someday.

Still, there’s something about seeing bike tracks in a yard that makes me forget, if only for a second or two …

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