Monday through Friday my alarm clock goes off at 4:40 am. I stumble downstairs, turn on the coffee pot, and with my first cup of coffee, sit at my desk to contemplate the day. I log the weather forecast into my journal – morning temperature, projected high, cloud conditions, chance of precipitation, wind speed, sunrise, sunset – and then sift through photographs taken the day before, probing my memory, pulling books off the shelf, scratching down notes as I work out the identification of this flower or that grass so familiar a year ago last August…what was its name? I turn the pages of the books. I check my photo archives. I consult my journals. What…was…its…name?
The mornings are becoming cooler. The sun is rising later. I hop on my bicycle as soon as the sky lightens and take off down the driveway. Yesterday the temperature was 48 degrees at 6:30 am. I wore heavy sweatpants, two sweatshirts, gloves and a stocking hat. I peddled hard, aware that I had but a short window of time to bike the four miles…factoring in the usual distractions. Three-quarters of a mile in, I was already braking for a western meadowlark perched high upon the electrical line. Facing the sun, the meadowlark’s yellow breast was a golden orange. Clock forgotten, I jumped off my bike and pulled out my camera.
It is late-August. Already the leaves of the trembling aspens are changing. In the woodlot behind the house, chokecherry shrubs paint the understory in pinks and reds. Across the open grasslands, it is the time of deep yellows and purples. Monarch butterflies and bumblebees visit blazing stars and goldenrods. Maximilian and false sunflowers, woodland sunflowers and coneflowers wave top-heavy in the wind. Heath, red-stalked, and New England asters carpet roadsides. Harebells and wild lettuces, bee balm, hyssops, gumweed and sneezeweeds color ditches in lavenders, golds, and delicate blues. Thistles bloom. Goldfinches dart from field to garden. Meadowlarks call from balsam poplars. I wear my neon yellow sweatshirt and blaze orange stocking hat in the early morning. The seasons are changing; I add my colors to it.
I wake at 4:40 am. I do not need to be to work until 8:30. I stumble down the stairs and sit with my first cup of coffee at my desk. I log the weather forecast into my journal – temperature, wind conditions, sunrise, sunset — and then sift through photographs, probing my memory, opening books, scratching down notes as I work out the identification of this grass or that flower. As soon as the sun rises, I will take off on my bike. Join me! Grab your bike and come along. It’s true! As Whitman wrote in Leaves of Grass, “After we start we never lie by again.”
I tramp a perpetual journey,
My signs are a rain-proof coat and good shoes and a staff cut from the
No friend of mine takes his ease in my chair,
I have no chair, nor church nor philosophy;
I lead no man to a dinner-table or library or exchange,
But each man and each woman of you I lead upon a knoll,
My left hand hooks you round the waist,
My right hand points to landscapes of continents, and a plain public
Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.
It is not far…it is within reach,
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born, and did not
Perhaps it is every where on water and on land.
Shoulder your duds, and I will mine, and let us hasten forth;
Wonderful cities and free nations we will fetch as we go.
If you tire, give me both burdens, and rest the chuff of your hand on
And in due time you shall repay the same service to me;
For after we start we never lie by again.
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass: Original 1855 Edition (Mineola, NY: Dover, 2007): 63.