Ditch of the Month

What have we come to?

What have we come to?

I walked past my unmade bed and tugged a slightly wrinkled shirt from its hangar. Then I went downstairs and mined a pair of socks from the pile of clean but unfolded clothes slumped on the end of my couch. My bare feet picked up a bit of dust as I padded through the dining room and stepped onto the bathroom’s tile floor. An unenthusiastic glance in the mirror confirmed I needed a shave as my hand passed over my pivoting, four-blade razor with lubricating strip in favor of my distance-correcting contact lens. With the lens inserted and rapid blinking in progress, I freed the dining room table from the weight of a leather jacket and again padded through the dining room, this time on my way to the kitchen.

The kitchen has been a work in progress since January. That is when I committed mentally, financially and physically to pouring a concrete countertop, replacing the sink, painting the cupboards, installing new cabinet hardware, retrimming the window, and laying a new floor. Progress was rapid in the cold, dark months of winter but the project has been idling in neutral since April. Most tasks, except the installation of the new floor, have been completed. I sat down on the paint-stained, scratched kitchen floor of cheap, stick-in-place tile squares and pulled my boots on. A stagnant pile of tools in a corner of the kitchen, at the top of my back stairs, has begun to mingle with items I’ve staged for basement storage and dead grass carried in on my shoes.

Upon standing I noticed the toaster was right where I had left it, keeping the butter dish company on a butcher-block counter top whose position I had disturbed weeks earlier while painting that particular cabinet. I pivoted and crossed the room to my key-drawer, extracting a shiny key inscribed "TRIUMPH," in which the leg of the “R” swoops rightward under the other letters to eventually bind the two halves of the “H” together. Before stepping toward the back door I sorted through a collection of non-kitchen items on the counter top and selected the ones I needed to take with me: wallet, phone, camera and Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses.
 

These things have no business on a proper kitchen counter. Mine is not proper.

These things have no business on a proper kitchen counter. Mine is not proper.

The water-damaged storm door swung shut behind me, hiding a one hundred-year-old threshold in need of paint, if not replacement. As my black-leather riding boots walked me across the driveway to the garage, they stepped over weeds growing unabated in the seam between the concrete apron of the driveway and the garage floor. I glanced to the far corner of the garage where a pile of small boxes, most of them green and labeled "Lucas," sits waiting for me to sort it into new, plastic storage bins. While my sister competes for Mother-of-the-Year each year on the platform “No wire hangers,” my personal campaign is against moldy cardboard boxes.

The TRIUMPH key slipped into the ignition switch with a series of quiet, metallic clicks. When I rotated it rearward with thumb and index finger the seven-inch headlight came on and the orange needle inside each white-faced gauge swung its full arc of motion and back, signaling their readiness. I pulled the clutch lever to the hand grip and pressed the start button. The putter of the exhaust exiting chromed peashooter exhaust pipes startled some debris on my garage floor and it ran for the open door. I backed the bike out into the sun before putting my helmet on.

The bike idled impatiently as I retrieved my helmet from the dusty hood of my Jeep. I tugged the helmet into place while surveying my yard with disinterest. Yup, a few of the new boards of my deck still curl on their ends and the grass along my side of the neighbor's fence needs to be trimmed. I swung my right leg over the seat of the Bonneville, squeezed the clutch lever against the hand grip again and raised my left foot to stab the transmission into first gear. I eased the clutch out while rolling in some throttle and down the gravel driveway the tires crackled. That’s when I remembered that there are two basement windows on that side of my house that should be replaced.

Now that I've photographed it, my broken basement window looks more like art.

Now that I've photographed it, my broken basement window looks more like art.

For the next four hours and ninety miles I picked my way through suburbs, back roads and small towns. I saw people edging lawns and carefully distributing lava rock among their perfectly coiffed bushes. I saw overwhelmingly large expanses of grass being mowed with disproportional care and precision. I saw little black trailers following closely behind minivans, their contents flagged red and protruding rearward. I saw gas-powered leaf blowers blowing nature back where it belongs, and apparently it doesn't belong on a concrete driveway or lava rock. And I smiled.

I smiled because I had dirty dishes at home. And unfolded laundry. I have a kitchen floor that has been used as a workbench for six months. I have items on my kitchen counter that don't belong there, like cameras and exposed film and a GPS. I have weeds growing in the seams of my concrete garage apron. I have a few non-conforming boards on my deck; they curl objectionably in a world that must be straight, precise, perfect. But mostly I smiled because all of that would still be waiting for me when I got back from admiring stately oaks wading in fields of corn. When I was done feeling every little change in temperature as I traveled roads that alternated between being fully shaded and fully sunny, the deck boards would still be curled. After smelling the smoke that had settled from someone’s campfire into a dip in the road, there would still be weeds in my driveway.

The best roads are the ones with limited site lines. Every curve and hill renews anticipation. This is a self-portrait taken during the ride that inspired this story.

The best roads are the ones with limited site lines. Every curve and hill renews anticipation.
This is a self-portrait taken during the ride that inspired this story.

My ride’s route was determined mostly by sight; I was drawn from one road to another simply because I could see where the road I was on was going, but the crossroad disappeared around a corner or over a tree-crowded rise. Those roads needed to be explored more than my garage needed to be swept. I saw things that intrigued me enough to circle back, and then circle back yet again. I don’t know how many times I was off the bike to take a close look at a tree or derelict car, or to frame a landscape through the eyepiece of my camera. I enjoyed a cup of coffee at a train depot that has been converted to a diner and contemplated the trains that once stopped there. I studied the wood-frame construction of an old lighthouse. I marched into a field to photograph a tree. I watched a Red Tail hawk soar in a rising column of air. I saw bees hovering among wildflowers. I stood at the roadside and listened to the air.

Nature's perfection. This is a well-spent afternoon.

Nature's perfection. This is a well-spent afternoon.

When I got home everything I had left behind was still waiting for my attention. The patience of unfolded laundry is unequaled. What doesn't wait is good weather, fall colors, drifting clouds, a passing lightning storm, fresh snowfall, saturated sunsets, or good health. When I pass from this world (no time soon, that I’m aware of) I hope my sink is full of dirty dishes and my lawn needs to be mowed. It’s not that I live in squalor, but that I choose to live rather than maintain. I do plan to have my kitchen done before I exit this world, but that will require that I live through at least two more cold, dark winter months. I plan to, of course, but if I don't I'll be okay leaving an unfinished kitchen for someone else.

As I expected, a warped board on my deck was still waiting for me when I returned home.

As I expected, a warped board on my deck was still waiting for me when I returned home.

We live like we’ll live forever, but I’ve yet to meet anyone who has. That said, I have a plan to effectively double the remaining years of my life, however many that may be. I’ll share that with you another time.

Listen to the air….