Like riding a bike

Santa Fe

Craig and I are back from a weeklong arts workshop in Santa Fe, him life drawing and me nature writing. We drove from Kansas City with our bikes strapped to the car, watching the land grow from Kansas prairie to New Mexico mesas, from Flint Hills to the Sangre de Cristo range, from 1,000 feet of elevation to 7,000.

I hadn’t ridden my bike in a year. I hadn’t written outside of work since our last blog post two years ago.

Our first morning at the dorms of St. John’s College, I uncoiled the lock and jumped astride my Schwinn to ride to a nearby prayer labyrinth and begin our week in solitude. I remembered the route as being fairly flat – memory developed five years earlier while riding in a car. I reached the labyrinth quickly, not realizing until my return trip the gravity of gravity. I felt the weight of the earth’s weight against me.

I shifted to first gear within a few hundred yards. Before the first of three turns, my rate of breathing outpaced my pedaling. By the time I reached the college turn-in a mile later, I was moving so slowly I could barely balance. I dismounted and wobbled past the student center and classrooms to the upper dorms, my quads and lungs burning, rewound the lock and realized how much more meaningful it would be to pray on campus the rest of the week.

The writing wasn’t any easier than the riding. I’m not really a nature girl.

Day 1 exercise: Write about a powerful experience with wind. I live in tornado alley, so my mind went to … nothing. Toward the end of our 10-minute time limit I wrote a few disjointed sentences about a ferry ride and the need for ponytail holders.

Day 2 exercise: Write about a powerful experience with water. I had a great first line, “I take a drink and begin,” followed by … nothing. I started listing the ways water benefits me and blessedly ran out of time just as I began praising my soaker tub.

Day 2 invitation (i.e., homework): Write about your homeplace. I started 10 different times and went to bed with … nothing. Until 6 a.m., in my waking up, when I could see my scratches coming together into a unified piece, a piece that included both wind and water.

I never acclimated to the hills and altitude. I climbed the 92 steps from our meeting rooms to my dorm room three or four times every day, gasping each time. But I eventually found breath for my writing, remembering my process and seeing how nature can fit into my suburban-life stories. I’m eager to tell them again.

So I’m doing my exercises. I’m back in my writing seat, watching where the road leads, thankful if you ride along.

Santa Fe steps

Santa Fe

Santa Fe provides plenty of opportunity for representing soft architectural forms and variations on the color beige. I much prefer this color in Santa Fe than the beige in my suburban neighborhood. I also enjoy not having to be so tidy with the edges. Thank you, Santa Fe.