Thursday, April 02, 2009

A View into a Gray World

Last Saturday morning I stepped outside into a gray world. Heavy clouds and remnants of a nighttime rain washed the color from the landscape leaving behind a quiet form of the world. This world requires less energy to embrace and is easier for me to process. It’s as if things have been distilled to their simplest forms and textures without all the noise and confusion that can appear in the color and shadows of postcard sunshine. The most ordinary places reveal their magic and a ride through familiar territory becomes new again. Moving along astride the Vespa in this world provides a special satisfaction.

On this morning my plan was a leisurely ride to breakfast in Bellefonte at the Café on the Park. A circuitous route would cover 20 miles and provide mostly empty roads and many opportunities to stop and look around. I’ve always felt riding was like flying. Not in a plane but if I could actually fly. The scooter exaggerates the effect because there is not much in front of your visual field to interfere with the fantasy like there is with a motorcycle. With earplugs stripping away most of the engine and wind noise it can be like a dream at times. A hyperfocus on the road that moves through an almost surreal landscape.

When I look at the Vespa through a wooded landscape I am reminded of how my wife Kim saw this first in her mind – what my riding would be like. How else could she have created my blog title, Scooter in the Sticks, without knowing?

If I have regrets on the road it is that I can’t keep riding. Pennsylvania has thousands of miles or rural roads that to me seem nothing short of spiritual pathways. For me. A place for slow and deliberate riding.

I’m often asked when I will get a motorcycle. I enjoy looking at motorcycles and find some of them enjoyable to ride. The Vespa GTS 250 strongly insists I make a choice. When I stopped beneath the underpass I was aware of the choice. Where did I want to live on the road? Did I want to slowly meander or eat up miles? The Vespa doesn’t preclude the high road but it does nudge me towards the slow one.

Just outside of Bellefonte I stopped to look at a cross at the corner of an old building. I assumed something bad happened here but could not imagine what. As I stood by the road with the camera the passing cyclists probably were wondering the same.

The Café on the Park. An unassuming place from the outside but unexpectedly elegant inside. These days I have to force myself to ride anywhere else when I am out for breakfast.

A pot of hot tea and my journal keep me occupied and involved in the ride. I have been participating in this kind of morning ritual (sans riding) since I was a teenager. One of the habits I haven’t had to give up.

Breakfast is always excellent. And I love getting fresh fruit. If I wasn’t so damn lazy I could have fresh fruit at home. But it seems overwhelming to slice things in the morning.

The ride home was different. I felt the pressure of the clock and the chores of the day. Riding onto Interstate 99 is a dramatic shift away from a slow ride. The Vespa can handle it. I can handle it. But I really wish I didn’t have to.


irondad said...

How many times have I wished the pace of life would slow down? I long for a time when people felt like they could just enjoy each moment. Your post was just what I needed this early in the morning. Your words and photos are sending me a clear message.

We can still shape our own world to a certain extent. I'm going to meander ( in the rain ) today. Time to slow things down a bit.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Sir:

I have never ridden a scooter, but the mood and color of your post this morning makes me wish I had dome it today.

I am writing down all your landmarks and road references. The weekend will come when my book too will feature in etherial photographs, as opposed to the burlesque or my ride reports.

Yet the truth is the truth.

Fondest regards,
Twised Roads

cpa3485 said...

Steve , I really like the photo of the trees with the scooter down below on the road. There is something serene and calm in that picture that really struck me when I saw it.

It is crazy busy in my office with 2 weeks to go in 'tax season'. That picture reminds me that there are calmer places in the world outside of the hectic pace in the office.

I commented to Jack Riepe recently that because of the humor in his posts that he has helped me keep my sanity through my busy season. Your posts do that as well but for a different reason. Your pictures are awesome and I appreciate the little break from my world into yours.
Thanks again.

Heinz N Frenchie said...

When one can make a gray world so desirable, one has special talents. Amazing how we all want to be with you in that world. You are such an inspiration and such an artist.

David said...

Steve, I just love your photos. These all have the feel and tones of monochrome, but with just a touch of color. Good thing you didn't have to spend hours with the old Marshall oils. :)

I passed through your neighborhood this week. I remember seeing the exit signs for Bellefonte. I thought it sounded like a wonderful place. Obviously, it is. One of these days (Oh those fateful words) I'll come back on the bike and ride the backroads of PA, rather than hustling this truck down the superslab.

On the photo front... We've discussed digital vs. film, but I still love the process of photography the most. Given a choice, I think I'd shoot with a 4x5 or 8x10 view camera and process everything myself. Just don't have the dark room to do that with, yet. :)

Ride well, and keep shooting
Dave T.

-Tim said...

I always love your photos, they always are very calming...

Steve Williams said...

Irondad: The time for me to wish things would slow down and actually make choices in my life to do it is already in progress. But it is difficult to turn away from a lifetime of habits. It will take time to reshape my world.

I just came inside after a short walk with the dog. It's raining outside and would be so easy to drive to work in the truck. I thought a bit about why I might ride and realized on two wheels I would experience the entire trip. In the truck I would not remember a moment of it.

A nice gift of riding.

Jack: I'm honored that you feel my post put you in a scooter frame of mind. Thank you.

Your collecting landmarks makes me think of the times I have considered including Google maps in my posts, or links to the trip maps or something. It just never felt right to me. Sort of like pulling aside the curtain to reveal the little man behind the curtain.

Compared to many other riders my little trips are just that. Little trips. You have to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate them.

cpa3485: When I get off the Vespa and wander through the woods I am often greeted by these kinds of scenes. It still fascinates me to place the scooter in those wooded contexts. Not sure why but I will keep doing it until I understand.

Taxes. I forgot. Geez, I guess it's time to visit the TurboTax site....

Jack and I are like therapists you know. I'm not sure which one of us is the Jungian and which is the Freudian.....*grin*

Stay sane!

Steve Williams said...

Heinz N Frenchie: Thank you for your kind words. I really do appreciate them. It's nice to know that some of what I feel on the road and making pictures has another life with others.

David: I've used Marshall Oils but never with much success. They require a level of patience I just couldn't conjure.

There are times (a lot recently) that I wish I still had my 8x10 view camera. There is nothing like an 8x10 contact print. I know I romanticize the whole view camera thing in my head. Unless I am really committed it is a painful process to engage and why I abandoned it after years of use. And the price of a sheet of 8x10 film has soared. I would have to swallow hard today before I tripped the shutter.

If I do find a project I become obsessed with that requires the view camera I know I would not hesitate to get another one.

Drive safe in that truck!

Tim: Thanks for that. I always seem to be calmer on gray days.

I posted something on your blog about writing and blogging in regard to your latest topic.

chris. said...

I've always loved bicycling (and now scootering) for exactly that reason -- it does feel like flying.

Anonymous said...

I recognize all the locations in this round of photographs. Guess I should, since we seem to travel many of the same paths. Dan