Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Foggy Day in Salem Town

October is a particularly glorious month. In the succession of seasons it draws attention to time's passage and the earth's rhythms in a delightful variety of ways, especially on bicycle.

Like its mid-Spring antipode, October's waning sun provides warmth, but the air is cooler than in September and filled with a constantly-varying succession of very distinct and earthy scents: wood-smoke, leaves, fungus, wet pavement, and pine straw.  Rains have settled the dust, giving trees moisture to put on an even more riotous display of color. The senses are dazzled in a final burst of Summer's energetic momentum.

That added moisture contributes to another aspect of October I find particularly pleasing: fog. My morning journey to church this time of year is often made enveloped in a blanket of innumerable water droplets. They collect on my glasses (somewhat annoying), but mostly they provide an atmosphere of mystery, distorting my experience of space and placing the focus on the near-at-hand. Fog plays wonderfully with light, sound, and perspective, creating dramatic effects in the most mundane places.

Take the 12th Street Promenade, for example. This pathway made necessary by a railroad can become, briefly, a study in flaring lights and muted surfaces--all wrapped in a ghostly silence and stillness. Grey, yellow, orange, brown, blue combine to make an unlikely and evanescent palette worthy of Whistler. The transience of the scene, so often populated by only a handful of people, becomes one more reason to be thankful for the experience.

Cycling through town is thought of as an essentially practical matter of transport; this is obviously true when we speak of motivation. But the aesthetics of the journey, though uneven, are often significant as well. Travel by auto makes it difficult or dangerous to experience this; being on a bicycle encourages it. In turn, such experiences change one's perspective on the familiar...both in term of places and people. The extraordinary and mysterious potential of both is revealed in myriad ways by something so simple as a ride to the office. Because no dollar value can be put on this, it remains lost in the discussions of livability and planning.

However, if I were a wagering man, I would be willing to put money on the proposition that our society would be much happier, content, and forbearing if more of us experienced our cities and towns from the perspective of a bicycle or on foot. It just makes you think--and feel--differently, appreciating what (and who) is always there in a more hopeful way.

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