Some days frustrate you over and over and then surprise you with joy.
Although I sometimes portray everything as dandy here in Bicycleland, it is not always so. For one, Bicycleland is constantly haunted by the specter of flat tires. Just as I was about to leave for the Carl Henn Memorial Ride last week, I pulled my bike out of the shed, and bafflingly, the front tire was flat. With Chris’s help, I changed it in record time (for me, anyway), and wasn’t terribly late. Then, a few days later when I was going over to the pool, I pulled my bike out of the shed to discover the back tire was flat. What the heck? Remembering that extreme heat can cause air to expand and tires to burst – which is why you shouldn’t keep a bike in the car when it’s hot – I blamed it on the 100+ heat index. I made sure to deflate the front tire before putting it back in the shed to prevent it in the future.
Having bought more tubes mid-week and wanting to go out for a ride, I pulled it out again yesterday. I took the back tire off of the bike, and carefully put in the new tube, being careful to not pinch it. As I just got to 60 pounds pumping it up – I heard a dreadful pop and all of my hard work deflated. I must not have been quite careful enough and caused a pinch flat. Despite being hot and tired, I decided I was going on a bicycle ride, dammit! So I pulled the whole thing off again, put on another tube, and pumped it up again. Finally, more than an hour and plenty of bike grease later, success. I re-pumped up my front tire and set off down the road. But my front tire seemed – odd. Bumpier than usual. Perhaps I underinflated it in my caution? Pulling to the side, I used my hand pump to top it off. And then – less than a minute later, I heard a profoundly exacerbating noise – shhhh. I’m shocked that I didn’t start swearing. The tire was so flat that I couldn’t even roll the bike home. I had to haul it on my shoulder.
Extraordinarily discouraged, I didn’t have the energy to walk to the pool. The world was clearly informing me that exercise should not be on my schedule. Sweaty and mentally exhausted, I didn’t want to do anything but sleep.
Sadly, I had other duties facing me – namely, mowing the lawn. I hate, hate, hate mowing the lawn. As a casual student of permaculture, I’m embarrassed that we have a lawn at all. We could be growing so much food and other useful things instead of grass (and accompanying weeds). Then there’s the very issue of mowing – the diesel engines used in lawnmowers have no pollution controls. As a result, operating a traditional gas-powered lawnmower for an hour emits the same amount of smog-forming pollution as driving a car 200 miles. Yeesh.
Despite all of that, I slugged through it and felt better having actually accomplished something with my time. Inspired, I went to work in the garden. I weeded out the few plants that encroached past the fence, planted a potato that had started sprouting in our fridge, pruned our humongous tomatoes, and watered the plants.
As I was working, some neighborhood kids walked by. I asked if they wanted some tomatoes and they said, “No, thanks!” But then, 20 minutes later, they walked by again and asked, “Can we have some tomatoes?” I answered, “Of course! Come into the garden.” Opening the gate for them, I brought the four girls and boys into my small garden. They ranged in age from 5 or 6 at the youngest to 9 or 10. I explained to them that you want to pick the reddest, most bright tomatoes, even if you have to reach far back for them. They picked a few, and I grabbed a few more that their little arms couldn’t reach. One little boy grabbed a very yellow, unripe tomato, so I told him, “That’s not quite ripe yet. Why don’t you have this one instead?” While they were there, I pointed out our other plants – more tomatoes, swiss chard, sweet potato, and peppers. It was so encouraging to see their excitement and curiosity! Although Rockville is generally quite affluent, my neighborhood has a much lower average income than the rest of the area. I don’t know what their experience is with produce, but it was clear that fresh vegetables right off the plant was an unusual experience. One little girl asked, “Can we eat these?” referring to the cherry tomatoes. I answered, “Of course you can!” and she was thrilled to pop it in her mouth. It was similar to the positive attitudes I saw from the Washington, D.C. kids when we taught them gardening. In those workshops, the kids who didn’t know much about gardening wanted to learn, and those who did, loved to share their own knowledge. It was so refreshing for me to see this unabashed interest. If that was the only moment I had from all of the hours I’ve put into my garden, it would be worth it.
From frustration to blessedness in just a few hours. Living a more sustainable, hands-on lifestyle has its aggravations, but also its unexpected pleasures.