Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lake Eppalock Fall

I have been unwell the last couple of weeks and have avoided the bike to speed my recovery. But today I got out again. I made north-east out of Melbourne, but changed my mind and turned west on pleasant apple-orchard roads between St Andrews and Whittlesea, aiming for Wandong. Somehow I ended up in Kilmore instead. North of there I played on the Pyalong-Broadford Road.

With lunch at Heathecote, I aimed to circle Lake Eppalock.  This is interesting country: winding, but dry, sandy and scrubby. The day was warm and blue, with hints of a thunderstorm growing.

Below, a river. Traditional Australian literature often associates emotions with water - emotional scenes take place around water-places: the ocean, lakes, swimming holes at rivers. It is said that our traditional literature is typically dry in emotional content.

I arrived at Knowsley and made my way down the western side of the lake - or rather reservoir.

Further along, in a deserted place, I came to the shore of the depleted lake. There was a 4x4 track along its edge which I followed. I stopped my bike for a photo at this spot, which I later photographed while waiting for fate's decision.

Having initially stopped and turned my back, I heard a noise through my ear plugs and spun around to find the bike on its side in the mud. Furthermore, it was angled in a mildly upside-down position because of the angle of the lake bed. I grabbed the bike but couldn't lift it. I threw my gear off, grabbed the bike again, but still could not: it was simply too heavy, too awkward, and it rolled in the dirt rather than rising. I was alone. The longer the bike lay, the harder it would be to get it started and to get myself out of this place without drama. I feared I had snapped one of the levers, which would also strand me, but they were buried in the mud and I couldn't see the damage. My hands were stung and bled because the bike was lying on these

Eventually, my limbs jelly from the weakness of having been ill, I slowly lifted the bike: as when a person gets their shoulder under a heavy object, I maneuvered my body under it, inch by inch, then the act of standing brought the bike up.

It wouldn't start. I waited and tried again, with each attempt depleting the battery, which could easily flatten and further strand me.

Still it would not start. Thunder rumbled, like anxiety in the pit of one's stomach, and the day closed and darkened. Letting the bike sit, I took photos while I waited, to capture the feeling of isolation.

After a forcing myself to wait some time I tried again - nothing. I experimented with wide open throttling: nothing.  Then suddenly the bike burst into a cry of high revs.

Things were a little twisted but nothing was damaged. Everything having come to nothing, I made for home as lightning flashed in the dark.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Motorcycle Time

Old motorcycles have secret lives. They pass out of the hands of their first owners, new and brash, or humble, into the possession of others for whom age is half the thing's value. Properly old motorcycles have entered a new dimension. Just sitting there, no longer are they common and repeatable. They glow with their use: a bent footpeg or worn leather is no longer a fault but a layering of stories. Time becomes dense in these objects, present with forms that are obliquely tangible. The thing seems to bear a message, though what it is, is hard to decipher beyond: Here am I.

This dynamic object, a BSA 350 single, was always making for this occasion with me. Along the way it gathered the ghosts of lives it served, and they greet me in its dull chrome. Spirits just outside my peripheral vision. Those people do not stand here now, they are lost in time, and this object is the mediator. It mediates between them and me. Between their place and time and me. I look at the throttle grip and sense the emotion that once enlivened a man on an Autumn evening, as he twisted it open and gained speed. I am allowed to feel the bracing air of that dusk 54 years ago. This motorcycle made it here, carrying all these things with it. And I try to imagine a world in which it is ordinary, as ordinary as my four cylinder Honda with its sharp contemporary lines. Suddenly my own world, so familiar, takes on a strangeness. A glow of the unfamiliar, in which it will be seen in some future occasion toward which it, too, is making.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Dusty Roads

I forgot my camera for today's ride. The sky was blue, Autumn warm, and I rode through Yea, Strathbogie, and the roads thereabout.

I travelled a wonderful dirt road to the Forlonge Memorial, commemorating the first introduction of fine wool sheep in Victoria. This road was the highlight of my ride, as unsealed roads often are, past homes, historical markers, farmers on dirt-bikes, sun-bleached paddocks, and abandoned houses. From the memorial I looked upon a granite mountain and I think I saw caves.

I felt a tinge of sadness today. Though that is not quite the right word - it was something vague, mixed with longing - a nostalgia for things unseen and unknown by me. And it was a good kind of sadness, the sort that puts me in touch with things, makes me feel alive, is creative. A lot of emotions, the sort we are tempted to reject as simply negative, are also capable of being creative, of awakening us to realities and objects. Anxiety, sadness, anger. Those feelings often have the opposite effect: they stifle or kill the spirit. But just as we sometimes thrive on pressure, so too do we sometimes flourish through those 'negative' emotions. The sadness I felt was the haunted kind, bringing to mind the many lives which people struggled to build in this place, which are now swallowed up by the earth.

Last night I re-read the opening line of David Malouf's The Great World. “People are not always kind, but the kind thing to say of Jenny was that she was simple.” Toward the end of the novel, Jenny finds a man, whom she always disliked, sprawled on the ground and dying of stroke. She awkwardly takes him in her arms.
“He had his face down between her breasts. She could feel a wetness. She began to weep. She could feel his mouth down there and wished, if that's what he wanted, that she could feed him, but she had no milk. She had had no milk now for more than forty years. They had pumped it out of her with a machine. She had begged and begged them, those nuns, not to take it, and all that night had dreamt of mouths pulling at her, and she didn't care in the end what they were, babies or poddy calves or little lambs or what, that were feeding off the rich stuff her body had stored up, which had been meant to feed a creature, not to be squeezed out with a machine. And all the time, out there somewhere, her own little baby was going hungry; or if it wasn't, it was being fed some other milk, not the one that had been made for it special in all the world; and for the whole of its life, poor thing, it would know that and feel the loss – that the world had stolen something from it that it would never have. She had looked around wherever she went after that, believing she would recognise the face of that little kid she had had the milk for, and who might be looking for it still.”

The world steals from us things – things we had but have lost, things which will never be in the first place - and one way it does this is to bury the things which were, including the people who were. Things rise and then fall, that is the natural order, and yet I cannot help feeling - strangely, I admit - the loss when I am in these places, alone on my motorcycle, passing an empty falling-down house.

Mid-way through the novel and just after his return from the war, Jenny's brother Digger is asked by a friend what it is that he is doing in King's Cross “hangin' about with this sorta rubbish?”
“It was the word he had used, rubbish, that Digger wanted to go back to. What came back to him at times, and too clearly, was that break in the forest and the fires he had tended there. It had given him such an awareness of just what it is that life throws up, and when it has no more use for it, throws off again. Not just ashes and bones, but the immense pile of debris that any one life might make if you were to gather up and look at the whole of it: all that it had worn out, used up, mislaid, pawned, forgotten, and carried out each morning to be tipped into a bin. Think of it. Then think of it multiplied by millions.
“What he would have wanted, given the power, was to take it all back again, down to the last razor blade and button off a baby's bootee, and see it restored. Impossible, of course.
“He wanted nothing to be forgotten and cast into the flames. Not a soul. Not a pin.”

A question might be asked: who feels the loss? And if you do not know these people, why feel it? A psychotherapist might ask, whom is it that you really grieve?

I am not interested in such questions here. What interests me is the way this sense of people, this felt sense when I ride through these places, matters to my riding. It is one reason that I have come to love riding so much, and a reason that I consider it a creative act rather than just a sport or leisure activity. Riding is an imaginative act of retrieval, of engagement with things I never saw or knew, but whose presence I sense as I travel through the same space in which they are enfolded, separated from me in time.