I realize the Algren-esque view from my office isn't much. But the little puffs of air that come through the open window bring the whole world into my lungs and make my heart leap over and over again all summer long. It makes me remember this passage from Murray Cycle Diaries, a philosophical account of my trip eight years ago to Nova Scotia.
Whipping through the air on a motorcycle, there’s altogether too much happening. All the senses are working at once. And working hard.
I see cows in the paddock but an argument ensues when my nose swears it’s a pig farm.
I feel the cool before I smell the fish before I see the lake.
It’s raining now, but the wind got heavier five minutes ago.
Buzz past a lawn, smell fresh grass clippings, ride through road construction, smell fresh dirt, pass a logging truck, smell the wood, ride into town, smell for your lunch.
I couldn’t tell you what the Molson brewery in Montreal looks like but I remember how it smells.
Pine fumes are such a powerful intoxicant that I worried that if I was pulled over I would fail a sobriety test. (A Mountie spokesman reported that the American was riding at three times the legal limit of exultation.)
The instantaneous deep heartwarmth of an occasional sunburst on a cloudy day.
The quick whiff of wood smoke.
And the one you have to earn: the salty air of the Atlantic Ocean.
Riding down a tiny asphalt path of a road so close to the farms it seems we’re riding on them. The horse loam transforms the Triumph into Taffy, the leather-mouthed orange pony that I rode when I was eight. I’m riding her bareback, charging up hill and flying down dale and galloping, galloping, galloping, desperately, angrily, joyfully. She thinks she’s running away with me. No, I’m running away with her!
Because it is so overwhelming, riding a motorcycle is constantly frustrating. I’m aware I’m taking in too much too fast and I realize my billowing brain will leave me with few words, and only a useless emotion-memory, impossible express to anyone who doesn’t ride and unnecessary to explain to anyone who has.
The only way to alleviate the anxiety and pain is to lump all this infinite experience together and tell myself that I’ve seen it, smelled it, heard it, felt it all before.
But if I do, I will dismiss the smell that I can’t assign.
“What is that?” I ask myself in those words inside my helmet and I inhale deeply, twice and three times and fill my chest with it and let it seep into me.
By process of elimination I finally recognize it as the summer fragrance, encountered more frequently but less gratefully in my youth, of happiness itself.
From this desk, I will never write anything sad in the summer.