During Wind and Rain

 

During Wind and Rain

Like Julius Caesar on the Ides of March, I defied my wife’s advice. She said, as I mounted the bike, ‘they predict wind and rain. Don’t go.’

I did go and a pleasant ride it was through darkened streets, shining in the streetlight. Clouds muffled sound, the traffic was not yet up or much about, my old legs pedalled a judicious way and I felt cheerful and vindicated, like Julius before the Rotunda. My rotunda struck with fine – indeed wifely – force in the park, about fifteen minutes out from warmth and shelter. 

The wind was a whip that circled and struck, now flinging the bike broadside, now howling head-on against me. I pushed the pedals and nothing moved except a wifely voice saying she told me so.

I could still feel my fingers but they were not the fingers of one alive. My face stung, my shapely legs experienced piloerection within the all-weather tights that now sogged and flapped. My nipples froze and I knew I’d never breastfeed.

I thought of Thomas Hardy, the voice of winter’s wintering and I was warmed and cheered.  I saw beneath my wheels ‘the sick leaves reel down in throngs.’ I bethought myself of my loved ones, both those warm and safe and those lying outdoors, as ‘down their carved names the rain drop ploughs.’

Remembering a loved poem is like meeting a loved friend. Hardy wrote ‘During Wind and Rain’ in 1917, five years after his wife died.

They sing their dearest songs—
He, she, all of them—yea,
Treble and tenor and bass,
And one to play;
With the candles mooning each face …
Ah, no; the years O!
How the sick leaves reel down in throngs!

They clear the creeping moss—
Elders and juniors—aye,
Making the pathways neat
And the garden gay;
And they build a shady seat…
Ah, no; the years, the years;
See the white storm-birds wing across!

They are blithely breakfasting all—
Men and maidens—yea,
Under the summer tree,
With a glimpse of the bay,
While pet fowl come to the knee…
Ah, no; the years O!
And the rotten rose is ript from the wall.

They change to a high new house,
He, she, all of them—aye,
Clocks and carpets and chairs
On the lawn all day,
And brightest things that are theirs…
Ah, no; the years, the years;
Down their carved names the rain-drop ploughs.

 

Thomas Hardy: During Wind and Rain 

I, the Echidna

One of Australia’s treasures, a relic from an earlier age, plods with measured tread across the country road ahead. One forefoot drags its opposite hindfoot, the second forefoot draws the hindermost, ungainly-stately steps from antiquity into the path of the rushing beast of noise and metal and plastic that is the motor car.
The echidna is a pachyderm*, related to olden things and oldest times. We do not meet as equals on the metalled road. The echidna waddles his slow way, oblivious, helpless, a mute witness to slow time.
The echidna survives. By the grace of remote places and broad emptiness the echidna reaches the other side.
So far I have never hit one.

On my pushbike I am the echidna. Ponderous, of another time, I travel with my unheeding back to the traffic. I too am a relic, not replaceable. My bike – heavy and old and unfashionable – carries two someones’ brother, three children’s father, the grandfather of seven tenderlings, the lover of one wife. My bike carries its freight of olden time awkwardly, a slow forewheel dragging a lagging, swaying rearwheel.

Last week an old friend called and asked – have you ever seen a road fatality close up?
Yes.
Does it stay with you? How do you handle it?
It never goes away.
My friend saw a cyclist hit by one vehicle, fall into the path of a following truck. He saw the head removed from the trunk then pass beneath a rear wheel.
My friend does not sleep well. He cannot ride there, where he was wont to ride. He will not drive his own car in that road.
My friend lived the moment of witness when a vigorous human became extinct flesh.

I ride on, a human echidna.

*Is it a pachyderm? I’d like to think so, but I fear I am confusing the spiny anteater with the elephant and the woolly haired mammoth. An easy mistake to make.