The rain is falling steadily this wet afternoon in Jacksonville Beach as I shuffle across a huge empty lot, a few acres that separate the motel where I am staying from the Winn Dixie plaza where there is hot deli food and beer and also a little rum, a little rum for a wet Sunday in a town where it seems to rain all the time. I am sniffling and making strange sounds with my throat because I have had some odd sinus infection for a month now and I am getting used to being a sap head and it rains a lot in Jacksonville, Florida.
A beautiful red-tail hawk of some considerable size dive bombs the retention pond as I pass by; it is a big hawk and it lights in a dead tree next to the pond and shakes the rain from its feathers and cocks its head to look me over and I pause, here in the rain, to admire this wild raptor living here in this field. There is a homeless camp nearby with a soggy sleeping bag and a cold fire pit that only seems to make things worse and I turn and shuffle away. There is rum and beer and hot deli-cooked barbecue ribs and baked beans ahead.. As I cross the field I turn and look back at the hawk and he is still there.
Peaceful Easy Feeling, Interrupted
There was time in my life when, (still living in my old house near the beach after Number Two departed the premises), when I would be awakened every morning by cooing doves, love doves, I think; they would be there in the big cedar tree that sheltered the back patio where I could also hear the sound of the waves crashing on the beach and they were a pair, always there, always there...myself, no longer a pair, was somehow comforted by the cooing of the doves and I was happy for them. I was alone, then, but at least I had the doves.
Then one day, sitting in the sunshine on my back porch, sun-stunned and beer-soaked, there was a violent fluttering overhead and one of the doves landed throat-ripped at the base of the tree. I looked up and there it was, a fierce hawk on the lowest branch (only feet away) from where I sat. The hawk was glaring at me and looking down at the dead dove and I mentally willed the murderer to swoop down to claim its prize so I could wreak hateful vengeance on this intruder, this killer...
But the hawk flew away and I went over to the dove and picked it up. I didn't know what to do. It was dead. I took it out to the wild palmetto thicket behind my property and laid it under a small palm growing there. I didn't know what to do. It seemed then that the reality of my life crashed straight into me and I was alone, now, alone like the other dove and I knew that tomorrow that other dove would be alone in the cedar tree and I was also alone, now.
This damnable Jacksonville rain dampens the world and I am tired. We have worked twenty days in a row and I am beginning to wonder when it will end. The clerk at the liquor store looks like maybe he was once in a barber shop quartet and his jolliness fails to change my mind about the rain but I appreciate his effort. I trundle back across the wet field with my food and drink and there he is, the hawk, there he is and I am glad to see him. I don't know why.
As I step into my room I suddenly think about my brother. I was leaving a liquor store in sunny St. Petersburg one afternoon over a decade ago, smiling about some witty remark I had made to the guy behind the counter. I heard a voice say “There's my brother, smiling in the sunshine.” I have told this story before but I don't care. Every time I see a hawk I remember my brother and that moment in the sun and I don't know why. They are not connected, as far as I know, hawks, I mean, and my brother. But I had those doves once and a hawk took one of them away and made me more aware of my loss and sorrow and for some reason hawks make me think of my lost brother and this rain, this damnable rain makes me something of brother to that hawk here today, in the rain.
I Am, After All, A Cyclist
What does any of this have to do with bicycles, with two wheels, with the long road? Well, nothing; and everything. Out there, sleek and tight-wrapped in our road clothes (our plumage of destruction) we are each (in our way) hawks. We fly swiftly and with gentle malice along our swift trails and we are raptors, of a sort; we roadies, we fast-runners...not the mountain crowd, today, I mean lean bicycles and dedicated suffering and joy on the tarmac and flying is our business and yeah, I have somehow lost my way and my road bike has been gathering dust in the corner, with a flat tire.
My brother has been gone for many years now and I never did learn why. But when I went to pick up the stuff he left behind out on the balcony of his lonely apartment there was a beat up old ten speed. It was a thing he learned from me, I remember, to always keep a ten speed handy. I never quite knew why but I always had one and so did he, my little brother.
This damnable rain makes for these times of sweet melancholy and I am not sorry for the dove, the lost dove nor for my lost brother; this is the way of the world and it is how it should be, I think. But I will soon enough begin to get my road bike back up strong and hawk-like and she will get gears and I will clothe myself in proper garb and I will once again take to the road, the long road of the far rides and once again pursue the answers that I seek; maybe there on the long road I can resume my search for the hawk and the dove and the answer to all of this, this rain and a hawk in the rain and the job of the long rider.