Pedalling with Hannah in the wind by Lake Marie

Here's Hannah Arendt finding words for my experience of riding a bicycle. Arendt is talking about air travel, but the insight transfers nicely enough: 

"[A]ny decrease of terrestrial distance can be won only at the price of putting a decisive distance between man and earth, of alienating man from his immediate earthly surroundings."

I tried an Arendtian experiment this afternoon, recording my trip, first on bike, then in car, along our front street and down 91 Avenue toward Andy's IGA. It's a windy day today. The wind brings back Heidegger's insight that wind is always wind-in-the-trees, which, as far as it has been given to me to understand, means that existence is mediated for human beings. We don't get it pure. It's a quick jump from Heidegger to John Prine who knows about the wind, too. For Prine, it's not just the wind, either.

Many years later I found myself talking to this girl

Who was standing there with her back turned to Lake Marie

The wind was blowing, especially through her hair.


The wind is bike-riding weather for me. I enjoy talking back to the gusts through the teeth of my gears. At this time of year, I listen for leaves scraping across the asphalt. Today, I watched myself listening to what could be heard, or not, from seat versus saddle. Here are my edited findings: 

My conclusions: my automobile cockpit effectively keeps out the force of the wind, mutes the sound of the scuttling leaves and makes it harder to say hello to dog walkers in the neighbourhood. 

And so what? 

How thrilling is to feel the wind on your face? How needful is it to notice the tin-foil leaves chase each other across the street? How vital is it to have a short conversation with a stranger? How important is it to labour—riding a bicycle does not happen without physical effort—to access those sensations?

These are the questions today.

Here's Arendt in another place:

"The 'blessing or joy' of labor is the human way to experience the sheer bliss of being alive which we share with all living creatures, and it is even the only way men, too, can remain and swing contentedly in nature's prescribed cycle, toiling and resisting, laboring and consuming, with the same happy and purposeless regularity with which day and night and life and death follow each other." 

Of course, Arendt has bigger game in sight than just celebrating how human beings share with all living creatures the need to labour.  The active life means something else for her. But those six words—the sheer bliss of being alive—are not nothing. 

I have found that, with a little bit of effort, I can get there on my bike. 


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