Friends of my family had a good sized ranch in the hill country. This was not a West Texas ranch of open acres and empty horizons. It was a winding, contorted, isolated hill country ranch, filled with empty creek beds, cliffs, ponds, and limestone walled pastures.
The ranch house sat on one of those pastures–a field about the size of a suburban front yard. Guarded by steep hills on three slides, the pasture gently sloped to a river. It was secluded. Perhaps that is why whatever tribes had once inhabited the area had chosen the field to craft arrowheads.
I remember visiting and walking over the spot littered by discarded flint. It was wonderful. Every step revealed something new, something different.
Our host sat on the porch, drinking his coffee watching us. Somehow, he had lost the wonder, the awe, of discovery. He still enjoyed the beauty of the view, the quiet. But somehow, it had all become mundane. His wandering in the woods along the limestone bluffs was driven by necessity–finding a lost dog, repairing a fence, feeding the goats. There was nothing left for him to explore; he knew all of the sites, finds, secrets of the spot.
I worry, that I have slipped into that complacency as an academic. Novels, literary criticism, educational theory–I wade into them to find lessons, classes. The notion that I have been there, done that, seen that gnaws at me as I work through a fantasy novel.
Bicycling disrupts the arrogance of that complacency. The same trail through the planned development of cookie cutter homes reveals something different on every ride. Sometimes, the different is breathtaking and unexpected–a coral snake shooting across the trail in technicolor splendor. Sometimes, it is the expected demanding attention–trails hidden by fall leaves.
Riding reminds me to look.