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A school I found.

A school I found.

Love those morning rides.

Same spot, years apart. Don’t ever see the same river twice.

Finally some shorts weather.

Finally some shorts weather.

Morning commute.

Morning commute.

My week this week.

My week this week.



​Everybody has a breaking point. Everybody has a weakness. Everybody has a point of no return.

​The dawn broke cold over the silence of the valley. He hunkered down under his sleeping bag, trying to preserve all the warmth he could. So cold, so hungry, so thirsty, so much pain. In his mind he ticked off the sins he’d committed in the days and hours before the crash. Not one of the them was mortal, but taken together, he had begun to understand, they had killed him.

​The early days of the journey were carefree and full of promise. The road lead east to the promise of adventure. The hostels in the small towns were run by kind men and women who took him in, fed him, befriended him, and waved goodbye as he packed his bags and rolled away, always eastward, in the mornings.

​There was every reason not to make the journey, and every reason to attempt it. He firmly believed that a human being needs something to push against. Pushing back against the earth, the force of gravity, the universe; it turns out that is what makes human beings human. It builds the strength of the body and sharpens the operation of the mind. This trip east, this was what he wanted to push against. He would be alone in vast landscapes. He would have himself and his gear, and like most of the explorers of the past, he would persevere.

​As the sun cleared the hills at the east end of the valley, he welcomed its warmth and summoned the strength to drag himself into a position where he could place his back to his motorcycle and feel the warmth of that sunrise on his face. He moved his useless right leg with his hands to get it where he wanted it, and tossed the filthy sleeping bag back over the lower half of his body. This was marginally better, and he closed his eyes as the heat seeped first into his filthy clothing and then his skin.
​It had been four days since he’d thrown it down the road. That morning had been crisp, and his belly was full of the last of his oats, brown sugar and coffee. His resupply was 300 kilometers further up the road, but he’d ridden that distance before dark on some of the worst roads in the world. It bothered him that he was down to 2 Clif bars, a packet of Sleepy Thyme tea, and just over a quart of water, but his confidence was high as he pointed the big R1200R into the rising sun. His experience and toughness had always got him through the tight spots he’d put himself in before, and this one wasn’t tight, yet.

​Riding with confidence, feeling the grip the gravel road offered, he stood on the pegs to let the big bike move freely underneath him as it rolled through pot holes and bounced over debris. The rise in the road was in the middle of a long straight. From his perch above his machine, he could see the road disappearing up the valley beyond the rise. He wound on a little more throttle as he came into the rise just to feel the suspension load as he transitioned into it and unload as he crested it. He loved that feeling of energy stored and released; he loved that feeling of weightlessness that came at the crest of hill when it is crested with just the right amount of speed.

​The physics of these moments were what brought him to motorcycles in the first place. Unlike a car, a motorcycle melds the mechanical forces at work upon the machine with the movement of the rider. To make a motorcycle turn, grip, accelerate, slow down- its rider must actively use his body in concert with the motions and forces generated by the machine underneath him. The operation of a car, by comparison, is a passive activity. However, in the event of a collision or accident, the rider of a motorcycle is always ejected from the vehicle. This is always painful and sometime fatal. The driver of an automobile, on the other hand, can be restrained within the superstructure of the vehicle in the event of a collision or accident. The rider of a motorcycle in is the world in a very real way, and there is danger and discomfort in this fact. This is exactly what drew him to two wheels and inspired him to go east in the first place.

​At the crest of the rise, he felt the machine go light underneath him at the exact moment he saw what the rise had hidden from his view and understood that there was no way he could navigate what was in front of him: he would run his bike off the road, crash, be thrown some distance through the air, and fall heavily on whatever might be is his path. He calculated all of this in an instant, and then he watched it play out, as if from a distance, in slow motion.
​The wheels settled back on the gravel. In front of him the road dropped off steeply, cut right, and arced into a long left around the collection of boulders (left there long ago by the retreating glacier which had formed this valley) and scrub trees. As the motorcycle went straight off the road, he did his best to apply maximum braking force without exceeding the traction limit of the tires on the gravel road. When the rear wheel started to lock, he backed off the rear brake. To have any hope of steering, the wheels had to be turning. He aimed his front tire for the gap between the two boulders directly in front of him.

​The sun rose a higher in the sky and he felt himself getting sleepy with its warmth. The ache in his belly seemed less, the dryness of his parched throat seemed to abate, even the stench that had begun to rise from the make shift bandage on his leg seemed to disappear. He felt comfortable for the first time in days. He could stay here now, he felt. There was no reason for him to go or be anywhere else.

​When the contact came from the boulder on his right it was bone crushing. The bars were jerked from his hands. His lower leg bones snapped and broke through his skin just above his ankle when he was thrown, twisting, from the motorcycle and his foot and ankle, in that instant, remained pinned between the bike and the boulder. The hard ground did not yield when his body finished the arc of its flight, and he struck it a thundering blow.

​As the sun gained altitude the strength of its rays increased. He let the sleeping bag fall from his legs. The stench of infection and gangrene rose to his nostrils but did not register in his mind. He was warm now, hot even, and his eyes closed as the deep, restful sleep that had eluded him since the crash weighed heavily upon him. It was beautiful here in this valley. He had every thing he needed here: the road, the natural beauty of the valley, the scent of pine. He felt himself begin to rise above the ordinary needs of human beings: no more hunger, no more thirst, not more pain, no more cold. He was becoming something else- something super human.

​When he could open his eyes after impact, he knew it was bad. The pain from his lower leg was excruciating; adrenaline coursed through his body and his mind felt slow as he processed the pain. He wanted to pull his thoughts together, to calm down, to make a plan of action, but he couldn’t get form a coherent course of action in his mind. At every turn, his body’s attempts at pain management derailed his thoughts. Minutes passed, then hours. He assessed the damage: compound fracture of lower right leg. Blood loss: minimal. Available food, 2 Clif bars and a tea bag. Available water: less than a quart. Motorcycle: rideable, but he was unable to lift it. Location: hidden from the road. Cell phone service: none. Possibility of someone finding him: remote- he had not seen another vehicle in 24 hrs. He had wanted adventure, and he produced a wry smile at the thought.
​The first day wasn’t too bad. He was able to limp or drag himself around the crash site. He nibbled his Clif bars, sipped his water, sucked on the tea bag, and was able to pull his sleeping bag out and use it like a blanket. The pain from his right leg became like the back ground noise of the city: omnipresent but just below the surface of his active mind. During the second day he ate the last of his food and sipped the last of his water. The fever came on after night fall. He thought it might be a symptom of his hunger, but by the morning of the third day he knew it wasn’t hunger; it was something that would kill him much sooner. The infection would cause his body to go septic- the fever was just the first act. Eventually his own blood would poison him. In the afternoon of the third day, he dragged himself to the road. He passed out twice from the pain and effort of the journey. He dragged himself into the center of the road. That way, when they came they’d have to stop for him, or he’d be killed when they ran him over. Either option seemed good. Nobody arrived to save or kill him.
​As he lay in the road and watched the gloaming first settle into and then fade out of the valley, he made his decision. Through his fever, his hunger, his thirst, his despair, a moment of clarity settled on him. He would have a good death- he would die in among the scrub trees near the machine that had brought so much joy and freedom to him while he lived. He began to drag himself off the road.

​The sun had reached it zenith when he stood up. He was surprised by the strength in his legs and through his whole body. He looked down at himself, and then up at the peaks of the valley and began to walk eastward, ever eastward.

Fiction for a Wednesday

The Evergreen Award

A fable

          Jack taught high school reading and writing. He had liked the job from the beginning, partly because it sometimes made him feel like he was important and partly because he had a feeling that there might not be enough purpose, intellectual or otherwise, available to high school students. With the latter near the front of his mind, Jack thought he might be able, on most days, to operate outside of the boundaries of the institution. To that end, he refused to put grades on papers or to give reading quizzes. Instead, he gave time and written responses to the papers he read.

          Jack was no crusader, but he did have the sense that some ways were better than others. He felt that letter grades were destructive and he chose not to assign them to the students’ daily work. He did not, however, feel any need to convert anyone else to his way of thinking.

          Many of the students he taught considered his class easy. “There are no grades on the papers; why would anybody really try? You don’t have to.” He knew for a fact that a few of them would not read a single book he assigned. Over the years, he had heard several students make that proclamation with intense pride, as if they had pulled the wool over someone’s eyes and gotten away with some act of intellectual quality. Jack read their papers with the same attention as he did the others. He felt he could out wait those students who didn’t read the books he’d assigned and wrote their papers during spare moments they had during the school day. He had found that the wait, more often than not, could extend well beyond a student’s tenure at the school. In many cases the wait would be indefinite. When Jack thought about that, he thought about Beckett and how that particular association made him believe that the waiting was necessary.

          Quite a few of Jack’s students liked to come to his class. Those students gave him the sense that what he did in class was, even if it wasn’t complicated, worth something. The part of him that needed validation took heart in this. After particularly long days, Jack could pull out, from the folder stashed at the back of the bottom drawer of the file cabinet, a “thank you, I’ve learned so much” note or two he had saved.

            Lately, Jack had found it harder to come to work. The birds singing in the predawn grayness that had begun to greet his morning wake-up did not hold much magic. Those songs, along with the crocus and snowdrop blossoms, heralded the coming of spring and, at school, Founder’s Day and its ritual salute to academic excellence: The Evergreen Award.

            The Evergreen Award was a substantial cash award given to recognize excellence in teaching at Jack’s school. Along with the money came recognition on The Plate. Each spring, the name of the winning faculty member would be etched into the expansive silver plate that featured, at its center, the school seal and the inscription, “A great place to be teacher.” The Plate, as it was known, was featured prominently at the main entrance of Jack’s school.

            Jack passed by it on most days without noticing he had done so. On other days it would catch his eye, and he would consider the names that were so carefully added each year. They read as a litany of those faculty members the students called the “hard” teachers. Sometimes, when he looked at The Plate, Jack would think about the comparative grade reports, by teacher and by class, that his department head would hand out at the end of each term, and remember the numbers under his name were several points higher than any of the numbers associated with any of the names on The Plate.

            These thoughts did not bother Jack too much. He knew he’d never be a hard teacher, and he’d decided that being a hard teacher wasn’t the way he could share his intellectual curiosity with his students.

            That unsettled feeling that had kept Jack from enjoying the robin’s song these past mornings hunkered down in his mind. Each year of the 11 he had been teaching, that feeling had returned when it neared the time a teacher to received The Evergreen Award. This year the feeling was worse.

            Jack couldn’t describe the feeling as envy for those who won it. He did not want to be any of them. He liked, however, the thought of the money. Hell, he had as much call to spend money as anyone. No, the feeling wasn’t envy. It was more like the beginnings of acute embarrassment or shame¾ something like the feeling one gets after opening the door to a bathroom that is occupied. And this year the feeling was worse: the head of school had nominated him for The Evergreen Award.

            Jack’s school had grown its facilities a little bit at a time over the years, but this year was the big one. This year the humanities building would be razed and replaced. The capital campaign was in full swing, and the head of school spent his days meeting potential donors over lunch. On a Wednesday afternoon in early April, the head of school sent word to Jack via e-mail: “Let’s meet to discuss your nomination. Today at 3pm works for me. See you then.”

            It was trepidation, not fear, that Jack felt when he entered the vestibule just outside the head of school’s office. He felt confused, like there had been some kind of mistake. Why would anyone want to put his name on The Plate?

            “Come in, sit down.”

            Jack did both, and the exchange of pleasantries began. After a few minutes had come and gone on the crest of conversation about the weather and the anticipation of spring break, the head broached the matter at hand.

            “Your teaching is going well. I wanted to let you know that I have heard good things about it. Having a teacher whose lessons come up at the dinner tables of our largest potential donors makes my efforts to secure funding for the new humanities wing that much easier. You’ve greased the wheels in couple of instances.”

          The conversation continued on for a few more minutes before it wound down and both Jack and the head of school glanced at their watches. They stood and shook hands.

          “The Evergreen Award,” the head of school said, as if The Plate itself had the power to create or destroy, “brings a lot of guarantees along with it. Good luck.”

          Jack nodded and passed out into the hall by way of the vestibule. “So that’s it,” he thought. He walked back to his classroom to pick up his school bag. On the drive home he thought about Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and hit upon a good way to challenge his student’s to see that the brick maker, that “papier-mâché Mephistopheles” who had no straw, as the most significant character in the novel. He also thought about Ronnie and his dinner table. He smiled a little. He liked Ronnie, and Ronnie liked his class. He felt good when the alarm went off Thursday morning.

          The days past; spring break came and went. The Evergreen Award sub committee of the Instructional Senate, chaired by the head of school, had met and come to its decision. On the last Friday in April, Founder’s Day, the school gathered in the gymnasium for the announcement and acceptance of the Evergreen Award. Teachers were seated at regular intervals among the students to assure decorum for the event. The nominees were seated on a low stage behind the podium.

          The head of school approached the podium and the room, at the urging of authority, quieted down.

          “The Evergreen Award is the highest award that this institution can bestow on upon one of its own. We have one of the finest faculties of any school, anywhere. The names on The Plate are the names of the best of the best. The legacy of the Evergreen Award is the soul of this institution. It makes this school a great place to be a teacher, and as it is a great place to be a teacher, it is a great place to be a student. This year’s recipient of the Evergreen Award is, Jack Straw.”

          Jack rose when he heard his name. He approached the podium and waited for the applause to die down and for the audience to be seated.

          “No thank you,” he said.



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