A Bicyclist's Conditional Response To The Changing Weather; Or, On Listening

It is said that Hemingway famously said that it was the sound of others that taught him how to use his own voice.
Papa don't preach. He listens!

The formulation makes perfect sense, of course, until you try to unpack it. For, what is Hemingway
saying, precisely? That most people never listen to other people? To some other people? To themselves? To nature? To the essence of things? To audible sounds? To silence? To everything?

And there is another difficulty in the pronouncement, and is contained in the knot of the first four words of the quote: I like to listen. Easy to say, easy to write, easy to apply to myself, but check it against my experience of the world, where the sense of "I" seems to grow in direct proportion to the sound of "I." Stronger, it seems, is the urge to speak, to make my points, to make my voice heard than the urge to keep quiet, listening, contemplating. Hemingway claims to have overcome this seemingly eternal urge that has bedevilled us, seemingly eternally. One senses that that spiritual accomplishment of getting himself out of the way is the first and most significant prize claimed by Hemingway in his capacity as listener without equal.

Lately, I have been thinking more mundane thoughts about listening after avoiding by only a few seconds being sideswiped by a car driver not up to the task of hearing what the road was saying.

The road through Glenora was coated by a thin layer of morning ice, making cornering a bit tricky for all vehicles great and small. (It'll get better for me when I put the spiked tires back on.) If you watch the end of the video carefully you will see a bit tricky turn into more than a bit angry, as the car driver, in frustration, pounds the steering wheel.

So, what happened in that little bit of drama that unfolded in front of my handlebar camera? There was a decision to put off putting on winter tires, for sure. There was the fact of physics and one of the laws of motion when friction leaves the equation. There might be emotional factors, too. Was the driver in a rush to drop off a forgotten lunch to a son or daughter? Had he just convinced his wife that the winter tires didn't have to go on until the end of November, when he had some time off work? And so on.

Indisputable, though, was the driver's failure, willed or not, to hear what the road was saying, which was pretty simple: slow the &%#* down!

A few blocks down the road, a fellow cyclist was presented with the same silent suggestion from the road. He responded by slowing down, and putting a foot down, and avoiding a crash and the cost of replacing bent wheels.

That cyclist listened to the road and heard something that the car driver didn't. There was a listen to the glisten. Not exactly what Hemingway was talking about, but, still, an example of the difficulty of listening to things other than yourself. Or the challenge of hearing what is on the other side of the noise of the powerful automobile.

For me, a bicycle is a lot of things. But, above all, it is a listening post. It is a piece of rolling geometry (two triangles, two circles) that lets me in on the gentle, urgent sound of things. Yes, there are other ways to take in the voice of the road, other more obvious ways, other more in-your-face ways that turn the whole proposition away from the skill to hear and toward the ability to read. Other ways like the way the city, a day after my traffic circle near-sideswipe, tried to make its voice heard.

City says listen up!


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