Monday December 31, 2012

I only have two motorcycles, but the rest of my stuff could more than fill an Ikea warehouse. Mallory is worse off than I am.

So how did I get to this overstuffed state? I really have no idea. But I imagine that we all suffer from the notion that almost anything, no matter how beat up, might come in handy some day. I think that "some day" part is critical: just when will someday come? Next week? Next month? How about 10 years? After listening to a friend describe the catharsis he experienced from cleaning out his garage, I cracked. "If you don’t use it, lose it," I cried, and "there will be blood."

Don’t ask me why, but I started with the maybe 10,000, randomly arranged slides I have accumulated over the years. I’ve got images of trips I’ve taken, and places I’ve lived since 1965. Australia, Paris, Vietnam, Guatemala, London, Borneo, Santa Barbara, Venice and Mt. Mansfield. They’re all there, and most of them are just mediocre pictures at best. So I attacked. I had a trashcan filled after 30 minutes of vicious tossing. OH YEAH! Time for a break.

I found myself in the garage putting the finishing touches on the winterization of the bikes. I just can’t put them down for the winter with road crud on the wheels. As I was on my back with the BMW, I started to realize that the dirt I was removing with a lightly oiled cloth was the same stuff I had collected on my last great ride of the season -- three days in central Vermont. Two nights at the Lilac Inn in Brandon, and two dinners at Café Provence.

One of those days had me heading west out of Brandon on 73 over to Orwell, and then north to Addison on 22A. There, the goal was to catch 17 east to Bristol (note to self: Bristol needs another visit), and then through Lincoln Gap to Warren on Rt. 100. The Gap was already closed, so I stayed on 17 as it swept north and east. It was too beautiful for words. I was threading my way along the Huntington River looking at the uplift of the Greens. It was early, so the leafless trees and hills were almost purple in the low light. But the persistent leaves on the occasional big-toothed poplars looked like someone had touched the slopes with blots of cadmium yellow from a big camel’s hair brush. The next thing I knew, I was winding my way up to Appalachian Gap. Passing the grinding truck was an afterthought -- that’s why we ride these things -- and then I pulled over for a long look west from the Gap itself. Who knew that heaven had an altitude of just under 2400 feet?

And then I hit Rt. 100. If you can get past the spotty frost heaves, it’s one of the very best motorcycle/bicycle/auto roads in the state. I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten this stretch of the road. The Granville Gulf Reservation is a knife-thin crease though steep cliffs, lush ferns, and occasional Hobbits. Then it was up and over Rt. 125, where I always stop and reread Frost’s poem Reluctance at his interpretive trail. It’s uncanny how well he understood a person like me. That night, I had truffle-oiled, wild-mushroom risotto at the Café as I mulled over the concept of perfection. Great memories triggered by just one layer of road dirt!

OK, back to the slides. Stay tough! The first one I picked up was of Mallory, standing next to a 15-foot tall Agave on the rough road to the top of Cerro Potosi in northern Mexico. We had just been married in San Miguel de Allende and were slowly drifting back to Vermont. There were some rare plants on top of the 12,000 giant and we were going to have a look. After just a second or two with this slide, my mind raced back to the honeymoon at Tikal, the shrimp on the docks of Alverado, the wonderful old man on the beach at Montepio, the witches of Catemaco, and on and on. Hmmm, better keep this one. In fact, why not redirect this mindless spasm to all those jars of nails and useless styrofoam pieces?

If my good friends at Thompson House have taught me one thing, it is that as we plow along in life, there comes a time when there is a lot more to see in the rear-view mirror than there is through the windshield. All of our memories can be found back there. They’re what we’ve done, where we’ve been, and who we are. Because most of us don’t publish a memoir, and who would read it anyway, they’re all we’ve got. There they are, priceless film clips, tucked away in nooks and crannies, and we can play them over and over again. Perhaps the best part is that you never know what will cue one of them up.

I put the slide back into its sleeve and put the pile of sleeves away. "Slow down, hombre. Get to work on the real junk." And I did.

Bob Engel lives in Marlboro with his motorcycles, wife and cat.


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