Tall Tales

Last week in the midst of some warm and humid weather I decided to ride my bicycle into Freiburg to join one of the monthly church groups – the Wise Ones.  While the group is a fellowship group for those who are retired, they let me join partly because I’m the minister, and partly, I think, because I have some grey hair, and as the Celtic tradition says, a head of grey hair is a sign of wisdom.

As I started out my journey I tried out one of the features of my GPS that will calculate various routes, be it by bike, by foot, or by car.  Having figured that I’d seen a few different routes to the church already, I programmed the GPS to take me on a hilly route.  This is where I think I gained a few more grey hairs, but proved not to be very wise.

After the first 2 kilometres it became evident to me that I was going to get my heart racing.  The suggested road to take turned out to be an over-grown edge of a field that the farm tractor may have seen a few weeks ago.  Nonetheless, I persevered in ignorance.

Next came a short, but steep, jaunt through the vineyards.  The grapes are coming into season, the air was warm, the clouds were darkening and I could hear thunder in the distance.  Of all the days to have a thunderstorm!  The idyllic scenery could not conquer the steady pounding in my ears of my own racing heartbeat as I was set to ignore every possible switchback and continued on my course straight up the hill.  I became mildly concerned to find the hair on my arms standing upright with ever-blackening clouds and ever-nearing sounds of thunder.

With about 200 metres until I reached the canopy of the Black Forest the heavens opened and the rain poured.  Receiving shelter from the tall trees only made me feel protected from the violent crashing of the thunderstorm, yet the rain drops fell more heavily as they gathered their forces together off of the tall leafed trees and plunged down.

The dirt path quickly became a small stream and mud splashed up from my wheels to ensure that whatever dry part of my clothes was left would be properly soaked.  Wisdom tells you to bring an extra change of clothes (which I did, thinking I would be too sweaty), wisdom might also tell you to put your clothes in a dry bag (which I didn’t) and still when I arrived at the church I was allowed to participate in the Wise Ones meeting.  The rain actually fell from the trees so hard that it took me a moment to realize that my route had been changed.  The water drops falling in rapid and heavy succession upon my touch screen GPS had canceled my current route and changed it to something altogether more impossible.

As I stood in the rain pretending to find shelter under the trees and hunching my back over my electronic navigation system so that I might find my correct course, or better yet, my actual location it occurred to me that I had not seen anyone on my ride.  Usually I would have encountered dozens of people out for a bike ride, or a hike.  Either everyone knew that there would be a thunderstorm, or I was so far into the woods that there was definitely no restaurant, or Gasthaus nearby – this by German standards is completely lost.  Your mind begins to play tricks on you as you become more chilled from the rain and you feel disoriented.  Had I been somewhere in Canada I would have felt as if I was on a logging road and been concerned that a bear might come out of the woods.  All the German fairytales started to come to mind, but not in the Disney versions, rather the original German versions which are far more gruesome.

Onwards and still upwards! After the momentary lapse in confusion, I mounted my bike and began to plod my way steadily uphill.  I began to use my better judgement for a change and started reading the signs and ignoring my GPS so that I eventually made my way down the other side of the hill towards my destination.  It was only then that finally the heavens opened and the blue sky and bright sun showed up, a little too weakly to actually dry anything off, but it was good for the mood.

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Bike riding is full of adventure, but later I learned from my parents that sometimes the adventure comes to you…even in your own home.  We might be half a world away, but we find ways of communicating our stories and adventures.  Having a running commentary this morning by text message about the large Black Bear that has found its way into the house and made itself very much at home in the kitchen with several hamburger buns, and a jar of peanut butter would certainly surprise anyone, even the family dog.  Eventually the determined bear was scared off, but surely the story will live on and grow into a family memory, a legendary tale.

I think I will stick to my rainy bike ride up the side of the mountain then come face to face with a large Black Bear and her jar of peanut butter.  At the end of the story I think we are all, a little greyer, and I hope, a little wiser.

The Comma in my Day

The comma offers a pause, a break, in a sentence. The comma is a much needed in punctuation, and in life.  The comma comes as a grateful welcome when I read German with its extraordinarily long compound words that make some paragraphs a page long.  Punctuation has entered newsworthy status as I have heard about a long-distance truck drivers union winning a legal battle regarding overtime because of the Oxford Comma placed in the wording of a contract.  Similarly, an entertaining BBC short video about a person who blurs the lines of ethical vandalism as he lurks around high streets changing grammar mistakes in shop signs and advertising.  The person tapes over misplaced apostrophes in the dark of night.

The comma can change meanings of sentences.  I’ve discovered the change of of meaning in the simple phrase, “Ja, ja”.  “Yes, yes” as a statement of agreement, and then if the pause on the comma is too long, and the tone perceived as sarcastic, “Ja, ja” comes across in a vastly different way that is taken as an insulting slight, like “whatever”, or much worse.

On my day off, like a comma in a sentence, I went on a gentle bike ride.  The ground is only slightly graded so that there are no real hills to encounter, and only occasionally would I need to pedal.  Mounded fields are beginning to yield asparagus.  Poly-tunnels shelter acres of strawberries.  Storks are nested upon tall posts.  Before I knew it I found myself at the Rhein.  While not a long journey, only a 26 Kilometres round-trip, it was a welcome pause that changed the sentence of my day.