What if…?

The world of speculative fiction starts with that question and imagines a world to answer it. Ursula K. LeGuin is variously seen as a writer of fantasy or science fiction, but most of her work falls into the realm of speculative fiction – imagining a change in what we call human or how we see the world and then watching it play out. Some of those changes may just be an accurate look into our near future; others may be fundamental changes in our world (or set on other worlds).

“The Left Hand of Darkness” imagines a world without gender, in which humans go into heat but are otherwise asexual, and a world whose tropical regions look like earth’s polar regions, with the polar regions colder yet. How would that world play out?

“The Dispossessed” imagines an earth we have destroyed, a revolution ending in stalemate, and an anarchist rebel group settling on the moon while the capitalist rulers remain on earth. The two groups initially have nothing to do with each other, but what happens if your interests and knowledge are shared primarily by those on the other world?

“Vaster Than Empires and More Slow” posits a world with no animal life – only plants. Humans arrive to explore the world and slowly discover it is not what it seems initially. The world begins to appear to be interconnected and plants communicate with each other. This idea may have been far-fetched when written, but we now know that Aspen groves are clones – a single organism with a single underground root structure and many stems. We also know there is a vast underground fungal network and that trees share nutrients via this network – amd they are not just single-organism stands like the Aspens.

“The Word for World is Forest” (which I mis-remembered as the story above, so I re-read it recently) posits a world colonized by humans, inhabited by creatures humans think of as subhuman, and how formerly peaceful people rebel against that subjugation. The book was written during the war in Viet Nam and could be seen as an allegory for that war.

In “The Matter of Seggri”, LeGuin builds a world in which men live inside of a walled city and women live outside the walls. Male children are sent to be with other men at age 11. Women vastly outnumber men and men are used primarily to sire children (and also for recreational sex, working in “fuckeries”) and to provide entertainment via sports. The tale is told from multiple viewpoints (from the logs of explorers who visit the planet) and the world appears vastly different depending on who is telling the story.

LeGuin’s parents were anthropologists and studied the interaction between the modern world and the indigenous peoples of California and South America, so it seems an extension of their work that she plays with the interaction between colonizing humans and other worlds. She wrote many books and stories based on the Hainish universe, an interstellar network of humans, with the center of their civilization being the planet Hain, and Earth being one of the worlds colonized by them in the distant past.

Not germane to the topic, but I couldn’t resist. I never thought of this device as a “food waste disposer” but that is where we dispose of our food waste after digestion.

Half-fast fall colors tour

Being (mostly) old retired people, we decided to do our annual half-fast fall colors ride twice. Episode One was this week. Four of us headed out after breakfast at the Jaybird Cafe (resurrected from the old Blue Spoon Cafe, an experiment by Culver’s that did not survive the apocalypse pandemic.)

Morning sun over the Wisconsin River

We realized en route that we retired in the opposite of age order, meaning the nearly 74 year old Rollie Fingers is still working, and the merely 65 year old Tim Buctoo has been retired for years.

We traveled some of the roads from the coast to coast tour. Here is one of the route arrows. Luckily this is our home territory, so we didn’t have to follow the arrows, as we were going the other way.

We headed across the Wisconsin River via a route that required crossing it a second time (via ferry) before lunch. There was a chill in the air as the fog lifted. Tights, jackets, and full fingered gloves were in order until lunch at the Little Village Cafe in Baraboo. This time we saved room to split a slice of pumpkin bourbon cheesecake before the ride back to Prairie du Sac. We traveled in a counter-clockwise direction, saving the hills for after lunch. A bottle of bubbly was chilling for the end of the ride. Life is tough when you’re retired.

Episode Two will be in a couple more weeks. You’ll hear about it here first.

Ferry cross the (not) Mersey

“Cause this land’s the place I love/and here I’ll stay” (or at least return to in 3.5 weeks)

“I thought Wisconsin was flat”: most heard comment in the last two days.

Dinner last night was at Tumbled Rocks Brewery outside of Baraboo, with S&T, I, M, & L from my former job. After a walleye filet with grilled potatoes and green beans (plus helping the kids with their fries) accompanied by a Scotch Ale and a Dunkel, it was decided that I needed more calories so added a Champagne Crème Brûlée.

This morning we had a tour of Baraboo. Leaving campus we coasted down toward town but, on the way out, there was a short but steep hill that had some of the folks walking and led to a few of those comments above.

There is a nice (by which I mean short and steep) climb into Devil’s Lake State Park and then a switchback-laden descent to the lake. After a ride along the lakeshore there is a gradual descent back to the highway, then a turn through wetlands and down to the ferry. I offered folks the option of an additional pre-ferry loop up Devil’s Delight Road to the ridge again with a descent farther down. They all declined.

Along the lakeshore
A few of the crew crossing the lake. Terry (in Canada jersey) is the blogger at terrysspokereport@blogspot.com. Four countries are by the five people in the foreground.

There was a healthy hatching of mayflies overnight to introduce folks to that feature.

Mayflies on the boat. I brushed one off of my rear brake 50 miles later.
View from the ferry crossing Lake Wisconsin

After the ferry we continued through some of my favorite country before turning east into the flatter (more rolling) glaciated area. We came within about 25 miles of my house.

I have ridden past this many times but never stopped to take a picture. Note the “person” behind the wheel.

After lunch in Rio (pronounced “rye-oh”), we continued on to Beaver Dam. Ice cream and white cheddar popcorn helped delay my arrival but I was still much too early for the trailer unloading. The tent was spread out to dry and then packed away, as we are staying in the dorms of Wayland Academy.

Someone scoffed at my “Horribly Hilly Hundreds” jersey and asked, “how many feet of vertical?” When another someone pointed to the number “11,000 feet” on my back, his expression changed to one of respect. Yeah, Wisconsin is flat.

It may be just me, but I think from the turnoff to Schutte Road mentioned yesterday to the ferry crossing today may have been the best day of this tour.

Ain’t that peculiar?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_2072.jpg
I’ve ridden past this corner many times. Tonight I finally stopped for a picture.

I startled a pair of deer on a recent ride. Rather than run uphill away from me, they ran along the shoulder of the road for about 100 feet, then dashed across my path and headed down to the wooded creek bank. Trying to think like a deer, I imagined that they figured that if they were going to be pinned down somewhere, they wanted water and shelter. Either that or they’re just stupid, running across the highway in my path, instead of away from it.

I came around a bend quickly and encountered a pair of sandhill cranes. I braked and swerved to give them space. One paid me no mind. The other, with a few graceful wing beats, rose a few feet off the ground and soared 20 feet down the road, coming to rest in the road again. I was enthralled by how such a big bird could get airborne so quickly and gracefully, and come to rest so smoothly. Apparently it had realized I wasn’t a threat. Its partner was still strolling. Thinking anthropomorphically, I imagined the flyer was trying to be cool and pretend it hadn’t been startled. “I just decided to fly a few feet. It’s cool…”

Another red tailed hawk flew over head. I managed to keep both wheels on the road this time as I watched it soar by 15 feet off the ground. It helped that it crossed just ahead of me, rather than directly over head.

In my continuing Wednesday Night‘s Greatest Hits tour, last week I rode from Lodi to the Baraboo Bluffs, crossing on the Merrimac Ferry and climbing Devil’s Delight Road – short but steep enough to require switchbacks anyway. If any of you remember biorhythms (a popular schema in the ’70s), the theory posits that we have three rhythms that follow sine waves at different periods. If all three line up at the top of the wave, you have a great day. If they all line up at the bottom of the wave, it will be a bad day. Last Wednesday was one of those days. I had no energy. Every climb was a chore. Even going down was hard. There seemed to be headwinds in all directions. After climbing Devil’s Delight, I turned around and headed back down, short of the ridge and cutting at least ten miles off the loop I had planned. At least I got two ferry crossings in.

Luckily I saved the ride that is usually that week and did it tonight. The ride starts at Black Earth; if you see the ground being turned in the spring the reason for the name becomes obvious. The Black Earth Creek watershed contains incredibly rich, black soil – even after 150 years of farming. The route crosses the ridges multiple times, with five steep climbs. The person who wrote the cue sheet for this ride illustrated the climbs with evil grinning jack o’lantern demon faces. I felt much better tonight and the five climbs were great fun, as was the 5 miles along Blue Ridge Road, staying on the ridge until the 40 mph downhill. One of the ridges is occupied by the Camp That Must Not Be Named, where my daughter spent many summers and some winter weeks – and I was a counselor-in-training there 51 years ago. The route includes the “easy” side of Sutcliffe Road, meaning that the downhill side is the one where I have hit 50 mph on my steel bike. Tonight as I approached 50 mph I felt a little oscillation in the frame. Rather than just squeeze the top tube with my knees, I feathered the brakes. Either this bike feels less stable at that speed, or I’m just getting old.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_2073.jpg

One couldn’t ask for a better late July day for a ride…85 degrees (30 Celsius), dew point 59 (15 degrees Celsius), winds less than 5 mph, just enough clouds to give the place atmosphere, and the smell of corn ripening in the fields.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_2074.jpg

My post-ride beer was a timely one. I’d seen it in stores but hadn’t tried it. Since I forgot my church key tonight I needed something in cans, and voila!

While my guitar gently weeps

The song could have been written (but wasn’t) while listening to Peter Green. One more round from his guitar gently weeping. First is this BB King song, with an opening that sounds like Mose Allison could have written it – “I’ve got a mind to give up living/And go shopping instead”:

There is also a great 1968 live recording of BB himself available on YouTube; BB being the other great guitarist who knows it’s not the number of notes you play, but the soul you put into those notes. That recording also contains a great organ part and a horn funeral dirge. I’ve been listening to Peter Green all week. Slow blues may not be your cup of tea, but he and his guitar continue to weep with his own song:

It almost hurts to listen to Peter Green. He doesn’t play notes, he draws beauty and suffering from the instrument. His voice aches. But when the song is over, I feel at peace.

Devil’s Delight!

When I was in high school, I had a riding partner. We’ll call him Al, which is a good thing, since that’s what his parents called him. We rode motorcycles together. We also washed dishes together for the infamous Grace. If I haven’t written about her before, she’s another story all together. Let me know in the comments if you want to hear about her some other time.

Al and I graduated from motorcycles to bicycles when we turned 21. We were perfectly matched. We would ride side-by-side, mile after mile, in the same gear at the same cadence. When we came to hills, I would ride up the hill, turn around and ride down, then ride back up a second time with Al. It seems arrogant now but, at the time, it was just a lot of fun – I loved climbing hills. Gels and energy bars and Shot Bloks didn’t exist in those days. I carried dates (and sometime figs) in my handlebar bag and, when a big hill loomed, I’d eat a date for energy for the climb.

One day Al and I were riding in the Baraboo Hills. We were flying down a steep descent. Suddenly, the road turned 90 degrees and simultaneously turned to gravel. There was no way we would make the turn. There was no way for either of us to warn the other. We both aimed for a gap in the trees and hit the brakes. We came to a stop in the woods. We’d missed all the trees, we hadn’t flatted, we hadn’t crashed. We dropped our bikes, hugged each other, took a deep breath, and got back on. When we reached the bottom, we saw the road sign – “Devil’s Delight Road”. No doubt how it got its name.

I came to discover that Devil’s Delight was more fun to go up than down. It is one of the few roads around here steep enough to require switchbacks – most climbs are short enough that they just carve the road right up the hill, no matter how steep.

I began to fantasize a route – the Devil’s Delight Double Century, or El Diablo Doble – I wasn’t sure which I’d call it. Maybe after I retire I’ll finally set up the route. Don’t hold your breath. But it’ll have to include the 18% pitch on Terrytown Road.

But that’s not why I asked you here today. Today was the Lodi ride; from Lodi to the Merrimac Ferry, across Lake Wisconsin on the ferry, up Devil’s Delight, to the top of Devil’s Lake State Park, flying down through the switchbacks to the lake, then back to the ferry and back to Lodi. We also crossed the Ice Age Trail multiple times.

Devil’s Lake
Switchbacks ahead!

If you want statistics, you’ve come to the wrong place. How many watts did I put out? Attach a lightbulb to me and see if it stays lit. I can tell you my heart rate remained in the optimal range throughout – that’s non-zero. How many miles did I ride? Enough to get me back to where I started. I might tell you how many fawns darted across the road in front of me, and whether mama was on the other side scouting out the territory or darted out into my path after the baby as I was flying down the bluffs in the park. (Mom went first; I was safe, as was the baby.) I might tell you how many sandhill cranes I saw in the marsh along Marsh Road. (Zero, because there were trees between us – but it was either a really noisy crane or a lot of ’em.) I might tell you what flavor of ice cream I ate as I waited for the ferry. (None – I didn’t want ice cream in my belly before climbing the bluffs, and on the way back I didn’t have to wait for the ferry – I arrived just as it was unloading and walked straight on.) Anyway, that’s the life of a half-fast cyclist – I’d rather tell you what ice cream I ate than how far or fast or hard I rode.

First rosebud, front yard.
Peony, back yard – ants love ’em for the nectar.