To The Best Of Our Knowledge is a program on National Public Radio. On the way to my ride Sunday they aired a program called “Poetry in a Troubled Time”. The program began with reactions to the pandemic, the “Troubled Time” to which the title refers. It opened with a pandemic poem by a writer in Lake Mills WI, which garnered national attention. I was riding to Lake Mills that day, so the program seemed apropos.

Charleis Bukowski wrote:

“all theories
like cliches
shot to hell,
all these small faces
looking up
beautiful and believing;
I wish to weep
but sorrow is
I wish to believe but believe is a
we have narrowed it down to
the butcherknife and the
wish us

Host Anne Strainchamps called the poem “pretty dark”. Charles Monroe-Kane took great hope in the phrase “wish us luck”. Strainchamps wanted the program to be about poetry “as a refuge, as a consolation”. Monroe-Kane noted, “…heartbreak is where poetry is. That’s where poetry comes in. That’s what it can do. Look, poetry also helps us in healing. You don’t need to be healed if you don’t have pain. You got to have an injury that need the healing, so there’s going to be a lot of injury in this as well.”

Edward Hirsch noted that all poetry is about death, in that it focuses on the ephemeral – “we are trying to save something that is passing.” Perhaps all of life is about death. Nostalgia is certainly about death. How much of our memory is an attempt to “save something that is passing”? To what extent is writing a blog the same – but a particularly ineffective form of trying to “save something that is passing”? We write and we post and (maybe) someone reads it on the day it is posted. While it is preserved on the internet, how often is it seen after those first days?

“Some things in life feel unendurable yet they have to be endured. They are unbearable, yet they have to be borne.” This was Hirsch’s purpose in writing an elegy to his son, but is also about life itself. We all encounter, at some time, something that feels unendurable, unbearable. Yet we (most of us) endure and bear and move forward in life. We don’t all write poems, but we endure. How do we move from endurance to embracing life again?

To what extent is embracing life embracing ephemera? I worked in radio in an era when it was not preserved. (I just listened to Sunday’s program and read its transcript to be sure I quoted people accurately.) What we did went out over the airwaves, live, at the speed of light. It came into your home instantaneously. The sound waves traveled to your ear and by then we had moved on. In the year 2000, my brother and I were each asked to reflect on our time in community radio – for him, the 1960s, for me the 1970s. He wrote “…you did it, you sent it out into the ether, and people heard it or didn’t. It was the ultimate in ephemerae, leaving a trace only in the minds of those who did it or heard it…”. I wrote “…the reason I enjoyed radio was its ephemeral quality. What I did went out over the airwaves and was gone.” (Neither of us knew what the other had written until the book was published.) Now I write a blog. Is it something about aging that I now try to preserve, not just experience, life? Or is life about sharing? Is it not enough to experience? Is it necessary to share that experience?

In 1976 or 7, I wrote in my journal: “It’s not the experience…it’s sharing the experience.” I was in the midst of something that seemed profound at the time. I was alone. I called a friend to come over. I knew then that the communication of the experience was as important to me as the experience itself. Communication….communion…community. Is it an accident that these words are so similar?

High on Bong Road, to the best of our knowledge

A silver lining in this pandemic is rediscovering the joy of wandering alone. Group rides are fun, but start with the irony of driving to a meeting point; and continue with a rigid route. Today I started from my own driveway, with a half-formed plan and two possible routes in mind. I took the third one.

Being farm country, I rode past the American Breeders Service HQ on ABS Bullevard. I rode through the University Experimental Agricultural Station near Arlington (home of Yellow Jersey, possibly the only bike shop with a drive-thru teller’s window; it being in an old bank. If you’re looking for parts for old bikes, this is the place to go – Andy scours the globe for new old stock parts and sells them via the internet. The website looks like it hasn’t been updated since 1990, but it has. He also keeps a nice stock of bikes on hand if you are in the neighborhood.

I was accompanied several times by redwing blackbirds. Were they shooing me from their nesting areas, or just along for the ride? A pheasant crossed the road just in front of me. I slowed for it but it didn’t stop to pose. It reminded me of a vocal warmup my son taught me and his theatre group about a pleasant mother pheasant plucker.

Bong Road is named for Richard Bong, a WWII flying ace from Superior, WI. He earned the Congressional Medal of Honor and shot down more enemy planes than anyone. It has nothing to do with the smoking device whose name is derived from Thai and has existed much longer than Bong Road. It is, however, the highest hill in the area.

By the way – was it two weeks ago that it snowed? Today it was 85 degrees (30 Celsius). Headwind for the last 30 miles home.

To the best of our knowledge

I remember the first time I heard “Fresh Air”, the Terry Gross interview program from Philadelphia. I was in the car for the first time since moving back from Nicaragua. I heard a fascinating interview and sat in a strip mall parking lot to listen to the end.

Terry has a way of asking the right question and actually listening to the answer. Her guests open up in a way I was not used to in the world of canned interviews. The guests in the early days were an engrossing group from all over, not the usual cast of actors pushing their new movie and writers pushing their new book. It seems to have devolved to that somewhat over the years.

But there is a newer program called “To the best of our knowledge” (or “TT Book”). It seems to have the energy of the early Terry Gross years. I heard an interview with one of the people (Larry Brilliant) most responsible for the end of smallpox; yet they barely got to that topic because he was such an interesting person in other ways. They interviewed a mortician in New Jersey, who normally deals with the victims of gang violence, but talked about the stockpiling of COVID-19 bodies. One morning they just talked of the joys of going for a walk down by the lake, as a way to get out of the house during the pandemic. Simple but powerful.