Summer evenings are for playing outside. If I can’t get out to ride my bike or take a long walk, I feel drastically cheated. Something about rolling the cycle towards the street, fastening the helmet, and placing shoes firmly on the pedals brings a specific lump of excitement that I’ve relished since childhood. The hard pulls of the hills and the taste of the summer flipping past my ears and lips combine to produce a desire to stick my tongue out to the side in the manner of once-upon-a-time-when-coloring-with-crayons. Some things never change. On these nights, it seems the greatest problem in the world is finding a pocket for my music player that is close enough to my ears to keep it from being yanked away.

But there’s always gravel on the street. Last month a friend of mine and her husband were killed instantly in a car crash a few miles from here. They had ventured out to collect some rocks for their garden and pulled in front of a larger vehicle at a crossroads. Gone. Their visitation and the sight of their only child, a four year old, playing with a stuffed animal at one of the caskets, wrenched me and left me bawling in the parking lot afterwards.

It’s always hard to get back on the bike when something like this happens. How do we manage to keep going when griefs and disappointments fairly leap out at every turn? Is this what finally wears out our cells, the process of loss and recovery, the dissonance of reality against the things we wish could be? Not oxidation by those free radicals, but the internalization and absorption of the wildest radicals?

It’s taken a few weeks now to feel more balanced. I’ve drifted through several titles without being interested in them, except for a comfort read of my old friend, Philip Roth. I was terribly disappointed by Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. All that can be said for that one is that it’s a fairly well told story. I couldn’t find so much as an ink spot’s insight or challenge. Perhaps I’ll have more luck with Tipping the Velvet at some point.

For now, it’s time to get ready for a trip home. I can’t take the bicycle, but we’re packing as many pool devices as possible, noodles, goggles, flippers, and multiple swimsuits and towels. And plenty of sunscreen to prevent as much cellular damage as possible.

Independent People

There couldn’t be a better time to read Halldór Laxness’ Independent People. I’m finding the world of an Icelandic sheep farmer cooling to this mid-westerner in the throes of a prematurely hot summer. Yesterday, mowing the lawn in 90 degrees, I tried to imagine reindeer riding in order to summon wintry images. I also thought a bit about independence as it’s portrayed in the novel.

The character of Bjartur the sheepcrofter views himself as impervious to the whims of supernatural beings that populate the lore and poetry of his fellow crofters. He scoffs at the beliefs of his wife, Rosa, and refuses to allow her any acknowledgement of her superstitions. He looks at his life through one lens, that of his account ledger, and prides himself on maintaining only minimal ties to the people who surround him.

…he was only filled with the modern spirit and determination to be a free man on his own land, with the same independence as the other generations that had settled there before him.

Trouble is, that spirit and determination has cost Bjartur, but he’s unawares as of yet. I’m not quite half-way through Independent People, and it’s not a zippy read. But I’m finding that incredible sense of immersion that sometimes comes in longer novels, entry into another world that is at first wildly foreign, yet slowly begins to feel like home.