Friday, May 06, 2005

Bike down to the cherry blossoms on the Mall in the middle of the night

TIME: Midnight LOCATION: The National Mall - near the cherry blossoms (around 19th st near the river) EQUIPMENT: Bicycle, friend, bottle of water, extra sweater, snack, tissue paper, bus fare

Sometimes you have evenings where everything is just perfect. Perhaps you plan it, perhaps you don't, perhaps what you end up doing is completely different than what you thought you would, but nevertheless the entire experience, from start to finish, is an exercise in being completely present. You feel vividly awake and suffused with joy. And this seamlessness of being doesn't feel like anything you deserve, particularly, but rather an unearned and loving lagniappe from the universe. Czeslaw Milosz said it better than I ever could in his poem "The Gift":

By Czeslaw Milosz

A day so happy.
Fog lifted early, I worked in the garden.
Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers.
There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess.
I knew no one worth my envying him.
Whatever evil I had suffered, I forgot.
To think that once I was the same man did not embarrass me.
In my body I felt no pain.
When straightening up, I saw blue sea and sails.


One morning about a month ago, during the peak of the cherry blossom season, I stopped by the Mall in the morning to sit in the grass for a few minutes before a yoga class. I was struck by the blue sky, the impossibly delicate pink puffs and their contrast with the iron-black branches, like that calligraphic principle of contrasting strong and subtle brushstrokes.

I was also impressed that approximately 95% of the cherry trees featured a girlfriend standing underneath, with her freshly brushed hair flowing, as she tilted her head stiffly and held a frozen smile for the vertically framed picture being taken by her boyfriend, approximately 15 feet away. It was as if there was only one cherry tree, bookended by a couple of mirrors that duplicated its denizens into eternity... that would later spirally spawn into identical pictures in photo albums across the world...

Well, I resolved to come back that night with Martin. The unimaginatively photographic tourists would be gone. It would be a dramatic evening with pale blossoms glowing in the darkness. We'd light up a joint and climb the trees and do cartwheels and roll around in the grass for just as long as we wanted to. It was going to be a perfect evening.

Except that it wasn't.

I biked on down that night, but just as I'd passed 4th St and C realized I was terribly thirsty. I called Martin. "Are you on your way? Do you have a bottle of water?" Our cellphone reception was bad, so it was only after shouting for a while that we established that both of us were thirsty, neither had water, and neither was near any kind of water-selling establishment. "Well, I know that there are water fountains on the Mall," I howled into the receiver. "What?" Martin said. "There are WATER FOUNTAINS! It's Just! That! Some! Of! Them! Don't! Work! We can ride around and see!" "What?" "Forget it. We're meeting on the corner of 17th and Constitution, right?" "What?"

It was a lovely night and as I rode I tried to sink into my happy reverie, but it's hard to appreciate the fresh night air when your mouth and throat feel like cottonwool. I fidgeted on the bench at our rendez-vous point, trying to be mindful and enjoy the moment.

Ten minutes...twenty minutes... I called Martin. "Where are you?" "I'm here!" "What?" "I'm here!" "No, I'm here! I don't see you!" "Which corner of the street?" "What?" "Which! Corner! Of! The! Street!" "I'm on the south - on a bench. It's a T intersection." "I'm waving, do you see me?" "No! Are you sure you're not on Independence Avenue?" "What?" "Are! You! On! Independence!" "Which one is that?" "What?" "Look, I'm on 15th st. Where are you?" "OH! I said, 17th! You didn't hear me right!" "What?"

He biked over two blocks and we greeted each other cursorily, then: "Oh my god I'm so thirsty, let's go." After riding in circles for a little while we finally discovered a bathroom, where we filled an empty bottle from the tap and drank it ravenously.

By this time, I was getting impatient for the fun part. "Let's go let's go!" I jumped on my bike and rode off without checking that Martin was behind me...until I was there at the cherry blossoms, and he was nowhere to be seen. My cellphone rang. "Where are you?" "I'm here, where are you?" "I'm back at the bathrooms." "What?" "I'm! At! The! Bathrooms! I took a wrong turn when I was following you."

So I rode back to the bathrooms, and then we rode together over to the cherry blossoms, where we jumped off the bikes and I sighed with eager anticipation. It was just like I'd hoped: dramatic, glowing, a soft wind, the odd pink petal fluttering through the velvet air.

And Martin was shivering. "Oh, are you cold?" "Yep. I've been going all day, and when I left the house it was so warm, I just wore a t-shirt." "Oh no...can you stay for a little while?" "Yeah, little while. But not too long."

So we did a little bit of gallivanting. We did some yoga, I climbed some trees and hung upside down like a monkey, and there were indeed a few instants of perfect grace. But honestly I was getting a little cold too, and every once in a while the passing headlights of a car would blind us, and Martin, although he was a good sport about it, had goose-bumps that were beginning to resemble goose-Alps, and then I had to go to the bathroom, so I had to run and find a spot that was shielded from the view of whizzing cars, and so most of the time we were just distracted by our little bits of discomfort.

We'd also both been exercising all day, and our rapidly chilling leg muscles were beginning to groan at the notion of the forty minute uphill bike ride home. So pretty soon we left, and took the bus home.

Which goes to show that although those magic moments might be unearned, you're also not allowed to demand them; they follow a schedule of their own device. And yet, though the evening was a study in petty woe, best of all I remember that moment when I hung by my knees from a branch and laughed, and an entire galaxy of cherry blossom stars swirled above me, and Martin reached to hold my hands, his face an even mixture of happiness at my delight, and "Holy shit, I'm freezing my fucking ass off."


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6:22 AM  
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