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Fields and Farms

The birds wake you at dawn. It’s too dark and too cold so you go back to sleep. 6:30 and you want to stay in your sleeping bag until noon. But you rouse yourself. The mosquitoes discover you in a minute. The tent is wet. You flick off the little slugs that have crept up the smooth fabric. You can’t shake out all the winged insects now hovering inside so you roll them up with the tent and seal their tiny doom.

7:30 and the bike is loaded up. You travel 5 km and stop at a graveyard next to a United Church. The graves have fresh flowers. It was Father’s Day on Sunday. There are weeds and tall grass growing past the bottom step to the church doors. You sit on the steps sipping water and munching the pecan tarts you bought from Merv, yesterday, at the century-old Little Rapids General Store 10 km behind you now.

This is farm country. Mennonite country. Men in straw hats steering black carriages drawn by sleek horses moving at an elegant trot. Hooves keeping time like the steel bearings in a Newton’s cradle. The men wave as you slow down so as not to spook the horses. Later you will pass a farmhouse where a clutch of children in bonnets or straw hats fuss over a waist-high Shetland pony.

Cattle huddle together in pastures. Some standing. Most reclining. They watch you pedalling by. You are not a black horse-drawn carriage or a Dodge Ram. You are something different. The pastures on either side are dusted with flowers. Like spices. Saffron and cinnamon. Tart sumac and sweet icing sugar. If you pause to admire the colours the mosquitoes swarm like tiny scientists brandishing syringes.

Bird song the live-long day. Unseen in dense thickets and then brief arrows flashing a bit of red or yellow or dappled browns. For a while, dragonflies escort you, their wings a blur like the spokes of your two wheels. Along a quiet stretch you see a fox sitting like a young prince in the middle of the road. He sees you. Sniffs the air. Leaps into the brush, his tail flashing like a magician’s flame.

Smells. Manure. Wet hay trampled in muddy soil. Or the grassiness of hay freshly mowed. Plowed soil churned into static waves. A thick brown sea come to rest, at last. Sweet oily diesel. A stagnant marsh guarded by the pale ghosts of limbless trees. The dust flung up by the vehicles few and far between.

You ride the shape of the land. What glaciers carved on their campaign south; what they threw off as they retreated north. The up and over and down again. Where giant hands spread their fingers and pawed the earth. Your breath deep and strong like a bellows feeding a furnace. Sometimes you dismount and walk. Sometimes, down a long hill, you stand up out of the saddle and you are briefly lord of the fields stretching to the tree line embroidered on the blue hem of the sky.

Google Maps indicates a village with a coffee shop just a little off your route. The restaurant area is closed for renovations but the little store is open. You get some milk, a sandwich and a cup of coffee. No washroom, sorry. You finish eating and wander over to the Volunteer Fire Station. There is an unlocked portable toilet in the rear near the railway tracks. Some days, luck seems to follow you everywhere. Other days are endless wind and rain.

You have not showered for three days. A quick wash up yesterday with your toiletries spread out on the changing table in the family bathroom at Tim Hortons. There is a kind of ripeness to you. A salty lushness. The sunburn on your arms and shoulders has turned to tiny blisters. Crisp as the skin of a pork roast. Tan stripes on your feet reveal the design of the straps of your sandals. Tan stripes on your closely cropped skull where the sun has sent blades of light through the vents of your helmet. Brown knees and shins. White thighs.

By six o’clock you are where you were aiming. Bell’s Point Beach Campground. The woman behind the desk still wears her long gray hair in a ponytail. You pay $35 cash. A grassy spot by the lake with a picnic table. The breeze defeats the mosquitoes. A five minute walk to the toilets and a hot shower.

There are good days and bad days. This one was a good day.

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