There is No Therapy For Cancer Like the Great Outdoors


Today was my first post-op bike ride. I was feeling depressed and anxious this morning. After a week-and-a-half recovery I am ready to be productive again. But I still don’t have my health. I have stopped taking the pain pills, but still experience small bouts of pain and the constant sense of strangulation. Also, I’m not sure if it is the depleting hormones, but I have been feeling tired again. The kind of tired where I lay in bed trying to think of a reason to get up and even my bladder doesn’t seem like enough of an incentive. Where I yawn frequently and they come from deep within my diaphragm, causing my whole body to shudder.

 I stagger from room to room with an unshakable weight on my shoulders, knowing that if anyone asks something of me, I will fail. But no one has asked anything more of me than that I make a few pies today. So I decided to go for a bike ride. My biking partner is on hiatus this week and threatening to leave me for the cold unfeeling grotto that is Virginia*. So I went alone and it was the best medicine I could have asked for.

I love bicycling. I love everything about it. It is riveting. It makes my heart throb with joy and my veins pulse with life. It makes all of my senses open and expand so that they can drink in the beauty that surrounds me. I love the high-pitched whir of the metal tire spokes as they spin in the wind. I love the heft of the bike and the feeling of accomplishment every time I fasten and unfasten it from the rack. The way my thighs are suddenly “powerful” in a pair of sleek black biking shorts.

Getting back on the bike was like remounting a familiar and sturdy two-wheeled contraption. Biking again was like rediscovering myself as a part of the world. My first encounter was a majestic red-tailed hawk, who let out a single haughty peal before leaving his perch. At the first pond I saw a huge white egret, gleaming with an impeccable purity in spite of the sludge it was standing in, and as still and pensive as an artist painting the water. A large rabbit and I mutually startled one another, though I was a bit braver in my response. A frog hopped slowly across the path in front of me and croaked a sigh of relief when I passed. Several nonchalant squirrels ignored me completely, though one daredevil darted so closely I had to squeal my brakes and make a face at him. I thought to share a laugh about this antic with a stranger passing by, but he was too busy running to notice, his red face scrunched and preoccupied with the pain of meeting his goal.

I paused in two places. One was a wooden memorial with a plaque that caught my curiosity. When I was close enough to read the inscription “In Loving Memory of,” I was diverted by the throng of ants marching in and out of its cracks. Anyone who has studied Hemingway knows of the symbolic value of ants. They became especially interesting to me a few months a go when I was attempting to write a poem about them. So I sat down on a bench to watch them and enjoy all their human qualities.

Some of the ants are carrying things on their backs or in their mouths and some are empty-handed. Some crawl under an obstacle, others over it and others around it, although nine times out of ten an ant will observe and do exactly what the ant in front of it did. As they pass each other, they reach out their front feelers in a terse greeting, the equivalent of a Texan “how are you?”

The second time I paused was to alight on “our bench,” the bench that I have claimed in the name of Noah and I and our third-year anniversary picnic and endless love. Again with the mosquitoes. But definitely my favorite spot. In my mind, it is another Belize, though Noah has yet to see this. But because I cannot be there, “Belize” has become for me any place of natural beauty that calls to my inner sprite to be joyous and free. Places that fill my heart until I am overflowing with love for the world.

The bench faces a canopy of trees embracing across the pathway. Their arms curve and stretch towards each other, while their feet are firmly planted on either side of the concrete, as if they sense the danger of encroaching on the man-made. Even with patches of glaringly white blue sky beaming through, the shade is thick and cool. Large black butterflies and larger brown birds flit in and out of the branches like ghosts. The soft warm air that carries them settles on my skin like a mist. The orchard oriole emits a sing-song laugh, while the northern cardinal counts to four in plaintive peals. This spot is close to a waterfall, which provides a kind of lilting background music and constant rhythmic vitality. It is the life force of the forest, an unceasing reminder of existence like amplified breathing. It moistens the trees, the ground, intensifying the sharp musky smell of the soil and bark until I am no longer breathing air, but earth.

If I had but world enough and time, I might sit there forever.

*Having never actually been to Virginia, I cannot 100% say it cavernous or that the residents are particularly callous, but I can say with absolute certainty that it is bound to be colder than TX.

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