Ever since the young robins on my front porch fledged, I’ve been sitting out there to write. Kitchen chair, card table, laptop, legal pad, gel roller pen, and coffee.  I work for as long as the writing goes well. Sometimes I am there for as long as four hours. Usually it is less. A benefit of writing for my own amusement is it does not really matter whether anything gets done. I write only so long as it is fun, and it makes no difference whether I put down fifty words or a thousand. If the fifty words are any good, it is more than adequate progress. Twice now I’ve written books with an anxious editor looking over my shoulder, and I won’t agree to work under a deadline again.

Regardless of how long I write each morning, the next part of the day is a bicycle ride. I pedal through the marsh, along both the La Crosse and Mississippi Rivers, and then into whatever neighborhood catches my fancy. Yesterday morning a mink skittered across the marsh trail in front of me. It’s been years since I’d seen a mink, so it easily was the highlight of my ride. 

Soon after the sighting, however, I realized that I see something unusual on most of my rides –  so as an experiment, I decided to record the highlight of each of my bike rides for an entire week.  I started biking only because the health center where I usually exercise closed down during the pandemic. What additional benefits have I been receiving because I moved my workouts, as well as my writing, outdoors? The list is as follows:

Friday: A mink ran in front of me on the marsh trail between Monitor Street and the Causeway.

Saturday: An unidentified animal flashed across the trail fifty yards ahead of me near Houska Park. My instant reaction was “fisher,” but La Crosse is too far south for fishers. It was too stout and too dark in color to be a fox. It was too big to be another mink. There was a wild stealth to it, so I didn’t think it was a dog.  Even though there was no waddle to its gait, my best guess is an uncharacteristically slim and graceful woodchuck. 

Sunday: Taking a wide swing through Riverside Park, I rode past a fountain with a sculpture I’d never seen before. The sculpture is of Mami Wata, the Central African mermaid of sea and river.

Monday: Returning to Mami Wata, this time with a camera to take her photograph, I discovered another water feature tucked behind the Visitor and Convention Bureau Building. It was a wooden waterwheel. Both of the amenities are part of the International Garden where gifts from La Crosse’s sister cities are displayed. Mata Wata is from Kumbo, Cameroon, and the water wheel is from Bantry, Ireland.

Tuesday: Got a late start today. It was almost noon when I left home. There was less wildlife and fewer people out at midday. Still I did see wood ducks, rabbits, and a lone grebe. Nothing wrong with that. 

Wednesday: I encountered two friends on bicycles, Jearold on the bike trail at Chad Erickson Park and Connie near the community theater downtown. Jearold was a colleague in my department at the university. Connie owned the coffee shop across the street from campus. Both retired in the past three years. Both bike at least ten miles a day and look healthier, certainly trimmer, than they did when they were working. 

Thursday: I surprised five Canada geese on the marsh trail this morning, and they flew a short distance to the safety of open water.  There is nothing unusual about this, except mid-July is the heart of molting season. Geese should not be able to fly right now, but these birds definitely took to the air.  My guess is that goslings develop their initial flight feathers a little sooner in the summer than the adults replace their old ones, and these particular birds were all juveniles trying out their new wings. 

In theory, recording the highlights of my daily bicycle rides was a good idea. In practice, not so much. Instead of enjoying each unique sighting as it occurred, I would see it and then wonder whether I was going to see anything more impressive that day. I began to ignore the sections of my ride through residential neighborhoods, thinking of them as dead zones compared to the parks and preserves. I was actively seeking out special moments when I should have let them come to me. 

Steven Simpson