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June 23, 2002: Seeing

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Iíve never been the type to go exploring by myself without prior planning. Arm me with a map and Iíll happily toodle around a town, as long as I can clearly plot out the route weíre going to take, as well as the route weíll have to follow to get home. I donít often get lost, mainly because I usually do have a good sense of direction. I couldnít tell you which way was north or south if my life depended on it, but I can find my way from point A to point B with relatively minimal difficulty. Provided that I have a map.

Itís not that Iím averse to taking a new route. Iím always willing to test out a likely looking shortcut, as long as it *looks* like it might work. Of course, this isnít always a foolproof theory. The most memorable proof of this occurred a number of years ago, during a hike. Several other young women and I ended up spending several hours trying desperately to get out of a fairly deep canyon, simply because we decided to take what looked like a very easy shortcut to get to the other side Ė the side where we were actually supposed to be. And we started out on the wrong side because Ė yes, you guessed it Ė we didnít have a map. We only had compasses, and Iíve already mentioned my inability to distinguish north from southÖalthough as long as someone reminds me which color arrow points which way on the compass (I have been told a thousand times already and I never remember), I can usually muddle my way through. If I have a map.

My husband, on the other hand, adores taking off into uncharted territory. He has spent many an hour amusing himself by checking out back roads anywhere he ends up, without a thought to how he got there or how he is going to get back. Predictably, he also doesnít get lost when he does this, at least not that I hear about, anyway. And whatís worse Ė he does this all without the aid of a map.

The good thing about my husbandís penchant for setting off down back roads for parts unknown is that by the time we decide to give a new bike riding route a try, heís usually already traveled it in his car. This means that I can successfully tamp down my worries about getting ourselves hopelessly lost (the worry usually involves one or the other of us with a flat tire, miles from home on some deserted road where the only traffic is the occasional tractor that passes by, oh, every six hours or so). Because of his willingness to check out new routes for us, weíve been slowly discovering more and more about this area where we live.

There are roads where you ride along through acres of nothing but corn or tomato fields and then suddenly, you round a corner and find yourself unexpectedly surrounded by orchards that spread out in perfectly straight lines on either side of the road. The air alternates between sweet and sharp as you pass each field in turn. This time of year, they are beginning to harvest some of the earlier crops, and occasionally a huge truck will lumber by, spilling ears of corn, or sugar beets, or tomatoes, or whatever else they might have in their cargo onto the road as they turn the corner and disappear into the distance.

We wandered off on a ten-mile detour while taking what was only intended to be a 13-mile ride this afternoon, down roads my husband discovered during his recent wanderings. We passed by a field covered in plants topped with brilliant yellow plumes. We crossed an old cement bridge almost entirely covered in layer upon layer of graffiti, the older colors faded underneath the newer swirls of paint sprayed into whatever cryptic messages they were meant to convey. We followed a bike path that criss-crossed a road over and back, beside fenced-in arenas where horses flicked their ears as we passed, and cows simply ignored us. And then we finally met up with roads that were familiar again; roads I have driven often enough to know that they would lead us home.

Itís beautiful, this area of the country where I live. Granted, sometimes it gets too hot in the summer and too wet in the winter, and sometimes it gets too windy in all the months in between. The terrain is unenthusiastically flat and mostly farmland and there isnít really anything incredibly exciting about the east side of Solano county (or the west side of Yolo county, for that matter). But itís beautiful just the same. And I am only discovering this because we are riding our bikes; riding out to all those places that might not necessarily show up on a map; those places that only someone who doesnít care if they might get lost would go.

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