Holding Winter in a Bicyclist’s Embrace

December 28, 2017

The bike riders are out today, even some on rental bikes from the stanchions across the street. And why shouldn’t they be! Bright sun, dry streets, quiet traffic. A nice day, except for the temperature, 17 degrees.

When I lived in Indianapolis during my working years, I commuted three miles to the campus where I taught regardless of temperature, even on sub-zero days, except when the roads were slick. I would do 20-mile recreational rides on sunny days when the temperature was 25 or higher.

But so far today, during the first seriously cold winter weather since my return to Indianapolis, I’ve been sitting in my sun-filled bachelor pad trying to talk myself into going out for a trial cold weather ride. During the next six or eight weeks, there are places I will have to go, including a doctor’s office next week. Some will be too far to walk, and bus connections are awkward. That leaves my bike as the preferred option, unless snow is falling and the roads are slick.

“Go for it!” the gals in the apartment rental office told me. “You won’t get as cold on your bike as you would waiting for the bus both ways.” Biking to my appointment next week will take fifteen minutes each way rather than an hour on the bus (including walking, waiting, and transfers). I still have the heavy winter gloves from former years and know how to protect my ears. By layering my civilian clothes, I can be reasonably warm while maintaining suitable appearance for activities at the destination points.

It’s not a choice between prudence or cowardice as it was a couple of weeks ago on a morning when there was a glaze of ice on the streets. Today, it’s a question of character. Am I going to live up to my regula, to borrow a word that Laura Everett uses in her book Holy Spokes: The Search for Urban Spirituality on Two Wheels?

If using buses and bikes instead of an automobile is to be a guideline for the next period of my life, then there’s no choice but to take a break-the-ice bike ride on a winter’s day as nice as this. If I lived in Erie, Pennsylvania, with five feet of snow on the ground, then bus or snow shoes would be the only options, but here there is practically no white stuff even on grass in shaded places.

So bicycle it has to be, and today is the day for moving into the out of doors that now is my world.

Even when the temperature is as warm as 17 degrees, I found out on today’s five-mile ride, my winter cycling attire needs to be improved: something to cover my face, better ear coverings, warmer gloves or mittens, and long underwear or heavier civilian pants. A trip to REI or Patagonia is in the offing.

At 3:15, the sun is obscured by an apartment tower across the street, but today’s ride, even though it was only five miles and ten or twelve minutes long, is casting its own brightness for the rest of the day.


Indiana’s White River System: A Bicyclist’s Observations

December 18, 2017

Responding to Indiana White River Guide Book: East Fork and West Fork, by Jerry M. Hay (Terre Haute: Indiana Waterways, 2002).

white-river-guideAlthough I am a bicyclist rather than a boater, traveling on roads rather than rivers, I have long been interested in the waterways that shape the land and human cultures that develop along their banks. This interest influences the books I read, such as Blaine Harden’s A River Lost: The Life and Death of the Columbia and Always a River: The Ohio River and the American Experience, edited by Robert L. Reid.

Now that I am living once again close to Indiana’s White River (West Fork), I am focusing attention on this ribbon of water that twists in an almost tortured way from its starting point near Muncie, Indiana (home of Ball State University), to its confluence with the Wabash River at Mt. Carmel, Illinois.

The first book on this river that I have been able to find, and this is in the reserved section of the Indianapolis Public Library, is a spiral bound document, with 8.5 by 11 inch pages, that provides a boater’s guide to both forks of the river. It is divided into thirty-seven sections, each with two facing pages, one primarily text and graphics and the other a line-drawing map of a section of the river that is approximately ten miles long. The map shows nearby roads, dams, bridges, power plants, access points, and other information that boaters need to know as they travel on the river. The author provides information on “reading the river,” navigation information and advice, and other material that would be important for safe boating.

The West Fork of the White River begins east of Muncie, flows 273 miles to its confluence with the East Fork, and continues an additional forty-six miles as the White River with no fork designation, for a total of 319 miles to its mouth at the Wabash. The East Fork officially begins near Columbus, Indiana, at the confluence of the Flatrock River and the Driftwood River, the longest tributary of which is the Big Blue River.  The Big Blue-Driftwood River is 152 miles long and merged into the East Fork of the White River at Columbus, flows another 162 miles to the junction with the West Fork. Adding these two figures, the Big Blue-East Fork is 314 miles. It then travels another forty-six miles as part of the White River, making a total length of 360 miles.

Larger cities along the West Fork are Muncie, Anderson, Noblesville, Indianapolis, Martinsville, Spencer, Bloomfield, Edwardsport, and Washington. Starting at the officially designated beginning of the East Fork, larger communities are Columbus, Seymour, and Bedford. Hay’s description of this two-forked river confirms what one sees when looking at maps: for the most part, this river runs through rural country. In addition to towns and small cities, and the one major metropolitan area, Indianapolis, there are many villages, and cross roads settlements along this river. Even so, travelers should pay attention to food and other supplies. When motor boats are being used, special attention should be given to the fuel supplies.

One characteristic of the White River system stands out in the line drawing maps that Hays provides: it twists and turns in a constant sequence of wiggles throughout the length of both forks and their tributaries.

I have no experience with canoes or motor boats and therefore will not be able to see the White River according to Hay’s guide. As a cyclist, I could gradually work my way along, taking little roads to the river in many spots along its nearly 700 miles (counting the full length of both forks). It would be a slow process, and I’m not likely to undertake the full challenge.

I can, however, imagine a gradual process of exploring vantage points in Indianapolis and Marion County. Hays devotes two sections to this stretch, starting at mile 101 and ending at mile 127.

Another way to develop a bicyclist’s understanding of the White River would be to develop a route that pieces together roads and trails that stay close to the river. Even if such a route could be developed, riding would have to be easy-going. Just to figure out where to turn to stay on the right back roads would be a challenge. Often the roads would be rough and inhibit fast riding. And always, there would be things to look at and people with whom to talk.

In my mind’s eye, I can see it now. But will this virtual trip translate to tires on the road? Well….? What do you think?

white-river-indps

 


Reading the New Testament Beginning with Paul

December 8, 2017

Since I began writing blogs in April 2017 as keithwatkinshistorian.wordpress.com, I have published 441 columns on American religion, bicycling, and the environment. Month after month the column with the most readers is one I posted on September 6, 2013, with the title “Reading the New Testament in the Order the Books Were Written.”

Borg Evolution

New Testament Books in Historical Context

I described the Bible reading program that Marcus J. Borg had recommended in his recently published book, Evolution of the Word, which was to read the New Testament in the order that the books were written rather than in the order they are arranged in the Bible. This meant starting with seven epistles by Paul before reading any of the gospels or Acts.

New insights and new questions were among the results of this different way of reading a very familiar book. Why does Paul say so little about the life and ministry of Jesus? Much of his theology was a response to specific problems that his intended readers were facing, but we face different problems. How can Paul’s theological insights and pastoral guidance be applied to our situations?

I used the New Revised Standard Version because that and its predecessor have been the translations of choice much of my adult life. Along the way, I also consulted The New Interpreter’s Study Bible and The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, and I occasionally used other commentaries to clarify obscure points.

Along the way, I made notes, and when I finished my reading, nearly two years after starting, my personal commentary totaled 140 manuscript pages and nearly 20,000 words. Although it has not been my intention to publish these notes, a colleague (who has seen the set on Paul but has not read them) has urged me to make them available in a more public and permanent form.

Before showing him these notes, I had begun a second reading of the New Testament in chronological order. I’m still early in the project, having read only two short epistles (1 Thessalonians and Galatians) and half of a long one (1 Corinthians). I am using the Common English Bible (CEB), which is new to me, as my primary text and referring to notes in the CEB Study Bible.

In addition, I am using N. T. Wright’s series of popular commentaries entitled Paul for Everyone. Wright provides his own translation of these texts and it is interesting to compare his effort to translate these texts so that “the words can speak not just to some people, but to everyone” with the hope of the CEB’s translators that their new translation will “speak to people of various religious convictions and different social locations.”

I am reviewing my first set of notes as I read, but I am also creating a second set. From time to time I will consolidate the two sets into one new commentary which will replace the two previously developed sets of notes.

Years ago I read a book in which the author (neither the author’s name nor the book’s title come to mind) proposed that preachers develop a series of sermons each of which proclaims the central message of an entire book of the Bible. I may not write entire sermons, but I intend to select the text and suggest the sermon’s outline for each of the New Testament books as I make my second trip through the New Testament in the order that the books were written.

How long will this process take? Just reading and making notes is moving more slowly than the first time through. Consolidating the two sets of notes and developing sermonic possibilities will increase the time even more. Early this Advent season, my working plan is to finish this second reading of Paul’s epistles by Easter and the revised commentary with sermonic notes by Pentecost.