Looking Out at the Water from Fort McHenry

Bike handlebars in the foreground against a background of blue sky with wispy white clouds and darker blue water.

I have been feeling all out of sorts lately, and guess what? It’s because I’m still adjusting to teaching on campus, inside, with masks, as the pandemic continues to rage. The daily death toll is still beyond what I can really fathom, and it’s awful. I know that I am largely protected from severe illness or death by my now three Pfizer vaccines, but I still don’t want to get COVID, and I still don’t want you to get it, either. And I think in-person learning is important, and I’m happy to do it on a fully vaxxed and masked campus.

And it is exhausting. I think a lot of it is the mask (which again I’m happy to wear, even if I hate it so much). I use so much more of my body to communicate because I can’t use my face, and the energy I get back from students is so muted by not being able to see their faces. The energy exchange is off, and I’m tired, and so are they. We are hitting the late semester wall before we are halfway through, and I hope we can all figure out a way to regroup. It’s hard, and it’s fine, and we will get through it, and I want to mark how much work this is, both in mind and body.

Speaking of body, I’ve been struggling to connect with mine lately. I’m happy to have my bike commute back, but I haven’t been able to run due to a nagging hip injury, and strength training at the gym in a mask is a drag. (Again, happy to wear a mask, but I hate wearing a mask, and I think we should be honest about how in some situations, masks suck.) I don’t want to go to gym classes with lots of huffing and puffing, because I don’t want to do that in a mask, and I don’t want to get COVID. My daily pandemic trudges are interrupted by all of this *waves arms around* and I’m trying to find a groove.

I had a free-from-meetings Thursday afternoon and decided to take the bike out for a ride, because for almost 15 years, that has never failed to connect me to my body and to place, reminding me to get out of my own head, lift eyes off navel, think about what I’m seeing and feeling in a different way. So I rode down the hill, a quick stop for PT (I’m going to run again! Soon!), and then was off to Fort McHenry to see the water and the blue skies and shake off the past six weeks of trying to be the teacher I used to be.

And it felt amazing. It was warm and humid, but sometimes a little chilly in the shade. That felt like riding a bike in New Orleans in a late winter heat wave. Oh, those were such fantastic days and rides! As I got closer to park I was passing one runner after another. Are they doing their last taper runs before Saturday’s big race? Ring my bell, on your left, big smiles, how you doin’? I stopped for a bit to look at the water and was overcome with gratitude for being alive, and for being able to spend a Thursday afternoon like this. I am the very luckiest person in the world.

I got back on my bike and headed home, twisting through Locust Point, taking note of each crane in the sky, reminders that when we want to put cranes in the sky, we can, past Under Armour and Domino Sugar, the air with that burnt smell, and around the harbor. Some people live in the Ritz Carlton condos on the water, and their Baltimore is just so different from all the other ones I rode through. It’s not fair. And then past Rash Field and its promises of opening in November. I stopped to peek through the construction fencing–it looks amazing already. Around and over and up and down and up again, just feeling my body stretch out in ways that felt so good, and then I was home, tired, hungry for a big lunch, the rest of the day reading for class next week. We’re learning about indigeneity, settler colonialism, and Two-Spirit identities as daily resistance practices. Totally interesting, and I was grateful for the space in my brain the ride opened up for me. When it doubt, take the bike out.

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