Surprised by Joy: Bicycling through Life

I was full of confidence with my father’s firm grip on the back of my bicycle seat and his reassuring voice, “Keep pedaling, you’re doing fine!” Then there was silence. Suspicious, I called out for him. No reply, just his taunting laugh in the distance. But wait…I’m keeping my balance without his help. The exhilaration! Like a bird that had found its wings. In spite of his blindness, my father showed me a freedom that he had lost.

Six decades later, the freedom I experienced has not diminished. The fresh air in my face and the simplicity of pedaling clears my head, helping me to just be. The open sky is closer with a panorama of color and cloud formations. Today, a large flock of birds danced above me, changing partners. Where were they going? It’s no wonder I feel more connected to the natural world around me than in a car. (I never liked driving anyway). Even in the drizzle, I’d rather be bicycling than on a crowded bus or train.

with Mohammed in Morocco 1972

Because public transportation in Britain is plentiful if not always reliable, many people delay learning to drive and some never do. If I hadn’t moved to rural New Hampshire in 1973, I doubt I would have taken up driving. In my ignorance, I assumed there would be a bus, maybe a red double-decker, pulling up in front of Gerard’s parent’s house in Sanbornton Square. I hadn’t realized that in America everybody drives. At first, Gerard tried to teach me but it was too hard on his nerves. A work colleague picked up where he left off, happy to sit back and read, confident that I could handle his VW bus. Finally, I took my driving test on a snowy winter day. The instructor liked my English accent and there was too much snow for parallel parking. I hadn’t learned that yet. “Oh, I see you can drive well enough. Let’s go back indoors and have some hot chocolate.” A lucky break for me. For eleven years, I drove the country roads, grateful for the independence. But I was never a natural driver. When we moved to Somerville, I reduced the driving to an absolute minimum. Ten years later, moving into the heart of Boston, I happily gave up the car. It’s easy to get around by the store, the library, the Y, etc. I remember an old boyfriend once saying, you’re a good driver when the car becomes an extension of yourself. But in my case, it was the bicycle that became an extension.

When I suddenly lost most of my hearing, I despaired at the prospect of not riding my bike anymore. I no longer felt safe of my balance or ability to hear what’s going on around me. But then a friend persuaded me to join her riding three miles along a bike path to the Arnold Arboretum. Liberation! Just to be riding again…up to Central Square, along the Charles and downtown…with a new-found caution and awareness.

The Arboretum has become a favorite destination. Within 30 minutes I enter into quiet countryside – all 260 acres of it. Named after James Arnold, a whaling merchant from New Bedford, Mass, who bequeathed his estate to Harvard University, the Arboretum was designed as a public park by Frederick Law Olmsted back in 1872.


A road winds through the park – beside a rose garden and pond, past rhododendron borders and a conifer meadow that could be in Switzerland.

arbor 5

Red maples in the fall, clouds of flowering lilacs in the spring and even a collection of dawn redwood trees grown from seeds that came from China in 1948. (Not the ancient evergreens of California).

Diane and I

My friend, Diane, introduced me to her favorite – a redwood so large you can stand inside the grotto created by its separate trunks. Like an oracle, it will invite you to pose a question and wait in silence for a response.

Jamaica Pond down the street is a glacial kettle hole, also landscaped by Olmsted who was captivated by ‘its great beauty in reflections and flickering half-lights.’ I’ve lost most of my hearing but not the freedom that my bicycle gives me to stay connected to my favorite places.