Riding past death

I usually won’t stop on morning bike rides like this one along Anchorage’s Chester Creek.  The creek drains an envelope of mixed hardwood forest running across our big city. From the university where I am staying for a couple of weeks, the Chester Creek Trail is the quickest way to access another trail running for miles along Cook Inlet. There I hope to see transient birds refueling on their way south.

At 6 A.M I enter a trickle of riders commuting to work. They reduce my concern about moose who browse along the trail and bears who might be moving into the woods now to catch in-migrating salmon. Relaxing into the pedals’ rhythm, I drop my guard and let the individual trees soften into a edgeless blur.

I don’t stop to watch the gulls screaming at each other on Westchester Lagoon, pedal slowly through a gaggle of almost domestic Canada Geese, move faster past the guy fishing for salmon near the outlet stream. I slow again at the tidal meadow where I saw two Sandhill Cranes on my first day in Anchorage. I stop at a bench surrounded by blooming Rugosa Roses.

I wouldn’t have stopped here if not for the roses now scenting the trail. The tide in Cook Inlet is out, revealing a broad, gently sloping mud bar mostly covered with pioneering grass. Low clouds cover the top of Sleeping Lady Mountain and seem to wash over the scene with gray. Up Inlet the lights of a small oil tanker provide the only hint of city industry. Above, a stack of thin horizontal clouds climbs to the marine layer. Most are grey or white but one is a lovely violet, as if a glass darkly reflecting the magenta roses.

I don’t stop again until back at the dorm, not for the fisherman fighting a salmon, not the for the geese, not at the crime scene filling with uniform police, some bent over something in deep grass while others talk into microphones clipped to their shoulders. One cyclist did stop, balancing his bike while straining to get a look at what lay in the grass.   Did he see a vagrant sleeping (best case scenario) or a body cast into the forest by a murder? Both demand prayer.

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