Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Search for Some Hidden City


Strider removal operation at Scottsdale Waterfront

There is no solace on earth for us--for such as we--
Who search for a hidden city that we shall never see.
Only the road and the dawn, the sun, the wind, and the rain,
And the watch-fire under stars, and sleep, and the road again.
--from The Seekers by John Masefield (thanks to Ironwood Bike Bags Blog for this quote!)

Water Striders, on land momentarily, headed to another destination

I've come to think of the continuity of my bicycle commute as a year-long distance ride of approximately 3,000 miles. Although the daily route is nearly the same each time, with changes I make to accommodate both construction zones and curiousity, the change of seasons, of weather, of human movements and schedules like schools, vacations, seasonal visitors, and ongoing construction and destruction both man-made and natural are triggers for my continuing quest to look below the surface of the cities in which I live in order to discover what truth, what beauty, lurks beneath.

The bicycle pace, the bicycle openness, the bicycle simplicity, enable this quest, as I've written about previously. 

Twelve foot long fiberglass bugs parked on the Soleri Bridge, in blazing morning sunshine

It's the hidden city of the the title and quote that I'm seeking, the one you don't see or only catch glimpses of from inside a fast-moving air-conditioned vehicle. Sure, I also feel the heat of summer, the dust of haboobs, the blast of wind, and get much closer to the uglier semi-hidden faces of the cities I ride through, too. The poor, the homeless, the overlooked, like the woman just off to the side of this tableau who I encountered with her bags and hacking cough as I rode around exploring this process as she was rousting herself after sleeping rough. It seemed as if no one else saw her. I see those sides, too.

Striders below the pylons, in what Soleri called the comfort zone created by the architecture

But I disagree with the opening line of the quote above, that "there is no solace on earth for us--". I beg to differ with the former poet laureate of Great Britain on that point. Solace that you seek. Solace that you make for yourself. Solace that you discover along your bicycle commute to work, like laughing out loud with sheer amazement and joy the first time I saw the water striders in the canal, and again on this apparently final act of theirs at the Waterfront, arrayed along the path in whole and in their parts in the process of being removed.

Twelve foot green fiberglass bugs which light up at night floating in the canal. I've tracked the cycle of their green floating surreal accent to our hidden city in this blog over the last few months. I've seen them, paused to ponder them in different light and at night, even programmed their lights to flash in sequence and also at random.

Separately lit and iPad-controllable water strider antenna balls: those things actually existed in my city for a while this spring. So again I diverge from John Masefield: you can see such things in this earthly city, but only if you look for them.

The road and the dawn, the sun, the wind, and the rain, and here in this desert canal-watered valley, the wind, dust, and monsoon rains, these factors feed and sustain my continued search for the hidden side of our cities. I suppose if I am totally honest, part of me does continue to seek that City of God, De Civitate Dei, that appears to be the heart of Masefield's poem. But also seek, with all my heart and mind, that Hidden City of Man that does offer solace, and truth, and beauty, to those who seek it here/now, in this life, in this world.

I've recently been disheartened, disillusioned even (which is rather amazing at my age, and may actually be a good sign!) with the irrationality and cruelty of humans both singly and in groups, both in my personal experience as well as in the news. We have these immense powers of both reason and creativity, enormous potential for both logic and love, yet it seems that nearly constantly I am bombarded with news and examples of the senseless exhibition of the exact opposite of these noble characteristics.

If I'm too idealistic then I guess I should expect disillusionment, right? It may even be impossible or pointless for me to wish that everyone would remember and learn from (consider carefully if not believe in) what Augustine wrote in the fifth century, as we're increasingly becoming programmed to view and forget in ten minutes viral videos and tweets on platforms engineered purely to influence our buying decisions of the moment. But there is no solace there for me. Or rather, recognizing the ironic self-contradiction of that statement in a blog post (no ads here, though!), I should write, my solace continues to be in seeking for some hidden city in the real world.

Sometimes the best parts of that hidden city reveal themselves, and then pass away. Float downstream. Get washed away by rains and canal water. But the impressions of them remain, whether on year-old satellite photos that still show colorful triangles floating in this canal as of this post, or in minds which are supported and sustained by differences made by artists and thinkers who also desire for more than what we normally see. You have to keep looking. You have to be open to it while staying strong in the face of not-it. The search for some hidden city, the ride to it and through it, goes on.

The video that Jeff Zischke posted about his work "Water Striders" is like a map to finding that amazing, welcoming, artful quarter of some better hidden city. Watch the video. It reminds me of what I keep looking for out there, down here on earth.

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