Inside the handlebar bag: five books I bought this summer in Door County, Wisconsin. Buying five books in a week’s time, at least once a year, is not an indulgence; it’s a necessity.
I’m supporting businesses I care about in an area I’ve visited almost every year for the past three decades. I’m keeping my mind active by taking in new information and weighing the thoughts of others. Most of all, I’m adding weight to the shelves on the second floor of my house, further securing those shelves to the floor and that floor to the rest of the house.
The roof, as always, is on its own.
I’m also making good use of my handlebar bag. Though I leave it off the tandem most of the year, after I use it to haul books I wonder why I don’t leave it on the bike all the time. It doesn’t slow us down; we’re too slow for aerodynamics to be a concern, and even the weight of a few hardbacks isn’t noticeable.
By the way, there’s no rule that every bag on a bike be loaded before the journey. If you start with an empty bag, you can pick up things along the way. I’d go as far to say if you don’t have a way to carry things home, why venture out in the first place?
Likewise, it’s not important that a bag be custom-made for its contents. There might be an exception to that if you’re hauling a laptop; electronic devices need some coddling. But otherwise, apples, sweaters and coffee cups huddled among sweaters just need a little space.
That holds true with books, too. Have the room? Toss a couple in. No cushioning or coddling necessary. No cables or electricity, either.
You never know where you’ll find the next indispensable book. You expect to find it in a bookstore, but in Door County you can find it other places, too.
Finding The Mother Tree came from Kick Ash Coffee in Ellison Bay, just across the main drag from the Viking Grill, which was featured in the 2010 movie Feed the Fish starring Tony Shalhoub as the only sheriff in recent memory with a toaster in his cruiser.
Take that, Elwood Blues.
Words on Water II came from Fair Isle Books on Washington Island. If you like the ferry ride to Detroit Harbor, you might as well learn what life is like at the north end of Door County from the captain himself.
The Invention of Nature also came from Fair Isle Books. I don’t spend a lot of time on biographies, but it’s probably worthwhile to learn something about one of the founders of the modern world.
Are you kidding? How can you not pick up a book with a title like this? Travels With a Stick came from Sister Bay’s Ecology Sports, a clothing-driven outdoor store with a clean, stylish look. I’ve made the pilgrimage to this store for many years; maybe it’s time to read about a different sort of pilgrimage.
Another title designed to trap the unwary wanderer. Buzz Words, a compilation of insect-inspired poetry, came from Fragrant Isle Lavender Farm. I read a few poems to my partner, who found them suitably disturbing.
One of the poets, Ogden Nash, might not disagree. Here’s his outlook on the praying mantis:
From whence arrived the praying mantis?
From outer space, or lost Atlantis?
I glimpse the grim, green metal mug
That marks this pseudo-saintly bug,
Orthopterous, also carnivorous,
And faintly whisper, Lord deliver us.
Leave it to Nash to zero in on the praying mantis for theatrical emphasis; he could have chosen a similar insect, the walking stick.
But the walking stick lacks the blood and gore that Nash’s last line leans on so heavily.
Pity. Surely the vegetarian walking stick offers something of interest to the writer of prose. Imagine a book about a walking stick’s pilgrimage.
You find in front of you the preface to that very book:
I did not intend to write a book about my wandering. Indeed, when I set out on the way of St. James, I lacked not only the inclination but the ability to write.
Being a walking stick, I had no need of a second, insensate stick on my journey to Santiago de Compostela, just a few leaves and my own disposition to travel deliberately and lightly on the land.
However, as I walked toward my goal, I was transformed–not like Gregor Samsa in Kafka’s Metamorphosis in which a man becomes a huge insect, but the inverse–from an elegant though rather small insect to a larger though rather ordinary-sized bicycle rider.
This book is about my journey, my transformation, and my acquisition of a bicycle—and a handlebar bag big enough to carry the books I require for intellectual sustenance.
I never made it to Santiago de Compostela. Instead, my life has become one of diversions.
May you find this book a diversion of your own.