"Letter in a Woodpile." Here's the link to Ed's very own (very Southern) reading of the piece on All Things Considered.
Girls on new bicycles approach in late afternoon winter light. The riders
are oblivious to the pale wash of blue sky, cool air and patches of still-green
grass. The girls are fixed on the gear shifters inside the handlebar grips on
their Christmas bikes.
"I'm in gears 3 and 7," a rider says.
"Try 1 and 4," says the girl on her wingtip. "That's
where I am."
The bicyclists glide by as I turn compost and dirt into
beds for romaine lettuce, arugula and mustard greens. I pause to listen to the
The girls cruise in squadrons of three or four. Children
on the verge of young womanhood, they are beyond the pull of parental gravity
when they ride bicycles. They have graduated from piloting machines with foot
brakes and one gear to mountain bikes with cantilevered brakes controlled by
hand and 21 speeds.
That's 20 more speeds than bicycle riders in Baton Rouge
There are no hills in Baton Rouge, only small rises from
land to higher land. At 30 feet above sea level, increased pedal pressure
conquers most elevations. The riders passing my front yard garden are feminine
Chuck Yeagers, girls drawling that test pilot talk.
Try 2 and 4."
"Four's too easy. Go to 6."
The girls move by, their wrists sending messages to
derailleurs, chains slackening to tighten again in new configurations. My
shovel's blade exposes white grubs to the buttery sun as I follow the girls'
progress down our dead-end street.
A few minutes later, back they come. The girls are riding
faster now. They've found just the right gears. Up the street they go, leaning
into the wind, hair flying, ears tuned to a private frequency.
They are free – until suppertime.