How can the slightest hill feel so unconquerable? In my neighborhood there is a slow climb up a long straight road that borders a rice field, one that takes you to Komyoji Temple. Along with cutting cucumbers, refusing on-the-spot invitations, and eating dinner at midnight, cycling up this road is one thing in my life that makes me feel helpless. The road starts right after an intersection, and requires an initial momentum I have yet to create.

It goes up and up and if I can make it to the end--if I can just make it to the end-- and then up just one more hill, the reddest of red maple leave displays awaits. From there, a series of mild slopes winding though bamboo forests and alongside rivers takes me to a city center, a bath house, and a host mother excitedly sorting through a refrigerator full of food that urgently needs eating.

I finally learned how to ride a bike, and now my afternoons are spent enjoying the last days of fall. My bike is a Mamachari, a "Mama bike" with a tall handlebar and basket, no gearshift or lights, and well used handbrakes. I can't do much; I can't stand up or brush hair out of my face or climb up steep hills, but I can make it to the station, carry groceries home and push through bumpy trails, and as time goes by I can pedal down a main drag without jumping off my bike at the sight of a line of cars.

And that's good enough for me. A listless pace. Nothing ambitious, nothing fancy. Not yet, anyhow. At this listless pace that what to anybody else seems somewhere between quite pathetic and majestically awkward, I tuttle around West Kyoto doing my best to create muscle where, until recently, no muscles ever had any hope of existing.

November 11, 2010