Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Cunningham’

King Holly, King Oak

December 21, 2018

It’s a maple, not an oak, but it will have to do for now.

“You were just starting to get into your groove,” the dog-walker said apologetically as I yielded the trail, interrupting the run I had just begun.

More of a rut than a groove, I thought. I run this trail pretty much every Monday and Wednesday, and then lift weights afterward. On Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, I ride. On Fridays, I brood. Especially when the Friday in question happens to be the shortest day of the year, followed by the longest night.

If I ever actually found a groove and was getting into it, I mused, it would probably be something like the groove on an old vinyl LP, spiraling in at 33 1/3 rpm toward the black hole in the center. Stairway to heaven? More like highway to Hell.

Now ruts I know. I had been in an actual rut the day before I encountered the dog-walker, climbing Trail 341 counterclockwise on my second-best Steelman.

Anyone who saw me lurching upward in the 36×28 might have thought me a lost, loopy roadie, Trail 341 being a narrow, serpentine climb, sometimes featuring actual serpents; rocky where it isn’t loose, fenced with cane cholla, with a couple-three blind corners, no passing lanes, and the occasional rut just to keep things interesting.

But I was in the best mental health I could summon in December, especially this December, and as I said, it was my second-best Steelman. Plus I was climbing, not descending, which lets me ease into trouble rather than diving in headlong.

I had been descending Trail 341 when one of these ruts caught me unawares back in July 2017. I was aboard the Voodoo Nakisi, which with its plump Bruce Gordon Rock n’ Roads is ordinarily more than a match for this short, not particularly technical descent.

But my mind had wandered, as it will, and it didn’t wander back until after I had bitten the dust, grabbing a handful of cholla as I went down.

“What the hell are you doing?” my mind asked.

“Oh, shut up,” I replied, yanking spines from my left hand. “This is your fault.”

“What, I told you to yardsale in a rut?” my mind chortled. “I was just trying to get a little work done while you were dicking around. Jeez, I can’t leave you alone for a minute.”

Ever since taking that little digger I’ve ridden Trail 341 as a climb instead of a descent, though the neighborhood Singletrack Sanitation Service has ironed out a few of its nastier wrinkles. It leaves me in something of a metaphorical rut, true, but it’s a problem I don’t need to solve; a nettle I don’t care to grasp.

Especially in December, when there’s never enough sun to really warm your bones, and what there is of it hangs low in the sky, either blinding you to the path or cloaking it in shadows.

My rides and temper shorten with the days. I get up in the dark and by the time I‘ve gotten a handle on current events — what has the Arsehole-in-Chief managed to shit on today? — it’s dark again and time to go back to bed. This makes for unsettling dreams.

Dreams. The ancient Celts saw the solstices as battles between twin kings, Oak vs. Holly, warmth and light pitted against cold and dark.

Neither king is ever truly vanquished. The Holly King is ascendant as the old year wanes, but as the new year approaches the Oak King reclaims the throne.

It was a murky morning as this year’s winter solstice came to Newgrange, and the Oak King did not make an appearance. But this doesn’t mean that the Holly King has finally triumphed. The struggle continues.

And I recall another Irish legend, who once said: “We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light the candle that can guide us through that darkness to a safe and sane future.”

Don’t curse the darkness. Light a candle. Grasp the nettle.

• Editor’s note: I had planned to make this an episode of Radio Free Dogpatch, but various ruts kept tripping me up. At least you can give a listen to the music I had in mind for the background — “King Holly, King Oak,” from Johnny Cunningham via “Celtic Christmas,” a Windham Hill sampler I’d forgotten I owned. And happy solstice to you.