I have always been a wanderer
Over land and sea
Yet a moonbeam on the water
Casts a spell o’er me
A vision fair I see
Again I seem to be
Back home again in Indiana
And it seems that I can see
The gleaming candlelight
Still burning bright
Through the sycamores for me
The new-mown hay sends all its fragrance
Through the fields I used to roam
When I dream about the moonlight on the Wabash
How I long for my Indiana home
Fancy paints on memory’s canvas
Scenes that we hold dear
We recall them in days after
Clearly they appear
And often times I see
A scene that’s dear to me
A white bike appeared at the top of my street 6 weeks ago and has haunted my summer. It arrived one Monday morning not long after a tragic hit and run bicycle death that occurred at that spot. The ghost bike is both memorial to a man who died late one night while riding home and a warning to drivers watch for cyclists and share the road. The bike rests against the street sign, and has gathered flowers, ribbons and notes as people pass by and want to leave a remembrance. I consider the bike and the incident that landed it there every day, multiple times a day as I drive to and from my house. I never knew the man, but I did know his family, and I think of them as they must be spending this summer in sorrow. I wonder what that is like to spend the season of abundance and light, mourning the death of a loved one. The bike sweetly, sadly, tragically is his final story.
The place the bike rested is near some wildflowers. It is now, at the peak of summer, July and August, that I become mesmerized by the flowers that crowd the sides of our roads: Queen Anne’s lace, cornflower, black-eyed Susan, purple clover, goldenrod, daisies, and the funny star shaped periwinkle flowers whose name I do not know. In the Midwest, if you watch the side of the road in the hot summer months, white and purple and orange flowers fill up the available space. They are the brightest of hues, the prettiest of flowers, they are both plentiful and extremely inaccessible. I am known to pull my car over to the side of the road, in a ditch to pick a handful. I associate them with the hottest of days, and I long to pick them all, to love them, to bring them into my house. When I do pull over and begin to clip roadside weeds, I imagine other drivers eyeing me, wondering what I am up to. Who picks weeds? I do love these flowers, and I bundle them up in my sweaty hand and carry them home to some water where I can appreciate them.
This summer I have traveled some. Most recently to the west coast. When I travel the first thing I notice is the flora. How are the flowers different here? The greenery? The roadside weeds? Who can’t marvel at the palm tree and the bougainvillea? The flowers and trees with their long growing season are abundant and lush. But I watched the roadsides of the Bay Area for a sign of cornflower and goldenrod, and could not discover anything that sparked my imagination as much as those midwestern weeds. No rose, no bougainvillea, no strange succulent was as lovely and abundant as Queen Anne’s Lace back in Indiana. I couldn’t wait to get home and see my flowers, I was sure that they had bloomed and were waving in the thick hot summer sun, waiting for me to get home and pull over and appreciate them. I am home, I said to no one and all the discarded flowers the minute I landed. I am home.
I went for a walk yesterday. For some reason, as I walk up the street in the oppressive humidity, sweat pouring off my face and back, the old song Back Home Again in Indiana, keeps rolling through my head. I hum it a bit as the wind picks up the leaves and grasses. I pick out some black-eyed Susan and daisies to cut. I wilt in the sun, find a shady spot to rest. I am on my way to the top of my street on foot, to look at the bike and watch for a minute, soak up its story. I pause and pay my respects. This white bike now wrapped in ribbon and flowers seems to shine in the sun. I have never seen a brighter white. Cars zoom past me. It feels very public, very exposed. I wonder how long this memorial will stay. I hope forever. I imagine all the scenarios that might take it away. Roadwork, theft, the property owner next to the sign might decide he’s tired of it.
The wildflowers, the roadside memorials, my steady walk up the road. I am sunshine and and sweat and home sweet home. I lay my bouquet down on the ground near the bike while considering the crime and the hot summer night that brought a man and his bike to this spot. How now, after all this, we consider it hallowed ground. I silently wish this family a way through grief. Peace, I think, just peace and I walk home.
Amy Cornell for The Poplar Grove Muse