My rides of late have been morning coffee runs: thirty minute jaunts to get my mocha and blueberry muffin. Satisfying as a morning buzz goes, but certainly not a motorcycle ride to remember. I have simply not been in a mood to ride lately, but fortunately you don’t need to be in a mood to ride so much as you need to get out the door with a route to ride. So I laid out a loop with the hopes of taking some photographs along the way. Perhaps other events would happen, too.
I left at 8:00 am, camera in pannier. It was a chilly morning. This always surprises me in Florida even though such days are common from November through February. Riding into the brisk air at 60 mph felt comfortably cool as it rushed through my helmet vents. I felt relaxed floating down the road, perhaps too relaxed. As I looked around at the open fields on both sides of me, I came up on a curve. As usual I set up my turn line and entered it just fine. The problem, which I was yet to notice, was I going a little too fast. This extra speed guarantees the arc of the turn will widen and take you to its outside edge, in this case toward the double yellow line. I was pleasantly unaware of this as my mental firmware was in control of the bike. This was about to change.
As I followed through on the turn at a decent lean, I glanced in the direction of the widening arc and saw a car approaching straight for me. I felt a sharp pang in my gut and shifted my attention to the impending event. I now realized my turning arc was off the mark. I had about two seconds to react. With the pang intensifying, I gently squeezed the front brake, slowing down just enough that the bike fell back into the proper turn line. By reducing my speed a controlled amount, I pulled away from the double yellow line and — that was that. The driver seemed to not take note of any of this as he made no attempt to give me extra room. Apparently nothing was amiss. For me, what was a second between seeing and reacting felt much longer. The 16-year-old Albert Einstein use to image sitting on top of a photon and riding along with a beam of light, wondering what the world would like from that perspective. He realized time and space would not be the same, eventually leading to his Theory of Relativity during his Annus Mirabilis (1905, the “miraculous year”, so-called because he published four papers, each of which literally changed the course of physics or solved what had been an intractable problem, including the discovery of the now famous E=mc² equation — not a bad year, sorta like 1983 for Michael Jackson when he released the pop masterpiece video, Thriller, his album became the best-selling of all time selling 65 million copies, and he debuted the moonwalk dance move on national TV). It felt like I was riding on one of those photons inside my mind as it coursed through my brain. From my perspective, time had indeed slowed down riding that mental photon and I could comfortably take action without any fear of running out of it.
What happened here? Exactly what should have happened. I was riding at the unconscious firmware level and an event occurred that needed my attention. My body signaled this by the pang in my gut. This pang is what gave the moment value. Without it, the moment would have been registered as neutral, business as usual, and I would have remained in the firmware mode. If that happens when in fact it should not, a person is in what might be called emotional denial of the moment: they are not giving the proper emotional value to an incident as it is happening. Those emotions are what are needed to direct your attention to the proper place. These two responses mark the endpoints of a scale: from a proper visceral valuing to an emotional denial of the moment. Every moment of every day falls on this continuum, and we are choosing how it will be valued, with each choice having consequences that are trivial or life-threatening, but always with consequences.
I kept riding, relieved that my turn worked out so well while I continued looking for photographs. Open field after open field on both sides, but nothing for miles. Then I saw one of those fields was peppered with distant cattle. This one was more than an open field: it was a cattle grazing field. I pulled over to take several shots, though I didn’t feel any of those good pangs I get when I catch a photograph. But you never know until you look at them. At the moment what I knew was I felt irritated remounting my motorcycle.
To stop and restart a few minutes later is a break in the motorcycle action that I did not want without an immediate payoff. And this was a problem, this expectation. It sets one up for failure — only one-in-fifty shots become photographs, even in the best of circumstances, and nothing worthwhile in photography is immediate. My feelings rushed me through taking shots in less than ten minutes, hardly what one would call working the shot, a term photographers use to describe taking repeated shots of a subject as they move around repositioning themselves, reframing, and adjusting camera settings. In such moments, the photographer is visually thinking. My irritation short-circuited something I should have allowed to flourish: I allowed my emotions to impede my visual thinking. Here was my failing to integrate my two principal tools, the camera and the motorcycle, into an effective unified instrument. No surprise that the Eudaimonic Self was not to be seen out in the middle of that chilly grazing field.
I continued to ride down the road realizing what I had done. I could only hope another opportunity would arise. Literally at the moment I had that thought I saw two steers standing close to road, as if my thinking had created them. I stopped, dismounted the bike, got my camera with a quiet deliberation, and this time started working the shot. When photographing steers you learn they are not eager to have a stranger stand too close. The closer I got, the more they walked away, looking back every several steps. Both steers stopped about a hundred feet from me and looked out into the field. What is one to do in such moments? Well, it was obvious — moo as loudly as possible in your best guttural voice and hope for the best. And indeed, one of the steer turned his head and looked straight at me for a couple of seconds. I took a few shots. He turned away, I mooed again. He turned again. More shots again.
The third time I mooed extra loud and long, the same routine followed only it was getting funnier to me and I could see this steer was getting bored with it. A fourth time? No, I decided to leave him be while I wondering what all this would look like to anyone who could hear and see it. This would certainly be my most memorable conversation of the day. A photograph did result from the third round of mooing entitled, Indifference. Look closely and you will see why it is entitled, Indifference (click on image to see a larger version).
A wide turn corrected by a pang in my gut and having a conversation with a steer that resulted in a photograph, both involving emotions that directed my attention. Compared to the mind, emotions have a substantial weight and will whip attention wherever they want, for better or worse. Despite what we want to believe, the mind is always the tail to the dog of emotion. We want to believe otherwise because we have become so enamored with reason and the control it gives us at times. But reason is a thin shiny coat riding on top of something very large and very deep in evolutionary time. There is no question that my emotions were directing my attention in ways I was barely aware of. But I was also able to quiet those emotions enough to give that shiny coat of attention the freedom it needed to wag a bit as it pleased, to eventually moo at a steer and catch him in the ultimate act of indifference. And it is precisely this ability that makes all of us so gloriously and tragically human.
You just never know where a motorcycle ride will take you. You need only pay attention.
May You Always Enjoy The Ride