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shadows of echoes of memories of songs
Towpath diverged in a wood
A bit of excitement on the towpath this morning: as I was cycling along I saw what I thought was a low branch ahead, but as I got nearer I realised that in fact an entire tree was blocking the path:

I was surprised that addedentry hadn't texted to warn me, as he'd left about ten minutes before me, but in fact the tree must have fallen at some point in the ten minutes between us passing that point — so, a lucky escape for both of us.

The towpath: a digression

When we first bought this house we cycled along the towpath to get to and from it several times; it was the middle of summer, and it was wonderful to cycle along beside the river in the sun looking at the flowers and the ducks — hello trees hello sky sa Fotherington-Thomas — but if I'm honest, I thought that the towpath would be a summer treat, and the rest of the time it'd be a boring road commute up and down the Abingdon/Iffley Roads. In fact, I've only taken the road once since we've lived here, and that was because I turned left out of Holy Rood Church down the Abingdon Road in a moment of confusion about where I was in relation to the turning for the towpath, and then couldn't be bothered to turn round (I really am that lazy). In the sun, the towpath is still marvellous; in the rain, you're no wetter there than you would be on the roads, and you're not constantly being bullied by cars and buses: you're negotiating with cyclists and pedestrians (plus joggers, anglers, dogs, and people on bikes shouting through megaphones at boaties) on some kind of equal footing. There's some kind of social interaction: a nod, a smile, a mutual giving-way, a quick "thanks" or "sorry". Cycling on the roads makes me feel like an insect; cycling on the towpath restores my humanity.

Throughout the summer the path was edged with cornflower-blue chicory flowers and purple-headed clover; as autumn drew in the leaves turned to red and brown (though the hedges and weeds remained lush and green), and the air was thick with woodsmoke from the houseboats; and now enough of the trees are bare-branched that you can see Corpus Christi Barge from the path. By night it's dark and quiet; sleeping geese stand on the banks by the boathouses, ghostly white and still like miniature menhirs. On a moonlit night, the reflections light every ripple on the river. On Bonfire Night we watched fireworks exploding over the water.

I'm starting to feel I know every curve of the path between Donnington Bridge and Folly Bridge; I notice when a branch is hanging slightly lower or when a lifebelt is missing, when there are particularly big puddles or emerging potholes. So to find a tree in the middle of it was something of a surprise... but at the same time, it was part of the patchwork. The towpath is a lot like the estate where we live — there are no neat edges, everything leaks into everything else. Houseboats have half of their contents on the outside; weeds tumble into the path, the path slopes into the river, bikes lean drunkenly into the hedges, and occasionally wildlife finds its way out of the river on to the path. So a tree had wandered across the path; fair enough. It didn't even occur to me to turn around, go back, and take the road instead: the digression had long since become the normal path. I arrived at the obstruction at around the same time as a couple of other cyclists from the other direction, and was quickly followed by another behind me; we leaned our bikes against trees and fences and started clearing branches to the side of the path, snapping off the dry wood and piling it out of the way until there was a roughly bike-sized clear way through.

Then we all went on our way.

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khalinche From: khalinche Date: November 19th, 2009 12:00 am (UTC) (Link)
I love the picture you paint of borders dissolving and becoming porous, and how you link the texture of interpersonal encounters with other canal-bank citizens and the spatial interaction between boats and bank, tree and pavement, water and land. It's gorgeously evocative of being on the bank itself, but also leaves quite a lot to chew on about the way things overlap and merge, and how the will to break out of imposed isolation -cycling on the road amid everyone in metal and perspex boxes - restores humanity and contact. What a lovely thing to read at the end of the day.
khalinche From: khalinche Date: November 19th, 2009 12:04 am (UTC) (Link)
PS Fotherington-Thomas would probably feel AMONG KINDRID SPIRRITS on kanal path viz. menny akwattic plants being both WET and a WEED chiz chiz.
htfb From: htfb Date: November 19th, 2009 07:38 am (UTC) (Link)
Fotherington-Thomas will make a great cox when he goes on to public school. He has the build for it and the habit of talking to unresponsive clods. Hello clouds, hello sky, get in time number three your oar is for PULLING not STIRRING TEA and you have a face like a gorilla o behold o joy the crested grebes are mating.

vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: November 19th, 2009 10:08 am (UTC) (Link)
you made me snortle my tea, which i was not stirring with an oar. Thank you!
j4 From: j4 Date: November 19th, 2009 12:41 pm (UTC) (Link)

You are following @reelmolesworth on Twitter, I hope?
htfb From: htfb Date: November 19th, 2009 08:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
Since frida.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 19th, 2009 12:42 pm (UTC) (Link)
I See What You Did There! :D
triskellian From: triskellian Date: November 19th, 2009 08:16 am (UTC) (Link)
As one of the cyclists who came along the towpath after you, and before the fallen tree was cleared, I'd like to say thank you! I was grateful for your tree-clearing work, although obviously I didn't know it was you at the time.

I love riding along the towpath, too. I arrive at the other end relaxed and cheerful rather than tense and irritated as happens on the days I ride along Iffley Road because I'm going to the 'wrong' end of town.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 19th, 2009 12:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Heh, glad it was useful. The council have done a much more comprehensive job of clearing it now... [see photos!]

I arrive at the other end relaxed and cheerful

Yes! It's ace. Before we moved I was cycling along the Botley Road every day and I'd nearly always arrive at work/home absolutely furious with all the IDIOTS on the road. Moving house & switching to the towpath commute has totally lowered my blood-pressure. :-)
metame From: metame Date: November 19th, 2009 09:15 am (UTC) (Link)
Woah! Lobster!

Somehow it looks more out of place than the tree blocking the path, or reclaiming the bank as it probably puts it...

I do like the odd sense of community amongst cyclists or walkers (or anyone on bridleways rather than roads). Those little nods and "morning"s and "'lo"s do make all the difference.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 19th, 2009 12:30 pm (UTC) (Link)


Somehow it looks more out of place

The lighting helps -- I had to shine my bike light on it to get the photo, but it made it look quite creepy. I'm imagining it sidling into the spotlight (clicking its claws like castanets) on an otherwise empty stage. The photo also totally loses any sense of scale -- it could totally be LOBSTERZILLA!

1ngi From: 1ngi Date: November 19th, 2009 10:56 am (UTC) (Link)
And I took the one less travel by.

And this post has made all the difference :)
oxfordhacker From: oxfordhacker Date: November 19th, 2009 10:58 am (UTC) (Link)

I miss that commute...

As you say, it's lovely all year round, even when it's flooded.
j4 From: j4 Date: November 19th, 2009 12:27 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: I miss that commute...

Ha ha yes! I lived out in Marston as an undergrad, and the cyclepath flooded a couple of times. Cycling through literally 16" of water with an undertow is ace fun so long as you DON'T SLOW DOWN.

(There is even, somewhere, a photo of me cycling through floods in subfusc -- I was going to send it to Cherwell or OxStu but never got round to it. See, I was a publicity whore, but a really lazy one. Thank god for digital cameras and the internet, enabling lazy publicity whores to ply their trade!)
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