Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Getting Back on the Bicycle

Snow has been falling steadily since early yesterday morning, and the roofs along Katzenstraße lie beneath thick white cushions. Seen through the gap between the houses across the street, the fishing pond spreads blue-white and still. The tangle of brown branches in the wood is thick with snow; shaggy green arms of the conifers droop under its weight. Up and down the street, front gardens are heaped high, and still it falls.

The fraternity of neighbours at our end of the street greet each other as we shovel, struggling with the packed snow left by car tracks in the early morning. Three times yesterday did I clear the street in front of this house and another time this morning. The house has a long frontage, and since November we are the only tenants. The street is a private one, so each householder is responsible for clearing the road. It is a point of honour, as well as neighbourliness, to do one’s part.

It’s work, of course, but I find pleasure too in the communal effort. It’s good to spend a half hour in strenuous effort, good to feel the power in my arms as I lift the heavy shovelful and send it over the wall into the yard. Up and down the street the shovels scrape against the tarmac and clumps of snow fly upwards then cascade, white against the silver light. The shovel sticks against the stubborn imprint of car tracks, and I push bluntly against it, softly breathing out the frustration before loosening the icy patch. Up and over the wall the snow flies, one shovelful after another. Then I stamp into the house, boots crusted white and, changing into house shoes, make coffee, my face pink with cold.

This is the first significant snow we’ve had since Christmas. Milder temperatures and some rain had melted what snow had remained. It was mild enough, in fact, that Himself and I cycled from Katzenstraße to the Altstadt, joining the parade of other Salzburgers in the paths along the river. It had been many weeks since we had cycled, and my anxiety threatened to immobilise me. There were still icy patches along the path. Would I be able to negotiate them without falling? We could but try.

In fact, I am too often prone to paralysis, too often overwhelmed by events or other people. That which must be done for familial or social reasons overpowers the personal. Emotional turmoil, illness and injury intrude. Soon I slip into avoidance, passivity and silence.

Living in Austria and being largely unable to speak German can also feel isolating. I put off making appointments, for instance, because of my insecurity in communicating. It’s embarrassing, frankly, to stammer in broken German and then, burst out, child-like, ‘Can you help me in English?’ Usually they can, but I feel a fool afterward. But, like so many experiences, all I can do it do it anyway. I have to keep trying.

So here I am again, getting back on the bicycle after weeks of silence. It’s also a bit embarrassing, having faltered and then disappeared, to reappear with little to say for myself. However, it’s time to lift my head and begin moving again.

I can but try.


  1. Happy to see you are back!

    Days here in L.A. are sunny and warm (mid 70s) but your post brings back memories of snow, especially of the steady, muffled sound of the shovels. Keep writing!

  2. Thanks for your encouragement, Christina. It helps!