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NEW HARMONY, Indiana—Whenever I find myself back home in Indiana for a few weeks, I always reacquire two habits that help to pass the seemingly interminable days: smoking and bike riding. These I alternate freely, puffing here, pedaling there, until my schedule becomes a rhythmic blur of healthy practices and their antipodes. Sometimes, when the urge strikes me, I say a quick prayer for my lungs, and do both at once.
As the weeks pass, this compound action begins to dominate my time. I describe long arcs about the town on my brother’s bicycle, waving to everyone I pass and trailing a vaguely festive flurry of ash-flecks, as though I’m late to the annual Misanthropes’ Parade. When I’ve had my fill of our commodious vicus, I move out onto the highways outside of town, where the wind is freer and unruly and my cigarette, its coal perennially charged to a conical blaze by the onrushing air, begins to lose what little value it had once had as a measure of time.
One day, in the midst of one of these excursions, I turned off the highway onto Old Green Road; surrendering to the path, I allowed myself to be carried past fields of damp earth stippled with virile switches of green, over a small creek whose languorous waters and muddy banks emitted a fetid wall of air, and, to my relief, right up to a line of trees, which I promptly entered. After a few curves, I emerged into a sort of grove. I paused, appreciating the stillness of the air, and noted with alacrity that my cigarette had once again assumed a steady burn; the chain of smoke that streamed from its tip drifted upward, executing impossible turns in the green half-light, its manifold ends tugged hither and thither like a marionette, until, utterly spent, it dissipated, and was lost to my eye.
At first unsure of my location, I pedaled on, but when I began to encounter a series of ramshackle domiciles—huts, trailers, cabins, all sagging and ill-kempt and bearing on their siding, like some edificial eczema, great curtains of lurid green moss—it occurred to me that I must have stumbled upon Black River Bottoms, a backwater and source of local humor whose tableaux seem torn from a mid-century report on rural poverty. There were refrigerators and washing machines lying in desuetude on front lawns, aggressive dogs chained with actual chains to the trunks of wilting trees—and, most noticeably, an air of complete stagnation, of a habitat secluded and immune to the pressures of time.
With a dull ringing in my head, I took my time here, luxuriating in the foreignness of a place wholly untouched by any number of exterior reagents, and when I began to exit the Bottoms I realized, with some surprise, that my cigarette, which I’d forgotten to puff, seemed untouched, just as full as when I’d looked at it nearly half an hour before.
Of course, time worked differently here—how could I know that a whole hour had truly passed? Regardless, I’ve recently sent a missive to Pope Francis—wax seal and all—in the hopes that this putative miracle can be consecrated by official decree.
Bailey M. Trela, a Crimson F.M. executive, is an English concentrator in Currier House.
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