I’m sitting on park bench under the warm, sunny skies of heaven. I knew where to find heaven because I spent a couple of days here last winter this time. To get here my friend, Lucy, just walks out into her back yard and opens the gate. Voila! There appears a ten mile smooth gray asphalt bike path through an expansive groomed parkland surrounding a lake. Well it’s not just a lake, but a gigantic aquatic amoeba comprised of many lakes, channels, ponds and sloughs reaching out tidy and unperturbed from an invisible nucleus. Views along the path around the waterway feature sparkling fountains, white sand beaches, palm and live oak trees.
An unbroken line of variable housing surrounds the park, but heaven’s home owners association requires that colors be selected from a limited pallet of soft earth tones, the brightest being red Spanish roof tiles. Thus everything from apartments to bungalow blends attractively with the landscape. Apparently there is even a size limit on dwelling units. Perhaps the reason there are no mansions allowed in heaven is that, out of proportion to the others, they would be an eyesore. The effect is not unlike much of Europe where ordinances require that all buildings be constructed of native stone. I couldn’t bike around the lake when I was here last year because I didn’t have my bike. So I resolved to come this year for two weeks and bike the ten miles around every day.
As if heaven weren’t enough, Lucy shows me other south Florida attractions. She has driven me to the Everglades which I also saw last year.. We walked on a board walked called the Anhinga Trail. Anhingas are great black birds about as tall as a six year old human and with wing spans the size of hang gliders. The Everglades are an Anhinga’s idea of heaven. Flocks of white egrets and other great birds lift like clouds from marsh grass and shrubs. The Everglades are heaven to many other species such as twelve foot alligators that sleep on their fat bellies in the mud. They wear big permanent grins on their faces that look like a kid dabbed sloppily on with a paint brush.
Humans would have a hard time living in Everglades because they would sink into the mud and thus become easy alligator prey, hence the board walk. But Lucy said human heaven was actually resurrected from the Everglades basically by destroying Ahinga heaven. So human heaven still has a few cute gray grebes and a flock of Ibis which are white birds with long curved orange beaks that peck at the ground like chickens.
I started preparing for this trip around Christmas time When Seattle tends to be, “Darker than a thousand midnights down in a cypress swamp.” (A reference by James Weldon Johnson to Ahinga heaven only at night.)
The challenge was to find a way to check Dahon on American Airlines to Miami without paying extra. My husband, who is patient and understanding, tried to help me stuff it into our Bike Friday tandem suitcase, but it wouldn’t fit. So I went to U-Haul and found a box big enough to fold the bike up and stuff it in. But then I found out that the linear measurement of the box was 64 inches, but the maximum allowed was 62.
Dick told me not to worry. He would figure out a way to get my bike in the luggage at no extra cost. I did not doubt him. Dick is a PhD mathematician, a virtual rocket scientist. Sure enough, the day before I left, Dick took Dahon’s 20 inch wheels off and stuffed them in my duffel bag. He then folded the frame in half and that way it fit in the suitcase. So all I had to do was shove my clothes and things in around bike parts.
Dick accompanied me to the Seatac Airport on Seattle’s new light rail that only a few weeks before had been extended all the way there. Lucy met me on the Miami side and we deftly rolled the suitcase to the parking garage and lifted it into the trunk of her car along with the duffel bag.
The first day Dahon and I explored heaven, we had only gone about two of the ten miles when the trail ended in a library parking lot, beside a shopping complex of that hell known as an American suburb, its eight lane arterials clogged with traffic. Ghastly to think that thousands of acres of Ahinga heaven had also been transformed into this! But I knew there had to be at least eight miles of human heaven left if I could just get around the shopping center and find a way back in on the other side. The other side greeted me with a big three story apartment complex and a huge locked metal gate. I went into the management office with my bike in toe and explained that I wanted to bike back around the other side of the lake to get to my friend’s house. Smiling, the manager took his key out and unlocked the not so pearly gate to heaven.
The next day I decided to go around the opposite eight mile way and try to find another exit from heaven without encountering a locked gate. This time a couple hundred yards before the shopping center, there were some sidewalks entering some apartment buildings. But upon investigation, the streets all lead to the other side of same locked gate. The manager came out and opened it again, this time frowning.
The next day I went the same eight mile way around again, determined this time to find a way out that didn’t go through a gated community. But on the way, I had a flat tire. Of course, I had not come prepared with a spare, this being heaven after all, a place of no worries. Luckily the flat had occurred under one of heaven’s half dozen bridges where cars from hell cross over. I called out to a fisherman beside the lake and asked what street it was going over the Bridge.
“Hammocks,” he said, without turning to look at me. So I phoned Lucy and asked her to pick me up where Hammocks Boulevard crossed the lake.
But while pushing the bike up the steep bank to the bridge, I fell down hard on my left hip, the post-fracture one with the metal ball joint. I screamed as though I was afraid I would dislocate the hip and have to go back into surgery . . . which I was. In truth I wasn’t hurt much, but the scream got the fisherman’s attention, and he pushed my bike the rest of the way up. Lucy drove me and the Dahon to a good bike shop which replaced both multiply patched inner tubes with bran new ones and lined the wheels with neoprene strips.
I returned to heaven next day firmly resolved to ride all the way around, this time finding the elusive free man’s exit with no locked gates. Observing carefully as I biked again under the Hammocks Bridge, I learned that I had already found the way out without knowing it. Beside the bridge where I had the flat tire, there was a sidewalk leading from the bike path right out onto the street. From there it was only about a block to the shopping center where I bought a few groceries, biked round to the library parking lot, out through the open gate, and basked in the glory of heaven for the two remaining miles back to Lucy’s house. Since then I’ve done that every morning (each of which was warm and sunny) stopping at the shopping center for grub and maybe a book to enjoy on a park bench by the lake for the rest of the afternoon. This is the heaven!
Fortune cookie prophecy: Persistence and determination will get you to heaven.