As I rode to work the other day, I had a handful of near-death run-ins with squirrels.
The glorified tree rats seem more abundant than usual this year as they scurry about readying for winter. They also seem more ample — big boned? — than usual, like they’ve had more time and favorable conditions to stuff their stupid, reckless cheeks and plump up for the upcoming snowpocalypse. Unfortunately for the city’s cyclists, this glut of tubby nutmongers makes for some dicey commutes.
Already stupid, the unusually fat and plentiful bushy-tailed beasties seem to enjoy playing chicken with passing cyclists. I just know one of these days I’m going tail end over tea kettle because some moronic fuzzball forgets to yield to the plodding cyclist who, despite his pedestrian pace, still manages to win the momentum race by virtue of a far greater mass.
On the way home, I heard a rustling not far off my port side that I assumed to be squirrel activity. Determined not to give the little jerks the satisfaction of paying them any attention, I pedaled on before a flash of white caught my eye, and I realized it was not a squirrel squad but a small fleet of deer high-tailing it, wide-eyed, on a path parallel to and awfully close to mine. It was, in fact, a small herd I’d heard, and as much as I’d prefer to avoid squashing a squirrel, I’m even more cognizant of trying to steer clear of deer.
I’ve had close calls with unruly ungulates before, but in this instance I actually envisioned a scenario in which they spooked and trampled right over me.
They didn’t, but they totally could have.
Also on that same commute, I was cruising along when an unexpected wind gust — weather.com called for them up to 40 mph — caught a wheel and pushed me uncomfortably close to a curb.
All these brushes with death, or at least dismemberment or perhaps simply discomfort, made me realize autumn likely is the most treacherous season for cycling.
Mercurial weather conditions; a blinding setting sun that coincides with a 6-6:30ish commute home; foliage that is so beautiful when attached but camouflage to roadside hazards when fallen; and, of course, the hooved and clawed menaces of hungry-but-sluggish squirrels and horny deer all conspire to make fall a tricky time to get around by pedal power.
But as I dodged these dangers, I thought back to a conversation I recently had with my kids.
The weather had turned legitimately cool, and we were discussing our favorite seasons. The three of us each picked different ones, but we all agreed that each — season, not person — had something to offer and that we were glad to live somewhere we could enjoy four of them.
Then it dawned on me that the reason I had such a difficult time picking a favorite was that, in my mind, the best season isn’t spring, summer, fall or winter but … the next season.
When I’m mired in a numbing winter, spring — with its promise of life, pastels and time outdoors — looms as the best season of the year.
But after a week or two of allergies and rainstorms, I long for the summer and its long days, tall cotton and family vacations.
Before long, though, the swelter gets old and I can’t wait for fall to tumble in, with its refreshing crispness and lovely backdrop.
A few weeks of that crunching underfoot, that maddening span of AC by day/heater by night and pumpkin-flavored everything around every commercial corner, however, and I yearn for sweater season and snowball fights and hot cocoa before I get tired of the constant chill and nonstop, nagging cough before my thoughts turn to spring … and the cycle starts all over again.
So as I slalom among squirrels and dodge their up-sized distant cousins and squint into the sun and lean into the wind and wear three or four different outfits a day to deal with the temperamental temperatures, I take solace in the fact that, before long, we’ll be deep in the throes of winter, and I’ll have a whole new set of challenges to pedal around.
But at least I won’t have to worry about those infernal squirrels.