Cycling Through Life

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Today, St Patrick’s Day, is our daughter Lynn’s birthday. Not wanting to embarrass her with some sappy tribute, we’re turning the words over to one of my favourite poets, Linda Pastan.

Coincidentally, Linda published this poem in 1988, the year we all left—sold—our nest on Underhill Drive in Calgary. Magellan and I moved to Vancouver (for just a year that time) and Lynn and Ward began their cohabitation in a grand old apartment in the “Lorraine” on 12thAvenue in Calgary. This photo of Lynn on the Icefields Parkway when the three of us cycled between Banff and Jasper was taken weeks before they met at U of C.

Lynn’s first day home

Coincidence number two is that this poem truly does describe Magellan teaching Lynn to ride her bike in Calgary’s Confederation Park when she was eight years old. Despite hours of searching photos, albums, slides and negatives, the picture I remember of that was not to be found. Perhaps its existence resides solely in my mind. But here’s one of a child’s pure sensation of the joy in being, a photo that captures the poem’s emotion—just imagine Lynn’s on her first two-wheeler.

“To a Daughter Leaving Home”
When I taught you
at eight to ride
a bicycle, loping along
beside you
as you wobbled away
on two round wheels,
my own mouth rounding
in surprise when you pulled
ahead down the curved
path of the park,
I kept waiting
for the thud
of your crash as I
sprinted to catch up,
while you grew
smaller, more breakable
with distance,
pumping, pumping
for your life, screaming
with laughter,
the hair flapping
behind you like a
handkerchief waving
goodbye.

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Update: Langer, Emily. “Linda Pastan, poet of concentrated beauty, dies at 90.” Washington Post, February 1, 2023.

Pastan, Linda. “To a Daughter Leaving Home,” The Imperfect Paradise: Poems. New York: W. N. Norton & Company Inc, 1988. The author of more than a dozen books of poetry, Linda was born in 1932 and raised in New York, although she has lived most of her life in Potomac, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC. In her senior year at Radcliffe College, she won the Mademoiselle poetry prize—quite the accomplishment as Sylvia Plath was the runner-up. After raising her family, Linda began writing verse again in the 1970s. She’s received scores of awards and was Poet Laureate of Maryland from 1991 to 1995.

24 Responses

  1. What precious photos and memories, thanks!
    It was so much fun to grow with kids as they grew up, such good times…except for a few days in the teenage years, haha.

  2. I have so many great memories of Lynn’s first months of life in Saskatoon, the summer I spent babysitting you in Calgary and all of the hikes we did through the mountains when you were growing up. I celebrated your birthday today reading a West Coast Trail guide book – imagine a 7 year old accomplishing that hike! Truly as challenging as learning to ride a bike and then some! Happy Birthday, Lynn!

    1. Interesting fact you make Colleen: Lynn hiked the 75 kilometre West Coast Trail in seven days a year before before she learned to ride a bike!

    1. Yes, Linda is a genius. From her latest book, “I am learning to abandon the world/before it can abandon me…/But morning comes with small/reprieves of coffee and birdsong.”

  3. What a great story and poem.
    Happy Birthday Lynn
    For some reason I still remember the day you were born. Dr. PacPherson, i believe.
    Must be the OB in me, even though that wasn’t evena thought for me at that time.

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