It was on an Adventure Cycling bicycle tour along the Blue Ridge Parkway when I first heard a vireo. At least, the first time I knew that what I was hearing was a vireo. I had stopped alongside the Parkway. It was in the middle of a long climb; shaded, fortunately, and I was tired. Tim, one of the Adventure Cycling leaders on the tour, caught up to me as I stood by the roadside. I was resting a bit and listening. The trees were tall, creaking quietly with the wind, and the canopy was dense and dark and it felt at the time as if I had entered a concert hall. To the left the mountain rose up out of sight; to the right, it dropped away towards the east; any view obscured by forest.
Tim came up beside me and said – Ah, listening to the vireos, are you? And tired as I was I could only say yep, as if I knew. It was a treat in a day of hard riding. It’s a common bird, I suppose, the vireo. Hard to see but easy to hear, they are short and stocky and love to sing, calling throughout the day as they forage for caterpillars in the tree canopy. I forgot my fatigue as I stood there listening – there must have been a half a dozen. A symphony.
I have a tendency to lean towards the exotic and epic; I want to challenge myself and test the limits of my endurance. So yes, I want to follow the Silk Road; the Santa Fe Trail, go on some round the world expedition. I know how much traveling can enlarge my perspective on life; how much of an education it can be, but I keep coming back to the vireo.
Of course if I had been in a car I’d never have heard – this simply would have been yet another stretch of tree lined road separating the many overlooks dotting the Parkway. But on a bicycle it became a concert hall, and with Tim’s help, a window into a different world. An attentive ear, a few wise words, and the long climb was transformed from an interlude to the main event – I could readily imagine the small birds hopping along branches, singing as they searched. There was life here. Vireos, yes, but also the caterpillars, and with a now alert ear – more – a pileated woodpecker. Deer winding their way downhill. Crows shouting a warning.
That simple moment of listening became for me one of the fondest memories from the bicycle tour. It’s a lesson that’s remained. So yes, I want to take those big trips. But it’s just getting out on a bicycle that’s the thing. That’s what matters. That, and the willingness to listen. And Tim, thanks.