Under An Uncertain Sky

by Bill Hufnagle aka Biker Billy

Today I was riding under a grey and cloudy sky; an unbroken canopy of undulating light and dark. The endless cloud cover hung low and close to the mountaintops. The air was cool and rich with moisture, making the ride feel more like swimming. The forecast had suggested a thirty percent chance of rain—an average risk for an early spring day; not enough to pass up a chance to ride. While the sun was nowhere in sight, it was bright enough to make you squint without sunglasses. Under this brilliant dome of grey, the signs of spring’s new life were everywhere to be seen.

The pears were in full bloom, beginning to turn from snowy white to pale green. The pink blooms of the cherry trees stood out against the deep hues of the fir, cypress, and pine. The forsythia were exploding with their bell-shaped yellow flowers, and the trumpets of daffodils appeared in clumps on almost every property. Even the maples were painting the hillsides with their red buds. Spring in the mountains is a beautiful riot of colors and blooms. Yet over it all hung that grey sky.

The road was dry, and the bike’s tank was as well. A stop was in order. It still shocks me every time I buy gas just how high the prices are—over $3.50 a gallon for super today. A week ago it spiked above $3.70, making today’s price, in a perverse sort of way, almost a bargain. I gassed up and went inside for a soda. The 20-ounce bottle cost $1.39, making it around $8.90 a gallon. I’m sure glad the bike doesn’t run on cola. Of course, you can cut back on cola’s per-gallon price by buying it by the two liter for 99 cents, dropping it to $1.87 a gallon. Now I wish my bike did run on cola—that 79 percent volume discount would reduce today’s gallon from $3.50 to 73 cents. Last time I saw gas at that price was in the 1970s. Oh, the memories.

I rolled the bike back onto the still-dry road and continued my ride, keeping an eye on the grey sky. Riding is a great place to think about things, as long as you don’t get too deeply lost in thought when the road and town traffic demand attention. As I wandered away from civilization into the hills and onto little-traveled roads, though, I was free from traffic and my mind was free to wander as well. Still, there was that thirty percent chance of rain in the endless canopy of grey to consider. My thoughts went first to that sky. In the fall a sky like this would be depressing. It would communicate the coming of cold and snow and darker, shorter days. Yet today, in early spring, that sky was comforting, making the world a closer, smaller place; kind of cozy. Perhaps it is the subconscious message of the budding and blooming of spring; those clouds hold life-giving rain for my garden and my world.

Eventually, my mind wandered back to the gas prices as I passed a rural station with even higher prices than I had paid just an hour ago. Yesterday, filling my medium-sized SUV cost $55.00 at $3.19 a gallon. Back in 1993, when the truck was new, a fill-up cost around $18.00, which is what it cost an hour ago to fill my bike’s tank, which in turn cost around $6.50 in 1996 when it was new. Times and prices sure have changed and not for the better. While I was running these numbers in my head, the thirty percent chance in that grey sky became rain. I turned the bike towards home and managed to stay mostly ahead of the raindrops. The mountains are a patchwork quilt of microclimates—it can be raining in one valley but not up on the next ridge.

After I parked the bike and settled inside to write this column, the sky unloaded its heavy rain onto my microclimate. While the weather stormed outside, I spent a little time researching gas prices. During the 1990s, regular gas prices varied from a low of 87 cents, to a high of $1.25 a gallon. As the millennium turned, prices began a slow but steady climb, dipping only briefly to this decade’s low of $1.02 in late December, 2001. Just how high they will go is anyone’s guess. The uncertain sky that I rode under today ultimately beat the odds and it rained. My sense is that the grey and uncertain sky over the gas pumps feels more like an upcoming winter storm than a passing spring shower. Sooner or later, we all will get hosed even worse at the pump.

Quick Salsa

This classic Biker Billy recipe is simple yet supremely delicious. While I make more complex salsas, this one is so fresh and tasty that a batch never lasts long. It is great to have it and some chips as a snack, while you are working on your bike during the winter. The fiery fresh favors will warm you and remind you of the fresh tastes of summer.

2 hot peppers (or to taste), stemmed and minced 2 medium onions, coarsely chopped 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced 1 (28-ounce) can whole plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped Salt and ground black pepper Dried Cilantro (optional)

In a large mixing bowl, combine the peppers, onions, garlic, and tomatoes. Stir well. Add salt black pepper and cilantro to taste. Refrigerate before serving.

Makes 4 cups

Column copyright Bill Hufnagle 2008. Recipe reprinted with permission from “Biker Billy Cooks with Fire”, published by Whitehorse Press, Center Conway, New Hampshire copyright Bill Hufnagle 1995, 2004.

M.M.M.

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