Bike Commute Sensations

I’ve been thinking recently about my bike ride to work, mostly after listening to this awesome podcast a friend made about commuter biking. My sister-in-law is interviewed in it, and talks about how biking made her feel more integrated with her community, because of how she commonly experienced it with all of her senses. I was thinking about this on my own ride to work this morning, and pondering what my favorite sensations are during my commute. So here they are!


There are several groups of naturalized parrots that live along Brighton where I ride, and each morning they’re always flying overhead, cawing and squawking. It feels like riding through some kind of jungle. I also love hearing crows cawing and trilling, mostly because they sound so different from the crows back in Kentucky. At night on the ride home, I love listening to the chirping crickets, though it occasionally makes me homesick for the summer katydids back home.


The world smells wonderful right now because all the flowers are blooming, so that’s a bonus. However, I must admit that my favorite bike commute scents are on the way home from work, when I pass by the homes of families cooking dinner. I feel like I’m riding through invisible wafts of mid-preparation meal scents, and I always try and guess what’s for dinner tonight at this house or that. There’s one place in particular, and I haven’t pinpointed it, that seems to frequently cook over a wood fire. The downside is that I’m usually ravenous by the time I get home.


Burbank is a great place for a bike commute. You get that mild SoCal temperature most days and it’s blissfully flat. One day recently, though, I got caught in a mild rain on my ride home. I was surprised at how peaceful the experience was, and how gentle the rain was as it fell on my skin. I think that when in a car, even light rains can seem much more noisy and foreboding than they actually are when you are outside in them.


Most of my ride takes place on Brighton, which is a quiet neighborhood street one block over from Buena Vista. I love seeing all the different styles of houses and how they keep their gardens. My favorites are the ones with proper desert yards filled with pebbles and yucca and cacti. I’m also still delighted by the common sight of citrus trees in front yards, limbs heavy and drooping with ripe fruit. I really do live in a beautiful place.

So, has my bike commute made me feel more connected to my community? Maybe! It certainly has made me appreciate the beauty I get to experience every day, and what a lovely place Burbank can be.

Perception and Reality

If you are a facebook friend of mine, you'll know that earlier today I found what I thought to be a snake outside, and in my attempts to identify it, eventually realized that it was just a long, skinny lizard with tiny legs that I hadn't seen. The incident gave me pause to think about how interpret our entire reality through the filter of our minds, and sometimes that filter can just break on us.

In my example, I wasn't even the one to find the lizard. Davis was sniffing around and went rigid, then began to stalk something under the bush. I held him in and looked intently, trying to see what he could see, trying to force my mind to pick a pattern up in the brush to see through the camouflage that I assumed was there. Eventually I plucked out a patch of dried skin, connected it to a skinny scaley tail, and followed the body all the way to a head sitting still and watching back.

"Oh, it's a little snake, shedding its skin," I thought, pulling Davis's leash taut to interrupt his stalk, "but what kind of snake is it? Its head looks weird…" I continued to sit and watch intently, looking at the head and flicking through my internal catalog of snakes. I thought that its eyes were very small for a snake, it was a lizardy-looking face. I swept back and forth across its body, looking at the patterns on its scales, but nothing looked familiar. I took Davis in, got my camera to snap some close photos of the thing, then started looking up on the internet and trying to identify it.

I looked through all the common california snakes, asked my social network for ID help, but to no avail. After a fairly long time, looking at that weird head…that lizard-like head…I blinked and suddenly it all snapped into place.  I instead looked up common California lizards, saw a more familiar scale pattern in a photo of a Southern Alligator Lizard, then looked back at my own photo. In the blink of an eye, the reality of my static photo changed.

The legs. They were *right there.* It was a lizard, not a snake, and the legs were right there in my own photo that I had taken and been studying intently. I'm sure anyone who saw me post the photo was probably thinking "Lisa, what's wrong with you? That's a lizard, it has legs!"

But at the time that my mind was in snake-id mode, my mind filtered them out. It turned them into debris and mulch and dismissed them to background noise as I instead laser-focused on its head. I was already too deep down the "snake" tree thinking about species that my mind didn't even consider checking the other top level "types of reptile" branches, even when I thought and even wrote "Its face looks kind of like a lizard." Even then my mind did not make the connection!

It's a little unsettling when something like this happens because it reminds me that even when our little brain filters are doing the best they can to process the world, sometimes they just don't work right. And that's all we have to go on. The only thing standing between us and the world is how our mind processes it, and you don't really have a way of knowing that your brain-filter is broken until after it finally kicks in and slides reality into place.

It's kind of like temporarily sliding into the brain of a madman, and that's terrifying, because you discover that being mad apparently feels completely normal.

Walk musings

When Mr. Davis and I go on our walks, we sometimes spend most of it standing idly next to parked vehicles while Davis sniffs them. He has a fascination for license plates and bumpers, and will drain away the minutes sniffing and sniffing with deep intensity. Then we’ll move on to the next car and he’ll repeat the process. I thought this might have been a quirk particular to Davis, but when leaving work tonight I noticed one of the local feral cats strolling through the parking lot doing the same thing. The kitty was so intently sniffing a license plate that it didn’t even notice my approach, which is unusual for the ferals since they tend to be wary and keep away from people.

What is it that they are smelling? What is so compelling a scent that gets stuck to car bumpers? Squished bugs, perhaps? Do dogs do this? Mysterious.

Meanwhile, I’ve started using the time on our walks to practice standing with good posture. It is…difficult. I’ve found that when I stand upright without slouching and hold the position for any length of time that it becomes painful to breath. Maybe this will get better with time and when my back muscles strengthen, depending on if I can keep this up.