After 20 years of fighting the good music biz fight, I left Nashville 10 years ago to live on the edge of nowhere just to see how it felt. It was nice out there against the abyss. One of the things I found there were the Greenways. Our little town in Colorado invested big in the sustainable arts. The city wouldn’t pick up your brush for free on a regular basis. Instead, they built trails: Lots of them. I could put on my nancyboy bike shorts along with my purple yard-sale bike helmet and get on my ‘74 Schwinn Super Sport and ride the greenways along the river for 30 miles. The trails wound out through the trees and waterfowl, sunsets, coyotes and sage-covered hills. It was amazing. But what they connected me to most was a greenway within myself. Those pathways through the vast expanse brought me together with the weather of my soul and an underlying inkling of what kept my body, mind and heart sustainable. They connected me . . . to me somehow.
When we decided to move back home and chose the bowels of East Nasty to hunker down in, I wondered quietly what the hell I was gonna do to access that same experience here in the city. I love the gritty city as much as anyone. There is a lot to look at and soak up for a mind that is terminally and creatively bored. The creative energy here and the people can’t be beat anywhere, but I would have pangs of neurosis sweep my psyche with the thought of being trapped in the neon without a convenient escape into nature.
Thank God we chose East Nashville as, to my surprise, the Greenway is within our midst. Like a vein of life bubbling through the concrete, I found it flowing out along the river on the Shelby Bottoms. I found it rolling across the river through field and forest out to the Percy Priest Dam. I found 30 miles of it right here in my own backyard!
Stepping off the street on to the Greenway I always feel like Lewis Carroll’s Alice stepping through the looking glass into another world. Rolling on the mighty Schwinn I can bound though the flowering wild privot, honeysuckle and blackberry. Eastern Bluebirds and cardinals skirt the trail. The Super Sport glides the Shelby Bottoms with a silly grin. People on the trail smile back and say hello. You can see the nature beaming from the trees and into their faces, from the sun and into their skin. It carries delight and contemplation and intermingling. It carries families and people in shape and people out of shape. It carries connection.
Moving along the path of the flood plain you can see Great Blue Heron on the river through the bramble. You traverse bridges and creeks only to find yourself lost under giant canopies of trees that hide deer and raccoon, possum and coyote. Tree frogs hum, pond frogs croak, my wheels spin themselves out until I can somehow breathe again. No matter how strung out or stressed out I get, if I have the fortitude to let myself go completely, to quiet myself in the great expanse, something wonderful happens. My experience grows awareness in the heat of that sun and I magically get a glimpse of who I am again.
And then there are the walking trails. I can grab the wife, hitch the dog to the leash and walk through the woods; the solitude lets me contemplate which one I actually love more. The sound of our boots sloshes the mud and a hawk can be seen buzzing overhead. We stumble on a pond filled with turtles sunning on logs. Giant carp loom in the shadows. A snapping turtle comes up for air and then, of all things, a kingfisher perches itself on a branch and cackles its distinctive cry of the wild. A kingfisher!! It’s truly amazing!!
One thing I’ve come to know is this: The older I get, the less I know. And if I’m gonna know anything at all the only thing that’s really worth knowing is myself. Nature and my exposure to it is one thing that helps me get to know myself a little better. A connection is soldered there between me and the cosmos. So it’s nice to know, right here, close to what we call East Nasty is a gateway, a greenway to connect to a higher plane.
So if you have the good fortune to get on that Greenway and see a purple-helmeted warrior in nancyboy bike shorts flying by on a beat-up old Schwinn grinning ear to ear, just know that is me. And know that I’m a little closer to knowing who me is — thanks to the Greenway.