The best smell

Cycling is one of the things that keeps me sane when I cannot sail and today’s unseasonably warm weather prompted my first ride of the year. I ride along the water as much as I can, appreciating the unique arrangement of sights, sounds and smells afforded by each outing.

I am filled by views of nature, such as clouds dotting the sky, a flock of geese in formation flight, and the glint of sunlight on the ruffled water of Occoquan Bay. Contact with people fills me, too, like the day I stopped to rehydrate and chatted with Enzorio, a proud new American citizen, a fellow cyclist, and worker at a local restaurant. Today I met the smile of the Occoquan Wildlife Refuge park manager, who kindly invited me to ride through the refuge when I told him my pass had expired and I did not have my checkbook with me.

Happily, I pedaled down the asphalt entry road for the first time in several months, noting the osprey nest that would soon be a center of activity once more. Slogging along the unpaved road soggy with snowmelt, the tires of my hybrid bike biting into the mud, I unintentionally flushed a covey of quail from the thicket above. The initial “whoosh” of a dozen wings sounded so much like an equine snort that I was surprised to see birds taking flight, rather than to see a horse standing there. Back along Dawson Beach Road, I heard a flock of starlings twittering in the fence row as the birds seemed to talk hopefully of the coming spring. At Belmont Bay I enjoyed the tinkle and susurrus of floating shards of ice as the wind shuffled them against the shore.

Sights and sounds are beautiful and moving, but smells often make the strongest impression. So it was today, where the best experience was carried on the breeze. Pedaling down a road along Occoquan Bay, the wind brought to my nostrils the scent of faint brine, of brackish, black muck. A warm wind, laden with the smell of tidal water, the best smell. Immediately, my heart, like the song of the starlings, cried hopeful for the coming spring, the longer days, for the promise of hours to come when I am sailing. Just sailing.

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