By Bill Watts
I am a long-distance cyclist. I ride about 8,000 miles a year, and I have had the good fortune to ride my bicycle in China, in Australia, and in much of Europe. This past summer, I climbed the Col D’Aubisque, a mountain pass that is often featured in the Tour de France. The climb was thrilling.
But the most significant and important journey for me is the one I make almost every day, from my home on the near northwest side of Indianapolis to my workplace at Butler University. Much of my route follows the towpath along the Central Canal.
“I am in my twenty-fourth year of riding along the canal, but I still find it fresh and invigorating.”
I am in my twenty-fourth year of riding along the canal, but I still find it fresh and invigorating. For me, this journey tells several intersecting stories.
One story is cultural and institutional. I pass in front of Naval Armory as I make my way to the towpath, and I am always amused to think of this massive structure guarding the White River from any foreign navies that might dare to invade central Indiana. Soon thereafter, I pass by the stately homes of Golden Hill, safely situated on the other side of the canal. Then it is the Indianapolis Museum of Art, with its lovely grounds, and its grand building presiding over the White River Valley.
“I think of the Canal as a kind of cultural corridor that connects some of the most important and interesting institutions in the city.”
When I take the wooden underpass under Michigan Road, I always remember Ray Irvin, the former director of the Greenways, first for the city and then for the state, who did so much to develop our system of trails and to make my commuting route pleasant. Soon after that, I pass by the Christian Theological Seminary, and I admire its architecture and am grateful to the Irwin and Miller families for their contributions to public buildings in both Indianapolis and Columbus. And, finally, I arrive at Butler, where I am proud member of the English Department.
In this way, then, I think of the Canal as a kind of cultural corridor that connects some of the most important and interesting institutions in the city.
But the canal also gives us entry into the natural life of the city. When I was a boy, I remember traveling deep into a forest to see a Wood Duck. Now, I see wood ducks almost every day, and I am still enthralled by their bright colors and exotic markings. In the late Fall, I often come upon a Great Blue Heron, who is startled into flight when he sees me, and lands a bit up the canal. When I come up to him again, he again commences his gawky-but-graceful flight, and I think of him as a kind of guardian angel, guiding me on my daily commute. I sometimes see kingfishers, beaver, foxes and deer, and I always see turtles. I love them all.
My journey down the canal is also a personal one. I remember running into my friend, Scott Swanson, jogging over there, and Jim Poyser, riding his bike, over here, and just a bit further down the path, I fell one slick winter evening and broke my wrist. It is a path full of memories for me.
I believe that we have a duty to see the world, and, in coming years, I will make a point of seeing as much of the world as I can from the seat of my bicycle. One of the benefits of travel, though, is that it allows us to see the familiar world to which we return in a new light. My daily journey along the canal is familiar and comforting, but it is also endlessly surprising and enlightening.
Bill Watts is an Associate Professor of English at Butler University.