The Settler’s Choice

When I was fourteen my scout leader, Dan, told me a story about a settler who was captured by a band of Ojibwe.  The Ojibwe offered the settler two paths to go free – on the one side there was a group of twenty braves with clubs, and if the settler went that way, the braves would surely smash him into the ground.  On the other side there was a door.  The settler had to choose – the braves with the clubs, or the door.

“What was on the other side of the door?” I asked.  I think we were in some room somewhere in a church, but for the story’s sake, lets call it a campfire in the woods.  You can imagine sparks swirling up, lights mixing with the milky way above us.  

Yeah.  Like that.

Dan leans back on his rustic camp-log.  “That is the whole point.” he said.  “The settler did not know what was behind the door – it could be a huge guy with an axe, or it could be a soft pine-needle path through the woods and back home.”  

“I don’t think it was a guy with an axe” I said, “because the Ojibwe did not really have axes, did they? –  I mean, if anything it was more likely like a guy with a bow and arrow.”

“Right.” Dan said.  

“Maybe it was not a super-sharp axe,” I offered, “maybe just a chiseled rock tied to a stick or something.”  

“Hmmm.” Dan said.

“I still think I could get past one dude with an rock-axe better than twenty guys with clubs though.” I said, “What were the clubs like?  Were they like big sticks?”

“I think we are getting too far into the story.” Dan said.  “The whole point is that, to the settler, the unkown was scarier than something he knew – even if that thing he knew was pretty horrible.”  

“Did the Ojibwe even have doors?” I asked.  “I mean, I thought they lived in teepees or something.”  

“Never mind.” Dan said.

“I bet the Settler tried the scary unknown door every time.” I said.  “I bet the other settlers who had been caught before were constantly spoiling the effect.”  Before they crossed the Mississippi, I bet the settlers would get together and talk about the whole “door” scenario.  “It is only one dude with an axe!” The settlers would say, “Just juke left once, and you are home free!”  “Cake easy baby!”

“Do you want some Chili?” Dan asked.  “I think I am going to go get some more Chili.”

“What if you could see under the door?” I asked.  “What if you could see under it, and there were only two little weenie legs on the other side of it, and you knew that you were gonna be ok.” I said.  “I bet those braves got tired of holding those clubs, with nobody to smash up.”

Dan had gotten some Chili by then – but the story stuck with me – and the moral of it is about cycling to work.

Here is the situation:  Driving to work is horrible.  Most people I talk with who drive to work spend at least a half an hour in their cars, one way.  At least.

“It is not really a far commute” they say, “It only takes ten minutes without traffic.”

But there is always traffic, and the poor blokes have to sit in it with everyone else, and the songs on the radio keep on playing, and they can feel their glutes and hamstrings atrophying right there on the soft leather seats they paid so much money for.

And another thing – traffic is tiring.  You are pretty much beat down when pull into your driveway at night.  People call it “fighting traffic” because it is like a real fight out there.  

I know, I have to drive in it sometimes when I am on business trips.  It ain’t pretty.  After thirty or forty minutes of staring at the spedometer flirt with twenty miles per hour, you are exhausted.  When you get home, all you want to do is sit some more, this time on a couch staring at the TV.  

Your life is dripping away like some sort of colossal runny nose.

So that is option A: sitting in a hot car, feeling your glutes and hamstrings melt into mashed potatoes, and listening to Brittany on the radio.  

“Oops, I did it agaaaiin!” Brittany sings.   

“Traffic on the 494 is a little backed up right now.” the DJ interrupts.  “Apparently there was a fender bender on the exit ramp, and the two right-hand lanes are completely blocked – gonna be about a fifteen minutes before they can clear that up”  

You roll down your window, breath in some of the fumes.  That is option A.

Here is option B: A door, with a bicycle behind it.  If you choose the bicycle, there are tons of questions you do not know the answer to.  “Where will I lock up the bike?”  “How am I going to shower?” “What will my boss think?”

But those are not problems, really, they are uncertainties.  Unknowns.  They are meant to scare you, but they evaporate once you commit.

You are the settler, and you have to get home.  Don’t get smashed into the earth every single day.  If you look under the door, you will see some weenie little legs on the other side of it. You are gonna be fine.  Cycling is a soft pine-needle path home.  

I am going to go get some Chili.



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