I’m just gonna put this out there: I didn’t get the part where Bilbo Baggins freestyles with Gollum. Well, actually they have a riddle war, and seriously, all the riddles stumped me. Even after seeing the answers.
I told Husband. When he finished laughing at me, he asked me to read him some of the riddles. He got the answer each time. Cheater, I proclaimed. You already read the book.
Husband: Gollum would eat you.
I imagined myself in a freestyle-battle-royale with Gollum and Baggins:
Baggins: Something long and confusing.
Gollum: The answer.
Me: I am a bear. I have no teeth.
Gollum & Baggins: (silent and utterly stumped)
Me: Gummy Bear!
Laffy Taffy jokes prevail once again!
Reading a bit further I found that Baggins and his friends encounter some spiders in Mirkwood forest. I set down the book. Why do spiders always get a bad rap? Spiders are splendid. Animal Planet cites a study that in which you are never more than ten feet away from a spider, and possibly as close as three feet. Hummingbirds use the silk of spiders’ webs to bind twigs to form their nests. Spiders can eat more bugs than bats and birds combined. And spiders are courageous- just check out this video. There is that whole venom/biting thing and the fact that they look like miniature aliens, but spiders are fascinating little creatures. Remember Charlotte’s Web?
Also, there was a lot of eating happening in this book. I began to wonder if Tolkien was anything like me—after writing five hundred words I need a snack, and if no snacks are available, my characters eat. When Fili pops out of a crate and says, “I hope I never smell apples again,” all I wanted to do was smell an apple. The best place to get apples around the twin cities is at Jim’s Apple Farm, a bright yellow building located off highway 169 in Jordan, MN. Apples aren’t in season yet, but candy, candy is a different story. Jim’s has Minnesota’s largest selection of candy, or at least that’s what they wrote on the building. It ought to be named Jim’s Candy Farm. Jim’s also has: bacon, jam, homemade pies, soup mixes, puzzles, and pumpkins. If you go, best to remember it’s a cash only establishment, and I suggest going in the fall. As for smelling the apple, I took to smelling a lonely grapefruit that sat on my kitchen table because that’s all grapefruits are good for anyway; they taste of neither grape nor of fruit.
Aside from riddles, spiders, and food, the passage that stood out most was the one where Bilbo and his friends become lost in Mirkwood forest. In the scene, Bilbo is elected to climb to the top of a tree because he is the only one small enough for the tree to support. Reluctant Bilbo agrees, and when he gets to the top, he looks around.
It is a nice moment. Bilbo takes his time with the looking: there are butterflies and treetops. He feels the soft wind and sunshine on his face.
Bilbo’s friends are total jerks: they hurry him down. They were too heavy to climb the tree and see or feel what Bilbo experienced, so they want to hear nothing of sunshine and warm breezes.
I was riding my bike when I thought again of this scene. I had gone a few miles on a path along the Minnesota River when I realized that I hadn’t looked, really looked at a single thing during my ride. As luck would have it, I happened to be riding over a small wooden bridge, at that very moment, so I pulled over and looked.
I saw: a small creek clear to the bottom, brown stones—some of which (when I waited long enough) began to move—fish, blue and black speckled butterflies that were invisible headlong with their wings up and together until they dashed off, dragonflies (now I see how they inspired the helicopter), and two small children—very likely a brother and sister team.
Me: What are you doing down there?
Older Child: Froggin’. What are you doing up there?
Younger Child: Seen any frogs?
Me: Not yet.
I got back on my bike, knowing that what I had really seen was summer in full force.
Perhaps it was the sight of those kids, but I got to thinking about the first time I learned to ride a bike. It was A, my aunt, who taught me. She got me a purple bike, from a man who had dozens of bikes in his front yard. I think he was called the Bike Man. A had tricked out the bike with a yellow bird horn, streamers, a basket, and training wheels. I was too old for training wheels, second grade, but somehow I slipped through the cracks with the whole bike-riding thing. I was horrified of falling and would not get on that bike without training wheels. A couple of days passed, and with much prodding by A, we took the wheels off. I still remember the gentle departure of A’s hand from my back—one small push, and off I went, terrified as hell.
I don’t think A would have ever guessed some twenty years later I would be thinking of Bilbo on a fourteen mile solo bike ride. It was, after all, just a little push . . .
Just a little push, and I was able to discover what lay inside of me. I couldn’t help but laugh for all that Bilbo Baggins and I had in common.