A Brief Foray into the Phenomenology of Cycling

Umberto Boccioni, “Dynamism of a Cyclist,” 1913

“We have learned again to sense our bodies; we have discovered, beneath the objective and detached knowledge of the body, this other knowledge that we have of it because it is always with us and because we are our bodies. It will be necessary to similarly awaken the experience of the world such as it appears to us insofar as we are in the world through our bodies, and insofar as we perceive the world with our bodies.”

AS THE COVID-19 LOCKDOWN took hold in Maine last spring, I took to my…


William D. Adams

THE SENATE’S ACQUITTAL OF DONALD TRUMP on the charge of inciting insurrection on January 6 casts a glaring, unflattering light on the Republican senators who voted to exonerate the former president. There’s plenty to say about their cravenness, but the real story lies elsewhere. The impeachment trial raises all over again the central question of the 2020 election: what was on the minds of the more than 74 million people who voted — enthusiastically or grudgingly, fervently or coolly — for Donald J. Trump? …


William D. Adams

ON THE EVENING OF THE DAY OF THE 2016 ELECTION, I left my office near the National Mall in Washington around 7 pm and walked to a restaurant in the Navy Yard, several blocks south of Capitol Hill and not far from my apartment. I had a quick drink and dinner before hurrying home to watch the election returns and the inevitable triumph of Hillary Clinton.

A faint shadow of doubt hovered just outside the edges of my happy mood. This was a presidential election, after all, and nothing was perfectly certain. But I was blanketed in…


SEVERAL WEEKS AGO, I visited the First Burying Ground of the Settlers of Newbury, Massachusetts. My 9th great-grandfather, Robert Adams, is buried there. Robert and his wife, Eleanor Wilmot, arrived in Ipswich, Massachusetts in 1635 and lived for two years in Salem before joining the fledgling Newbury community. They acquired a farm and had nine children.

The Burying Ground is located on the High Road just outside the historic town center of Newbury. It’s marked by a modest white sign on the side of the road. The site is a small, well-tended green set back from the road and surrounded…


William D. Adams

“Vision is the meeting, as at a crossroads, of all the aspects of Being.”

The French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty spent the summer of 1960 — his last — in the French village of Le Tholonet, about 10 kilometers east of Aix-en-Provence. Over the course of that summer, he wrote Eye and Mind, the dense and beautiful meditation on painting and vision. It was the final work published during his lifetime.

Le Tholonet is lost in time. Approaching from the west, the congested streets of Aix give way to a narrow two-lane road that hugs the bottom of…


William D. Adams

The Bassac River in Chau Doc City, Vietnam

In March of 2017, I travelled to Vietnam with a fellow veteran of the American war. It was our first visit to the country since our military deployments there — mine in 1968–69 to an Army advisory team deep in the Mekong Delta , and his to a Marine helicopter unit near Da Nang in 1970–71. We spent two weeks on the road, travelling from Hanoi in the north to Chau Doc in the south, some of it by bicycle. I kept a journal during the trip, reproduced here in its entirety.

Wednesday, March 15

I’m on…


William D. Adams

ON JULY 25, 1967 I WAS ORDERED TO REPORT to the Godman Army Airfield at Fort Knox, Kentucky. When I arrived, I learned that President Lyndon Johnson had authorized the use of federal troops to suppress the civil unrest in Detroit that had erupted a few days before. Two brigades from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were being deployed, and troops from Fort Knox were being readied in case additional forces were needed.

I was a nineteen-year old 2nd Lieutenant recently graduated from Officer Candidate School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Only a year before, I had…


William D. Adams

May 1, 2020

ONE OF THE NOVEL EXPERIENCES of life in the time of the coronavirus is the sensation of being lost. Waking in a dark and unfamiliar room; traveling in a foreign country without a map; drifting, rudderless, on the ocean. All metaphors lead to the same uncomfortable conclusion: we’ve never been here before. There are probably a few people left on the planet who experienced the great flu pandemic of 1918–19 (the so-called “Spanish flu”, which in fact wasn’t Spanish at all), in which perhaps 100 million people died. But for most of us, the…

Bro Adams

William Adams lives and writes in Portland, Maine. He served in the Obama administration as Chair of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 2014–2017.

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