Monday, January 31, 2011

Living or driving?

Walking is something that people used to do a lot. Before there were cars...

Some people had horses, but before cars, people did a lot of walking. It wouldn't have been uncommon for someone to walk several miles in a day to get to where they needed to go. Three miles one way would be nothing.

The reason I'm talking about this is because I don't have a car. My dear van that we lived and traveled in has become a burden. It has issues, expensive issues, and I just don't want to have them fixed. I had toyed with the idea of giving the van up before this after I bought the house, but I never could have done it had the vehicle not forced my hand.

It's hard not having a car. America is a sea of automobiles. Everything we do revolves around cars. Part of the reason it's so hard to live without a car is because of all the cars! You can't just walk places, because there are all these roads (with no sidewalks and steep ditches on the sides). The cars drive really fast, and it's scary.

But even where there are sidewalks, people still don't like to walk, because we are just lazy. Well, sort of. And unwillingness to use our muscles is just one part of it. The other part is that we are impatient. If I take a car 1.5 miles to the post office, I can be there and back in under 15 minutes (and that includes checkout time). If I walk, I can make it there in about 25 minutes if I'm pulling Caleb in the wagon, or carrying him on my back.

If Caleb and I both walk, it's more like 45 minutes (not because he can't walk faster, he just doesn't, he likes to make snow balls and crush every clump of snow and just generally be about 4 year old). Think of all the things that I could be doing with those 45 minutes!! And then there's the 45 minutes back and the however much time in between trips, because if you are going to walk "all the way" into town, you might as well go to the gym for a swim or hit up the library for some new books or stop at Cathy's Diner for a pancake. All that just to mail out an international package!

But who says those are bad things? Walking, however slow, is better for your body than sitting in a car. Fresh air is good for your lungs. Spending time with your son throwing snowballs and singing on your walk is better than rushing him out the door and in the carseat and out of the carseat into the post office and back in the carseat and home again. Taking the time for a swim or some books or supporting a local pie shop aren't bad things either.

But some people think that children shouldn't be walking. It's too hard. It's too cold. "I really hate to see a child walking." Really? Because children have a right to be shuttled around all day? They should never have to be cold or get tired using their legs?

We have gotten weak and flabby as a species. Instead of using our legs to get places, we go to the gym and run in place staring at the TV. We balk at the idea of walking a couple miles to get to where we need to go. We've gotten so "busy" that we can't take the time to go slower and enjoy ourselves more. The irony is our busy-ness is going to pay for all the things that we don't have time to do.

Too busy to walk or bike-because you are paying for your car (the lowest 20% of income earners spend $2,856 on yearly car costs-probably higher now because gas prices are rising).
Too busy to cook from scratch-because you are paying for someone else to process your food for you.
Too busy to spend time with your kids-because you are spending too much money on your kids.
Too busy to fix up an old house-because you are too busy earning money to pay for your new one.
And so on...

Another irony is that while everyone says that Americans are so busy-busy, busy, busy, rushing around--they spend 2.8 hours a day watching TV (according to the bureau of labor statistics)!

My all-time favorite book, Beat the System by Gary Paulson, put it this way-he was talking about television, but it really could apply to anything:

"When you are living poor and working at improving the quality of your life it takes time; not just time to work at things, but time to enjoy them as well. Perhaps a description of what I mean would be more appropriate.
When I taught at the University of Colorado I would spend hours teaching or preparing to teach for what amounted to so many dollars an hour. When I finished teaching for the day I would go home, stopping at the store on the way to buy prepared food of one kind or another (usually fattening; often fried chicken or some other quick food), and after eating I would sit down and vicariously live by watching somebody do something on television. If I were in the daydreaming mood I would dream of taking a vacation to fish or hunt or go sailing or some such endeavor--quite often something I was watching the people on television doing.
Now I no long teach at the University of Colorado, no longer earn so many dollars for hours of teaching, no long stop at the store and pick up a chicken to eat while I watch somebody else do the living.
Instead I might, typically, hunt dinner, if it's fall. Or fish for dinner if it's summer. The same hunting or fishing I would have done on vacation except now I do it for food instead of stopping at the store. If I'm not hunting I might be taking dinner from our garden system, or working at my food in some other way.
The point is that when you are living and not just watching somebody else live on the tube, it takes time to live that you would have spent watching them do it for you. I might spend hours hunting, hours that I enjoy, to bring home a few grouse or rabbits or a deer; then more hours to process the meat and prepare it for either storage or cooking. Then still more time is spent cooking it and finally, best of all, the time spent eating it. Not during any of this, at no time in this whole process of living, have I got any time to watch some silly idiot jumping around shooting bad guys on the video screen. (emphasis added)

That, more than anything else, describes how I want to live my life...minus all the shooting of animals, of course, since I'm a vegetarian. :)

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