Seven weeks after the summer solstice, and we’re back to full-on drought.
I frequently brood about how difficult it is to live our ideals here in the suburbs. We’ve been a one-car family for thirteen years and while living in three states, but where we are now is by far the most challenging. It’s difficult—and dangerous—to walk anywhere here because the sidewalks are sporadic, the zoning not mixed-use, and the drivers unaccustomed to pedestrians.
I talked with a neighbor this weekend who said, “Well, around here we’re lucky. We have lots of sidewalks.”
“Sure,” I said. “If you never want to leave the neighborhood.” The sidewalk stops 100 yards from our house in any direction. Our weekly hike takes place 1.5 miles from our house, but we drive there because the roads between our place and the trailhead are not remotely safe for pedestrians (and because we have to walk past the gun range, which is almost certainly safe, but it’s still unnerving to me to have gunfire so close to me and my children).
We still walk because I cannot justify sitting in my car for mile after mile and then going out of my way to get exercise, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Last week on our 2.5-mile walk home from the library, two cars in a row refused to yield to us at a crosswalk, and the police officer who was sitting right there to catch stop-sign runners didn’t do a thing.
So, I brood and I complain and I worry that I’m raising my children into a culture that’s not sustainable and that is so conditioned to a life behind the wheel that they don’t even have an awareness that there’s another way to live. I feel out of place and frustrated at the realization that the kind of place that I want to live is incredibly rare—and most often quite expensive.
Even though we have to drive there, our weekly hike is an inoculation. We get off of the streets—although not entirely away from the road noise—and into the mottled sunlight under the trees and the sweet smell of the ferns and of the leaves decaying underfoot. We admire the swoop and hover of dragonflies and listen for the rustle of a snake in the underbrush, and back at home we talk about what we see and we look forward to next week’s walk and that interest and love of being on foot grows until my children are asking if we can walk to the library or the ice cream shop instead of driving. Because they like being on foot, too. They like the way the slower, rhythmic pace makes ideas grow and conversation flow more easily. They like that we can hold hands if we want to, which we can’t do with me in the driver’s seat and them in the back. They like the feeling of lightness when we arrive home and shed our backpacks.
So, maybe it’s not all bad living in the suburbs. I still disagree with people who claim it’s the “best of both worlds,” but maybe seeing driving culture and how committed we need to be to combat it will help equip my children to make better choices and effect positive change in the future.
At the very least, I hope it’s sowing optimism and hope rather than disillusionment. Although maybe going through the latter is the way to get to the former. I can only hope.