Wednesday, November 14, 2018

In a perfect world...

Fresh out of college, with fantasies of creative success and a very realistic view of my financial position, I built my lifestyle around transportation cycling and small, sparsely furnished dwellings.

That was the plan, anyway.

Artists are always looking for ways to balance the basic needs of survival with the need to create. You have to be as persistent as a cockroach, and as adept at survival. Unfortunately, you will find yourself often about as welcome.

A brightly lit and prosperous world hung temptingly near in the 1980s. I kept letting myself get dragged into various safe harbors, more stray cat than cockroach. It exposed me to normal people, none of whom fell for my bicycling evangelism and suggestions that one could do a lot with a little, and still leave plenty for others to do the same.

A harsh wind blasts the landscape today. When the bike commute was a fairly short hop across a small and pleasant town, I would have done it without hesitation. In the original plan, I would travel from the town by bike or public transportation -- or even walk -- on journeys limited only by the funds I had accumulated to buy time and supplies. In the beginning, I had congenial friends who avidly joined in the imaginary voyages. Invariably, they fell away well short of actually launching any. As far as I know, nearly everyone with whom I rode in the 1980s rarely rides anymore. A good percentage don't ride at all. They outgrew it.

The potbound plant that is human civilization has outgrown a lot of things that might have saved it from the death by strangulation that its growth has set in motion.

Even here, in the rural North, I have made some heroic commutes by bike. But the darkest dark and iciest, snowiest snow encouraged me to take advantage of my foothold in normality to resort to the car. Bike commuting became seasonal, because I could. But in the perfect world, I never did.

In 1980, envisioning a system that would work for me, I had no urge to live in the country. I liked the country, but I know that it ceases to be rural when it fills up with people who want to be in it. My later move to the woods followed a logical series of steps -- half normal and half half-baked -- in which I rationalized that I could live in an existing building in a mostly undeveloped area, and help to preserve its environment while the rest of the world caught on to the need to do so on a large scale. But the simple bikey life was lost.

A perfect world, in which the residents live in small but comfortable spaces, in compactly developed centers surrounded by large tracts of natural environment, depends on good soundproofing. It depends on a lot of other things that are never going to happen, either. But soundproofing is vital. We can't cheap out on construction.

A perfect world also depends on a stable population. Because humans are like most species, designed to replicate freely and lose a lot to famine, disease, and predation, we will not achieve a stable population by peaceful, pleasant, and well-planned means. So again, the dream shimmers and fades. We are too smart and not smart enough.

We don't live in the perfect world. Things happen in the imperfect world that earn our love. There is no exit ramp to the alternate universe that doesn't require jettisoning things that have become dear. And there's really no such thing as a nice little town. Every Bedford Falls has a Potter. And the soundproofing is woefully inadequate. We don't live in the perfect world. But ideas from it could make this one better. Bike and walk. Adjust development strategies to make best use of existing terrain. The map is flat, but the land is not. We're running out of time anyway, so why not spend it on this?

1 comment:

anniebikes said...

A perfect world does not exist. Change is inevitable and we make our own way, balancing our own creative pursuits, family life, and personal existence. And continually change that balance as we age. Simple in theory; difficult in reality. The single constant thread for me is riding a bike.