Friday, March 11, 2016

A Walk In The Neighbourhood

Having pretty much recovered from a nasty stomach bug that laid me low for about 24 hours, I thought it might be a good time to take a brief walk to the local plaza, situated about seven minutes from my house. The first part of my perambulation depressed me; one of the homeowners on my route decided, for reasons not apparent to me, to cut down an old fir tree enisled in their circular driveway. At least 50 feet high, its desecration thus far had left it with only the top three or four feet of branches, the rest already consigned to a shredder.

Aesthetics aside, I saw this termination as yet another flagrant example of how we like to mouth the right platitudes about climate change, but whenever doing something to mitigate it encroaches upon our personal freedoms and choices, our truer, more selfish natures come to the fore. I wondered, as I passed by, if they had given any thought to the stored carbon that this tree's termination will see released into the atmosphere. Even if it is relatively little, the choice to cut it down does not, in my view, reflect mindful stewardship of our environment.

The same could be said of other aspects of my community. Although it is a very walkable one (e.g., a pedestrian trek to our library takes about 10 minutes at a brisk pace), I would classify only a handful of people in my neighbourhood as walkers: the young couple who moved in next door, having abandoned the dream of home ownership in Toronto where they were renting, are out and about on a regular basis, often with their little girl in her stroller. I suspect their sojourn in Toronto taught them that walking is often the best way to get about. The other person, on the street over from mine, regularly walks to the plaza. And, of course, my wife and I do much walking as well.

Only five people, living in a very walkable community, regularly walk. What is wrong with this picture?

My own affection for the pedestrian way is long-standing; however, as I get older I think more and more of my father who was a lifelong walker, frequently perambulating to his place of work which must have been at least 40 minutes from where we lived. Despite two heart attacks and crippling pain in his later years, he still got about with his walker. When he died four years ago at the age of 90, he was still compos mentis, a fact that I believe had a lot to do with his walking habits. Indeed, research tends to support that hypothesis.

Perhaps I am rambling a bit here. My point here is not to suggest that I am some kind of exemplar of environmental consciousness; indeed, in my working years I drove pretty much every day (about a 15-minute car-trip) to the school where I taught; I could probably have arranged car pooling, but I never felt it would work very well, given that teachers operate on different after-school schedules, some staying late to mark, others leaving earlier. But the point is I never even tried unless my car was not working.

Is this our fate, to live in our own closed universes where our needs and wants take precedence over the most pressing of issues?


  1. Oh that poor tree, it was a giant. Sometimes though trees can be very stressful to a homeowner, maybe it had a disease and they were worried it would fall on the house eventually, etc. I know I have some of those fears regarding a big old walnut tree on my property that is declining pretty bad. I'll have it pruned and fertilized but there comes a point in every trees life where it must become one with the Earth again.

    Some wise points on walking. I think I choose walking and cycling over driving for selfish reasons though, haha! I feel better and sleep better when I get some activity in every day, I don't have to worry about my weight as much, it's nice to have some alone time and nature time, I can get some errands in as well if needed. I vastly prefer taking my bike to go out and meet a friend for a drink, then I don't have to worry about drinking and driving.

    The environmental aspect of it is probably quite great but it's not even on my list of mostly selfish reasons why walking / cycling are better than driving in a lot of cases. I'm even one of those weirdos that actually loves driving and cars too. I could drive for hours on end in the right car, but for short trips to get a coffee, pick up some ingredients, or for a small commute to work, I'd much rather walk or bike - so much less hassle and often more fun and enjoyable.

    Take care Lorne!

    1. Hi Cartsten. Thanks for your comments. I did consider the possibility that the tree was diseased, but I drew my conclusion that it wasn't because of the healthy-looking branches that were cut down already. Unfortunately, when I went by later in the day, (I took an alternate route home from my first walk), the trunk pieces were also gone, so I couldn't verify that.

      As for your second point, I think those are the same reasons I walk too. The only point where I differ is that while you see walking as a side benefit in keeping your weight at a reasonable level, it is one of my prime motivators, having been a 'hefty lad' in my youth.

      As to whether environmental considerations are a factor, I think each of us, if we are to embrace a healthier life, has to find the right motivation to keep to the path. For me, the environment is not the only reason that I walk, but it is one of them.