WALK, BIKE, TAXI, BUS...let me tell you about it 😉
So today I thought I'd delve into our lives as a 'car-free' family and answer the classic five W questions, starting with the WHY?
First, let me dispel the notion that many people assume when they hear we don't have a car. It was NOT because we couldn't afford one. We had a van which I affectionately named 'Madame Blueberry' and I loved her. Until we made this big decision, I had always owned a vehicle. Growing up in the country meant that buying my first car came hot on the heels of getting my driver's license.
But in my growing awareness of the horrendous cost of oil and gas production on the environment, on real people and in its role in war, and I just looked and saw oil saturating everything around us. I wanted to escape it. How could I continue to rail against oil and gas companies when I was so dependent on them myself?
It is so hard to extricate ourselves from our systems of production. I'm trying, but every item we buy in the grocery, hardware, clothing, dollar stores -- it all has an imprint of oil and gas on it. Every bit of plastic is a result of it. It just sucks that we are literally swimming in it daily.
So, what was one thing that we as a family could do? Well, we could stop filling our thirsty tank with gas every week.
I read everything I could find on the internet from families who had gone car-free. I scoured YouTube for videos of biking with kids, biking in the winter, biking in the sun, you name it, I was looking for it. I was obsessed. And I had no idea if we could do it.
But here we were, in a city that DID have a transit system. We lived within walking distance of a mall that had a grocery store, bank, drug store and library among other things. Sure, the grocery store was more expensive than the one I usually drove to, but maybe I could splurge on a taxi home when I wanted to stock up on staples at the cheaper place? There was a walk-in clinic a block away...
What else, what else...
There was so much to consider, but finally our van developed a cough and it was going to need some work done in the near future. It seemed like a sign.
So, we thought of a compromise for our own peace of mind. We could keep the van and get a year's worth of storage insurance. If we couldn't do it, if it was too hard, we could just re-insure it and, tail between our legs, go back to our car dependent life.
It was settled then. We were taking the plunge with a safety net in place. When I went to change the insurance on the van, I had a great chat with the insurance lady. Far from looking down her nose at the idea, she was enthusiastic about our coming adventure and was interested in how it worked out for us. She said that she was trying to walk more and wished she could do the same.
Oh, and there was another little challenge -- I was pregnant when we parked the van that December 31st, 2014. I was staying true to my motto: "What's the hardest possible way to do this? LET'S DO IT!"
Yes, so I feel I can say with some degree of certainty, that if we could do it, then many others could too. At least those who live in cities where there is a decent transit system. It does take some shifting of priorities, some patience as you learn to wait for buses and take the extra time to walk or bike to places, but these are the deep changes that we need to make when we see the environmental crises for what they truly are.
We have been going like this for nearly four years and we are completely used to it now. It hasn't been without it's inconveniences, and there has been grumbling on many occasions, but on the other hand, we haven't had to deal with car breakdowns, accidents or close calls, unexpected costs and the headache of driving kids everywhere all the time simply because there's a vehicle in the driveway. My teens have learned how to take the bus and when there's a crisis of any sort, there are taxis ready for hire. But I will get more into the 'How' of it in another post.
I hope you stay with me as I add to this series. I also hope that it will encourage you to consider making similar changes if you are able!
This summer, we had the privilege of spending time in Newfoundland with Mike’s family. His family lives in a small cove and their home is right across the road from the ocean. It is so beautiful – we saw seals and a whale from the comfort of their deck. It is always a treat to be so close to the Atlantic Ocean, so different from our Alberta.
As traditional Newfoundlanders, I was pretty much on my own vegan-wise. I had to ‘suck it up’ and be gracious with my kids possibly eating dairy, ice cream sandwiches in particular, meat and fish. Mike’s parents were super-accommodating and worked really hard to make sure that some basic vegan options were available and that they knew the stores to take me to for the rest. I really appreciated it.
The trip this year was a little different. Due to scheduling, we staggered our visit with Mike and the boys having their last week without us girls.
During their last week, I got the text “We’re heading out early to go fishing”, I got that pleading feeling in my stomach of ‘do you need to kill the fish?’ so I responded with ‘If Dom or the fish look sad, throw it back’.
I felt sad but happy that they were getting to go out on a boat, a novelty for them. Early afternoon the pictures of my boys pulling up fish (they each got one) started arriving, and I couldn’t help but see the joy on their faces – they were having a blast!
Although it makes my stomach ache to see the poor fish at the end of its life, I had to take a moment and remember a few things:
- The connection to my boys’ heritage is important. Their great-grandfather and many of their ancestors were fishermen. This is how they supported and fed their families. Experiencing fishing gives them better understanding of where they came from.
- The connection with family that they don’t get to see very often is important. While the thrill of catching a fish and riding in a boat may not be as exciting for those that can do it whenever they want, the anticipation, joy and excitement that my boys expressed is contagious. I hope it renewed that joy for their home in those around them. It allowed them to see these children in their natural joyfull state.
- They learned patience and perserverance. Fish aren’t dogs. They do not show up just because you happened to get in a boat that day.
- They learned conservation. With the thrill of victory and the ‘rah-rah-rah – I am Mighty, hear me Roar’ still pulsing through my young son’s blood, he caught another smaller fish and wanted to keep it. Mike told him ‘No, this one’s too small, it has to go back in and grow bigger.’ We don’t take more than we need, in all things.
- They experienced connection with what they harvested. I asked my son if he ate the fish he caught. He said ‘Yes, it was good.’ That connection of ‘I sought sustenance, I found _______, I released the life force of the _________, I prepared the _______, I give thanks for this _________.’ is something missing for many people. I feel this way about pulling up carrots and picking beans from my garden. The process of harvesting and preparing our food enables our bodies to digest it properly.
- They experienced what it feels like to cause death. This one is not light and fluffy just because it is a fish, a water creature somehow less than humankind. Experiencing the feelings of ‘This fish was alive and now it is not because of what I did” changes something inside us when it is examined from a place of compassion and empathy (or a vegan mother whispering in your ear) and the fact that we don’t actually HAVE to eat meat to grow big and strong and healthy. Is this a Good and Kind thing to do? It is very different than buying a fish or a pound of ground beef from a store shelf. It’s already dead by that time so the personal investment is strictly monetary.
- They experienced the life cycle of the creature world. This time they were on the top of the food chain. But head into the woods and encounter a wolf or a bear, and they will not be on top any longer. I often reference Zathura, a movie about a game board that becomes real. When threatened with carnivorous invaders, the young brother sighs in relief and says “oh good, we don’t have any meat” and big brother says “YOU are meat”. It’s nice to win sometimes, while remembering that someone has to lose in the competitive equation. This time it was the fish, next time You might be the meat.
In the end, I have saved the pictures and I smile when I see their smiling faces, squinting into the sunshine, having an experience that only happens every few years. My hope is that all these connections stick and are integrated into their brains and body for the betterment of All creatures on the planet and that they will make Kind and Compassionate choices when they leave our home for the world abroad.
I have given my thanks to the energetic life force of those fish, for gifting my children these lessons. May their energy go back to the universe to be transformed into something beautiful again.