Last week I set out to write about why I’m experimenting with giving up my car for a year. I had three things in mind, but the first, the environmental benefits, took up the entire post, which is a shame because I consider those reasons– the obscenely large American ecological footprint, dwindling planetary resources, concrete jungles creating heat islands– as the negative, scary reasons, and I don’t like to dwell on them.
In this post, I’d rather focus on the second (a positive) reason for not using my car for a year: what I stand to gain from this experiment. It’s balance. As a kid, I was “forced” to spend time outdoors, but as an adult, there’s no one making me do anything. It’s up to me to make sure I’m balanced about how much time I spend inside vs. outside. And I want to be outside more.
Inside is safe. The climate is controlled. The doors and windows are frequently locked. And a car is an extension of the inside life. Sure, it transports us through the outside, and we may occasionally roll down the window, but it’s still a mobile, climate controlled bubble filled to the brim with the entertainment of our choice. Nothing ever changes (with the possible exception of the air-freshener), and increasing, thanks to the internet and our ability to curate our experiences, nothing ever disagrees with our view of the world.
Outside is the opposite, near constant change. Daily, the sun fords through the sky, and the weather is always playing catch-up; every day there is a different tree, shrub, or grass in bloom, senescence, or decay; people, not just kids, say the darndest things. Once, while I was shuffling through the snow to the lightrail station, a man said to me, “My hands would be warmer if I cut them off and left them at home.” That was a little frightening. But it was also a little funny. And unforgettable.
While life inside is static, life outside is dynamic. Things, places, and people surprise you.
Watching a bare tree leaf out in spring, bloom in early summer, turn golden in the fall, and then drop every last leaf until it becomes bare branch again is to witness life. It’s a reminder that we are changing too. But in a car, whether at forty or sixty miles per hour, it’s hard to notice the experience of a single tree, and even harder to meditate on what it means.
Both inside and outside are necessary. Inside is the taking-care-of-business, paperwork, answering emails side of life. Outside is play, surprise, and spontaneous rising-to-the-occasion. A year of not using my car is going to tip my life in the direction of outside, and hopefully, expose me, not just to the elements, but to unexpected beauty and pleasant surprises.