We have long been considered a little odd where we live. Years ago we cut down (and up) a dead tree with handsaws, and fended off no fewer than 5 offers of chainsaws from our neighbours. The idea that we chose to do it under our own steam was perplexing. Never mind that the noise, stench and danger of petrol powered chainsaws was off-putting, it was actually quite satisfying to physically engage with our environment. Yet this was seen as quite peculiar in our little street.
Add to that our bizarre insistence on being a one car family, our strange propensity to mow our lawn with an ancient hand mower, our curious fascination with the bicycle as transport, our stubborn refusal to buy a large plasma TV, and our neighbours simply don’t know what to make of us.
My husband has been building a cubby house out of mostly recycled materials. Today I gave the floor a second coat of paint while working on my mindfulness. I could feel the cool breeze on my cheek, smell the violets and narcissus blooming nearby, and revel in the warmth of our unseasonal sunshine. When I came inside for a break I was browsing The Conversation when I found an article by Dr Alessandro Demaio, arguing that our physical health and the health of our environment are inextricably interlinked.
The article put into eloquent words something that I have always believed but never fully articulated – that we are a part of the world, not separate from it. That cars and big houses and plasma screen TVs serve to divorce us from the world, bit by bit. That being out in the world, using active methods of transport, growing your own food, and preserving our environment are fundamentally satisfying because they build the health of our world, our communities, and even ourselves.
I know this at a visceral level when I have been out on my bike. I feel it deep in my bones when I am weeding my veggie patch. I see it on the faces of the people I chat to as I ride around our local streets. Yet the pull of the car is strong. The urge, even on a bright sunny winter’s day like today, to collapse into the car and drive the 2.5km to school is strong.
The desire to eat junk, to buy more stuff, to build ever larger houses and consume ever more resources seems a little like an addiction to narcotics. We know it’s bad for us. We know the first buzz will be replaced by a gradual decline, that we’ll have to constantly up the dose to achieve the same high, that it is consuming our bodies and will very probably be fatal, yet we are inevitably drawn back to that road.
That’s why articles like Dr Demaio’s are so important. Before I was even halfway through it I was spurred to go outside and weed my garden. And I am about to ride to school to pick up my girls, with their scooters in my cargo bike so that they can scoot home with me.
Like a child faced with an endless supply of lollies, the temptation to eat myself sick is intense. But I know that the taste of fresh air is sweeter, in the end, than those bright red lollies could ever be. If I can show my kids the truth of that, then maybe, just maybe, the world will change. One bike ride at a time.