Here in the mountains we limit our trips to town.
It’s a 25-kilometre jaunt and while the drive is wonderful, the landscape shifting from bucolic mountain retreat to arid semi-desert before the plunge into the lush river valley, we’ve grown cautious of our fuel consumption.
The round-trip plus the necessary meandering about town cost big money these days. So we’ve whittled the journey to a couple times a week.
It’s not a hard thing. Our drinking water is delivered in batches that last a couple weeks, the mail and the newspaper get their daily drop, we’re connected to the outside world via telephone and internet, and we’ve become so emotionally attached to the place we call home that leaving it, even for a short blast of civilization gets irksome quickly.
We’ve found a way to cultivate a nurturing home environment that precludes outside distraction.
That’s why our recent drive to Vancouver bothered us so. It’s a three-and-a-half-hour drive and we made it for business reasons. If it hadn’t been for the absolute need of a two-day meeting we’d have never left.
Faxing and e-mail is generally sufficient for our professional lives, but this was a special circumstance. The exorbitant cost of fuel was a bother but the trip was on the company dime so we went.
It was two days of torture that stretched to three. There’s simply no vestige of cosmopolitan soul left in us. Within a half hour, our eyes were itchy and red and we could taste the harsh air of it at the back of our throats.
The noise was cacophonous. The speed of things was unyielding and no one took the time to look at each other in the small-town way of Kamloops. We desperately wanted out.
The cumulative effect of the assault of the city on our new rural sensibilities is sufficient fodder for a whole other column but what bothered me most was the driving. See, Vancouver only ever saw fit to provide one freeway access. That’s the Trans Canada and once you hit Chilliwack at the foot of the Fraser Valley 103 kilometres away, the snarl of traffic starts.
Going back the other way, it congests at Burnaby and becomes bumper-to-bumper all the way back out.
While the sheer volume of traffic is frightening at times, it’s the random survey we were able to take of current driving habits that astounded us.
British Columbia’s new carbon tax has been in effect since July 1st.
The deadly impact of global warming arising from emissions of fossil fuels has been known for years. Fuel costs are taking a huge bite out of everyone’s wallet. But we saw no evidence of any of those concerns on that freeway.
I counted exactly one hybrid car, a new Prius, between Vancouver and Chilliwack. The oddity of it was startling. A huge, spanking-new V8 4 X 4, ironically flagged with the decal of Quantum Environmental Contractors, sped by us at about 140 kilometres and hour followed quickly by a hurtling Smart car at the same speed.
Well over ninety per cent of the vehicles on that commuter roadway contained a single person. Nowhere were there obvious car pool cars and everyone was speeding.
It was sad, really. No one does the obvious math. If four people share a ride, it means there are three fewer vehicles on the road. It means a quarter of the fuel consumption and a quarter of the emissions. It also means less expenditure per person.
It means less of the huge profits for oil companies — the newspaper that day carried a story about Husky’s ghastly 89 per cent profit leap — and a cumulative effect on the price of gasoline. It means we become responsible.
See, the thing of it is that most people forget the fact that we are a species and that we are irrevocably tied to everything. They forget that as a species we live on a planet and that the planet is a living thing susceptible to the effects of our habits.
They forget that our habits are controllable and that we can change things. That’s what that drive reminded me of.
In the end, it’s our fear of being inconvenienced that will kill us. Until we learn and accept that every choice has consequence, we’ll continue to foul the lungs of the planet and gradually snuff out the sacred breath of Creation. I, for one, want no part in the responsibility for that.
Back here in the mountains where our vehicles sit for days without moving, there’s a satisfaction in knowing we’re contributing by not doing anything.
Ironically, that’s the trick of it. We can all live simpler. We just have to want to and not moving is taking action.
Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels and his new novel, Ragged Company, arrives in August from Doubleday.