Yesterday I walked to town to pick up some things: snacks, a maple syruping kit that I had ordered to the local hardware store, some beer. If you’re driving, “town” is about 10 minutes away. If you’re walking, it’s about 2 hours. So the walk took about 5 hours. The distance is roughly a half marathon. I towed a small sled behind me so that I’d have a way to get everything home and walked the snowmobile trail, which was busy as heck on a sunny Saturday morning but also extremely beautiful.
My body is sore today and I have a hip pain that I’m coming to admit might be a recurring injury.
But it was worth it.
I’ve been needing a “day off” which sounds very strange when you work from home and have reasonable financial security. We don’t often think of taking days off from parenting, unpaid work like cooking and cleaning, or childcare. But I definitely needed one. We’re in the throes of winter in Ontario right now and I needed a day free from responsibility. Endless gratitude to my partner for hanging with the kids and the dogs.
I’ve wanted to try walking to get basic supplies since we moved to the country. Have you ever read Robert Munch’s Millicent and the Wind? There’s part of the story where Millicent and her mom, who live on a mountain, have to walk to town to get supplies. That part of the story always felt beautiful to me: an overnight hike with a parent with purpose! Time spent with loved ones that was also practical.
For those of us living with the privilege of a vehicle or reliable and affordable public transit, the need to walk is not often. We have easy access to the things we need without the input of physical labour. This is a luxury that I often forget about and I think other people do too. When we have easy access to stores, when items are easy to purchase, ship, or transport, less of our own labour goes into those items, leading to over consumption.
(Of course most folks are forced to sell their own labour for a wage and, in turn, spend that wage on material goods, so it’s not that the labour input isn’t there, but it’s valued in a totally different way.)
As always, we trade these conveniences available through unsustainable cheap energy for this hard labour and eventually, as a culture, seem to forget that the hard labour even existed. We talk about rights to access and personal freedoms being trampled when we no longer have that easy access born of that unsustainable cheap energy. We assume that we are entitled to the lifestyle that we’ve always lived because, well… we’ve personally always lived this way, without considering the consequences of our ease of access or whether others have that same access.
It’s unlikely that I’ll ever walk as my primary mode of transportation while living rurally. There isn’t access to fresh food in the winter for at least 15km, other than what I’ve preserved from the garden. But I can dream about it: bi-weekly trips for staples like rice and pasta and other hard to make items while producing all other food we eat in our backyard. Bartering and sharing and gifting with those few families that live around us for the things we truly need, where the labour has been put in locally and isn’t reliant on unsustainable or oppressive systems.
Building local, walkable, sustainable communities may sound like a pipe dream. Maybe it is. But I can still dream 😉