Last weekend was all about the outdoors and food. The annual pancake breakfast celebrating the founding of Springfield in 1636 got us up and out the door before 8 a.m. in order to beat the rain. It was great to see the usual cast of characters, from the mayor to an eccentric local we call Superman Guy because of his affinity for wandering the city streets in costume; as we were walking by the two of them shook hands! Unfortunately I was too slow to catch that moment of magic. We had our pancakes, talked with friends, and wandered up and down Main Street for an hour.
From there we visited the new and improved Gardening the Community base location and got a tour of the greenhouse, the grounds, and the fields from an immensely likable, if not omniscient, young man. These are the people who deliver our CSA share on bikes every Wednesday. Great food. Great community building. They’re adding to the weekly delivery and the farmers market a small on-site store which will be open on some of the other days of the week. We went home and began planting our seedlings and the flowers LuLu had decided on for her bed.
On Sunday we drove out to the hinterlands of Copper Hill Farm and weeded our fields of garlic. LuLu helped some. Wandered around with the dog some. Harassed the chickens some. And pestered Greg (the farmer) some. It took her a while to warm to it, but by the end we had to pretend to be driving away to get her to hop in the car. In the end, Liz got manual labor for Mother’s Day and we didn’t abandon her child in the wilds of Connecticut.
All great stuff for an urban apocalypticist like me: Community building and food production. But a little nasty weather during the week nixed our Tuesday visit to the Forest Park Farmers Market for milk and other items, which meant this weekend we needed to go to the supermarket. It had been a while since my last Big Y excursion, my wife is the one who does most of the food shopping in the winter and to purchase what can’t be acquired via or garden/CSA/farm activities. Things had changed somewhat since my last visit. There were wider aisles than I could recall and lots and lots of stuff labeled as local. At one point I wandered down an aisle and found a box containing, it seems, a polyresin fountain depicting a dog humping a bucket.
At the same time I was listening to, I kid you not, a rendition of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana done in Frank Sinatra crooner style being played over the store’s p.a. system. Not being able to distinguish the urban from the rural is one thing, a polyresin Dali sculpture with accompanying soundtrack is another.
Paradoxically, this surrealism brought me back to the real world. Johnny Sanphillippo is correct: We do “have the infrastructure we have”. Even in one of the oldest regions of the country, in terms of European colonization, which had dozens of traditional town centers before the metastatic post World War II automobile oriented development Ponzi scheme, and which has grown almost not at all since, there are miles of ridiculous stroad ways with dozens and dozens of big box stores, mega supermarkets, strip malls, and apartment complexes. And plenty of suburban homes where a plastic resin fountain of a dog humping a bucket would look quite at home. Not only are these areas never going to be reconfigured to be re-urbanized to align with more efficient land use, but we are going to build more and more of more of them until we absolutely cannot do it anymore. It will only be years after that, perhaps, that most of us may realize that the era of Happy Motoring (Trademark Jim Kunstler) is not coming back.
I’ve known this for a while. A long while. A decade or more. But recently, when I wrote about fighting against the encroachment of auto-oriented crap into my city and my neighborhood, Johnny Sanphillippo commented, well, this:
Very reasonable. Very rational. I understand. And I agree. But it is of extremely limited significance to me. Perhaps an analogy will make the reason clear.
The opioid crisis sweeping the United States is an inevitable outcome of an empire in decline, not in the precise composition of the chemicals people are using to destroy themselves (in post Soviet Russia it was vodka) but in the way in which a society sheds the vulnerable in the process of coming apart. I do not think that there is anything I can do to stop this crisis. The poor, the ill, and the weak are going to suffer as things begin to unravel. But I can try to protect my family, my friends, and my neighbors and perhaps make a difference in my immediate vicinity. When the history books are written 400 hundred years from now about the fall of the United States no historian will register that this or that individual didn’t die of a heroin overdose in the spring of 2018; it won’t make any difference to the overall narrative.
But I don’t care about the overall narrative, I care about my place and my people in my community right here and right now.
America will suffer for creating an infrastructure of daily life which cannot function without the car. Nothing I can do will stop that. I know. If anyone wants to keep reminding me of that fact they may continue to do so, but I don’t care about “America” as a vast continental entity, whose enormity I can scarcely comprehend, I care about one infinitesimally small fraction of it being marginally better than it would otherwise be without my efforts. Perhaps. Perhaps I will have no impact whatsoever. So be it.
Documenting what “is” is important. Attempting to nudge it one way or another is a fool’s errand for the society at large, but retaining a handful of walkable blocks in one specific place and preserving a few acres of farmland nearby is not; and it is what I choose to do at the same time I make incremental improvements to my own preparations for whatever lies ahead.