A few weeks ago we were able to get out and do some work in the garden for the first time this season. We’re moving some beds from one area to another and exchanging them with a pathway leading to the back gate. You can see a lot by looking, and last year I saw an entire stretch of raised beds now shaded by growing fruit trees as an equivalent area baked uselessly in the sun. Three new sunny raised beds and one shaded pathway coming up. When we finished we noted how once again a little work in the garden had improved our attitudes and raised our spirits.
As I mentioned last week we do own a car; but only the one. I do take that vehicle to work most days and leave Elizabeth to get done everything she needs to get done from her employment to shopping on foot in our neighborhood. Last week that wasn’t going to be possible, she had a number of very specific tasks which couldn’t be successfully completed here in the downtown but which needed to be done while I was at school. What she did notice was that a PVTA bus did pass within a few yards of each of the destinations on her list. After spending a few dollars on a day pass she was off on the first of four legs of her trip: getting LuLu to school after her dentist appointment. It required a change at Union Station but Lu used the pity garnered from a visit to the dentist to get a treat at Dunkin’.
I kept getting reports of her progress via text message and I could spy on the buses she was on most of the day; six in all on 4 different routes with three stopovers at Union Station with the longest wait being 10 minutes and the shortest…running after the bus as it was pulling out and having an alert and sympathetic driver stop for her. She ended up getting dropped off about 10 feet from our front door a little after 5 with good news about our taxes from our new accountant.
After settling in and checking in with Luna we sat down in front of the wood stove and debriefed. I noticed something. The same elation, the same raised spirits and heightened emotions that are so obvious to me when I come home and Liz has been working in the garden were present here as she recounted as many of the odd and mysterious occurrences of the day as she could remember; the show never ends when you are in the public realm around here.
Most people, including myself, probably would have concluded about the positive impacts of work in the garden that they rested on some sort of biophilia inherited from our ancient ancestors who hunted and gathered in the wild lands; me too. But having worked, just a little bit, on a farm fairly recently I can tell you that the differences in scale between gardening and farming do make a difference as far as pure enjoyment is concerned.
Certainly the pleasure derived from the hustle and bustle of taking the bus can’t be attributed to biophilia as it is usually defined: the love of the natural world. To what do we ascribe it then? Novelty? Not really. Just last year Liz had to use the bus so often she often had a monthly pass, and the energy with which she would communicate her experiences was the same. When I worked downtown and went to school at a college on the PVTA route I looked forward to riding the bus, and don’t get me started on the Metro in Madrid.
If we look at biophilia more expansively perhaps, not just the love of nature but “to seek connections with other forms of life” then perhaps this is at the root of our enjoyment. There is little in our world as isolating as the automobile, we see other cars and even people as obstacles to our liberty and freedom of movement; thence road rage. When we travel together it can create a very different sensation. And yes, all of this is to romanticize public transit. I know that there are people who would almost rather die than take a city bus, or a train, but I don’t share that feeling. Have I never missed a bus and been forced to wait what seemed like an eternity for the next? No, but I have also sat by the side of an interstate highway with a broken down car and waited what seemed like an eternity for not just the tow truck, but also all of the complications that come from both needing a car repair and NOT being near public transportation.
My retirement plan has very close to its heart buses and trains from the PVTA stop 10 feet from my front door, to Amtrak, CT Rail and, hopefully soon, the MBTA. With monthly passes and senior fares I think I can go a long way, get a lot of walking in, and see a lot of sights for a whole lot less than it costs to own a car. They say Hell is other people. I find that Hell is other people mostly when I’m in a car.