Now that the school year has started, the dreary, rainy, late-summer days have given way to sunny, dry, glorious ones. Of course. That’s life here in Vancouver.
Child Two and I have decided that this year we are going to walk to and from school as much as we can, driving only when we have a very compelling reason to do so, such as needing the car for a bunch of errands or an after-school appointment, having to carry something heavy or fragile, or very bad weather. If the weather is downright awful, however, we’ll be walking because we won’t be able to get the car off our road.
I used to walk everywhere I could. I would bundle my kids in the stroller to go to the grocery store, the library, the fabric store (doesn’t everyone make regular walking trips to the fabric store?), the video place—if it was at all feasible to walk, we would. Then we lived in California for five years, in a neighborhood where the only store within walking distance was 7-11. We couldn’t even walk to school.
Back in B.C., my kids were placed in a school not far from our house, directly uphill (and when I say “uphill,” I really mean “upmountain”). Getting there just about required grappling hooks and climbing ropes or whatever it is that mountain climbers use. I would often scale that slope to pick the kids up in the afternoon, holding tightly onto Child Two’s hand on the way back so she didn’t trip and roll all the way down. Climbing up in the morning was just too much for their short legs.
When that school closed, we moved to one in the next neighborhood over. It’s a longer walk and requires us to go both uphill and downhill each way, with two rather nasty hills on the way there. As with the other school, I often walked there (the hard direction) to pick them up, and on many mornings we parked just over the second bad hill and walked the rest of the way. But this year we agreed to try walking all the way as much as we could.
We decided to do this because of the obvious benefits. By my very rough calculations (made even rougher by the need to convert from imperial to metric—I came to metric late in my childhood and haven’t yet mastered it), if we walk an average of 50% of the time, we’ll save about $100 worth of gas this school year, not to mention reducing the amount of wear and tear on the car and the emissions it’s pumping out.
We’ve added a huge amount of exercise to our week—when we walk in both the morning and afternoon, I’m totalling 80 minutes a day, much of it uphill. We’ve both noticed that those nasty hills are getting easier—we hardly even slow down now.
We’re discovering some unexpected benefits, too. Our morning trip is not the frenzied rush it used to be. No longer am I trying to cram one more thing in before we go. We have to leave on time or we face dire consequences—hurrying up the hills, oh no!
Instead of driving past our neighbors, we’re walking past and saying hello. And, even more importantly to Child Two, we’re getting to know the cats and dogs along our route.
As we huff and puff, we talk about all sorts of things, from the environment to how overscheduled kids are today to what cats think about. When Child Two brings a friend home, the walk is full of laughter. She and her friends have started a new tradition: they find a good rock, kick it between them all the way home, and then put it in a special place in the garden.
On the way home in the morning, I think about what I’m going to be doing that day and find it much easier to focus when I start work. This is one of the things I miss most from my days of walking wherever I could: the transition between one place and another—a time to organize my thoughts, look at my neighbors’ gardens, and just enjoy the quiet.
We’re taking our effort to live in more sustainable way one step at a time. And a lot of what we do out of concern for the earth’s well-being has a big impact on our own as well.