Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Tortoise and the Hare

It's 9 a.m. and I'm hanging the first of three loads of laundry out on my line. The following thoughts race through my mind: I love hanging my laundry outside; should I drive to the farmer's market or ride my bike?; it takes so long to hang up my laundry; I love to hang up my laundry; car or bike? car or bike?

Hanging up my laundry is actually a non-issue, no matter how long it takes. I actually don't do laundry if it looks like it might rain (rare occurrence here in summer, but possible) because I just can't stand using my dryer. (I have to figure out some kind of inside hanging system for winter or I'm going to be an unhappy laundress.) It's an aesthetic thing for me--the enforced period of slowdown to hang up the clothes, a time to listen to the morning birds, smell the wet grass, concentrate on only one task (okay, millions of other thoughts race through my mind, akin to the car/bike conundrum, but I try to focus just on the laundry), and then the take-down, the lovely summer-sun smell that infuses everything, even the crinkly cardboard towels that no one bothers to complain about anymore.

Taking the car or the bike, though, that is problematic. I want to ride my bike all the time. It's comfy and pink and I can wear a skirt. It has a basket and paniers. The seat bounces up and down when I go over a little bump. In other words, it's all set for commuting about my little town but it doesn't have room for two kids and a dog. And it doesn't move as fast as the car. And here it is now, 9:15 and I need to get to the market for garlic, summer apples, lettuce, kale and blueberries. And get the kids to the pool by 10:30 for swim lessons. Oh, and get to the store first so I can buy something so I can get cash back because I never have cash and I need it for the market. This is the flood of thoughts that intrudes upon my otherwise harmonious laundry-hanging session, and this makes me tense and irritated. I like being domestic. I don't like getting myself stressed over time and errands. Who does?

And this is where I had a little revelation, out there in the backyard, hanging up row upon row of cloth napkins and soon to be crunchy towels. Modern life is all about the tortoise and the hare. Or rather, modern life is the hare, rushing through the day, never pausing to listen to the birds, or savor a cup of tea, or look someone in the eye and really have a meaningful conversation; it's rushing to the store for cookies and bread and packaged fruit snacks. Modern life is mass production, time-saving/labor-saving devices, bigger and faster cars, new and improved food with added omega-3 or antioxidants and ingredients lists longer than my grocery list.

I want to be a tortoise. I want to hear the birds, notice the nascent acorns on the oak tree on the walk to the library, make cookies and bread at home so as to truly relish the end product. I want hand-crafted quilts, a chair lovingly made by hand, a mason jar of peaches opened in January. In other words, I want a meaningful life where every action is lived and appreciated, where everything around me is noticed and actually seen, not just passed by. And I am sure that in the end, by living a tortoise life, I will come out ahead. Maybe not in terms of how many cars or vacations or fancy clothes my family and I have, but certainly in terms of quality of life, fullness of experience, greater health of mind and body.

But in the end, I live in a modern world and I can't possibly get it all done this morning, so I take the car. Tomorrow I'll try again to live a tortoise life.