Over the last month, my husband, Richard and I have driven several thousand miles just around the state of Colorado as I've done book events for Colorado Scenic Byways: Taking the Other Road, my collaboration with Steamboat Springs photographer Jim Steinberg. The book is getting loads of great press, from TV news shows to features in the Denver Post and other newspapers, as well as Denver's own 5280 Magazine. (That's thanks to Jim's stamina and persistence: he's been on the road for weeks, doing a media appearance and/or book promotion event every day!)
The chance to travel the state from Craig in the far northwest corner to Durango in the desert southwest, and from Fort Collins to Colorado Springs has offered some lovely sights and experiences. But as we've driven hither, thither, and yon, I've thought about my vow to live generously, leaving plenty of space and resources for the other species with whom we share this miraculous green and blue planet.
Richard and I live pretty lightly in the passive solar house we dreamed up and he helped build. In winter, the sun supplies much of our heat, helped by a super-efficient wood stove and a small gas fireplace for cloudy days. Our lights are compact fluorescents, our toilets water-saving, our yard is largely a restored native bunchgrass and wildflower meadow that uses little water and no pesticides or fertilizers. We work at home, thus avoiding a commute, and we do most of our errands on foot; we grow a large chunk of our food in our kitchen garden and buy as much of the rest locally and in bulk as we can; we live on a reclaimed industrial lot right in town rather than cluttering up the remaining wild habitat with our house, car, fences, pets, and yard light.
But we're driving across the state every few days to do some book promotion event or other. How does that fit into living generously?
Not as well as I'd like. For one thing, there's the use of gasoline, a non-renewable resource that distilled from ancient plants, long buried and turned to oil. I'm not sure that using the remains of these distant ancestors to power our car engines is either very respectful or wise, but it's what we do. Still, I'd like to be as frugal with this fuel as possible. Because we live where winter means traveling on snow-packed highways over high-elevation mountain passes, we drive a Subaru Forester, a small, all-wheel-drive SUV that has been getting about 24 mpg. That's good for an SUV, but nothing to brag about.
Then there's the roadkill. You can't drive anywhere and without seeing the carcasses of other species, large or small, on the roadside. It seems to me the more we drive, the less generous we're being for the wildlife that share the space our roads cross.
I was thinking about both of those issues--using oil and roadkill--as we headed home from a book-promotion event a few weeks ago. As I spoke my concerns out loud to Richard, I had an idea:
"Let's resolve to never drive faster than the speed limit," I said.
Richard, who is a careful driver but not immune to the joys of zipping down the open road, considered it.
"Okay," he said. Then he bumped the cruise control down a few notches.
Somewhere along the way on the next trip, he said out of the blue,
"It's more relaxing this way."
"What's more relaxing?"
"Driving. I'm not always watching the shoulder of the road for the highway patrol."
"Good," I said.
The next time we filled the Forester's tank with gas, I calculated the mileage. And then figured it again, because I was sure I had made a mistake. Nope. By dropping our speed to the posted speed limits, we were getting nearly five more miles per gallon of gas. (Most of the roads we take are rural two-lane highways, which means going 65 miles per hour... or so, instead of 75.) That's a lovely surprise, as is the fact that over the several-hundred-mile-long trips we've been making, we really aren't losing much time--twenty minutes or half an hour at most.
Speed does make a difference with sharing the road too, as we realized when the deer jumped out in front of us the other evening and both we and the deer escaped without so much as a whisker harmed. It's a relief to slow down and not worry so much about avoiding collisions with other drivers and the other species who live here, and thus saving their lives--and ours.
The bonus in driving the speed limit is one I already knew and had forgotten in my rush to get "there" quickly: slowing down means you see more. I wouldn't have noticed the almost full moon hanging chalky and white in a winter afternoon sky if we'd been whizzing along so fast, and I certainly wouldn't have bothered to stop and shoot this photo. Half an hour later and twenty-five miles up the road, that same moon hung silver in a lavender sky over rose-blush pink peaks, and we stopped again. That shot graces the cover of my upcoming memoir. Slowing down gave me a gift of beauty I treasure.
Slowing down makes driving less exhausting all around--in terms of mental and emotional energy, use of fuels distilled from the bodies of those ancient plants, and in sharing the road and the landscape with other vehicles and other species. And it gives us the gift of increased awareness of the places we travel through. That's a wonderful return for the simple act of living more generously.