Even though I used to live in New York City, where traffic and gridlock go hand in hand, I’ve become so rusticated during thirty years of rural living that now I think traffic is when I don’t know who’s driving the other car.
Back in the early years, a friend who still lived in Manhattan visited. As we were driving through the village, I named all the people we passed.
“You don’t really know all these people,” she said.
“Yes, I do,” I replied. “And I know where they’re going, too.”
Such is small-town life.
I’m never more aware of traffic as a part of Living In Place as I am when I travel. I’ve just returned from the Washington DC area, where traffic is fierce – and I wasn’t stuck in the rush-hour variety. Even in off-hours, negotiating the interstates and their many exits was harrowing enough.
Of course we had Martha, our on-board navigator along for the ride, and she’s pretty good, if a bit stern. The problem is trying to follow her directions while driving at warp speed, especially when she calls the road we’re looking for by its route number but it’s signposted with the name of a dead president.
Happily, we were only in traffic a short time; we spent most of our week biking on the towpath of the C&O Canal, the same road the mules used back in the day when the canal was a functioning waterway, moving tons of coal from Cumberland, Maryland down to Georgetown.
Most of the 185 miles of the canal itself is a dry ditch grown up with trees, turning the ride into an archeological journey that took us past empty locks and
crumbled lock-keeper’s cottages. But at Great Falls, fourteen miles outside of DC, a section of the canal has been restored and watered. We boarded the excursion boat, so we could see what canal travel was like.
After most of week peddling through the woods at a fair clip, it was charming to be floating by at a leisurely pace of four miles an hour – a pace made easy since Eva and Dolly, the two mules, were doing all the work while we listened to Big John, one of the history re-enactors, tell us about canal life.
It’s easy to wax romantic about what seems to us to have been a simpler life long ago. It’s good to remember that the challenges of moving tons of coal in a flat bottomed boat that served as both livelihood and home would have seemed cutting edge in 1824, as it used all the available technology of the time.
And yet, it was a technology that included lots of fresh air and exercise as a matter of course, simple home cooking, and human-made home entertainment. The canal folk were never nature-deprived as our traffic-clogged
commuters and office workers have become.
As fun as it is to fantasize about canal boat life, I’m grateful for the very interstates of which I complain. They made it possible for me to enjoy a great, biking vacation; they also made it possible for me to return home to the empty roads of Vermont, where thanks to modern technology, I can telecommute while Living in Place.
Deborah Lee Luskin lives twelve miles from the nearest traffic light. To receive new posts by email every Wednesday, subscribe at right:
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