I moved to a new part of the country in December, as many of you know, from Philadelphia to Charlotte, NC. It’s in the piedmont region of North Carolina. Philadelphia is also in the piedmont, and I have lived in the South before, but Charlotte is a different combination of things, it’s own unique place, that I am struggling to learn. It’s difficult, of course, to learn much about a place in only four or five months, but I am in the middle of watching my first seasonal shift, and I just bought a bike.
As a nature-centered pagan, of course, I look for ways to live lightly and to make my connection with the land. That’s why I have my worm bin and why I wear thrifted and refashioned clothing. But my husband and I recently made a purchase that’s probably going to make the biggest difference: bikes. We got them at the beginning of March, and I’m pretty sure I’ve already ridden 200 miles around town going to meetings and rehearsals. That’s 200 miles less of air pollution and oil reliance in only a month or so. That makes me feel like I’m really taking some steps to get in line with the world. The distances I was driving here were so short–fewer than five miles most of the time. But five miles is too far to walk for a two hour dance rehearsal, so I ended up getting in my car to be there for five minutes, all the while wishing there were some better way. My bike is that better way. Here’s a picture of me being super girly while riding her:
But there are so many other things that have changed for me since I got my bike that have changed the way I relate to the land and living in this new city. Riding my bike helps to remind me that the city is an ecosystem and that nature is not a destination, it’s all around us. Part of that is the reduced distances to parks, and the fact that I ride on a greenway whenever possible. But it’s also things like having to ride around a crushed squirrel or startling a robin with the whirr of my wheels. It’s not insulating myself with a heater and air conditioner keeping me at the perfect temperature, noticing slight shifts in the light as the clouds move above, feeling the gusts of wind pushing me in one direction or another. It’s seeing turtles and ducks and geese and even herons as I ride to and from a dance rehearsal. It’s feeling my strength build as I realize I can climb hills that I couldn’t before. It’s in the small human interactions that happen when I’m not locked away in a car–people saying hello as I pass by or smiling at me being girly or even being grumpy because I’m passing them. The other people in the city are becoming actual people instead of traffic.
It is easier to remember that this is an ecosystem with a new proximity to the creek or the forest. I would never want to drive to see a creek, and the walk to the greenway would be fifteen or twenty minutes by itself. Now, I can leave my house and within ten minute find a nice place to sit and watch the water go by and put a new calm into my heart, feeling Sif’s peace as I watch the wind in the grasses and listen to the songbirds.
The first time I rode the greenway to a rehearsal, when I arrived, I said that the greenway had changed my life. And the other dancers sort of laughed at me for being a hippie, but I wasn’t being sarcastic. In the five years since I was in college in the Hudson Valley, I haven’t had a chance to interact with beautiful natural spaces as a part of my daily or weekly routine. Then, I would see the mountains as I walked to class. And then there was Philadelphia, with its concrete and it’s brick buildings and its litter, and I forgot about the land. Every time I left the city, I felt this rush of sadness and nostalgia as I looked at the trees while I thought, “This is what I’m missing. How can I go through life without this?” And then we moved to Charlotte and it’s much greener and people have yards, but the drives are still strip malls and stoplights and concrete. The greenway is trees and creeks and grasses and meadows and flowers. How could anyone prefer the roads, when the land is just a hundred feet over on the greenway? When I can see the trees every day instead of waiting for that sadness to wash over me. I feel alive and human and animal and spirit.
This connection to place I have found on my bicycle is a surprise to me. I had expected riding my bike around town to be just a form of transportation that’s more fun than driving. But I feel free.
I no longer feel limited to staying in my house when I’m bored, or only going the short few blocks that are a comfortable stroll. I no longer have to make the choice between cabin fever and pollution. The distances that make sense for a quick outing to get some air are farther, and that makes the creek and the forest available to me, even in my dense urban neighborhood. I can see a duck and a skyline in the same view as I crest a hill and remember that we are a part of the landscape. I don’t feel anymore like I have to be on guard all the time. The city is becoming home.