Thursday, May 03, 2012

How To Be Slow

The great Sheldon Brown once asked, "If you are in a hurry, why are you on a bicycle?" While bicycles can be incredibly efficient machines and often in urban settings they may in fact be the fastest, most logical vehicle to convey a person between two points, we do ourselves and our devices a disservice if we measure our lives and land only by the speed of our travels.

While racing bicycles is certainly a legitimate and fun activity, many more people ride than race. Yet much of the literature of cycling and vast sections of our bicycle shops are devoted to haste. This situation, of course, is not confined to bicycles. From many corners of our society, we are urged onward, encouraged to hasten somewhere, anywhere but where we are right now, because, over the next horizon surely, the grass must be greener. Never mind the color of the grass right here, beneath your feet, who has time for such things?

Perhaps you do.

Last month I wandered, mostly around my little town. I wandered somewhere every day. Not far most days and seldom was I speedy. Somehow it added up to something that seemed to me to be worth doing. I don't know what my heart rate was, but I know my heart was in the effort. That was enough.

Christine recently found a book she shared with me, one I'd like to share with you. It will do nothing to make you fast, but it is a lovely look at being slow. It was written by a woman who can barely move and it is about snails. And it's very, very, good. It's called The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating.

The author, Elisabeth Tova Bailey, writes:

"I wrote to one of my doctors: I could never have guessed what would get me through this past year—a woodland snail and its offspring; I honestly don’t think I would have made it otherwise. Watching another creature go about its life . . . somehow gave me, the watcher, purpose too. If life mattered to the snail and the snail mattered to me, it meant something in my life mattered, so I kept on . . . Snails may seem like tiny, even insignificant things compared to the wars going on around the world or a million other human problems, but they may well outlive our own species."

Ms. Bailey finds commonalities in snail and human existence without forcing either one to be the other:

"My snail went about its life, moment to moment, much as I did, making decisions—or being indecisive—about food and shelter and sleep. If a snail can learn and remember, then it thinks, at least on some level; I was convinced of this. And until someone (preferably a snail) can prove otherwise, I will hold on to this belief. The life of a snail is as full of tasty food, comfortable beds of sorts, and a mix of pleasant and not-so-pleasant adventures as that of anyone I know."

I found this bit of Ms. Bailey's writing to be both funny and wise:

"With only thirty-two adult teeth, which had to last the rest of my life, I found myself experiencing tooth envy toward my gastropod companion. It seemed far more sensible to belong to a species that had evolved natural tooth replacement than to belong to one that had developed the dental profession."

While there can be great joy found in going fast, some pleasures are only found when one slows enough to find them. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating is a great small, pleasure, one that I'm glad I didn't race past.

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA

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