March 26, 2006

Swan! … and Slowing Down

I'm sure I wasn't imagining it. Yesterday, I was driving by the pond off Elm Street near Saxonville center, and I did indeed see a beautiful white swan. I wasn't able to stop, but did slow down for a good look. What a pleasant surprise on a dismal, grey, raw day!

Alas, I went back on foot this morning, and the swan was gone. Which just goes to prove again that some of the unexpected, joyful gifts nature offers us are fleeting indeed. And sometimes, even if you get to enjoy nature while driving, it's even better if you can slow down, stop, and see it outside of the sealed, metal environment that is your car. I sure wish I'd been able to pull over, get out, and give that gorgeous creature a much longer look.

Which brings me to a stream-of-consciousness related point -- you definitely experience your community differently in a vehicle and on foot. Now there's nothing inherently wrong with driving; it lets you go so many more places than you could if your only alternative was walking. But I think it's unfortunate if the only way you ever experience your community is in a motorized vehicle. There are things you miss, from chatting with the neighbors to seeing little details that simply whiz by in a blur when you're driving 30+ mph.

Sometimes we lose sight of that in a multi-tasking culture where cramming more and more, faster and faster, into all available time tends to be prized a lot more than deliberation, contemplation and slowing down. I'm reading the book Sabbath by Wayne Muller, and he's got some fascinating points on the need to balance striving with occasionally slowing down. He also asks:

"What is the true measure of the wealth of a people? The creation and preservation of beauty? A strong and healthy citizenry? An educated and compassionate leadership, ensuring justice for all? A palpable sense of civic joy? A collective sense that serving our neighbor is our highest civic good? Sadly, none of these rises to the top of our list. By current standards, the Holy Grail on the altar of civilization is the health of the economy, measured by the G.D.P. Economic growth is the measure of a life well lived, a nation well run, a civilization well built."

Without a doubt, money and prosperity matter - they certainly do to me. But so do other things. At the global level, is it truly beyond dispute that citizens of one nation, which has 3.7% economic growth and the average worker gets 2 weeks of vacation a year, are better off than citizens of another nation, which has 3.4% economic growth but workers get 6 weeks off each year?

On the local level, so much discussion lately has been about property values, tax rates, and growth. Now I happen to be a homeowner, and care a lot about the value of my life's largest financial investment as well as how much I have to pay each year to inhabit the house I'm still paying off. But there is more to quality of life in my community than can be measured in my checkbook. I would MUCH rather have paid a few more dollars a year in taxes to have had a beautiful new branch library in my community, a place that would have been a communal education/gathering center, a neighborhood anchor and a source of great civic pride. That was so worth the $12/year or whatever small amount it would have cost.


  1. Unfortunately, $12/year is a laughable number for many. This ideology of a larger branch library to employ friends and family of the towns inner political circle is unwise. However, this could all change if Framingham attracted more people than it repelled

  2. FW makes a good point, for there's already a branch library in Saxonville. The main library downtown is a fine building, large, and not too crowded. Is it the location that so bothers a certain group of people?