The Lottery, Writ Large

Engine Summer, by John Crowley, is one of those science fiction books that doesn’t read like science fiction. The world of the story is so real, so plausible, so tied to our current troubles, that it seems begotten not made.

Early in the tale, the protagonist, a boy named Rush That Speaks, leaves his cozy, low-tech enclave to go on an adventure with Seven Hands, his father. After walking for a while, the two gain a height from which Rush catches his first glimpse of Road. Disused for many years (decades, if not centuries), Road has cracked and crumbled, given way to trees and shrubs. No one has driven a motor vehicle in living memory; the technology needed to do so has been intentionally destroyed. Thanks to anthropogenic catastrophe, the Earth holds far fewer humans than it once did.

Staring down at this strange and wondrous ribbon, Rush asks Seven Hands, “What was it…for?” Continue reading

Roads vs. Paths

Friday afternoon I took the train to Grand Central, then walked a couple miles downtown to return a pair of shorts and try on backpacks at REI. As I walked, my face tensed in anger; my thoughts morphed into a stream of invective against fellow pedestrians (“It’s okay to PAY ATTENTION to what’s going on around you!” “Get the FUCK out of my way!”); my body shifted into alert each time I crossed the street. By the time I reached REI, I was a bitter, muttering, bristling mess. Continue reading

Paths vs. Roads

About four miles from where I live, there’s a community farm where I sometimes volunteer. It’s a lovely place, run by beautiful people. When I leave the road and enter the preserve surrounding the farm, I feel the air change – it cools, gentles, swells with moisture and birdsong. If the farm were next door, I might visit every day. If I could reach it by walking path, I might go a couple times a week. Continue reading

Canary in the Crosswalk

[I wrote this essay in February 2014, when I still lived in New York.]

According to the New York Police Department, motorists killed 178 pedestrians, and injured more than 12,000, in New York City in 2013. These numbers are tragic enough. But they don’t tell the whole story. They don’t count how often motorists terrorize pedestrians by speeding, or running lights, or failing to yield. They don’t count how many citizens have curtailed walking activity out of fear.

I am one such citizen. I suffer from Pedestrian Terror Stress Disorder. The symptoms? Let me walk you through them. Continue reading