A number of years ago, when my reading tendencies shifted toward the environmental, I started looking at ways to reduce my energy usage and to live more sustainably. While the term sustainability has quickly become overused and oversimplified, to me it meant reducing the money and energy I throw at things and relying more on my own skills and renewable resources.
To that end, in November 2004, I gave up my car. Literally and figuratively, I gave it up — to the Goodwill program that refurbished cars for people in need — and walked away.
The reactions I got tended toward a mix of “how do you get anywhere?” and “I wish I could do that!” In a small town, getting anywhere proved to be fairly easy, and though walking everywhere meant planning my errands more mindfully and taking more time, it allowed me to root myself more deeply in the community and to open my eyes to the beauty I used to speed by.
It made an enormous and wonderful change in my life, one I recommended highly to anyone who would listen. I found that I bought less junk food at the store (why would I want to lug it home if I didn’t need it?), spent less on stuff, and enjoyed the fresh air, exercise, and peace that walking by myself offered me.
When I decided to pursue farming as my work life, though, I realized that walking would not suffice for my transportation. Even if I were to find a farmer close to town who would be willing to hire me for a decent wage, I would need wheels to get to work and home again.
First, I considered a recumbent tricycle. Don’t laugh. I’ve never had very good balance and never got beyond training wheels on a bicycle, so I didn’t see that as a real option. I test-rode a recumbent trike and loved it, but I didn’t have a place to store it.
And realistically, once I knew where I would apprentice myself, I knew that a 30-mile one-way trip would be a little too much for my legs to handle on a trike, and I didn’t trust the local traffic on the country highways to keep me safe.
So that left me with the necessary evil of returning to the burden of an internal combustion vehicle. I hated that thought. Return to dependence on gasoline and the ever-rising cost of fuel? Return to expensive insurance, regular costly maintenance, and the posture-cramping physical act of driving? Hated it, hated it, hated it.
But what choice did I have?
Well, the only choice concerned what type of vehicle to choose, and unfortunately for my environmental karma, the necessity of having a vehicle strong enough to haul flats of produce to market along with table and tent meant that I would generally have to consider a low-mileage vehicle like a truck.
The more I considered my options, the more I felt inclined to find a pickup truck similar to the one my friend Keith drives: a small to mid-size truck with four-wheel drive and an extended cab. On the many rides we’ve shared, I’ve felt comfortable in the truck — not overwhelmed by some behemoth of a gas-guzzler — so I felt confident that I would be able to handle a similar model myself.
I headed out shopping in early winter, accompanied by my patient and helpful father, and it wasn’t look before I found what I was looking for:
It was used, but gently, with no rust save on the running boards, almost new tires, and a sturdy hard flat cap on the lined bed. It had the four-wheel drive, it had the extended cab with extra doors, and it had a modest amount of mileage. Best of all, it had a price that was only slightly above my initial price range, and I was able to pay for it in its entirety.
Other people (men, mostly, I suspect) get little red sports-car convertibles for their mid-life crises. If you count that removable flat cap, you could say my truck is a “convertible” as well, and it makes the perfect photogenic image of a mid-life crisis for the particular change of pace I chose.
Now, I’ve never been a car girl. I could theoretically understand why people obsessed over cars (speed, power, etc.) but never felt it myself. And I certainly couldn’t get why so many guys would refer to their cars or trucks as feminine entities.
But with this truck, I get it. It’s a 1950s screen siren of a truck, a vibrant come-hither lipstick red, with a bouncy high ride and a devil-may-care flair. If I don’t watch myself, I might just call it “She” or “Her.” Though it is a steady sort of truck, it gives the impression of being fast and tantalizingly dangerous.
And I like it. Who would ever have guessed I’d be a sucker for — a pickup?
It’s a dilemma. I try not to use it much around town, but even my inner greenie has had to bow to convenience and comfort in the past frigid weeks. (At least now that the weather is improving, I’ll be more tempted to walk again.) I wince at the thought of long trips in it. But secretly, yes, I do want to climb up behind the wheel and take her down a quiet country road and let ‘er rip.
The truck gives me a reality check. Yes, I want to live lightly on the earth and do what I can to reduce my energy usage, and this isn’t the obvious way to do it. But to learn what I need to learn about farming, about growing enough food for myself and to make a living, it’s a necessary tool.
There’s no easy answer, so I do the best I can in finding an acceptable balance. I suspect that will be an ongoing theme this year.