sustainability

Eclipse watching

The Eclipse that some people have long awaited and I heard about a few weeks ago happened today. It was pretty cool, although probably way cooler down in totality. The partial eclipse was neat but not really the same.

It seemed that the people who were crying and deeply moved all got the full on eclipse experience, and well I felt a little bit bummed out that I didn't. I felt left out from the coolness. I wish I'd hoped in the SUV and headed to Idaho or that I'd been in Oregon. Next time.

Fortunately I get to say next time. Come hell or high water I'm planning on hitting up the totality zone in 2024. It seems like an amazing experience and I want to have it. Just have to stay alive until then. If I do live long enough an eclipse will be headed over Alberta this century so that's something to look forward to — that's 2044. I doubt I'll be around for the one in 2099 but that will hit up Canada.

My mother is a huge nerd so she ordered eclipse glasses early. It was great having that taken care of knowing that they were probably not fakes. She used to take us out to do astronomy things as kids and I'd be tired and bored. She never converted us.

Today I went up to Nose Hill because I wanted a view to the south. It's close and high and it was a great pick. I don't go there enough even though it's so close. It was pretty quiet when I got there. I was worried I wouldn't be able to get a spot in the parking lot but that wasn't an issue. The Internet said things would start around 10:20 so I got there for then. I could see it start bit by bit. It was neat but also left quite a bit of time for reading while I waited for things to move.

By 11:00 more people were showing up and it was getting closer and closer to the maximum eclipse we'd get. It was fun chatting with people. There was a mother with two young daughters. They had a pinhole type setup. I offered my glasses, they took a look and then ran back down the hill. I joked that they weren't patient enough for astronomy. I certainly never was. I still don't think I am.

There were dog walkers and joggers. A mother and daughter who hung around for the peak.

It was nice chatting with people. It would've been fun to go to one of the parties that was happening or to hit the U of C.

After the peak had passed I headed home. I watched a few of the live streams on Twitter. It was then that I started to feel like this really big thing had happened for people and sadly I hadn't been there for it. I'd kind of been there but not in the place where it was really happening. It was cool to see how intensely people responded to it, the clapping, the cheering, the way the NASA commentators talked about it. The young scientists really understanding why what they do is cool.

Social media, as it can be when it's good, was lit up with moving and beautiful posts. People were in awe of the wonder of the world and it's beauty. Science isn't that much different from art after all.

Maybe if we can appreciate how cool it is that we live on this place that keeps us alive and has all these rare combinations happening then we might want to protect that beauty. I get that jobs matter but so does beauty and wonder. If we destroy beauty and wonder what's the point of any of the rest of it? Why bother being alive?

How can we build a world where we maximize beauty and wonder as a precondition for all decisions? How can we remember that we're a part of nature and that we need it?

Later I was reading an article in Monocle where they interviewed a prominent American landscape architect. He talks about connectivity — connecting with each other, with the places we live, with nature and getting where we need to go. It's a great idea. I think a good philosophy for cities is connection and sustainability. That should be at the heart of our world. Connecting with people like the mother and daughter, with this planet, with wonder and beauty. Taking care of this place we live in, having just enough and not more, taking up only the space we need, being a part of nature instead of destroying nature.

Take that sense of wonder and awe. Build a connected and sustainable society. Remember that this world is fantastic and beautiful. It's worth taking care of.

Why I don’t miss driving

It’s been almost a month since I’ve driven a car and it’s been quite nice. I don’t miss it, not even a little.

I grew up in a place where you have to own a car to have any quality of life — or to avoid the inconvenience of making the decision not to own one, or worse not being able to afford one. The nearest grocery store to my house was a forty-five minute walk, each way. Or a ten minute bus ride, on a bus that came about once every twenty minutes. Everybody in my neighourhood had to drive to the grocery store if they wanted to pick up some milk.

Now I live a two minute walk from two different grocery stores, a metro station, and a shopping centre that meets almost all consumer needs I may have. The metro is excellent, coming once every four minutes during peak hours and every six minutes during non-peak hours, and then every twenty minutes after mid-night — yes this town has night transit and it is amazing. In Calgary the bars would thin out as last train approached — the time when you could leave and catch the last train of the night. It didn’t make any sense that there was no transit after midnight, especially on weekends. Even just the c-train would have been something.

Then there are every forty-five minute buses, that sometimes don’t come. Or the once every hour bus that you miss when it’s minus thirty and snowing. Or the bus that comes halfway between when the previous bus was supposed to leave and the next bus was supposed to arrive. You are never quite sure whether it is late, or early, or just off. There is a reason everyone owns a car. The problem is that when transit sucks no one takes it, so no one will invest in it and it continues to suck. Thus everyone continues to drive everywhere.

Driving never came very naturally to me. It is stressful and a lot of responsibility. I was always far more inclined to be the passenger if the opportunity presented itself.

Traffic jams were the worst. There is nothing like the feeling of sitting in stop and go traffic knowing that it is going to take an hour and a half to do a drive that normally takes ten minutes. You could be doing almost anything with that time, instead you have your foot pressed on the break, and your eyes locked on the car in front of you scanning for any movement whatsoever. This time feels like it is a total waste. You are not moving forward, and you are not doing anything productive. Instead, the stress builds, and builds. Every time I am in one of these jams I can feel my life getting shorter and shorter.

Then there is parking. A nemesis that bests me most of the time. I am bad at parking. I cannot pull nicely into a tight spot between two cars and then have it so that passengers on both sides of the vehicle can open their doors. I am bad at pulling out as well. I usually feel totally blind just waiting to hit something. Then there are those moments when you are unable to find a parking spot all together and drive around endlessly searching for one. Then it is so so expensive. It always feels like you are throwing money away.

Parking tickets are the cherry on top of this nightmare. In my experience they are mostly arbitrary, and for infractions you didn’t even know it was possible to commit until you read the ticket. You are punished for being a mm too far or too near, or for the shear inability to read signs — an enigma machine is the only sure fire way to decipher Calgary’s parking signs. They are often numerous and confusing. They say contradictory things. Snow lane signs and handicapped signs look very similar. There are a lot of times listed, and a lot of does and don’ts.

I have not parked for a month. I have not walked back to my car fingers crossed I didn’t commit a surprise parking infraction, and I feel so much more content because of it.

Walking, taking transit, and biking are far better solutions. You get a lot more exercise, or time to read. You don’t have to worry about getting back to your car, or about having one beer — although this may not apply cycling.

There is one thing I do miss about driving: blasting music with the windows rolled down. I think it is something I can live without.

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