Friday, May 30, 2008

The Slower Pleasures of Life

by David G. Woolley

You can save on gas if you drive slower. No rabbit starts. No skidding stops. No kidding. I got 30 freeway miles to the gallon going sixty in my Ford Explorer. And 23 city miles per gallon by avoiding all those pedal-to-the-metal accelerations and breaking decelerations. I also noticed my neighbor put in some flowers and a bench swing. I was in too much of a hurry to notice him reading a book in his garden before I slowed down and drove less.

Our fascination with speed and distance didn't start with the model T. Ancient Mesoamericans tracked their travel in days. An odd measurement for our odometer-obsessed sensibilities unless, of course, you're traveling with a large group of family, friends, goats, and chickens. When moving at the speed of a lama who cares how many steps it is to Nephiha. All you want to know is: "How long have we been on the road and when the heck are we getting there?" Did you know the ancient City of Zarahemla was located about 23 days north of the City of Nephi? The begrudged Lamanite and Nehite enemies were separated by a mere 175 miles. Thankfully 80 of those miles were difficult-to-travel mountain wilderness or the Book of Mormon would have been cover-to-cover warfare.

We have this guy, BYU Professor Larry Howell, to thank for reconstructing a Mormon Pioneer measurement curiosity. Its an odometer. Every time the wagon wheel goes around it turns the gears forward by a single tooth. Did you know there are 360 wagon-wheel lengths in a mile? The only thing missing was an easy-to-read digital display. Poor William Clayton. Brigham Young assigned the Mormon pioneer inventor to the tedious task of counting the number of teeth traveled each day. Brother Clayton translated his count into a fairly accurate 1,032 miles between Nauvoo and Utah. We may not have understood his 1847 journal entry if he wrote, "We traveled 371,520 gear teeth to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake."

In the days before relatively less expensive cars, paved roads and cheap gas, travel was a novelty. There was less obsession about getting the kids somewhere and more imagination. Yesterday the backyard was a space landing on Mars. Today its a frontier ghost town complete with an O.K. corral. The lone family car was for the wage earner to get to the job site. There was no such thing as running an errand. If you didn't get it on your weekly grocery run you didn't need it. Before the dawn of accessible transportation we stayed closer to home, made up games to entertain ourselves and enjoyed a stroll around the block on a warm summer evening.

My friends obsess over the cost of getting around. But if the economics of travel keeps them closer to home is that such a bad thing? Who knows? Maybe a little drive across town to visit family may become what it once was: A trip. Slowing down will save some money at the gas pump, but it may also help you find something you've been missing.

Life's slower pleasures.

Join author David G. Woolley at his Top of the Morning Blog or his Promised Land Website

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