Cities not for me

I’m not a city person. There is no part of me that could pull off being a city-dweller.
Still, I think it’s good for our global understanding that we rural and small-town folk are able to glimpse the reality that most of the world’s population experiences living in cities.
Observing city life for the past three weeks in Vancouver has helped me understand why it is so incredibly difficult to effect change in our collective thinking.
Simply put, when you live in a concrete jungle of high-rises, street cars and sky trains, exhaust fumes, and crowded sidewalks, it would be very difficult to consider where your food comes from and how it is grown and raised.
It would be difficult to ponder the plight of those on the other side of the horizon.
There is so little opportunity to commune with nature, to hear water flowing in brooks and streams, to smell wild flowers as they take their place on the forest floor, and to witness the communication that happens between trees and plants.
And how does one care for such things if we don’t have a living relationship with such things.
Not that such thinking can’t be done, or isn’t being done. I’m not suggesting that no forward-thinkers or environmentally-responsible individuals live in cities. I do think, however, it takes much greater effort to live deliberate lives while living in a city.
I watch the hurrying, the heads-down stride, the angry horn honking when someone slips up on proper driving etiquette. I see garbage caught on the wind and tangling in fences.
And even in the beauty of the city, on the waterfront with its cycling and walking paths, there is a disconnect between people. When I extend patience and tolerance and friendliness to those I encounter, sometimes people look surprised—shocked even.
I met a man with obvious medical challenges due to disease or injury. I held the elevator for him while he limped and groaned with his crutches; his face contorted in pain.
“Are you okay,” I asked, putting my hand out to take his bag.
He seemed stunned. “You’re not from the city are you,” he replied.
Cities are littered with coffee shops. Starbucks and Tim Hortons on every block, it seems, providing a place for people to commune. But these coffee places see people folded over their computers and cellphones, with very little exchange of conversation and ideas.
I think it’s easier to be thoughtful in a small town; the pace is slower, the race is more a marathon than a daily sprint. I think our load is less heavy living in smaller communities; we know our neighbours and feel their support.
After three weeks of bustling and pushing and being shoved and being nameless and faceless and invisible, I’ve had quite enough. Though I am a borderline hermit, and enjoy the quiet and aloneness with my pen, and am an introvert at heart, the invisibility of the city is an uncomfortable one.
I am ready to head home to familiar faces; people who know my name, streets that seldom hear a horn honking, cars that stop willingly and automatically for pedestrians.
I suppose it is what we grow used to. Being a farm kid equipped me with the tools to entertain myself, to enjoy my own company. I find the city oppressive, weighing down on me, and making it hard to breathe.
I’m glad I ventured out of my cocoon, braved the world out there. It gave me new appreciation for that which my life has, and a greater understanding of the barriers and challenges that others face.
I feel very fortunate to have grown up on a farm close to a community like Fort Frances.
Though I have wandered far from Northwestern Ontario, Crozier and that wonderful farm on the Rainy River will always be home.
wendistewart@live.ca

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