The trou­ble with cy­cling

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING - BRIAN PAX­TON • Reprinted from the Mbendi newsletter with the per­mi­si­son of the au­thor.

SOME­TIME last week the wind blew a large green sheet of plas­tic into my gar­den.

As I put it in my box of re­cy­cling I no­ticed a la­bel in­di­cat­ing that the plas­tic had orig­i­nated with a syn­thetic lawn com­pany.

Now, where had I seen that name be­fore? And then I re­mem­bered that I’d seen it while out rid­ing on my bi­cy­cle just a few days pre­vi­ously.

I had been slowly cruis­ing through the back­streets of a leafy lo­cal sub­urb when my eye was taken by two small signs that had been erected on the verge in front of a house. The first was for the syn­thetic lawn com­pany. The verge it­self was pretty scruffy, with weeds and bare patches, so clearly the plas­tic lawn had been in­stalled be­hind the front wall where I could hear the sound of kids hap­pily play­ing. The sec­ond sign was for a well-known gar­den de­sign and land­scap­ing com­pany.

As I rode on, I mo­men­tar­ily had vi­sions of all the trees and plants in the gar­den like­wise be­ing re­placed with rub­ber trees and plas­tic flow­ers that never shed their leaves and which bloomed all year round in all sorts of weather.

The “gree­nie” in me was im­me­di­ately in­dig­nant. In­stead of plant­ing trees, shrubs and grass which could soak up car­bon diox­ide and help clean the at­mos­phere, here this land­scaper was us­ing ar­ti­fi­cial plants made in dirty chem­i­cal plants from hy­dro­car­bon feed­stocks.

And the chil­dren hap­pily romp­ing on the lawn and who prob­a­bly think milk comes in bot­tles from the su­per­mar­ket would be even fur­ther re­moved from na­ture.

For a sec­ond, I felt like turn­ing in my tracks and ring­ing the door­bell so I could give the prop­erty owner a piece of my mind.

Then an­other green side of me ap­peared. I sud­denly re­alised that never again would that se­cluded gar­den wit­ness a diesel-pow­ered lawn mower burst­ing into ac­tion in a puff of fumes.

And, if in­deed, the trees had been re­placed with ar­ti­fi­cial ar­bours, then no longer would the lilt of the leaf­blower waft across the neigh­bour­hood.

No pre­cious wa­ter would be needed to keep the plants healthy and green. I found my­self won­der­ing how much en­ergy the owner would save in a year. And what about all those chem­i­cal fer­tilis­ers he’d used hereto­fore?

How long would it take for him to off­set all the car­bon that went into mak­ing the raw ma­te­ri­als and fin­ished plants and then trans­port­ing them to their fi­nal rest­ing place?

That’s the trou­ble with rid­ing a bi­cy­cle. You see things you would never no­tice from a car and then you have time to con­duct imag­i­nary de­bates with your­self about the small things that pro­vide a pointer to where our big world is go­ing — or not.

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