My Day as a Flâneur

crossing little cottonwood

For today’s post, Stephen asks us to play the role of flâneur – to move through our day with a heightened awareness of the systems and places around us, diagnosing points of poor performance and intuiting creative responses. Since school is not in session, in honor of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., I take the opportunity to go skiing with my mom. The dual role of skier and flâneur is enlightening, but also confusing.

I leave home as the single occupant in my navy blue Subaru Forrester. I drive over a dozen miles to the base of Little Cottonwood Canyon, and carpool another eight with mom up to Snowbird. Everywhere I look, I see evidence of a cultural and personal addiction to oil:

  • the fuel in my car and its vast array of plastic and synthetic components, not to mention the bitumen in the asphalt below;
  • the dense, inverted haze of Salt Lake City’s air, due in large part to drivers like myself and those around me (almost all single occupants, from what I can see);
  • the countless molded plastic components of a skier’s gear closet – ski laminate and core, bindings and boots, pant and coat liners and cuffs, pole handles and baskets, goggle frames and latches, and a helmet on top.
ski gear
We are made of oil!

I’m burning fossil fuels to ski, but I also am literally draping myself in petroleum derivatives. And it’s not just skiing, but kayaking, longboarding, mountain biking, rock climbing, camping, even yoga… the list goes on and on.

Every item I’m using… oil!
Shell Station
It’s oil! … riding on… oil!

Why does my definition of recreation necessitate driving long distances? Why do my favorite ways of ‘connecting with nature’ require layer after layer of protective plastic? In searching for a locus of poor performance in Salt Lake City, need I look any further than my own bathroom mirror?

I consider the possibility. It’s a sobering moment.

Rather than miring in guilt, as a flâneur, it seems clear that if first world populations writ-large began asking these hard questions and acting on the answers, large-scale change would soon occur. I find a certain optimism in this realization. Most first world citizens have a bathroom mirror. mirror Without a doubt, I see structural forces at play that set us all up to fail. But I also see those forces as amenable to change.

I see people driven from cities, and therefore driving away from them, in search of surreal and transcendent experiences. But I also see efforts to create contiguous open spaces that allow such experiences closer to home. In Salt Lake City, the Jordan River Parkway is a good example.

I see that public transportation to the Wasatch Front canyons is inconvenient and often impossible. But I also see proposals to run bus rapid transit for canyon access, or other alternatives that could reduce driving.

I see that outdoor recreation can’t occur safely without proper equipment. But I also see the possibility of efficient consumption – wearing gear into the ground, learning to repair rather than to replace it, and eventually handing it off for someone else to reuse.

I see that some solutions are personal and others are systemic, and the two are interlinked.

It’s confusing, but also enlightening.


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