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America Has Moved Indoors



Funny how a little walk in the neighborhood can enlighten.


I’m probably not supposed to say this, but in a few days I will have my 69th birthday. How odd when I feel better in some respects than ever before in my life. And a couple of days ago, I discovered that the  TAroma™  I have been inhaling seems to be making my eyelashes grow. Things are good.

At this age you do have the long view, however, and the perspective seems to activate ever more frequently. When I think how much less young people in their teens and twenties have experienced of history, that perspective feels like an alternate reality. This came up a few days ago as I was walking in my neighborhood at sundown.

I have to begin by reminding the reader that I live in New Mexico and Santa Fe to boot, which is a bit like being in a foreign country. I have lived in the old, rustic part of town, but I recently moved “out” into a new development. It has been challenged by the recession but construction has now resumed, and it seems as though a new house goes up every few weeks.

Where the Tumbleweeds Grow

Where the Tumbleweeds Grow

In spite of the fact that we are deep in drought, we had a heavy rain recently, and the tumbleweeds are sprouting by the second. The homeowners association is kind of like Mother, and she has recently sent out letters reminding us all to pull the tumbleweeds early when it’s easy. Virtually everyone has gravel landscaping, but tumbleweeds seem to sprout in just a few grains of sand.

Most of the construction activity is in the phases with “affordable” housing targeted at young, upwardly mobile families. Some seem slow to realize that a gravel landscape is not entirely carefree. The adobe style is beginning to look too back-country in many places. Mother is not happy.

I often do an evening walk and have been struck by how rarely I ever see anyone. In fact, children are a real novelty even though there is a lot of open, pseudo-wild space around that should be a fun place to play, and the area is very safe. This reminds me of the El Paso neighborhoods where I grew up when children were usually outside playing, adventuring among cottonwoods and desert sands. All of the places where we roamed are now blanketed with housing.

I first began to notice how communities were changing decades ago as I walked a dog in Tennessee, Virginia, and Alabama neighborhoods. I rarely saw other people out working in their yards or visiting. In the evening, houses were usually dark except for a light that suggested a television beyond shades or curtains. Now interior entertainment has expanded to the computer and video games and all sorts of other digital equipment. America has moved indoors.

That’s an important point in itself and is significant in a variety of ways. However, what I realized on my recent evening walk is that we are still building for a way of life that has largely disappeared. People want space and privacy, and a lawn seems to go with the basic concept of home.  However, the fact is that, with many dual-income families and all the entertainment resources within, people don’t have the time or interest to do all the planting and grooming that formerly distinguished the “house-proud.” And particularly in this area, where the shortage of water is such an issue, it makes no sense.

Ongoing development also shrinks habitat for the wild creatures that remain in the natural world. I’m not an architect, but surely it would be an exciting challenge to design for an inspiring quality of life in dwellings that suit our changed lifestyle. At the same time, communities would cease to gobble up the remaining open land as well as water and energy. There would be ways to create gardens that would pleasure the many through the work of a very few, and Mother wouldn’t have to work so hard to keep things tidy.

Anyway, just a thought. Antique though I may be, I still enjoy working in my garden, and it is a great pleasure to see how at ease all the birds, squirrels, and cottontails are as they share the bounty within my coyote fence. Maybe it’s a matter of  being ever more aware of how challenged the creatures “outside” are that I choose to be entertained by them as much as possible. I don’t think I’m going any time soon, but they may well be. I hope the young bunny in my yard, safely lolling on its back in the sun, will enjoy the full experience of rabbitness before it does go.



2 Responses to “America Has Moved Indoors”

  1. Maggie

    What a great title and subject, Ellen! You are spot on regarding what is happening across America with people staying indoors (lack of time), kids staying indoors( tied to electronics), lawns and gardens diminishing and wild life suffering. However as you have noted, many of us who still garden likewise have an opportunity to keep some wildlife, insects, etc alive.
    Thank you for writing this Important article!

  2. Priscillla

    Baby tumbleweeds are edible and some of the flowers enhance the lives of pollinators. As of yesterday I have been having a bumble bee come into my yard whom I had not seen in at least a year. Also visiting are diggger bees (short fat gray haired dudes), tachnid flies, some honey bees, etc. My garter snakes are happily eating the mice that come to my compost from the kitchen. There are lots of things we can do to help our friends outside even if people don’t spend much time out there. I do and I am thankful.