Localvore: My New England character

Written by Ruth Rhodes April 18, 2009 09:25 am

With the warm weather we had last weekend, I succumbed to the itch and added more vegetables to the garden.

I went a little wild and planted Asian Long Beans in the tiny greenhouse we built on the sunny side of our house. Not being a confident gardener, I have not checked the beans since. I use the “plant-and-run” method.  The joy I get from gardening doesn’t come from daily forays into the fields to see how my garden grows. I like the concept of raising my own vegetables more than the practice.


One of the shortcomings of my personality is a characteristic I share with most of my family. We have what my father calls the “New England character.” We enjoy deprivation; austerity is a virtue. We get just the tiniest bit self-righteous about this, but that’s another story.

This so-called “New England character” has contributed to my tendency to buy second-hand clothes, eschew cell phones, and walk to work rather than taking the family car. Yes, we’re a family of three plus a dog and a cat, and we only have one car.

Having lived in an African village for two years where there was really only one car for all the inhabitants, it doesn’t seem so crazy. But before you canonize me as some kind of Luddite saint, let me take a New England moment to confess that, like my gardening, I like the concept of walking more than the practice.

All this winter, I made up excuses to drive: rain, exhaustion, lateness.  But last week, I put my foot down squarely on my conscience and resolved that I would walk all week, and I did. It was a lovely reminder of how peaceful walking can be. I didn’t plug anything into my ears; I listened to the range of sounds around me, from singing birds to barking dogs to passing cars, and I had relaxing, 20-minute decompressions to and from work.

Walking gave also me a different perspective on our community.  I wasn’t just driving by things, insulated by glass and metal, listening to the radio, passing it in a blur. For instance, not everything on my walk was pleasant. Occasionally, I heard screaming kids and yelling parents. I noticed several houses where the residents live in abject poverty. One house clearly has no working water or sewer; the gruff and groggy fellow living there was often on his way to and from the neighbor’s house with a water jug.

Mornings, I passed a steady stream of homeless men, rising from their hideouts in vacant lots. I met “salvagers” collecting recyclables out of bins. When I was running late, I met gaggles of high school kids smoking pot before school. They hang out at the corner of Small and Glenn, if you care to check on them.

The number of students getting high before class was especially depressing. It was far more pathetic than the salvagers rooting through the trash. Maybe I’m letting my self-righteousness show; I mean, this is California. But I think those kids could use a dose of the New England character. Or maybe they should just walk more.

Ruth Rhodes can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it