June 7, 2010

USA: Kurt Hoelting, wilderness guide, commercial fisherman, practicing Zen Buddhist, meditation teacher is now also an author

SEATTLE, Washington / The Seattle Times / Books / Interview / June 7, 2010

Whidbey Island author, 60, gives up cars for a year

An interview with Kurt Hoelting, a Whidbey Island resident and author who spent one year within 100 kms of his home.

Whidbey Island resident Kurt Hoelting spent a year without
using a car and stayed within 62 miles of his home,
and then wrote a book about the experience.

Lit Life

By Mary Ann Gwinn
Seattle Times book editor

Kurt Hoelting has spent a lifetime weighing the implications of his actions. A former Harvard Divinity School student and campus minister, wilderness guide, commercial fisherman, practicing Zen Buddhist and meditation teacher, Hoelting has watched the emerging evidence for climate change with a deepening sense of gloom and a burden of responsibility for his own role in it.

So for a year — from winter solstice 2007 to winter solstice 2008 — the Whidbey Island resident embarked on a radical experiment: He vowed to forgo the use of vehicles, other than public transit, and to travel only within a circle approximately 62 miles from his home. He writes about the results in "The Circumference of Home: One Man's Yearlong Quest for a Radically Local Life" (Da Capo Press, 262 pp., $25).

Though he got a book out of his experience, Hoelting says the project was no "stunt" — rather, a desire to slow global warming by making choices within his control. Personal actions are "the low-lying fruit that can be harvested without delay, " he writes, until technology and policy can catch up.

Hoelting is a quoter of deep thinkers such as philosopher Henry David Thoreau and poets Gary Snyder and T.S. Eliot. As a Northwest native and commercial fisherman, he doesn't mind the rain (this project involved several spectacular drenchings). So I asked him to come up with some practical advice, tooled for well-intentioned weather wimps hoping to reduce their carbon footprint. Here's what he learned:

Getting out of your car is a mood enhancer. Hoelting writes that he's grappled with depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). He found that getting out into the weather, regardless of how wet or cold, took a lot of the emotional weight off.

Kurt Hoelting EMI MORGAN

Environmental degradation is hard to contemplate; "it's easy to be discouraged and fall into depression and despair," he says. "I benefited from the physical exercise and exertion and the contacts with the elements. It grounded me. "

Getting out of your car is a social lubricant. Walking, busing, biking or kayaking got him talking to people he might otherwise never have met. "I found people quite responsive to what I was doing, regardless of their politics or opinions about climate change," he says. "They were appreciative of what I was doing because I was putting my money where my mouth was, rather than just ranting about my concerns."

Getting out of your car doesn't have to be a sacrifice. Quoting the Sightline Institute, Hoelting notes that short, solo passenger trips within three miles of home "burn a third of all gas pumped at our service stations." Many short trips could be walked, biked or bussed. Those kinds of trips, which he still does every day, keep him grounded, healthy and balanced.

I thought of Hoelting's words last week as I contemplated the current Gulf of Mexico deep-water oil spill/blowout, a depressing catastrophe with no solution in sight. Maybe I can't stanch the gusher, but I could walk to the grocery store next time I need a banana. So much healthier than pulling further into the foxhole, waiting for someone else to come up with a solution.

Mary Ann Gwinn
E-Mail: mgwinn@seattletimes.com

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