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A walker's pilgrimage for simplicity


© St. Petersburg Times, published July 30, 2000

where we ought to be.

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Scott Savage, a Quaker and editor of Plain magazine, decides to seal his commitment to the plain life by giving up his driver's license. He makes a symbolic walk of 120 miles from his home in Barnesville, Ohio, to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles in Columbus where he asks to have his license revoked. This confuses the clerk who has to ask for help with his unusual request.

Savage and his wife, Mary Ann, were self-admitted DINKs -- Double Income No Kids. They were also social activists, pacifists and vegetarians. Both worked in libraries and shared an unhappiness with modern American culture.

Now as he journeys through A Plain Life: Walking My Belief (Ballantine, $22) Savage tells of their lifestyle change.

"We . . . didn't like the sheer physical ugliness of modern life," he writes. "We both valued old: old houses, old forests, old neighborhoods, old people." After careful study, they adopted the Quaker faith and lifestyle. They now live a simpler life and raise a family in Barnesville. They have no electricity and grow their own food.

As he walks the 120 miles in six days, Savage ruminates on his life. He reads from the Sermon on the Mount, using his driver's license as a bookmark, and memorizes one of the Beatitudes each day.

The first day out, he gets lost, stumbles on a rocky bank near the road and hurts his knee. But he continues, aided by a wooden walking staff which he had cut from a buckeye tree before leaving. The night is spent in a motel where he covers the television set with the bedspread. He does not want to be reminded of modern technology. In the morning, he buys a banana and a muffin for breakfast and continues.

His route is U.S. 40 which is known as the National Road (it begins in Atlantic City, N.J., and ends at 10th Street in San Francisco). Savage thinks of early American history and remembers that while early settlers were intent on expansion, the Quakers settled and lived peacefully among the native people, purchasing land at fair prices and honoring their treaties.

On the third day, walking close to the highway, he thinks how violent cars are when experienced from the outside. Suffering pain from his earlier stumble and injury, it occurs to him that he's never going to finish this trip on his own. He recites the first two Beatitudes, prays for help and suddenly his leg pain disappears. He thinks this is a Jimmy Swaggart kind of thing, maybe he's going crazy, but thanks God and continues, still a little stiff but with a new gait.

Savage often writes of his horse, Ned, who is already his only form of transportation. Ned, who bolts at anything on the road, does not seem to have a serene view of life. Savage calls the unreliable animal "object phobic."

Savage telephones his wife when at motels and thinks of her and their children and their daily songs and silent worship. Without television, the children have more time for family games and stories.

Traveling in "The Fourth Month" as the Quakers refer to April, he experiences cold weather and snow. He thinks of the extremes to which he has gone to live a simple life. For instance, he types on a Royal manual typewriter and hand feeds paper into a 100-year-old press to publish his magazine.

Although their wedding took place with a preacher, he and Mary Ann were "married before God and 35 witnesses but did not invite the U.S. government as guests." They have no marriage license. When his first child was born, she received a Social Security number, but with the other two, he refused. Their births are non-existent to the government and as a consequence, he cannot claim them as dependents and receives no tax deduction for them.

Finally, Savage reaches Columbus and walks into the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. His driver's license -- his "digital identity" -- relinquished, he gets on a bus and is home in two hours.

Savage writes calmly and honestly of his pilgrimage. He has made his existential choices and lives with them. His lifestyle is not easy but makes us think about what things are important in our life journeys and what choices we have.

Niela Eliason is a writer who lives in St. Petersburg.

A PLAIN LIFE: Walking My Belief by Scott Savage (Ballantine, $22)

'Tis the gift to be simple

'tis the gift to be free

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