Monthly Archives: April 2017

Stepping into the Ojito wilds

Quantum physicists are starting to look at consciousness as a force of nature, like gravity.  –Joe Hutto, in “A Walk On The Wild Side”, The Sun Magazine, May 2017

We know little about where we live.  On Sunday Mai and I set out to learn more.  We drove about an hour northwest of Albuquerque for a walk in the Ojito Wilderness.

We barely saw anything until we parked and started walking.  Then it was like a whole new world opening up.  Around every turn of the trail nature’s forms surprised us.

A walk into a landscape like this ignites one’s curiosity.  Here the Colorado Plateau meets the Rio Grande Rift Valley, and the Southern Rockies.  A rich transition zone with deep history.

It is extraordinary to see the tales told in landscape.  The volcanic features, the sedimentary history, culture remnants.  We barely touched the surface of the poetic expressions here.

The biological mix was impressive.  Sagebrush and ponderosa pine meet up with high desert plants in Ojito.  So much variety bursting with Spring colors.

The sense of time is pretty remarkable.  A cultural crossroads.  The wildlife and landscape has persevered and developed remarkable resiliency.

It seems like a vast task to understand this place.  But taking a walk coaxed us along. We became better observers, little by little, taking time to look around.  Curiosity has its rewards.

Experiencing the exquisite and delicate nature of Ojito was an awakening.  Local understanding grants us important perspectives on becoming better citizens and global stewards.  Learning to appreciate where we live flows into developing a higher regard for other places like this one.

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Quiet energy

The standard of beauty is the entire circuit of natural forms, the totality of nature…nothing is quite beautiful alone…but beautiful in the whole.  A single object is only so far beautiful as it suggests this universal grace.  —Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

On Saturday Mai and I headed south to two beautiful places–Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, and Quebradas backcountry byway.  The roads at Bosque del Apache are open to cycling this time of year, when the Sandhill Cranes are in their Arctic habitat.  The Bosque’s wetlands–engineered in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps to mimic naturally occurring flood plains, and incorporated in 1939 by Roosevelt as part of the national system of lands dedicated to wildlife–nurture wildlife year round, and are surging with Spring runoff.  We saw Snowy egrets, Great egrets, a wild turkey, ducks, and many smaller birds.  With the new greens leafing out and wildflowers shooting up, it is serene and spectacular this time of year.

Bicycles are a perfect vehicle for exploring the refuge.  We stopped often to get a closer look and listen.  Details of the landscape appear and register with us the more time we spend there.  Gliding by bicycle, wide open to the world, with the warm sun caressing our skin, is sensational.

We came home through Quebradas, and stopped often to walk.  Flowers are opening, intricately timed for pollinators.  The Ocotillos are not quite out, still waiting for hummingbirds.  But the Creosote, Scarlet Beehive Cactus, yuccas, agaves, Indigobush, Lechuguillas and more are setting the desert afire in color this Spring, a time of quiet anticipation and emerging possibilities.

It’s amazing to be outside and see how it all fits together, and experience nature flowing into our lives.  These places are so healing.  Our civilization’s future depends on better including nature when designing places for people.  Each is a part of each, and our species requires great habitat too, like all forms of life on earth.  If our civilization–the things we do, build and make– invests more in ecosystem services, natural capital, and wildlife, that’s an indicator of progress.

Travels in Japan

Japan has a well-tempered travel culture, thank goodness, because tourism is soaring.  Travel elicits curiosity and wonder, and emphasizes our mutual interdependence.  If we can treat everyone equally in public travel spaces, and honor each person’s value and dignity, we are on our way to a better quality of life and facilitating stronger global citizenship.  Japan has a good blueprint for treating everyone like we deserve to be treated, like we’re one big human family.

Osaka has amazing shopping districts, with streets made for walking

Kagoshima in Kyushu has bike share and street greening initiatives

Japan’s traffic system is one of the safer systems in the world.  The photo below shows a few reasons why.  The intersection has huge crosswalks, and the stop bar on the street lane is way behind the crosswalk.  This creates space for pedestrians.  There is no left turn on red in Japan (the U.S.A.’s equivalent of right turn on red), and that reduces possibility for conflict and eases pressure on people walking.  The sight lines at this intersection are open, too, so there is good visibility for all users.  The light gives a pedestrian signal automatically, so no one has to push a button.  The speed limits are also very low (30-40 kph, or 18-25 mph) to increase safety for all.

the van in this photo is a driving school van. Driver training is very intensive in Japan!

Safe streets and lots of good transportation choices makes it easy to relax and access all the good amenities a given place has to offer.  In the the shopping district in Komyoike, where Mai’s parents live, we encountered this country western line dancing gig.  It was cool, upbeat, friendly.

I really love the contrasts and continuity in Japan between historical and present culture.  We went to an Ikebana (art of flower arranging) exhibition in downtown Osaka, and saw this shrine on a rooftop pictured in the photo above.  The photo below is of Osaka’s famous walking mall.

In Japan people are walking everywhere so you get used to it.  Crosswalks, like the one below in Komyoike, are clearly marked and signed.  And the neighborhoods in the newer suburbs have dedicated pathways, mostly off street, to connect to markets, work, parks, schools, and transit.

It’s not all about infrastructure for sure.  Many towns and streets were laid out and built a long time ago, and the car was introduced later.  This is where manners and respect is even more important.  The street pictured below is definitely a “yield street”.  I bicycled this street several times.  There is a transit stop on the left.    People get off the bus and walk on the street.  Bicycles and cars yield to pedestrians and share the road.  There are also other hazards you can see, like open drainage and telephone poles on the side of the road.  These close quarters cultivate cautious users and a culture of sharing!  Courtesy, respect and skills guard our dignity.  Japanese cars are smaller, and pedestrian safety measures are designed into the vehicle.

I experienced travel in Japan from many perspectives, by foot, bicycle, train, plane, automobile, bus, subway.  They were all valuable experiences.  Cycling was a special joy.  The vending machines in Japan are so well positioned, just where I needed them on excursions.  Some machines offer an hot espresso drink, hot or cold, at the base of a long mountain climb.  Thoughtful touches for travelers in Japan make it welcoming, rewarding and inspiring!

Celebrating Steve Tilford, a cyclist and communicator

It takes a certain amount of discipline to allow yourself not to get caught up in the adult world so much and see the world through the eyes of a child. When you do that, it makes life much more enjoyable.  —Steve Tilford, from his blog

The first NORBA Mtn Bike National Championships, 1983, Santa Barbara CA. left to right John Loomis, Steve Tilford, Steve Cook. From Ned Overend’s Facebook post on Steve’s passing

I was sad to hear Steve Tilford’s life tragically ended in a highway crash.  Steve was the first US National Mountain Bike (MTB) Champion, a seven time World Champion (5x MTB Masters, 2x Cyclocross Masters), and all around world class rider who shared his cycling experiences daily through is popular blog.  I didn’t know him personally, but his work has been a source of inspiration for me.   The photos in this post without captions are from my recent travels.  And here’s a song that has been playing in my head that seems appropriate for this moment.

Steve was an American original.  His beautiful writing shares the essence of a cycling life.  By reading Steve, I learned more how cycling grants a better life, and creates a better society and world.  His understanding was deep and rich, and he was honest and willing to talk about what he believed.  As a communicator he did naturally what George Lakoff teaches.  Steve framed facts in moral terms (Steve called out cheating cyclists, for instance) and activated our empathy and sense of social responsibility.  He showed us what cyclists go through, shared the cycling spirit, and made the community cycling generates more visible.  Steve evoked the joy, love and adventure cycling brings, and taught us how cycling connects us with our own humanity.

It’s the humanity that Steve communicated that stands out.  More than a bike racer, he was a good person.  Cycling is communicated as a way of life, of being, that brings fulfillment, meaning and discovery, if you’re not afraid to work hard, keep moving and get your hands dirty.   And what it brings, we see by reading Steve, are friendships and a sense of community that is absolutely incredible.  The prosperity cycling brings spills over into every life area.  Steve brought the great traditions of cycling forward, and adapted cycling to our times.  He had so much knowledge and understanding.  I’ll miss reading his blog and hearing about his racing experiences, and being surprised on which neighbor he was helping, what was happening in his hometown of Topeka, Kansas, the people he was meeting, and history and outlook of one of the world’s best cyclists and greatest teachers.  He blazed a new path and left us a trail.  Stevetilford.com

Mountain roads and sacred places

“A good scientist doesn’t have to be separate from the world to make sense of it.”  –Eva Saulitis, Every Reason to Stay in The Sun Magazine, January 2017

While cycling in Japan I discovered some amazing places, like the one pictured above.  I was on a super narrow road, a path really, and the light shining through the bamboo forest canopy and pooling on the ground startled me.  When I’m out cycling my work interests in geography, culture and sustainable transportation flow together with my sense of curiosity and wonder.

Sakai City Japan, the suburb of Osaka where Mai’s parents live, is the home of Shimano, a leader in cycling manufacturing.  Shimano adapted technologies from gun manufacturing in the 1800’s and applied them to cycling parts construction to meet demand for cycling.  Shimano has a bicycle museum in Sakai City.  I’ll have to visit!  This time around I was happy making my own firsthand experiences cycling in Sakai City and the adjacent mountains.  The museum looks very interesting, as they tie together the evolution of technology with the ongoing development of cycling culture.  Cycling is an epic story, a way to relax in nature, build community, be joyful and work towards big picture goals such as global sustainability.  The museum website is here.

Cycling works as a positive force promoting a sustainable, connected, healthy way of being.  When I met other cyclists on the road in Japan there were head bows, encouraging words, and looks of understanding, unspoken communication of shared joy.  The bicycle builds natural and inclusive culture amazingly well if people are open to it.  Cycling creates communion.

Japan’s beauty is awesome.  On this road pictured below climbing up into the Kongo Range, a creek and waterfalls were flowing beside the road.  The landscape’s sweet music.  It reminded me of the sound of meltwater running off the San Juan Mountains I hear in the Ironhorse in Durango, Colorado, which is upcoming this May.  Cycling keeps me motivated and looking ahead to the next sequence of discoveries and shared experiences.  What a joy.  Thank you!