Category Archives: design

Finding our way home

“What is it that awakens in my soul when I walk in the desert, when I catch the scent of rain, when I see the sun and moon rise and set on all the colors of the earth, when I approach the heart of wilderness?  What is it that stirs within me when I enter upon sacred ground?  For indeed something does move and enliven me in my spirit, something that defines my very being in the world.  I realize my humanity in proportion as I perceive my reflection in the landscape that enfolds me.”  –N. Scott Momaday, Testimony, 1996.

Following Mai up the Spruce Spring trail in the Manzanos

We’ve had a good series of adventures since I last wrote.  I’ve been to the Iron Horse Bicycling Classic in Durango, and enjoyed bike rides and walks with Mai in sweet places.  So far as figuring out where home is, I think that is a trick question.  I feel at home everywhere I am.

Mai cycling near Lemon Reservoir

Feeling at home is a matter of paying attention.  When we tune in we sense it.  In Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, she says “the reward for attention is always healing.”

Following my teammate around the Sandia Mountains

roses in front of the Hillerman Library

A cactus flowering on top of the Manzano Mountains!

Cameron goes on to say “your own healing is the greatest message of hope for others.”  This seems to me true.  And it a whole lot easier than trying to fix problems we don’t control.

Enjoying a slow roll up the mountain on the back road tucked away behind Placitas

Cooling off after the Ironhorse in Silverton

Hidden waters in the canyons of the San Juan Mountains

I enjoyed being in Durango, but it was also nice coming back to Albuquerque.  There is a lot of nature in this place, and we do well to experience it, to go with the flow.  It is ironic that people need nature to recharge and recover, but sometimes the way we build up the environment covers up this healing power.  It seems like where we need that the most is where all the people are (or most people, and now across the world, over 50% of people live in cities, and that proportion is growing).  Sometimes I feel alienated from humaneness in parts of the city, and that causes pain.  Julia Cameron wrote “pain is what it took to teach me to pay attention”.  That is an important lesson.  Building places, working with nature, so that we feel connected to all of life feels a whole lot better, and it’s worth the effort.  When people feel a sense of adventure in routine activities, enjoying simple things like a walk or bike ride, we are living well.

On most road rides I meet people

Sometimes the beauty in the mountains helps us get back on the right path and reminds us life is an adventure

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“We must go alone.  I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.”  –RW Emerson, Self Reliance

“The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lessons of worship.” RW Emerson, Nature

One of the truest aspects of cycling is the way it connects us to the soil again and helps us put down roots in the places where we are growing our lives.  Cycling helps us find our way home. It’s a technology that helps us notice when we are happy, and shows us how simple the joys in life can be, how direct and integral the connections between the land, water, air, all of nature, the whole community are to sensing a greater awareness of who we are and what we can be.

I think with all the fancy technology we have there is a tendency for arrogance, for pretending we know more about life than anyone else.  But as Kurt Vonnegut points out in his talk called the Shape of Stories, we really don’t know anything more about the central mysteries of life than before.  This is what Emerson referred to as the equivalency of all times.  There is an equality inherent throughout humanity.  It is this humility and understanding our limits that keep us innovating at our best, with the aim of enjoying life on the only home we know, planet Earth.

“I have tried to bring scientific thinking to literary criticism and there’s been very little gratitude for this.”  –Kurt Vonnegut, Shape of Stories

And so on this Earth Day, I took a ride on lunch break.  The butterflies are flying about in the winds, caterpillars are crawling on the ground and on flowerstalks, and the hummingbirds are arriving in town.  It is just another day on this earth like any other day, which means today is magnificent, special and holds the complete history of time, all of the present, and the seeds of the future.  It’s a great day.  A nice day to take a stroll or a bike ride, and keep finding our way.

“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by nonviolent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence…It destroys his own inner capacity for peace.  It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”  –Thomas Merton quoted in Rick Bass, The Blood Root of Art

References:

Kurt Vonnegut’s talk Shape of Stories can be viewed on YouTube here since you probably can’t listen/watch it while “reading” this blog post and listening to Clapton and Winwood playing, but it is worth a view, as Vonnegut can tell a good story about storytelling.

Why cycling is a symbol for uplifting all of humankind:
https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2018/04/14/cycling-and-walking-to-get-our-bearings/

The Thomas Merton quote, via Rick Bass, appears in Numbers and Nerves: Information, Emotion, and Meaning in a World of Data edited by Scott Slovic and Paul Slovic

“Spring Sunlight” from Sansai Studios

Bird flight

Mai and I started our year off right, making our first trip together in 2019 to the Bosque del Apache.  I hear the doves singing right outside my window at the moment, but at this National Wildlife Refuge nature is amazingly dense.  You sense the fabric  of life holding the world together.  I hope you enjoy these photos.  I’ve added a few words to guide you.  And if you wish to listen, Andrew York’s song Centerpeace below is a beautiful companion.  He’s interviewed in this video after he plays the song, and York says about his inpsiration: “Everything…Nature, primarily, seeing the patterns, and order, and beauty in nature, the organic quality the natural world has to offer, helps me to form my music…”

Photographers awaiting sunrise. Wildlife photography teaches patience, taking our time

When the Snow Geese decide to circulate, it is a an explosion of noise and color, uplifting for our hearts and minds

After flying out of the their roosts in the morning, birds graze together in the fields

Since moving to Albuquerque in 2014, we’ve been exploring the birds and their habitat.  For this trip we did an overnighter.  Saturday we watched the sunset and transition from day to night. We had a late dinner in Socorro, and spent the night at Days Inn.  We awoke at 4am the next day and left before sunrise to see the birds awakening.  It was gorgeous.

Synching up with nature is really tuning in to our own rhythms.  After it was almost totally dark, Mai spotted this owl in the top of the tree.  We stopped to watch.  Another owl soared across the sky and joined the first owl on the tree top.  What fliers!  The hooting was glorious.

The next day we took a drive around the refuge after the morning flyout.  We had planned on leaving after sunrise, but time flew by and we spent the whole morning there, then ate lunch at the San Antonio Crane restaurant.  Completely full, we changed our plans, canceling our trip to the hot springs.  We are delighted to be feeling more at home in New Mexico, and deepening our understanding of where we live.  My, how nature surprises us if we are open to all it.

We saw tons of wildlife, including a cute pair of Road Runners, our State bird

Last time we saw Javelina was down at Big Bend camping along the Rio Grande.  We saw them here again

Talking to fellow wildlife watchers, we learned more about being observant.  There are many trails there to walk and explore.  We can’t wait to go back and discover more.

Resources:

Check out Sansai Studio’s video of Snow Geese circulating:

Waterworks in Albuquerque

If I had sought counseling, I might have become a more mature, emotionally well-adjusted human being.  But I preferred becoming a writer.  —Viet Thanh Nguyen, “Don’t Call Me a Genius”, New York Times, April 14, 2018

I read a Robert Frost poem this morning, and it reminded me of my bicycle rides in Albuquerque.  The North Diversion Channel multi-use trail is a main cycling connection across town.  It runs along a big concrete ditch that’s been engineered to control the water shed from the Sandia Mountains.   Sometimes I close my eyes and try to imagine what this landscape looked like before we built up this city.  Water, which is often used by poets as a metaphor for memory and justice, is a primary shaping force in the landscape.  Water has a voice.

The situation, now and in the past, is that the minority and marginalized communities of this or any other country are often not voiceless.  They’re simply not heard.  –Viet Thanh Nguyen, NYTimes

On Saturday’s ride I made a point to stop by the Mill Pond Refuge at the Sawmill Community Land Trust.  Keshet, a local dance company, performed a water dance there at 2pm.  It was part of the 3rd biannual National Water Dance, where communities renew their connections to the life giving world of water.  In the arid Southwest, during this drought, it was especially poignant.  The Sawmill location represents our community’s changing relationship with water.  Below is the poem from Robert Frost, and then a few photos from the Water Dance that I saw Saturday.

A Brook in the City, by Robert Frost

The farmhouse lingers, though averse to square
With the new city street it has to wear
A number in.  But what about the brook
That held the house as in an elbow-crook?
I ask as one who knew the brook, its strength
And impulse, having dipped a finger length
And made it leap my knuckle, having tossed
A flower to try its currents where they crossed.
The meadow grass could be cemented down
From growing under pavements of a town;
The apple trees be sent to hearthstone flame.
Is water wood to serve a brook the same?
How else dispose of an immortal force
No longer needed? Staunch it at its source
With cinder loads dumped down? The brook was thrown
Deep in a sewer dungeon under stone
In fetid darkness still to live and run–
And all for nothing it had ever done,
Except forget to go in fear perhaps.
No one would know except for ancient maps
That such a brook ran water.  But I wonder
If from its being kept forever under,
The thoughts may not have risen that so keep
This new-built city from both work and sleep.
–1923

References:

http://keshetarts.org  “Founded in 1996, Keshet is an Albuquerque-based nonprofit which exists to inspire and unite community by fostering unlimited possibilities through dance, mentorship and a creative space for the arts. Uniting the arts, the artist and the audience, Keshet invites you to engage, experience and be inspired through bold explorations of movement and celebrations of community.”

Keshet’s Water Dance:  http://keshetarts.org/join-national-water-dance-2018_dancing-for-water-in-nm/

The beautiful necessity of cycling

…human inventions are magical in that they give life to what heretofore had no existence. Our good working ideas have the capacity to direct our lives in a manner indistinguishable from any other reality.  —Cormac McCarthy, “Cormac McCarthy Returns to the Kekulé Problem” in Nautilus

The invention of cycling is a remarkable achievement.  Along with walking, cycling epitomizes sustainable transportation.  Human beings are designed to move under our own power. Walking is the most basic transportation.  A bicycle is the most basic vehicle.  By designing our cities and streets around the concept of serving walking and cycling well, we improve all types of human mobility. It is the long-term solution to our current transportation challenges.

This song by Rush, Subdivisions, reminds me of the world I grew up in.  It sometimes felt alien, partitioned, and anonymous spending so much time in automobiles.  A new degree of culture is emerging that commands our respect for the inalienable freedoms of human movement.  The culture that embraces an array of transportation opportunities dramatically improves our travel safety, and revs up our lives and economy.  Multimodal transportation–serving all travel modes–is the new helm.  This framework brings health, sustainability, and builds community.  It’s a saner world, one where we are not incessantly rushing, but spending time doing things that truly bring us joy, and listening more to what our bodies have to tell us.

An article in The Guardian today mentions “vehicles are now America’s biggest CO2 source”.  It discusses reducing emissions and improving efficiency, but not increasing walking and cycling.  It’s not an either/or proposition, it is about viewing walking and cycling as priorities, absolute necessities, basic public goods.  Without serving those choices, we are left with a conundrum.  We’ve learned structuring cities and streets around cars reduces choices.  Walking and cycling make healthier, happier people, and better places.  They’re good choices.  Everyone yearns for health, happiness and freedom.  Elevating the idea that streets are for people makes many transportation problems disappear, and creates a system that matches our human potential.

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We need to get more people experiencing cycling to open minds.  It is a key technology for sustainable development.  Cycling aligns with the beautiful necessity of our human nature.  We are an animal designed to move with our legs.  The bicycle unites that reality with an ingenious tool.  Cycling is magical, like having wings or discovering new superpowers.  It changes the way we experience and perceive the world. Cycling joins the power of wheeled locomotion with the sensitivities and keen pleasures of being human.  By designing our streets to serve walking and cycling first, we’ll give rise to a new form of built-environment that connects us through our activities and makes our spirits soar higher.  Once we obey the concept of designing cities for wellness, our culture can expand in new directions, giving our dreams real leg power.

Akemashite omedetō gozaimasu

明けましておめでとうございます

Happy New Year!

Homecoming with the birds

The Sandhill Cranes and other birds have returned to the Bosque del Apache for winter again. Visiting them there is amazing beyond imagination.  When we inhabit that place with them we are swept into the great sea of life.  One small moment in time becomes eternal.  Nature’s grace wins us over.  The first thing we saw was a huge flock of snow geese fly out from a shallow lake.

The geese are plentiful, but the cranes’s elegance stands out.  They seem to be messengers of peace, gliding elegantly in the sky.  We sense their grace, but there is something deeper here that flows into our being and integrates with our identity, a knowledge that lives in this place.

The way of the cranes mirrors our culture.  They sing, dance, play, and bond as a family unit.  But we have something different in terms of our curiosity.  We are looking for more to make our spirits soar.  By observing the cranes and appreciating this place, we receive an influx of nature’s strength, even more than we knew to look for.  With love and respect we belong here.

Resources–for more great photos, visit Mai’s instragram, and/or her website:
https://www.instagram.com/sansaistudio/
https://sansai.photoshelter.com

We also rode bikes there.  Check it out on Strava!
https://www.strava.com/activities/1301356130

Changing Perceptions of Our Streets

I found a good example of model language for a community wide vision for complete streets from Change Lab Solutions, “law and policy innovation for the common good”.   We are in the public comment phase now for the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Comprehensive Planning and Zoning update process.  Now is a good time to chime in.  Here’s an example of what kinds of changes citizens can ask for pertaining to the way we structure our city going forward:

Transportation Vision Statement: The community of Albuquerque envisions a transportation system that encourages healthy, active living, promotes transportation options and independent mobility, increases community safety and access to healthy food, reduces environmental impact, mitigates climate change, and supports greater social interaction and community identity by providing safe and convenient travel along and across streets through a comprehensive, integrated transportation network for pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation riders and drivers, push scooters and skateboarders, and people of all ages and abilities, including children, youth, families, older adults, and individuals with disabilities.

The technical know how for designing complete streets is here.  We know how to empower the movement of people beyond private automobiles.  Here’s a good example of how we do that at a detailed level, from intersection design to lane widths and signal timing:
http://www.ite.org/css/online/DWUT10.html

We do that, we might be able to improve healthspan, a concept that combines longevity with quality of life.  Doug Seals is doing a talk at CU, Boulder on healthspan.   My work focuses on this intersection of health, transportation, and the opportunities to make improvements.  Supporting health in the environment and people is a mutual goal that takes care of our greatest economic assets, a healthy planet and a healthy happy empowered humankind.

piñon stand