Category Archives: Greenways

Year of the Bird

Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

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I awoke before dawn in our tent listening to the music of the birds.  Owls were hooting in the dark, and coyotes yipped and howled.  The cranes roosting in the playa waters were noisy most of night. I bundled up and opened the tent flap.  It was freezing outside.  Stars were shining across the sky and a faint band of white light was glowing on the eastern horizon.  I lit the stove and heated water.  I looked around.  The backbone of the milky way arched overhead, the dark shapes of the mountains skylighted by dawn.  I poured the water over the coffee, cradled the cup, and sipped.  It was a great day for birding at Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area in Arizona.

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Whitewater Draw is a playa and wetlands in the Sulphur Springs Valley.  It was purchased by Arizona in 1997 to provide habitat for the cranes and other wildlife.  The cranes like to rest in the shallow waters at night, protected from bobcats and coyotes.  They fly out every morning to feed in the fields on bits of grain and corn that were left over from harvest season.

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Whitewater Draw has camping, which makes it easy to be out at the edges of the day when the birds are flying in and out.  Every morning and evening we walked on the pathways and decks with views of the playa.  At nighttime the stars reflected in the calm waters.  We met some great people.  One retired couple joked they had run away from their home in Alabama, and were taking their sweet time exploring the Southwest U.S.  Their plan was to not have a plan, just explore.  Another couple was younger and were taking a year off to travel.  Conversation flowed cheerily as we watched the birds glide, overlooking the watery playa and expansive valley and mountains beyond.  The small crowd of people Whitewater attracts is friendly and easy going.  Everyone was attuned to the language of the landscape, the beauty of the surroundings.

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I came home with questions to research.  I was excited to learn that 2018 is being celebrated as “the year of the bird” by the National Audubon Society, National Geographic, BirdLife International, and Cornell Lab of Ornithology.  It’s the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which has played a critical role in conservation of biodiversity.  The Sulphur Springs Valley is a good example of balancing human activities such as agriculture and conservation, and ecological stewardship, partnerships made to last.  It was good to see these birds considered, admired, and cared for.  I certainly learned a lot from them while I was there.

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If you take care of birds, you take care of most of the environmental problems in the world.  –Thomas Lovejoy, Biologist and Godfather of Biodiversity

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Resources and Credits (and cycling info.):
Thank you Mai at Sansai Studio for these wonderful photographs!  You can check out more of Mai’s work at her Instagram site:  https://sansai.photoshelter.com/instagram

The Whitewater Draw live, streaming crane cam!  https://www.azgfd.com/wildlife/viewing/webcamlist/sandhillcrane/cranecam/

The Year of the Bird website:  https://www.nationalgeographic.org/projects/year-of-the-bird/

We brought our bicycles with us.  What a way to experience the landscape! I plan on blogging about the riding there, but for now, here are maps, data, and pics from those rides, via Strava.
https://www.strava.com/activities/1353895700
https://www.strava.com/activities/1352328961

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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

Family cycling, an outdoor adventure

Visit Utah released this promotional video of a family touring the US Bicycle Route System across Utah.  Loving the concept of experiencing the Southwest in this way.  Cycling gets people that authentic experience we are craving, and is central for developing sustainable tourism.

Resources:
Read the companion article on Visit Utah:
https://www.visitutah.com/articles/utah-at-15-mph/

Find out more on the US Bicycle Route System from Adventure Cycling:
https://www.adventurecycling.org/routes-and-maps/us-bicycle-route-system/

Read about our 25 scenic byways in New Mexico:
https://www.newmexico.org/things-to-do/scenic-byways/

People shining in the streets

There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.  —Thomas Merton on an ordinary day in Louisville, KY

Freedom in a free society is supposed to be for all. Therefore, freedom rules out imposing on the freedom of others. You are free to walk down the street, but not to keep others from doing so. –George Lakoff, “Why Hate Speech is Not Free Speech

One of the most beautiful experiences in any city is the street scene, with all kinds of people moving around.  When we are missing that, we lose a certain sense of community.  That’s why it is so essential to design our streets around a social operating concept.  Streets can imbue human beings with a sense of dignity.  They are one of our most interactive spaces.

When UNM President Chaouki Abdallah first visited Albuquerque, he thought “it looked like a Third World Country”.  Then he woke up the second day, saw the mountains, and thought “this could work”.  As we reimagine our city, remember the environment we build is human habit, natural habitat, we live here.  And our streetscapes are a product of our collective imagination.

When people are walking and cycling about, shining in our streets, a sense of buoyancy abounds.  It’s uplifting to all of us, our common humanity.  Let’s encourage more of that with planning and designs.  And make sure we integrate everything we need to live with conviviality, including all of nature.  Our streets help us become native to place.  We can feel at home here. Imagine living happily and healthily on safe and peaceful streets, for us, and for our children.

Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race.  — H.G. Wells

References:
UNM President on an unlikely journeyhttps://www.abqjournal.com/1012754/journey-4.html

Why Cycle? Because it works!

Cycling in Japan is more about getting the groceries than getting fit.  –Byron Kidd, tokyobybike.com

Anytime we travel or do something out of the ordinary, it gives us a special perspective on our daily lives.  That was certainly the case when I traveled to Japan.  A few things dawned on me that are working in Japan to create a robust walking and cycling culture.  It’s not perfect, but I learned a lot there.  Here are ten reasons why walking and cycling are thriving in Japan.

1. Everyone walks and cycles.  It is a daily necessity, and expected.  It’s the way people go shopping, and to work and school.  It’s the way people access open space, get fresh air, exercise, and spend time outside together.  Walking and cycling are routine, everyday habits.  Errands and exercise flow together.

Seniors ride their bikes to Thai Chi practice in the park

2. Automobile drivers are disciplined, careful and attentive.  Drivers expect to see people on streets and crossing at intersections, and are prepared to yield to slower traffic ahead and when turning.   Drivers reliably use blinkers to communicate intentions.  Driver education and training is extensive and the responsibility of driving is taken seriously and respected.

3. Communities are planned as villages, and are oriented around train stations.  Businesses cluster around the train station, creating a village center.  People live within a short walk or bike from the village center and walking and cycling are the easiest, cheapest, most convenient way of getting to where you want to go, and the best way to access shopping and services.

4. Japan’s train system is awesome.  You really don’t need a car because it makes more sense to take the train.  Trains are accurate, frequent, fast, smooth and safe.  Quality transit makes good community planning a lot easier, and is a building block for healthy, efficient and sustainable transportation.  You have freedom to read, relax, talk or meditate on the train.

5.  Japan has the lowest car usage rate of any of the G8 countries.  This means roads are smaller.  Smaller roads necessitate lower speeds.  Lower speeds for cars means calmer streets for walking, cycling.  Reduced speed differentials increases safety and comfort.  Smaller roads are easier to cross, cycle on, and navigate, and do business along, and it feels like healthier human habitat.

6. Compact, dense development makes destinations closer.  Japan is more careful about space efficiency because space is precious.  With denser building, more destinations are within easy reach by walking and cycling.  Compact, dense development makes walking and cycling very useful, as well as super interesting.  Cars are designed to be space efficient, as well, and the nimbleness of walking and cycling is prized.

7. Japan has a great cycling culture naturally.  From school children to elderly, business people to homemakers, everybody cycles.  It’s just normal.  People cycle in their day clothes, and functional athletic gear, too.  Whatever is fitting.  Towns and businesses serve cyclists by making parking convenient and easy because it makes rational sense and people use bikes for everything.

8.  People walk everywhere, and people are used to sharing space.  Cycling benefits from a strong walking culture.  It means drivers are accustomed to the presence of people on the streets, are on the lookout, and patient to share.  Walking is the foundation of the transportation system in Japan, and it anchors the streets in a culture of sharing.  People have priority.

9. Safety and security is high.  Bicycles are usually parked with a simple lock immobilizing the rear tire.  Streets are family space, and feel inhabited.  Public spaces are clean, organized, cared for and well-tended.  The architecture, design and the way things fit together is beautiful.  There is a strong sense of social responsibility, order, respect and dignity in Japan.  It feels neat and safe.

10.  Walking and cycling is easy, convenient, and effective.  The Japanese take advantage of the most basic forms of transportation by using them as organizing principles and practical tools for daily living, including making people healthier, happier and connected to the community where they live.

Vitamin N for Resiliency

“And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.” –Hart Crane, To Brooklyn Bridge

One of the nice things about nature is it does not judge, it just is.  It’s always accepting.  No wonder I’ve heard so many friends share their experiences retreating into beloved landscapes.   When we immerse ourselves in a rich landscape and leave behind our tightly spun agendas, we are easily rejuvenated with a tranquil sense of unity, enfolded by the land.  It gets in our blood.

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For Veterans Day Mai and I traveled to the Bosque del Apache.  I cycled the first 60 miles where the high plains meet the Manzano mountains on NM 337 (aka South 14) and NM 55.  We met in Mountainair then hiked around Gran Quivara, a pueblo and Spanish ruin, before heading onward to see the Cranes and all wildlife at the Bosque.  It was a long, slow, inkening twilight.

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You can make out a few birds in these photos, but my cell phone camera is no match for the vivacious display of avian life there.  Other visitors, however, had ample equipment to capture the show.  There used to be Whooping Cranes, I’m told, at Bosque, but mostly Sandhills now.

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All the divisions in my mind, different disciplines, schools of thought, melted away with the press of the fiery Southwestern sun, raying across the abyss.  One web of life on this clear blue planet, on the shores of an infinite unknown.  This humble sense of belonging is comfort.

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When ecologists and planners unite, we come closer to making a human universe appropriate and fitting to the greater ecosystems we depend on.  There’s a conference in May blending transportation planning and design with ecological perspectives.  The promo video linked below includes awesome footage of wildlife crossings.  Also check out Wouldn’t it be better if planners and ecologists talked to each more? from the Nature of Cities series.  By some estimates 60% of our cities have yet to be built.  It is probably a good idea from all perspectives–strategic investment, risk management, business forecasting, basic livability–to work with the ecosystem inheritance and mimic the functions to create a greater symbiosis with our works and nature.  Then our cities may sustain longer as living places, as we dream deeper into nature.

Resources:
Check out the EcoTransportation conference here:
http://www.icoet.net/ICOET_2017/abstracts.asp
You can subscribe to the Nature of Cities for free.  http://www.thenatureofcities.com/
Richard Louv, John Jarvis, and Robert Zarr discuss the importance of kids In nature on the Diane Rehm Show .  Louv coined “Vitamin N”.  “Kids love to explore.”  Dr. Zarr says nature heals.
check out The Every Kid in a Park initiative by NPS, connecting youth with nature.

The Many Faces of Cycling, Most Beautiful Ones

I came home from a Saturday morning ride with friends, ate lunch, started reading and came across this.  An article called Pimp My Bike: Detroit’s Custom Cycles in Pictures in The Guardian.  Here are a few pictures from the article.  Photos are credited to Nick Van Mead, from the article.

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Ashia, waving in the photo above, is quoted in the article saying she feels safer with groups, “It’s positive — and God Knows in Detroit, we need positive things like this.”

This blog is usually original posts, but obviously the Slow Roll movement in Detroit merits our attention.  They are innovating and reaching out to expand the conversation about our public roads, our cities and neighborhoods, economic renewal, social wellness, all propelled by bicycling.  This movement is bigger than any one group, in fact, it’s a global movement.

“It makes the city far more human…they have conversations, make eye contact…the people are friendlier” than they were before all these rides started, says Todd Scott of the Detroit Greenways Coalition (quoted from the article).  And my goodness, don’t we all need friends.

Resources/Credits–
Go read the article on The Guardian, it conveys the beautiful essence–  https://www.theguardian.com/cities/gallery/2016/nov/02/pimp-my-bike-detroit-custom-cycles-slow-ride-in-pictures
Photo Credits to Nick Van Mead
I’ve blogged about Slow Roll before.  Let’s be cities of friendly bicyclists.
Check out my post Green Infused Classic Cars for another innovator, a very famous one.
And more landmark journalism by Nick Van Mead and The Guardian–
America’s Road Trip: Will the US Ever Kick the Car Habit