Category Archives: humanities

The Way of the Cranes

“The office of the scholar is to cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing them facts amidst appearances.  He plies the slow, unhonored, and unpaid task of observation”.  –Ralph Waldo Emerson, American Scholar

When the Sandhill Cranes start circulating high in the New Mexico sky in March, it’s a sign they are beginning their journey northward to their summer grounds in the Northern Rockies.  We decided to follow them to one of their stopover points where they rest and feed along the way, in the San Luis Valley, where New Mexico meets Colorado.  This song reminds me a little bit of their journey, all the unknowns, as well as how our own trip through life seems sometimes.

On the way there just past San Antonio Mountain on highway 285 we saw Pronghorn (Mai’s photo above).  We rolled into the San Luis Valley in late afternoon and took the back roads towards Monte Vista.  Amish buggies spooled by, drivers guiding the horses with reins.  We arrived at the National Wildlife Refuge and explored.  At dusk we were by the barn near the entrance to the loop road, and I heard an owl hooting close by.  I couldn’t see it, but I kept walking towards the sound.  I found myself at the base of a power pole with a lamp on top.  The next hoot was right over me, and I looked up past the light and there was the owl, perched on the poletop.  He turned his head directly towards me with an intensity fired by the current of the universal being flowing right through him.  I felt like I was nothing but a distraction.  Soon after another owl hooted from far away, and the owl above me took off towards those sounds.  It was the beginning of his shift.  He was wired.  It was like me at the start of a bikeride.

The refuge stewards wetlands for the birds to rest at night.  During the day these flying dinosaurs roam the vast San Luis Valley picking up bits of food from cuttings left in the farmers’ fields, and other things Cranes like to eat.  We spent two days and nights in the high valley with the wildlife, making sure we were at the refuge during the most active times for animals, at sunset and sunrise.  Just the sheer vastness of space and clarity of air opens your senses and refreshes your mind.  It’s a special place I’ve described in more detail in previous writings.

The lifeblood of the valley and every place is the water.  If Cormac McCarthy’s epic Western novel, Blood Meridian, covers how not to open up the landscape–in my reading of the novel, the cycle of violence is so complete it comes round to annihilate the perpetrators of violence themselves–the Crane migration through the San Luis Valley tells of a better way.  They follow the life meridian, water and the abundance it creates, and nurture themselves on the way.  The Rio Grande starts up in the mountain chains above the valley and threads its way down through New Mexico, weaving together Mexico and Texas, flowing into the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico.

It is cold up there in Colorado, but it was so beautiful, Mai and I didn’t mind.  With the high altitude–the valley floor is over 2000 meters above sea level, and the mountains are twice as high–the sun is also powerful, and hits your skin with great intensity.  But it takes a while to warm up from the cold, vacuous nights!  Because of these harsh conditions, and geographic isolation, not that many people live there, and the night sky is premium.  I took a walk early one morning around the town of Monte Vista where we were staying to check on the stars, and the milky way and all the rest of the cosmos are still sprent across the blackness, envoys of beauty.

On our third day there I took a little bike ride before we headed out to follow the river back home.  I pedaled the farm roads that meander between the fields.  Nature is so powerful there, the water gushing, it invigorated my heart and mind.  Every day we have an opportunity to begin again, and it’s never too late to remember the old ways of navigating life on earth, and integrate them with all the information we observe with our new ways of seeing and communicating with each other.  Here in the San Luis Valley the snow keeps falling, the river is replenished, and each day nature instructs us.  When I listen I hear it, life emerging.  The talk of the Cranes reminds me of that, as they celebrate each day living their life, following the way.

home with nature right here in Albuquerque

Here are a few other posts I’ve made that include the San Luis Valley:
Pictures of Great Sand Dunes https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2016/10/16/cool-sunshine/
A description of valley geography https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2016/10/18/a-complete-world-great-sand-dunes-continued/ (this post is hyperlinked above)
A quick visit https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2016/08/19/cycling-up-americas-mountain/
And more posts on Cranes (with much better close-up pictures of Cranes!):
Whitewater Draw, AZ https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2018/01/17/the-year-of-the-bird/
Bosque del Apache, NM https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2017/12/07/homecoming-with-the-birds/
Bernardo, NM https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2019/01/21/bird-flight/
And Mai’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sansaistudio/

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Bike rise

I swing my right leg over the saddle, guide my shoe cleat into the pedal, and hear the affirmative click of the engagement reverberating through the quiet morning air.   I hold onto the handlebars and push on the pedal.  As I start rolling forward towards the daylight streaming in over the eastern mountains, I feel something like laughter bubbling up on the inside.  I’m headlong for adventure.   I’m off on a bike ride.

I feel the air current flowing over my wintry silhouette.  As my breathing naturally synchs with the circular motion of my legs, my consciousness moves from my head into my heart.  My heart is now guiding me and I think of the mantra chanted at the green tea ceremony in Santa Fe.  Open your heart.  Open your heart.  And there I am in the moment living a scene maybe no one sees, swooping through the currents of chilly winter air, the life inside of me shining out on this quaint street.  All seems quiet and mundane, just me and the bike rolling.

Bicycling on the campus of New Mexico’s flagship university in Albuquerque, art catches my eye

I didn’t intend it this way, but so far I’ve spent a lot of my life on the road.  Much of it moving so fast, boxed in behind windows, scenes flying by on a scale exceeding my human senses.  The bicycle has helped me relax more and enjoy being in the moment.  And much like William Safford’s poem Maybe Alone On My Bike suggests, on the bicycle, rider and poet become one.

my teammate Eli gliding up the mountain in Utah’s Crusher in the Tushars

When climbing mountains, we experience a suffering that is cathartic and brings us closer to an experience of ecstasy.  On grinds up long grades we sometimes feel bogged down.  Then we rise up out of the saddle, and call down to the engine room for more.  Sometimes we find something inside ourselves we didn’t know we had before.  Climbing mountains can be purifying in a way, as we learn to let go of negative emotions and overcome our self doubt. When I am suffering on a mountain climb I focus my mind on a singular thought:  Just keep going, keep my motor spooling, my chain connecting my drive to the wheel and to the ground.

Horses we see in Placitas remind us to be free

The bicycle shifts the normal feeling of separation we feel with motorized travel to a sensation that we are more a part of the landscape.  Cyclists are insiders looking out.  We meet nature on its own terms, with our own nature driving us forward.  Cycling connects us with life’s splendor.

On a group ride in Gutierrez Canyon in the East Mountains, which used to be a dirt road

It’s not that bicycling is the only way.  Technology has widened our perspective.  We can be immersed in the physical world, such as when we swim.  We can walk or bike and move at human scale over the earth’s surface.  Traveling in cars gives us the ability to see contrast at the landscape scale, big changes from river valleys, plains and mountains, which we traverse more easily and swiftly.  Air travel gives us a kind of patchwork quilt perspective.  Space travel has given us a picture of Earth’s uniqueness in the Universe.  These five perspectives are almost like a five storied pagoda.  But as Wendell Berry wrote, “we cannot live in machines”.  When I pedal my bicycle the chuckle of the chain tells me this is a happy median to be in.  The story of the bicycle is a machine metaphor I can live with, because we are the drivers.  I marvel at our ride.

Congratulations to the Semper Porro team for their teamwork in Valley of the Sun 2019. Poetry in motion!

When people come together on bike rides, we have an entirely different experience of the city

Sometimes bicycling is more fun than you would imagine possible

onward and upward

bike rise

References:
The William Stafford poem this blog entry is based on is reprinted in this post:
https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2018/09/03/all-of-us/

Wendell Berry’s quote is from his excellent The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, “The Use of Energy” chapter.  Full quote:  “The catch is that we cannot live in machines.  We can only live in the world, in life.  To live, our contact with the sources of life must remain direct: we must eat, drink, breathe, move, mate, etc.  When we let machines and machine skills obscure the values that represent these fundamental dependences, then we inevitably damage the world; we diminish life.  We begin to ‘prosper’ at the cost of a fundamental degradation.”

A professor who teaches literature introduced me to Safford and helped me engage with art. “…we do not use up the richness of our favorite texts, but rather interpret them more deeply with each encounter.”  –Scott Slovic, “Literature.”  Routledge Handbook of Religion and Ecology.  Eds. Willis Jenkins, Mary Evelyn Tucker, and John Grim. New York: Routledge, 2017.  p. 355-362.

Cycling and walking to get our bearings

Only by restoring the broken connections can we be healed.  Connection is health.  And what our society does its best to disguise from us is how ordinary, how commonly attainable, health is.  We lose our health–and create profitable diseases and dependences–by failing to see the direct connections between living and eating, eating and working, working and loving.  –Wendell Berry, “The Unsettling of America:  Culture and Agriculture”, 1977, Sierra Club Books

If I can bicycle there, then I can live there.  This was the mantra I came up with after my visit to Japan last year.  It was my sixth time in Japan, but the first time I bicycled.  What a difference it makes!  I felt at home on my bicycle.  Cycling has been an essential way for me to get my bearings in places since I took it up in earnest over twenty years ago.  But feeling at home in Japan was different since it had felt so foreign.  Cycling is an activity that creates connections.

Wes Jackson of the Land Institute said Wendell Berry’s book on culture and agriculture “launched the modern movement for sustainable agriculture”.  The cycling and walking movements today are doing the same thing for sustainable transportation.  There is tremendous enthusiasm in the cycling and walking communities.  We need to support that by setting up our cities and villages, and the roads connecting them together, to encourage walking and cycling.  This is what I call structural encouragement.

Structural encouragement means that we design for those travel modes.  It would naturally occur to people that we are not only welcome to bicycle and walk, but it is part of the shared experience of living in the places we make our homes.  The infrastructure we design connects people to our own capacity and powers for creating movement.  It makes a woven world.

Human movement is the most fundamental form of human action.  That is why we call “movements”–such as civil rights, women’s marches, conservation efforts–movements.  When we march together, it symbolized the power of collective community action.  We let our legs do the talking.  It is the language that preceded language.  An invisible thread connecting us.

Cycling and walking are not only a ways of moving forward, they are ways of living in place.  They allow us to tune in more to what is going on with our bodies, and the places we live in.  It is a way of paying attention.  Designing transportation systems that facilitate human powered transportation (clean, renewable, healthy, sustainable, fun human movement!) is a direct solution that creates benefits now, and future dividends.  It’s a transformative economic idea, one worth investing in.  Check out the nonprofit I founded to learn more how we can accomplish this change together and how you can help.  https://bikeinitiative.org

Man is made of the same atoms the world is, he shares the same impressions, predispositions, and destiny.  When his mind is illuminated, when his heart is kind, he throws himself joyfully into the sublime order, and does, with knowledge, what the stones do by structure.  –Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Worship” from the “Conduct of Life”.

Blog posts on my Japan trip 2017:

https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2017/03/25/cycling-japan-lights-my-fire/
https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/12/travels-in-japan/

Uniting the community, USA Cycling

I ride because it makes me happy.  –Stephen, from USA Cycling, on why he rides
I ride because it’s awesome.  –Emmett, who started riding at age 2 1/2 with his mom
I’ve built so many relationships on the bike…that’s a really sacred thing for me. –Kristin on cycling

USA Cycling has traditionally been a competition-focused organization, but now they’re expanding their membership inviting everyone to come “ride with us”.  With a USA Cycling Ride Membership, you get networked with an active and passionate cycling community, a “nation of cyclists at your side”.  I’m super stoked to see this, because my cycling life weaves together so many reasons to ride–affordable & healthy transport, making social connections, exploring nature, the love of cycling–and racing is a part of that larger whole.  I started cycling in 1997, but I didn’t join USA Cycling until 2003, when the Reno Wheelmen turned me on to cycle sport.

Now USA Cycling is embracing this convergence of the everyday part of cycling with the sporting aspect, recognizing that out of many cycling loves we are all one.  It’s a brilliant move because there are so many people who have the desire to bicycle for so many good reasons (health, wellness, independence, environment, community, social connections, accessibility).  Uniting the community of aspirational cyclists with experienced ones will quicken the acquisition of knowledge and skills, making cycling a habit in more people’s lives, and a growing part of our toolkit for making our communities 21st century successes.  The spirit of cycling is good for us, one that keeps growing in our lives the more we keep sharing it and enjoying it together.

Check out USA Cycling’s welcoming video, come ride with us–

“We ride for adventure. We ride for stories. We ride for fitness. For relationships and community. For rhythm. For competition and for our country. Whatever your reasons for riding, joining the USA Cycling community will help you to get the most from your riding and support the sport you love.”
Join USA Cycling

Go USA Cycling!  Keep on developing excellence!  And embracing everyone!

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

Time expansion

Time expands when I’m cycling.  I don’t know how it works, but riding is like a glimpse into the mystery of the universe.  And when I get home I have more of everything.  More time, more energy, more joy, relaxation.  Cycling is so satisfying.  I feel younger.

I think part of it is the magic of cycling.  We are born with legs that want to make us go.  It’s natural.  Then we designed an elegantly simple vehicle that uses our legs and makes us more efficient with two wheels.  We glide over the surface of the earth, flowing with the contours, wielding our own power.  On the bicycle even our leg motion becomes circular.  For most of our biological history, our ancestors had no access to this special experience.  Super-mobility.

That gliding motion, how sensational!  We are the pilot and passenger all at once.  Our thoughts and capabilities so perfectly expressed through this machine.  We can go 50 miles on a burrito with a side of blue corn chips.  How’s that for efficiency and fun?  Take time for paradise today.

A quote from Benjamin Hoff’s The Tao of the Pooh inspired this post along with a book my father gave me (but he doesn’t remember) called Take Time For Paradise: Americans and Their Games, by A. Bartlett Giamatti.  Cycling has a way of making our everyday experiences extraordinary.

“If time saving devices really saved time, there would be more time available to us than ever before in history.  But, strangely enough, we seem to have less time than even a few years ago.  It’s really great fun to go somewhere where there are no time saving devices because, when you do, you find that you have lots of time.  Elsewhere, you’re too busy working to pay for machines to save you time so you don’t have to work so hard.”  –Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of the Pooh

The photos are from rides this week under New Mexico’s captivating and vivid light.  A perfect place to cycle.  Unlike baseball, which separates out leisure from work, cycling is an integrative activity, the perfect work-play-live-learn-love thing to do.  We can generate more of it.

Magic magic magic, or, ode to cycling

You mean I’m the one who has to change?  –Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia

Cycling at Great Sand Dunes last September

Cycling at Great Sand Dunes last September

When times are tough I have to admit that it is not all bad.  This song makes me think of that.  How can life be so tough when I have the freedom and opportunity to ride my bicycle?

corrales-library-biking

Cycling has such great rewards.  Every ride is a sensual experience of the land community.  Ride by ride the landscape enlivens us.  Every effort gives us strength and knowledge.

The Wedding Rocks in Japan

The Wedding Rocks in Japan

This month marks the 20th year since I started cycling daily.  I moved to Reno, Nevada in 1997 and fell in love with cycling, the Great Basin desert, the Sierra Nevada mountains, with learning, and my wife Mai.  That was sweeping change in my life, all because I dove in.  Cycling calls on us to dig deeper, awakening something inside.   It puts us in touch and builds our capacity for empathy and wonder.  Cycling shifts our perspective from detached to engaged, from separated to in touch, especially with the world around us, recognizing we are all made from the same fabric.  Cycling shows us we are all one.  Cycling emancipates us.

el-camino-real

in Bernalillo on the road

Everyone I talk to who cycles has something to share about how cycling provides structure to their lives.  When integrated into routine, cycling is a way of living.  A commute can help blow off steam and refresh the day.  A Saturday morning ride can be a social occasion with friends, with family.  Ride by ride you build your life like a stonemason laying the foundation of your home.

on-the-trail

cholla-garden

Cycling is making the day your own.  Propel yourself joyfully into nature’s order.  The heart that beats to the cycling rhythm is timed to kindness.  Our minds are illuminated by making our way in the world with the simple proposition of a bike ride.  And road cycling is a virtual Leave No Trace activity.  It is way to put sweat equity back into our communities.  To be a good example for our kids.  To be a kid again.  It is amazing how a simple act fills us with such joy.

tramway

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