Category Archives: nature

Tortuga (exploring Albuquerque murals on bicycle)

Landscape is a unity, a wholeness, an integration, of community and environment; man is ever part of nature, and the city is basically no less involved than the countryside.  –D.W. Meinig, “Reading the Landscape” in The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes: Geographical Essays

The main reason I ride a bicycle is to get where I want to go.  Sometimes I get an idea of places to go from someone else’s rides.  John Fleck, a UNM professor and journalist with an emphasis on water, posted a ride on Strava with pictures of these cool murals depicting scenes from Albuquerque’s Bosque with colorful flora and fauna.  It looked beautiful and I wanted to see it.

John posted a picture of the Pacific Avenue street sign on his ride, but I couldn’t make out the cross street.  So the first time I ended up looking for these murals I rode up and down the wrong section of Pacific.  I was on the West side of the railroad tracks.  It turns out the murals are by the Tortuga Art Gallery on the east side of the tracks.  I found it on my second try.

Standing there in September light, I marveled at this mural!  The street became a theatre for this wrap-around art work transforming an ordinary building into a vibrant bio-scape.  It must always look different in the changing light.  Even though I only found what was already there, it gave me a sense of discovery and hope.  Thank goodness there are artists working in this world!

While pedaling down Edith away from this mural a kid on his porch gave me a big wave and I waved back.  It’s amazing how the bicycle creates a sense of adventure and connection that is so accessible and easy to enjoy, right out our front door.  I took the Bosque Trail northward and the long way home, paying closer attention to the ordinary beauty all around me.

Resources:

Check out this website collecting Albuquerque murals!
https://murosabq.com

The mural in this blog post:
https://murosabq.com/denise-weaver-ross-et-al-tortuga/

You can find John Fleck on Strava,
https://www.strava.com/athletes/12521793

and also check out Mr. Fleck’s great blog on the geography of water in the arid West:
http://www.inkstain.net/fleck/

Here’s my Strava ride to view the Tortuga mural:
https://www.strava.com/activities/2744476385

Home trails

Humanity
has been sleeping
–and still sleeps–
lulled within the
narrowly confining 
joys of its
closed loves.
–Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I love exploring Albuquerque’s Open Space on urban trails.  Our trails put me in touch with the healing powers of nature.  The trails are often times small, and that can bring trail users into close proximity.  That gives us opportunities to contribute to well-being in a neighborly way.

The best kind of trail in my opinion is singletrack.  This is even more challenging to share than a small two-lane road, where a person may take up a whole lane, but there is still another lane to pass providing you can see it is clear of oncoming traffic for the necessary distance.  When you meet another person on singletrack, you have to negotiate a safe pass, because by definition there is only room for one line of traffic.  This always requires communication, patience, awareness of and respect for the well-being of others, and restraint by the speedier users.

One day on a singletrack trail in High Desert, I got stuck behind a couple walking and talking.  They were going in the same direction I was.  They had two dogs off the leash.  I said hello and that there was a bicycle behind them.  They didn’t hear me or see me.  I kept a safe distance behind them and waited until there was a pause in their conversation, and used a louder voice to try saying hello again.  On the third or fourth try they heard me.  I stopped and waited as they gathered their dogs and attached the leashes to the collars.  They found a safe place to move aside and when they were set they waved me on.  We exchanged smiles and greetings with remarks on how beautiful the day was outside.  It felt so good to share pleasantries.  By taking time I made new friends.  I felt like my patience paid off, not only in waiting for them, but the feeling I got inside from negotiating a safe, friendly pass contributed to my own well-being.

Our situational awareness as travelers takes into consideration the well-being of others.  It is not just about going somewhere, it is about being with people in places and safeguarding dignity.  In our travel culture I sometimes see an atmosphere of incessant rushing.  And in traffic engineering, there are metrics such as travel speed and throughput that stress industrial measures that can overshadow human needs such as community, enjoyment and quality.  The trails are a good place to get back in touch with ourselves and forge those vital connections once again.  It takes discipline, but when we focus our attention there, good things happen.

In Colorado Springs, the Garden of the Gods offers trail opportunities for exploring the land

An important mentor of mine for teaching youth cycling told me that kids don’t get “yield”.  It is kind of a complex word.  He found that it works better to teach kids to “give it up” when they see other people on the trail, at junctions, or crosswalks.  This works well, being present to the needs of others.  This also includes horses, which are common on New Mexico trails.  In that sense, the rules for urban trails teach us to give it up and be present to all of life in nature. By doing this, we experience a fuller measure of nature’s healing powers right here on home trails.

Manzano mountain air

Keep at a tangent.
When they make the circle wide, it’s time to swim
Out on your own and fill the element
with signatures on your own frequency.

Seamus Heaney, Station Island

Mai’s Fall break and the recent cold spell made for perfect timing to walk in the Manzano Mountains, sampling the turning colors.  Prime color season draws decent sized crowds to these remote mountains, but part of the joy was seeing other people excited by the experience of walking out in the wild, eyes wide open.  Being in the presence of splendid nature on such intimate terms imbued everyone with good manners.  The forest was a picture of health.

During our walk we encountered three different groups on horses.  I was delighted to see such beautiful animals on the trail, especially since this is probably the busiest time of year and horses are shy.  But the horses were happy too.  We saw one party being trailered up for the ride home.  The woman walked into the trailer and gently called who wants to come.  The horses with their shining brown hair followed her like dogs, heads bobbing.  Our favorite group included a donkey, who seemed to be smiling, content from the open air walk with his herd.

We packed our lunch and mid-hike we stopped on a hillside angled Southeast and sat on rocks facing the sun.  We could see the veins of color shooting up 4th of July Canyon, which we had just walked through, and we admired the speckles of color further up on the high ridges of the mountainside.  The habitat changed as we emerged from the canyon, which was filled with tall trees with long roots twisting down, tapping the ground water.  The sun exposed hillsides were dominated by alligator junipers, piñon pine, yucca and had more open vistas.  The fragrance of sun, rock, soil and forest detritus was absolutely sublime.  Lunch never tasted so good.

By the time we finished later in the afternoon we were hungry again and our legs were tired.  We went to the Manzano Mountain Retreat down the road and stocked up on fresh apples.  The Spanish settlers brought apple seeds with them centuries ago.  This luscious fruit that originated in the Caucus Mountains of Central Asia still grows well here and takes on the unique character of these mountains.  They also sell Apple Cider and we got that too.  We are still eating these delicious apples and baking pies to fuel our next walk into the glorious wild.

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

The sun shines today also

“When you’re born to run, it’s so good to just slow down.”  –Steve Winwood, Back in the High Life Again

Since I started cycling everyday in 1997, the original attraction–the insight of the bicycle as a transformative tool–keeps getting stronger.   I’ve learned that in spite of my love, there is no bike friendly paradise out there that already exists for us.  We have to build our own world.

Rules to govern power differentials in spatial relationships is key for encouraging more walking and cycling.  IMBA (the International Mountain Bicycling Association) offers a simple principle for the trails to direct respectful relations.  “Descending riders yield to climbing riders.”  ( https://www.imba.com/ride/imba-rules-of-the-trail ) With speed comes the responsibility to control it.  On roads, the LAB (League of American Bicyclists) has a similar principal governing orderly flow of traffic.  It’s called “First come, first served.”  “Everyone on the road is entitled to the space they’re using.  If you want to use someone else’s space, you must yield to whoever is using it.”  ( https://bikeleague.org/content/traffic-laws ).  Education is one part.  Instilling the discipline to apply these principles is another.  Policies prioritizing safety over speed are mechanisms.   Safety is a mindset based on self-respect and respect for human individuals.

Prioritizing safety over speed is based on recognizing our limits as a species. We evolved in nature for slower moving activities.  Mechanical assistance brings in a level of responsibility we are not automatically equipped to handle. So training and knowledge becomes essential.  Nature shows us we have biophysical limits.  Travel systems such as the Shinkansen, or Bullet Train, in Japan have achieved an admirable degree of fast transport and system safety by controlling variables.  To keep using our roads and trails with a high degree of autonomy and freedom, we have to implement principles, and be disciplined and restrained to protect people.

To achieve the outcome of a transportation system with all kinds of choices, and safety and dignity for all, we have to focus on the process of following basic principles.  I think we have a head start in America since the idea of respecting the individual is so strong and powerful, and we also want people to set out and explore our country.  It seems a vital necessity.  If we focus on the process and applying what we know, it feels so good to slow down and enjoy life everyday.

“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.  Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.”  –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance.

Donations: If you enjoy this blog and want to support our work building sustainable transportation systems, please donate here https://bikeinitiative.org/make-a-donation/

Home

“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

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/