Category Archives: Recovery

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.

Walking the land and thriving

That which we are, we shall teach.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

tent-rocks-expansive

For President’s Day, Mai and I headed north towards Santa Fe.  Before ascending La Bajada we veered west and crossed the Río Grande.  Nestled against the Jemez Mountains, there’s an unlikely place where volcanic pumice, tuff and ash cliffs have eroded into conical forms. This place is called Kasha-Katuwe, meaning “white cliffs” in the Keresan language of the Pueblo de Cochiti.  It’s also called Tent Rocks.  We took a hike there, and walked into surprising beauty.


this song by Gil and Cartas reminds me of walking in beauty

tent-rocks-climbing-the-canyon

It felt so good to get out of the car and walk into the fresh air.  Our legs reached for the land like a tree grows to light.  The trail begins at the base of the white cliffs.  We walked through juniper and piñon forest.  Then we entered a canyon, which narrows down to a slot several stories high and barely wide enough to walk through.  The trail curves around rock, its way carved by water.  It seems an improbable passage but it leads out into open higher ground.

tent-rocks-emerging-from-canyon

tent-rocks-perspective-from-slot

Unexpectedly we found ourselves at eye level with the tops of the “tent rocks”.  The last steep pitch delivered us to the plateau above the tent rocks and awesome views of the Southwest’s grandeur and splendor.  We gazed at mountains all around, the Sandia Crest above Albuquerque, the Sangre de Cristo above Santa Fe, and volcanic peaks of the Jemez Mountains.

tent-rocks-hello

tent-rocks-overview-with-cochiti-kids-climbing

At the top we sat on a rock and drank water.  A group of school kids climbed up the trail just behind us, and their teacher sat on a rock next to us.  The class was from the Cochiti Pueblo.  The kids had the day off from school.  They were wearing shirts with a slogan about being healthy and fit.  Their teacher said activities like this were helping the kids realize their powers to live a healthy life.  The kids were catching the wind, smiling, enjoying the day.  An experience like this walk helps us get acquainted with ourselves and the living land community first hand.  As humans we are constituted to walk.  It fills us with insight.  We inhabit the heart of nature.    When we joyfully obey this enthusiasm, we find ourselves in new country, walking into health.

tent-rocks-sandia-in-view

Happiness on a Bicycle

She put down in writing what was in her mind.  –Bob Dylan, “Not Dark Yet”

You’re always a kid on a bike.  –Heather Sellers, “Pedal, Pedal, Pedal”

white-sands-flow

My sister sent me a subscription to Sun Magazine for Christmas 2016.  The first issue contains Heather Sellers’ short story on her cycling life.  I am pretty amazed at how Sellers’ writing evokes perceptions and feelings one may experience while cycling.  If you want to read Sellers’ story directly, here is the link to Sun Magazine January 2017 Issue 493.  It’s an amazing story.  A story full of truth about what cycling can do.  As Barry Lopez wrote, “Story creates an atmosphere in which [truth] becomes discernible as a pattern” (Crossing Open Ground, 1989).  I fit my photos from White Sands this past September–when Mai and I walked the soft sand dunes at twilight watching the sunlight splash and play on the landscape–to this blog post.

white-sands-floating-castle

Albuquerque’s official visitors guide for 2016, published by the Convention and Visitors Bureau, has catchy slogans–change your perspective and find your essence.  New Mexico’s landscape and culture can do that for you, exponentially so if you experience it on a bike.  “On a bike the world seems made just for you”, says Sellers.  She goes on to say, “Somehow it was the landscape…that made me feel smarter.”  Cycling opens up our capacity for wonder again, and allows us to receive the information about place through our senses.  Cycling makes it easier to let the place we inhabit touch us, in a reciprocal, healthy, even healing way.  By opening up and giving ourselves up to the experience of place, we receive knowledge that is otherwise elusive.

white-sands-night-awakening

When we cycle we have a much more intimate view of our surroundings.  With a careful operator, the bicycle moves in a way that is relatively unobtrusive.  It just flows, “each moment unfurling into the next”, as Sellers puts it.   “The tires carry on a conversation with the road, and you are both a part of it and listening to it all at once”.  Cycling teaches us how to get along.

mai-walking-at-sunset

Sellers addresses the social dimension of cycling.  Group riding made her feel “like we were doing ballet on a roadway.”  She talks about the “exquisite timing” of group riding and how that makes her “more at ease with people on land”.  People on land?  Sellers uses a trope making cycling a metaphor for flying, evoking our ancient kinship with the animal kingdom.  We need to feel that sense of wonder and awe.  Cycling stokes our vital forces.  Wakes us up.  Connects us.

white-sands-dune-glow

As well as improving the way we get along with others, cycling makes us feel more like ourselves.  Sellers’ writes, “When I was on my bike, I could not only envision a happy, outgoing future self; I was her.”  That experience of being happy, present, and connected is powerful.

Resources:  Once again, here’s the link to Sellers’ article.  “Pedal, Pedal, Pedal.” 

 

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.

fiery-sunset-last-pic

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.

bosque-blues

we-are-not-alone

bosque-slow-sunset

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.

lights-down-cameras-up-action

muddy-shore

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.

shoulder

bright-waters-glow

bosque-inkening

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.

Points of Light

mai-walking

Mai and I made our annual pilgrimage to the towering trees at Aspen Vista above Santa Fe.  The cyclical chemistry of life comes to the forefront as leaves drop down, their fiery glory fading to a golden luminescence.  A sense of renewal drifts in the air as petals fold slowly into the soil.

santa-fe-aspens

santa-fe-colors

A cross section of the community walked the trail, beholding this symphony of color.  Envoys of beauty, these aspen groves, at once crooked and upright.  Imagine them at night like hands and spindly fingers reaching up from the earth towards the night sky’s starry points of light sprent across the universe.  A map seen by cultures everywhere continuous from ancient times.

santa-fe-forever

santa-fe-light

santa-fe-veil-of-light

Walking in aspen forests during Fall is special, but we don’t have to save walking for seasonal occasions.  Practical and social walking integrates exercise into our everyday routines so we get that essential, natural movement that renews our bodies and nourishes our spirits.

santa-fe-see-through-colors

santa-fe-menagerie

Walking strengthens us.  America Walks recognizes this and is elevating the respect we have for walking in our communities.  Walking tends to be hard where we need it the most, in cities.  America Walks designs health-promoting environments attuned to human sensitivities.

santa-fe-break-down

santa-fe-tree-family

Walking, cycling and nature are pillars of an American renaissance.  They are key to understanding the land, urban environs and our common heritage.  Everything is inextricably interconnected.  America Walks is our organization of the month for October, 2016.

“The pedestrian is a social being: he is also a transportation unit, and a marvelously complex and efficient one…Transportation engineers are spending millions on developing automated people-mover systems. But the best, by far, is a person.”
– William H. Whyte, City: Rediscovering the Center (1988)

Land of Peace and Light

Mai and I visited White Sands National Monument on National Public Lands Day.  We walked in the pale afternoon on the gypsum sand dunes.  I was awestruck by the land and light.

mai-stabilizing-climbing

white-sands-close

With free admission as part of the celebration, the parking area and picnic grounds were bustling with activity.  Families were barbequing, taking photos, and children and adults alike were sledding down the slippery gypsum sands.  What a marvelous, festive scene.

white-sands-way-out-there

mai-white

If you want silence and solitude, all you have to do is walk westward over the first dune, then another, further yet, new horizons of endless sand appearing over each ridgecrest, and in minutes the white sands have swallowed up all but a few intrepid people.  Silence rules.

white-sands-dunes-edge

white-sands-yucca-crystal-light

Walking is great in the park, and so is cycling.  White Sands offers full moon bike rides twice a year.  Bring the whole family.  Catering to cycling and walking like this, the National Park Service is my bike organization of the month for June, 2016 (a little catching up to do).  Peace.

white-sands-yes

Resources: White Sands full moon bike rides
https://www.nps.gov/whsa/planyourvisit/full-moon-bike-ride.htm

A Complete World (Great Sand Dunes continued)

I think we will wind up as a healthier community because we had to come together to restore the aquiferGeorge Whitten, San Luis Valley rancher, quoted in High Country News

If most of the earth will be a Phoenix suburb by 2050 as the Onion sardonically conjectured, Great Sands Dunes and the San Luis Valley of Colorado will surely be one of the last outliers of unconfined space.  Mai and I visited there to celebrate the National Park Service’s 100 year anniversary, when the entrance fee was free.  We camped at Piñon Flats for a couple days and vowed not to use the car, exploring the park on foot and by bicycle.  At first I felt conflicted about taking the car option out but leaving it parked was a most liberating limitation.

mais-cycling-journey

The San Luis Valley is a broad alluvium perched at 7,600 feet above sea level. Mountains ring the valley, supplying the Rio Grande, which runs through it.  The valley’s area is about the size of the entire state of New Jersey.  The San Juan and Sangre de Cristo ranges shield the valley from storms, an orographic effect, resulting in an alpine desert making the river and aquifers so very important.  The scale of the San Luis Valley is so expansive the huge sand dunes seem tucked right in and don’t even make a dent in the enormous space.  The dunes are eroded mountains, carried and anchored by water, blown by the wind.  Although the dunes appear simple and austere, the ecosystem is rich, complex and sensitive, and the management plan was updated in 2000 to protect more of the socio-ecological system and diverse habitats.

bee-plant-by-medano-road

We cycled to the visitor center after setting up camp.  Gliding through the clean alpine air, sun pressing on skin, drove home the sense of awesomeness of this place.  The campground is perfectly positioned at the sand sheet’s edge with walking access to Medano Creek, the dunefield and upland trails.  Plus they have a campground store with everything you need, kinda.  We needed ice cream after our bike ride underneath the white hot sun, and the store had ice cream available.  A good arrangement for replenishing the mind, body and spirit.

southwestern-diverse-habitat

exuberance

Boundaries in nature are not always obvious.  The viewshed from the park into the greater valley is integral to understanding how resources are used to make a living here.  Circular fields on 160 acre plots dot the land.  These farms use center pivot irrigation–a technology adapted from the Great Plains–to supplement the sparse 7 or 8 inches of annual rainfall.  Although the scale of the agriculture is industrial, I’m encouraged by the steps residents are taking to integrate sustainability into every aspect of planning and operations.  Some farmers are experimenting with crops that are nutritious but use less water, such as Quinoa.  The Nature Conservancy runs two ranches adjacent to the Park, Zapata and Baca Ranches, in a unique partnership to conserve the water and soil that sustains quality life and stabilizes the land.

lighting-up

Each morning we awoke before sunrise and walked.  Crossing Medano Creek and climbing up the dunes to observe the day’s first light pouring down onto the earth was spectacular.  When you walk into the landscape and immerse yourself, a whole other world reveals itself.

sunrise

The landscape exerts a certain pull on human hearts.   If you love this land, practicing conservation is true patriotism.  When it comes to experiencing our National Parks, conservation helps us see the benefits of encouraging walking and cycling in a new and clear light.  I’m glad we took the time to stay awhile and develop a personal rapport with this place.

specialized-does-parks

Resources:
http://www.oneonta.edu/faculty/baumanpr/geosat2/Dry_Land_Water/Dry_Land_Water.htm
Happy 100th Birthday National Park Service https://www.nps.gov/subjects/centennial/index.htm
#NPS100