Category Archives: sustainable development

Loving the land

Somehow, against probability, some sort of indigenous, recognizable culture has been growing on Western ranches and in Western towns and even in Western cities.  It is the product not of the boomers but of the stickers, not of those who pillage and run but of those who settle and love the life they have made and the place they have made it in.  I believe that eventually, perhaps within a generation or two, they will work out some sort of compromise between what must be done to earn a living and what must be done to restore health to the earth, air, and water.  –Wallace Stegner

I was at the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic over Memorial Day weekend, and was reminded how the act of cycling restores to us a sense of our better selves.  On Saturday the road from Durango to Silverton is open only for event traffic, which consists of thousands of people cycling.  And on Sunday, in downtown Durango they build a BMX (bicycle motorcross) course on Main Street and run mountain bike, kids, and costume rides through town.  The city is designed for enjoyment.

In this economy, what is circulating is people, and more specifically people filled with curiosity, joy and excitement.  Combine the human created atmosphere with the Animas River flowing through the heart of town, quaking Aspen stands, and the La Plata and San Juan mountains flying high on the edges, and you have what feels like a healthy community.  As my wife said, “the oxygen tastes good” in Durango.

Contempt for the natural world is contempt for life.  The domination of nature leads to the domination of human nature.  —Edward Abbey, quoted in “River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed behind the Gold King Mine Disaster” by Jonathan P. Thompson

To put Abbey’s idea into positive terms, perhaps embracing our human nature helps us to appreciate greater nature.  When we get on a bicycle, our legs flow freely around in circles, the wind blows in our faces, and we breath in more of that sacred oxygen.  We feel good.  We move forward.  When I become more alive inside, I see more of the life around me.  Cycling fits here.

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The breaks

We got a lucky break this year on a trip to the Quebradas Backcountry Byway.  We heard hummingbirds arrive in Albuquerque, and we thought that might mean they would also be at Quebradas–which is about 60 miles south–pollinating the Ocotillo flowers.  We’ve been trying to time a trip to Quebradas for years to synchronize with the Ocotillo blooms.  Finally, it worked.

The byway is a gravel road about 24 miles long.  We spotted Ocotillos immediately, though I had remembered most of the plants were growing at the other end.   It is amazing how the bright red Ocotillo flowers make the landscape light up.  They sing a new song with their flaming reds.

We also spotted some pretty cactus flowers.  With the sparse rains and mild winter, it is amazing how these desert plants survive.  They have developed strategies for scarce water.

It was a great trip!  Although we saw a lot from the car window, the landscape really opens up when you get out and walk, moving at slower speeds, eyes trained to the ground.  Everything is hiding under nursery plants, grasses, shrubs and piles of rock.  It makes it even more inviting and rewarding to get out and explore.  Next time we’ll bring our bicycles.  It is perfect for it.

Other posts I’ve done on Quebradas, and the BLM Website:

https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/06/quebradas-or-breaks/
https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/17/quiet-energy/
https://www.blm.gov/visit/quebradas-backcountry-byway

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/

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/

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

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!

Front-country ethics, or, blue-collar cycling

Cycling definitely fits the mold of a blue collar job.  You start fresh and clean heading out of the house, and you come home covered in dirt, salt and sweat.  You have the weather that can turn on you at any time.—Kirsti Lay, Rally Cycling, quoted from the video at the end of this post

You are more hyperaware of your surroundings when you ride.  –Kelly Catlin, Rally Cycling

As a student of the bike, cycling always instructs me.  One of the joys of cycling is simply getting outside.  I’m stationary inside much of the day, so cycling gives me a chance to roam.

Since almost all of the riding I do is from home and work, I spend most of my cycling time in and around the city. The city is important to human living!  We hear a lot about backcountry ethics and caring for remote environments, but surely our city habitat is equally important.  We spend most of our time in cities, and this is where we learn how to interact with nature.

Cycling has many benefits for healthier cities.  Cycling makes for friendlier, more humane cities.  And it keeps us in touch with what is going on where we live.  Cycling is a way to create happy experiences in everyday life, and stay healthy, positive, and strong.  It helps individuals and communities build resiliency, and develop a caring relationship for the places we live in.

Cycling is good news, and Albuquerque and all Southwestern cities (all cities, everywhere) can increase cycling rates by investing in it.  Cycling makes us active daily participants in a healthy city.  When we cycle, we become connectors and reflectors of all the healthy aspects of our home environment, the greenery, the great food, traditional heritage, atmospherics, and social community.  Cycling exercises our civility muscles, and creates lifestyles and places that bring happiness.  Cycling is a tool that gives us the ability to work for true wealth.  A way to help us locate our better, authentic selves.

For more on the cycling outlook, check out the video from Rally Cycling, “Working Outside”–

References:
Visit Rally Cycling’s website:  https://rallycycling.com