Category Archives: sustainable development

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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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

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/

Travels in Japan

Japan has a well-tempered travel culture, thank goodness, because tourism is soaring.  Travel elicits curiosity and wonder, and emphasizes our mutual interdependence.  If we can treat everyone equally in public travel spaces, and honor each person’s value and dignity, we are on our way to a better quality of life and facilitating stronger global citizenship.  Japan has a good blueprint for treating everyone like we deserve to be treated, like we’re one big human family.

Osaka has amazing shopping districts, with streets made for walking

Kagoshima in Kyushu has bike share and street greening initiatives

Japan’s traffic system is one of the safer systems in the world.  The photo below shows a few reasons why.  The intersection has huge crosswalks, and the stop bar on the street lane is way behind the crosswalk.  This creates space for pedestrians.  There is no left turn on red in Japan (the U.S.A.’s equivalent of right turn on red), and that reduces possibility for conflict and eases pressure on people walking.  The sight lines at this intersection are open, too, so there is good visibility for all users.  The light gives a pedestrian signal automatically, so no one has to push a button.  The speed limits are also very low (30-40 kph, or 18-25 mph) to increase safety for all.

the van in this photo is a driving school van. Driver training is very intensive in Japan!

Safe streets and lots of good transportation choices makes it easy to relax and access all the good amenities a given place has to offer.  In the the shopping district in Komyoike, where Mai’s parents live, we encountered this country western line dancing gig.  It was cool, upbeat, friendly.

I really love the contrasts and continuity in Japan between historical and present culture.  We went to an Ikebana (art of flower arranging) exhibition in downtown Osaka, and saw this shrine on a rooftop pictured in the photo above.  The photo below is of Osaka’s famous walking mall.

In Japan people are walking everywhere so you get used to it.  Crosswalks, like the one below in Komyoike, are clearly marked and signed.  And the neighborhoods in the newer suburbs have dedicated pathways, mostly off street, to connect to markets, work, parks, schools, and transit.

It’s not all about infrastructure for sure.  Many towns and streets were laid out and built a long time ago, and the car was introduced later.  This is where manners and respect is even more important.  The street pictured below is definitely a “yield street”.  I bicycled this street several times.  There is a transit stop on the left.    People get off the bus and walk on the street.  Bicycles and cars yield to pedestrians and share the road.  There are also other hazards you can see, like open drainage and telephone poles on the side of the road.  These close quarters cultivate cautious users and a culture of sharing!  Courtesy, respect and skills guard our dignity.  Japanese cars are smaller, and pedestrian safety measures are designed into the vehicle.

I experienced travel in Japan from many perspectives, by foot, bicycle, train, plane, automobile, bus, subway.  They were all valuable experiences.  Cycling was a special joy.  The vending machines in Japan are so well positioned, just where I needed them on excursions.  Some machines offer an hot espresso drink, hot or cold, at the base of a long mountain climb.  Thoughtful touches for travelers in Japan make it welcoming, rewarding and inspiring!

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.

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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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