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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.

Grizzly love: maps and dreams

“Those bears saved my life” –Doug Peacock, Grizzly Country

“When you are down, when you are depressed, get outside and do something” –Doug Peacock

“Saving the wild is the mother of all things.  That’s where we gather our intelligence…that quality of wildness lives in all of us” –Doug Peacock

“I have thought for a long time now that if, some day, the increasing efficiency for the technique of destuction finally causes our species to disappear from the earth, it will not be cruelty that will be responsible for our extinction and still lesss, of course, the indignation that cruelty awakens and the reprisals and vengeance that it brings upon itself…but the docility, the lack of resposibility of the modern man, his base subservient acceptance of every common decree.  The horrors that we have seen, the still greater horrors we shall presently see, are not signs that rebels, insubordinate, untamable men are increasing in number throughout the world, but rather that there is a constant increase in the number of obedient, docile men.”  –George Bernanos quoted in Nonvioloent Communication: A Language of LIfe, 3rd edition, Marshall B. Rosenberg

References: The Center for Nonviolent Communication, which Marshall B. Rosenberg founded, is in Albuquerque, about a block away from where I live.  https://www.cnvc.org

Bird flight

Mai and I started our year off right, making our first trip together in 2019 to the Bosque del Apache.  I hear the doves singing right outside my window at the moment, but at this National Wildlife Refuge nature is amazingly dense.  You sense the fabric  of life holding the world together.  I hope you enjoy these photos.  I’ve added a few words to guide you.  And if you wish to listen, Andrew York’s song Centerpeace below is a beautiful companion.  He’s interviewed in this video after he plays the song, and York says about his inpsiration: “Everything…Nature, primarily, seeing the patterns, and order, and beauty in nature, the organic quality the natural world has to offer, helps me to form my music…”

Photographers awaiting sunrise. Wildlife photography teaches patience, taking our time

When the Snow Geese decide to circulate, it is a an explosion of noise and color, uplifting for our hearts and minds

After flying out of the their roosts in the morning, birds graze together in the fields

Since moving to Albuquerque in 2014, we’ve been exploring the birds and their habitat.  For this trip we did an overnighter.  Saturday we watched the sunset and transition from day to night. We had a late dinner in Socorro, and spent the night at Days Inn.  We awoke at 4am the next day and left before sunrise to see the birds awakening.  It was gorgeous.

Synching up with nature is really tuning in to our own rhythms.  After it was almost totally dark, Mai spotted this owl in the top of the tree.  We stopped to watch.  Another owl soared across the sky and joined the first owl on the tree top.  What fliers!  The hooting was glorious.

The next day we took a drive around the refuge after the morning flyout.  We had planned on leaving after sunrise, but time flew by and we spent the whole morning there, then ate lunch at the San Antonio Crane restaurant.  Completely full, we changed our plans, canceling our trip to the hot springs.  We are delighted to be feeling more at home in New Mexico, and deepening our understanding of where we live.  My, how nature surprises us if we are open to all it.

We saw tons of wildlife, including a cute pair of Road Runners, our State bird

Last time we saw Javelina was down at Big Bend camping along the Rio Grande.  We saw them here again

Talking to fellow wildlife watchers, we learned more about being observant.  There are many trails there to walk and explore.  We can’t wait to go back and discover more.

Resources:

Check out Sansai Studio’s video of Snow Geese circulating:

Fall harvest

Whilst the abstract question occupies your intellect, nature brings it in the concrete to be solved by your hands.  –Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

As the season comes around to Fall again, I reflect on what this year has brought and may bring.  I’ve learned a few things, most importantly that New Mexico is a beautiful place to ride.  I knew it was, but after much practice, I find a true understanding deepening.  Cycling activates our care, for ourselves, the earth, and each other.  It opens our senses to the world.  Our hearts beat stronger.  Our lungs fill with vital air and oxygen.  We relax and feel more at home.  Cycling  fits with our times, grows roots and makes our families happy. I am grateful for cycling.

An action is the perfection and publication of a thought.  –RW Emerson, “Nature”

If we live truly, we shall see truly.  –RW Emerson, “Self Reliance”

the ancient precept, ‘know thyself,’ and the modern precept, ‘study nature,’ become at last one maxim.  RW Emerson, “American Scholar”

References:
Photos from my bike rides, except of the three Ikebana from Sansai Studios:  https://sansai.photoshelter.com/index

Riding with heart: Mike Woods at La Vuelta a España

North American Mike Woods won his first grand tour stage in the 2018 Vuelta a España.  Riding up steep grades past throngs of cheering fans, through the mist on a forested mountain top, Woods persevered.  Rocking his bike back and forth, standing up out of the saddle, accelerating again and again, Woods pushed himself harder than anyone else could.  When he crossed the finish Woods was caught by his soignuer, who held him so he wouldn’t fall down.  Woods left everything out on the road.  His ride was an amazing display of how sport gives an outlet, a place to put our energies, crystallizing our will into a determined moment, overcoming life’s arduous circumstances.  Sport gives us the opportunity to show what the human spirit can do.

There were so many people on the side of the road today just screaming my name and my director was on the radio.  In the last 500 meters he just said do this for your family.  And, I did.  I did.  —Michael Woods on winning Stage 17, Vuelta a España 2018

Cycling it seems to me is so appropriate for the 21st century.  It elevates human living in so many ways, including Woods’ showcase of the triumph of the human spirit.  And it makes practical sense as a fitting, appropriate technology for daily living.  It’s self-powered mobility that’s clean, renewable, accessible, affordable, and quite fun for everyone.  From kids to families, all generations, young and old, including the many generations to come, cycling works wonders, and gives us a window into the beauty of the human soul and the everyday world we live in.

Resources and further reading:

Stage 17 highlights (3 minutes, including Woods interview).  Watch video on youtube

Stage 17 last kilometer (4 minutes) Watch video on youtube

Professional cyclists used the Vuelta to draw attention to the necessity of increasing road safety for all, including bicyclists, pedestrians, and occupants and operators of vehicles.
http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/freire-leads-demonstration-for-tougher-spanish-road-safety-laws/

Mike Woods is on Strava, the social network for athletes.  You can view his day to day activities there.  From Toronto, Canada, he trains in Tucson in the offseason.  https://www.strava.com/pros/425147

All of us

Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other’s eyes for an instant?
Henry David Thoreau

People bicycling are like family.  Cycling has an amazingly broad and diverse impact throughout our communities.  But I still get surprised when I meet new cyclists and experience how the world of cycling is expanding.  Cycling keeps branching out and bridging gaps.  When I picked up the September/October 2018 issue of Bicycling magazine, I was captivated by the story on NASCAR driver Jimmie Johnson and his love for bicycling, and how that love is shared by so many in motorsports.


Joe Gibbs Racing mechanic Sean Kerlin is a cycling enthusiast.  photo from bicycling.com

I don’t care who you are…it [cycling] is just a great break in the craziness of life. –Jimmie Johnson

Johnson is one of the great drivers of all time, and he’s also cultivated a passion for cycling.  He uses it for many of the reasons we all do.  Cycling has helped him listen to his body and learn about its needs (which helps him in the race car when he is driving).  Cycling helps him enjoy his travels more.  Johnson gets to explore the places he goes in depth and detail by pedaling, and meets lots of interesting people.   And then there’s the intangibles.  Cycling just makes for a better day.  I bet cycling helps him practice hand, feet and eye coordination too, honing skills.

I’m following Jimmie Johnson on Strava now, and enjoy seeing his almost daily rides.  He has 7423 followers on Strava as of this writing, and posts some awesome pictures of the places he rides and people he rides with, including his wife.  Cycling makes life more beautiful.

To innovate…you need a trained imagination. —Martha Nussbaum, NEH 2017 Spring conversation

I’m a driving enthusiast, but didn’t grow up a NASCAR fan.  So for me, Johnson’s cycling is a way into NASCAR traditions and culture.  I found out they are not so different than what I am used to.  They have a competitive drive that fosters innovation, and they care about the broader world, the environment and all people.  The NASCAR Green program works to minimize NASCAR’ environmental impact and preserve the natural environment and foster sustainability.

No wonder so many of the drivers, mechanics, and staff in NASCAR have joined with cycling culture!  It delivers a balanced approach and real sense of mechanical efficiency, ergonomics and light impact.  Maybe when we ride a bike we are not as alone as we may think.

An action is the perfection and publication of thought.  A right action seems to fill the eye, and to be related to all nature.  —Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

The bike brings people together.  When we see people cycling we have an automatic connection.  We have a technology that helps us calm our minds, deepen our engagement with our bodies and the planet, and expands our sense of the other, making the world more familiar.

I like this poem by William Safford, called “Maybe Alone on My Bike”.  There’s an analysis in the Literature chapter of this Routledge Handbook that makes me think about the potential of the bicycle.  So much stored energy!  It’s almost like cycling tames ourselves and opens us up to a conversation with the landscape.  We sense a greater connection to the world around us.

I’ve blogged about the manifold applications of cycling over the years.  Here are a few examples of the positive impacts cycling imparts on individual lives, our families, our imaginations of what is possible.  Out of many, cycling makes us one again.  Riding a bike more and sharing the experience with others is a goal that creates the kind of world we want to live in.

The World Bank sees cycling as an investment in health:
https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/high-level-champions-for-bicycling/

The US Military sponsors endurance sports to support our service personnel:
https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/29/telling-it-like-it-is/

Kids benefit from cycling in many ways:
https://bikeyogiblog.wordpress.com/2017/07/29/cycling-in-the-news/