Category Archives: Walking

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!

People shining in the streets

There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.  —Thomas Merton on an ordinary day in Louisville, KY

Freedom in a free society is supposed to be for all. Therefore, freedom rules out imposing on the freedom of others. You are free to walk down the street, but not to keep others from doing so. –George Lakoff, “Why Hate Speech is Not Free Speech

One of the most beautiful experiences in any city is the street scene, with all kinds of people moving around.  When we are missing that, we lose a certain sense of community.  That’s why it is so essential to design our streets around a social operating concept.  Streets can imbue human beings with a sense of dignity.  They are one of our most interactive spaces.

When UNM President Chaouki Abdallah first visited Albuquerque, he thought “it looked like a Third World Country”.  Then he woke up the second day, saw the mountains, and thought “this could work”.  As we reimagine our city, remember the environment we build is human habit, natural habitat, we live here.  And our streetscapes are a product of our collective imagination.

When people are walking and cycling about, shining in our streets, a sense of buoyancy abounds.  It’s uplifting to all of us, our common humanity.  Let’s encourage more of that with planning and designs.  And make sure we integrate everything we need to live with conviviality, including all of nature.  Our streets help us become native to place.  We can feel at home here. Imagine living happily and healthily on safe and peaceful streets, for us, and for our children.

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

References:
UNM President on an unlikely journeyhttps://www.abqjournal.com/1012754/journey-4.html

Happy Campers

Combine the head with the heart, and great things happen.  –Mayor Greg Fischer, Louisville, KY

One of the most important parts of cycling is rest.  Mayor Greg Fischer joked with Charlie Rose that he sometimes works 22 hours a day.  We are capable of taking on heavy work loads, but we always need rest.  Otherwise at some point the returns diminish.  To get my rest, I left the bike at home and Mai and I packed a simple travel kit and we went camping up near Abiquiu.

It was a great rest.  We return to the landscapes held dear to our hearts and receive an influx of inspiration.  Just as when we are reading and recognize our own thoughts there on the page, being close to the land helps us clearly see our own hearts and minds.  Our origins return to us with a certain alienated majesty, to use Emerson’s phrase.  Or we return to them.

We didn’t have much of an agenda besides eating, sleeping, and reflecting.  We watched the stars come out.  Recently I have had contact with many old friends, and I have been thinking they are like the stars in my life, surrounding me all the time, and there when I look.  We heard the coyotes sing in the night.  An owl hooting cooly.  The sunset colors mesmerized us.  During the day we observed the reflections dancing in the water, the forms of landscape reconstituted as an ever-changing mosaic.  The earth, the sky, and water, all bleeding into one.  We swam in the lake–cold upon first touch, but invigorating once we were immersed.  We took a walk.  We ate green chili burgers and ice cream.  We had a great time enjoying the beautiful land together.

Burn calories, not carbon pledge

What is to give light must endure burning.  –Viktor Frankl

I just took the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s pledge to help create healthier communities and a healthier planet.  You can take it too.  They ask everyone to help by using active transportation modes (walking, biking, skateboarding, be creative?!) when we can to save carbon and get fit.  Here’s the pledge link:  www.railstotrails.org/pledge

I worked for RTC on a trail survey in Albuquerque.  They are a fine organization taking a forward-thinking approach by repurposing abandoned railways as multi-use pathways.  I also have great memories of an excursion on one of RTC’s projects near Reno, where I used to live.  It is called the Biz Johnson Trail.  It was a great adventure, but back before digital cameras!

Short ride, or long ride, work trip, or recreation trip, or a blended experience, remember, every little bit counts!  Here’s what I wrote on my RTC pledge statement.  They ask you to write a few words about how you will help burn calories and save carbon–

“I ride as much as possible, and share my rides on Strava.  Strava helps make my cycling more visible, and the data collected can be used by community planners.  Strava also helps me get inspired by seeing the activities of others.  My wife and I share one car, and when we are not cycling, we take transit.  Good transit systems are essential to supporting public transportation goals.  I also blog about my cycling activities at bikeyogi.com and work as a community organizer, educator, and transportation analyst at Southwest Bike Initiative, a 501(c)(3) in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  swbikeinitiative.wordpress.com/

I miss the TT bike

Stepping into the Ojito wilds

Quantum physicists are starting to look at consciousness as a force of nature, like gravity.  –Joe Hutto, in “A Walk On The Wild Side”, The Sun Magazine, May 2017

We know little about where we live.  On Sunday Mai and I set out to learn more.  We drove about an hour northwest of Albuquerque for a walk in the Ojito Wilderness.

We barely saw anything until we parked and started walking.  Then it was like a whole new world opening up.  Around every turn of the trail nature’s forms surprised us.

A walk into a landscape like this ignites one’s curiosity.  Here the Colorado Plateau meets the Rio Grande Rift Valley, and the Southern Rockies.  A rich transition zone with deep history.

It is extraordinary to see the tales told in landscape.  The volcanic features, the sedimentary history, culture remnants.  We barely touched the surface of the poetic expressions here.

The biological mix was impressive.  Sagebrush and ponderosa pine meet up with high desert plants in Ojito.  So much variety bursting with Spring colors.

The sense of time is pretty remarkable.  A cultural crossroads.  The wildlife and landscape has persevered and developed remarkable resiliency.

It seems like a vast task to understand this place.  But taking a walk coaxed us along. We became better observers, little by little, taking time to look around.  Curiosity has its rewards.

Experiencing the exquisite and delicate nature of Ojito was an awakening.  Local understanding grants us important perspectives on becoming better citizens and global stewards.  Learning to appreciate where we live flows into developing a higher regard for other places like this one.

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.