Category Archives: Wildlife

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.

Cycling in beauty

“This is the most beautiful place on earth.  There are many such places.”
–Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Here are a few photos from places I’ve cycled the last few months in New Mexico.  One of the great pleasures of cycling is the sense of appreciation it builds for the places we live in.  Every ride the splash of wind, the lay of the light on the land, the wildlife I see gives exquisite pleasure and imbues me with a sense I am in the most beautiful place on earth in this moment.

Highway 64 takes you high into the Brazos Mountains above Tierra Amarilla with views of the Brazos Cliffs

The Sandia Crest road about halfway up. Those green patches are the ski slopes

Cycling is special like music.  It gives us a chance to express ourselves and sprinkles a little magic into our lives.  Every ride is a chance to be creative, explore our abilities, increase our capabilities, develop leadership skills, improve results and build up our trust and confidence.

When I go outside I experience the great mystery.  It’s like walking into an art gallery or concert hall.  The road is the pathway in, and the best ones are aligned in subtle ways to fit to place. Traveling there gives us an expansive feeling, like we are part of something greater than ourselves.  As much as we recognize this beauty, we can assimilate it into our understanding.  Cycling is a living communion, a humble conversation, touching infinity.  A way of learning.

Our effort, our sweat and breathing, is the sacrifice, the price of admission.  Suffering on a bike is not that bad, actually beneficial, when we realize we get way more than we give.  It’s a small fee to enter a much larger world.  It’s cathartic, cleansing, and happily satisfying.

“Every place, like every person, is elevated by the love and respect shown toward it, and by the way in which its bounty is received.” –Richard Nelson, The Island Within
I am grateful for cycling!  

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.

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.

Flying Days

Cranes lead an amazing life.  They sleep on water, glide on air, and feed from the earth.  Mai and I made our holidays a New Mexico stay-cation.  We visited our feathery friends down south.

bernardo-corn-tips-and-wings

bernardo-corn-twist

bernardo-crane-flight

My cell phone is at its limits trying to capture the majesty of these birds.  Mai took photos with her Nikon, and when she releases those, I can do a blog post with better imagery.  But I just had to put these up since these trips to spend time with birds bring such serenity and excitement.  Or as John Muir said, breaking clear away and spending time in Nature will “wash your spirit clean.”  Most of the birds pictured are snow geese, just because they are easier to photograph.  Cranes are more fun to watch, though.  They feed, dance, and play all day.  They talk a lot, too.

bernardo-cranes-soaring

bernardo-sunrise-and-bird-flight

snow-geese-explosion

We live in a time where it is important to dream ecodreams.  Visions of humans as a part of a world where all life flourishes.  Wildlife reminds me of the equivalency of all times.  Our life would be much poorer if we loose it.  Future generations will judge us by our actions on this most important issue of our times, conserving land and biodiversity, the source of all wealth.

bernardo-cranes

bernardo-flyout-all-in-line

bernardo-leagues

It is touching to see so many birds thriving.  People giggle with laughter standing witness to so many birds in action.  Managing the wetlands for harmonious relations between humans and other wildlife is a good example of Aldo Leopold’s principle of a land ethic, where “a thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.”

bernardo-snow-geese-from-field

bernardo-snow-geese-circling

bernardo-circular

We when drove down at predawn, we watched an almost new moon with just a sliver of edgy light rise slowly up above the Manzanos to the east.  The black disk shadowing earth’s orbiting companion.  There is a splendor to this time of day, greeting sunrise with the birds.  Although it is nothing but common, there is kind a momentary glory that hitches itself to your life.  When people come into contact with healthy nature and we receive it with impressionable senses, we are sowing the seeds for a brighter future, where our hearts are fresh, energetic, and true.

swimming-out

bosque-del-apache-sunrise-flyway

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.

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