The main reason I ride a bicycle is to get where I want to go. Sometimes I get an idea of places to go from someone else’s rides. John Fleck, a UNM professor and journalist with an emphasis on water, posted a ride on Strava with pictures of these cool murals depicting scenes from Albuquerque’s Bosque with colorful flora and fauna. It looked beautiful and I wanted to see it.
John posted a picture of the Pacific Avenue street sign on his ride, but I couldn’t make out the cross street. So the first time I ended up looking for these murals I rode up and down the wrong section of Pacific. I was on the West side of the railroad tracks. It turns out the murals are by the Tortuga Art Gallery on the east side of the tracks. I found it on my second try.
Standing there in September light, I marveled at this mural! The street became a theatre for this wrap-around art work transforming an ordinary building into a vibrant bio-scape. It must always look different in the changing light. Even though I only found what was already there, it gave me a sense of discovery and hope. Thank goodness there are artists working in this world!
While pedaling down Edith away from this mural a kid on his porch gave me a big wave and I waved back. It’s amazing how the bicycle creates a sense of adventure and connection that is so accessible and easy to enjoy, right out our front door. I took the Bosque Trail northward and the long way home, paying closer attention to the ordinary beauty all around me.
Keep at a tangent.
When they make the circle wide, it’s time to swim
Out on your own and fill the element
with signatures on your own frequency.
Seamus Heaney, Station Island
Mai’s Fall break and the recent cold spell made for perfect timing to walk in the Manzano Mountains, sampling the turning colors. Prime color season draws decent sized crowds to these remote mountains, but part of the joy was seeing other people excited by the experience of walking out in the wild, eyes wide open. Being in the presence of splendid nature on such intimate terms imbued everyone with good manners. The forest was a picture of health.
During our walk we encountered three different groups on horses. I was delighted to see such beautiful animals on the trail, especially since this is probably the busiest time of year and horses are shy. But the horses were happy too. We saw one party being trailered up for the ride home. The woman walked into the trailer and gently called who wants to come. The horses with their shining brown hair followed her like dogs, heads bobbing. Our favorite group included a donkey, who seemed to be smiling, content from the open air walk with his herd.
We packed our lunch and mid-hike we stopped on a hillside angled Southeast and sat on rocks facing the sun. We could see the veins of color shooting up 4th of July Canyon, which we had just walked through, and we admired the speckles of color further up on the high ridges of the mountainside. The habitat changed as we emerged from the canyon, which was filled with tall trees with long roots twisting down, tapping the ground water. The sun exposed hillsides were dominated by alligator junipers, piñon pine, yucca and had more open vistas. The fragrance of sun, rock, soil and forest detritus was absolutely sublime. Lunch never tasted so good.
By the time we finished later in the afternoon we were hungry again and our legs were tired. We went to the Manzano Mountain Retreat down the road and stocked up on fresh apples. The Spanish settlers brought apple seeds with them centuries ago. This luscious fruit that originated in the Caucus Mountains of Central Asia still grows well here and takes on the unique character of these mountains. They also sell Apple Cider and we got that too. We are still eating these delicious apples and baking pies to fuel our next walk into the glorious wild.
“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.
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
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.
“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