Category Archives: M&M Travels

Year of the Bird

Nature is made to conspire with spirit to emancipate us. Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”

Displaying DSC_0396.jpeg

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.

Displaying DSC_0577.jpeg

Displaying DSC_0601.jpeg

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.

Displaying DSC_0939.jpeg

Displaying DSC_0925.jpeg

Displaying DSC_0943.jpeg

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.

Displaying DSC_0174.jpeg

Displaying DSC_0275.jpeg

Displaying DSC_0647.jpeg

Displaying DSC_0784.jpeg

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.

Displaying blueheron.jpeg

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

Displaying DSC_0326.jpeg

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

Sunset with the cranes

Even after all this time, the sun never says to the earth, ‘You owe me.’ Look what happens with a Love like that!  It lights the whole sky.  –Hafez (1315-1390), Sufi Poet

Mai and I spent Christmas Eve in a wildlife refuge about an hour south of Albuquerque.  Mai brought her tripod and used her Nikon camera to take video.  It turned out pretty good.  Here is  a clip below.  In case you like it, I’ve included links to more of her videos from yesterday.  Each one is different with the changing light and happy music from the sonorous birds.  Enjoy!

More crane videos from Mai at Sansai Studio:

https://youtu.be/hUV9ZnVP21w

https://youtu.be/hUV9ZnVP21w

https://youtu.be/WataIBJ2sSY

https://youtu.be/RDCtVV0AQDE

Mai’s website is here:  https://sansai.photoshelter.com

Homecoming with the birds

The Sandhill Cranes and other birds have returned to the Bosque del Apache for winter again. Visiting them there is amazing beyond imagination.  When we inhabit that place with them we are swept into the great sea of life.  One small moment in time becomes eternal.  Nature’s grace wins us over.  The first thing we saw was a huge flock of snow geese fly out from a shallow lake.

The geese are plentiful, but the cranes’s elegance stands out.  They seem to be messengers of peace, gliding elegantly in the sky.  We sense their grace, but there is something deeper here that flows into our being and integrates with our identity, a knowledge that lives in this place.

The way of the cranes mirrors our culture.  They sing, dance, play, and bond as a family unit.  But we have something different in terms of our curiosity.  We are looking for more to make our spirits soar.  By observing the cranes and appreciating this place, we receive an influx of nature’s strength, even more than we knew to look for.  With love and respect we belong here.

Resources–for more great photos, visit Mai’s instragram, and/or her website:
https://www.instagram.com/sansaistudio/
https://sansai.photoshelter.com

We also rode bikes there.  Check it out on Strava!
https://www.strava.com/activities/1301356130

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.

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.

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.

Cycling Japan lights my fire

“Touch is the greatest thing on earth. “ –Ray Charles

After five trips to Japan with Mai, on my sixth trip I finally cycled there.  It made all the difference.  This time I was determined to take time for cycling.  I rented a bike on two different occasions, and cycled about 460 kilometers.  Cycling put me in touch with a lot of things.  Here are a few photos and a sketch of my cycling experiences.  I’ll add more detail in my next posts.

My first ride in Japan was in Kagoshima with Mai.  We took a ferry across the bay to Sakurajima, an active volcano.  Mai rented a bike there and we pedaled together on a combination of paved paths, village and farm roads, and highways.  What a beautiful way to experience Japan.  The next day Mai connected me with a local professional cyclist through the bicycle shop I rented from, Fun Ride in Kagoshima, and he led me on a ride through the city and out into the hills.

The vistas from the hills above Kagoshima looking out onto the city, bay and Sakurajima were mesmerizing.  Japan is over 70% mountains, and has more land covered by forest than any countries other than Sweden and Finland.  So once you get out of town, the landscape is rural and a complete contrast to the busy cities.  There are many small farms, and nature abounds.

After two days of cycling in Kagoshima, we took the Shinkansen (high-speed rail) back to Osaka where Mai’s parents live.  I rented a bicycle there, and ventured into the mountains straddling the border between Osaka and Wakayama, Mount Izumi Katsuragi, in the Kongo Range.

I was delighted by the back roads.  There are so many byways from the foothills up the mountains that are only a lane or a lane in a half wide.  There is hardly any motorized traffic on them so it seems more like a mountain bike ride.  Very peaceful, quiet and enchanting.  There are roads like this in California such as Ebbetts Pass (though it has more traffic) but Japan has an incredible network of them.   I had some knowledge of these roads based on what I’d seen on maps and Google Earth, but cycling them gave me an entirely new understanding.

The access to the mountains from Osaka is pretty amazing.   Since it was the start of Spring, blooms were beginning and farmers were busy working their fields.  Schools were on break.  It was a great time to be cycling, and I can’t wait to go back and explore more.  Arigato Japan!

Walking the land and thriving

That which we are, we shall teach.  Ralph Waldo Emerson

tent-rocks-expansive

For President’s Day, Mai and I headed north towards Santa Fe.  Before ascending La Bajada we veered west and crossed the Río Grande.  Nestled against the Jemez Mountains, there’s an unlikely place where volcanic pumice, tuff and ash cliffs have eroded into conical forms. This place is called Kasha-Katuwe, meaning “white cliffs” in the Keresan language of the Pueblo de Cochiti.  It’s also called Tent Rocks.  We took a hike there, and walked into surprising beauty.


this song by Gil and Cartas reminds me of walking in beauty

tent-rocks-climbing-the-canyon

It felt so good to get out of the car and walk into the fresh air.  Our legs reached for the land like a tree grows to light.  The trail begins at the base of the white cliffs.  We walked through juniper and piñon forest.  Then we entered a canyon, which narrows down to a slot several stories high and barely wide enough to walk through.  The trail curves around rock, its way carved by water.  It seems an improbable passage but it leads out into open higher ground.

tent-rocks-emerging-from-canyon

tent-rocks-perspective-from-slot

Unexpectedly we found ourselves at eye level with the tops of the “tent rocks”.  The last steep pitch delivered us to the plateau above the tent rocks and awesome views of the Southwest’s grandeur and splendor.  We gazed at mountains all around, the Sandia Crest above Albuquerque, the Sangre de Cristo above Santa Fe, and volcanic peaks of the Jemez Mountains.

tent-rocks-hello

tent-rocks-overview-with-cochiti-kids-climbing

At the top we sat on a rock and drank water.  A group of school kids climbed up the trail just behind us, and their teacher sat on a rock next to us.  The class was from the Cochiti Pueblo.  The kids had the day off from school.  They were wearing shirts with a slogan about being healthy and fit.  Their teacher said activities like this were helping the kids realize their powers to live a healthy life.  The kids were catching the wind, smiling, enjoying the day.  An experience like this walk helps us get acquainted with ourselves and the living land community first hand.  As humans we are constituted to walk.  It fills us with insight.  We inhabit the heart of nature.    When we joyfully obey this enthusiasm, we find ourselves in new country, walking into health.

tent-rocks-sandia-in-view

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