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.
Humanity has been sleeping –and still sleeps– lulled within the narrowly confining joys of its closed loves.
–Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
I love exploring Albuquerque’s Open Space on urban trails. Our trails put me in touch with the healing powers of nature. The trails are often times small, and that can bring trail users into close proximity. That gives us opportunities to contribute to well-being in a neighborly way.
The best kind of trail in my opinion is singletrack. This is even more challenging to share than a small two-lane road, where a person may take up a whole lane, but there is still another lane to pass providing you can see it is clear of oncoming traffic for the necessary distance. When you meet another person on singletrack, you have to negotiate a safe pass, because by definition there is only room for one line of traffic. This always requires communication, patience, awareness of and respect for the well-being of others, and restraint by the speedier users.
One day on a singletrack trail in High Desert, I got stuck behind a couple walking and talking. They were going in the same direction I was. They had two dogs off the leash. I said hello and that there was a bicycle behind them. They didn’t hear me or see me. I kept a safe distance behind them and waited until there was a pause in their conversation, and used a louder voice to try saying hello again. On the third or fourth try they heard me. I stopped and waited as they gathered their dogs and attached the leashes to the collars. They found a safe place to move aside and when they were set they waved me on. We exchanged smiles and greetings with remarks on how beautiful the day was outside. It felt so good to share pleasantries. By taking time I made new friends. I felt like my patience paid off, not only in waiting for them, but the feeling I got inside from negotiating a safe, friendly pass contributed to my own well-being.
Our situational awareness as travelers takes into consideration the well-being of others. It is not just about going somewhere, it is about being with people in places and safeguarding dignity. In our travel culture I sometimes see an atmosphere of incessant rushing. And in traffic engineering, there are metrics such as travel speed and throughput that stress industrial measures that can overshadow human needs such as community, enjoyment and quality. The trails are a good place to get back in touch with ourselves and forge those vital connections once again. It takes discipline, but when we focus our attention there, good things happen.
In Colorado Springs, the Garden of the Gods offers trail opportunities for exploring the land
An important mentor of mine for teaching youth cycling told me that kids don’t get “yield”. It is kind of a complex word. He found that it works better to teach kids to “give it up” when they see other people on the trail, at junctions, or crosswalks. This works well, being present to the needs of others. This also includes horses, which are common on New Mexico trails. In that sense, the rules for urban trails teach us to give it up and be present to all of life in nature. By doing this, we experience a fuller measure of nature’s healing powers right here on home trails.
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.
“What is it that awakens in my soul when I walk in the desert, when I catch the scent of rain, when I see the sun and moon rise and set on all the colors of the earth, when I approach the heart of wilderness? What is it that stirs within me when I enter upon sacred ground? For indeed something does move and enliven me in my spirit, something that defines my very being in the world. I realize my humanity in proportion as I perceive my reflection in the landscape that enfolds me.” –N. Scott Momaday, Testimony, 1996.
Following Mai up the Spruce Spring trail in the Manzanos
We’ve had a good series of adventures since I last wrote. I’ve been to the Iron Horse Bicycling Classic in Durango, and enjoyed bike rides and walks with Mai in sweet places. So far as figuring out where home is, I think that is a trick question. I feel at home everywhere I am.
Mai cycling near Lemon Reservoir
Feeling at home is a matter of paying attention. When we tune in we sense it. In Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way, she says “the reward for attention is always healing.”
Following my teammate around the Sandia Mountains
roses in front of the Hillerman Library
A cactus flowering on top of the Manzano Mountains!
Cameron goes on to say “your own healing is the greatest message of hope for others.” This seems to me true. And it a whole lot easier than trying to fix problems we don’t control.
Enjoying a slow roll up the mountain on the back road tucked away behind Placitas
Cooling off after the Ironhorse in Silverton
Hidden waters in the canyons of the San Juan Mountains
I enjoyed being in Durango, but it was also nice coming back to Albuquerque. There is a lot of nature in this place, and we do well to experience it, to go with the flow. It is ironic that people need nature to recharge and recover, but sometimes the way we build up the environment covers up this healing power. It seems like where we need that the most is where all the people are (or most people, and now across the world, over 50% of people live in cities, and that proportion is growing). Sometimes I feel alienated from humaneness in parts of the city, and that causes pain. Julia Cameron wrote “pain is what it took to teach me to pay attention”. That is an important lesson. Building places, working with nature, so that we feel connected to all of life feels a whole lot better, and it’s worth the effort. When people feel a sense of adventure in routine activities, enjoying simple things like a walk or bike ride, we are living well.
On most road rides I meet people
Sometimes the beauty in the mountains helps us get back on the right path and reminds us life is an adventure
“When you’re born to run, it’s so good to just slow down.” –Steve Winwood, Back in the High Life Again
Since I started cycling everyday in 1997, the original attraction–the insight of the bicycle as a transformative tool–keeps getting stronger. I’ve learned that in spite of my love, there is no bike friendly paradise out there that already exists for us. We have to build our own world.
Rules to govern power differentials in spatial relationships is key for encouraging more walking and cycling. IMBA (the International Mountain Bicycling Association) offers a simple principle for the trails to direct respectful relations. “Descending riders yield to climbing riders.” ( https://www.imba.com/ride/imba-rules-of-the-trail ) With speed comes the responsibility to control it. On roads, the LAB (League of American Bicyclists) has a similar principal governing orderly flow of traffic. It’s called “First come, first served.” “Everyone on the road is entitled to the space they’re using. If you want to use someone else’s space, you must yield to whoever is using it.” ( https://bikeleague.org/content/traffic-laws ). Education is one part. Instilling the discipline to apply these principles is another. Policies prioritizing safety over speed are mechanisms. Safety is a mindset based on self-respect and respect for human individuals.
Prioritizing safety over speed is based on recognizing our limits as a species. We evolved in nature for slower moving activities. Mechanical assistance brings in a level of responsibility we are not automatically equipped to handle. So training and knowledge becomes essential. Nature shows us we have biophysical limits. Travel systems such as the Shinkansen, or Bullet Train, in Japan have achieved an admirable degree of fast transport and system safety by controlling variables. To keep using our roads and trails with a high degree of autonomy and freedom, we have to implement principles, and be disciplined and restrained to protect people.
To achieve the outcome of a transportation system with all kinds of choices, and safety and dignity for all, we have to focus on the process of following basic principles. I think we have a head start in America since the idea of respecting the individual is so strong and powerful, and we also want people to set out and explore our country. It seems a vital necessity. If we focus on the process and applying what we know, it feels so good to slow down and enjoy life everyday.
“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance.
“We must go alone. I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching.” –RW Emerson, Self Reliance
“The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lessons of worship.” RW Emerson, Nature
One of the truest aspects of cycling is the way it connects us to the soil again and helps us put down roots in the places where we are growing our lives. Cycling helps us find our way home. It’s a technology that helps us notice when we are happy, and shows us how simple the joys in life can be, how direct and integral the connections between the land, water, air, all of nature, the whole community are to sensing a greater awareness of who we are and what we can be.
I think with all the fancy technology we have there is a tendency for arrogance, for pretending we know more about life than anyone else. But as Kurt Vonnegut points out in his talk called the Shape of Stories, we really don’t know anything more about the central mysteries of life than before. This is what Emerson referred to as the equivalency of all times. There is an equality inherent throughout humanity. It is this humility and understanding our limits that keep us innovating at our best, with the aim of enjoying life on the only home we know, planet Earth.
“I have tried to bring scientific thinking to literary criticism and there’s been very little gratitude for this.” –Kurt Vonnegut, Shape of Stories
And so on this Earth Day, I took a ride on lunch break. The butterflies are flying about in the winds, caterpillars are crawling on the ground and on flowerstalks, and the hummingbirds are arriving in town. It is just another day on this earth like any other day, which means today is magnificent, special and holds the complete history of time, all of the present, and the seeds of the future. It’s a great day. A nice day to take a stroll or a bike ride, and keep finding our way.
“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist fighting for peace by nonviolent methods most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence…It destroys his own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.” –Thomas Merton quoted in Rick Bass, The Blood Root of Art
Kurt Vonnegut’s talk Shape of Stories can be viewed on YouTube here since you probably can’t listen/watch it while “reading” this blog post and listening to Clapton and Winwood playing, but it is worth a view, as Vonnegut can tell a good story about storytelling.
“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
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.
Check out Sansai Studio’s video of Snow Geese circulating: