Walking the sights and sounds

feet cropped

My wife and I are walkers. We don’t stroll about on our walks, we get out and WALK… everywhere, downtown, to the stores, the post office, to meetings, to jury duty, to vote, to lobby our government representatives. Walking is practical transportation, taking us to where we want to be and safely back home again.

One of the many advantages to walking, is that it places our eyes up at… well, eye level, where we can look around as we proceed forward and see what’s happening around us. Our ears are out there too, listening to the sounds about us, and, if we’re lucky and we’ve chosen our route well, the natural sounds devoid of the overweening traffic noise in our modern up to date cities.

One of the things that’s missing in our broken world is silence and the natural sounds that give texture and variety to the non-human world we inhabit. At night, here on the coast just a mile from the beach, we hear the surf patiently readjusting the beach, wearing down the coastal cliffs, ticking off the minutes, hours, days, years and millennia in a constant, unwavering cadence. The earliest inhabitants of this place must have heard this soothing sound all the time, before impatient and busy humans replaced quiet humans and the sounds of the surf with the cacophony of industrialized noise that marks our so-called modern civilization.

Walking is quiet. Walking is contemplative. Walking is an opportunity to talk with friends and neighbors, discuss the problems of the world and craft solutions.

Let’s take a stroll through the sights and sounds of our communities, human and non-human and “get their glad tidings.”


Happy Birthday, Ed!

Ed Abbey sunset

Today is the 89th anniversary of the natal day of Edward Paul Abbey, author, curmudgeon, social critic, lover of women and other wild living things.

He bared his soul in Black Sun, Fire on the Mountain, Desert Solitaire, and Fool’s Progress, set many of us on the path to defense of natural habitat and wilderness, confrontations with overbearing authorities, monkey wrenching, tree-spiking, survey stake pulling and other forms of socially and environmentally responsible activities.

If Ed were alive now, he’d be glad he died while there was still something left of the wild.

Soar high, Ed!

“There are some good things to be said about walking. Not many, but some. Walking takes longer, for example, than any other known form of locomotion except crawling. Thus it stretches time and prolongs life. Life is already too short to waste on speed. I have a friend who’s always in a hurry; he never gets anywhere. Walking makes the world much bigger and thus more interesting. You have time to observe the details. The utopian technologists foresee a future for us in which distance is annihilated. … To be everywhere at once is to be nowhere forever, if you ask me.”
Edward Abbey

A Plethora of Pathway Possibilities

It’s official! We read in Street Smarts | Navigating Santa Cruz County that the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail (MBSST for acronym aficionados) will pass through Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties on the Rail Trail, now in process of negotiation by the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (SCCRTC).

This is good news for everyone concerned with non-automotive transportation in Santa Cruz County, and good news as well for those of us concerned with preserving our natural, undeveloped sensitive habitats.

With the MBSST planned for the rail corridor just 1/4 mile from Arana Gulch, there is no longer any justification for building a paved bicycle connection through Arana Gulch from Broadway to Brommer Streets through Critical Habitat for the endangered Santa Cruz tarplant. The MBSST will add yet one more cross county bicycle-pedestrian connection to the already existing network of dedicated bike lanes criss-crossing the County and City.

Even better, the MBSST will provide a car-free route through the City and county, unlike Brommer and Broadway Streets, which are busy city streets with parking on either side. This will be truly safe bicycling and walking. The MBSST will travel through developed and undeveloped areas of the county and city, providing bicyclists and walkers of every stripe an opportunity for convenient, hassle free transportation and recreation, from one side of the county to the other, even unto Monterey County and beyond.

With cross-town traffic safely accommodated on the MBSST Rail Trail, Arana Gulch can be left in its natural area state, and the City Parks and Recreation Department can continue its good work of managing Arana Gulch for the Santa Cruz tarplant and other native species.

Peak Speed

In 1996, Ivan Illich gave a speech called, “Speed, what Speed?” for the “Speed” Conference of the Netherlands Design-Institute, in which he pointed out that the concept of “speed” is a very recent idea.

Speed arrived in Europe with the locomotive and mechanized travel. Prior to that, humans traveled at an animal’s pace, be they humans or horses, camels, donkeys, mules or oxen on land, or at by the strength and direction of the winds at sea. Speed was not a concern, since the pace the animal maintained varied considerably with the nature of the surface on which they traveled, weather, burden and length of time traveling. Sea travel was entirely dependent on the winds, sea conditions and weather.

With the advent of mechanized travel, speed became a factor, as locomotives and steam driven ships could travel without regard to the natural conditions of the place they were moving through. Passengers were less jostled about and arrived at their destination more rested, clean and in possession of greater amounts of baggage and freight.

Speed isolates human perception by annihilating space. Traveling by commercial airplane, one goes to a place identical to other places in other countries and continents, walks, briefly, through a metal tube to sit in another metal tube, while someone or something outside makes strange noises, changes the pictures on the windows and loses your luggage. Hardly anyone travels by ship anymore, other than to go to an expensive resort with a variety of entertainment spectacles, some of which are marginally on dry land. Even travel by private automobile has become a boring, meaningless exercise, as highways and support infrastructure are geared to speed the travelers on their way as quickly as possible, with as little connection to the local fauna as possible and with as little money remaining in their wallets as possible.

We’ve even noticed it, in the reverse, as we walk and bicycle around our own community. Bicycling allows me to observe the neighborhoods as I ride through, smell the flowers, feel the wind (and rain) and hear the sounds of birdies and humans. I sit upright on my bike, aware of my surroundings, fully involved with the place I’m riding through.

The difference between walking and biking is the same order of magnitude as the difference between biking and driving a car. When my wife and I walk, we are more involved with our surroundings that when I bicycle. The pace is slower, we can stop and smell the roses, listen to the birds, admire the clouds and sky. We don’t have to watch for traffic (except at intersections) and we don’t have mechanisms between us and the place where we walk (except shoes).

The other thing we’ve discovered is the perception of distance. When we walk, we discover that 2 miles, 3 miles, 4 miles passes by before we know it. We’re engaged in conversation, involved in our surroundings, and POOF! We’re there! Amazing. Riding in a car, the distances seems so much farther and the time to get there so much longer.

It’s all about scale. When we pass beyond the bounds of human scale, our connection with our bioregion is mitigated such that we lose touch with all that is. Speed is not human, not animal, not natural. “Pace” is the organic equivalent, the varying rate of movement through our world. Speed denies pace, annihilates distance, substitutes an arbitrary measure of velocity for the experience of moving through the world.

The first step to Living in Place, is to stop moving around so fast.