Monthly Archives: June 2010

Community

One of my goals, in this grand experiment of the ecoplex, is an exploration of community. There is the small community of people living in the building, and the ever-expanding layers of community spiraling off and away into the wider world around us. I’ve always seen this project as a way to help in those ever expanding worlds, from the inside out. I envision the process as a linear growth: get my own shit together, then work to build a functional, beneficial, merry ecoplex, and as the bigger projects there wind down and the system starts to be self-sustaining branch out into the neighborhood and beyond to effect change. Of course, the world is not so linear. I’ll probably die before I really get my shit together, but it’s an equisite process and I’m getting a little better at it, I hope. At least, I’m getting damn sick of thinking and talking about myself and don’t really give a hoot what is going on inside my own head right now, so it is time to reach outwards. But, as I overextend myself physically and mentally on construction projects, gardening, and community action I do find myself circling back into my own inner world again, pulling back into my shell to regroup for the next plunge.

In any case, it is an exciting time to live in Spenard. There are quite a few other cool cats who live here, I am finding out. There is a lot of the commercial world nearby, but nice palatable pieces of it – coffee shops like Middleway, restaurants like Yak and Yeti, movie-pubs like Bears Tooth (mostly I use them to fill my growlers with local beer) and music venue/bars like Taproot. The soft opening night of Taproot at its new location at the old Fly By Night club was quite an event! The Spenard Farmers’ Market has started this summer near my place, under the ‘Koots Windmill and it is great to have a market so close! The opening day of the market was also an enthusiastic, crowded event. Subsequent markets have been lighter, but as long as they can sustain at a level where I can walk over and grab local produce, maybe hear some music, drink a chai and meet my neighbors then I am happy. Some of us are pulling hard (many are pulling harder than I am) to try and get Spenard Road upgraded to a complete street (where travel is safe and efficient for all modes – car, ped, bike, transit, etc – check out the Spenard Complete Streets Coalition FB page).

Community is nebulous and vacillating though. It is a bit like those metallic bonds I mentioned a few posts ago. Get too fixated on the forward progress of any one piece and one is likely to get a bit burned out. Tenants roll through on their way to the next thing in their life, community friends drop in and out as they weave through their own lives, projects get hung up for years and years in a political morass, campaigns and businesses come and go. Sometimes it is one step back and two forward, sometimes the opposite, and sometimes things just get stuck in place for a while while the tide gathers energy to roll back in and push everything a bit further up on the beach. I am learning the patience of the clouds who can’t push the mountains anywhere, but by releasing their gentle drizzle eventually shape the whole range. Like the big willows, birches, and cottonwoods beyond my back fence, I am sending my roots down and out and I will do what I can to slowly make an ever expanding patch of ground more integrated and fertile and beautiful.

For July, though, I am going to have to pull a bit back and focus on my building – this week I’ll be coating my foundation insulation with the latex trowel on product I just received, soon I will be insulating and re-siding the rest of the building. yes, I am scared and overwhelmed – but it’ll be ok!

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Biking to the mountains

A year ago I posted about why I live in a city if I like the wilderness so much, and I mentioned that it was quite theoretically possible to get to the mountains here by human power. That had been an untried experiment for me though, trips to the Chugach always preceded by a car trip from home. This last weekend we proved the point! A fellow bike commuter and I biked from our homes in Spenard to a friend’s home in east Anchorage at the base of the Chugach (only 9 miles, and not too uphill). We joined up with 4 others and packed our gear up above tree line to a nice little camping spot near a lake (just past the Dome) to celebrate the solstice. It was drizzly and cool and cloudy, and we all got pretty soaked. My teeth were a bit chattery at times when stopped, but I think we all enjoyed almost every minute, even the quick route fix when the fog caused us to start to drop to the lake a bit too soon. We cooked some hot camp food and piled into the big dome tent with a large bottle of wine and who knows what the heck we talked about at this point, but the conversation flowed. It was a good group, and I was happy. I’m a bit fuzzy on timing, we all left our electronics below and my cell is my only portable time source, but we left Spenard about 5pm, made it with breaks to the spot by about 10pm. We didn’t stay up too late, and I woke pretty refreshed early the next morning and did a little warming morning hike further up the ridge (towards Knoya I think? I’m not that familiar with the names of many of the peaks). When I got back and everyone was still asleep I crawled back in my bag to stay warm and slept well until others stirred. Eventually, we all hiked down, then decompressed and hydrated at the friends’ house, before biking back home. Luckily, the weather was pretty kind Sunday, turning hot and sunny as we headed back through Anchorage.
It was a beautiful, fairly reasonable trip. My legs are pretty sore today, but only because I don’t get out enough! I think, with a bit more time, my 7-year old and I could do it too. At this point I would probably trail-a-bike him to the hiking point, then head up with him with a light pack. It could probably still be a weekend trip. I feel all the pride of proving yet again that it is very possible for me to live in Anchorage, and live well, without owning a car. Of course, I’ll admit that my life is set up pretty well for that, which isn’t always so easy. And I could really use a gear trailer – biking across town with a backpack is hard on the back!

Music and the virgin pear birth

I have had some time on my hands and some things on my mind lately. I’m not sure why I have any extra time, except that it is summer, and sleep is an after thought. I still have my boy to take care of, my job to do, my garden to tend, projects to manage and causes to forward. I have been spending a huge amount of time talking to old and new friends, and that makes me happy. I also am reminding myself to spend time with myself. I have been losing myself for calm morning hours in the garden, watering, checking up, planting and unplanting. I have discovered that my pear tree seems to be producing a pear, despite the lack of nearby pollinators (see a recent post on frustrated pear sex). I am guessing that a tryst with a mountain ash or a freak self-pollination may be to blame. I will follow its gestation with interest. Cherries, saskatoons, apples, currants and others are all developing young fruit as well. I look forward to sharing with my friends, and I really look forward to the days of over-abundance where I am foisting fruit on neighbors!

I am also attempting to follow through on my desire to create more music in my life. I grew up convinced that I couldn’t sing and, while I could read music and make my fingers sit in about the right place on my viola, couldn’t hear. Whatever. Doesn’t mean I can’t practice and enjoy. I joined the adult choir at my son’s school last year, and while I didn’t always feel on, there were moments of pure transcendence. I also took my viola out of its case recently. I tried to tune it without an electronic tuner, and figured I was close enough to practice. Then my young fiddling friend came over (he has been busking at the downtown saturday market and I have been requested as occasional harmony) and he brought a tuner. Magically, I was almost right on! Only the D string a little too sharp. I need to work on memorization, and I may never be able to pick out tunes on my own, but give me the sheet music and I can get it there. We practiced a couple of tunes and played for each other and it was excellent. I need to work on my parts, but we are going to have fun, and I will be diligent in my practice, as you are my witness! And I warn you, if you come over I will probably play for you!

Abundance

bonding


The world is full of everything we need. As a rationalist I often deny a benevolence to the universe, but there is certainly an overwhelming benevolence to the sea of life, humanity, and unexplained synchronicities of our lives. Sure, it doesn’t always feel that way. Pain is also pervasive, even though it doesn’t subtract from the beauty – sometimes quite the opposite. Pain can be debilitating. Pain can make the right thing well-nigh impossible to face. We will all cause and feel pain, but we can remember that we live in a world of warm, comforting, freeing abundance. There are an abundance of people to love us and to love – friends, lovers, family. Maybe not all at once, but if we are open to it they are there. There are many ways to bond with others – covalently in strong bonds that can make some amazing new whole, but can also cause pain in the rigidity of the bond or in the breaking. Metallically, some parts of our lives are spent in a general sea of love and help, washing past, in constant flux but not changing the whole. Some connections are more singular – vague and van der waalish or stronger and ionic, but sweet and dissolvable. Life is not easy. Sometimes the struggle for right is not worth it yet. Sometimes we must deny the abundance for a bit – rest in a winter of our own making (conscious or not). But just take your finger from the dike when you are ready and release the flow. There is no stopping the flow, like there is no way to stop the green growth in summer. They will appear – resources you need, people to help you with the grand fight, supporters and compatriots, lovers and friends. You can’t always choose them precisely, or predict the direction of the flow, but trust that it will be right.

An exciting/scary/fun week of urban biking

Its been a week jam-packed with bike-related events in my life:

last Friday – I was finally taken out by a car. The driver was poised to turn right on a red light at a major intersection. I had the walk signal (on a path signed for bikes as well, plus in Anchorage it is legal to ride on most sidewalks if you follow pedestrian rules). I slowed to walking speed and thought she had seen me, even though she had turned back to look for traffic from her left. In the super slow motion, action-in-jello collision I realized she had no clue I was there. Luckily, we were both almost stopped anyway (I think I did stop before she hit me, maybe I should have gunned it!), so just a few bruises and wheel badly in need of trueing – which I am strangely gifted at, so that was easily accomplished later. Thank god for disc brakes which allowed me to complete the ride to pick up my son from camp with my wobbly wheel. I guess it was time to relearn my lesson to assume they don’t see you, assume they will do the wrong thing, and don’t cross in front without serious eye-contact. All things I normally do, but we are only human.

In my 20’s I went over the hoods of cars on two occasions when the cars didn’t stop behind the stop sign at an intersection and visibility was poor. In those cases I was also on a sidewalk/path. It would be nice to be able to universally ride on the street in Anchorage – this is legal but in most places very dangerous and made quite uncomfortable by seriously hostile drivers (on any given ride on the street you are about 99% likely to have someone honk at you and/or yell obscenities at you). Painted bike lanes would be great, we have very few in town. Also good, if Anchorage is going to stick to the current plan of trying to channel cyclists to multi-use paths paralleling streets, would be to make sure these paths are signed and well-designed on both sides of the street, since many accidents happen at intersections when a cyclist is unseen because they are going in the opposite direction of traffic. Where I was hit, the sidewalk on the side of the road (36th ave) that would have taken me in the same direction as traffic is narrow, obstructed, and hellishly bumpy, not to mention unsigned for cyclists.

Veggie Spring Rollers at the Ecoplex


Sunday – a much better day for cycling! I woke up early to true my wheel and head to the store and strap a large bag of ‘natural’ charcoal to my back rack, since I was hosting the BBQ at the end of the BCA Bike garden tour (the Spring Veggie Roll). A huge number of cyclists (20ish?) toured food gardens throughout Anchorage then converged on my place for tasty salmon and potluck. There were kids on trail-a-bikes, babes in trailers…it was great!


Tuesday
– A cop almost turned left into me and my son while we tooled through another intersection on 36th Ave where we had the walk sign. A line of traffic in the other lane blocked his sight, and we both stopped in plenty of time, but it would have been amusing (maybe that’s not the right word) to get mowed down by a cop. Maybe I am more sensitive now, but I am feeling that car traffic is behaving worse than usual lately.

Wednesday – My son and I joined a bike-in protest against oil dependency and big oil at the BP building in town. We got interviewed by the news – I worried a bit about my job (engineering and oil are certainly not unrelated businesses here) but decided that was silly. A good time was had by all.

This coming Friday is Bike First Friday (click the ‘Bicycle Commuters of Anchorage’ link to the right side near the top of this page for more info and a map)! Participating galleries and other venues with art shows (Modern Dwellers Chocolate lounge and Midnight Sun Brewery among others!) will have treats and have submitted a scavenger hunt question. Bikers will meet at the Museum cafe, like last month, where there will be valet bike parking, general socializing, some prizes, and good time had by all. A bunch of us are going to start rabbelrousing about the delayed Spenard Road Project – a project that would benefit bikers and peds, and generally everyone, but which some local businesses fear – mostly since change is scary. These businesses have signs that say “If you like Arctic…you’ll love Spenard”, sarcastically referring to a similar project one street over on Arctic Blvd that took longer than expected and was a bit of a mess for a while. But you know, I love Arctic! I work on Arctic. I live between Spenard and Arctic and choose to bike Arctic due to wide shoulders that allow me to bike in the road and sidewalks that actually have, what a concept, curb cuts and room to walk or bike! So I’ll keep taking my fairly large disposable income (even larger since I don’t shell out for car payments or insurance or gas) and bike it up and down Arctic until Spenard is fixed for bikes.

And finally – a list of my urban biking loves and pet peeves:

What I love about bike commuting in Anchorage: I am never caught in traffic jams, I get great exercise, you often have great conversations with other bikers or peds, you go slow enough to see the sandhill crane feeding on the mudflats, it makes me feel powerful and rich (since I save so much money not owning a car).

What I hate about biking in Anchorage: Rude drivers, unobservant drivers, lack of safe room to bike on most roads, paths/sidewalks in really bad shape with light and signal poles in the middle, and where the signal post is far enough back to be out of your way, it is in some really strange place where you have to turn 90degees and reach way around to hit the walk-sign button. Also, it ticks me off to no end when I get to an intersection as the light is turning green and since I haven’t had time to hit the walk button, I have to wait through a whole cycle to get the signal or illegally run the red hand (if it was safe to bike on the street I could go with the green and this wouldn’t be a problem). Generally, it is obvious that bikes are an afterthought both on the road (where cars are king) and on the paths – which if they are designed for anyone are designed for peds only.