Winter Solstice seems to me a good time to look back at the year.
Bicycling has become my primary form of transportation. Though I do some recreational riding, most of my trips are commuting, going to and from schools for work. It has been 24 days since I’ve driven my car, and I hope to make another 22 before driving my car again, though I do often borrow and drive my sister’s car when in Las Vegas. For over a week after the December 6 snowfall of 15 inches, I had to walk everywhere because I only have a skinny tired road bike, but that worked OK and actually got me back in condition to some degree since walking is so much less efficient than bicycling. When I do drive, it is to go up to Incline Village for meetings and hikes with the Tahoe Rim Trail Association, and rarely to dances or to visit friends in California. If there were transportation from Carson City to Incline Village, I could give up my car. I am obviously working towards that end, but am not quite ready to cut myself off from a few things I like to do.
This isn’t to say I don’t travel. I fly to Las Vegas about every two month to visit my mom, sister, nieces, and grand-niece, and the many friends I still have there. To get there other than by flying is a one-day drive or a two-day train and bus trip, so the hour and fifteen flight is hard to argue with. But I do think about the carbon footprint implications of every flight. I do carbon offsets, but that only undoes part of the damage. I use Amtrak quite a bit. Most of my trips to dance weekends are on Amtrak and other public transportation. I really enjoy being on the train – the “scenery” is interesting whether it is nature or the deteriorating backside of civilization, I like being able to move around, I like meeting people from different places and with different stories, and I like that trains are significantly more efficient than cars and planes. But carbon is carbon, and this coming year I’ll probably travel less than I have.
Most of this year I’ve worked as the Safe Routes to School Coordinator for Carson City. Safe routes is a program that encourages kids to walk and bike to school rather than being transported by their parents. When the way is not safe, we work to make it safer, though in most cases the greatest safety hazard faced by students who do walk and ride is the parents who are driving their children to school. I wrote and the school district was awarded a new grant for two years, 2009–2011. This grant was supposed to follow immediately on the old one, but it was delayed for three months, so I was without income for three months and that trashed me financially. I really enjoy some of the people I work with on this project, particularly the students, PE Specialists, and Patrick Pittenger of Carson City Public Works. Others are more challenging to work with because they don’t believe in safe routes, or in me, or both.
Much of my free time I spend advocating for pedestrians and bicyclists, which means advocating for myself. Carson City is not a bad place for either, largely because it is a small and slow town, not because it has so far been very friendly to alternate modes of transportation. I’m working with the local advocacy group Muscle Powered and with Carson City Public Works to change that. We have had some success, modifying bad projects and supporting new projects that integrate walking and bicycling, but there is a long way to go. Carson City is spread out, the kind of spread that happens when gas is cheap, undeveloped land is cheap, and development does not pay its way (yes, and so are most other places), so it is harder to make human-powered transport and public transit work. Too many people in Carson City grumble about the price of gas but have not yet thought beyond the car-centric worldview. But progressives and other leaders are beginning to notice, and to rethink how we are and what we might be. Many people are waiting for the economy to recover so we can get back to business-as-usual (both literally and figuratively), but I don’t think that it ever will recover to what it was because it was built on cheap oil, externalized costs, and criminality. The short period of time in which we could all drive as much as we wanted, which I benefitted from as much as anyone, is past. I think we are close to a future in which most transportation will be public or active (walking and bicycling), vehicles will be used to deliver goods only, and only people rich enough to ignore their societal obligations will have their own cars.
Contra dance is one of the joys of my life. Contra dancing is a style of traditional folk dancing from New England, but mostly it is community dancing – it builds community. The live traditional music would be worth listening to even without the dance, but both together are something much more. This year I traveled to several dance weekends: Dance Awakening at Harbin Hot Springs in April, Northwest Folklife in Seattle in May, Balance the Bay in San Francisco in August, and Danceable Feast in Eugene in November. The Fall has Sprung 12-hour contra dance in Grass Valley is always a favorite. I most enjoyed Balance the Bay, not just because of the dance itself but because of the people I stayed with – host Darva Campbell and the others. It is rare to have more fun outside the dance than inside, but this was it.
The Sierra Nevada outside my door and around Lake Tahoe has become my backpacking backyard. I did four backpacks in the Granite Chief Wilderness, which is northwest of Lake Tahoe, and my most common destination the last few years. Except for the PCT which passes through and the Five Lakes Basin, the wilderness is not much used. I explored old trail alignments which are on the topographic maps but not the current recreation maps, enjoying the challenge of finding old traces which were once trails but are now only used by bear and deer. I also did some trailwork, brushing trails and clearing winter debris, but not as much as the last three years. But the brush along the PCT is coming back, so next year will need some dedication.
The big backpack of the summer, though, was co-leading the Tahoe Rim Trail Association through-hike of the rim trail with Bill Holt and Sly Boskovich. It has been years since I’ve been out for this long – 15 days – and since I’d led other on a backpack. Most of my trips are solo and 5 to 8 days in length. The leadership challenge for me was in going slowly, at the pace of the group. Since I bought lightweight gear two years ago, I’ve grown accustomed to covering 10 to 25 miles a day without much effort, but the group had heavy gear and in some cases was not in shape. We had summer with record setting high temperatures, and winter with rain, snow and high winds, all in the same two week period. Nevertheless the experience with the group and being out and away was a very positive one.
My other big “hobby” is watching movies. Though I occasionally go to the theatre, most of my movies come in a red envelope from Netflix, or through their streaming service. I watch several movies a week, almost always really enjoy them. I mostly use Roger Ebert as my guide to find great movies and avoid stinkers, but every once in a while we disagree. This year I’ve been seeing a lot of movies that I last saw 5 to 20 years ago, now being streamed. I suspect that this abundance is not a good thing, though. I spend too much time watching movies that I could be doing other things like being outside and keeping in touch with friends. Sometimes I can’t remember what I watched the day before. Movies that I’ve enjoyed from this year (though they may have been released last year) include In Bruges, Wall-E, Vicki Christina Barcelona, The Reader, Man on Wire, Sin Nombre, and Star Trek.
Several times this year I’ve gotten in touch with friends, some recent and some long ago, when I had some extra time to do so, and the interest. But each of these instances was followed by being very busy with work, and so I didn’t keep up. If you are one of those this happened to, my apologies. I spend a lot of my time on the computer, with email readily accessible, and have free long distance on my cell phone for that matter, but it seems friends always come in last. Sad, for me, and maybe for you.
I picked the winter solstice on which to write because I enjoy noticing and celebrating the turning of the year. The winter and summer solstices, the spring and autumnal equinoxes are days for special recognition. I try to not be working on these days so that I can spend some time out in nature. I’d enjoy spending time with people in celebration as well, but my local circle of friends doesn’t pay much attention to these days, so often I’m out on my own. Though I don’t as often do something special, the cross-quarter days are also worth noting: Imbolc on February 1, Beltane on May 1, Lughnasadh on August 1, and Samhain on October 31 (these are the commonly used Celtic names for these days).
So, I wish each of you reading this a happy winter solstice and a great coming year.