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A Walk in the Woods (without leaving the city)

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One of the things that is unique about living in Buffalo, NY is while it is a medium sized city it is also a small town, and with that one doesn’t have to go far in order to encounter wilderness. In fat, one doesn’t have to even leave the city limits. I’m referring to two nature preserves that are along our shoreline and are just outside of downtown. Both of these preserves, Tifft Nature Preserve and Times Beach Nature Preserve, are less than a 5 mile bike ride from my front door. Indeed, in the summer months the trip is much shorter with the aid of Buffalo Bike Ferry. Anyhow, thus said, a couple days ago I had the day off and the morning free and felt like I needed a bit of recharge so I rode over to Tifft Nature Preserve and went for a walk. It truly is what I needed. Here’s a few things I saw. To see previously posted pictures from Tifft, click here, and from Times Beach, click here.

Things that can be carried on a bike (#715)…

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A pug!

This is Maxwell on his way home from the groomer after having his nails clipped and a painful ingrown dew claw tended to. He is very happy and relieved 🙂

The View from the Top…

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This is a series of photos I shot last week from the observation deck of Buffalo’s incredibly beautiful City Hall. The observation deck is visible in the above photo as the strip of glass that surrounds the very top of the building. The first photo below was taken from the steps, looking up. This, in my humble opinion, is one of the most underused and free attractions to our city. To see photos of the interior of the building, here’s a series I shot last year, and if you’d like to see a couple photos of the building at a distance and lit up at night, click here.

Anyhow, the photos are as follows…the second photo below is looking east over the city just as you walk out onto the observation deck, when you are up there it is easy to see how the street patterns were laid out in a sort of wheel pattern in the same way as Paris. Walking around the side of the deck and looking northwest one can view Niagara Falls 20 miles away, that’s the next photo (if you look close you can see the mist from the actual falls). The photo below is a zoomed in photo of the tightly packed West Side, my neighborhood. The last photo is a zoomed in photo of the top of the Liberty Building, which is also visible (in the distance) in the photo looking out over the city. What I find interesting about this zoomed in photo is that if you look past the city you can see dozens of windmills in the distance, those I believe are the windmills off to the east of Buffalo in Cattaraugus and Wyoming counties. Anyhow, whether a local or visitor to the City of Good Neighbors, the observation deck as an excellent and interesting way to spend a (free) half hour or so.

Urban Simplicity.

Mystery…two brief stories about the same thing

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“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

~Albert Einstein

I have always believed in the mystery of the unseen. No, I am not referring to ghosts, but simply that there is more to this life than we can see. What is reality, after all? Science will tell you that everything we can see and touch is not actually solid but is moving and vibratory (Google string theory as one example). But I have to restate my opening sentence, or at least amend it.

I have always believed in the mystery of the unseen but don’t always remember or know it. By this, I mean that I am not always open to it. Such has been the case these past few months. Trying to manage a full-time job, a part-time job, and 8 credits of schooling (and trying to have a life) has been trying to say the least. So I just shut things out and live in the material world, which isn’t always my favorite place. The irony is that some of the credits I’m taking, and the class that has been most challenging for me, is a religious studies class. The reading and writing required for the class is approached academically rather than theologically or devotional, in short in my head not my heart. When I get like this I sometimes need a slap in the face to wake me out of my slumber so I can again see the incredible mystery that is all around me. And this is what happened a few days ago.

As with all of us, there are certain dates of the calendar year that have great significance to me. I’m not referring to holidays, but personal dates we remember each year. There’s one such date that I remember each year and on that day take a sort of pause, to remember. What the date means to me is something I’d rather not share in this public forum other than it is very personal. It has had life-altering significance and on that day I simply remember. But this year I didn’t remember; I forgot. I didn’t realize I forgot but I did. Then, out of the blue, I received a text from someone who made reference to the date. 

Slap! Wake up, it was telling me. When I read the text I felt like I was in a movie…reading it but not really able to comprehend. I was groggy from being woken up. My skin tingles now as I type these words.

There is so much mystery around and it is so easy to see and feel but when I am so engulfed in my own issues it’s as if I shut everything out and live externally rather than internally, which for an INFJ can be a very scary place. The text reminded me to stop and remember not just that particular day but life, each and every day. The difficult part—the real work—is to keep it going.

The day after I received the aforementioned text I had the day off. It was early and I was heading out to a coffee shop. As I rolled my bike down the plank on my front porch I half-expected a squirrel to run up. No I am not crazy (okay, maybe a bit), there is a squirrel that lives in the eave of my neighbor’s porch and in the spring and summer it runs up to you as you leave the house. My neighbor named it George but we’re questioning whether we should rename him Georgina because he may be a she. But the squirrel didn’t show.

When I bring my bike down the porch I have to set it on its kickstand so I can go back up the porch to lock the front door. It, being a rather large bike, has a rather large kickstand which makes a sound when unfolded. Anyhow, when I set the bike on it’s stand and it made it’s predictable sound I heard the sound of feathers being ruffled. It came from the direction of my neighbor’s porch where George/Georgina resides. I look up to see a peregrine falcon perched directly above the squirrel’s hole, which is only about 15 feet from where I was standing. Holy shit!, is what I’m pretty sure I said aloud. It was waiting for George/Georgina. Did he/she have babies in it’s nest, I wondered?

Then the falcon flew to a tree branch, which was actually closer to me but higher. And for another few seconds it looked down at me then flew away. I tingled. The cycle of life I thought. Even in the city these wildlife things happen.

I hopped on my bike and rode to the coffee shop, and as I did I thought of how incredibly strange life is and what was real. Both of these stories are really about the same thing, the mystery of life.

After a lifetime of working in kitchens I don’t have any money to speak of and have (mostly) stopped worrying about it. I really don’t desire things any longer. Experience is what excites me, and life is about experience. That, to me, is reality.

As I pedaled I thought of the famous conversation Buddha had with his disciples, as recorded in Dona Sutta. I’m abridging and paraphrasing, but it goes something like this. He was first asked if he was a god or messiah to which he answered no. Then asked if he was healer or teacher, also no. Then what are you, he was finally questioned. To which he simply answered, I am awake.

I need constant reminders in my life to stay awake. The text was one—that really was a slap—and the falcon another. I need them constantly, we all do I suppose. When I came home this afternoon George/Georgina came running up to me, as usual a bit too close for my comfort, so I stomped my foot for him/her to stop. And when he/she did I told him/her to be careful, to stay awake, that the falcon knows where you live. I don’t think he/she understood me.

In a way, I suppose, when I warned George/Georgina I was really warning myself. Stay awake, because the falcon (ego) knows where you live. Stay awake lest it plucks you away. Next year, I’m sure I will not forget the date.

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

~ 2 Corinthians 4:18

After the Parade, and a Few Other Things I’ve Seen Recently While Walking or Riding a Bike…

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So a couple things. One is that I’ve begun carrying my camera with me again on a regular basis, hence the photos. It’s therapy for me (seriously). The first three photos (the one above and two below) were shot today just after the St. Patrick’s Day Parade (Buffalo recently ranked the #1 city for this event). I didn’t see the parade but as I live very close to where it happens I snapped a few photos afterwards. While the above shot–which is one of my favorites–may seem a bit snarky I don’t mean it to be. It’s three drunk people stumbling along and holding one another up (if you saw them in person they sort of swayed in a synchronized motion as they walked). Anyhow, I thought it was nice how they all held one another up. Years ago (many years ago) that may have been me. This rest of the photos are in no particular order. They were shot over the past week or so, where we basically experienced every season (except truly hot summer) within the course of the week. Click any photo for a slightly larger view.

Urban Simplicity.

I am not a perfect cyclist by any means, but…

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For those who know me, or even have simply been to this blog in the past, likely know a few things about me, and one of them is that I don’t own a car and choose bicycling as my primary choice of personal transport (the other two are walking and public transportation). This said, I am not an anti-car person, it’s just that about 5 years ago I realized that not only I no longer needed one but that it was cumbersome to have one in my life.

I’d also like to add that I am in no way a perfect cyclist. For the most part I follow the rules of the, but still, I am not perfect (but who is).

Anyhow, thus said, I had gone out for coffee this morning to do some reading and writing at Sweetness7 and before heading home stopped at Westside Stories and purchased a book on the life of Bonhoeffer. So, in short, I was sort of caffeined up and blissed out as I pedaled and coasted. I was keeping pace with traffic as it had slowed because a driver next to me was making a left turn into a driveway. It was then that I noticed the car behind us turn into the bike lane behind me to pass the car on the right. Did he not see me? He sped ahead, narrowly missing me. He was so close I could feel the air move between us as he passed, the side-view mirror nearly clipped my handlebar. I yelled out–partially in anger and partially in fear–and he looked over at me with a quizzical look as he passed. I slammed on my brakes and stopped. A passerby who was walking saw it and inquired, “Whoa, dude, are you ok?”

Again, I am not a perfect cyclist, but today I was on a clearly marked bike lane when a car crossed into it to pass. Please (other cyclists) do not comment on this in a hateful anti-car way (as tempting as it might be), and pro-car people, please do not comment in the other direction. All I ask is that people in cars be aware. While my bike is heavy by bicycling standards (about 55lbs), your car weights a ton-and-a-half. To the person in the car whom which I refer, you are likely not reading this, but if you are, know that your actions today almost changed both of our lives.

Sacred Ground (words and photos)

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“Do you remember Moses at the burning bush?  God had to tell him to take off his shoes–-he didn’t know he was on holy ground. And if we can just come to see that right where we are is holy ground–-in our jobs and homes, with our co-workers and friends and families.  This is where we learn to pray.” ~Richard Foster


So last week after having breakfast with my sisters on a crisp winter’s day I rode my bike to the cemetery. As odd as it may sound, I find cemeteries beautiful. Peaceful. I find its sacredness calming and in a way connecting. I had some things on my mind and needed the calm.

Sometimes if I’m feeling stressed or disconnected I have a practice which I do. I think to myself how in some time (hopefully later than sooner) I will no longer be here. I will cease to exist in this particular bodily form. I do believe I will exist in some type of consciousness but cannot fathom what that may be. At some point I (my soul)—which is eternal—will shed this body like an old coat and move on to whatever there is beyond. We all will.

When I looked around at the monuments I thought of how each person had their own worries and stresses but in the end none of those worries matter. Some of the graves have large monuments built to honor their loved ones, but they are no more important than the smaller ones or even those unmarked.

I know this may seem a bit dark and even morbid, but it’s not. To me it is inspiring because it makes me remember what I have right now. Because that of course is all we really have…the now.

Thinking in these terms also helps me remember our connectedness and the holiness of everyday life. If, for example, there is something greater than I, a higher power, which I believe there is, then wouldn’t this source shed the same light on you and I and everyone equally? So if this is true wouldn’t we each carry a spark of light from this source within us, no matter our circumstances? And if this were true wouldn’t each of us be not only connected to one another in some mysterious way but also precious to this source in some unfathomable way? And if this were true would each interaction, each step we take, in some way be holy, sacred. The very ground on which we walk sacred.

I’ve come to this cemetery for years, for solace and photos. And I remember a while back, in the summertime, seeing a group of teenagers lying on the grass as if it were a public park. They seemed harmless enough, and happy, but inadvertently they were lying on a person’s grave. A cemetery worker saw them as he drove by. He stopped and I was close enough that I could hear what he said. He told the teenagers they were welcome to stay so long as they stayed on the road or benches or other public areas, because where they were currently sitting was sacred ground.

As I rode my bike through the paths of the cemetery last week, on a crisp winter day, I would stop periodically to snap a photo when something caught my eye. And when I did I would hear the sounds of wildlife as the cemetery is an unofficial animal sanctuary in the city. At one point a family of deer gracefully meandering through the gravestones. The sound of geese is always present as they squawk and cackle near the lake and stream. And circling above were a couple falcons searching for prey. The cycle of life, I thought. And I also thought of the irony…so much life in this place of graves. So much beauty.

Years ago I happened upon a book by the spiritual writer, Ernest Holmes, at used bookstore. The bookstore has since closed, and the owner himself has made his transition, but I still have the book. It’s simply titled, Practicing the Presence, and is the first book of New Thought I had read, which eventually changed the way I view things. When I first picked up the book I opened it at random and the first words that I read were, “The very place on which you stand at this moment is holy ground.” Chills ran up my spine as I read it and they do again as I remember this and type these words.

So as I stood there straddling my bike, my breath visible from the cold, I thought about this. It is true that nothing matters but now. The connections we have with one another and how we interact in this particular time we all happen to be passing through are all we have. Money worries are nothing. Annoyances at work, ditto. None of it means anything. The only thing that matters is love. For one another and all things. And as I stood thinking these things, for a very brief moment, the veil was lifted ever so slightly and I caught a glimpse of this. And at that moment I was standing on holy ground, and realized that each one of us is sacred. To each other but also to our source from whence we came and will ultimately return.

As I pedaled and coasted home I had a full belly from brunch, but also a full heart from my
contemplation in the cemetery. Now I have to remember to carry this with me throughout my days. And that will be the most difficult part.

 Urban Simplicity

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