So why visit Lansing?

 

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This week I visited Lansing for the first time. Let’s be clear. The capital city of Michigan is not on most travellers’ A-list for tourism. Lansing is where you go if you are interested in deal-making and crafting legislation in Michigan.

I came for one reason only: to speak to state lawmakers and their staff, in order to promote legislative change to reform Michigan’s adoption laws that deny all Michigan-born adoptees equal rights by law. (See my website for my book, You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are, focusing on adoptee rights issues for more information.) I also brought my sturdy Panasonic-Lumix DC-ZS70 camera, hoping to take a few pictures of a new place.

With just 116,000 people, Lansing is not a large city. It caters, like much of Michigan, to the internal combustion engine in design and layout, except downtown. There, everything revolves around the state Capitol Complex, which houses Michigan’s state government services. The epicenter of that is the Michigan State Capitol, which opened in 1879.

All told I spent two days in the city. I commuted to the capital from a run-down hotel in neighboring East Lansing, home of Michigan State University. The MSU campus surprised me with its stately academic buildings and serious efforts to encourage transportation to the campus by bike and bus.

Lansing is an older Midwest city attempting to revitalize its urban core along the Grand River. Upscale loft style condos have been built near the river in downtown and next to the Cooley Law School Stadium. The ballpark is home to the city’s minor league club called the Lugnuts—and what a great name. They were away when I was in town.

Not far from these gentrifying spots are social service centers on Michigan Avenue helping the area’s homeless. Signs in neighborhoods make clear residents are united in fighting crime and that the city is struggling, with 17 percent of its residents living in poverty. One report from four years ago claimed Lansing was among the county’s poorest capital regions.

I greatly enjoyed my walk along the Lansing River Trail. The trail is actually a 20-mile network of converted railroad lines that link Lansing with the MSU campus and the greenways south of downtown. I loved it.

I also enjoyed the Lansing Brewing Company, next to the Cooley Law School Stadium. I tried one of the local stouts and was surprised by its freshness. It was a beautiful late spring night when I came, and everyone was enjoying the nice weather, bluebird skies, and camaraderie that one finds in brewpubs nationwide.

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Bears, Bikes, and Denali

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In May 2010, I took one of the funnest trips I logged during my six-year stay living and working in Alaska. I joined a group of some adventurous and fun outdoor-loving Alaskans for a mountain-bike day trip into Denali National Park.

Before the National Park Service opens the main park road to tourist buses, it allows cyclists to pedal up this mostly dirt road. On that trip, I went with a group of four other mountain bikers, getting as far as the Polychrome Overlook. I didn’t see Denali. Clouds will cover the majestic peak more than half the tourist season, so I didn’t expect to see it. I did expect wildlife, maybe some waking grizzly bears, other wild animals, and beautiful terrain. On that front, the trip was a stunning success.

Denali by Mountain Bike, the Only Way to Travel in Mid-May

The adventure began, as you can expect, around a campfire after all of us had driven up from Anchorage (amazing drive, by the way). We secured a camping spot at the Riley Creek Campground, near the main entrance. This is still a surprisingly wild and beautiful area. Staying up late in the arctic night, we talked story around a fire and planned for an early start on a Friday morning in mid-May.

The next morning, we drove as far as the park service allows, not far from the Savage River Campground. From here, you bike in,

A group of five of us cycled ahead of most of the other mountain bikers that day and reached the overlook, 31 miles from the Savage River parking area. It’s a beautiful stretch of road that climbs up 1,500 feet vertically, with a few long up and down hills. The terrain is mostly brown and still snow-covered that time of year. Along the way, we had to stop because of traffic, namely, a grizzly mother and her two cubs. We laughed a lot as she and her young one slowly walked down the hill, calmly crossed the road, and then ambled down the hillside. We saw another pair close to this group, of a mother and just one cub, on a ridge, framed against a mastic mountain backdrop. That’s five bears in less than one hour!

Respecting, Not Fearing, the Bears

For people who don’t live in Alaska or those who pack guns to kill wild critters, this would appear to be a terrifying moment. It was not, and is not.

Bears are relatively predictable, but still lethal. If you respect their space, don’t threaten their food source or young, and don’t startle them, they mostly will leave you alone. Mostly, respect them and their home. And I can say that having travelled hundreds of hours and many more miles in Alaska’s wild bear country, by bike and foot, not once having been threatened.

I have not published these shots on my websites before and forgot until I saw them again how amazingly breathtaking the “Great Land” (that’s what Alaskans call their state) is. I miss it, particularly this time of year, when the snow begins to melt and the big critters begin to explore, eat, hunt, fish, and be wild–the way they were meant to be.

Here’s the video I published almost exactly eight years ago today from that great trip.

Japanese Garden Cherry Blossoms at the Missouri Botanical Garden

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The Japanese Garden (Seiwa-en) at the celebrated Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis is a world-class treasure that can rival any garden anywhere else. I come here whenever I visit my family in the St. Louis area. My mother and I have strolled here dozens of time, during all seasons on the year.

However, until this April, I had never seen the Japanese Garden at its most expressive moment, when the cherry trees are blooming their delicate pink flowers and the feeling of the place carries you straight to Japan. I loved it.

I have published many photos on this blog before of other cherry blossoms, and of this garden too, but never just like this. This made my trip in mid-April even more memorable, if not unforgettable. If you haven’t been to St. Louis or the garden, add it to your list. It is a must-see for anyone who has ever felt a passion for gardening or who appreciates the many different ways cultures around the world have expressed themselves through this medium.

April in Paris? Mais, non, c’est le printemps à St. Louis

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Lafayette Square in St. Louis is one of the most beautiful urban spaces in the United States. It remains mostly hidden from outsiders because of the city’s relatively lowly status as a tourist destination for U.S. and international visitors.

I frequently visit Lafayette Park, the oldest park west of the Mississippi River, and the surrounding Lafayette Square neighborhood. when I see my family on home visits to the St. Louis metro region. I stopped by in Mid-April and soaked up the scenery.

I did not experience the sublime pleasures of “April in Paris,” as Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong so eloquently evoke, but I had a fabulous time enjoying April in St. Louis.

St. Louis Downtown: Ghost Town at Locust and 21st Street

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Less than a mile west from the state-of-the-art Busch Stadium and Gateway Arch in downtown St. Louis, a visitor will find empty streets and an urban environment almost devoid of people on a weekend. This used to be a bustling area decades ago, before urban planners, our interstate freeway system, development, and white flight in cities like St. Louis drew people from historic urban centers to the suburbs.

St. Louis is not the only city struggling to encourage redevelopment in its urban core, to make its downtown a place where people want to live, play and work. But whenever I travel to the city of my youth to visit family, I am confronted, visually, by the permanency of the change that turned once vital urban spaces into practically human-free zones.

I was struck by this sensation during my mid-April 2018 trip to St. Louis. After visiting the historic Old Courthouse, I drove to the multi-block site of the now demolished Pruitt-Igoe housing complex. It is now a giant and fenced-in field of rubble, weeds and trees, decades after the high-rise housing blocks were demolished in 1972 and the complex was acknowledged as a failure in our national public housing strategy. It is also the story of the death of American cities in the 20th century.

Not far from this fenced-in area I found the Schlafly Tap Room, the cornerstone brewpub of the St. Louis area’s premier microbrewing company, Schlafly Beer. The tap room is located at Locust and 21st Street, a mile due west of the Mississippi River. The beautiful old building used to be home of the Swift Printing Co. Across the street you will find the stately Lambert Building, also known as the T.M. Sayman Products Co. building, dating from 1891. It is an example of what is called Richardsonian Romanesque. The structure’s striking red sandstone facade embodies the confidence of the former St. Louis, when it was a major industrial city that was ascending.

At this intersection, I stopped. I got out of my car and walked to the middle of the four-way intersection. Not only did I not see any people on a chilly Sunday afternoon, I did not see any cars driving by. It was as if the whole area in all directions had been given orders to flee because of some imminent threat. I took my pictures and left, leaving the urban ghost town behind.

For a more detailed description of this area of the city, please see this excellent photo essay on the outstanding Built St. Louis website. The essay on this section of St. Louis ironically notes, “The ground-level arches of the entryway can be seen in the 1981 film Escape from New York, posing as part of a postapocalyptic New York City.”

Where we will see the impact of a trade war first, in our ports

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The ongoing escalation of threats since March between the administrations of President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping, have many economists and industries in the United States seriously concerned about a possible trade war.

This week, Trump’s administration suggested it might add an additional $100 billion in tariffs on Chinese imports, on top of the $50 billion in of tariffs that were announced in March 2018. For its part, China had retaliated this week with proposed trade duties valued at $50 billion on U.S. products, including airplanes produced by Boeing and commodities like soy and pork. It threatened on April 6 to meet the latest Trump administration proposal with additional tariffs on $100 billion in U.S. imports.

Most of these goods pass through the United States’ main cargo ports, including the Port of Seattle. According to the port, it shipped 5.2 million metric tons of agricultural cargo in 2015. Primary products included soybeans, and China, along with South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, are the port’s primary markets. The tariffs likely mean less ag exporting business at the port. The port also handles many consumer and finished products coming from China. It is not clear how American consumers will respond to higher prices.

Whatever happens, daily movement of global cargo at the port will not stop. Trade with China represents more than half of the port’s trade. In 2017, the port’s trade was valued at more than $26 billion. There is simply too much mutually dependent trade taking place to halt the flow of goods both ways. However, the percentages of exports and imports to and from China may fall, and businesses will feel the pinch throughout the supply chain. They simply may feel it first at the big West Coast ports like Seattle, Tacoma, Oakland, and Long Beach.

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Cherry blossom boom

We have now passed the peak week for cherry blossoms in Portland. It is always an amazing sight to behold, up and down the wet side of the Cascades, particularly in cities where arborists and planners have planted cherry trees.

Now that I live in Portland, I take walks that put me in their path. I took these the last week of March 2018 at Reed College, where I attended many years ago. I always remember the blossoms from those years telling me the end of the year was close at hand. They gave me comfort and hope during that time, always.

Spring in Portland arrives when the cherry blossoms burst

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I never tire of seeing the explosion of cherry blossoms. Here are some of the many I saw on a walk last weekend (March 11). Yes, this is a simple ho-hom set of photos, but the blossoms fill me with joy, always.

A sublime day at Seaside

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There are some days that make up for weeks, if not months, of sub par surfing conditions. That day came on March 4, 2018. The conditions called for gusty winds, but instead Seaside was not hit by north blowing winds. Instead, surfers and other beach visitors were granted to beautiful sets of two- to four-foot waves for hours.

Given my skill level, this was ideal. Usually, the Oregon Coast is feisty. Waves are large and roaring. They crash with a thunderous roar, without a nice gentle peel you see in countless videos of “perfect beaches” and “perfect waves.”

I caught almost 25 waves that chilly day (it was almost freezing when I arrived). Two of those for me felt sublime. I positioned my board correctly and both times headed right. Both times, I caught a lovely wave face and could stroke it with my gloved hand. I didn’t think about doing that. The action felt more like reflex. Those moments washed away days when I was pummeled here by large, crashing surf. I can still picture those moments in my head, and I dream of more to com.

French style

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For the second time in two weeks, my former college freshman roommate was in Portland, on family matters. This time, we caught up for a nice lunch. Sebastian has done well, and he now lives and works in France. I am envious of several things, notably his access to universal healthcare, and the fact that France is considered to have the best health system in the world, according to many credible monitoring groups.

I also am jealous of his chic French style. Wherever you make your home, you will adapt to the local customs and fashions. Sebastian proved that well. Me, I looked like I still came fresh out of an Alaska brewpub, sporting my Carhartts and rain gear.

Here’s to catching up on all of those past decades, ami. The years have treated you very, very well.