Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spring is finally, fully here

Actually, this is a picture I took last summer, not of my place, but a house in my neighborhood that has a garden I particularly love. But it shows how green everything seems to have become suddenly, in what seems to be just the last few days. The trees have leafed out, the grass is no longer brown and the flowers, oh, the flowers. Tulips and daffs still out, lilacs just starting to bud out, the forsythia and kerria blazing yellow still. It's like everything has come at once this year. We had a handful of days that shot up to the eighties, but mostly it's been around a seasonal fifty or so degrees, just a bit of chill still, especially in the evenings. In short, perfect and glorious.

Another sure and certain sign that the year has changed though are the bike racks around town. While I'm not the only year round cyclist in my town, I'm one of a hardy few. I'll definitely see other bikes locked up or around town, but in January, there's never any problem getting a space at the bike rack. Yesterday, though, I went to a local coffee shop to meet a friend and every space was taken on the rack next door. Every space! I ended up having to lock up to a parking meter across the street. And lately, in front of my gym, most of the spots are often taken up with bikes. It makes me happy, it really does, to see people making use of their bikes.

When I first started riding everywhere for transportation, it was actually pretty lonely on the streets. I was often the only bike I would see on the street. Cars didn't give me much space or respect, I think because they weren't used to seeing a bike on the streets. That's changed in the ten years since I started shifting to bike transportation. Bikes are much more common now, though obviously much less common than cars, sadly.

My town is the perfect place to live car free, if you ask me, even year round, but especially in the good weather. It's small. Even the relatively physically unfit could ride from one end of town to the other easily. The streets are the human scale streets of an older town. No double lanes or highway like features. Plenty of stop signs and lights and other traffic calming features. We have most things that people need. No big box stores, obviously (though there is a Walmart I could cycle to, should I choose to do so. But. Ugh.), but we have grocery stores and coffee shops and clothing stores and office supply stores. We have a movie theater and bookstores and even a Ben and Jerry's ice cream shop. We're on two El lines that go into the city, as well as the Metra and plenty of bus lines. I can't think of a better place to live car free. And terrain is relatively flat which makes biking easy.

In short, it's perfect for the car free, bike rich life and I think more people are beginning to recognize that. I still dream of the day where we have bike pollution almost, like you see in Amsterdam, where you can hardly find a spot to park your bike at all, because there are so many.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Now that the winter's over...

I thought I'd do a little bit about winter cycling. Basically, I'd have to say that it all comes down to this: it's not as hard as you think.

A good jacket helps a lot. I have this one. Add a fleece layer underneath and it's all I need for the coldest weather we get here in Chicago. A fleece hood is helpful too and maybe a pair of rain pants. I wear boots most of the winter anyway, so I don't wear special foot gear except for the very snowiest of weather.

What's more important than the gear is just deciding to do it.

There is a bit of an art when it comes to riding in the actual snow, but it comes with practice. I made it through this past winter and missed biking to work only twice because of the weather, which is to say when it was an ice storm. And there was one time I refused to go grocery shopping because it was so freaking cold, so we got the I Go car.

If you wanted to start winter cycling, you wouldn't have to be as hard core. You could decide to cycle on days when there is no snow on the roads, when it's not too cold. We have a surprising number of days in the winter here in Chicago where it's above freezing and there's no snow.

Why would someone want to do this? What is it that keeps me on the bike, year after year? Firstly, there's nothing quite so amazing as riding through an inch or two of powdery snow on streets that haven't been plowed, nor rutted up by cars, maybe with a few soft flakes still falling. There's the feeling of independence a bike gives, which for me, a car never did. But what I love most able winter cycling is the simplicity of it. I just get on the bike and go.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

This made me smile today

What made you smile today?

Friday, April 2, 2010

playing with my new Diana lens

It came in the mail yesterday from photojojo, so of course I had to get it out and play with it a little. I've always been a little envious of the dreamy, almost but not quite overexposed, not quite out of focus pictures that a lot of bloggers take, I love the pictures ofSusannah Conway particularly. I struggle to get anything like that. My camera, when I have it in all auto mode, likes to take really clear, perfectly exposed photos that look more than a little flat to me. I thought the Diana lens would help with that a little. I'll say this though, its really easy to take a bad photo with the Diana lens, but I got a couple of really neat looking ones as well, almost the sort of thing I was hoping for.

It was almost kind of scary, taking off the lens the camera came with, even just remembering how to do it, thinking that I could be getting dust in there or whatever.

Sadly, my relationship with photography and cameras has been one of frustration over the years, mixed with more than a little fear. Fear that I'll do it wrong. Fear that I'll somehow manage to break the camera. Fear that I'll waste expensive film and (when I was taking a class) even more expensive photo paper. I took a photography class in college and that made things worse, much worse rather than better. I struggled with a poor quality camera and an instructor who lectured us on Ansel Adams but thought we should figure out such things as f stops and exposures ourselves, which was especially hard as I couldn't afford tons of photo paper to keep working out my mistakes. And not long after the class, my camera was stolen out of my dorm room, pretty much ending that phase of my photography.

I didn't take a lot of photos through my twenties and thirties. I had a point and shoot cheapie. I have some family pictures and vacations shots, but that's about all. I kind of yearned to take better pictures but not so strongly I did anything about it.

Then starting a few years ago, and mostly inspired by all the amazing blogs I read, I found myself really wanting to take pictures. Good pictures. Interesting pictures. Beautiful pictures. I saved my pennies and bought a DSLR. Of course, I wasn't suddenly magically taking the gorgeous photos I'd see on the blogs and my relationship with photography is still kind of fearful. Every picture is an assignment and I'm graded by the community of flickr- is my photo interesting enough to get any views or comment? I'm years behind in experience of where I would be if I'd kept taking pictures after my college course.

I'm trying to be less afraid of my camera. I bought a huge SD chip for my camera so I can take literally thousands of photos if I like. I'm trying to let the digital aspect of the camera change how I feel about photography in the same way that I let the computer change my writing- I don't have any hesitation in writing, they're just words. I change them, I rearrange them, I delete them without any second thoughts or regrets. I play around with things. Even write out whole blog posts and delete them before posting because they don't quite convey what I mean to.

The next step is probably a photography class, one more focused on the technical aspects, though I have to admit, my head starts getting a little swimmy when I try and think about things like f-stops and ISOs. Also, I need to keep taking pictures, to try and normalize this camera in my hands, so it is neither some technological marvel that seems smarter than I am about pictures nor is it a dense and impenetrable barrier to the kind of things I want to see. Just last month, I starting taking some pictures away from the "full auto" mode of the camera, trying out different ISOs and exposure times. That seemed huge to me.