Road Trip Retrospective: 2012 Was All About the Colors

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Welcome back to NOT-Road Trip I, a wistful review of the past 10 years of criss-crossing this great continent in Feb-March. Looking back at photos from 2012 is like seeing broad stripes of color on a blanket.

BLUE and WHITE. We started in Yellowstone as a special Valentine’s Day gift to ourselves. Thanks to a kind of bus on skis, and our own snowshoes, we penetrated deep into a park otherwise closed to traffic…the human kind.

But plenty of the bison kind!

You can bet this has become one of our favorite photos of ourselves.

The Mate wondering where he put his hat & gloves.

BROWN and OLIVE. Needing some warmth, we headed straight down through Utah to Arizona.

Ahhhh….yes. We felt just like that flower.

One of the most accessible national parks is Petrified Forest–right off I-40. Since winter storms were threatening, we opted for the ease of a ride-through, and kept on our way.

What, you assumed “forest” meant vertical? Show some respect for your elders!

RED. After holing up in Albuquerque for a bit, we headed sadly for Texas, knowing that the Panhandle is one of the dullest parts of a state which guards its scenery pretty closely. But following our noses to a small green blob on our map, we discovered Palo Duro State Park–amazingly, the second-largest canyon in the US, and one that we nor anyone we knew had heard of.

We became huge fans.

WHITE and BLUE again (warm shades). Another brand-new discovery for us (though much better-known): Florida’s National Seashore, where we camped and rode our bikes, in awe of the ivory sand.

I used to think these kinds of photos were doctored.
This might even be whiter than ivory. More like snow, I think.

Having crossed the country at top speed, outrunning storms, we found ourselves with a full extra week in Florida, which we spent bopping from one gorgeous state park to another.

Can’t remember which one this is. We visited several springs, equally bewitching.

We did also ride our bikes through the Everglades and visited friends in the Keys, but frankly, I found the environmental degradation there more depressing than inspiring, so I won’t revisit those places here.

BROWN & GREEN (wet version). Okeefenokee! Need I say more?

We took a boat tour with a very knowledgable young park ranger.

Since Georgia’s wild places have such great names, we also joined some friends in paddling the Ogeechee River.

“And there’s something ’bout the Southland in the springtime…” –Indigo Girls

Back at my parents’ farm once more–don’t forget, dear readers, that NC in March is always the apex of our Road Trips–Son Two joined us again from college, for Tarheel basketball, great BBQ, and cuddles with Stevie, World’s Cutest Ass.

The goat’s pretty cute too, but she’s no Stevie.

SILVER. Unlike the previous year, winter weather precluded heading very far north, so we made the Big Left Turn and headed west through the middle of the country, taking one touristy, cultural stop–unusual for us.

…because the bike path through St. Louis SUCKED.
Up at the top of the Arch. The Mate refused to join me, and when the tiny elevator got briefly stuck, I understood his claustrophobia.

BROWN & BLACK. Astonishingly, while Flagstaff got a foot of snow, just north of there, we found Estes Park, Colorado, on the edge of Rocky Mountain N.P., nearly snow-free.

You would not believe how many rocks there look like Jabba the Hutt.

The “Black” comes from another new find (to us): Colorado’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison. It was too snowy to hike down, so we snowshoed along the rim.

Closest thing to Mordor I’ve seen in the States.

RED again. First, we camped in the lovely & accessible Colorado National Monument outside Grand Junction.

Another one of those, “Why haven’t we heard of this place?” places.

To this day, this remains our only sighting of desert bighorns–right across the road!

You guys aren’t even trying to act rare.

Of course the ultimate RED is found in Moab, UT, jumping-off spot for three major national parks.

This one names itself: Arches.

There, we began what has remained a tradition of joining our Adventure Buddies Tom & Kate for, well…

…adventure. (Canyonlands NP, where we actually took a jeep tour. The guide assured us this photo was a requirement.)

COLOR US HAPPY. Back home in Washington, we managed to meet both our sons on break from college, and celebrated with sushi at Fujiya, our favorite restaurant in the world.

So that’s Road Trip II–colorful, warm, and now folded in the closet of memory. Catch you next time for RT III–thanks for traveling with me!

Politics as Usual? The Shocking Cameraderie of the Washington State Legislature

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Excatly two weeks and one day after THIS…

(Image by Tyler Merbler, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

…I was scheduled to testify at a hearing on a bill in the legislature of my state, The Other Washington.

THIS place: Olympia, WA. (Image by MathTeacherGuy, courtesy Creative Commons)

Of course, what with COVID, the hearing wasn’t in Olympia, but on Zoom, along with gazillion other meetings. (Just curious: what do we do when Zoom fills up? A good koan for medition.)

The bill in question was HB 1090, which aims to ban all for-profit, privately-run prisons in Washington State by 2025. Having been involved for a couple of years in the campaign to close the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma–packed to an inhuman degree with detained immigrants–I had signed up to give my two cents’ worth on why for-profit prisons are a terrible idea.

The NWDC. (photo by Eldan, courtesy Creative Commons)

When I Zoomed in at 1:30, House Public Safety Committee Chair Roger Goodman was announcing the lineup for the 2-hour session. It sounded ambitious. First up: amendments on two different bills: one restricting police car chases, one banning no-knock warrants. Then came public comment on two other bills: one refining the definition of hate crime, the other allowing survivors of sexual assault improved access to the progress of their cases and better overall care. Finally, at the end: “my” bill, 1090.

Oooookay, I thought. Maybe I’ll go make a cup of tea and check back in an hour.

But before I wandered away, something caught my attention. The same something that has probably caught all of America’s attention beginning this past Wednesday, Inauguration Day. That something was…civility.

A minority Republican on the committee–a beefy White guy in a Statue of Liberty necktie–was making an argument about an amendment on the car-chase bill. Talking about the Democratic sponsor of the bill, I heard him say, “…though I love and respect him as a person…” Then the Democratic Chair was allaying the Republican’s fears. And then they thanked each other.

Wait. Wait. No snark, no snarling? I barely recognize this tone…like a Golden Oldie playing softly in the background. Mesmerizing.

So I stayed right where I was. I watched that same burly Republican Representative have another of his amendments voted down–he wanted to allow the police broader scope to continue with no-knock warrants (like the one that killed Breonna Taylor in 2020). Still: no rancor, no posturing. Just–“just!”–courtesy.

I watched prosecutors and brave victims of hate crimes testify in favor of HB 1071, which refines the definition of a hate crime to reflect the reality of what people are facing. I watched legislators from both parties thank the participants with zero grandstanding or finger-pointing.

I watched the Republican and Democratic co-sponsors of the Sexual Assault Rights Bill (HB 1109–described as a model for the nation!) sing each other’s praises for the hard road they’ve traveled together since, apparently, 2015. I watched Rep. Burly Republican tear up as he articulated his concerns about sexual assault victims.

They’re all so respectful! So pleasant! I wanted to run into that Zoom room and hug the entire committee.

By the time they got to the private prisons bill, of course, they were out of time. Only a couple of the dozens of folks signed up to speak got to do so.

Did I mind? Not one bit. That two hours of civil civic discourse was as encouraging as a COVID shot. I felt unexpectedly innoculated against political cynicism.

“Well, sure,” my Mate said when I told him about it, “that’s Washington State for you.” I think he meant, y’know, we’re practically Canadians. But no: our governor’s mansion was also attacked on January 6. We’re every bit as vulnerable to the political virus as any other state.

So…feeling pessimistic about political polarization? Depressed at the divide? Take two of these and call me in the morning–“these” being a couple of the most rivetingly boring hours ever, listening to politicians act like grownups together.

Yes, It’s a Promo. That Does Happen Here Occasionally.

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This Friday, Jan. 22 @ 5:30 PCT (that’s 8:30 Eastern), please join me via Zoom for a reading from my YA novel Altitude. Authors Kip Greenthal and Laurie Parker will follow. Thanks to Nikyta Palmisani for organizing this event, “Hygge in the Heart”! See you there in your little Zoom square!

https://urldefense.com/v3/__https://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=https*3A*2F*2Fus02web.zoom.us*2Fj*2F85228057303*3Fpwd*3DQS9rVkQ4LzNiL1cwdEZBRzg4MkY0dz09*26fbclid*3DIwAR3FC2p9UsPlFAQBRvzdO3GSN6ay… See More

The Next Right Thing

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If you’re new to this blog, you might not know that I created it with little enthusiasm back, oh, nine years ago, when the People Who Know Such Things convinced me that I, as an Author, needed a Platform.

Then a funny thing happened. I started to enjoy blogging. Especially since “Wing’s World” has remained fairly untethered to theme. What’s not to love when you can blog one week about kale salad, and the next about how many times you’ve run around Planet Earth? As a writer, I did try to steer clear of two topics: writing about writing—boooooring—and politics: divisive.

Then an unfunny thing happened: the last four years. And I’ve found myself increasingly drawn toward topics of justice that need addressing, and increasingly uncomfortable blogging with my usual whimsy. While I appreciate lightheartedness in the writing of others, for myself it feels too much like fiddling while Rome burns.

But who needs more blog posts about everything that’s dire? And so I respond with…silence. My posting has gone from a robust twice-weekly clip to weekly…to biweekly…to whenever the hell I feel like it. And I haven’t felt like it.

(photo by rbaez, courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Can I get an “Amen”?

Then on a walk the other day, doing my Mary-Oliver-best to let the wild wind and whitecaps and dripping mosses capture all of me, I thought back to a podcast I’d just heard, which reminded me of a hackneyed but super useful concept I learned back in the 90’s. That concept: the Circle of Control from good ol’ Stephen Covey—remember the 7 Habits guy?

[Copyright Stephen Covey]

EVERYONE should be able to relate to this. Life feeling out of control? Too much, too fast, too hard? Well…what are you in charge of? Eating a healthy breakfast? Reading a book to a child? Do that. Start there.

Now that I think about it, it’s quite similar, in fact, to the Serenity Prayer. Probably smarter people than I have already noted this.

You know: this. (image courtesy Etsy.com)

Anyway, that podcast which started this train of thought? An episode of NPR’s Invisibilia featured an extraordinary woman in Scotland, Joy Milne, who discovered she has the superpower of being able to smell diseases in people. Terminal diseases. Which means she can meet someone and know how close to death they may be—even if they don’t know it themselves. Which means she can, in a way, see the future…without being able to control it. 

Talk about “too much”!

Along her journey of discovery—that is, science discovering this woman and putting her power to use—Joy befriended another woman, suffering from Parkinson’s, whose mantra for living with her disease seems to be actually defeating it. This woman says that, in the face of terminal out-of-controlness, she simply tries to “do the next right thing.”

I like that phrase even better than “Circle of Control.” It’s more humble, more tender, more…real.

Throughout most of 2020 (or COVIDCOVID if you prefer), my “next right things” included working on my book, and working to help save America from Donald Trump. [Pictured: my phonebank tallies. Including the calls for the Georgia runoff (which already feels like a year ago), I made approximately 3,000 calls.]

Since that time, conditions in our country and our world feel more out of control than ever–all the more so from having spun away just in the budding of hope. My back pain is not improving. And my writing project is stalled (yes, I WILL write about that when I am able).

In short, I need some new, modest enterprises to function as Serenity Prayer. So here are three:

–a local online tutoring project for kids in our community

–a phone-calling and letter-writing campaign to shut down private prisons in Washington State

–training our new big, overly-enthusiastic dog

Who, me?

Are these projects blogworthy? We’ll see. Of course they’re wildly divergent in scope and tenor. But they do have one thing in common: for me, in 2021’s crazy start, they all feel like the next right thing.

And what is yours? Please share.

Granola For Christmas: You’re Welcome

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Would you like me to solve all your holiday gifting issues in two words? 

Homemade granola.

THIS stuff.

Okay, the average child or teen might not thrill to that. But I guarantee you anyone from college-age on up will say one of the following to you:

“This is great! I get so overwhelmed with sweet stuff over the holidays, it’s nice to have something healthy.”

“I grab a handful on my way out the door to work.”

“I keep it in my desk at work. I have to hide it from my co-workers.”

“I keep it in my freezer. I have to hide it from my housemates.”

“We eat it on everything. I don’t have time to make it, and the good stuff is so expensive.”

“What do you put in yours? Can I have the recipe?”

“What a great idea. I’m doing this next year.”

That last one? Maybe by the time you’re done reading, you’ll be saying that yourself. But why wait? There’s still time THIS year. 

The VERY best thing about granola (and face it, there are no bad things, unless you burn it…oh, and I hate getting sesame seeds stuck between my teeth) is that it is ridiculously flexible. There are very, VERY few rules to granola. So think of this as less of a “recipe” and more of a guideline.

I start with 8 cups of plain rolled oats (NOT instant) and 6 cups of assorted nuts & seeds. Usually I opt for equal amounts of pecans and almonds (whole), walnuts (rough-chopped), pumpkin seeds (pepitos) and sunflower seeds. I’ve also used unsweetened coconut, cashews (the Mate doesn’t like ’em), and hazelnuts (sometimes hard to come by), and sesame seeds. (Got real tired of those little boogers.)

“There’s too many nuts in my granola”….said NO ONE EVER.

Mix all that dry stuff in a giant bowl. If you’re on a budget or don’t adore nuts, use less! Or fewer. Or both.

You also have choices in your oil & your sweetener. You want one cup of each, but which kind? Honey’s the classic; it makes a stickier, clumpier granola. Maple syrup has that wonderful maple flavor & aroma, plus it’s easier to clean the pan afterward, but if you like clumps, don’t use maple. (Also, it’s pricier.) Sometimes I’ll go half-and-half, depending on what I have.

If you like a bit of salt flavor in your granola, I’d recommend one full cup of olive oil–it gives it that nice, savory nuttiness. If you don’t care, and want to go a little cheaper, use a cup of canola. Often, again, I’ll go half-and-half. (I was once gifted granola made with butter, and it was delicious…but I don’t know how long it would keep.)

Heat your cup of oil & cup of sweet stuff in the microwave for a minute or so, enough to make it nice & liquidy. Then add a couple of Tablespoons of vanilla. (Mmm…your house will smell like cookies.)

Mix your wet thoroughly into your dry. Then add whatever spices you like. These days I’ve been using about a tablespoon each of cardamom and cinnamon. Salt? Totally depends on taste. I think I probably add about a Tablespoon. Maybe more. I like salt.

Mix thoroughly & spread EVENLY into two large pans. Notice mine are two different materials, so they bake differently. (Try not to have your layer of granola thicker than one inch if possible.) I usually start one on the lower rack of the oven, then switch.

All tucked in & ready to bake!

What temperature? How long? That TOTALLY depends on your oven and the size of your pans.  But I go 375 degrees for 10 minutes, stir, switch racks, another 10, stir, and then…bake till done!

Getting toasty on the bottom–time to stir. But I do like a little variegation in mine.

Wait, though–what about the raisins? Hmph. Me, I don’t care for raisins. I respect their longevity in Anglo cooking (“plum pudding” = raisins, people). I thank them for their long service. And…I don’t put ’em in my granola. Instead I use 2-3 cups mixed sultanas (GOLDEN raisins–whole different beast!), cranberries (YUM) and/or whatever signature flavor I think the person I’m gifting will enjoy. Candied ginger. Dried cherries or blueberries. Chopped dried apricots. Etc. (I wish my favorite, dried mango, worked, but I’ve found it too dry.)

Sultanas, yes. Raisins, no. But that’s just me.

Let the granola cool before mixing in the fruit. If you’ve used honey, stir the granola a bit as it’s cooling so it won’t stick as much. And–duh–let the granola cool thoroughly before bagging it. This recipe makes two huge bags, or three less-huge.Well-sealed, it keeps for weeks, or longer in the freezer.

Play around with your own varieties and let me know, okay? You’re welcome, and (as all your giftees will say) thank you!

 

 

False Friends and Other Delights of Attempted Bilinguality

In one week, The Mate and I are off to Costa Rica, unselfishly pitching in to help Son One kick off his new ecotour company, Liana Travels. 🙂 I’m excited for SO many aspects of this trip, but one of them is the chance to practice my Spanish, which I’ve been honing with a tutor for a couple of years now.

the budding tour guide, a few years ago

My tutor, Claudio, introduced me to a wonderful language term: “falsos amigos,” or “false friends.” It’s a delightful way to describe those words that SOUND like they mean the same in English, while in fact meaning something different. Sometimes embarrassingly different. Like, for example, the word “embarazada,” which does NOT mean “embarrassed.” It means “pregnant.”

There are so many such words! (Question for others wiser than I: do “falsos amigos” exist in other languages, or is it just Spanish that’s so tricksy?

Por ejemplo/For example:

  1. Discutir does NOT mean to discuss. It means to argue.
  2. Asistir does NOT mean to assist. It means to attend, as in a class or a meeting.
  3. Compromiso DOES mean compromise. But it also means commitment. Confusing much?
  4. Ropa does NOT mean rope. It means clothing.
  5. Equivocarse does NOT mean to equivocate. It means to be wrong.

Those are just a few that popped into my head. For other fun ones, I consulted Spanishobsessed.com, which gave me:

  1. Sopa is soup, not soap
  2. Jabón is soap, Jamón is ham
  3. Excitante DOES mean “excited”…but in a sexual way, like “aroused.” Whoopsie.
  4. Emocionante–that’s the “excited” you want to use. It doesn’t mean emotional.
  5. Educado means polite, not educated. (Though I’m sure there’s some connection there.)

You get the idea. Which one of these will Gretchen walk into? ….(pausa embarazada)…Vamos a ver/We’ll see!

“I want Gretchen to get here soon and make me laugh.”

Please hit me up with some of your own “false friends,” in any language! Love this stuff.

“Plan” is a Four-Letter Word. “Hope” is a Monkey.

It‘s become such a standard answer for The Mate and me, we’ve created our own cliche.

Friend: So, got any travel plans for 2022?

Us: We don’t use that word anymore. We hope to travel to Costa Rica soon…

i.e., this place

Or:

Friend: You guys planning on doing your famous Road Trip again this year?

Us: We don’t use that word. We hope we get to do our road trip, starting in February…

I think you get the point. Since 2020, those of us who still lived under the illusion that we had some control over our destiny discovered just how illusory that idea was. Now it’s hard to believe I ever believed it.

Take Costa Rica. Since Son One kicked off his ecotour company, Liana Travels, The Mate & I, plus a friend, have been signed up to **ahem** help our son “beta test” his touring guide chops.

I mean…somebody’s gotta do it. Those Scarlet Macaws can’t watch themselves, right?

But here we are, two weeks before departure, and it still feels about 50/50 that the trip will be postponed. COVID’s messing with the world in so many ways: threatening illness, threatening flights, threatening quarantine, threatening threatening threatening. For the next 2 weeks, The Mate and I will pack, yes–but we’re going about it like little leaf-cutter ants, nose to the ground, not with our usual pre-trip excitement.

Zoom in on the trail. You’ll see ’em.

I like to think I’m doing a pretty good job of staying even-keel right now. I tell myself, Hey, even if you do get to go to Costa Rica, there’s no guarantee you’ll see a tapir, right? So think of the trip itself as that tapir. Maybe it’s there, maybe it’s not.

Weird example, I know–but I wanted to use my tapir picture.

Plans are tapirs–rare & elusive, bound to break your heart if you expect them. But hope? Hope’s a monkey. As in: if you go to Costa Rica, you will see one…or two…or three…possibly more. So go ahead and hope for monkeys!

Just, no matter what, don’t PLAN for monkeys. If you do, given the way the world’s been working, they’re likely to show up like this:

You called?

So, will the Wings go to Costa Rica? Hope so; still not planning on it. Yes, I’ll pack. But it’s good to know the place will be there, somewhere in this crazy world, even if I’m not there to see it…this time.

Hope so.

Celebrate January 6…By Reading a Good Poem

For a good portion of this country–I like to think–the insurrection of January 6, 2021, was a horrifying event. That means January 6, 2022, will be a horrible anniversary. But I’ve found a soaring bridge of words to carry me over.

Remember Amanda Gorman, the incandescent young poet who helped inaugurate Joe Biden just two weeks after the insurrection?

Warms me up just to look at her

A friend of mine just loaned me her book, Call Us What We Carry. And while my usual routine is to read one poem every morning, before looking at any news headlines, Ms. Gorman’s words just keep calling me along. At this rate I’ll be looking for new poetry next week.

Image from Indiebound.org

I can open this book almost at random and find pain to connect with and hope to move forward with. This young woman understands COVID pain: …“March shuddered into a year,/Sloshing with millions of lonely,/An overcrowded solitude…”

She understands historical pain: “We might not be fully sure of all that we are/& yet we have endured all that we were.”

As I peek ahead toward the pages at the end, I see this young woman also understands form and fancy, playing with shapes and types of poetry new to me, but still inviting. There is DARK stuff here, like the poem “Anonymous”, printed in white upon a black face mask:

We stumbled, sick with shame, groping for each other/in that heaving black. We were mouthless for months./We could’ve been grinning. We could’ve been grimacing./We could’ve been glass.& so, we must ask: /Who were we beneath our mask./Who are we now that it is trashed.

But then comes the hope. A fierce, determined, Maya Angelou-style hope. I’ll leave you with a ray of that hope, for January 6 and beyond–Amanda Gorman’s poem “The Shallows”:

Touch-deficient &

Light-starved we were,

Like an inverted flame,

Eating any warmth down to its studs.

The deepest despair is ravenous,

It takes & takes & takes,

A stomach never satisfied.

This is not hyperbole.

All that is gorgeous & good & decent

Is no luxury, not when its void

Brings us to the wide wharf of war.

Even as we stand stone-still,

It’s with the entirety of what we’ve lost

Sweeping through us like a ghost

What we have lived

Remains indecipherable.

& yet we remain.

& still, we write.

& so, we write.

Watch us move above the fog

Like a promontory at dusk.

Shall this leave us bitter?

Or better?

Grieve.

Then choose.

New Year’s Intentions for 2022: K.I.F.F. (Keep It Fairly Flexible)

I’ve been doing New Year’s Intentions, a.k.a. Low-Resolution Resolutions, for some time now. Rudder-like, they help center and steer me.

More recently, I’ve broken that habit into several steps.

1. Read back over last year’s Intentions (I write mine in my journal notebook, easy to find)

2. Give myself appropriate head-pats for success, or encouragement for less-than-success

I said I’d incorporate a yoga/stretching session into my daily life, and I have! Thank you, back surgery.

3. Write new ones. This year I have seven, several of which are riffs on last year’s. Example: When your coauthor needs to pull out of your book project…turn the book into an article and get that published. Some are brand-new: Find myself a new “mentee” to mentor in our community mentorship program, since COVID effectively ended my previous mentorship.

‘Cuz I need a kid in my life to do this with!

And a couple of my Intentions are secrets. Not telling anyone till I understand them better myself.

But in this time of worldwide COVID uncertainty, when the word “plan” seems downright outrageous, I’m finding my Intentions less “what” and more “how.” Sure, I want like crazy to go to Costa Rica next month, as my Mate and a friend help Son One inaugurate his new ecotour company. But do I have my heart set on it? No–I’d be a fool. Instead, if our trip gets cancelled, I will pivot to the next thing.

Ditto with Road Trip XI, which the Mate and I have been SO looking forward to, after staying home in 2021.

I promise: whether Road Trip XI brings this…(Palo Duro Canyon, TX)
…or this (southern AZ sandstorm on I-10)

…or doesn’t happen at all, I will be grateful just to be safe and healthy as possible.

And I’ll focus on what I CAN control, like Intention #3: I will play and sing three times/week for 30 minutes, EVEN IF I have no group gigs to prepare for. (I can hear my guitar gently weeping from here, and not in a good way.)

With Beth Geever, Ann Palmer and Lance Brittain last June. Oh, for more o’ that! But that’s not up to me.

So that’s me. How about y’all out there? Any Intentions for 2022? I might even borrow one of yours.

The Least Puzzling Family Pastime Is Puzzling

First of all, can we just take a moment to enjoy that word? Puzzle. Puzzle. Puzzlepuzzlepuzzle.

Delightful!

A friend in Oregon gave me the best gift idea last week: find a favorite family photo and have it turned into a jigsaw puzzle, then send it to said family. I did just that, using this image from (I think) 1966:

Didn’t have time to ask my sisters for permission to use their images, so… 🙂

Now, in a week when many families are gathering and giving gifts I’m grooving on exactly why that gift felt so satisfying. Here’s what I came up with:

Safe activity. Puzzles are an inherent “safe space” for groups–rather like going for a walk, where you’re all facing the same direction with the whole natural world at your disposal to discuss or simply enjoy in silence. Except, unlike walks, puzzles can be done in any weather, and by folks in almost any physical condition. (Yes, of course there are physical challenges to puzzling too, like eyesight and manual coordination.)

Family walks: Wonderful, but not always possible.
  • Memories. Piecing together a photograph of a shared past will naturally elicit memories, and from there everything flows. (Is “everything” always good? Of course not. But I think if any family is able to sit down and puzzle together, they’re probably also ready to discuss memories.) To my mind, over a puzzle, the chances of growing closer outweigh the chances of greater family rupture.
“Do you remember when Firefly was born?”
  • The metaphor. I’m not saying my family will explicitly discuss the way we three girls “fit” (or didn’t) as we were growing up; of the way our Oma left a hole when she died suddenly in 1977; of the fact that this photo of “we five” plus the three grandparents represents the ONLY capturing of this particular group of eight within any rectangle…but I’ll bet a million dollars thoughts like those flit through the minds of anyone who works that puzzle, whether this year or into the future.

(Not pictured: Metaphors)

So here’s a fun holiday-time question for you: if you were to pick a family photo for any of your family members to puzzle over together, what would you choose, and why?

Happy Solstice, Merry Christmas, much joy and warmth and hope to all!

Looking For Light in the Dark Season? Consider Redefining “Light.”

Except for a handful of exotics here and there, we’re about out of fall color here in Washington State.

Great. Just in time for all that extra darkness.

Many folks I know are working hard to adjust their habits or their personal environments, trying to stay one step ahead of seasonal gloom. And even though I’m a very un-SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) person, I find myself doing my own version of this on my walks, snapping photos of whatever brightness I can find during a sunbreak in an otherwise dingy forest.

Even the most pathetic little willow gets its moment in the sun

But what about when there is no sun? We have a LOT of those days here in the Pacific North-wet.

Pretty hard to get excited about snowberries

Ugh, why even bother to go out? Just plug in the Christmas lights.

I won’t dignify that question with a response, except to say this: today, on one of the greyest, most monochromatic days of the year, I made a startling discovery about light. Shining light. Turns out, our most emblematic native tree, the madrona, practically glows on days like these.

Shine? Sheen? Glimmer? Glisten? What else would you call this?

Now, this particular tree (on my neighbors’ property) is one I’ve loved for two decades; I even adopted its crazy loopy branches as my emblem when I became an author. (That’s another story.)

There’s just so much going on with this tree…

But my POINT is, despite a close relationship with this tree, I had never really thought about how its bark gleams when wet.

Neither the rest of the scruffy forest, nor its own dead branches can hide that light

And not just “my” tree–any madrona! Red or green, there’s just something about their surface, more skin than bark, that turns to spotlit satin in the rain.

After rhapsodizing for a while over what’s been under my nose for years upon rainy years, I headed home…and stopped dead at a patch of salal. Guess what?

Who’s all bright and shiny? YOU are!

So. Moral of the story: in this greyest of seasons in this greyest of regions, there’s plenty of light out there. All we have to do is accept the gift of gleam where we find it.

Anyone else have their own version of “the gleam”–maybe in a region much different from mine? Please share a description!

From Mystery Trip to Flexericity Trip: The Best-Laid Plans…

[Disclaimer: I fully understand that the storm of November 15, 2021 took an enormous toll on the lives, environment and property of thousands of folks in the Pacific Northwest, on either side of the border. Please know that this tale of plans gone sideways is not meant to lighten that truth.]

That said…here’s my response to “So that Birthday Mystery Trip you planned for your Mate–how’d it go?”

Chapter One: NO Canada!

Our top-secret Mystery Destination was the lovely Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, a place I’d been introduced to by a friend’s travel blog. Having studied the regulations, I knew we’d need a COVID test–the PCR type that requires labwork, not the instant antigen test. That test needed to be taken 72 hours in advance, no more. Since we were leaving on a Monday, I did the math: take test Friday morning, immediately send it off via UPS. The nice person at the company whose test kits I ordered assured me our results should be available online by mid-morning Monday, just in time for us to present at the border.

The Mate met me at the bakery Friday morning, just after our local UPS-ing shop opened. I went on break and we gingerly took our tests on the back deck. We sealed them up and walked over to the shop…where we were informed the UPS driver had already left. “With so few ferries, they just zip in first thing and go,” the woman in the shop told us sympathetically.

Horrified, we raced over the post office, ready to pay whatever it took to get that precious, swab-filled package to the lab next day. No luck: living on an island, “next day” has a whole new meaning. But, the clerk helpfully informed us, “The UPS driver’s probably waiting in the ferry line right now. Maybe you could drive down there and catch him?”

The Mate did just that, while I went back to work. Twenty minutes later he returned, reporting success! Hugs all ’round. Canada, here we come!

Or not. Next day, tracking our package, I found its arrival listed as Monday. I called the test-kit company…and once more a nice person informed me that, even with my package expedited, the best we could hope for would be results…”Maybe Monday evening. Maybe.”

Somehow, hanging around the border until evening, waiting on a “maybe” just didn’t appeal. And that was before I started paying attention to the weather.

Chapter Two: Plan B

So I said goodbye to my Canada plans. I called BC ferries and that cute little motel to cancel reservations. Then I got busy making more.

Some place special! Some place further away than the usual 1-or-2-night trip (we had 3 to play with). Some place with some options for not-too-steep hiking and biking. And some place not too high up; I didn’t want us getting snowed in anywhere.

Got it! The Hoh Rainforest.

I found us a cute cabin near the town of Forks (famous for glittery vampires), on the Soleduc River. Beautiful, remote venue near gorgeous hiking? Check. Beds for us plus surprise guest, Son Two? Check. (Son One couldn’t get away from work.) Small kitchen for me to prepare delicious birthday dinners? Check. Weather report? Uh, yeah…I mean, it’s supposed to be rainy. And pretty windy, come to think.

But hey–rainforest! Where else would we want to be?

Chapter Three: Nope.

So early that dark, wet and windy Monday morning, the Mate & I boarded the earliest ferry, the 6:40. It was already running 30 minutes late. How, we wondered, was that possible? Crew problems? Fog?

Turns out, that wind I’d been ignoring? It was now blowing so hard through Rosario Strait that the boat had to slow to what I texted Son Two (waiting on the mainland) as “a wallowing crawl.” But slowly, rolling and juddering, we made it to Anacortes, by now a full hour late.

This next part? It went exactly according to plan. (I had no idea how special that was.) As agreed with Son Two, I pulled into a convenience store and went in to get a growler filled–and he slipped into the driver’s seat. Surprise!

Happiness all ’round. We let the Mate drive, and I directed him toward the Coupeville ferry, the jumping-off point to the Olympic Peninsula. “Don’t worry,” I told Mate & Son, “that ferry’s running. I just checked.”

Well, it was running, when I checked. But 20 minutes later, when we got there, it wasn’t. “Might the winds die down later?” we asked the guy at the booth. His response: “Actually, they’re going to get worse. I’m sorry.”

Chapter Four: My Family’s Smart

Smarter than me. I was at a complete loss. Backtrack north, then head for the Cascades? Into what was probably a blizzard by now?

“Look, Mom,” Son Two said, consulting his phone. “We can keep going south and get on the other ferry, to the mainland. Then drive just a little and get on the one that goes to the Peninsula.”

“Are they actually running? In this weather?”

They were. I guess those crossings were short and sheltered enough. So here’s the route we took:

Totally, totally worth it. Huge shoutout to Washington State Ferries!

Chapter Five: Not So Fast

Along our happy way, as I congratulated myself on saving Plan B, my phone rang. The connection was spotty, but I managed to discern that it was the owner of the cabins near Forks. Saying something about “It’s pretty much Armageddon here.” I promised we’d bed down in Sequim that night–just fine, after such a long detour–and we’d see her in the morning. (Got a motel with a kitchen–yes!)

Next morning, she texted me this photo of her property.

Oh shit

With sincere wishes for a quick relief from the flooding and a mutually agreed-upon cancellation, I scrambled to find a motel in Forks NOT too close to a river. With a kitchen. Gotta have that kitchen! And I found one. Hooray. Off we go to hike in the rainforest!

“How far a drive is it?” the Mate asked.

“Lemme check the Google.” …. “Oh. Google says we can’t get there.”

Google was right. Highway 101 was closed just outside of Pt. Angeles. (Photo by WSDOT)

Thanks to WSDOT, whose photos I’m using here, I learned that the flooded Elwha River had strained the bridge so hard they couldn’t re-open until after major structural assessments.

Oh shit again (photo by WSDOT)

Chapter Six: Happy Endings

OK. No Forks. No Rainforest. Not even any of the beautiful points west of where we are. What’s left?

Why, everything! We found a trail leading up up up into the heart of Olympic National Park…

OMG, look at that flow!

It was steep enough, the water came pouring directly out of the mountainside…but that steepness kept it from pooling. Safe hiking!

Of course, as we gained elevation, we met up with frost…

…then snow…

…then…y’know what? I’m good with turning around here. You? Alrighty then. Let’s go find a motel, then check out the coastline.

Vancouver Island, from Port Angeles: the closest we got!

A visit to Dungeness Spit reminded us just how hard that wind was still blowing, even after the sun came out.

Returning from this walk, we had to take an alternate route–a tree had fallen over the road.

Thanks to my fixation with cooking dinner (no kitchen luck in Pt. A), I changed our final night’s reservations to the only affordable place I could find in Port Townsend with a kitchen: Fort Worden State Park.

What a joyous find! It had the coolest housing, converted officers’ quarters:

Our house wasn’t QUITE this grand–but close!

…amazing views…

Mt. Baker, looking back toward Whidbey Is. (photo by Son Two)

…bike trails…

Happy Birthday, Mate!

…and even, up among the batteries–huge structures to house huge guns (which I did not photograph)–poetry!

And yes–it had a wonderful kitchen for a wonderful birthday meal for my wonderful family.

“Can we eat now?”

Chapter Seven: Moral of the Story, or, Can We Wrap This Thing Up?

We came home to discover the storm had been much, MUCH worse than we’d imagined.

That road in the video? That’s the road to our house–our only exit. Here’s what the storm did:

Oh shit again, again.

But any “oh shits” for my island PALE in comparison with what the storm did to Vancouver Island and others north of here. They got SLAMMED, not only by rain and wind, but by snow, which then melted. As of this writing, much of the island is still under a state of emergency due to flooding. Ferries have been cancelled. Misery abounds.

O Canada, you’re in my thoughts. But I’m so relieved those COVID tests didn’t allow us to visit you in your time of trial.

There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no…

I didn’t manage to put this post out there in time for official Thanksgiving. But my unofficial thanksgiving is this: thanks for the bravery of those who stride straight into the teeth of a storm. Thanks for the cozy love of my family, who made wherever we were be where I wanted to be. And thanks to who or whatever was responsible for getting us all home safely.

“Mystery Managed.”

Are You a Mystery Tripper? Or Could You Be?

Next week is NOT The Mate’s birthday. It’s the following week, on November 25th. Which, this year, falls on Thanksgiving. Which is why I’m taking The Mate on a Birthday Mystery Trip one week early.

What, you ask, is a Birthday Mystery Trip?

Well, for me & The Mate, and our kids till they grew up, it’s a family tradition. And for you–perhaps a transformative new idea for the coming year! (Or perhaps a big fat “No thank you.”)

Our Mystery Trip tradition began back in 1994, I think, or ’95. (Since I didn’t own a digital camera then–did anyone?–all of those photos are in albums, and I’m too lazy to go check right now.) My birthday’s in October, conveniently close to a Friday “Teacher Workday” which was, back then–believe it or not–optional. The Wings opted to use that time as a 3-day weekend, and The Mate asked if I were interested in a surprise trip.

Yes, I was.

I was instructed to pack gear for walking in the rain because, duh–Washington State! On the morning of the trip, with gleeful help from our little boys, he blindfolded me in the passenger seat. After a couple of circles around the neighborhood to get me thoroughly disoriented, we were off, for a drive of a couple of hours.

We ended up staying at a little motel near the Makah Reservation, and hiking to Cape Flattery. (Once again: yes, I could pull photos out of albums, scan them & upload them. But that sounds like too much work. So you just have to imagine small Wing boys and their extremely anxious parents here, because, back then–there was no railing!)

Also imagine stormy October weather (photo by Flickr.com)

The pattern was set. Turns out I absolutely adored being abducted by my family, and they absolutely adored hearing me declare, as we drove, the landmarks I was sure we were passing. I was ALWAYS wrong, ALWAYS completely turned around. But that weird mental re-orientation as my brain came to grips with where it actually was? It’s the best! Maybe the closest I’ll ever come to feeling like I’m on catnip.

For the next 13 years, every October, our family Mystery Tripped for my birthday. With one exception, trips stayed within the 2-3 hour driving limit, and in those pre-Air B & B days, we always stayed at modest motels or “resorts” with off-season pricing. We visited the coast…

…paddling a wee kayak up the tea-colored Moclips River (photo Tripadvisor.com)

…the foot of the Cascades, where we stayed in what is now owned by the Glacier Peak Winery, but STILL features bunnies all over the place that you can feed!

I actually took this photo myself last month, when my sons treated me to a revisit of the place for my 60th!

We attended a bluegrass festival near the birding sanctuary in Ridgefield…

More kayaking here! (courtesy FriendsOfRidgefieldNWR.org)

…and another part of the coast, the Long Beach Peninsula, featuring oysters and cranberry bogs…

(Very artsy photo by OrdinaryAdventures.com)

Oh, and that one further-than-three-hours-away exception? The Mate took us all the way to Chelan, where we boarded a float plane (!!!!) and zipped up the lake to the hideaway community of Stehekin. There on the east side of the mountains, we found red leaves, just like the autumns of my east coast childhood! That’s still our BEST TRIP EVER.

(Photo by Angie Q, Stehekin Conservation Fund)

Once our boys turned into young men and moved away, and we followed by giving up our teaching careers and moving to a beautiful island, we gave up the Mystery Trip tradition. I guess our lives were full enough of beauty and empty enough of stress not to require any additional thrills.

Until now.

I’m not going to blindfold The Mate next week. In these iffy times, tooling down the highway with a blindfolded passenger just seems like a bad idea. And I’ve even had to divulge roughly where we’re headed because, ahem, it involves a COVID test. What should The Mate pack? Whatever he always packs: gear to get damp in. Because–duh, Pacific Northwest (no matter which side of the border)!

Somewhere we might go. Or not. I’m not saying.

So. Now that you know what Mystery Trips are, it’s time to take a little quiz to determine if you might be a Mystery Tripper yourself.

Do you live in a place which is an hour or two away from somewhere interesting, peaceful, beautiful, action-filled, or quiet? Trick question–of course you do!

Do you sometimes enjoy ceding control to a loved one whom you trust? (If not–stop there. Mystery Trips are not for you.)

Do you like a little surprise in your life, as long as you’ve been prepared for it?

Are you OK with packing generic clothing–nothing highly specialized, i.e. cocktail attire?

Are you cheap? (Actually, I guess Mystery Trips could be high-end as well. I’m just not as attracted to those, myself.)

So, what do you say? Are you a Mystery Tripper? Or might you have some of your own Best Mystery Trips Ever to share about?

No Pain, No…Strain? Re-negotiating the Comfort Zone

I haven’t blogged about my back surgery in August, and I don’t really intend to blog about it now, even though, OK, I guess I sort of am.

My POINT is: as an athlete trained in the no-pain-no-gain, run-through-it mentality, recovering from something as dicey as being cut open (as opposed to good ol’ shinsplints or a muscle pull) is proving tricky.

As I work through my P.T. and get back into daily chores, I keep asking my body, When does “hurts so good” slide into “uh-oh”? (The answer, I fear is: About two seconds after you tried something you shouldn’t have tried.)

Case in point: yard work. It’s fall, and a big windstorm had dropped half an alder tree and a bunch of other branches into the woods my Mate is slowly turning into our personal park. This is a very well-cared-for chunk of woods, is what I’m saying. And since I don’t do chain saws, I thought I’d help him out, as in seasons past, by dragging some branches to the burn pile, using a tarp to give ’em a ride.

Ready for a tarp ride!

Understand, I was being cautious. This pile’s about half the size of what I’d usually drag.

But after three drags I decided to leave the rest for my Mate. Branches are heavy!

Hey, know what’s not that heavy? Leaves! Our big Japanese maple had dumped a ton into our yard. I raked up a couple of piles to tarp ’em out to the compost.

Notice how much more I could have loaded? Being a good girl here.

But once more, my back skeptical. It didn’t hurt so much as grumble a bit. So after two drags, I did something I HATE HATE HATE to do: left the job to finish tomorrow.

Sigh…

Recently I’ve been thinking a good deal about the term “Comfort Zone.” It’s generally something people try to get themselves out of: ruts of thinking, habit, even literal geographical location. After 20 months of COVID, many of us are having to redefine our social Comfort Zone–and finding it difficult.

So I feel like my back is reminding me: “No pain, no gain” only makes sense in very specific contexts or moments. Discomfort is something to be AWARE of, to LISTEN to, to LEARN from. It isn’t necessarily good, just as it isn’t necessarily bad.

Do I want to quit this exercise because I think it’s doing me harm, or because I just don’t feel like pushing?

Is that person on TV making me uncomfortable because I believe they’re wrong, or because they’re touching something in me I could maybe examine further?

This book I’m finding too painful to read–why is that? Am I satisfied with my own answer?

This friend I’ve dropped contact with: was that for my good, or theirs? Am I satisfied with my decision?

Pain? Gain? Strain? Some of each?

Obviously we shouldn’t overthink everything (hah–tell that to my brain!). I simply offer these examples as exhibits in the long-running show, “When We Say ___, Do We Really Mean It?”

I would love to hear your own exhibits in this show.

Now it Can Be Told: The Case of the Missing Blogger (Me)

“The drought is over, precious rain’s returned at last…” is how a song of mine begins. That lyric’s been in my head these days, because even though our particular Pacific Northwest drought ended a month ago, in my personal climate, it’s just beginning to sprinkle. This post promises to be the first downpour in months.

Got your umbrella handy?

drought-stressed cedar

Although I’m a writer, I don’t tend to use this blog to talk about writing—with exceptions, of course, when I have actual Author Events to report, like a new book.

Has it really been four years?!

If you scroll through the last couple of years, you won’t find more than passing references to the writing project I’ve been working on since traveling to New Zealand  for research in early 2019 (and before that, in 2017). Casual readers of Wing’s World as well as casual friends could easily assume, if Gretchen’s not blogging about writing, it’s because she’s busy actually, you know…writing.

So what to assume when she stops blogging at all? Shrug emoji.

To make a short answer long: I stopped blogging this summer because my writing project stalled so thoroughly that I temporarily lost my identity as a writer. Yeah, I dabbled in poetry, wrote a few articles for local publications. But having lost control of my larger writing goal, I didn’t feel Wing’s World had anything to contribute.

I’ve been waiting. Thinking. Journaling. Keeping silent, then talking. Mourning a little. And finally, just now—planning. And Step One of this plan involves telling y’all about it.

The best way to tell this story is to share the pitch I had been working on, with my then co-author, who will remain nameless here. Take it away, GW & __.

Book Proposal (V.8) for The Limits of Empathy: Why a White Author Ran in Black Shoes—and Took Them Off

These phrases—white fragility, white defensiveness, white appropriation—have a habit of standing in for the complicated mess of a true conversation. –Claudia Rankine, Just Us

Just how messy, how complicated, is “true conversation”? Is that why so few people are actually having them?

Systemic white supremacy—intentional and enabled—has become a red-hot literary topic: in the summer of 2020, fifteen of Amazon’s top twenty books dealt with race and racism. 

Right on. I read Kendi and DiAngelo. Now what?

What indeed?

Entitlement. Exceptionalism. Deniability. That’s what white author Gretchen Wing discovered after writing a novel with a protagonist of Color. The Limits of Empathy: Why a White Author Ran in Black Shoes—and Took Them Off will be the first book to expose how white supremacy culture unspools silently onto the fictional page despite the best of intentions. Through the medium of conversation—complicated and messy—between its Black and white co-authors, The Limits of Empathy probes the implications of writing across the racial divide.

In a mix of literary case study and cautionary tale, Wing splays Kiwi Crossover—the fast-paced tale of an elite biracial American collegiate runner who flees to New Zealand to escape her trauma—on the examining table for her Black co-author, ____, and readers, to dissect. In the process, ____ and Wing demonstrate the next level of the ongoing dialog on race which Claudia Rankine alludes to in Just Us, but which no current anti-racism book offers.

Like Americans everywhere on the streets in the summer of 2020, the authors came together on the question of what matters. Meeting online with one purpose—to edit Kiwi Crossover—they discovered another: to expose and discuss, with care and personal vulnerability, the limits of authorial empathy. Who gets to tell whose stories, and when, and why?

In his critique of Kiwi Crossover, ____ illuminates how our lived experiences of race can erect a barrier too solid for good intentions to pass…and why those good intentions may cause more harm than understanding. The authors’ mutual pathfinding through this thorny thicket gives hope not only to writers and readers of fiction, but for anyone who yearns to bridge divides of understanding.

If published as originally planned, Kiwi Crossover could have joined the controversial ranks of The Help and American Dirt: another white narrative written from the perspective of a Person of Color. But Fate had other ideas.

First, in early 2020, seeking race-focused critique more stringent than that of her Black friends, Wing hired a recommended editor: ____, a Black man (married to a white woman, father of biracial children). That same week, Breonna Taylor was murdered by police, though national media took a full forty-four days to notice. Three days after Taylor’s murder was exposed, Ahmaud Arbery’s execution finally made national news, along with the horror of its having been ignored a full two months. And twenty-six days later, on May 25, George Floyd was tortured to death…and the Movement for Black Lives swelled around the world. By the time ____ submitted his notes, Wing no longer trusted her ability nor right to portray biracial protagonist, Delaney Grace. Kiwi Crossover appeared stillborn.

Facing the death of her novel, Wing felt the insistence of a transformational choice: the novel’s autopsy suddenly outweighed the story itself. So she asked ____ to join as co-author to examine how white supremacy culture had invaded her own work of fiction. He agreed.

Contents

The book’s structure immerses the reader in conversation. First, a brief, wry dialog between Wing and ____ invites the reader into their mindset as they face their daunting work. A preface entwines their personal stories: who they are, how they came to this moment together. Next, the main body of the book: the page-turning beat of Kiwi Crossover front and center (200 pages), with red flags on the margins. Those red flags signal “let’s talk,” and at the end of each flagged chapter, ____ and Wing do just that. Starting with ____’s comments, questions and discussion about the novel’s assumptions and blind spots, the conversation delves and winds through layers and mazes of understanding between two people of different race and gender. In what Claudia Rankine calls “the complicated mess of a true conversation,” ____ and Wing raise more questions than answers, but attest to the value of the questions themselves. The book concludes with Authors’ Q & A, and Discussion Questions for individuals and study groups to examine their own assumptions, or have their own conversations.

Still with me? Good.

The book proposal continues, as good nonfiction pitches should, with suggested readership, and ends with a roundup of seven comparable books, ranging from Ibrahim X. Kendi to Ijeoma Oluo. I wrote draft #8 in May, then sat back to wait for ___’s edits and suggestions. Since ___ is both a teacher and a parent of young children, I knew I shouldn’t expect anything from him until June. The poor guy was exhausted from a year+ of teaching and parenting under COVID, not to mention all the stress of Black people being constantly manhandled and murdered. He deserved a rest. We had all summer to get back to work together.

Then, on Memorial Day weekend, ___’s sister was found dead in her house. No explanations.

I gave him lots of space, checking in occasionally just to see how he and the family were doing. No doubt in my mind that our project was on hold. I just didn’t realize for how long.

Time to make this long story short. In September, ___ and I finally checked in with each other through more than just texting. In a long phone conversation, he acknowledged that his suppressed grieving had plunged him into a summer-long depression from which he was only now beginning to emerge. I said what I knew I had to say: “___, you’re too kind to do it yourself, so I’m going to pull the plug on our project. Your heart’s in the right place, but you just don’t have the capacity right now.” His response: “My therapist will thank you.”

Since that conversation, the rains have finally returned.

Drink up, thirsty Earth!

My own extended family’s tribulations also suddenly increased, causing the death of my/our book project to seem like that Casablanca-esque “hill o’ beans in this crazy world.” Only now, having given myself several hours of journaling-for-clarity as a 60th birthday present, has my personal drought loosened its grip.

I have worked up to a new idea: to turn this entire saga into a magazine article and pitch that. ___ has given his blessing. He even gave his blessing to this post. Thanks, ___.

What do you think? Have I piqued your interest? Does this sound like an article you’d read? Be kind but honest, please. I’m ready for the rain.