Election Violence in My Hometown: Why I Prefer to Look at the Bright Side

Okay, Hillsborough, NC isn’t exactly my hometown, but the farm I grew up on is halfway between Durham, my official birthplace, and Hillsborough, where I began my public school teaching career. Close enough.

And close enough for me to freeze between disbelief and horror when I heard about the firebombing of Hillsborough’s Republican HQ this past weekend.

Photo by Justin Cook for NYTimes

Photo by Justin Cook for NYTimes

Hillsborough?! Home of Orange High School (go Panthers!) and the Village Diner, where my fellow teachers and I used to gorge ourselves on the salad bar during staff workdays? (Hey, if fried chicken has lettuce under it, it’s salad!)

In the words of Richard Fausset’s excellent NY Times article, Hillsborough is

this small North Carolina town, where residents, in the face of cultural change, have largely found an amicable balance between liberal and conservative, traditional and trendy, in the heart of a swing state that is one of the nation’s most politically and culturally divided.

Although I should be inured by now, acts of violence like this always shock me anew. My first response: WHY?! My second: Thank god no one was hurt. And now I have a choice.

I could let my horror sink deeper, adding to the sick sense I think most of us are feeling this election season.


I could focus on this sentence in the NYT article:

A group of Democrats created a GoFundMe page that had raised more than $13,000 by Monday evening for the Orange County Republican Party.

Or this one:

Evelyn Poole-Kober, the vice chairwoman of the Orange County Republican Party…said she was long used to living among Democrats and was friendly with many of them, including members of her garden club.

Election ugliness? La la la, I can’t hear you. I’m too busy focusing on Democrats raising money for, and growing flowers with, their Republican neighbors.

And voting, quietly and without a fuss.

Not THAT Breakfast Club: Why Hip-Hop May Be More Straight-Laced Than You Thought

“Establish the culture and practice of voting as part of a desired civic lifestyle through integration of non- partisan election work, issue work, and culture work in a continuous cycle.
Empower and train leaders and volunteers from our communities to be strategic leaders, messengers, and spokespeople for issues critical to equality, justice, and opportunity.”

Sound like good goals to you? I can’t think of anyone in any political party who would not subscribe to them.

So what if I tell you these goals are espoused by someone called Charlemagne Tha God?

This guy (courtesy twitter.com)

This guy (courtesy twitter.com)

I just saw him interviewed on The Daily Show and came away feeling inspired by his inspiration to get folks to vote. I was so intrigued, I looked him up.

His real name (according to good ol’ Wikipedia) is Lenard McKelvey, and he runs a Hip-Hop radio show called The Breakfast Club. It’s the home base of Hip Hop Caucus, whose website can be found under respectmyvote.com

Those goals above? They come from Hip Hop Caucus. More specifically, this is what those folks do:

Community Organizing: We organize 14 – 40 year-olds, who identify with Hip Hop Culture, and share values of justice, equality, and opportunity.

Grassroots Leadership Development: We provide leadership training and real-world civic leadership opportunities for cultural influencers at the grassroots level.
Communicate to Large Audiences: Through partnerships with artists, celebrities, and media we drive narratives about important issues through cultural channels reaching millions of people.

Cultivate and Promote Thought Leadership: We source solutions for local to global challenges from our communities and advocate for them to decision makers and influencers.

You know what? Except for the word “influencers” (sorry, old English teacher here), there’s nothing about the above that I don’t celebrate for my country.

Why am I sharing this now? Because you know, as I do, that Hip-Hop culture is marginalized in our country. Many–perhaps most?–older white folks (like me) assume Hip-Hop is probably apolitical at best, anarchic at worst. But these guys? They’re downright Kiwanis.

My mind feels broadened, learning about Hip-Hop Caucus. And with all the stupidity of this election year, my heart feels warmed. Go, America.


Project 562: Awakening America to Native Reality

“Let’s shift our collective consciousness and remember that we belong to each other.” So says Matika Wilbur, a fellow Northwesterner with roots WAY deeper than mine.

Wilbur is Tulalip and Swinomish, a member of two of the tribes closest to where I live. For the past two years, she has been traveling around the West, on a mission to awaken mainstream America to the fact that Native Americans’ vibrant lives have little to do with the “leathers and feathers” stereotypes of a vanished culture.

Since she’s a Seattleite, I’m embarrassed to admit I first came across Matika Wilbur in a Radcliffe alumnae magazine. She’s won awards, done a TED talk, and her work has been featured in museums. I’m just late to the party. But now I’m excited to share what I’ve learned about Project 562.

The name reflects the number of tribes recognized by the U.S. government in 2012, when Wilbur embarked on her project. (It has since risen to 567, according to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.) The photographs reflect the settings, hopes, and realities of everyday Native Americans, people we non-Natives almost never get to meet or see in any kind of media.

And the effect of Project 562? I could describe it from my perspective: heartening, heart-rending, joyful, painful, hopeful. But I would rather hear about its effect on you. Please look at Wilbur’s video and tell me what you think.

Celebratin’ 50 Years of Redneck Lemurs

How about another lemur update? Here we go.

If you only stop by Wing’s World now and then you might not know my connection to the Duke Lemur Center in Durham, NC. I’m no biologist; I just grew up there. Literally. My sisters and I roamed the building back when no one knew about it nor worried about little kids roaming among the other primates.

See, I chose my parents wisely. Not only are they largely responsible for Carolina Friends School, my dad’s also the one who turned my hometown into the largest home for lemurs, anywhere in the world outside of Madagascar.

If you’re ever in central North Carolina, you can see for yourself–in a guided tour; sorry, no more roaming. But if you don’t get the chance, here’s a glimpse of how it all began, 50 years ago:

What else can I say? Congrats, lemurs. Congrats, Duke. Way to go, Dad.

Canada’s Best-Kept Secret? The Sunshine Coast

Ready for a quick morph into travel-blog mode? How about a debate over what IS Canada’s best-kept secret? (I imagine it has many. Unlike the U.S., Canada does not trumpet its specialness.) The Mate and I just returned from a short excursion up British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, and we are still scratching our heads.

How have we lived so long, and so close by, without knowing about this place?

Quick geography overview: the Sunshine Coast is–duh–on the west coast, or rather it IS the west coast, north and east of Vancouver. It is NOT an island, though it includes many. But considering you have to take TWO ferries to experience its extent, it sure is hard to convince your brain that it’s still on the mainland.

Look, here’s what I’m talking about:

(Courtesy sunshinecoastcanada.com)

(Courtesy sunshinecoastcanada.com)

Wanna drive to Whistler? Sure. Wanna drive to Gibsons? Get on a boat.

On Day One, a single ferry ride plus a generous hour’s drive from Vancouver, we were discovering the Skookumchuck Rapids. These rapids are NOT in a river–they’re formed by the tide rushing through an inlet too skinny to hold all that water without throwing it around in standing waves and trenches so deep and gnarly that kayakers come from all over to train and play in them.

Not a river? Are you SURE?!

Not a river? Are you SURE?!



On Day Two, after our second ferry ride, I was walking through the largest town, Powell River, on my way to the info center. “Um, you might not want to go that way,” a young woman called to me from a yard. “There’s a bear in a tree down that street, and he’s been growling.” Of course I had to go see that bear. It was a big one, very black, snoozing in a crook of a cedar. In the middle of a neighborhood. Welcome to Powell River, eh?

{Did not have my camera on me at that moment, so I’ll give you a second to imagine the bear.}

Day Three, we drove to the furthest northern town, Lund, and took a 10-minute water taxi ride out to Savary Island–referred to by some Coasters as “our Hawaii.” Not sure about that comparison, but in terms of SUN and wide expanses of sand…sure, I get it. Also never heard of it. Also thrilled to be there at the end of the summer with NO ONE ELSE around.

sunny Savary, with Vancouver Island in the background

sunny Savary, with Vancouver Island in the background

Day Two and Four, we rode our bikes 13k around Inland Lake, near Powell River. (We liked the bike path so much, we did it in both directions.)

The lake has its own wee island you can ride onto!

The lake has its own wee island you can ride onto!

Not a soul around, unless loons have souls.

Not a soul around, unless loons have souls.

OK, I'll stop. I just REALLY loved this bike path.

{OK, I’ll stop. I just REALLY liked that bike path.}

On our last day, back on the lower portion of the Sunshine Coast, we hiked a short ways to Smugglers Cove, where we found…



Madrona in the morning sun

Madrona in the morning sun

Madrona with berries

Madrona with berries

I don’t usually post so many pictures, so you can tell what kind of a visual impact this place made on me. (If my computer weren’t so slow to upload them, I’d post more.) The Mate and I feel like we only got a little taste of the Sunshine Coast, and we already want to go back.

Which, lucky for us, isn’t that big of a deal. Which brings me back to that first question: why did it take us 26 years of living in the Northwest to figure this out?

So, what do you think: Canada’s best-kept secret? Or are there others I don’t yet know of?

You’ve Come a Long Way, Daddy: A Personal Evolution Story

When I say Personal Evolution Story, I mean that literally: this story has to do with me and my dad, and with evolution–as in, Darwin’s Theory Of.

My first post-college job was teaching at the school I had graduated from only five years prior. Since it was a private school–woohoo, Carolina Friends School, go Quakers!–ahem, as I was saying, since it was a private school, no certification was necessary. They knew me, they liked me, they hired me, and I trained on the job. Some of the Upper School courses I taught included Lit & Comp I and II, Geography, History of the Vietnam War, Running, Romance and Satire…that’s all I remember. For a brand-newbie, I wasn’t bad. Considering how at home I felt at CFS, that’s not too surprising.

I felt a bit of pride in myself, becoming a teacher. But as a college graduate, I was well aware of my lowly status compared to the rest of my family. Both my sisters had a Master’s; one was working on her Ph.D, the other on her veterinary degree.

Some time during my second year, as I remember, one of the science teachers needed to go on maternity leave. My father offered to step in as a long-term sub.

This is also not surprising, if you know that my father a) was one of the founders of the school and a perpetual Board member, and b) taught Zoology at Duke. As far as he was concerned, science teaching was science teaching. Apparently the school agreed, and they took him on (probably for free). He taught good ol’ Biology.

After the first couple of weeks, he gave a test. Most of the class failed. Dismayed, he came to me with the test: did I think it was too hard? I remember reading it and thinking, “No, this looks like pretty standard stuff.” Still, his next practice quiz–yuck. Again with the failures. My dad couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

To his credit–and my surprise–Dad then asked me to observe his class to see if I could spot the problem. I’ll never forget how proud I felt at that moment: proud of him for having the grace to ask his youngest daughter for help, and proud of myself for being enough of a Teacher that I could teach a tenured professor a thing or two.

The Upper School Head Teacher and I observed Dad’s class together. Minutes into the period we looked at each other and smiled. Bingo.

The problem wasn’t the scope of my dad’s lessons, nor their sequence. The problem was that, in his normal, everyday speech patterns, he rarely used words of fewer than four syllables. Latin phrases like sine qua non or de facto were a dime a dozen. Having grown up with this high-falutin’ conversation, I didn’t notice, but as soon as I heard him through the ears of a hapless 10th-grader…ohhhh. Uh-huh. It’s not your lessons you have to bring down a few levels, Dad–it’s yourself.

Fast-forward to the end of the story: my dad learned to simplify his language, and to ask his students when he needed to rephrase something. His passing rates went up. Biology was learned.

Now, fast-forward another 30 years, to 2014. I publish my first novel, The Flying Burgowski. That is to say, I self-publish. My dad is supportive and proud, but I’m pretty sure that, as the author of a dozen traditionally-published academic books, he’d be even prouder if my book boasted the imprimatur of Random House instead of Amazon’s CreateSpace.

Meanwhile, however, my father and my veterinarian sister have teamed up to write a children’s book about evolution. It’s well written and clear: nice, pronounceable words, not a Latin phrase in sight! Beautiful illustrations grace the text. It’s a gem of a book. I’m excited for them, and for it.

Unfortunately, as with my novel, they can’t find a publisher. So, this past month, they self-publish. Through CreateSpace.

Here’s the result:


And here’s the link, if you want to check it out or, even better, buy a copy: Darwin and the First Grandfather

And here’s the point of the story, in case it’s not clear yet: for the sake of the science he loves, my hyper-academic father has come a LONG way. From speaking only Academese, he has (with my sister’s help) made himself fluent in Common-Tongue Science. From publishing only with traditional, academic publishers, he has joined the proud ranks of the Indies. 

(Orig. photo courtesy Wikimedia)

(Orig. photo courtesy Wikimedia)

Not to mention–did I mention?–he and my big sis have written a damn fine book, one which fills a need. Please take a look and pass it on.

Have a John Keats Autumn: Notice What You Notice

Here at the brink of the Autumnal Equinox, I went looking for a poem for autumn. I didn’t have to look far. According to The Guardian, John Keats’s “To Autumn” is “the most anthologized poem” by an English poet. I’ll let Mr. Keats himself tell you why:

To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twinéd flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barréd clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

(courtesy Wikimedia)

(courtesy Wikimedia)

As my former students would have said, “I know, right?”

This season, harvest season, reminds me of life’s cyclical nature more than Spring does. Both focus our attention on change. But I was a teacher for 20 years, and even six years past the classroom, fall still means school to me. And school means poetry. Sooner or later, no matter the class–Sophomore English, Junior English, American Studies, AP Literature–we “did poetry.” Or, as I liked to say, we exercised our Noticing Muscles.

My brand of poetry analysis? Read the poem. Notice what you notice. Notice what it makes you think about. Write about how the poet’s tools (words, images, sounds, etc.) make you think that.

My favorite question: “Did the poet really mean whatever I think he means?”

My favorite answer: “Intention is not the same as effect. You can’t know intention unless the poet tells you. Most don’t. So focus on effect.”

I won’t presume now to take Keats’s beautiful ode apart and tell you about its effect on this reader. Instead I’ll leave you with the thought of Noticing Muscles, the poem itself, and the hope that you’ll spend some time this slower season noticing what you notice. Happy Fall!

Home Is Where The Maki Is: When Sushi = Family

The Mate and I love sushi. Whenever we’re in our former city of Tacoma, we look forward to visiting our favorite restaurant, Fujiya, owned by Masahiro Endo. The food is close-your-eyes-in-ecstasy wonderful. But truthfully, we’re there for the people.

The first thing we see when we walk into Fujiya is our family holiday picture on the wall, along with a select few others. We know we’re home. It’s been home for 26 years.

We first met Endo-san back in 1990 when we first moved to Washington. Our new house had been built on an unstable slope, and that rainy autumn, some of that slope slid down to the yard of the neighbor at the bottom, breaking through his retaining wall. Endo-san is so proper and polite, he probably never would have complained, but his next-door neighbor intervened on his behalf, demanding that we fix the situation.

Of course we did. The Mate took Endo-san out to lunch at his own restaurant, where they agreed on a plan to pay for repairs. We had already discovered the restaurant, but that day we also discovered a friend.

Sushi is an expensive habit. We rationalized our frequent visits this way: ounce for ounce, it’s about the healthiest protein-fix you can get, especially when supplemented with the veggies that Endo-san would inevitably include in the free dishes he sent to our table. We always left not only full, but carrying leftovers (best breakfast ever!).

Thanks to Fujiya, it’s safe to say we raised our kids on sushi. You’re welcome, boys.

Open you mouth and your eyes...(courtesy Fujiya)

Open you mouth and your eyes…(courtesy Fujiya)

Over the years, we got pretty close to the staff and they to us–after all, they were helping to raise our children. We went to the ballet to see our favorite waitress, Izumi, perform. We attended the wedding of Endo-san’s amazing sous-chef, Juan. (Yes, some of the best sushi in the west is now made by Mexicans. I love it.) And when sweet, funny Annie was tragically killed, we all went to her funeral. (That was when I got my first hug from Endo-san, who in his grief finally got past his Japanese reserve. I’ve been hugging him ever since.)

It’s hard to describe sushi as soul food, pricey and not-for-everyone as it is. But Fujiya feeds our souls as much as our bellies. It’s our Soul Restaurant.

What’s yours? Can you share the story?

Thanks, Endo-san.

Thanks, Endo-san.





An Unexpected Gift: Music From The Supposedly Destitute

Last week when I came in to work at the bakery, a colleague handed me a note. “Someone left this for you.”

“This” turned out to be a New York Times article about a group of musicians, all refugees, in a camp called The Jungle in the Parisian outskirts known as Calais. “For Gretchen,” was all the note said–unsigned.

I read the article, titled “Musicians in a Refugee Camp in France Record ‘The Calais Sessions.'” I was so moved by the story, I immediately went to the musicians’ website to buy their album.

I listened to one song before buying, but honestly–I didn’t need to. The idea of people crawling out of evil and hatred and misery and death to come together to produce music–that ultimate expression of humanity–that’s all I needed to know. That, to me, IS music.

I imagine some of you might feel the same way. To read more, and/or to order your own CD or digital version of The Calais Sessions, click here.

And to the person who left me that article? Thank you. You rock.

My Labor Day of Love: Sisyphus Meets Jacob

Pardon me for mixing and mangling myths and Bible stories, but this Labor Day has me thinking about the meaning of work when it’s done specifically and voluntarily for another person. See, Labor Day weekend generally includes my wedding anniversary (# 29 this year), and this particular Labor Day, I did not have to work at the bakery as I have for the past six years.

Wow, at home all day with my Mate! Except my Mate was sick.

So I decided to do some chores on his behalf. To be precise: I decided to load a ratty old tarp with branches and sticks and drag it from the portion of woods he’s been clearing for the past several years over to the site of his next burn pile.

Welcome to Wing Park! (Thanks, babe.)

Welcome to Wing Park! (Thanks, babe.)

Now, branch-dragging is something I’m on board with. I’ve been helping out on that front for a few years now, usually after windstorms. But lately, my Mate’s standards for “clearing” have gone from branches, to sticks, to TWIGS and CONES, people. Stuff you have to use a rake on.

Lately, this is how my inner monologue has gone when I’m helping out with this chore:

“Are you kidding me? Am we really doing this? Isn’t that tree just going to drop the same number of twigs and cones tomorrow?”

Herculean labor it is not. But Sisyphean? Absolutely. Humph. Grrr. Honestly!

But today, on my almost-anniversary, with my sweetie in bed sick? I raked the heck out of those twigs and cones. I even started pulling up blackberry vines–talk about a futile task! And it felt GREAT.

I love you THIS much!

I love you THIS much!

And I started thinking about that Bible story where Jacob works seven years for Rachel (after being tricked by his future father-in-law). I know, the situations are pretty different. But that labor-of-love thing? Yep. I was feeling it. Work done out of love is no longer work.

So Happy Labor Day, everyone. May you find the work that spreads love, whatever form it takes. And then, when you’re ready, may you celebrate with your version of this:

Worth every twig.

Worth every twig.