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!

 

 

All We Have To Fear Is Fear Itshelf: My Parents’ Greatest Gift

Hyperbole alert: my parents have given me and my sisters uncountable great gifts over the past 6 and a half decades, starting with, y’know…life. Nurturing. Education. That ol’ stuff.

But this one? This one’s right up there, beyond bicycles and maybe even musical instruments. It’s a slow-mo gift, for sure, but it…has…begun: my parents are starting to divest themselves of Things.

Exhibit A: the basement of my childhood home, a few years ago

I can’t call it “de-cluttering,” because most of it is great stuff: sports equipment, books…more books, more sports equipment…OK, that’s pretty much my family in a nutshell. They also have a lot of art, but I don’t think they’re giving that away just yet.

Most specifically, my mom startled me this week by mentioning the “bare shelves in the living room.” Now, I knew of my dad’s plan to donate all his science books to the Duke Bio-Sci Building’s Student Reading Lounge–a place dedicated to the delicious art of book-browsing, a practice that’s gone the way of the card catalogue. But I didn’t realize he meant to donate them, like…now! So I got my mom to send me some pictures.

Here’s the “before”:

You can’t tell, but take it from me–those books go floor to ceiling, two full walls’ worth.

And here’s, well–now:

Books gone. Dog still there.

Clearly, there’s still one shelf to go…but I kind of hope it stays there as a reminder of all those decades.

Still more, off to the right of the frame…Also, still a dog. Some things don’t change.

To give a sense of the history of our house’s book-walls, here’s me and my mom and sisters with our grandparents back in…let’s say 1964.

The books…the books are coming…!

So. Let this be a lesson to me. What lesson? Pick one: Never too late to divest yourself. Never too old to surprise your children (my parents are about to be a combined 179 years old). Never too old to make a difference in this world. Or just to finally do what they made us girls do, and Clean Your Room!

What’s next? Stay tuned. My Amazing Parents continue to amaze me.

If Hope Is A Muscle, Purpose Is Its Workout: Introducing Common Power

When it comes to the state of the world, be it locally, nationally or globally, everyone I know–and probably most I don’t–has felt like this a good deal of the past five and a half years:

I…give…up.

Most folks I know–and even more I don’t–have also found sources of inspiration to get themselves up off the floor and stay positive, or at least productive. Staying within my immediate circle of control is my go-to: cooking a meal for someone; spending time with an elder or a child; sometimes just contributing money.

But for me, real hope takes larger-scale action, and I would like to share my personal “hope-workout” of the last few years: Common Power.

Originally named Common Purpose and founded by UW Communications professor David Domke, “CP”s goal is “to foster, support and amplify a democracy that is just and inclusive.”

Even better, in my book, is the way CP goes about their work. I was first introduced to their three-part mindset when I attended a standing-room-only (obviously pre-pandemic) meeting in Seattle back in…2018, I think. This image speaks for itself:

Since joining, most of my “work” has been calling elected officials or phone-banking in “red” or “purple” states, which, no, I do not love. (Who does?) But most of that calling hasn’t been about trying to convince people to vote a certain way. It’s simply been working with in-state, non-partisan organizations (like NC’s You Can Vote) to give folks information they need to register, or to get their ballot accepted, or find their polling place. Do we target traditionally sidelined or disadvantaged voters? Of course. That’s the point. And as a result, those folks we do reach are, often as not, more grateful than grouchy.

My recent tally sheets from NC calls. GOTV = Get Out The Vote

Besides providing me with an escape ladder from the Pits of Helplessness, CP has also become a source of inspiration, learning, and even joy.

Close to home, when I can, I attend AJ Musewe’s Lunch and Learn series midweek, where the delightful AJ explores themes like the history of redlining, or little-known democracy pioneers. (When I can’t attend live, I listen to them recorded.)

the delightful & wise AJ Musewe (photo by CP)

The monthly meetings (fully accessible now–no more trips to Seattle!) begin with music and good news, and always leave me pumped up about the next event, like…the inauguration of the newly-expanded Institute for Common Power, coming up June 4! That one’s in-person, so I don’t know if I can go, but maybe you can go, and personally mingle with some civil rights heroes, compatriots of the late Rep. John Lewis, who survived the campaigns of the 1960s.

Dr. Terry Scott will be the new Director of the Institute for Common Power in Seattle (photo by CP)

CP enthusiasts are also encouraged to join state “Teams” to focus their energy on one of seven states where democracy is both imperiled but also salvageable. Of course I chose Team North Carolina. And while I’ve limited my participation to online and phone work so far, I intend to travel next fall with Team NC to my home state to do the most effective GOTV work of all: knocking on doors, connecting with people. I CAN’T WAIT.

I’m coming, NC!

Best of all, for my teacherly soul, CP’s emphasis on next-generation leadership means that my NC fieldwork will be directed by leaders younger than my own kids. They’ve all been through CP’s Action Academy–a completely rad organization in itself; maybe you’d like to contribute, or recommend a youth to attend?–and I also CANNOT WAIT TO WORK WITH THEM.

Can you hear that hope-muscle working? Does your own hope need a workout? I invite you to check out Common Power.

When Blessings Overflow: There’s a Word For That

There is a word…but not in English. Here’s one to add to your list, along with Schadenfreude and Cafuné (Portuguese for running your hands through the hair of someone you love, according to 41 Fascinating Words From Other Languages We Should Definitely Import to English) :

Dayenu. Or, as it says on our refrigerator magnet,

right there where I’m sure to view it 100 times a day 🙂

Jews and other folk who participate in Passover will recognize this word from the Seder ceremony. In Hebrew it means, roughly, “It would have been enough…” with the added connotation of, “…and yet, God did even more! Wow!”

Passover may be behind us for this year, but the season of Dayenu is just getting going, at least here on Lopez Island. Our normally gorgeous woods and fields have somehow become even gorgeouser (hey, I just invented Word #42 for the list) with wildflowers.

Ferns & moss alone aren’t pretty enough–we get lilies too? Dayenu!

Like our woodlands even needed decorating–let alone by hot-pink orchids that look like something invented made by fairies…

possibly why they’re known as Fairy Slippers

…or golden-blooming succulents whose leaves want to get in on the color wheel action themselves:

And those are “just” the wildflowers. Then there are the lilacs planted all over our island, some 100 years old. Don’t get me started on lilacs. Or better yet, do–then read about them in this blog post I wrote some years ago on that heavenly-scented topic.

Like I said, “some years ago”. Note the stolen lilac sprig in the pony tail. Not sorry.

Extra color, extra scent, in a place which makes daily work of overloading our senses, year ’round? What else is there to say? At a loss for ways to express the feeling, I wrote this song–again, “some years ago.”

Dayenu, Dayenu                                                                   

Had the rising sun not overwhelmed me…Dayenu.

Had my humble daily bread not filled me…Dayenu.

Had your arms not simply held me…Dayenu.

Dayenu, Dayenu.

Had the lilacs never breathed so sweetly…Dayenu. 

Had the wild fawn not leapt so neatly…Dayenu.

Had you not loved me so completely…Dayenu.

Dayenu, Dayenu.

It would have been enough,

It would have blessed us to the core.

Had this morning been our only gift,

We would not have needed more.

Dayenu…Dayenu… Dayenu.

Dayenu…Dayenu… Dayenu.

Had the sunset not shanghaied my breathing…Dayenu.

Had the starlight not adorned the evening…Dayenu.

Had you not promised never leaving…Dayenu.

Dayenu…Dayenu

Dayenu…Dayenu.       

So my “Dayenu” these days–apart from my Mate–is spring flowers, wild and tame. What are yours?  What’s better than sharing a cup that’s runnething over?                                

Write On Time: Kismet Edition

Okay, “kismet” sounds a bit too Greek. How ’bout serendipity? (Wikipedia tells me its origins are…Sanskrit?!) But I love the sound of the word, and I love that I get to re-start this blog in its post-travel mode (done with Road Trips for now!) with a happy nod to…serendipity.

One week after our return from Road Trip XI, with my to-do list nicely underway (groceries purchased–check; garden prepped–check; car vacuumed–check; washed & waxed? Nope, too much pollen in the air)…

no idea where all that pollen’s coming from!

…I EMBARKED UPON A NEW NOVEL.

That’s how it felt, honestly: caps locked & loaded. Normally, I’d take months or years thinking through a plot idea, then writing some character back stories, dallying with questions about theme, before diving into a very…thorough…outline. No actual writing, no scenes, until, you know…it was TIME.

But come June, I’m kicking off the pursuit of my Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing. My plan is for the rigor of that program to compel me through the production of a brand-new novel at a speed I’ve never contemplated before. Which means that by June 1, I need a 20-page (max) writing sample for workshopping purposes.

During that first week home (while vacuuming the car and weeding the garden), I let the raw ingredients of plot and character, theme and narrative device roil freely around in my brain. Then, one week ago I sat down at this computer and began spooning the resulting chunky soup onto this screen.

Four days later, a friend loaned me her library copy of a book I’d never heard of: A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, by George Saunders. “It’s due back on May 21,” she said, “so read it fast, or just go ahead and return it if you don’t like it, okay?”

I noticed the book was written by the author of Lincoln in the Bardo, a novel I did not care for. But I trusted my friend’s recommendation on this one. Cue the serendipity.

Turns out, far from being a novel, this book is a master class for writers. Especially writers at the beginning of a project. Especially me. Yes. This book, I’m pretty sure, was written for me, right now.

Already, only a third through his book, Saunders has given me new perspective on every important facet of writing. Here are some of my notes on what he says about character:

he says that the more thoroughly the reader knows a character, the less likely she is to judge her harshly. The writer becomes like God, substituting love (empathy) for judgement. I love that idea.

…about plot:

“Always be escalating. That’s all a story is, really: a continual system of escalation. A swath of prose earns its place in the story to the extent that it contributes to our sense that the story is (still) escalating.” (p. 153)

…about theme and narrative device:

“…that’s what an artist does: takes responsibility.”  “The writer has to write in whatever way produces the necessary energy” to move the reader. “It’s hard to get any beauty at all into a story. If and when we do, it might not be the type of beauty we’ve always dreamed of making.” (p. 105)

…and this bit about narrative voice that pierced me–in a good way, if you can imagine that:

“…how little choice we have about what kind of writer we’ll turn out to be…This writer may turn out to bear little resemblance to the writer we dreamed of being. She is born, it turns out, for better or worse, out of that which we really are: the tendencies we’ve been trying, all these years, in our writing and maybe even in our lives, to suppress or deny or correct, the parts of ourselves about which we might even feel a little ashamed.” (p. 106)

It’s way, way, WAY too early to say what my next book will become. But the fact that I was given a master teacher in its very first week feels like an excellent sign.

Plus, a library book is a whole lot cheaper than an MFA.

Just kidding. I’m still going for the MFA.

Curious, though–anyone else out there have one of these joy-striking examples of serendipity to share?

Road Trip XI, Days 50-56: Nevada, California, Oregon, Washinghome State!

Almost…there: the tulip fields of Skagit Valley

Road Trip XI …by the numbers:
8 weeks.
10,000 miles (best guess).
26 states.
62 far-and-dear friends and family members.
14 national parks/monuments.
20 state parks.
6 post-season Tarheel men’s basketball games (5 victories + 1 almost!)
One of these was waiting for us in our pile of mail. Order yours at johnnytshirt.com 🙂

…and by the category:

Best hike: Custer State Park, South Dakota, Needles region

My kind of needles

Best bike ride: Colorado National Monument rim road 

Wheeeee!

(Honorable mention: Bizz Johnson trail in Susanville, CA …but it doesn’t win because it gave The Mate a flat tire)

The tunnels are part of its charm.

Best waterfall: Sioux Falls…even though conflicted feelings arose when I read about its blasted, quarried history

So it used to be MORE beautiful???

Best trees: California redwoods

I mean…c’mon. What’s going to beat a redwood?

Best wildflowers: Rogue River National Recreation Trail, near Merlin, Oregon

I didn’t even know larkspurs came in scarlet!

Mariposa Lily!!

Best wildlife: tie between javelinas in Arizona…

piggie!!!

…and [not pictured] wild burros spotted in Utah off I-70 (a first for us)

Best sunset: outside our Virginia motel on our loversary

When God says, “Happy anniversary, y’all!”

Best restaurant meal: sushi in Chapel Hill with my parents

Mom, in her natural habitat [not pictured: sushi]

Best home-cooked dinner: our friend Ben’s roast lamb with chimichurri 

Our friends Lynn & Ben in the Blue Ridge [not pictured: lamb w/ chimichurri]

Best gift from our hosts: kumquats/avocados/oranges from our Hollywood cousins’ trees

Best car snack ever! Thanks, Cuzzies!

Biggest detour: dropping south all the way to Las Vegas in order to avoid dangerous, truck-toppling winds

The sand-filled sky, seen from our motel room, blotting out the mountains [not pictured: 2 toppled semi trucks we passed on Rt. 395 when we finally escaped the winds]

Best silver lining: getting to hike & clamber in Red Rocks National Preservation Area (or whatever it’s called) just outside of Vegas, just before the winds hit

Some people like casinos. I prefer rocks.

additional bonus to silver lining: the desert in bloom!

Yucca? Should be called yumma!

Longest day’s drive: Moab to Las Vegas (460 miles)

good excuse for one more Canyonlands picture!

Scariest drive: crossing the Cascades on snowy lil’ Rt. 89 past Mt. Lassen in California

The cute lil’ motel we stayed in at Old Station, CA [not pictured: next morning’s snow; too busy helping The Mate watch for ice patches]]

And now for a couple of less-traditional categories.

Best basketball game: UNC vs. Duke in the national semifinal (81-77)

South Dakota Black Hills, I’ll always associate you with that game!

Best dog: Ramses in Olympia

Also best-DRESSED dog–thanks to Dia Tornatore for the photo & the hospitality!

And finally, the Grand Travel Blog Award for Best New Discovery goes to…Oregon’s Rogue River Trail!

I never could catch my breath on this hike–just too much beauty!

We’re already talking about how to get back there.

See what I mean?
Waterfall over the trail? Eh…time for a photo.
New favorite place, old favorite person

…but for now, oh my goodness–it’s good to be home, safe and sound and grateful as all get-out for this long, LONG getting-out. And now, as Wing’s World morphs back into its non-travel mode…thanks for traveling with me anyway!

Road Trip XI, Days 43-49: Red Rock Country–No Bugs, No Wind, No Rain…But No Reservation

What camping enthusiast wouldn’t enthuse to camp near this?

Meet Canyonlands National Park!

That’s exactly the problem, as The Mate and I began to learn a few years ago, and now, in the post-COVID travel boom, multiplied by ever more active Boomers actively booming around the same places we like, we’ve discovered a basic flaw with our mode of road trippin’: it doesn’t work any more.

But let me back up to where I left off a week ago. Knowing we were in for some dangerous winds, we veered south from the Black Hills and holed up in one of our favorite mountain towns, Estes Park, CO.

I took this photo entering town because I knew the Rockies would soon disappear in the winter storm. They did.

Estes Park is uber-cute, and probably a complete zoo in high season, which we vowed always to miss.

Riverwalk, with a lil’ snow still…but hardly any people. Score!

EP is so cool, it has its own elk herd!

I biked right past; they never stopped grazing.

While the trails of Rocky Mt. National Park (just up the road) remained inaccessible to folks without snowshoes, we were able to traipse up to my favorite Gem Lake with only a little bit of scary ice & blow-you-down wind.

a gem indeed

After two days in Estes–which included watching our beloved Carolina Tarheels come within inches and seconds of winning a national championship they were never supposed to be in the running for, taking the game down to the wire and giving it their full hearts and ankles (so proud of those guys, can you tell?)–we decided to move our trip a little further on, while still waiting one more day for the winds to abate before crossing the Rockies.

Luckily for us, we have friends in Denver (one of whom had just returned from watching the Final Four in New Orleans!). They invited us to stay. We enjoyed them nearly as much as we enjoyed their charismatic dogs.

Meet Sherlock.

Thursday, when it finally felt safe, we joined the semis crossing the 11,000-foot pass on I-70, marveling as ever at the peaks and wishing that downhill skiing had less of an impact on them. [Not pictured: marvelous Rocky peaks]

After dropping down, down, down, down, we aimed for Colorado National Monument, a gorgeous hunk of sculpted rock erupting above the town of Grand Junction. Knowing we had no reservation for a campsite, I kept my fingers crossed: Please let there be one! Please let there be one!

There was.

We got lucky that time–thanks to having a tent, not an RV, and arriving on a Thursday, and, oh yeah–it’s the Colorado National Monument, NOT National Park. Huge difference.

Still completely stunning–especially riding the Rim Road, which goes right along this cliff. I adore cliffs.

It’s always hard to stop taking pictures of rock formations; bear with me.

They call these “The Coke Ovens.”

Of course you can’t put railings around an entire canyon, but this particular railing seemed designed just for me…because OF COURSE all I wanted to do was crawl out onto that ledge, a.k.a. that flat-topped, nearly free-standing pillar of red stone.

Did I mention that I love cliffs? It’s not an entirely healthy affection, I’m afraid.

After a happy camping night–first time since early March that we’ve been able to camp on this trip!–we continued on down toward the town of Moab. Again: no reservations, so we had no hope of camping in either Arches or Canyonlands N.P. BUT we knew there were several BLM campgrounds strung along the Colorado River, which operate on a first-come, first-served basis. It was Friday; we didn’t love our chances. But once more…

SCORE!!!

We got the very last one, at 10:45 in the morning. (Then we spent the afternoon & evening hours watching disappointed would-be campers like ourselves drive by, turn around, and move sadly on. We felt for them; we were them. There are so many of us now!) [Not pictured: dust from cars of disappointed would-be campers.]

Because who doesn’t want to cuddle up to this???

Since we only had a half-day to recreate, we opted for Moab’s famous bike trails, saving the hiking for next day.

I imagine this is what the Ten Commandments would have looked like had God given Thirty instead of Ten.

We celebrated our special spot that night by sharing an enormous microbrew from the Black Hills.

First come, first served all right!

We could have opted to stay another night. One of the curses of the BLM system is also its blessing: once you’ve pitched your tent, you can stay up to two weeks, $20/night or $10 for seniors with passes. (Two more years till I get mine!) No wonder there are never any spots during high season.

By “high season” I mean spring. June-August, this place is WAY too hot.

But the winds were picking up again, and we wanted wifi & showers (BLM sites are pit-toilet only, and BYO water). So we reserved ourselves a basic cabin in town, and took ourselves to Canyonlands–the 30-miles-distant part, not the 85-miles-distant; Canyonlands is VERY spread out!–for a day of hiking.

Because there are too many types of rock to choose from, we opted for several shorter hikes. First up: Aztez Mesa. Yep–right up to the tippy-top…

…looks easy-peasy from here…

I love cliffs, remember? And ledges? Turns out I DON’T love ledges that look like they could crumble beneath your feet. This trail sent me scrambling to the left.

Seriously??!!

Next up: smooth red slickrock.

They call this one The Whale.

How many blowholes does a whale need? And shouldn’t they be up top?

From the up-close to the faraway, this view of the Green River’s work, etching itself through layers of time:

Same theme, different view:

Totally happy to stand on that cliff! (Just don’t ask me to CLIMB it. I’m unhealthy, not completely nuts.)

One last look…just not quite believing it’s real:

The Mate would not hear of me hopping onto those flat, tempting red tower-tops. Can’t blame him; I actually don’t care to look at OTHER people on cliffs, even while I enjoy being there myself. Weird.

And just to throw one other rock formation into the mix, here’s Upheaval Dome, a mysterious , rainbow-colored pile inside a crater that geologists are still arguing over.

Slow uprising, or meteor crater? I like the latter hypothesis. Wish the colors had come out better; some of that sand is actually GREEN. Much of it, we learned, is salt.

Need a break from all the red rock? How about some red Paintbrush?

Go guys, go–you can do it!

We left Moab feeling both grateful and a bit deflated. Now we know that, if we want to nestle into that amazing habitat anywhere closer than a commercial room, we’re going to have to do the P-word: PLAN. Plan WAY ahead, like 6 months at least. One of the best parts of our road-trippin’ is its haphazardness, but that luxury seems to be evaporating.

But we found a silver lining.

Next morning, hopping back onto Interstate 70 West, The Mate & I were treated to three and a half hours of almost nonstop geological wonder. Starting with…

Wait–who put THESE here?

We kept turning to each other in confusion: Hold on. Have we not driven this stretch before? Wouldn’t we remember this if we had?

Yes. Yes we would.

The above photo I took at a viewpoint, where we parked. All the following, I simply snapped as we drove past.

Not a park. Just a bunch of roadside rocks.

The colors changed with every curve or hill.

Raspberry mint? What would you call this?

I think we saw every color except blue. Even black got into the mix.

Not my fault the black rock was on The Mate’s side! So yep, that’s his schnozz.

The colors and formations simply Did. Not. Stop…till eventually we bumped into I-15, and that, my friends, is where I-70 ends (after starting in Baltimore; we looked it up).

Mint raspberry? Give yourself a hand, I-70. I’m sorry I ever dissed you as boring!

So my takeaway from the past week is this: if you find yourself one of those disappointed, non-planning-ahead would-be campers…don’t whine; find your blessings where you can. Take a hike, and then go drive the interstate! #silverlinings #redrocks #istilladorecliffs

Road Trip XI, Days 37-42: Dancing Madly Across the Midwest, Or, Team o’ Destiny, Now with Extra Scenery!

In case it has, ahem, escaped your attention, last week (March 29) marked the 40th anniversary of the Carolina Tarheels’ first national championship, in 1982. That date matters quite a bit to The Mate, and even more to me, because that’s the day Michael Jordan baptized me into Tarheel fandom with what’s known as “The Shot.”

The rest is history. (Photo courtesy NCAA.com)

Up till then I had been more of a Duke fan if anything, but being back in Chapel Hill, on spring break from college, when The Shot fell–that was total immersion. I’ve never lapsed.

Fast-forward 40 years and six days, and guess what: our team is once more playing for the national title…in the same exact city where MJ helped them win in 1982.

Now, in case you’re someone for whom college sports means little or nothing, I’ll just briefly refer to a certain rivalry game that occurred last night, where a certain 42-years-tenured coach of a certain rival school to UNC ended his career–or rather, had it ended–by those selfsame Tarheels. Not sure if I speak for all Carolina fans, but truly, for me, if “we” lose tomorrow, I won’t care so much, because “we” already beat Duke twice on the most blaringly national stage possible.

But I’m still looking forward to one more day of sports babble, one more evening of texting far-flung fellow fans while alternately cheering and doing calisthenics for extra mojo.

We’ve even taught some of our friends this trick. Pushups work best!

Amidst the madness, however, Road Trip XI continues! We left Milwaukee last Tuesday, and spent two cold & dank but otherwise VERY happy days at the home of old friends with lots of dogs and cats. The Mate & I managed one uncomfortably windy ride along the Mississippi, and then relaxed with critters and pie.

UNC pie!

Leaving the frozen north for the slightly-less-frozen latitude of I-90, we crossed into South Dakota and chose Sioux Falls for a recreation stop. It was too windy to ride, so we decided on a walk–till our first glimpse of the falls stopped us in our tracks.

Seriously??? How have I gone so long without knowing about this place?

The more you explore, the more waterfalls you find.

RiDICulously intricate: like a flattened, pinkish Rivendell

However, when I stopped to read the signage, my awe changed to sorrow. Turns out that incredible sight is actually a remnant, blasted and quarried to a shadow of its former self. A view from the observation tower provided the gritty perspective of the whole scene, surrounded by the ugliness of industry.

“But can I blame those white folks from 140 years ago?” I thought. “They were so excited about electricity. How are they any different from me, driving across the country using fossil fuel even when I know better too?”

We drove on, sobered by these thoughts despite the thrill of that beautiful pink water garden. Crossing the Missouri River, I glimpsed yucca plants, and decided: It’s official–we’re back in the west!

Missouri + yucca = West!

But from there, the land got REAL western. As in bad. As in Badlands.

RAVie posing for her car commercial

We’d driven through the Badlands decades ago, in the summer. This time, entering under rainy skies, we made a startling discovery: those jaw-dropping crags aren’t made of natural cement, as they appear. They’re made of MUD.

This kind of mud.

So every drop of rain simply reduces each elegant, striated mountain into, eventually, something like this:

I’m mellllting!

Trying to hike across this stuff was like trying to hike on oiled ice. I’ve never felt any substance so slick. The Mate & I managed a couple of miles, hiking as much sideways as forward, trying to stay on grasses…

…with limited success…

Somehow it never looks like this in those Westerns!

…but eventually we gave up and tried a shorter, drier trail. This one featured some fun obstacles, like

Yikes. Even more so coming down.

…but also some amazing color.

What’s so bad about this?

Speaking of color, just a glimpse at the Yellow Mounds on our way out:

Makes me want to eat a popsicle

Seriously, this park is one of the most accessible in the country: just a stone’s throw off the interstate, and entirely driveable.

But on foot–so much the better!

And oh yeah, it comes with bighorn sheep.

I did not photograph what happened next.

We finished up that day by driving into South Dakota’s Black Hills. Since we knew nothing about this area, I booked a motel with full kitchen for three days so we could explore. And oh my goodness, did we ever.

We started with the George Mickleson Trail, a state-run, 109-mile rail-trail that winds through some of the most amazing scenery any bike trail gets to boast of.

Yeah.

Unfortunately, the snow patches kept increasing in size as we rode, making me nervous. Liza’s tires did great, but she’s no mountain bike, and I really didn’t want to fall. So we called it quits after 90 minutes of so, but 100% we’ll be back in a warmer season if we’re ever able.

Although leafy aspens can’t be any prettier than this, can they?

The Black Hills are most famous for Mt. Rushmore, but we didn’t care to visit. That’s just no way to treat a mountain, in my opinion. We did glimpse the Crazy Horse work-in-progress from a ways off…

a LONG ways off!

…but didn’t opt for the tour. I do feel better about that monument, since a Lakota leader commissioned it, but still…I prefer my mountains whole, thank you. Which is why I fell deeply in love with nearby Custer State Park.

If only it weren’t named after a war criminal! But that’s not the mountains’ fault.

Sylvan Lake is dammed, but that’s not its fault either.

The dam itself is breathtaking to walk out onto. But…where does the trail go?

Oh. Gonna need a sharper set of hiking poles.

Heading out of the park, I snapped a shot of the single-car “tunnel” which gives some indication of the ultra-mountainy road up to the park. And lo and behold, what does that dashcam shot show but…

…our Tarheels, journeying with us through all the mountain beauty.

So…go mountains. Go Heels. Go tradition, and marriage, and teamwork, and the Church of the Great Outdoors.

But Monday night, in New Orleans? Especially, Go Heels!!!!!

Road Trip XI, Days 31-36: Taking Time to Smell the…uhh…Skunk Cabbage? (NY-PA- OH-IN-WI)

The Mate and I are NOT good at slowing down. Hunkering down, chowing down, gettin’ down–yes. But slowing down, once in road trip mode? Our past m.o. has always been to pack the car to perfection and then, GO. Stop for recreation (and some stretching & peeing & gas-buying), but otherwise, spend the day getting to the next stop.

This trip is different. Since we’ve assigned ourselves a whole extra two weeks, and we’re trying to mesh our visits with the schedules of other people, sometimes we actually need to be less in a hurry. As in the past several days.

We left our cousins’ farm in Vermont at a leisurely 9 a.m., and chose to backtrack south a bit for the I-80 route across Pennsylvania, rather than taking the shorter I-90 across NY. Weather in PA looked better, so I chose us a promising rail-trail, and…Whoops.

[Not pictured: rail trail in White Haven, closed in both directions]

Instead we ended up biking here, in Lewiston PA, where the farms were so classical…

Even down to the barn color!

…I wasn’t surprised to see a couple of Amish buggies trot past on nearby lanes. (I didn’t care to take their pictures without permission.) Fun fact I discovered: Bucknell U. is in Lewiston.

Next day, again–no hurry. We forced ourselves to sleep in, putting sleep in the “sleep bank” for the upcoming, VERY late-scheduled Tarheel game. Our rec stop was Cook Forest State Park, in western PA, which promised a stand of old-growth conifers–something I’ve NEVER seen east of the Mississippi.

Cook Forest delivered.

Big trees AND big rocks!

The largest of the hemlocks and pines were 48 ” across–hardly redwood-sized, but still big enough to be hard to capture in a frame. So I settled for this fallen one…

R.I.P., big girl

…and more rocks!

Where’s a small child when you need one to climb with?

The park even had sweet little cabins (seasonally closed, unfortunately), with an adorable swinging bridge.

view from said bridge
Even the trees seemed to be enjoying some ease.

An additional note of poignance amid all the stately forested beauty: the blaze of the main trail happened to be the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

As if our hearts weren’t already there…

So after our hike, we returned to our car, and CNN, feeling a mixture of extra blessing, but also helpless heartbreak.

We spent that night in Ohio, by the Sandusky River. (All these were motel nights; with rain/snow threatening every day no one felt like camping.) Next day we FINALLY passed back into Central Time, and discovered a place we’ve probably driven past a dozen times on previous trips: the Indiana Dunes.

Well hello, Lake Michigan!

A federal and a state park lie adjacent there. We opted for the federal by default, but later decided the state one, which was older, actually offered more. The Bog Trail on the federal side didn’t, in March, actually show off much of its purported diversity…

…although I’m a huge cypress fan: love all those knobby knees of theirs!

…but I was treated to some fresh new skunk cabbage emerging for spring.

Ahhh, the scent of…hmm, never mind.

But it’s not the bog’s fault I was there in a wintry season. What really attracted me were the oak-covered dunes, with trails silky-soft to tread.

How can these trees grow on…
…THIS?

In the state park’s trails, the back-and-forth between sand and vegetation was even starker:

I think the sand’s winning this one.

But even so–kudos to those oaks!

Let’s face it–this east coast girl does miss oaks.

That night, hunkered down (remember, we’re good at that) near Gary, Indiana, The Mate & I splurged for once on pizza

Chicago-style, of course (don’t anyone tell Jon Stewart!)

in order to properly celebrate what might be the Tarheels’ final game of the season.

But it wasn’t. All our mojo worked, and the Heels advanced to the Elite Eight. Then The Mate & I gratefully collapsed, around midnight. (We are NOT used to being in eastern time zones during these games!)

When our plans to meet up with family in Chicago fell through, we had hopes of returning to the Dunes next morning before the short drive to Milwaukee to see friends. But it was snowing sideways, so–know what? Let’s just drive. And get some pho. And see a movie. OKAY to slow down, remember?

Milwaukee greeted us with a cold snap, at least for us Northwest wimps: a high of 30 with a vicious lake wind.

Our friends were like, “Cold?! Heheheh. You guys.”

We got a great tour of the lakefront…

…complete with bike path for later!

…and UW Milwaukee, where our friend works.

The mascot: “Pounce” the Panther

My German heritage instantly bonded with the offerings at the public market…

Only the best wurst!

…but after our tour, we were happy to cuddle up with our friends’ dogs.

Note: I’m generally NOT a small-dog fan, but I make exceptions for Morton (a.k.a. Mo the Vicious) and Delilah.

You notice my shirts, right? With Carolina vying for a place in the Final Four, and with the mercury dropping back down to 20, I wore BOTH my UNC shirts (as well as my lucky earrings) to watch the game.

It worked. GO HEELS! Bring on Dook!

Here’s what Mo thinks of Coach K.

Next up: Minneapolis, and then…westward! Slowly! Turns out there’s something to this smell-the-roses-type travel after all.

Road Trip XI, Days 26-29: Something Old, Something New, Something Carolina Blue in Vermont (Us!)

Visiting with our Vermont cousins is an enormous highlight of our road trips, mostly because it isn’t often feasible. What I mean is, this lovely farm is so much easier to visit when it looks like this:

Look! Green!

…instead of this (4 years ago):

Ewe cold?

True, spring means mud season here…

Still easier to bike on than snow!

…and the trails in the upper hills all had that flattened, emergent feeling.

Literally.

But Vermont is easy to love in any season–possibly the most calendar-ready state of the entire 50. On our bike ride along the Battenkill River in Arlington (just down the mountain and up the road from our cousins), I kept stopping to take pictures. (Pretty good workout, actually, as I have to ride twice as hard to catch up with The Mate.)

Can you get any more Vermonty than tapped maple trees???
And here I’ve always thought the South had the best sycamore trees. My bad, Vermont!

Vermont houses and towns are so Norman Rockwell that Norman Rockwell himself actually lived and worked there.

It’s now an inn.

This was Norman’s front porch view:

Why yes, that IS a covered bridge. So…much…Americana!!

As for Vermont’s farmlands, their age is impossible to ignore, as a ramble in any woods reveals the mossy criss-crossings of ancient stone walls.

Whose woods these are I think I know…they’ve really outgrown that wall, though!

But something new is happening in these old hills. See, this beautiful farm…

…including everything, all the way up to Studio Hill in the back…

…once just a “gentleman farm” owned by our cousins’ New York grandparents, who patronized the arts…

(hence the Studio of Studio Hill)

…does not actually belong to our cousins, but to the family trust of which they are part. In fact, for decades it was a horse farm catering to, let’s face it, the upper crust. But when the younger generation took over the work, they decided to make it a REAL, working sheep farm, and in the past 10 years since we’ve been visiting regularly, their passion is making itself felt.

But every good sheep farm needs a sheep-guarding donkey like Ben (World’s 2nd Cutest).

First, they’ve made their focus regenerative agriculture. What does that mean? Let’s hear from Jesse & Cally’s Studio Hill Farm website:

On our farm, we practice holistic management. This ensures that our farming practices strengthen and enrich the environments in which they’re employed. Therefore, as we raise animals on our land, our fields grow more fertile and abundant—which then allows us to raise more even animals on the land…which then makes the fields even more fertile and abundant…and so on. With simple management changes supported by basic biological principles, all agriculture around the globe could achieve this ecological and economic positive-feedback loop. We hope Studio Hill will serve as one example among many.

https://studiohill.farm/

Second, in order to fund their ambitions to restore the land, they’ve been farming a whole new crop: Air BnB clients, happy to pay to nestle themselves into the calendar picture for a few days at a time. Since our last visit, our cousins even bought the very non-traditional-farmhousey house their former neighbors inflicted upon the upper hill, and turned THAT into an Air BnB house.

Ahem…Mr./Ms. Architect? You’re in Vermont, remember?

They were going to house us there, as a matter of fact, but it was booked instead by a group of travel nurses—a win for everyone! Yay nurses! Instead we stayed in the old brick house pictured previously, which the Big House looks out on.

Ben, hard at work. Behind him, the new Big House plus the Schoolhouse Air BnB–the latter we can vouch for; it’s adorable.

They even put together a yurt, and a treehouse is still under construction.

Woods out front–Ben the Donkey out back.

All this property expansion was made possible by supporters of sustainable farming who invested in our cousins’ dream literally, thanks to a company called Steward, whose mission I’m copying here…just in case you want to pursue investment in a farmer’s dream yourself 🙂

Our mission is to promote environmental and economic stewardship through regenerative agriculture. We do this by providing flexible loans to human-scale farms, ranches, fisheries, and food producers looking to propel their operations forward.

But we don’t do it alone—Steward gives qualified lenders the opportunity to purchase loan participations, advancing our mission by helping to fund the growth of regenerative agriculture in their community or across the country.

I know, right? Interested? (Image from Steward’s website)

Hence the title of this post: our cousins, through borrowing from Steward, are able to make something new out of something old.

Oh, and that Carolina Blue part? I just had to throw in a shout-out to our Tarheels, who were busy taking down #1 seed/defending champs Baylor in overtime on our radio as we approached the farm. We had to stop the car and sit an agonizingly tense ten minutes out at the bottom of Trumbull Hill Rd, afraid we’d lose our signal if we drove any further. (I didn’t say the game was pretty—but they did win. Heels in the Sweet 16!)

Thanks for riding with us. See you down the road!

Road Trip XI, Days 22-26, NC to VA to WV to MD to PA: M is for More Mountains–Mmmmmmm

On the 3-week anniversary of this Extra-Strength-Making-Up-For-2021-Road Trip, we left my folks’ farm and headed west. Well duh, you might think–turning for home means west, right? Yest, but no. We were simply heading back to the Blue Ridge, and friends we’d missed on our first visit the week prior.

Mountains + Friends = Happiness

THEN we turned north, which is why I’m writing this from Allentown, Pennsylvania, two days and several states away from where we started yesterday. (We spent literally 10 minutes crossing Maryland–the suuuuper skinny part that probably involves some interesting history that I need to look up.)

Our goal is Vermont, and cousins, and a donkey almost as cute as Stevie (World’s Cutest). But since we were gifted with both time and good weather…

Hiking just above the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville

…back we went.

(Actually, about that weather? It did catch up with us one day, when The Mate and I were preparing to ride our bikes in the rain just for the sake of riding on a closed section of the Parkway. But we got up there only to find ourselves enveloped in a cloud so thick it made driving dangerous, let alone biking. Ah well.)

[Not pictured: us not riding in the rain on the socked-in Blue Ridge Parkway.]

Saying farewell to our friends, we headed north into Virginia, and stopped to ride the New River State Park Trail.

I mean, how could we not? It was a GORGEOUS day.

Have I mentioned how much I adore rural rail-trails?

And the crushed gravel was so soft it barely made a sound.

It was really hard to turn around, but the trail is 57 miles long, so…

OK, OK. Riding on now…Bye, New River!

With a Tarheels game to watch and a special St. Patrick’s Day love-anniversary to celebrate, we opted for a generic motel with a kitchen that night in rural Virginia near Shenandoah National Park…but were still rewarded with another spectacular Motel Sunset.

Why thank you!

Next morning, we took advantage of the mountains’ proximity–the reason we’d chosen this route–to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail heading into Shenandoah NP.

Quite some distance from the last AT sign picture I took!

It started off intriguingly enough…

Hey, only 965 miles to Georgia!

…but ended up being pretty, y’know…meh, at least for a National Park. This creek was the main highlight:

Pretty…but not much different from my folks’ woods, really.

Lesson learned; next time we’ll actually drive INTO Shenandoah NP and be more intentional about choosing a trail. But it was still a lovely walk. And just when we turned around, saying to each other, Really? This is it? we noticed these:

Why thank you again!

So there ya go: this is why I always choose mountains. Even when the trail isn’t spectacular, it always finds some kind of gift to give. And as we head north tomorrow, through New Jersey, up into New York and over to Vermont’s Green Mountains, I’ll be looking for even more of those gifts to accept. With gratitude.