About gretchenwing

A high school English and History teacher for 20 years, Gretchen now lives, writes, and bakes on Lopez Island, Washington.

Doggone Vacation, Part II: Trailing & Pathing Through Vancouver Island

Like my new word? I was trying to find a way to describe the way The Mate and I tend to travel, and it occurred to me: pretty much all we do, wherever we are, is look for trails to walk or paths to bike (or vice-versa).

Cathedral Grove, near Port Alberni

Leaving Tofino, we drove less than 20 miles down the road to Pacific Rim National Park, a thin strip of forest and beach that runs a good length down Vancouver Island’s Wild West Coast. The hiking trails are all short, but the longest of them is run by the Nuu-chah-nulth people, whose land it occupies.

It’s hard to get The Mate to turn around for a photo.

Along with offering some moments in the best parts of the forest, the trail tries to deepen one’s awareness of that culture, like this:

If only I knew how to pronounce those words…

This totem pole along the trail is maybe the most beautiful I’ve ever beheld.

I had a hard time leaving this.

Everywhere you go in that park, signs remind you whose land you are on–a convention our US parks would do well to emulate.

That sign, by the way, greets walkers and bikers for MILES as they traverse the longest path of all: the bike path that runs the entire 20+ miles of the park. The Mate & I LIVED on this path during our camping days there, using it to move from one beach or hiking trail to the next. And, given the number of poop-piles we counted, the local bears live on this path too!

Does the bear shit in the woods? Actually, no…not when there’s pavement available. (Not sure why someone placed a rock on this batch)

Of course we didn’t spend ALL our camping time on the move.

Not when there’s giant fungus to groove on! (foot included just for scale)

I’m not a “beach person” in the sense of lying on them for hours, but give me a beach with tidepools and I’m good–at least till the next mealtime! 🙂 PRNP has some AMAZING rocks and tide pools.

This one comes with its own window.

In one pool, I was amazed to discover an eating-sized fish who appeared trapped, as if in an aquarium. I vowed to come back next morning to try to save him if the tide hadn’t come in far enough…

Hang in there, dude!

…only to discover him, to my chagrin, still there…along with an even larger buddy…both of them attached through the gills by a nylon line, and the fisherman who’d caught them still trying to augment his catch. Apparently he was using this tide pool as his bucket to stash his fish, even overnight!

[Not pictured: pathetic caught fish in tide pool. I’m a terrible hypocrite; I just like to eat ’em.]

Seriously, though, I can’t say enough about this part of Canada. Come for the big trees…

…stay for the big trees at sunset!

Leaving the Wild West (regretfully), we moved slowly back through the center of the island, spending the night in Port Alberni. Not much pathing nor trailing there–but I did fall deeply in love with their bakery. If you want to know more about this very blue-collar town at the far end of the LOOOONG inlet which bisects the west coast, let me refer you to my friends’ blog–they do a good bit more than pathing and trailing when they travel.

[Not pictured: Port Alberni. Nothing really grabbed me there, visually; probably due to lack of trails & paths.]

On the way out, however, we walked in the Cathedral Grove (pictured at top), and later stopped at Little Qualicum Falls Provincial Park, where we vowed to come back sometime and camp. Here’s why.

Any salmon in there?

Luckily, we’d already had our leaping-salmon experience the week before at Stamp River, because…

Yeah, no.

…these falls were not exactly leap-able. Ridiculously gorgeous, yes. We had some of our best “trailing” around this river, seeing its falls from all angles.

Our final stop was Lake Cowichan, where I’d attempted to take The Mate on last fall’s ill-fated Mystery Birthday Trip (see previous post). The Trans Canada Trail runs through there, so we had high hopes of pathing it on our bikes.

But it was closed for construction. So we had to make do with the lake.

Oh darn.

Lake Cowichan looked even better from above, although the trail itself led mostly through the scruffy results of clearcutting.

The scenery finally got pretty just about when we were ready to turn around. Oh well.

We spent our final Vancouver Island night near Nanaimo, where we’d be boarding the ferry next morning. Yes, we did manage to find a couple more trails & paths nearby, but by this time we were starting to feel all that mileage in our legs. So we kept the walks short, and fell gratefully into the bed which took up our entire tiny room in this adorable pub/hotel.

Did I order the poutine for dinner? Yes I did.

We arrived home to find the Cascade skies still hazy with wildfire smoke. Happy as I am to be reunited with Maya the Malamute, I’ll end with this photo from the ferry back to the Canadian mainland, because…

[not pictured: the orcas we saw splashing along the way]

…see all those mountains out there? Can you imagine how many paths and trails they’re hoarding?

Thanks, Canada. With or without the doggone excuse, we’ll be back, eh?

Doggone Vacation, Part I: Back in the Green Arms of Vancouver Island

Our dog sent us here.

Really.

After coming to grips with our sweet Maya’s need for intensive training to ease her reactivity to other dogs, the Mate and I booked her a two-week stay with local dog whisperer Stephanie Vallejo (highly recommended, but get in line: she’s very much in demand!). Then we looked at each other.

“You thinking what I’m thinking? If our dog is already being cared for…”

“…We could…we could GO somewhere!”

And since we’ve been yearning to get back to Vancouver Island ever since last fall’s trip got scrubbed , we jumped at this chance. Then I got COVID, giving me the time I needed to plan a rough itinerary–score!

Washington State Ferries hasn’t resumed its service to Sidney, British Columbia, so we had to take the long way round. Oh darn.

Our first stop was the town of Sooke, just west of Victoria, where most tourists go. We’re not really into cities–particularly very Anglophile cities like Victoria immediately following the death of the Queen. Plus Sooke is known for its glorious rail-trail, the Galloping Goose, which the Mate & I have been eager to try out.

You can see why.

“The Goose” stretches 55 kilometers, much of which is as gorgeous as this part (where I saw a bear the next day). With a few exceptions, it’s perfectly level, and includes fun little additions like…some VERY high trestle bridges…

Don’t look down

…mixed forests, and shoreline, like this part fronted by what Canadians call Arbutus, and we call Madrona (or Madrone, in California).

Beautiful, eh

From Sooke we headed back toward Victoria, then followed the main highway north to not-quite-halfway up this INCREDIBLY big island, where we entered its mountainous middle. I was on a mission. I wanted to see bears, and leaping salmon. Maybe even together!

I got my wish. Sorry about the poor zoom quality on my phone.

That bear’s two cubs showed up a moment later, but I took a video of them instead of stills, so you just have to imagine. Were we nervous about the bears being only one river away from our campsite? Well…we would have been, had the ranger not assured us that these particular bears had been coming every evening, checking for fish and leaving, without seeming to care about crossing over.

Good enough for us to sleep well. We happened to know that the fish were just downriver…

…nope, further downriver…

…where the BIG falls are, summoning the energy to leap. As with the bears, I took videos of the salmon doing their thing and forgot to take stills. But if you look very closely…

VERY closely!

…you can see them massing in the canyon just below the falls. Dozens of them. Hundreds. Several specials. Getting ready for the big push. (But they also have a fish ladder to fall back on, in case they give up after 80 or 90 tries.)

Our next night of camping was on Sproat Lake, where the scenery was nice but not breathtaking. However, following my nose and some truly baffling maps, I stumbled upon one of the most magical waterfall pools I’ve ever encountered.

Did I skinny dip? Are you kidding? Of COURSE.

What’s weird is, I accessed this place via an ugly logging road under a power line, then had to climb down a bluff using a VERY scary rope “ladder”–to find this lil’ piece of Narnia waiting below.

Oh, and then climb back up again.

Good job, Vancouver Island–make us work a little for your treasures.

One of our two weeks is now behind us, and The Mate and I are at the end of the world, or what feels like it: the towns of Ucluelet and Tofino, one at each end of a peninsula hanging off the Big Island.

Image courtesy of VisitTofino.ca

Tofino’s where the kayak photo came from. “But Gretchen,” you may ask, “don’t you already live on an island? Why would you vacation somewhere so similar to your regular ol’ life?”

Could this photo have been taken in the San Juan Islands? Possibly.

But my answer is:

Nothing “regular” about THIS…

…or THIS: the First Nations village of Opitsat, which our kayak guide told us was the oldest continuously-inhabited settlement in North America, dating back at least 5,000 years (but more likely, he had learned, 10,000). Seeing it gave me goose bumps. (again–apologies for poor zoom lens)

The background snowy peaks of the mountains in Strathcona Provincial Park are just…extra.

And I’ll let Ucluelet speak for itself:

Just a teensy bit wilder than where I live.
And so are the trees.

One more thing The Mate and I are really enjoying about this part of B.C.: its quirkiness. For example, our rented room is in the lower part of this…structure?

Home, sweet whatever you want to call this.

And their official control-your-dogs-at-the-beach signs are hilarious:

Wait, did somebody say Good Dog? Oh, we sure hope so. But meanwhile–thanks for the vacation, Maya! See you in a week!

DogBlog: Hair Today, and…Hair Tomorrow

Maya here.

To quote my hooman, Gretchen: shed happens.

What? Shag carpeting could be coming back. You never know.

Now, Gretchen seems a little frustrated with me these days…keeps muttering stuff like, “Omigod, MORE fur?!!” and “Why NOW? You’re just gonna grow this fluff right back next month!”

Whatever. As long as I get to lick something while she’s torturing me like this.

But I think the real reason she’s so uptight is, she NEVER sheds. That hooman of mine has had exactly TWO “haircuts” (what hoomans call shedding) in her entire life. She told me that herself.

She got her first one when she was 15 (that’s 2 in dog years).

Yep, just a pup

She kept the same “look” for the next ten years, slowly letting her fur–I mean hair–grow long again.

No more shedding, but sometimes she wore things on her head. Hoomans are weird.

Then, ten years after her first shed, she shed just the top–I mean, got it cut. She calls this her “bangs.”

I don’t get why she calls ’em that. They don’t seem very loud to me.

For the next 35 years, Gretchen only shed the teensiest bits of fur. Like this:

Seriously?!

But NOW, 35 years (that’s 5, in dog!) after shedding cutting her “bangs,” Gretchen’s decided to stop even THAT amount of shedding. She’s letting her top fur grow out.

It ain’t pretty.

Yeah, good luck with that.

What I want to know is, why’s she all hot and bothered about MY fur when it takes her 35 years to make up her mind to deal with her own?

Hmph.

When it comes to fur–how can she possibly compete with me?

I guess she’s just jealous. Yep–that must be it. Poor thing.

Wishing I Were Mo’ Pro-Promo

This coming weekend, I’ll be playing in a music festival. Yay for music festivals! Yay for anything that combines outdoorsiness, tunes, and safe togetherness. Also tacos, I hear.

Which means it’s time for me to do my part and help drum up community support for this all-day affair, tirelessly put together by some very dedicated folks. Which means…promo.

My friends are probably sick of this photo. I have so few I use the same ones over and over.

I know of zero writers and only a tiny handful of musicians who enjoy promoting their own work. Taking part in an interview, sure, or maybe designing a poster if your artistic chops extend to the visual arts, but otherwise? Meh.

Case in point: yes, this blog contains clickable images of the books I’ve written, but when was the last time I actually tried to sell you one? Exactly.

But! This music festival is not about me; my set is 30 minutes out of a full day. It’s about COMMUNITY MUSIC! So with that in mind…ahem…may I present:

There. That wasn’t so bad, was it?

If you live on Lopez, I very much hope you can make it. If not, I hope you can make some event to support the arts in your community! I’m guessing probably no one where you live wants to self-promote either. So make it easy on ’em and just show up!

And thank you, thank you for supporting your local artists. Isn’t it wonderful we get to do this again?

Accentuate the Positive: COVID, Silver Lining Edition

It’s official: COVID-19 is no longer cool. It’s hanging out with me and the Mate.

8 days and counting…

Understand, we’re the kind of folks who started watching “The Office” in its fourth season. Who are only now talking about maybe watching “The Mandalorian.” Want to know why Facebook’s been on a slow downward slide among young people since 2010? That’s when I joined. (The Mate is actually cooler than I am; he’ll never join.)

Luckily, we have a whole bunch of “luckilies”: We were in good health. We both got only mild symptoms (the Mate, mostly fatigue; me, a juicy head cold with a lingering cough). While we did have to cancel some parts of our lives that affected other people (sorry, my fellow bakers & musicians!), we didn’t have to miss anything huge like a family gathering (or, I don’t know, an MFA residency). Most importantly, we have not, to our knowledge, spread the virus to anyone else.

Also luckily for me, thanks to my MFA homework, I have a voracious appetite for all the extra time COVID has gifted me. For example, here’s what I’ve read since I came home from LA just under a month ago:

I especially recommend Euphoria & the nonfiction Strangers in Their Own Land

I’m also super grateful for having to isolate myself during such stellar weather, as Lopez Island is (so far) not suffering from the heat wave overtaking most of the rest of the globe.

…because it takes extra time and attention to spot the small, subtle Elegant Reign Orchid

I do confess to being VERY tired of the gunk in my lungs. But it also reminds me of my English teaching days, when I’d introduce a Shakespeare unit by teaching the kids about the “Four Humors” of medieval “medicine.” Depending on which planet you were born under, one of the liquids running through your body would dominate the others, thereby determining your personality.

Those four humors? Blood, yellow bile, black bile, and…wait for it…phlegm.

Image courtesy Wikipedia

We still carry the vestiges of the Four Humors in our personality adjectives today. You can be sanguine (cheerful), bilious or choleric (angry), or, my own humor–phlegmatic! (Students were much less grossed out once they learned this meant “deep” or “hard to read”.)

As an on-the-cusp Scorpio, I’ve never felt very in tune with my sign. But right now, thanks to COVID, I’ve never felt more phlegmy–I mean phlegmatic. And I’ll take that Humor right now, thank you very much. Gotta accentuate the positive till it finally turns negative.

DogBlog: Worst Summer Camp EVER

Hey, I’m back!

Miss me?

Maya the Malamute here again, with my report on What I Did On My Summer Vacation. It’s a very short report. Ready?

Ahem: It. Was. LAME.

Here’s me, heading out last month in the car of this new hooman Gretchen said was coming to “take me home”…or was it “re-home me”?

Whatever, as long as there’s treats in here somewhere.

Sometime this spring she started taking lots of pretty pictures of me, saying stuff like, “I feel like a Picture Bride agent.”(Whatever that meant.) I even got to pose with wildflowers in the rain!

Doesn’t matter. I’m beautiful even when I’m wet, and I smell even beautifuller.

Then she threw a party for me. EVERYONE got treats. But I gotta say, it did seem like I got more attention than usual.

Kisses too!

Next day: new hooman. Walkies. Talkies. Car. I noticed my old hooman Gretchen making funny faces and sounds as we drove away.

What happened next isn’t worth writing about. The new hooman took me on walks but then he had to “go to work,” and there wasn’t anyone else. I may have howled. A lot.

Some time passed. Not really sure how to describe that part. Two demolished stuffies’ worth of time? One very uncertain new hooman? I was definitely getting BORED.

So we got back in his car. We drove and drove. And then I got out of his car and there was Gretchen again. She was happy to see me. I got back into her car. We drove and drove. We stopped at a park for walkies. It was a hot day. Gretchen had a nap. I had a salad.

Definitely missed the flavor of the coast!

When we finally got back on the ferry, we both felt like we were right where we were supposed to be.

Don’t ever send me to that summer camp again! They didn’t even have a pool!

So now I’m back home with my main hoomans. They still talk about showing my pictures to other people, but like, of course they do! ‘Cause I’m gorgeous.

And a little bit cuddly. Who needs a stuffie when you have me?

…although, come to think, if you do have any extra stuffies? I’m feeling a little peckish.

MFA in LA, Part II: Climbing

My first day back in the Evergreen State after returning from the first residency for my MFA in Creative Writing, I went for a short hike in the Cascade foothills.

Southern California’s beautiful…but man, I missed THIS.

As I headed up the trail, I glimpsed a cliff through the woods, and hearing voices, stopped to look. Of course: a climbing group was gathering at the base. I couldn’t make out their words, but I assumed they were talking about routes, or gear, or who was going to try what. Since I’m a hiker, not a climber, I headed on up the trail, silently wishing them safe fun.

Then it hit me: that giddiness from the steep learning curve of my first residency? That wasn’t just fear of inadequacy or excitement over reaching new levels in my art–though yes, it was also both. That curve is even steeper than I’d thought. And what’s really happening is, as a writer, I’m trading hiking for cliff-scaling.

For the past 25 years, I’ve been step-by-cautious step, trudging up a marked path…

Granted, that trail can get plenty gnarly, and it has!

…but now, I’m going vertical. Straight up. I’m trying things I’ve never tried as a writer, and I’m all in. No more dabbling, fitting writing in where I can, taking whole seasons off. No more excuses. I’m learning craft, and my teachers are going to expect craft back.

If you’ve spent any time in Wing’s World, you’ll know I love to be on TOP of cliffs, but the idea of climbing them makes me nauseous. True to form, once I’d reached the top of the little mountain I was hiking up, I got as close to the edge of the cliff-top as I could…

Note knee at bottom right

…that same cliff those climbers were preparing to scale. And I gave myself this little pep-talk:

“Yes, you’re spending a huge amount of money and time to learn to write the kind of book you most want to read. But you have new tools and a crew now, you’re all roped up, and you get to spend the next 2 years discussing routes and gear and who’s going to try what. Yes, you might fall, but you won’t die, and your crew will help you find your way back up.”

(or words to that effect)

If you look closely at the bottom of that cliff, you’ll see them there: my imaginary writing crew.

Now imagine me halfway up that cliff, scared to death, but finding my route. Here we go.

MFA in LA, Part I: Small-Island Woman Hits the Big City

The first afternoon of my shiny-new Masters in Creative Writing residency in Culver City, a worried-looking man at the bus stop I was walking past stopped me, in halting English, with a question. Based on his appearance, I guessed he had immigrated from central Africa…but when his English failed, he tried a nice, fluent Spanish–and there we found a common place to converse about bus routes (and the fact that I, an out-of-towner, knew less than he did).

“Now that was an LA moment,” I thought. And that’s why I’m here: for the writing instruction, yes–but even more for the moments I cannot experience via Zoom.

Greater Los Angeles is a stunning place, in all the meanings of that word.

just your average Culver City yard

Since I’m here in full Writer Mode, I’m noticing every way that I’m being stunned, mostly on my 2-mile, twice-daily walks between the campus of Antioch University Los Angeles and the wonderful friends who are hosting me. Starting with these astounding ficus trees, planted down multiple Culver City streets…

Must…build…treehouse!

…whose roots are painfully constrained by concrete, and yet–they tower.

I’m so sorry, O Great One!

Since I’m entirely on foot, thanks be, I only have to deal with traffic when I cross the street. But this vehicle caught my eye as an embodiment of SoCal culture:

The decal on the window reads, “It’s always been about style!” Uh huh.

Antioch U itself is housed in a stunningly corporate-looking building, one of a cluster offering office space to such stunningly _____ (insert your own adverb here) corporations as Tik-Tok.

I still don’t get TikTok, but then I’m 60, so I guess that’s the point.

I’ve never worked in a building like this, but this scene through a window on the ground floor tells me that at least someone in there has a good sense of humor:

Yikes. Tough day at work.

Being, y’know, corporate and all, the building-cluster is thoroughly landscaped…

See that one tiny blooming white iris? I felt a kinship.

…and I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry when I found this Pacific Northwestern sister, this madrona tree, literally chained to a concrete block.

Makes me want to rescue her, like that scene in Harold & Maude (go see it if you haven’t)

I have no critique of Angelenos or anyone else who chooses to live in a megalopolis. There’s just so much here here, it takes my breath away. So I’m finding special comfort in whatever feels familiar–not in that creepy, chained-down-madrona way, but like these adorable turtles…

Sorry, buddies, I don’t have any treats for you!

…in the grotto pool of the Catholic cemetery I cross through on my walks to & from campus.

candles burning inside for, in this case, all fathers on Fathers Day

In the end, everyone wants to feel at home, whatever home means, right? Which is a good thing to be pondering as I launch into a brand-new writing project with some brand-new helpers who come from places so very, very different from my little island. In the end, we all want comfort, whether that means a shiny sports car, an untethered tree…or just a sweet cat to lie on our tummy.

my friends’ kitty Drizzle

Until Part II, may comfort be with you!

Where’s the Hope?

This week, feeling the need for a continued dosage of HOPE, I’m handing the mic back to my friend Iris Graville. Who needs a baby whale? All of us! Take it away, Iris.

Iris Graville - Author

A question—really two questions in one—came from a woman attending my most recent author event. It was about hope, specifically whether my research for Writer in a Life Vest made me feel hope about the Salish Sea and the climate crisis, or whether my study prompted hopelessness.

“Yes,” I replied.

That night at Third Place Books, all the chairs were filled with longtime friends, family, and a number of folks I didn’t know. I’d been interviewed by writer friend David B. Williams; he’d asked me to describe the book, we discussed the variety of essay forms I used, and he prodded me to talk about my stint as Writer-in-Residence on the Washington State Ferries.

David also asked me to read from the collection, specifically the essay “Salish Sea Account.” It’s one of the first pieces I wrote as I studied the 7,000 square miles that comprise…

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Comfort Stations

Feeling fragile? Frayed, or afraid?

Yes. Hi. Me too. There’s a bunch of us in this…boat, this space, this era.

I want to share two things I’ve been leaning on a bit when the pressure of words and feelings builds up.

Number One: I try to capture magic sensory moments in my day. This morning it was the unexpected scent of wild roses on my walk. Yesterday it was the gentle breath of the air when the wind finally dropped. And a couple of days ago, at the Dump, it was this stunning image inside the glass dumpster:

good thing I had my camera, ’cause I’m not sure I could capture this in words

Someone–maybe one of our community’s glass artists?–had dumped a large pile of crushed glass on top of the usual bottles, and then, in a fit of artistry I guess, added a small glass sea star on top.

I took that photo, then got everyone else at the dump to take a look themselves. Voila–instant joy, in a dumpster.

Number Two: You know the game Bananagrams? It’s lovely, and I recommend it. But my sons and I play a variation on the game that we call Scramble. I won’t describe Scramble here, because it’s as fast & furious as it sounds–lots of fun, but not at all restful or comfortable. But SOLITARY Scramble is both. Here’s how it works.

  1. Dump all 144 Bananagrams tiles out and turn them blank-side-up. 2. Turn 4 letters over and try to make a word. If you can’t, keep turning over tiles until you can. 3. Once you have a word, continue turning tiles, one at a time. But (HERE’S THE FUN PART) 4. Try to fit each new letter into an EXISTING word before creating a new one.

A few rules, of course. Adding letters to existing words requires re-arranging the word. You can’t just make something plural, change “bask” to “basking”, or “world” to “worldly”. You CAN change “bask” to “basket,” or “world” to “whorled.” Or even “latrine” to “relating.”

Get it?

Unlike regular Scramble, where you’re trying to use letters before your fellow players do, Solitaire Scramble is deliciously slow. Deliberate. No backsies–whenever you’ve used a letter, you can’t later move it to another word! So take your time.

Hint: pay attention to “ING” and “ED” and “TION” possibilities. If you find the 4-letter-word minimum too challenging, start with three.

And if you’re both careful and lucky, you might just end up with a PERFECT ROUND, using up all 144 letters:

Ahhhhhh…

Now THAT is comfort: a good 45 minutes spent on nothing but language.

Anyone else? Comforting little moments to share? My spirits will thank you.