“In The Woods We Return to Reason and Faith”

…says Ralph Waldo Emerson, and I’ve never doubted it. This week not only woods, but also craggy peaks, wildflowers, gray jays, marmots and mountain goats worked their magic on me, and I finally feel like blogging again.

It’s been a month since I last posted, not that anyone’s keeping score. A month since I decided, y’know what? I don’t have the heart for this right now.

I can’t promise how long Nature’s “cordial of incredible virtue” will last. But while it does…please, allow me to share some of her bounty, in the form of Goat Rocks Wilderness in southern Washington. All photos are by my Ironwoman goddaughter and adventure buddy, Allison. (Apologies for the haze–parts of the Cascades are on fire.)

Heading in

Above tree line on the Pacific Crest Trail

Paintbrush gardens everywhere

Up above 7,200 feet–still plenty of snow patches

This section’s called The Knife

 

Goat! (Allison’s camera has a great zoom)

A whole goaty family!

Goats + Rocks = Goat Rocks

Larkspur thriving under the harshest conditions

Goat Lake, far off but calling to us…

Smoke from fires further northeast just made us grateful to be there at all.

Y’all come back soon, hear? (Yes, please.)

Road Trip VIII, Days 43-45, Page, AZ to Provo, UT: (Lake) Powell to the People?

I have always hated Lake Powell. But it was my idea to meet our Adventure Buddies in Page, Arizona, because it’s such a great jumping-off spot for nearby red-rock wonders. And one of those wonders is that dammed lake…the one that drowned a canyon every bit as grand as my beloved Grand Canyon.

What the Colorado is supposed to look like, running through a canyon.

I know all the arguments in favor of the dam, which is almost as old as I am (1963—though it took the lake another 7 years to fill completely). It protects cities like LA and Phoenix from the ravages of drought. It provides jobs. And it provides close-up access to the beautiful canyon walls, otherwise accessible only by hiking or rafting.

But should LA and Phoenix ever have been given the illusion of water security enough to grow as they have?

Could Glen Canyon not have provided jobs in its natural state, like Grand Canyon? (They’re really the same super-grand canyon. Only the dam gives them two names.)

And as to that access argument, I keep thinking about that old anti-dam slogan from back when Glen Canyon was still a fight: “Would you flood the Sistine Chapel in order to let people have a closer look at its ceiling?”

Close enough to touch. Except this wall should be hundreds of feet above.

So we went straight into the belly of the beast. We took a boat tour on the lake.

Talk about conflicted feelings!

Look at all these people having fun, I thought. Most don’t look like hikers; this could be their only glance deep into this red-rock world.

Shouldn’t everyone have access to this? Why does this view make me so sad?

Look at the Navajo Nation, running a marina full of million-dollar houseboats. Better than a casino, right?

LOTS of houseboats.

Listen to the tour recording. It’s telling about Navajo (Diné) History, about the Long Walk—their terrible forced removal in the 1860s. Would boatloads of people learn about this on their own?

But throughout the tour, I couldn’t stop thinking about the Colorado River lying drowned, 500 feet below our boat. And wondering…what would have been so terrible, to have left it alone?

Dam.

Road Trip VIII, Days 36-38, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Salinas, Kansas: Bike-Pathing Across America—Thank You, Trail Link!

Planning a drive across the country? Planning on staying in shape as you go? Does this look like a nice break from the highway?

Pedestrian/bike bridge on the Louisville Loop

Consider this post a full-on advertisement. Luckily, it’s for a non-profit organization. Also I’m not being paid. I just want anyone out there who travels across the US with a bike, or with a pair of good legs which like to stretch themselves on trails, to know about Trail Link.

Trail Link is a service provided by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, “a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines and connecting corridors to build healthier places for healthier people.”

For a small subscription you get access to a website with an incredibly well annotated national map of trails, everything from small nature trails to strolls in parks to converted rail trails stretching hundreds of miles. Here’s an example:

One of our favorite trails ever—it goes through tunnels!

Clicking on any of those icons gives you directions to parking, plus more info, although Trail Notes sections are already as thorough as any well-written guidebook, complete with photos and reviews.

The Mate and I are dedicated Trail Linkers. When possible, we plan our routes through areas with inviting trails. Often we find these in out of the way places like Susanville, California—one of our favorites—but also near quite urban places like Atlanta.

Susanville! A destination trail. And the town’s pretty cool too.

The reason? Trains go everywhere, and when they are retired and organizations like … get on the case, then the trails go everywhere too. It’s a beautiful thing.

Our most recent example: the terrific Louisville Loop, a series of wonderfully curvy, hilly, bridge-studded trails that will eventually encircle the entire city by connecting its greenways. Easy access, a fantastic workout, your daily hit of natural beauty—what else does a road-tripper need?

Just look at those whoopy, swoopy, woodsy curves!

Here’s one from last year’s trip—a trail along the Illinois River.

Ahhhh…no pavement.

We’ve even found trails in Canada using Trail Link, like this amazing one around a lake on BC’s Sunshine Coast:

LOVED this trail.

Just because you’re driving purposefully without a lot of time to meander, does not mean you have to sacrifice your needs for exercise, beauty and adventure. Check out the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy for yourself, and happy riding/walking!

 

Road Trip VIII, Days 19-23, Nashville to Asheville: Don’t You Westerners Start With Your “These Ain’t No Mountains”

We’ve made it to North Carolina, my home state. But not, as yet, to my hometown. For once we aren’t fleeing weather on this trip, which means we’ve been able to slow down and enjoy time with friends in the Blue Ridge.

That means lots of walks and hikes on steep, rocky pieces of earth which, to me, are most definitely mountains, thank you very much, but to my Californian Mate…not so much. Please ignore him. These mountains are old, they’re beautiful, and they’re full of old, beautiful music, songs full of references to valleys and hollers, songs I can’t get out of my head when I’m here. I love these mountains.

Sunrise from the front porch, up on Butler Mountain

But I’m not about to set up a head-to-head beauty contest between them and my beloved Cascades or Olympics. I mean, let’s be realistic, okay?

So on our hike yesterday, I went small, ignoring huge oaks and laurel thickets and waterfalls for something subtler…and also very welcome, after all the desert we just crossed: fungus.

The first I came across are what’s commonly known as a British Soldiers. Usually their heads are bright red; I’ve never seen pink ones!

Maybe they’re all wearing their Pussy Hats!

Then there were these beauties on a fallen tree:

Who knew decay could be so lovely?

And this little guy, doing a good impression of a tide pool creature:

Sea slug? Chiton? Nope—fungus.

Finally, on our way back, these fragile white fans:

I know, I know. We have pretty mushrooms in the northwest too. But let the east shine for now, ok?

Since I mentioned Nashville in the heading I should mention that, yes indeed, the Mate and I paid our respects to Music Row, and ate some kick-ass ribs at Acme Feed and Seed (which I did not take a picture of ’cause I already felt conspicuously touristy).  But neon and cowboy boots are not our thing. I’m happy for those who love Nashville and all it stands for, but we were just as glad to get back to our motel and watch the Tarheels play. 😊

And speaking of Tarheels…next up, Durham, Chapel Hill, and the ACC tournament! And…where will Traveling Avocados #5 and 6 find their destiny?

Road Trip VIII, Days 10-13, LA to Arizona’s Chiricahuas: Hidden Treasures and the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocados

Is anything more satisfying than seeing or experiencing or eating something hardly anyone else gets to? I think that’s why we humans love secret hideouts, bragging about buying stuff on sale, and scarce foods like truffles (not the chocolate kind, which are much less rare and infinitely more delicious).

I’m writing this from a special place which has been, in fact, a historical hideout—for the Apache leader Cochise, and also for Gerónimo—and which is so little known as to count as a hidden treasure. The “town” is named Portal, but it’s the portal to the Chiricahuas, a region of such grandeur it belongs more in the class of the Grand Canyon than in the obscurity of this southeasternmost corner of Arizona. One side of the mountains is actually a national monument; we’ve camped there before but I never blogged about it and don’t have those pictures accessible. But no worries: the non-monument side, where we’re staying in a cabin (since it was starting to snow, no camping)…THIS side manages to be just as spectacular.

How to describe the Chiricahuas? Soaring rock towers in gold and orange…

caves and hoodoos carved by wind…

…presiding over a deep valley of scrub oak and sycamore.

I also was startled by several javelinas, aggressive little wild piggies that burst out of the brush and give you a heart attack. Alas, I wasn’t able to grab my camera in time, so I had to settle for this picture of their diggings next to this barrel cactus:

Desert riparian: that’s the term for the rare phenomenon of streamside vegetation in the midst of drought. And along with the sunrise-colored rock, that habitat is what makes this place so special.

The only people we’ve met who have heard of this place are birders, and for good reason: as a little island of Sierra in the midst of the Sonoran desert, the Chiricahua offers a familiar haven to birds usually found only in the mountains of Mexico. Birders from all over the world congregate here every spring to “bag” rare species of hummingbird, and that most prized of sightings, the Elegant Trogon.

We aren’t birders. Also, it’s February. So we make do with what we can spot: turkeys!

But what about those avocados?

Getting back to the joy of rare things: our cousins in LA have a 100 year-old avocado tree, a huge beauty that bears fruit like green butter. When we left them, they gifted us with half a dozen, which we have been ripening serially as we travel. So, Avocado #1 went into a quesadilla in a motel outside of Joshua Tree National Park, where, sadly, a freezing windstorm was filling the air with dust and blasting our hopes of camping.

#2 met a similar fate in Tucson, where, still stymied by wind and dust, we holed up with map and weather reports and figures out where we could find some clear air to recreate in.

So Avocado #3 had the honor today of gracing an arugula salad…and the front porch of our cabin. Thanks, cousins!

Where will the next Traveling Avocados end up? Stay tuned.

10…9…8…7…6…5: Countdown to Book Launch

The Flying Burgowski asked, “Who hasn’t yearned to fly?”

Book Two, Headlands, asked, “What if someone hated you just for who you were?”

And now, Book Three, Altitude, has this to say: “To thine own self be true? Yeah, right.”

“You can’t pray us down, or keep us in a box. We are queens of infinite space.”

Jocelyn  Burgowski was turning 14 when she first invited me into her (fictional) life. Now she’s 16 (can you tell?). And sure, she can still fly–but nothing else is working. Broken heart, broken trust, tanking attitude, friends MIA, Jocelyn feels herself turning into a female Hamlet.

But now, leaving her tiny island community to attend school on the mainland, Joss is discovering the perspective of altitude. Facing society’s dark underbelly of abuse and human trafficking, Jocelyn must face her powers and ask herself, “What is flying for?

Here’s a scene from Chapter Two, “Bounded in a Nutshell”:

I needed to fly in the worst way.

Literally. The best way is when the energy fizzes through you like your blood has sparkles, and boy you better elevate fast if you don’t want to explode. The worst way—that’s what I was doing. Escape, with eggs and toast turned to cement in my stomach. I launched vertically from the front porch like Ironman—harder than one-two-three takeoff steps, but better than smashing into the trunk of our giant cedar—and rocketed over the woods. I flew at treetop level in fast circles, happy not to live smack in the middle of Dalby Village anymore. But not happy about anything else.

    You thought they wouldn’t find out? C’s are one thing. Skipping an entire Julius Caesar Unit Exam means a big fat F.

Dad thought those disastrous days were over, the year before when Michael and I stumbled through two months of high school on the mainland, trying to live with Mom. Back on Dalby, I’d been a total angel through the rest of ninth grade. Then That Horrible Summer happened. Fourth of July. I got through August by re-reading Harry Potter Book Seven every time I couldn’t unsnag the memories of Whatshisname’s face, or voice, or breath. I know The Deathly Hallows by heart now. Then sophomore year started. And I…

    What do you want to call it, Flygirl? Fell apart? Decided to take over Michael’s role? Started Acting Out?

Anyway, the downhill slide that had started in September was hitting bottom last May, and I needed to get the hell out. So I flew to the edge of the village, landed behind our old store and walked to Louis’s.

Dalby Village was livening up like it always does on Saturdays when spring brings the tourists back. I skirted the Farmers’ Market, turning my head quickly to avoid Mrs. Mac, who would say a lot more than “hi” to her former favorite student. “Mr. Evans tells me you insist on reading Hamlet to yourself instead of Julius Caesar with the rest of the class. Why in the world? You do know you have to pass Sophomore English before you can take my AP class, right?”

I know I know I KNOW. What a moron—can’t even skip like a normal tenth grader, gotta sit there defiantly reading the play Michael’s struggling with in Senior English. “Why in the world?”

I don’t freakin know, alright? Except…Julius Caesar was a pompous ass. Hamlet was depressed, hemmed in, pissed off. “Denmark’s a prison.”

Hamlet I could relate to. And Louis, I remember thinking grimly, could be like Hamlet’s bud Horatio. Louis would fly with me and help me sort out what to do about Mr. Evans. Or not. Louis isn’t really about advice. But he’d listen like Horatio until I figured it out.

So, what I said in that Louis-email I never sent? It’s true, I don’t remember the last time we flew together. Sure wasn’t that breezy day in May.

“Hey, sweetie!” Shasta, Louis’s mom, sang like she’s done since I started barging into their kitchen at, like, age seven. She was washing dishes while her partner Janice dried. “Is it a party, then, Joss? You guys want to make cookies?

I hugged Shasta. “Party?”Ohhh…Louis has company. My stomach, relaxing from my Shasta-hug, tensed again. “No, that’s okay…”

Louis had been hanging around with Erin a lot—duh, they had practically all their classes together, like freshmen do. But since when did they hang out on weekends?

Can I get something straight? I like Erin. She’s a soccer stud, and she’s pretty much caught up to Savannah in geometry since she bumped up to our math class. She laughs at my jokes. She helps Louis with algebra. And writing. And everything else I used to help him with.

It’s just, I was REALLY hoping to fly with Louis right then.

“Hey!” they said together as I stepped into Louis’s teeny room. They were sitting hip to hip on his bed. “What rhymes with ‘metaphor’? We’re writing Mrs. Mac a birthday card,” Erin added, patting the bed for me to join them—like it was hers. I sat, squinching her and Louis closer together.

“That’s what I ‘said it for,’” I responded automatically. Great, forgot Mrs. Mac’s birthday too. Self-centered moron.

“That works,” Louis grunted. His new, manly voice gave me a little jolt back then. Well, it still kinda does—not that I’ve heard it since I bumped into him at the store a week before leaving. Not that I ever heard it saying, “Have fun at boarding school, Joss, I’ll miss ya.”

     Knock it off, Joss. Tell the story.

“’Sup?” Erin chirped. She was in pigtails, wearing her green softball uniform—yeah, she’s a pitching stud too.

    Me and my Horatio-buddy are NOT up, with you here. “When’s your game?” I countered, looking at their feet parked side-by-side like cars in cozy garage.

“Oh, like, an hour.” Erin stood and stretched her arms, and Louis, on the bed, did the same, as if they were connected by an axel. I knew he’d grown taller and muscley-er because, duh, when a person flies doubles with you for over a year, you get to know their body—damn, that doesn’t sound right. You KNOW what I mean, okay? It’s just, he stopped feeling like the same ol’ shrimpy Louis a few months ago, but that was totally okay because he still WAS his same ol’ self. But last May, I was surprised to see how, like, toned his arms had gotten. He was still getting over the shock of being good at baseball.

“Oh.” I felt like I should offer some reason for being there. But why??? Louis is my oldest friend. So I said, “You sure? On my way over, I thought I saw the team heading for the field.”

“Oh, shoot! Are we playing at nine? Louie, sorry, we’ll finish later. Come watch me, ’kay?” And Erin jetted out of there.

“See ya, Erin,” I called. It’s just—I wasn’t used to it then, okay? Louis and Erin. Erin and Louis. It’s not like I needed to keep on being his only friend, like I was for years and years and years. But jeez, couldn’t he have warned me? And “Louie?” Gimme a break.

“Hey, wanna go fly over their game?” Lying hypocrite. I knew perfectly well there wouldn’t be a game to fly over for another hour, and flying over a crowd is verboten. But Old Louis would have suggested something better, like swoop-overs of Whittier’s Bluff, or experimenting with flying just under the fiercest layer of wind, daring it to flip us, like we’d done in…wow. February?

New Louis gave me an un-Louisy smirk. “Seriously, Joss?” he said and stood up. “Yo, my game’s right after Erin’s, I gotta get dressed.”

A chill reached down my chest, even as I felt my face turn red. “Right,” I said, like sure, I came all the way over here to tell you the game schedule. “Hey, come by my house later if you—you know. Want to go up tonight.” Awkward lying hypocrite. I’d never had trouble inviting Louis to fly before.

He tossed his uniform onto the bed. “Whyn’t you fly with your mom?”

“She’s not really into it these days,” I said, flattening the curling edge of Louis’s Seattle Mariners poster. He never used to have such boy-stuff in his room.

“Beth? Not into flying?” Louis’s frown disappeared as he struggled out of that “Visualize Whirled Peas” T-shirt I’d given him for his thirteenth birthday. “I Saw her yesterday over the Spit. Maybe she just doesn’t want to fly with you.” He turned his back, letting the shirt drop to the floor.

“Well,” I said, because “Why yes, you’re absolutely right, that is the problem” would make me start crying, and “Damn, when did you start hiding your bod from me?”—who says that to their buddy? “Mom’s, like, totally independent these days,” I added. “And I guess flying with me—”

“—reminds her of when she wasn’t? Or Fourth of July, almost gettin’ grounded? Yeah, I get that,” said Louis. His bright hair reappeared through his green jersey like a woodpecker in a bush, and my heart cracked a little: You always get it. But turning around, he was still frowning. “Hey,” he nodded toward his baseball pants.

“Right, see ya.” All I got was a grunt. So much for Horatio.

Shasta and Janice offered me tea on my way out. I declined with a smile and head-shake, not trusting my voice. I walked back into the village. My stupid eyes were burning. My flight-urge felt as dead as my oldest friendship.

But no way was I going home after that ominous phone call. I decided to go browse the half-price shelf at the bookstore.

Where I bumped into the last person I wanted to see, after Dad and Lorraine.

Bushy eyebrows appeared around the side of the mystery section. “Well, look who’s here,” said Mr. Evans.

 

To: Nevans@dalby.k12.wa.us

Dear Mr. Evans,

I was just writing about you in my journal, but I got too bummed so I decided to address you directly. I wish to extend my thanks.

Thank you for calling my house so much last year and turning my parents into Homework Vultures. Thank you for setting up all those conferences, especially that last one in May. Thank you for your witty use of Hamlet quotes to sum up my attitude about school: “Jocelyn seems to feel herself ‘bounded in a nutshell,’ and finding her classes, ‘stale, flat and unprofitable.’”

(You were wrong about that, you know. It wasn’t just my classes I was “finding” that way—it was the whole freakin year.)

Thank you for saying, “Jocelyn needs to have her mind blown, or she’s going to drop out next year.” Thank you for saying, “What if she moved to where no one knows she’s a Flyer, where she can be a normal teenager for once?” And suggesting The Horizon Academy and Early Start at Coastal U. And helping to get me in. Hey, my guy Hamlet went away to school too, right? The thought of that escape literally saved my sophomore year—and yes, I know I mean “figuratively,” not “literally.” Put your red pen down. I’m actually being sincere now. Yes, I know I don’t need to say “actually.” I’m here at Horizon now, making new friends—it’s going to be great. As long as I can find a place to fly.

Oh yeah—thanks for not freaking out when I showed you about flying, last fall. And for understanding about the enemies of flying, and how stupid and betrayed they can make you feel. Thanks for telling me I could talk to you about That Awful Summer and Standers and Whatshisname, if I needed to. It’s just kinda awkward when you stand there handing me tissues while I babble about how flying isn’t the problem. And talking to teachers isn’t the solution. I’m sixteen. I’m supposed to have someone of my OWN to listen to me.

Right. I’m not freakin sending this. What kind of a loser ditches her own diary to email a teacher?  I’m going flying. I just

—–Are you sure you want to delete this message?—–

 

Thanks for visiting Wing’s World! See my next post for another peek inside Altitude.

Schist Happens: How I Fell In Love With A Bunch of Rock

It’s called Vishnu Schist. It’s estimated at 1.8-2.2 BILLION years old. It was waiting for me at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

So....black...

So….black…

It’s black–black as tar-covered ravens in a coal mine at midnight. It’s shiny. At river’s edge, it’s fluted into perforated columns I wanted to climb into.

So....shiny....

So….shiny….

This was, of course, impossible, because A) I was paddling past the schist with 6 other people, and B) since the air temperature was around 115 degrees, the schist would have branded me all over.

Still, what a way to go.

Know what else is amazing about schist, aside from its age and its looks? It’s made from metamorphosed limestone. Think about it: WHITE rock created from the bodies of once-LIVING sea creatures turns, with enough time and heat and pressure, into this:

There's even a word for that shine: "schistocity."

There’s even a word for that shine: “schistocity.”

Talk about a metaphor that rocks!

There are other rocks in Grand Canyon to love, and I will write more about them in the coming days. But right now I’m still reveling in the memories of that sleek, black, geological poetry.

“Godkid:” Now THERE’S a Word

Meet Allison, a lovely young-thirty-something teacher. This is how my husband and I used to tell people about her:

Us: Our adopted daughter Allison is coming to visit this weekend.

People: Oh, you adopted a girl? That is so wonderful; now you have a daughter along with your two boys. Do they get along well? How long ago did you adopt?

Us: Uh, no…not that kind of adopted. Actually, she kinda adopted us…

People: Oh.

Until recently, that’s the best way I could find to describe my relationship with a woman just barely young enough to be my biological daughter (if I’d started young myself). A woman I love like a daughter/younger sister/niece/friend. She’s also my favorite adventure buddy, ready to pop on her backpack and follow me up steep ridges at very little notice. Had we been given the option at an early enough stage, we surely would have adopted her. But Al came into our lives a bit more gradually than that.

Enchantments 2013 063

When I taught high school, Al showed up in my Sophomore Honors English class. She wasn’t a squeaky wheel; she certainly wasn’t the most talented writer. She was a neat kid whom I liked, but never considered I made much impression on her.

In her junior year, she signed up for a 3-hour pilot program, a block class called International Business and Global Studies. With the independent thinking IBGS promoted, Al hit her stride and became a bit of a star in the class. She also, to my surprise, became a cheerleader–a very serious, hardworking one. But again, I didn’t think we had that strong a connection. Plenty of other students seemed to need me more.

So, a year later, when my husband and young kids and I were enjoying his sabbatical year in southern New Zealand, I was surprised to receive a request from Allison: could she come visit? She’d always wanted to travel, and had managed to convince her mom to give her the trip to NZ as an early graduation present, since she had a built-in place to stay. Here’s the conversation I had with my husband about it:

Me: Yeah, she wants to come stay for, like, 10 days. Might be nice to have someone to help with the boys. She’s very responsible. She’s a straight-A kid, a cheerleader…

Husband: A CHEERLEADER?? Here? For 10 days?

Me: Oh, get over the stereotype, tons of cheerleaders are very smart and serious. Yes.

Long story short: Allison came. Her second-ever plane trip–flying solo to New Zealand! She ended up extending her trip so she stayed three weeks. The boys loved her. My husband was deeply impressed with her. And we all adopted each other.

Next year when she started college and her own family was going through a tough time, she moved in with us for a while.

So…our adopted daughter. Our relationship has only grown deeper as she’s become a teacher too, and a singer & guitar player, and a competitive athlete like I used to be. But still–kinda awkward to keep having to explain it to people.

But a few months ago it finally hit me: she’s my goddaughter! No, her mother and father never initiated that relationship in a ceremony. No, church was never involved. No, we have no official documents. But that phrase seems to capture the nature of our relationship perfectly.

That got me to thinking about the word. Goddaughter. Godson. Godkid.

We all know what it means: an assumption of love and co-responsibility. Parenthood without biology. Parenthood with built-in distance, maybe some legal assumptions, but nothing one would go to court about. Parenthood especially blessed by a higher authority.

But think about it: Godkid. How cool is that word? Doesn’t it conjure up all kinds of images?

So I thought I’d ask my readers: what does “godkid” mean to you? Do you have any, either church-related or secularly? Are you one yourself? Do you like the word? Is there another one that fits better? Let us hear!