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

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

Great. Just in time for all that extra darkness.

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

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

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

Pretty hard to get excited about snowberries

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s all bright and shiny? YOU are!

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

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

One Month Till the Election? Mountains Please!

Full disclosure: this post has nothing pithy nor deep to add to your thoughts today. This is full-on escape. I was able to take last Sunday with my overworked Ironwoman Goddaughter to drive, then hike up to nearly 7,000 feet on the Cascades’ Pacific Crest Trail to breathe some clear air and see some fall color.

Keep trekking long enough and, with luck and faith, just mayyyybe some beauty will reward you.
Yes! Not all uphill walks are this glorious, so I’ll take ’em where I can.
Pretty much muted by joy and gratitude at this point.
This kind of scene actually hurts to behold.
Not forgetting the trees for the forest…
****celestial music****
Time to head back down…still keeping thoughts at bay.
In a month this color should be blanketed by snow. But it’ll stay with me when I need it most, in the coming dark months.
Thanks, Ironwoman Goddaughter. We needed this. God knows we all need something LIKE this.

May you all be well and find some inspirational beauty where you can. Till next time…

Limbo: Trying Not to Go Low

Have you noticed how long it’s been since I last blogged? Me neither. All I’ve noticed is that I haven’t felt like it. My last post, exactly one month ago, was a re-post of my friend’s, about the Say Their Names memorial in our little village.

photo courtesy Iris Graville

Now I’ve just returned home from a ceremony honoring those signs and moving them to their next home, as they were not constructed to withstand fall and winter weather. And I’m finally feeling moved to write again…about the limbo I’ve been in.

Limbo. Two definitions come to mind,* neither of them Biblical:

1) “an uncertain period of awaiting a decision or resolution; an intermediate state or condition”

2) “a West Indian dance in which the dancer bends backward to pass under a horizontal bar that is progressively lowered to a position just above the ground”

(*both definitions from Google)

Things that seem stuck in limbo:

–since the COVID shutdown, millions of people’s education, jobs, projects, plans–hell, our lives.

–the forward movement toward racial justice that many of us deeply want to believe in , as the forces against change gather for counter-attack, and as weariness or fear threaten to overwhelm action.

–somewhere in all of that–me. And, very possibly, you.

I don’t want to go into the details of my own personal limbo, which has to do with my two creative passions, writing and music. I want to write about avoiding the “how low can you go?” part of limbo.

Here’s what I am doing to “stay high” in this uncertain period:

  1. Working on the main source of mood-overwhelm: continuing self-education about the prospects for racial justice AND participating in Get-Out-the-Vote campaigns in several key states.
  2. Finding assurance and inspiration in certain voices. Right now, my main Muse is Michelle Obama, via her wonderful podcast.
  3. Sharing good food with near & dear people, and good Zooms with far & dear.

    Like picking blackberries with my sons and turning them into…

    …pie! (The berries, not the sons.)

  4. Reading good books–like Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass–and writing often in my journal.
  5. Worshipping regularly in the Church of the Great Outdoors.

    Amen! (Photo by Suzanne Strom)

How about y’all? How are you avoiding the lows of your own limbo? Please share inspiration here.

Time, Tide and Salmonberries: Blessed Be the Regular

Like probably most people in the world right now, my sense of the calendar has gone all wonky. I’m frequently not sure what month it is, let alone the date. Day of the week? Forget it. 

Fortunately or unfortunately, I know all too well what year it is.

The arrival of fresh cherries and strawberries at a fruit stand took me by surprise. Wait–it’s Solstice already? Since then, I’ve been trying to pay more attention. Salmonberries have helped. 

Salmonberries  are a huge thing around western Washington. Whether battling them as ferociously scratchy pests around our yards or admiring their bright pink flowers in Spring, we probably spend more time thinking about them than we even realize. And then they make berries!

If looks could taste…

I used to make fun of salmonberries for being so un-delicious: The only reason anyone even thinks about eating you is because blackberries aren’t ripe yet.  

But (again, like a lot of folks) I’ve been walking even more than I usually do, and trying to pay even more attention to things besides the global pandemics of COVID and racism. So I’ve been nibbling salmonberries again, as part of my noticing–and guess what? Turns out if you wait to eat them till they’re so ripe they’re juuuuust about to fall off their thorny ol’ bushes, they’re actually pretty tasty.

So what else merits my noticing, and my thanks?

The tide. Twice a day. EVERY day. Talk about essential work!

I know this isn’t exactly a glam shot, Tide–but this is you your work attire.

And some of the humblest of flowers–look at these ones here, engaging in a socially-distanced Easter bouquet!

C’mon, guys, it’s June, not April. Shouldn’t you be decorating for wedding season?

That’s more like it.

What basic, REGULAR things are you feeling grateful for right now? Postal carriers? Baby birds? Marshmallows on display shelves? Let’s celebrate the regular where we can find it!

May…We Be Evergreen!

Around here–and probably around anywhere in the Northern hemisphere not covered with asphalt–May means wildflowers. Yes, like that childhood riddle, except that here May’s bringing more showers than April. My walks lately have been interrupted by…

Sea pinks

and

Larkspur (with Death Camas)

not to mention

Spotted Coralroot orchid, in its own ray of sunshine

Oh–and the salmonberries!

Not as delicious as you’d hope–but who cares?

But this month I also love to notice and give praise to a subtler kind of new growth…the kind that puts BOTH the “ever” and the “green” into “Evergreen State.” I’m talking about the fresh, new tips of our conifers. Now, pine trees make you suffer all sorts of pollen-clouds to get up close and personal with their newborn bits, but firs? Fir tips you can fondle.

Softer than you can imagine! (Also edible to more than just deer, though some might dispute the idea)

And hemlocks…well, their tips are just an adorable mini version of the firs.

Awwww…!

Not to forget our non-coniferous evergreens: the noble salal. You might focus on their honey-sweet, bell-shaped blossoms…but I’m looking at the bright, baby-soft new leaves.

Aren’t they sweet? Stop looking at the flowers.

Of course no forest looks truly LOTR-fantastical without ferns of some kind, or all kinds. The type we have around here don’t start as fiddleheads (thereby saving themselves from human over-consumption), but they do stand out–if not UP–as cutely floppy, gawky adolescents:

“Let’s be fronds.”

The most amazing new bit of green May growth to my mind, though, is one of the least visible: the mosses. On today’s walk, I was noticing one of my favorites turning slightly more golden, thinking, “Yeah, almost midsummer, time for these beauties to be dying back,” when I looked closer, and–whoa. Check this out:

Rated “M” for Mature

Fruiting thimgamagigs! Right out there for all to see, shameless! Gorgeous! Fresh! New! Woohoo!

Gimme an “E”! “V”! another “E”! “R”! Gimme a “G”! another “R”…!

OK, you get it. MAY we be green. MAY we be evergreen. MAY we be happy. 

 

Road Trip X, Days 21-24, Tallahassee to (sorta-)Savannah: Swamped by Unexpected Beauty 

I thought of titling this post “Sea to Shining Sea,” after touching the Atlantic the other day. I even thought about posing the Traveling Avocados, Oranges and Grapefruit on the beach, to celebrate their epic journey. But only a few oranges are left; all the rest of our gifted produce is eaten. And anyway, having already waded in Gulf of Mexico, it’d be more like sea to shining sea to other shining sea, right?

Still: Hello, North Atlantic!

But today’s theme waved me down as soon as we holed up in Tallahassee. That town isn’t a long drive from our previous night in Alabama; we had no business there, knew no one, didn’t check out Florida State or even ride our bikes along the terrific trail we’ve ridden before. All we were doing was making sure we didn’t die in a tornado waiting out some nasty weather. Doing laundry. And (one of us) making some headway on the novel.

And even with such meager expectations, Tallahassee offered us a good reminder of northern Florida’s lovely topography (NOT flat!) and relatively undeveloped landscape (hardly any billboards, even on I-10). And a wonderful bakery, and a  gorgeous sunset (not pictured) and this giant live oak in the motel parking lot.

Ooh, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Next day, the storm having blown through without tornadoes (thank you!) we headed to a brand-new destination: Little Talbot Island State Park, just north of Jacksonville.

In the middle of a swamp. Yes.

There we discovered not only a long, pristine beach–for people who love long, pristine beaches…

Augh! must…count…all the different…varieties! Make it stop!

…but also a boneyard of silvery drift-stumps…

Just as satiny as it looks!

…and the COOLEST trail through the dunes…

With tortoise holes! (Not pictured–sadly: tortoises)

…into a mixed forest of gigantic pines, palms, and live oaks, the latter dripping with ferns and Spanish moss.

Ooooh…

Question: WHY are epiphytes so ridiculously compelling? Is it a) the way they humanize the trees, calling to mind beards and long tresses? b) the way they soften the harsher, sharper lines of the forest? Or c) the fact that I was clearly a swamp rat in a previous life?

Ahhh…

The campground was one of the nicest ever, in terms of space and light and vegetation. Its only downside: the road was too close, so traffic noise was very present until late at night.

Would just one nighttime armadillo be too much to ask?

And we didn’t get any armadillos. But hey.

“That’s too much Spanish Moss!” said no one ever.

One more glorious bike ride in the refreshingly cool morning, on a LONG bike trail.

Way to go, northern Florida!

Along the way we took a sideline to the beach, to visit with some crumbly-clay tidepools…

Different! No wee fishies, unfortunately.

…and one more gorgeous silver drift-log installation.

World’s coolest jungle gym.

Heading north, we passed this irresistible sign:

How can I have never run into this pun before?!

And then on to Savannah (sorta). Our friends live on the outskirts, which should really be called the outswamps. Question: Is that why they named the town after a sea-of-grass ecosystem? Anyone know?

Since our purpose was reuniting with old friends, we skipped the downtown Savannah tour. Instead, we were gifted with one over-the-top, unexpected cool thing after another. We got to watch the Carolina-Duke game with true fans, drowning our sorrows in bacon-wrapped scallops and homemade pizza (not pictured). We got to cuddle with the sweetest, silkiest Labrador.

Forrest loved the Mate.

We thought our friends’ backyard view was just fine–hey, nice swamp ya got here!–but then next the morning, THIS happened.

Okay then.

Finally, our friends served us a lil’ ol’ Georgia breakfast: eggs, cheese grits, sausage, bacon, fresh fruit salad, and fresh sweet rolls. Still full from the night before, I made a superwoman effort and ate everything.

Woman’s got to do what a woman’s got to do.

So…feeling a little swamped right now. Thinking that when we find beauty and goodness in unexpected places, it means even more. And feeling a bit grateful that Spanish Moss doesn’t grow in mountainous areas. Because if it did? I think my head would explode.

More, more!

 

Road Trip X, Days 11-13: The Chiricahuas. Period. 

What strange impulse leads us humans to share our special secrets?

Notice that this post has no cute subtitle beyond a geographic label. That’s because the Chiricahua Mountains are the special secret of the Mate and me and a very, VERY few other people—I can only think of four. That’s the main reason they’re special to us. And yet, here I am talking about them. Can’t help myself.

Waaayyyy down there at the bottom right. (image courtesy freeworldmaps)

The west side of the mountains is the better known half, because that’s the National Monument side. We’ve camped there a couple of times, including last year. It has very cool rocks.

See what I mean? But that was last year (snow & all).

This year we opted for the east side, which means driving into New Mexico, then heading south and west and ending up back in Arizona–just barely–in the miniature town of Portal. No National Monument here…”just” national forest, and wilderness.

Oh, is that all?

Oh, and lest you think those pink cliffs are just the sun…

Nope. Actually pink.

This side of the Chiricahuas is known best by birders. As I’ve probably mentioned before, these mountains (rising nearly 10,000 feet) act as both an oasis for higher-elevation plant & animal species, AND wildlife corridor for everything that walks, flies and slithers. You can see birds here that otherwise you’d have to go to Mexico to see. They have coatis (not seen this trip). And javelinas.

THIS. Hairy piggie!

(Gotta admit, this particular piggie disconcerted us a bit. In the past, we’ve only spotted them bolting and scuttling, but this one sashayed through our yard to rub its butt against a prickly pear, then came right up to our cabin like it wanted to order a sandwich. Guess some idiot’s been feeding them.)

In 2004, our little family of four spent a few months living in Santa Fe, and that’s when a friend first showed us this marvelous canyon. It was mid-March then, and the place was buzzing with birders (also hummingbirds of a dozen species). We were a little starved for moisture and what we northwesterners call “real trees” (i.e., something other than pinons and cottonwoods). Being so high, the Chiricahuas collect snow, and fill their canyons with creeks. And creeks mean one of my favorite trees of all.

Not all the sycamores are this mighty. But they’re all this lovely.

March was great. April might be even prettier, who knows? But now, in February? We and the locals have the place to ourselves!

And we even got a few flowers out of the deal.

The Traveling Avos & Oranges enjoyed the view as well.

Here, piggie, piggie! (Just kidding.)

If you ever make the trip down to the furthest corner of Arizona, do let me know. We Chiricahua Enthusiasts are a small but passionate tribe.

(Note: you CAN drive from one side of the mountains to the other, but not in February. And not in any kind of car you value, unless you drive a Jeep.)

Yes please.

So pick a side and go. Go to hike, ride a bike, camp, watch birds, or just sit there in awe with your feet in a sycamore-shaded stream and your eyes on glory.

Road Trip X, Days 6-10, Oakland to LA to Joshua Tree to Tucson: Making the Big Left Turn

Along with the color green, we tend to front-load our road trips with family and friends all down the west coast. In fact, in our first week we somehow visited with 18 different dear people, some just for a meal, some for a hike, some for a night or two, and some for all of the above.
Then comes the Big Left Turn from LA, and it’s just the Mate and Red Rover and I heading out across the desert.

So let me catch up a little before that desert becomes my be-all and end-all. Because I don’t like to violate my family’s privacy, I won’t show any pictures of our adorable six-year-old twin cousins. But here’s the late valentines they left on the door for me when I went for a walk.

I’m mellllting…

After two days and nights of walks and drawing and playing and reading aloud (grandparent practice!), not to mention enjoying our adult cousins’ excellent cooking chops (literally and figuratively), we headed for SoCal. Google kept asking if we didn’t want to save an hour by taking I-5, but we had a date with a certain bike path in Santa Barbara.

Suck it, I-5.

Then we spent the night with our dear friend Rhonda in the Agoura Hills, marveling at her Phoenix-like rise from the ashes of the Woolsey Fire, which I documented last year. It was nice to hear someone with good things to say about her insurance company. (Not pictured: Rhonda’s rebuilt house.)

On our last day in LA, we met our adventure buddies Tom & Kate for a hike in Malibu. Usually Tom & Kate meet us somewhere further from home, like Moab or the Rockies, but this year they only had the one day. We made it work.

So much prettier when it’s not on fire!

Who knew these dry hills still cling to a few waterfalls?

Don’t worry, little waterfall. I’ll never give your hideout away.

Since we are crazy people, though, the absolute highlight of that hike was this guy:

Hey, big guy! We don’t have any of y’all where we live, so thanks for the thrill.

Our visit with our next set of cousins (my side of the fam) was brief but sweet…and as in years past, yielded not only a bag of avocados from Cousin Elias and Helen’s giant tree, but also another bag, full of oranges from Cousin Susi’s equally ancient backyard tree! So this trip can now celebrate the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocados AND Oranges!

Much as we love our cousins and friends, after four days we were DONE with driving through Californian cities.

Left Turn!!!! Bring on the brown signs! Specifically, Joshua Tree National Park.

Since we were in this exact same spot exactly one year ago, I was able to compare the effects of greater or less rainfall. Last year, I took more pictures of wildflowers than rocks. But this year?

I’m okay with just rocks, thanks.

And let’s not forget JT’s legendary palm oases. This one’s called Lost Oasis, and requires a round-trip 9 mile hike.

Worth it.

You don’t have to walk 9 miles to see palms, though. These beauties are right by the parking lot.

In the midst of the desert, you can see why these things are so godly.

The ranger told us that desert tortoises had been active in the area, so we got our hopes up. But this was the only tortoise we found.

And now you’re just as sad as we were. Sorry. 😞

Back at camp, I had to race the sun to get dinner out before dark. Cue the avos and oranges!

Don’t judge my atrocious presentation—I was in a rush!

We love Joshua Tree, but this trip we were saving our linger-longer desert days for another special place…and one that’s a lot less populated. But I’ll save that for the next post. We spent an uninteresting night in Tucson (not Tucson’s fault, we just needed a down day), but as always felt gratitude for its bike paths (not pictured, sorry).

For now, I just want to say, Thank you, California, for your glorious diversity. No thank you for your traffic…but I can’t blame folks for wanting a piece of you. On to the glorious Chiricahuas!

 

Wing’s World Goes Mobile: Let’s Get Ready to Rrrrrrrrroad Trip!

It’s that time of year. In our little corner of the Northwest, the ditches are running full enough to kayak in, sun is a tantalizing memory, and anything with wings that migrates is starting to do so, in reverse. Including these Wings. Except, being bipedal and 4-wheeled, we go EAST. This year: Road Trip X.

“What route are you guys taking this year?” ask friends who know about our annual pilgrimage to North Carolina.

My standard answer: “Head to L.A. and turn left. After that–the weather’s in charge.”

Sometimes the weather’s in charge even on the very outskirts of LA.

I-5, Tejon Pass

And of course we don’t head STRAIGHT there. Along the way, we stop to visit dear friends, family members, and trees.

Prairie Creek Redwoods, CA

And even in the sunny desert, we’re reminded that THE WEATHER IS IN CHARGE.

Saguaro National Park, Tucson

We spend time with rocks. Grey ones…

Chiricahua National Monument

…red ones…

Arches National Park, UT

…and brown ones.

Natural Bridges State Park, KY.

We spend time with mountains, western…

Guadalupe Mts. National Park, TX

…and eastern.

Appalachians, NC.

Sometimes we imbibe a little “culture.”

Mardi Gras in Dallas

…and history.

Vicksburg, MS

ALWAYS, with our Tar Heel Tribe, we celebrate our team (God knows they need our love this year!) with lots and lots of food.

Pie Day, 3.14

We spend quality time with my parents…

Dad’s bike’s electric now. But he’s 89 1/2, so, yeah.

…and the woods where I grew up.

Trout lily

If weather allows, we camp–and celebrate the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocado (from our LA cousins’ tree).

Chiricahuas

If weather doesn’t, we fall in love with cute park cabins.

Land Between the Lakes, KY

As always, we seek the Perfect Bike Path.

Katy Trail, MO.

As always–did I mention this? The weather’s in charge.

I-70, CO

As always, we are thrilled to see this sign after 6+ weeks on the road:

Says it all!

And as always, we are even more thrilled to be HOME at the end of March. (Flaming sunset’s just the cherry on top.)

Home Sweet Lopez Island

So, friends–please wish us buen viaje, bon voyage, safe travels, and Go Tarheels! Be safe yourselves; stay warm & dry. See you on the road.

Red Rover just can’t wait to get on that ferry & hit the rowdy road.

O Canada: a Letter of Gratitude

Dear Canada,

I know you’ve had it a bit rough this last week, re-discovering your own racism and all. Welcome to the club. Gotta tell you, though–I still need to thank you for the ten days I just spent with The Mate, introducing my parents to your Rocky splendor. You may not be perfect, Canada (big surprise), but you’re still pretty stellar in my book.

Thank you for your waterfalls.

Like this classic: Athabasca Falls in Jasper National Park

Or this one, coming right out of a cliff face! (Jasper)

Another classic, joining the Maligne River in Jasper

Can you ever have too many waterfall pictures?

Thank you for your canyons.

Athabasca

Johnston Canyon, Banff National Park. (Even though it was so crowded there I stopped taking pictures.)

Even your dry canyons are awesome!

Thank you for waterfalls IN canyons!

Maligne Canyon. Got pretty crowded there too…but can you blame us?

Thank you for the colors of your lakes.

The famous Lake Louise. 

Lake Agnes in Banff.

The Inkpots, Banff.

Hard to tell where sky ends and water begins. (Jasper)

Can’t…stop..photographing…water!

Thank you for your glaciers, even though their shrinkage scares the shit out of us.

Athabasca Glacier, coming off the Columbia Icefield, is still making its own weather…

…but look how far the poor glacier has receded since we first visited in the early 80s!

Thank you for your wildlife, even when it’s right beside the damn road.

Jasper traffic jam.

Big guy. I was hoping to see him fight another big guy, but he was too busy guarding his harem.

Moose are my FAVORITES. We saw four along just this one stretch of Maligne Road.

My second bear on this trip had me wishing for a zoom lens for my phone. Gotta work on that.

After the disappointment of seeing NO bighorn sheep in any of the parks, we met a giant herd on the very edge of the city of Kamloops! This is only some of them.

Thank you for the reassurance that, even when all your pine-beetle-ravaged forests do eventually burn, which they must…

(Yeah, pretty horrible to see–trees weakened by drought)

…Nature WILL know what to do.

Thank you for your mountains, which are not like any other mountains I’ve known.

Maligne Range…rock from 600 million years ago, uplifted

But on second thought–thank you, too, Washington. Your mountains are no slouch either.

The Mate at Washington Pass Overlook

And for that matter…thanks for the reminder, Lopez Island, that I don’t NEED to go to Canada to worship beauty. (But thank the gods I can! And I wish some of it for everyone.)

Welcome home.