A Lance-Leafed Stonecrop By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet…Maybe

“What IS that flower? Is that Small-flowered Lupine or Bicolor?”

“Why do you need to know? What possible difference does it make?”

“It makes a difference to ME.”

“Why? So you can show off your rad amateur naturalist skills?”

“No! I don’t need to tell anyone else. I just want to get it RIGHT.”

“Pfff.”

I have this same conversation with myself, on nearly a daily basis, during wildflower season. Wildflower season in the San Juans lasts about 9 months, so that’s a lot of conversations.

Point is, whether it SHOULD matter or not, to me–it does. Supposedly, I go for walks as exercise. Power walks. But gods help my fitness regimen should I venture out with a camera.

It starts as appreciation. “Oh wow, look at those wild roses go.”

The rest of the year, they’re just brambles.

“Let’s just take a closer look. Mmm, sweet!”

Ready for my close-up.

“Okay, walking fast again. But–oh my, have you ever seen such a THICK clump of Hooker’s Onion?”

Seriously, Mr. Hooker? Couldn’t you have named this flower after your wife or something?

By now my “walk” is a goner. “Ooh, wonder what the world looks like from the perspective of one of those Harvest Brodaeia?”

Not a bad life down here.

“PRICKLY PEAR’S IN BLOOM! ALERT THE MEDIA!”

Or better yet–don’t. Let’s just keep this rarity to ourselves, shall we? Cactus in the Northwest!

For that matter, why should the flowers have all the attention? Aren’t the new leaves of this Salal just as eye-catching as its blooms?

Caught MY eye, anyway. Silky-soft too.

And the new fronds of the Grand Fir? Good enough to eat!

Some people–and lots of deer–actually do.

Even Madrona bark looks floral in the sun.

Photo credit: My Special Tree

But the worst are those darn ID’s. “What IS this one? Gotta remember to look it up when I get home!”

Non-native, I’m pretty sure. Do I care? Nope. Just wanna KNOW ITS NAME.

Recently, however, my annoying need to NAME plants received a vote of confidence from a well-respected source: botanist and author Robin Wall Kimmerer. I started reading her book, Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. Dr. Kimmerer is a Bryologist–a moss expert–and a member of the Potawatomi Nation. And right off the bat, she has this to say about the importance of names:

…Often, when I encounter a new moss species and have yet to associate it with its official name, I give it a name which makes sense to me: green velvet, curly top, or red stem. The word is immaterial. What seems to me to be important is recognizing them, acknowledging their individuality. In indigenous way of knowing, all beings are recognized as non-human persons, and all have their own names. It is a sign of respect to call a being by its name, and a sign of disrespect to ignore it. (p. 12)

Yes! Right?! Yes. That part that I highlighted in red…THAT is what drives me to name flowers, to get their names “right.” I want to recognize them, call them out, respect them. Would it matter if I got those names “wrong”? Of course not. I might as well call them Fred or Cindy. But taking the time to look up those names, talk about them with other flower nerds, think about where those names came from and whether they fit or not…THAT matters. To me, and, I like to think, to the flowers.

Hello, Fred. Or Cindy. (Or Menzie’s Larkspur, actually. No, I am NOT showing off.)

As for mosses, and Robin Kimmerer’s book…more on that, next post.

Are you a wildflower nerd like me? Care to weigh in on what drives you to NAME?

Confessions Of An Imperfectionist, Part 4: Hey, I Meant To Do That

WordPress tells me my last post was #500. Not paying much attention to these things, I just happened to notice, but–mazel tov, me! That milestone’s a good enough reason to carry on blah-blah-blahgging, right?

I’ve written in the past about my imperfectionism as it relates to the arts of baking, music, and quilting. This latter trait came to light big time this fall when the Mate actually commissioned me to make a quilt.

More specifically: a window quilt, something to insulate our sliding glass door in the winter months. Since we heat exclusively with firewood, blocking that giant heat sink was going to save us a lot of logs.

His request happened to coincide with a one-day workshop I took from Grace Errea, on a new method of adhesive applique. Grace’s quilts are jaw-droppingly beautiful, so I thought–aha! Here’s an opportunity to use what I’ve just learned.

Since this quilt would be blocking our view of the sunset over the water (which, admittedly, we only see between late April and September, before the sun moves south)  I adapted one of Grace’s sunset patterns to place just where the sun would be. I chose my fabrics, cut out every tiny, curvy piece, applied the adhesive on the back, ironed the whole thing, and…

Voila? Non. Not quite. See, I had been taught to sandwich my pattern with tin foil before ironing, so’s not to get the adhesive on my iron. But I must have missed the part where Grace specificied which side of the tin foil to place next to the fabric. I chose the dull side. I chose wrong. It stuck.

Since I wasn’t planning on blogging about this topic, I did not take pictures of the resulting disaster. You’ll just have to imagine me peeling miniscule strips of tin foil from the back of my painstakingly-pieced pattern…each pull dislodging the pieces from the adhesive I’d so carefully applied.

When at last all the horrible silver stuff was gone and it came time to sew, of course I found most of the edges of each fabric strip were now misaligned. So not only did I have to try to re-align them while sewing by machine–which I do not recommend if you enjoy all your fingers–I actually had to do quite a bit of hand-sewing to repair gaps the machine could not accommodate.

The result was a wrinkly mess.

Or was it? Here’s where my Imperfectionism came to the rescue. “Those aren’t wrinkles, those are texture,” it said. “Nature’s not two-dimensional! All those rucks just make your scene look more real.”

Go ahead. Look closely. Sigh.

Thanks, Imperfectionism. You’re the best friend I’ve got.

All those wrinkles? Meant to do that. Yup.

The light wasn’t great when we set up our window-quilt, so I only took close-ups. You’ll have to imagine what the whole thing looks like–and now, of course, it’s partially obscured by our Christmas tree. Probably just as well.

But y’know, when you step back…it’s not so bad.

But I’m still proud of my imperfect sunset–or rather, proud of myself for not tossing the whole thing into the garbage! Besides bringing a huge ray of brightness into our winter lives, it’s a darn good metaphor.

 

 

“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.)

Reading Weeds, Part II: The Thorns Beneath the Blooms

Spring, like new-fallen snow, makes photographers of us all. Whether or not we have a camera to hand, the freshness of new green and new blossoms sets our noticing muscles to full workout mode. Everything is worth capturing. 

And everything worth capturing is worth musing over. Spring beauty is full of metaphors. One that caught my eye a couple of years ago was the hawthorn, a blooming European tree that’s gone feral all over our island, spread by birds who enjoy the hawthorn’s deep-red berries in fall.

Wild hawthorn

So I wrote a song about lovely spring, and what its loveliness hides. Since it speaks for itself, I shall let it do just that:

Golden Day

Bless the spring, bless the earth,

bless the blossoms of rebirth.

Bless the hawthorn’s sweet perfume,

bless the thorns beneath the blooms.      

There’s no place for suffering on such a golden day,

but I know it’s hovering, not so far away.

Bless the one who struggles for a little grace;

to this tender sunlight let her lift her face.

—G. Wing, 2015

Bless the thorns beneath the blooms…

 

Reading Weeds, Part I: I’ll See Your Beauty And Raise You One Misery, or Vice-Versa

You may have heard of the millennial-era game, “Kill, F**k or Marry?” That (to me) distasteful phrase popped into my head the other day as I was riding by fields of green…or partial green, rather, sprinkled sometimes more than liberally with other colors. The colors of “weeds.”

Technically, I suppose, weeds are any plant growing where they aren’t wanted. The question that raises is, “Wanted for what?”

Who could object to moi???

If you’re growing hay, you abhor daisies. Kill. If you want a nice photo or a pretty bouquet, daisies are cool. F**k. And if, like me, you enjoy pondering the difference between weeds and crops, or sending love to all your friends with horrible allergies, daisies are an invitation to philosophy and empathy. Marry.

Late dustings of snow? Nope—early onslaught of daisies.

Daisies, of course, are only a convenient example; they have lots of pretty, invasive friends. Like the red-tinged sorrel in the photos above. Or buttercups.

I call this one, “Black Steed With Buttercups.”

And around here at least, even lupines want a piece of the action—you know, those tall, lovely blue numbers.

See ’em out there being tall, lovely and blue?

At the end of the day, the hay is cut, the daisies and their pretty friends die, and the allergy-sufferers close their windows and wait for September.

Well, hay there…

…leaving me to ponder the significance of something that provides more lasting nourishment in its dried-out state than alive. Damn. Farms are the philosophical gift that keeps on giving. THEM, I want to marry.

Tree Guru, Part II: Let Me Learn From Yew Too

Here’s one of those “discovering” something that was always in plain sight stories. And of course it has a moral.

A few weeks ago I was walking my favorite woodsy path on our beautiful isle and my eyes came to rest on the trunk of a tree I must have passed literally HUNDREDS of times. “Funny,” I thought, “that looks like a juniper. But they don’t have junipers here.”

It’s true. Here in Ecotopia we have Western Red Cedar and we have Douglas Fir, but juniper’s an eastern thing. I knew right away this was something special. And that’s when I remembered hearing about a handful of ancient Pacific Yews still surviving on the south end of Lopez Island. I stepped in for a closer look.

Much closer look.

Thirty+ feet in height. Flat needles. Red bark. But the width–whoa! I couldn’t get my arms around the trunk, not by a long shot. My wing span’s a good 5 feet, so this trunk’s circumference could be 80 inches. And yet it looked SO modest, tucked into the larger forest, that I had ignored it for a good six years of walks.

Not much to yew, is there?

A botanist friend tells me a yew this size is “hundreds of years” old. Impossible to tell how MANY hundreds, of course, but who cares? This unassuming tree, much smaller than the firs around it, could be their great-great-great grandma (overlooking the whole different genus thing, of course).

The obvious moral to this story is, PAY ATTENTION. Who knows what you may be walking past? The more subtle moral…well, several come to mind.

Perseverance and strength–the qualities of heroes–may come in drab packages.

Flashiness often distracts us from our best, truest role models. And of course…

Yew are who yew are.

Do you have your own story of an unobtrusive hero or role model you came to notice after much time? Do share, won’t yew?

Sometimes All You Need is To Be Smacked Upside the Head by a Golden Eagle

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m a “mentor” of a little girl. Just after that post, I attended a meeting for mentors, where we were asked to share something we appreciated about our “mentee.” One fellow mentor said he loved that his kid “gets me out of my head.”

Anyone relate to that?

For those of us without small children or even pets around the house, getting out of our heads can become a strangely invisible challenge: we aren’t aware of how badly we needed to do it until something flies by and–aaahh…That’s better. Perspective restored.

Today I was running along my usual gorgeous route, which just happens to pass through the scenery depicted on this blog’s cover photo. No slouch, as scenery goes. But was I digging those craggy rocks, that deep blue ocean? Ha. Not a whit. I was stuck deeply in my own head.

Rehearsal schedule. Grocery planning. When am I going to get my garden going? Three pieces to edit–not including my own. Article to write. Need to catch up on sleep from three 3 a.m. bakery get-ups in a row. Time with Mate–when’s THAT supposed to happen? And am I going to have time to practice my subjunctive before the next Spanish class?

Then a golden eagle flew over my head. Followed by another golden eagle.

Imagine two. (orig. image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

I’ll admit–several dozen bald eagles might’ve flown over, unnoticed, as I ran along–and good job, baldies, getting so common after nearly going extinct and all. But goldies? They stopped me in my tracks.

I’m sorry that’s what it took, but it did the job. Aaahh…That’s better. Thankyouthankyouthankyou. Perspective restored.

Care to share a similar getting-out-of-your-head experience? Child, animal, plant–or something not of nature? I would love to hear.

¡Pura Vida! This Mind-Broadening Brought to You By Costa Rica

Here’s what Son One says about Pura Vida, after 9 months in Costa Rica:

Pura vida. Literally: pure life. But don’t bother with a direct translation. In Costa Rica, it’s a greeting, a goodbye, a thank-you, a you’re welcome, a slogan, an exclamation, and an explanation. It’s a proud toast to your country’s victorious soccer team. It’s an energetic call as you land a dorado in the Carribean. It’s a gracious refusal of payment from a local farmer who gives the stranded backpacker a ride to town. And it’s the humble answer to any tourist’s question of “how can it be so pretty here?” “Pura vida.”

Nearly two weeks of livin’ la vida pura has given me plenty to think about. Actually, as you might guess, my experience was mostly visual, so I’ll share more pictures than words this time.

#1. I never really understood the term “biodiversity” until I realized that I almost never saw more than one of the same kind of tree, flower, or fungus in the same spot. Everything’s competing madly with everything else.

"Poor Man's Umbrella."

“Poor Man’s Umbrella.”

Passion Flower. Thought these only came in purple!

Passion Flower. Thought these only came in purple!

Biodiversity ain't always pretty. (Beach Nut)

Biodiversity ain’t always pretty. (Beach Nut)

Plants upon plants upon plants...See any two alike? Right.

Plants upon plants upon plants…See any two alike? Right.

Who cares what it's called? It's so PRETTY!

Who cares what it’s called? It’s so PRETTY!

#2. Costa Rica ought to be a Mecca for gluten-free folks. Rice and beans are eaten at LITERALLY every meal: gallo pinto for breakfast (rice & black beans stir-fried with onions and red bell peppers), beans or bean soup with rice for lunch, and for dinner–you guessed it. Nary a slice of bread, nor did I see any butter for that matter. As for dessert, who needs it when you have the best fruit on the planet? This might be the healthiest travel-eating I’ve ever done.

Note: I don’t generally take pictures of food. So you’ll just have to imagine.

#3. Sometimes other countries’ wild animals don’t quite match your expectations. We happened on some capuchin monkeys harassing an iguana. “Why are they doing that?” we asked our biologist son. His scientific answer: “Monkeys are little shits.”

People think these guys are cute, huh? Yikes.

People think these guys are cute, huh? Yikes.

OK, this olinga's cute. But it's also supposed to be nocturnal, and shy, and hard to spot. Someone should tell it.

OK, this olinga’s cute. But it’s also supposed to be nocturnal, and shy, and hard to spot. Someone should tell it.

And the elusive tapir? This one was LYING IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR PATH and could hardly be bothered to get up.

And the elusive tapir? This one was LYING IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR PATH and could hardly be bothered to get up.

#4. Idea for next blockbuster horror movie: “Strangler Fig.” Seriously, these things are terrifying! They strangle whole trees from the top down, until…shudder…they BECOME the tree.

Tree, or nightmare?

Tree, or nightmare?

This would be beautiful if it weren't so gruesome.

This would be beautiful if it weren’t so gruesome.

#5. Just because a country is “developed” doesn’t mean it matches up to our wealthy, take-everything-for-granted standards. Example: many places we stayed at could not handle toilet paper in their septic systems. And even when we were zipping along on an American-style freeway, we could see that one little dead-engine incident in the opposite lanes had created a miles-long backup, because there was no shoulder, nor any “Rapid Response” state trooper just minutes from the scene. Reminder: appreciate.

No, I did not take pictures of the plumbing or the highways either.

#6. I am far too poor a photographer to capture the color-diversity of Costa Rican birds. The rarest bird of all, the Resplendent Quetzal, I only got to peek at through a scope: look, it’s a Christmas bird! But here are some of my attempts:

J/K. We never saw a real toucan, but I loved the way the Ticos made 'em out of used tires.

J/K. We never saw a real toucan, but I loved the way the Ticos made ’em out of used tires.

This big, gorgeous hummingbird's called a Violet Sabrewing. I want that as my Roller Derby name.

This big, gorgeous hummingbird’s called a Violet Sabrewing. I want that as my Roller Derby name.

Even prettier than its picture in all that tourist schlock: Scarlet Macaw (hey, another great name!)

Even prettier than its picture in all that tourist schlock: Scarlet Macaw (hey, another great name!)

#7. When you’re with a competent guide, the scary creatures are just as exciting as the pretty ones…maybe more so.

Son One's finger--I'm surprised he didn't try to pat the tarantula.

Son One’s finger–I’m surprised he didn’t try to pat the tarantula.

The deadly fer-de-lance. No fingers near this guy.

The deadly fer-de-lance. No fingers near this guy.

Why we didn't swim in the Rio Sierpe.

Why we didn’t swim in the Rio Sierpe.

#8. Beauty is universal. Every Tico we met let us know that yes, they KNEW they were living in Paradise.

Pura Vida...

Pura Vida…

Thanks, Ticos. Thank you for taking so much better care of your incredible land than most countries do. You are providing a very much-needed example. And who needs to flush toilet paper anyway?

...y Pura Vida otra vez...

…y Pura Vida otra vez…

 

Red in Tooth and Claw and Paralysis

Feel the need for an empathy workout? Think of one of the most horrifying creatures you can imagine–GIANT SPIDER!!! Got that? Good. Now try feeling sorry for it.

Having trouble? Don’t worry. My son the naturalist will help you get there. Read on.

Pura Vida Stories

Nature is not a friendly place.  Life is often nasty, brutish, and short, and death is no picnic either.  There are some truly sadistic ways animals have dreamed up to dispatch and consume each other.  Most fish swallow each other whole, leaving the prey to suffocate in a sack of stomach acid.  Spiders immobilize their prey in webs and make them hang there, helpless and dreading, until they decide to liquefy them from the inside.  But even spiders deserve some pity for what can befall them.

Hold on to your stomachs, folks.  This is about to get national geo-graphic.Hold on to your stomachs, folks. This is about to get national geo-graphic.

Pictured above is a tarantula hawk wasp.  The unfortunate critter nearby is a tarantula.  The spider has been stung and paralyzed by the wasp, and can’t move much more than a groggy twitch.  The wasp is currently excavating a burrow in which she will drag the tarantula, safe from the prying…

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Road Trip V, Days 12-14, Cookeville, TN-Asheville, NC: Counting Blessings

I realize that the topic of traffic accidents may be painful to some, so—fair warning. We just walked away from one, and I want to write about it.

For the record, I lost both my uncle and my grandmother in separate auto crashes (the former, before I was born; the latter, when I was fifteen). But I’m willing to bet most families can list one or more members lost that way. There’s a reason so many of us sign off our conversations and emails, “Drive safely!”

The Mate and I were heading east on I-40 in the middle of Tennessee in a blinding rainstorm. We had just stopped for a satisfying bike ride (Mate) and run (me) on a rail-trail along the Cumberland River outside Nashville. (For most folks, Nashville = Grand Ol’ Opry. For the Wings, Nashville–or any other city–= “Where do y’all keep your bike paths?”) We had changed into dry clothes, and were looking forward to an arrival in Knoxville early enough that we might even take in a movie. I was on the iPad, checking dinner options.

Both of us noticed that Red Rover felt a little…squiggly. I tapped on the iPad. The Mate drove.

Suddenly, crossing a bridge over a flooded creek, Red Rover was skidding sideways. Her left rear slammed into the concrete divider, bouncing us back across the freeway with such force that the right-side slam spun us 180 degrees. When the entire slo-mo sequence ended, we sat staring the oncoming traffic in the face from the safety of the shoulder.

Of course it wasn’t safe. I was convinced that the next second would bring another car, or one of those semis, hydroplaning right through our windshield. But Red Rover re-started, and after only a few moments–though it felt endless–the traffic parted enough for The Mate to do a U-turn and rejoin the eastern flow.

~A rest area appeared in the next two miles.
~A nice man inside showed us on a map where we could find a good mechanic in the next town, Cookeville.
~Red Rover showed barely a scratch.
~The Mate and I suffered only shaky knees.
~Cookeville was 20 miles away. We spent that drive marveling at our blessings.

I won’t bore you with the details of what we learned from the mechanic about the probable cause of our skid. Suffice to say we’ll be visiting a Subaru dealer when we get to my hometown, Durham. And our poor ol’ bike rack needs some first aid. But this post is about blessings.

We were able to drive away from an accident that could have killed us in several different ways. We were able to afford new tires, and a night in a motel a little nicer than our usual Super-8 level. (They gave us milk and warm cookies when we checked in.) I posted about our accident on Facebook and received dozens of caring responses. The next day we drove safely out from under Winter Storm Thor and made it to the home of our friends in Asheville, who spoil us rotten.

"Goin' back to Carolina, bless my soul, bless my soul..."

“Goin’ back to Carolina, bless my soul, bless my soul…”

Me & The Mate, happy to be alive in the Blue Ridge.

Me & The Mate, happy to be alive in the Blue Ridge.

At this point, all I can do is borrow from Anne Lamott one of her three favorite prayers: “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”*

(Courtesy Indiebound.org)

(Courtesy Indiebound.org)

(*Lamott’s other two prayers are, “Help me, help me, help me,” and “Oh, wow.” I’ve borrowed those plenty too.)

What else is there to say?