Road Trip Retro, 2018: Giving Those Noticing Muscles a Good Workout

As March draws to a close, this will be my last Road Trip Retro post for now–and hopefully, ever! This is the time of year when, in “normal” years, we’d have just gotten settled back into the home routine: me working at the bakery, The Mate clearing fallen branches around the property and getting the lawn mower in shape.

It’s not a “normal” year. But things are turning that way, even though I’ll never think of “normal” again. (The other day I went into a friend’s house for the first time in 14 months and felt like crying with joy.)

So let’s finish up with Road Trip VIII, shall we? That year, three years ago, I became aware that we had fallen into a pattern with our first couple of road weeks. So I determined to NOTICE stuff that I might have bypassed before. Starting with this amazing “We Can Do It!”” cloud in Tacoma.

Seemed like a good omen.

Passing out of Oregon into California on Rt. 199 (a fave), I captured this sign which we’ve always enjoyed:

Who doesn’t love some good sweet cron on a summer day?

Visiting our favorite Prairie Creek redwoods, I decided to highlight the less obvious parts of the forest.

“Don’t take my picture! I’m shy.”
Redwoods, shmedwoods. Look at me!

Visiting our wee cuzzies in Oakland, I tried to capture the sense of their neighborhood…

…and just up the road in Berkeley, this wonderful memorial to the Free Speech movement:

Dora, my bike, enjoying a lil’ break

Next up, SoCal. With our sons long graduated from college and my grandmother long since passed away, we visited a more obscure bit of coast, just the two of us…

Monaña de Oro State Park

…before heading into LA for the usual family & friends visits. Then, the Big Left Turn, and off into Arizona, where, for once, we rented a cabin near our favorite park-nobody-seems-to-have-heard-of, the Chiricahua National Monument.

2 years later, we came right back here and were treated to javelinas in our front yard!
I adore this place. Sunrise on sycamores is just frosting on the cake.
OK, I know- -I’m getting away from my “noticing the little things” theme…

In Albuquerque, I captured a piece of a “ho-hum hike” at the base of the Sandia range, right there in town…

New Mexicans are a little spoiled. But as a Washingtonian, I can relate.

…and finally remembered to give their spectacular cuisine its photographic due:

Green chile, blue corn…need I say more?

Speaking of noticing: we also finally decided to let Oklahoma show us its best stuff. Frequently terrible weather (blizzards, tornadoes) keeps us from crossing OK, but in 2018 we stayed in TWO different state park cabins, at either end of the state.

Boiling Springs State Park

Nothing breathtaking, but very pleasant (too cold for us to camp). And I got to see this porcupine asleep high in a cottonwood!

Yay for noticing muscles.

The eastern park, Lake o’ the Cherokees, featured 1930s-era cabins made by the WPA.

The lake itself…bleah. But awesome cabins!

Passing through Missouri (another rarity on our eastbound journeys), we stopped to recreate in some federal scenic river land. The name escapes me–but this beaver didn’t!

Well, HEY, cutie!

Cutting down through Tennessee, we treated ourselves to a date in Nashville.

Pause for a moment here to send lots of love to poor ol’ Nashville.

With our friends in the Blue Ridge of North Carolina, I tried to focus more on the background of the place–its rhododendron thickets…

(with Mate in foreground)

…though who can resist a mountain sunrise?

No muscles required here.

At the apex of our journey–my home stompin’ grounds of Durham and Chapel Hill, NC–I focused my camera on some of my personal NC icons:

Mom in her pickup (hauling horse trailer)
…my parents’ shoe collection (part of it)…
…Mom’s loom (the smaller one)–here w/ Son Two, aka Grandson Two…
Chapel Hill’s Tarheel fire truck (Go Heeeeeeeeeeeeels!)

…and, of course, the culmination of every annual NC pilgrimage, the ACC Men’s Basketball feast:

Allen & Sons BBQ, slaw, hushpuppies & fried okra. Again–no noticing muscles needed here. Dare you NOT to notice.

Heading north this time, we made a straight shot to our other cousins, in southern Vermont, where all the little things I might have noticed were immediately blanketed by snow.

Sorry, Red Rover! Be right there.
I felt OK sharing this photo because everyone’s so hidden under their hats. Whee!

Heading home through Kentucky: isn’t this the best bike path bridge ever?

Louisville Loop

Stopping for a bike ride in Topeka, KS, we pretty much stumbled onto this historic site: the school where Brown v. Board of Education began.

At least it’s a protected site, if not exactly promoted. Then again, we were there on a Sunday.

Heading for the Rockies, we took advantage of some friends’ spending a sabbatical in Colorado Springs.

Pike’s Peak sunrise from the kitchen window–are you kidding me? Gotta love the juxtaposition with the light pole.

A hike at Mesa Verde, where we had the trail to ourselves…

…the Mate couldn’t help but notice how much Gretchen likes standing at the edge of things.

Our annual get-together with Adventure Buddies (you know ’em well by now) Tom & Kate was near Page, AZ. Just noticing this piece of the map (so near to the Grand Canyon) was new to us.

The Mate auditioning to be a mushroom rock
Jabba the Rocks–off the beaten path, just hangin’ out…

One thing we did that I’m not real proud of: took a boat tour on Lake Powell to see Glen Canyon, or what’s left of it. What I mostly noticed? My conflicted feelings.

Uff. Something so wrong here.

Finally back in Washington, going for a walk as we waited in the ferry line, I kept the theme going, capturing the beauty of our Salish Sea environment…

No place like home.

…every tiny bit of it.

Ditto.

Thanks for riding with me through most of the past ten years! Tune in next time for something a little more current, ok? And be well.

Road Trip Retro, 2017: Now With Extra Family!

I know I make it seem like interrupting our Road Trips with airplane flights is an anomaly, but 2017 actually managed to involve a plane ride too. Just a short one, right at the start.

See, I’d pitched this new idea to my two older sisters: “Hey, as each of us turns 60, let’s have a Sisters Weekend Getaway, in a town that’s new to all of us!” Since that’s something we’ve never done in our lives–all 60 years of them, for some of us–they thought that was a pretty good idea. That early spring, the eldest of us was up, and she picked…

San Diego. So Road Trip VII began with me flying there to meet my Seesters. We rented a house, went for lots of walks, and ate a LOT. We weren’t full-on tourists, but we spent one full day at the famous zoo…

Getting ready to ride the tram–whee!

and another out on Point Loma.

Ocean 1, Land 0.

The tide pools got an A+ in my book.

Right?!
Anemones rock.

First Seesters Getaway under our belts, we went our separate ways–one to Michigan, one to Texas, and me back to LA where I met The Mate and Red Rover. We visited with all our LA dear ones, and then headed out across the desert, like most other years.

The weather did NOT encourage recreation. This is a dust storm swallowing the scenery on I-10 in Arizona.

In Albuquerque, our friend Beth helped us indulge our craving for green chile at a very cool restaurant, The Range.

SUCH cool decor! Food was great too.

Armed with leftovers, plus the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocado (from my cousins’ tree in LA), we beelined for our favorite part of North Texas, Palo Duro Canyon, where it was just barely warm enough to camp.

Yes, that’s the avocado. Can we see the canyon now?
Still…not…warm yet…

Next up, Dallas, where our friends treated us to a bike tour around the less-well-known parts of the city…

…including places once famous…
…and places that might be famous someday, like this free-range grafitti lot.

As often happens on our late-winter road trips, the route from TX to NC was a blur, which means the weather was probably lousy. We did manage one hike at the TN-NC border.

Oh yeah. This’ll do.

During these days, a new tradition was born: “Noodlebag.” How’s that work? 1. Cook noodles at friends’ house; add salt & olive oil. 2. Steal some of their leftovers. 3. Over the next three days, add whatever’s in your ice chest, and heat in the microwave of whatever cheap motel you’re staying in.

Deluxe Noodlebag!

In North Carolina at last, along with my Amazing Parents, Son Two met us for basketball, BBQ, and Being a Good Son.

Emphasis on the BBQ.

Basketball. Family. Critters. Family. Basketball. Mama Dip’s Fried Chicken. Basketball. Wild trout lilies. If you’ve been following this blog for even a couple of posts, you probably know the drill by now.

Except for this part. Not planned.

Snow in NC, in March? OK. So of course when we left, we drove North.

If happens sometimes. This was one of those times. We had a brand-new little baby cousin to visit!

Not pictured: baby cousin. Pictured: the very deep snow that greeted us. In Vermont. In March. Duh.

But hey–at least New Englanders know how to deal with snow!

Snowshoeing on a perfect day up Mt. Bromley

Also, I grooved on being able to help our cousins bottle-feed some of their new lambs, overseen by Ben the Shepherd Donkey.

Not QUITE as cute as my parents’ donkey Stevie, but pretty close.

Heading home through upper-middle of the continent, we had a couple of notable recreation stops. First, a bike trail that was once the tow path for the Illinois River barges, just like the song I learned from my friend Lance: “Every day I work on the Illinois River/Get a half a day off with pay/On the tow path hauling barges/On a long hot summer day...”

Not pictured: a long, hot summer day

Second, we diverged into Colorado at the end of the Plains to meet our Intrepid Adventure Buddies (say it with me) Tom & Kate in Estes Park…

Aspens & Ponderosas! Ah, the Mountain West.

…on the edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. I got sick while in Colorado, and spent most of my time walking slowly and enjoying the scenery from the back of the car. Still worth it.

Zoomed-in view of Long’s Peak, before the clouds came in
Feeling much better now, thanks.

Finally, back in Montana, we stopped at this special spot where the mighty Missouri River is born from the confluence of three smaller rivers. Lewis & Clark camped here.

No camping for us, but I did go for a run up the bluff.

Onward! Homeward! Apparently quite a bit of snow had fallen while we were dallying in the Rockies, but we’d given Idaho time to clear its highways.

And rest areas.

So, a road trip with extra sisters, a son & a new, wee cousin? All gravy. Yes please!

Tune in next time for RT2018. Gonna ride this retrospective right up till the last one. Maybe then I won’t notice the lack of RT2021.

Road Trip Retro, 2015: An Extra Helping of Blessings

If you read the previous post, you’ll know that RT 2014 came with extra drama. But the following year, as memory and these photos remind me, the sun SHONE on Red Rover and her occupants.

Our blessings started with a quick detour in southwestern Oregon’s Illinois River scenic area, which we’d driven past for years.

Ok, wow. Our bad. Some of these rocks were emerald-green with serpentine.

Sunny riverside or pitcher-plant-filled swamp, this place deserves the word “awesome.”

Next up: a precious visit with our now-toddling twin cuzzies in Oakland.

This lets our own kids off the hook, grandchildren-wise.

We then made our Big Left Turn a bit earlier than some years, skipping LA to head straight over the mountains and into Death Valley.

And summer!
These tamarisk trees are invasive…but their shade still feels pretty good!

Winter did catch back up with us in Albuquerque, but we took advantage of the snow to go for an extra-beautiful hike with our friend Beth in the Tent Rocks National Monument (one of our favorite spots when we lived for half a year in Santa Fe twelve years before).

Cool without snow. Even cooler with.
OK, maybe not THAT much snow.

Not many photos follow, so we must have zipped across the lower half of the country again…but then found ourselves once more in the Asheville area, soaking up the Blue Ridge. Since I grew up in NC, these mountains were my earliest benchmark of beauty.

Feelin’ the love.

Next up–the perennial apex of our trip: Durham, NC, my hometown. There, as always, we hung out on my folks’ little farm, which is slowly being donated to the adjacent Carolina Friends School, which they helped to found.

Baseball, shmaseball–let’s play fetch!

Since the place is undergoing these changes, I took some photos to document the delightfully messy present that was also my childhood.

My folks’ basement speaks volumes about their commitment to the athletic, outdoor life.

Remember those blessings I was talking about? In 2015, we were gifted with the opportunity not just to cheer for our beloved Tarheels on TV, but to attend a game in person.

The Heels promptly lost. At home. To DUKE. Some of you know how horribly terrible that is. Kind of the opposite of a blessing, in fact. Moving on…

Since I had published Book Two of my YA Flying Burgowski trilogy, Headwinds, at the end of 2014, this road trip featured another reading at Durham’s famous Regulator Bookshop. This time I enlisted my old middle school English teacher, Henry Walker, and a couple of current Friends School students, to do a dramatic reading with me!

Still going strong after 40+ years of teaching. Thanks, Henry. For everything.

Yet another blessing, as we headed home: discovering this amazing chunk of scenery in the Arkansas Ozarks.

I know, right? We’d never heard of it either.

So pretty–all that beautiful brown sandstone!

At least I think it’s sandstone. In my next life I wanna be a geologist.

We stayed in a state-run lodge as nice as anything you’d find in a national park.

I took the opportunity of the lodge’s high bluff to emulate my book’s flying-girl heroine.

On the way home, latitude I-40, we stopped to recreate near our favorite chunk of North Texas–but this time, instead of Palo Duro, we discovered its cousin, Caprock Canyon.

Every bit as cool, if a little smaller…
…but with its own bison herd!

As if all this scenery weren’t enough, we made time for a quick detour back to the Mother of All Gorge-ousness, the Grand Canyon. Only for a day hike–but I made the most of it.

7 and a 1/2 miles down to the Inner Gorge view…then 7 and a 1/2 miles back up the Bright Angel Trail.
Luckily there was a little scenery along the way.
Looking back down…wishing I could still be down there.

Near Page, AZ, The Mate and I took a slot canyon tour–not the overly-famous Antelope Canyon, but a smaller one.

It did the job nicely.
Photos absolutely obligatory here, for couples.

Blessing #…oh, I’ve lost track…was meeting Adventure Buddies Tom & Kate (by now you should remember them) outside of good ol’ Joshua Tree National Park for three days of desert togetherness.

Cue pun about how this place rocks.

We also drove down near Palm Desert to walk through a beautiful oasis there, traditional lands of the Agua Caliente Cahuilla Band of Indians.

So much better than another frickin’ golf course.

Driving home on the eastern side of the Sierras, we found public campgrounds still closed, but managed to squeeze into a small private one.

It did the job too.
Sunrise was a special blessing all its own.

Next along the way: Mono Lake. We only had a couple extra hours, but…it’s right there!

After passing by so quickly last trip, we got a little more up close and personal this time.

In northern California, near Susanville, we scored what is still one of our all-time favorite rail-trails. I mean–come on!

A river canyon AND our own dedicated bike tunnel? Stop it!

Next, a state park in middle Oregon, near Prineville, by the Deschutes River…

The campground was closed, but they had these cool rustic cabins. When snow flurried that night, we were grateful for the extra insulation!

Final night, before entering Washington? We camped in Oregon’s famous Columbia Gorge. A fitting reminder of what gorge-ousness exists in our very backyard.

OK, OK–next time we won’t just tack you on to the end of a multi-week road trip! You deserve your own.

Final lesson from this retrospective of 6 years ago? All road trips are gifts. But some gifts have more facets than others. 2015 was extra special that way. Leaving me extra grateful.

Road Trip Retro, 2014: Going Airborne (yep–Airborne)

Two weird facts about Road Trip IV:

  1. It involved airplanes.
  2. It involved a flying girl.

Wait–maybe those are the same thing?

Let me explain.

RT4 started out in what was becoming a familiar pattern: a beeline south toward our far-and-dear in Oregon, then California. Those dear ones include some very big redwoods.

Could not get enough of these examples of endurance.

This year was especially exciting because we got to meet our “placeholder grandchildren,” our wee twin cousins born in the summer of 2013.

Seven years later, I cannot do this anymore.

Then, to add to our joy, we arranged to meet both our sons for a night of camping in Big Sur. Son Two was about to graduate from college; Son One was a year past graduation.

Big Sur, showing what the fuss is all about.

Both of them, to our (somewhat surprised) delight, still seemed to enjoy hanging out with the old folks.

Didn’t hurt that I have a major thing for sycamore trees–the bigger, the better!

But my joy in these days was increased many fold by my own unfolding writing project. My first novel, The Flying Burgowski, was edging toward final publication. The story of one Jocelyn Burgowski, a northwestern island girl whose family life has melted down a bit, takes a flying leap into oh-so-possible fantasy when Joss discovers, on the evening of her 14th birthday, that those flying dreams she’s been having are NOT…JUST…DREAMS.

All that remained, after years of writing and revising, was one last round of edits before hitting the magic “publish” button. I well remember paging through the proof copy of The Flying Burgowski in our tent by flashlight.

The award came later. 🙂

Saying goodbye to our boys young men, we headed east across the deserts. Lack of photographic evidence from that part of the trip tells me we didn’t linger long. But we were with our friends in Dallas when I finished my editing, started my publishing process—and ordered a few dozen copies to meet me in North Carolina, where I had a date with a bookstore.

We did camp once on our way through Arkansas, but it was a pretty weird experience. We were the ONLY people in the campground.

Ummm…is this thing on?

But remember this blog’s heading–going airborne? Crossing Tennessee in a torrential rainstorm, lil’ Red Rover did NOT do that…but she did, suddenly and terrifyingly, start hydroplaning on an I-40 bridge over a swollen creek.

Bouncing off a guard rail, she ended up facing the oncoming traffic (mostly semi trucks)…but, thanks be to all the gods, upright, and safely on the shoulder. Thanks be also to the fact that none of those semis came sliding into us. After realizing we were still alive and finding that Red Rover still functioned, we turned around and drove, very slowly, with flashers, on three functional and one absolutely shredded tire, the 20 miles to the next town. In Cookville, an extremely nice mechanic took Lil’ Red in even though it was closing time. We bedded down at a motel feeling extremely lucky to be alive.

Not pictured: any of that.

But our accident put us in reach of the winter storm we’d been running ahead of. Next morning Red was fixed up, but the roads were now pure ice and snow. We drove the same speed as post-accident, trying to stay out of another one, and got as far as the NC mountains before calling it a day.

Next day, we attempted a hike on the Appalachian Trail.

Operative word: attempted.

We holed up with our friends near Asheville for a couple of days as winter storms continued in waves across the country. My folks in Durham were suffering under a second ice storm, with a third predicted the week of our arrival.

So The Mate and I did something we’d never done in our lives: bought plane tickets to use the very next day. Then we bought the Lonely Planet guide to Puerto Rico, drove to my folks’ house, said hello and see you soon, and left Red Rover parked at RDU as we took to the air.

Still the U.S.–so it counts as part of the road trip, right?
The Mate marveling at the fact that THIS waterfall was warm enough to sit in.
Beginning to see how this snowbird stuff might catch on.

After three gloriously warm days of plantains, fish, and pork, we flew back to my folks’ place in Durham, NC. There I launched my book at my old favorite bookstore, The Regulator—and launched Jocelyn Burgowski into the sky.

My VERY FIRST public reading. (Who needs a mic when you know everyone in the audience?)

Of course our NC time wasn’t all about my author-self. We spent time with my folks as always…

Trying out Dad’s E-trike. At a ripe young 83 (back then), he still commuted to his lab in this.

…and my dad treated me to an insider tour of the Duke Primate Center, which he co-founded.

Sifaka (not sure if I spelled that right)

And then of course there were our beloved Tarheels! Did they win the tournament in 2014? I have no memories of that (though you can bet The Mate does). But who cares, when there’s Allen & Sons BBQ with hushpuppies and fried okra?

The REAL reason for the entire trip.

Heading back west, we took a more southerly route with few stops. It was a rough winter. When we got to Arizona, though, we cut north into Utah, then Nevada, to explore a new national park: Great Basin.

At 7,500 feet, just out of the snow, the campground was mostly ours, again–but with better scenery than Arkansas.
Saw wild turkeys. Heard wind, and not much else.

We then had a date with Adventure Buddies Tom & Kate (remember them?) at Yosemite, but since it was March, of course Tioga Pass was still closed. So we had to go ALL the way south and loop around the bottom of the Sierras in order to drive north again. Still worth it.

I mean, c’mon…it’s YOSEMITE.

And Son Two—having just finished his final quarter at Santa Cruz (graduating early) met us there before wandering off to Central America.

Top of Nevada Falls.

A week later, back home on Lopez Island, The Flying Burgowski launched again–on, or rather from, home turf, with local students participating in a dramatic reading at our community library.

So I’ll let you be the judge: Was RT4 an abandonment of the sacred principles of Road Tripping…or just a sweet, lucky time, and who cares?

(Jocelyn Burgowski & I say, flying doesn’t always make things better–but sometimes, yes, it does.)

Road Trip Retro, 2013: Red Rover, Red Rover, Drive Us All Over

What with COVID and nearly 200,000 miles, Ol’ Red started her retirement this year, as a hand-me-down to Son One. But I thought she deserved top billing today, seeing as 2013 was her debut. (Also the debut of the Subaru Cross-trek. Who knew what trend-setters we were?)

Good girl, Red.

The only theme I can piece together from RT III is my own forgetfulness. Looking through the folder, all I notice is

a) I mistook, last post, in saying we’d explored the Everglades & the Keys in 2012. Nope–that was this trip, as you’ll see.

b) if I took any photos of our week in NC, they all seem to have disappeared

c) my memory gaps of that trip seem to equal the gaps in the photo history: go figure

But no point dwelling on my aging brain–let’s focus on what definitely DID happen, ok? Like kicking off the trip by meeting Adventure Buddies Tom & Kate in Sedona, AZ.

It snowed. But that just made everything more beautiful.

Sedona’s a bit “precious” from our point of view–too many art galleries, not enough federal park space. But what land is protected there is drop-dead gorgeous, and very (too?) accessible.

We’ll take it!

Further in the file, photos of friends in the Phoenix area prove we went through there, but next comes…Florida?! So maybe 2013 was another one of those years where we fled winter storms across the country as fast as possible, avoiding the temptations of scenery and recreation.

Not pictured: making mileage across (I’m guessing) I-20.

But in Florida we continued our exploration of its many, varied state parks, including this one boasting “Florida’s highest waterfall.”

Psych! Turns out the waterfall goes down into a sinkhole. So yes, technically, it’s 75 feet “high.”

Well played, Florida.

We did then visit the Everglades, biking a really cool, bird-and-gator-filled loop…

This picture was supposed to show Gretchen and the gator. Guess Ken was more interested in the gator.

I have kind of a thing for manatees, so we had to rent some kayaks and go find the big ol’ “sea cows.” Unfortunately the spot we chose was jammed with tour boats and snorkelers doing the same thing we were doing, while the poor manatees huddled in a roped-off area. I felt yucky about the whole thing.

Those dark blobs? Manatees. (Take my word for it. This ain’t NatGeo.)

After that, we visited friends on Key Largo. My favorite pic from that visit involved fish–stuffed with shrimp and baked en croute. One of our friends is an icthyologist, so he was in charge of making sure my dough depiction was accurate for grouper.

The “before” picture. After baking, it was less detailed but more delicious.

Another friend, in Northeast Florida, treated us to some wetland hikes that somewhat made up for degradation of the Everglades.

Gator AND turtle! Score!

Now comes the big gap: our week in NC. Maybe the Tarheels lost in the first round of the ACC that year and I was too bummed to take pictures?

But clearly it was another year of cold northern weather, ’cause we headed home at the fairly low latitude of I-40. First stop, the Blue Ridge, for some hikes in what my east-coast soul thinks of as a beautiful winter forest, and my west-coast Mate thinks of as “dead.”

Eastern mountains: Iiiiiiii….will always love yooooooo…

Remember Palo Duro from the last Road Trip? Crossing north Texas, we defaulted back there for a day hike.

Seriously, this place is way too pretty. I owe Texas all kinds of apologies.

Hints of spring.

One more stop along I-40, this time in Santa Rosa, NM: the Blue Hole. I was a bit skeptical, given the way it was pimped by billboards, but, well…

I mean…it’s an 80-foot deep jewel in the middle of the desert. But letting folks scuba dive in there kinda wrecks the magic.

Cutting up past Las Vegas, we totally skipped the city for the region’s best feature (for people like us): Red Rocks State Park.

Red. Rocks.

I’d say it’s one of America’s better-named parks.

Must. Climb!

We must have then headed north on the east side of the Sierras, ’cause this can’t be anywhere but Mono Lake.

Tufa: so weird, so wonderful.

Another recreational stop in CA–Burney Falls, near Mt. Lassen–yielded this wonderful waterfall. I love the way the water seems to sprout right out of the ferns.

Mesmerizing.

Finally, end of March: home to western Washington! The Skagit bulb fields make the perfect welcome-home bouquet.

Thanks, y’all. Good job, Red Rover.

Thanks for riding along. Here’s hoping that Road Trip IV doesn’t demonstrate further erosion of my memory channels!

Bank on This: Phone-Banking Isn’t Everything It’s Cracked Up To Be. It’s Better.

You know those things you swear you’ll never do because you’re bad at them and you think they’re annoying and don’t make any difference and oh, by the way, you hate doing them?

Could I be talking about anything but political phone-banking? And have I been doing it anyway? And am I going to quit with the stupid rhetorical questions? Yes, yes, and yes.

The whole enterprise started with my furlough. I had some extra time on my hands, which I mainly filled with some physical volunteer work: packing school meals to be delivered to children, and groceries to be delivered to families. That felt meaningful.

But then both those programs ended (because hey, everyone knows kids don’t need to eat in the summer, especially when their parents might also be furloughed or unemployed!). [Note: this is NOT a slam on my community, which is doing everything in its power to help everyone.It’s about funding from upstream.]

Anyway, there I am in early June with the world on fire with injustice and COVID, and my deep-seated urges to pitch in have nowhere else to turn but…the phone. Calling voters in states without mail-in ballot programs to try to help voters get mail-in ballots, and gosh, by the way, wanna help elect Mr/Ms/Dr ____ to the ______?

On my first go, in Wisconsin, I swore I was done with this.

Woo-hoo.

Me, phone-banking: This is such a waste of time.

Myself: Nuh-uh, all the political people say it’s been proven that phone calls make more difference than any form of voter contact!

Me: But I even hate getting these kind of calls!

Myself: Well, you won’t from now on, will you? Maybe this is your punishment for not being nicer to the last person who called you.

Me: Not true. I’m always nice. But you may have a point there: this job feels like penance. Can I just go ahead and like, bank it against future sins?

But then the nice campaign people in Wisconsin let me know how badly they needed my help, so next day, there I was again. I don’t know how many calls I made because I hadn’t thought to keep count. But then I took some phone-bank training and discovered the joy of tally marks.

So NOW when I’m calling, I’m really competing with myself. Last week I made 100 calls in 2 hours. How ’bout 110 this week? Do I hear 120?

And along the way, even though there are SO many things I’d rather be doing on a lovely summer afternoon, like

noticing wildflowers…

or

…noticing wildlife…

I’m learning other ways to “enjoy” my political “work.” Like:

Fun with numbers! “Hey, this guy’s number’s almost the same as my Social Security.” “Whoa, a triple 6–wish I had a cool Satanic phone number like that.”

Enjoying the different recordings people leave on their voicemail, like this one man: “Hello, this is Mister Wonderful.” Or this adorable couple: “You’ve reached Grandpa and Grandma Willis.”

[Note: these generally make up for those irritating ones where the person’s clearly trying to fool the caller into thinking they’ve reached a real person instead of a recording. You guys suck.]

Grooving on cool names. I like to do this: “Hi, I’m Gretchen with the ____ Campaign, and I’ve been calling folks all afternoon and you’ve just won the Coolest Name of the Day award.”

Playing the Find my Age game: I’m 58. Nothing so special about 58, right? Except that only about .000008 of the folks I’ve called seem to BE 58, and only half of those are women. So when I get a 58 year-old female on my list (all we get are name, age & gender, and sometimes not even gender), I let them know how excited I am to talk to them! [If they pick up, that is. Which they do only about 10% of the time. So I’ve really only bonded with two other 58 year-old women so far. Sisterhood is beautiful.]

So much darn fun, I can almost forget I’d rather be kayaking.

For those of us who enjoy Life Lessons, there’s the Note Your Prejudices game: see what mental image pops into your head when you see someone’s name, age & gender pop up, then–quick, before they answer the phone!–re-arrange that prejudice into something completely different. Then find out how right or wrong you were when they answer! (If they answer. 😦 ) And briefly ponder the internal biases that caused your initial guess, quick–before you dial the next number.

Then, of course, there’s always good ol’ Gazing Out the Window…trying not to think about hiking into the sunset

Not till you’ve finished your tally marks.

or making pie.

I think I’ve earned pie.

But really? It’s all about the tally marks. And yes, just in case you were wondering: I DID make 120 calls this afternoon, thanks!

Which means I need to shoot for 125 next time. 

Total # of calls (since I started keeping track, so it’s really about 100 more): 650. And when I get to 1,000, I WILL make a pie.

Anyone else engaged in some political work right now which requires a struggle to feel meaningful? How do you keep your positive energy up?

 

Road Trip X, Days 25-28, Durham/Chapel Hill NC: Tarheel Fever + Covid19 = Perspective

I’d planned this post to be the acme of wry grumpiness. I was going to muse, kvetchily, about my earlier assumption that having our beloved Tarheels suffer through such an epically SUCKY season (talking 40+ year-worst) would cause me to feel some much-lacking empathy for fans of teams who regularly suffer—both fans and teams, I mean. All those folks who wait desperately to get into the Big Dance as a 16th seed, only to lose at Game One.

But no, I was going to say. I am NOT empathetic at all. I hate this feeling and I just want it to go away and never ever come within my Tarheel sight.

But I was still gonna celebrate Mama Dip’s chicken and Allen & Sons BBQ.

That’s what I was GOING to say. And then  I was going to assuage my hurt soul by posting pictures of my parents’ animals, here on the little scruffy farm where I grew up. Meet Erda the Norwegian elkhound…

Treat?

…Hank the goat…

Hi!!!!!!

and the World’s Sweetest Ass, Stevie.

And as a bonus, meet my amazing mom! (Not pictured: amazing dad)

Hold up—can we get a little more Stevie, please?

Thank you.

I was also going to celebrate the fact that a dear former student from Tacoma is now living within an hour of my folks, and was up for a visit!

This is what’s known as “teacher pay.”

But mostly I was gonna be grumpy. 

Then: Covid19. And all its cascading effects. Still fresh, raw, scary, unknown, unfolding as I write this.

The day after our team’s ignominious end of season, all basketball ends. Suddenly the Mate and I, like everyone we know, are contemplating a very different world than the one we thought we were living in.

So, complain about sports? Nope. Inshallah, we can all go back to that in a year or so. But until then? Here’s another Stevie pic, for all of us.

Keep your chin up, folks.

 

 

 

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.

Road Trip IX, Days 41-43, Moab to Lopez Island: Home! (And the Sisterhood of the Traveling Avocados)

After missing us for six weeks, our home was so happy to see us, it lit up its own windows with sunset.

Aww…we feel the same way!

19 states. 72 close friends/family members.  I’ve lost count of hikes and bike rides, but I can trace our route through the generosity of my cousins, who sent us on our way from L.A. with a bagful of avocados from their tree.

Thanks, cuzzes!

As the traveling avocados ripened, they graced our meals, most of which I managed to capture before gobbling. We started with leftover Vietnamese food in a motel in Mesa, Arizona:

Gluten free!

Next up: our avocados went camping in the Chiricahuas of SE Arizona.

…like camping NEEDS avocados, right? Turns out, it does!

Then they accompanied a salad at our friends’ in Dallas,

…making up in advance for all the greasy food we intend to eat in North Carolina!

and enjoyed a night in a sweet State Park cabin in Alabama:

Quick, before the squirrels show up!

Our avocados reached their culinary zenith at our friends’ in Asheville; Ben cooks the best food on the planet, and the guacamole just went along for the ride.

You have no idea.

So numerous were the avocados, they lasted into our return trip, where they appeared in a cameo on some curry in the Land Between the Lakes of Kentucky.

Thanks, cuzzes!

I did, of course, pay attention to more than just food on this trip. And now that I’m home, instead of playing my traditional game of “Best Of,” I’m just going to share some random Discoveries.

Discovery #1: Even when you’re going somewhere sunny and southerly, that white stuff can still follow!

approaching Los Angeles

Sunny, snowy?! saguaros in Tucson

Discovery #2: Disasters are much, much worse on the ground than they appear on television.

remnants from the Woolsey Fire in Malibu

Discovery #3: Apparently I am so immature, I can find delight in another athlete’s shoe explosion in a big game. (Oh, don’t worry, Zion Williamson is just fine!)

Photo credit–and cake credit!–to my friend and fellow Tarheel fan, Cynny Scott

Discovery #4: the Organ Peaks of Las Cruces, NM!

Where have you been all these road trips?

Discovery #5: The Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas has an ADORABLE Mardi Gras parade.

Aww…they probably ran out of time to finish decorating, but hey–viva recycling!

Discovery #6: the Missouri Bluffs section of Missouri’s Katy Trail

the Mate meets the Mighty Mo

Discovery #7: I thought I didn’t care for llamas. Turns out I care a lot for BABY llamas!

OMG, those eyelashes!

I won’t list “there’s no place like home” as a discovery, because I already knew that. And it remains just as true as ever. Thank you, Red Rover, thank you friends & family, and thank you, my Mate, for all that driving!

Home.

Wing’s World now morphs back into its regular, irregular, non-travel-blog self. Please keep visiting!

 

 

Road Trip IX, Days 27-32, Durham and Chapel Hill, N.C.: Country Roads, Make Me Run

I’ve written before about my father’s passion for distance running, and the way that passion shaped our family. Nothing like being back on the “old home place” for a week to bring back powerful memories of my baptism and rearing in the Church of the Holy Workout.

See, once my dad learned, in the mid-sixties, about the long-term health effects of distance running, I think he must have settled on the logic that, quod erat demonstrandum, NOT running would probably kill you quickly.

My dad, at 88 and a half, on his bike–he finally switched to an electric wheel a few years ago

At least that’s how it seemed to my 8 year-old self back in 1970. My sisters and I were, ahem, encouraged to run one mile a day, and three on Sundays. Most of that running involved the country roads near our house—some recently paved, some dirt.

But quite a lot involved the vehicle-free gravel roads of Duke Forest, maintained by Duke University’s School of Forestry (which I admire and love equally as much as I despise and loathe its men’s basketball team 🙂 ).The scenery was pretty. And the hills were STEEP.

Every year since we moved away in 1990, I go back to those forest roads, thinking, “they can’t really be as steep as I remember them.” And every time I rediscover—oh. Yep. They are.

Hard Climb Hill–putting the “mont” in Piedmont

The jury’s out, in my opinion, on whether making running mandatory for your children is a good idea or not. As it happens, I still run, thought I’ll never know if that’s despite, or because of being thrown into the deep end of the track (to mix sports metaphors). But since I’m lucky enough to have grown up entirely in the same house, it’s pretty cool to imagine how many miles I’ve logged over the years on those humble paved and unpaved roads.

I imagine Atticus Finch musing, “You never really understand a place until you consider things from its country roads…until you pull on your running shoes and run a few thousand miles around its hills.”

I’d show an even steeper hill, but I didn’t feel like wading across New Hope Creek

Or spot its wildflowers. I can’t complete a description of my childhood running routes without celebrating the subtle wildflowers of its woods in early spring.

Like the Trout Lily. Spot one…and suddenly they’re everywhere!

About as showy as they get…hiding in some invasive periwinkle leaves

Bluets, or Quaker Ladies. These always reminded me of my mom.

And while we’re at it…all praises be to good ol’ New Hope Creek itself. Humbly beautiful, and quite shockingly free of garbage considering it’s right smack in the middle of the Hillsborough/Durham/Chapel Hill Triangle.

Thanks for all the miles I’ve run past you while you were running past me!

I find myself wondering…what versions of my country roads do y’all share? What routes, walked or run or skated over a million times, make up the soul of YOUR childhood?