Accentuate the Positive: COVID, Silver Lining Edition

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

8 days and counting…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image courtesy Wikipedia

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

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

MFA in LA, Part II: Climbing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note knee at bottom right

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

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

(or words to that effect)

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

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

When Blessings Overflow: There’s a Word For That

There is a word…but not in English. Here’s one to add to your list, along with Schadenfreude and Cafun√© (Portuguese for running your hands through the hair of someone you love, according to 41 Fascinating Words From Other Languages We Should Definitely Import to English) :

Dayenu. Or, as it says on our refrigerator magnet,

right there where I’m sure to view it 100 times a day ūüôā

Jews and other folk who participate in Passover will recognize this word from the Seder ceremony. In Hebrew it means, roughly, “It would have been enough…” with the added connotation of, “…and yet, God did even more! Wow!”

Passover may be behind us for this year, but the season of Dayenu is just getting going, at least here on Lopez Island. Our normally gorgeous woods and fields have somehow become even gorgeouser (hey, I just invented Word #42 for the list) with wildflowers.

Ferns & moss alone aren’t pretty enough–we get lilies too? Dayenu!

Like our woodlands even needed decorating–let alone by hot-pink orchids that look like something invented made by fairies…

possibly why they’re known as Fairy Slippers

…or golden-blooming succulents whose leaves want to get in on the color wheel action themselves:

And those are “just” the wildflowers. Then there are the lilacs planted all over our island, some 100 years old. Don’t get me started on lilacs. Or better yet, do–then read about them in this blog post I wrote some years ago on that heavenly-scented topic.

Like I said, “some years ago”. Note the stolen lilac sprig in the pony tail. Not sorry.

Extra color, extra scent, in a place which makes daily work of overloading our senses, year ’round? What else is there to say? At a loss for ways to express the feeling, I wrote this song–again, “some years ago.”

Dayenu, Dayenu                                                                   

Had the rising sun not overwhelmed me…Dayenu.

Had my humble daily bread not filled me…Dayenu.

Had your arms not simply held me…Dayenu.

Dayenu, Dayenu.

Had the lilacs never breathed so sweetly‚ĶDayenu. 

Had the wild fawn not leapt so neatly…Dayenu.

Had you not loved me so completely…Dayenu.

Dayenu, Dayenu.

It would have been enough,

It would have blessed us to the core.

Had this morning been our only gift,

We would not have needed more.

Dayenu…Dayenu… Dayenu.

Dayenu…Dayenu… Dayenu.

Had the sunset not shanghaied my breathing…Dayenu.

Had the starlight not adorned the evening…Dayenu.

Had you not promised never leaving…Dayenu.

Dayenu…Dayenu

Dayenu…Dayenu.       

So my “Dayenu” these days–apart from my Mate–is spring flowers, wild and tame. What are yours?¬†¬†What’s better than sharing a cup that’s runnething over?¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†

Costa Rica, Parte Tres: Livin’ La Vida Lowlands

Costa Rica, I’ve learned, is the size of West Virginia. But with such diversity, it’s really better to imagine all of California scrunched into the Almost Heaven state. Which is why, just a few hours after leaving the mountains with down vests on, we were sweating in our tank tops down on the beach.

Luckily for us, Son One’s company, Liana Travels, is all about lesser-known spots, so instead of parking us on the obvious stretches of sand we were driving along, he guided his rental car down a very iffy road, crossed a stream, and introduced us to Windows Beach, Playa Las Ventanas, where we could splash, but then rest in the shade.

One of the “windows”–a tunnel through the cliff to the open sea.

Our overnight was Hacienda Bar√ļ, a wonderful private preserve, reclaimed from cattle pastures and rice fields by an American, starting in the 1970s. (Ahead of his time, that guy.) He planted a ton of trees preferred by wildlife, and slowly, over the decades, lured the monkeys and sloths and coatis back.

2-toed sloth in a mango tree–very unusual to see it AWAKE and MOVING during the day!

Some of the trees were just plain pretty…

Arboreal fireworks

…and some, like this spiky monster, I learned were a sloth favorite.

I hear the fruit is delicious.

Seems the mama sloths, when they want to wean their babies, go into the spiky forest and leave their babies. The babies take much longer to work their way out of the spiny trees, and by the time they get home–all done, no more nursing!

The cabins themselves were worth the stay…

…but the best thing about Hacienda Bar√ļ was its trail system.

Wonderful to have Son One along, but these trails were pretty self-guide-worthy.

I went out for a solo walk the morning of our departure, and just dug the heck out of the quintessential jungliness.

Look at this lil’ guy trying to dig its roots right into the middle of the trail!

Our last lowland stop, before disappearing into the REAL jungle, was the town of Sierpe. Son One booked us a kayak tour down the Sierpe River.

Not pictured: the baby crocodile we saw, nor the juvenile caiman, nor any of the three species of monkey who came to greet us. It’s hard to paddle and take pictures!

Since rivers aren’t necessarily his thing (yet), Son One booked us a guide, Henry, who also happened to be a member of the Boruca People, indigenous Costa Ricans especially famous for their mask-making and weaving. From Henry, we learned subtle differences in the habits of herons, and Boruca legends.

Thanks, Henry!

By the time we returned to Sierpe, I was thrilled with all the wildlife, but ready to get out of the sun.

Approaching Sierpe from upriver.

After a cool drink, it was time to condense our stuff into smaller bags. Leave the iPad in the rental car; no wifi where we were heading. But maybe…just maybe…one of these guys?

…wha…???

Tune in next time for Parte Cuatro, o, el fín emocionante.

Costa Rica, Part Dos: Not in Kansas Anymore

This was actually my third time in Costa Rica. The Mate and I visited Son One when he was first working there six years ago. Then there was the time my zoologist dad took me deep into the jungle for an Organization of Tropical States conference when I was sixteen (I was too scared of the rainforest to walk alone–correctly, as it turned out, because the assembled biologists later discovered an extremely venomous fer-de-lance viper on the trail).

But it’s still a shock to realize how DIFFERENT Nature is there. Oh, it looks inviting as all get-out, from above.

Up near the Monteverde Cloud Forest, where usually, Son One told us, you don’t see anything but cloud.

But get in close, and it’s red in tooth and claw–even the plants. Like this ficus, or Strangler Fig, enthusiastically murdering its host tree.

Whatever you do, don’t imagine this process sped up.

In the jungle, it’s everyone for itself. Even a lowly fencepost becomes a host.

Kind of cute, unless you’re the one who has to keep replacing the fenceposts.

And don’t even get me started on the army ants. (Not pictured: army ants. You’re welcome.)

Because Son One is a classic naturalist, which is to say nuts about dangerous critters, he was REALLY hoping for a sighting of either a puma or a fer-de-lance–preferably both. We struck out on both, this trip, although we did score some stunningly large paw prints, and this official Pile o’ Puma Poop on the trail:

…You’re welcome?

Son One did manage to find one fer-de-lance (terciopelo, in Spanish, which means velvet–has anyone actually stroked that snake??), but he hasn’t sent me the photo yet, so here’s one from our last visit:

And this is why we hike in rubber boots.

But of course, of COURSE, Costa Rica is way more than things that want to kill you. It’s also a splendid riot of sound and scent and color. Like this motmot which welcomed us on our first afternoon:

¬°Hola amigo!

And of course, of COURSE…monkeys. Since Son One’s specialty is taking people far from the madding crowd, we had an entire troupe of Capuchins to ourselves. (Here’s where I decided I need to invest in a zoom lens for my phone, but you get the idea.)

Son One, who speaks fluent Capuchin, warned us not to stand underneath. They like to pee on your head.

This thrilling wildlife encounter was somewhat undermined when we stopped for coffee at a place which puts out fruit for the birds…which the monkeys, of course, gorge on.

“Hey, I’m done with my banana. You gonna finish that muffin?”

As we headed back down toward the lowlands on a road whose steepness I couldn’t possibly capture with my phone, this tree caught me eye. The locals call it “Gringo Tree” because it looks like a white person with bad sunburn. But this particular one looked like E.T.

Phone home.

I‘m not saying North American Nature doesn’t have weird stuff. Just not THIS weird. Or wonderful. See you in the lowlands for Part 3!

Costa Rica, Part 1: ¬°Que Sorpresa!

Would you put this in your mouth?

Alien egg? Tree gall? Exotic cocoon?

How ’bout now?

EWWWWW.

If these images gross you out, you probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the kind of Costa Rica tour The Mate and I just went on, led by Son One, as a beta-test of his budding ecotour company, Liana Travels. Some of what we did required…let’s just say…trust. But in every way, our trust was repaid. Like putting that weird glop in my mouth, which just happens to be passionfruit, and just happens to taste…

…magnificent.

Tangy, sweet, magical–ok, still a weird mix of gloppy and crunchy, but that flavor! Later, when we saw passionflower vines in bloom, I fell even more in love.

Encantada

So I decided that passionfruit was a pretty good metaphor for Liana Travels. Go ahead, take a bite. First comes the surprise, then the reward.

Some of those surprises, I have to admit, were NOT pleasant, but those had to do with travel during COVID, not with Son One’s planning. Example #1: Upon arrival at San Jose airport, we stood in the Immigration line for 2 and a quarter HOURS, because there were only four clerks processing many airplanes’ worth of travelers. (I was certain we were catching COVID every moment we stood there. We didn’t.) Example #2: While waiting for our required test results to exit the country, our flight was cancelled. But the stress of those surprises was made up for by watching Son One’s calm, competent responses.

Nuestro guia

In upcoming posts, I’ll give a more conventional travelogue. But as an intro, here are two more surprises. #1, have you heard of the famous invasive Cane Toads of Australia? Turns out they were imported from Central America! I hadn’t known that, and found the information as fascinating as the huge toads are ugly.

also nocturnal

And #2, how about this flower? Here it is closed up:

…ohhhhkay…

And here it is open. I asked Son One its name. His answer: “They call it Butthole Flower.”

Well alrighty then.

Watch this space for more on our off-the-beaten-path Costa Rican adventures. ¬°Puravida!

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!

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…

Mona√Īa 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.

The Annual Thanksgiving Post: Full of Respair

Here we go. This horrible year, 2020, I am thankful for…

…being able to feel thankful. (Will that become the new meaning of “2020 hindsight”?)

…a friend who sent me the link to the podcast, “A Way With Words,” where I learned, just in time, of the word “respair,” which means to have hope again. Seriously!!!! Yes.

…flowers.

…mushrooms taking the place of flowers when flowers are not available. (Could there be a lesson here?)

Beautiful local veggies also filling that flower-role, and way tastier.

…Zoom (can I get an Amen?).

Say “Happy Birthday, Dad!”

Beauty close to home.

Thanksgiving dinner made of leftovers, and no pie, because–the Mate’s birthday cake is the queen of all!

Happy Birthday, babe.

Togetherness in any form, even masked. Health. Democracy. Music. Things I will never, ever, ever take for granted again.

As always, I would love to hear some of the things floating to the top of your list! Still standing? Let’s give thanks.

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…