May…We Be Evergreen!

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

Sea pinks

and

Larkspur (with Death Camas)

not to mention

Spotted Coralroot orchid, in its own ray of sunshine

Oh–and the salmonberries!

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

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

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

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

Awwww…!

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

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

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

“Let’s be fronds.”

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

Rated “M” for Mature

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

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

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

 

Road Trip X, Days 33-35, Boise to North Bend to Lopez Island: Aaaaaand, Scene!

So that’s it. Road Trip X is in the bag. As Wing road trips go, this one was DIFFERENT. Past sojourns have averaged around 45 days, but #10 weighed in at a runty 35 (and we still got home midday on that last day).

Difference #1 was, of course, the fact that our beloved Tarheel men’s basketball team played its last game a week ago. But Difference #2 was the fact that ALL BASKETBALL ended the very next day, thanks to the Coronavirus. So not only did we start heading home 3 days earlier, we spent those days eating up as many miles as possible each day, diverging rarely for scenery, and not at all for friendship.

Need proof? Here’s all I got from crossing the upper east corner of Utah:

Hiya. Now keep driving.

A bit further south, hoodoos like these turn into Zion National Park. But along I-80…

If you’re not going to stop, this is all you get.

We did stop for 90 minutes’ recreation in Twin Falls, Idaho. Twice before we’d been blanked when wishing to ride the Rim Trail of the Snake River’s canyon there, once due to weather and once due to lack of daylight. But third time’s a charm.

First you drive over the bridge. Then you bike under it.

Shoshone Falls was even more jaw-dropping than I’d expected.

Guess who just won Best Waterfall of the Trip?

Can we get a close-up?

Rainbow & all.

After spending the night in Boise (where we LOVE the river trail, but no-no-no, time for only one bike ride and you’ve already had it!), we followed the Oregon Trail route into the Pacific time zone, breathless with joy to be beating the big snowstorm we knew was on its way from the coast.

Frost: fine. Snow? No thank you.

That was a LONG day’s drive. But it could have been longer; we’d started early enough that we could actually have made it all the way to the Anacortes ferry terminal if we’d so chosen. But we didn’t.

It was our 41st anniversary (the falling-in-love one, not the wedding one. What’s better than two anniversaries?) and we wanted to spend it someplace special before diving back into our daily home routine. So I found us a BnB in North Bend, Washington, and we aimed ourselves there.

But before checking in, we decided to go for a hike. Snow levels being too high up on Snoqualmie Pass, we stopped at Rattlesnake Lake, outside North Bend, a place we know well. “We’ll get some exercise while practicing our Social Distancing,” we told ourselves. And here’s where irony took over.

The parking lot was overflowing. And the trail? Imagine a food court at the mall. Now take all those happy teenagers and arrange them along a hiking trail, laughing & talking loudly as kids do.

Ohhhhhhh. Oh yeah. Schools are closed in Washington. So are malls and movie theaters. So where do all these healthy young Seattleites go? Hiking! The thought made us happy. But it also made us turn around. Social distancing on that trail was just not possible. Not to mention it was kinda noisy.

Up on that crag was where we had intended to hike. Look closely; you can see a bunch of people up there.

Instead, we found a perfectly nice walk along the lake, with lots of room between people.

Not winning any waterfall prizes, but perfectly nice.

Then on to our trip’s final night. The place advertised itself as being near the Snoqualmie River. It was.

View from the deck of the main house.

What better homecoming to the Pacific Northwest than tall firs and rushing water?

ahhhh…

Our room wasn’t on the actual bluff above the river…

Up those stairs, it felt like a treehouse.

…but a kind of porch swing was, and I took full advantage.

Who needs a porch when you have a river bluff?

And up on that little outside deck, I used our Coleman stove to cook up the Mate’s and my traditional anniversary meal, Reuben sandwiches.

We’re a cheap date.

Next morning we picked up some groceries (as island friends had advised) and drove through eerily light Seattle traffic, back to the ferry terminal. At 150,000 miles, Red Rover mayyyyy have just completed her final cross-country road trip, so I gave her a grateful hug.

Yeah, yeah, you’re welcome. Now how ’bout a wash n wax?

And now? The Mate and I have been everywhere and touched a lot of surfaces in the last five weeks. But turns out road-tripping is the best practice for self-quarantining. We’ll be with each other now and almost no one else for the next two. Red Rover will get a bath. Nature will get our full attention. And Wing’s World will morph out of Travel Mode.

How ’bout y’all? Anyone else in self-isolation? How are you passing your time, or changing your work routine? Please share any wit & wisdom from the experience.

 

 

Celebrating Family Piety In The Church Of The Great Outdoors

Since our children are grown and flown, we count any holiday we can spend together as extra specially blessed. This year we have been basking in this blessing (as much as one can bask, in a Pacific Northwest winter), and celebrating by going to church.

Our version of church, that is: the Church of the Great Outdoors.

While I was raised as a Quaker and still attend Meeting, we did not find Quakerism attractive as a family unit when Sons One and Two were growing up. The Mate was not interested, and I was loathe to leave the kids behind after being away from them at work all week. Also, the Meeting I attended in Tacoma was so small that if I did bring them, I usually ended up having to do my own childcare, which felt silly. Might as well stay at home together…or go for a hike.

And so evolved our family religion. We weren’t that hard-core; after our kids reached the age of two we ceased riding them atop our backpacks–too heavy! And once they got into team sports, our weekend forays became fewer. But still, on holidays, the mountains called, or the ocean, and we always came. Hell, that’s why we became Northwesterners to begin with! (You’re welcome, boys.)

And the only place we all actually enjoy shopping? REI. Going there is like a down payment on beauty.

So, two days after Christmas, here we are, in deep worship:

Easiest liturgy in the world.

A little snow just adds to the reverence.

Amen.

Peace be unto you.

Glory be…

…and all praise.

Are You Blackberry or Salal? Wild Ruminations on Wild Berries

Now is the season of sweet, dark berries gathered by the handful at the sunny edge of the woods.

Also, it’s blackberry season.

But for those of you not from Cascadia (the Pacific Northwest), I’m talking about salal berries.

These guys

They’re native, humble, not well known, to my surprise, even to many Washingtonians. They are completely edible–just ask Lewis & Clark. Also delicious–although don’t expect that opinion from Lewis & Clark. They got pretty sick of salal that winter of (I think) 1804. Maybe because they were eating them dried and mixed with smoked salmon and bear grease, a protein-packed pemmican the Coastal nations were kind enough to share with them.

Granted, you wouldn’t want to bake a pie with salals–at least I wouldn’t. Their skin is rough and a bit furry, like a peach, and their “meat” is seedy.

I usually chew a sweet mouthful, then spit out the pulp. Hard to do that with pie.

But they’re sweet! And free! And best of all, to me, unlike those giant, juicy blackberries that stop me on my bike rides–they BELONG here.

I was thinking about salals and blackberries the other day after reading my morning poem by Mary Oliver. (She has defaulted to my poet of choice since I took up the daily poem habit as inoculation against the day’s national news, after the election.) Mary had a childhood full of suffering, which she managed to transcend through her writing–and probably lots of other activity I don’t know about, since she hasn’t written an autobiography. But my point is: she suffered, she survived, she wrote, and her writing is both vehicle (to her) and Promised Land (to the rest of us and also, I devoutly wish, to her).

I’m a writer. I have to this point in my life suffered almost nothing. 50-some years of good fortune. I know my time will come, so I’m neither boasting nor tempting Fate–just wondering: could this be the reason I have yet to write something that brings people screeching to a halt at the side of the road?

Easy to ride past.

Is my writing sweet, nourishing, but not very tempting? When someone takes a bite, do they savor, but still spit out a portion of pulp?

Is suffering the sunshine and rain that causes art to plump and swell? Or does the real difference lie in the species themselves: some of us are born with certain DNA, then planted and raised in such a way to create more beauty or truth than others?

I take comfort in the fact that this is, really, a pretty silly parallel. Also that I love blackberries, and great writers, so much that I’ll never waste time feeling envious. 

But in salal season, I still wonder.

Road Trip VIII, Days 1-4, Tacoma to Oakland: Making The Familiar Strange

“Poetry is making the familiar strange.” That’s an unattributed quote I used to give my students, and it came to my mind as the Mate and I began the first leg of this, our eighth cross-country sojourn to North Carolina. It’s true that even though February travel argues for a quick race to the south, we have multiple routes available to us for that purpose. We don’t have to go Tacoma-Eugene-Redwood Coast-Oakland-Los Angeles. Yet we’ve taken that route six out of eight years.

That raises two questions. The first, Why? is easy: people. Specifically, dear very young people who are changing so rapidly that missing a year is like missing three, and dear older people whose health we never want to take for granted. We WILL go where they are, while we can.

…like these guys😍

The second question is tougher: how do we keep fresh our enthusiasm for this well-traveled route? And that’s where that quote comes in. In this first, familiar leg of our journey, I am giving my Noticing Muscles a workout, determined to keep the familiar strange.

So, walking in Tacoma’s beautiful Point Defiance Park, I ignored the shining trunks of the madrona trees to capture this bright red Oregon Grape.

Nothing like Christmas in February!

Then, instead of taking a classic picture of Mt. Rainier in all her fresh-snow glory, I focused on this cloud flexing its muscle.

We can do it!

In Eugene, walking with friends along the Coast Fork of the Willamette, I substituted a shot of moss-draped oaks for this intriguingly blank sign.

For when you’re feeling especially self-directed…

Not pictured: flock of wild turkeys.

Just before the California border, heading toward Cave Junction on beautiful US 199, we passed this sign (admittedly not our first glimpse, but I finally got the Mate to slow down so I could take its picture):

Apparently fully intentional—hey, let’s celebrate veggies AND dyslexia!

In the redwoods—oh, I have so many pictures of redwoods!—I forced myself away from the big trees…

OK, just ONE MORE big tree picture…!

ahem, I say, I forced myself to look down instead of up sometimes, and found…

British Soldier lichen!

And…

Tiny tree doing yoga!

Finally arriving in the Bay Area, the Mate and I went for a bike ride along the top of Tilden Park in Berkeley. And there…well, it’s not so much that my noticing muscles gave out, as that bikes aren’t the best mode of transport for photography.

So I had to settle for this fairly obvious shot:

Good ol’ Golden Gate in the distance

Not pictured: a pair of the glossiest ravens I’ve ever seen.

But no worries—most of the “view” I’m seeing in these well-travelled parts of the West are memories…and I haven’t found a way to capture those with my smartphone yet.

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?

My Guru The Tree

If you look at my books you’ll see my publisher is Madrona Branch Press.

That’s me. All us Indie authors are our own presses. But Madrona Branch, the name? There’s a story there, which I’ve told before.

Don’t have time for the previous blog post? Just look closely at that loopy branch.

Here’s an update.

The other day I was out for a walk and stopped to hug “my” tree as I usually do.

Hello, Beautiful.

Then I stepped back and looked into its upper branches. My eyes found that astounding curl of branch which has become my personal emblem. Then, for the first time, they noticed something new that had always been there:

“I’ve been here all along, y’know.”

See it? Look closer.

“Lean on me…when you’re not strong…”

Not only is that never-say-die branch supporting itself with its own loop, it’s also leaning against an older part of the original tree trunk. A dead part. But not so dead that it can’t lend its bulk to keep “my” branch climbing toward the sunlight.

Excelsior!

So I’ve extended my metaphor. Yes, I accepted the “failure” of not being traditionally published, and supported myself to keep growing upward, into independent publication. But I was never alone in that endeavor. I leaned heavily on my writing group, on my editor, on my book designer, and on countless friends I knew only via internet, who helped me with technology or marketing questions.

Not to say any of those folks are “dead wood.” They are all solidly growing themselves. The “dead” part of that solid trunk is all the authors over time whose work inspired me and taught me. Shakespeare. Zora Neale Hurston. William Carlos Williams. Wallace Stegner. Barbara Kingsolver. Michael Chabon. And on and on and on, a trunk of growth so powerful it will never stop nourishing growth, even when it’s finally broken down into soil.

There’s also something to be learned from a tree which uses its own dead parts as scaffolding, rather than shedding them. That’s US, guys–the community of writers! We are the whole damn tree.

A little further on my walk, I ran into another new favorite tree of mine. But that’s a whole other story, so I’ll save it for my next post.

Any other metaphors strike you from these pictures? Or do you have a Nature metaphor for your own experience? I would love to hear.

Trip Envy: When This Little Spousie Stays Home

My Mate is leaving me, and I’m beside myself…

…with envy. Because he’s not LEAVING leaving; he’s going on a buddy camping trip with an old friend and his son. Guys only. Well, I’m sure I could get myself invited if I made big enough puppy eyes (or threatened to withhold pie). But they’re going for a week. And it’s high season here on Crawling With Tourists Lopez Island. I have to stay and bake.

1

Don’t get me wrong. I’m so happy for the guy. He doesn’t get out as often as I do, being retired, nor is he half as social as I am. I get together with my high school Besties every summer. He and his pal have done this only once before. It’s great to watch them piling up the backpacks, stove fuel and water filters. Great to hear all that discussion about what’s going into the gorp, and how many nights in a row they should eat noodles. Just…great.

I’ll be fine once they’re gone. But seeing that map of British Columbia, hearing them bandy phrases like “towering peaks,” “turquoise lakes” and “giant cedars” is making me a little crazy.

02

I love where I live. THAT LOOKS SO BEAUTIFUL!!!  I love my daily life. TAKE ME WITH YOU!!!! I love my job. PLEASE... Would you like another slice of pie before you head off on your adventure?

03

If you have a partner in your life, do you ever take separate pleasure trips? If so, how do you deal with Trip Envy? Just, you know…wondering.

Road Trip V, Days 1-2: Tacoma, WA to Arcata, CA

Redwoods, right? Or marijuana. Those are the botanicals most people associate with Arcata, a lovely town in one of California’s loveliest counties, Humboldt. But I want to give some love to a lesser-known plant: the madrona. (Or, for you Californians, madrone. But I think madrona’s prettier.)

We see a number of different ecosystems on our road trips: redwoods, cactus, live oaks dripping with Spanish moss. So let me try an experiment. I’ll say a kind of plant, and you form a mental image, OK? Here we go:

Rewoods.

Cactus.

Live oaks dripping with Spanish moss.

I don’t ned to provide a picture, right? Even if you’ve never been to California, to the desert, or to the South, you’ve seen movies, TV shows. Those images exist for you. Now: how about madronas? Yeah–thought not. Unless you’ve spent significant time in coastal Washington, Oregon or California north of the Bay.

So let me remedy that.

image

What’s so special about madronas? Where do I start?

They’re deciduous, but they’re in no hurry to lose their leaves. Green all winter, they finally agree to drop their old leaves only when the new ones come to push them out in the spring.

(All images courtesy wikimedia)

(All images courtesy wikimedia)

They have the COOLEST bark, smooth as human skin beneath the peeling outer layer, in the most beautiful shades of red, bronze, and green. I love to lay my cheek against it.

Around Thanksgiving, they bust out bunches of brilliant red berries–early Christmas decorations.

In spring, they bloom bunches of creamy white blossoms that look like little bells and smell like honey.

Best of all, they grow in the wildest, most original loops and curves.

(This photo's all mine!)

(This photo’s all mine!)

…which is why, when I published my first book, I named my press Madrona Branch Press, in honor of that amazing, self-supporting branch. That’s ME, baby. That’s the beauty of the madrona.

logo

What a lovely way to start our road trip! And when we’ve trekked across the country, turned around and trekked back, to the tune of 10,000 miles or so, I’ll know I’m home as soon as I spot that first madrone. (Ooh, song lyric!)

How about you, dear reader? Favorite tree? Other emblematic member of the plant kingdom? What does it for you?