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.

Reading Weeds, Part III: Roadside Roses I Don’t Deserve…But Thank You Anyway

Roadside roses are my own personal metaphor for life’s overflowing blessings.

Nature finds a way.

I’ve shared this song before, but it’s that time of year again.

Roadside Roses

 

As if the scenery weren’t already sweet

The air is alive with wild rose

As if my life weren’t already complete

This mountain of gratitude grows.

           

Chor.   Roadside roses, how they scent the evening air

            How they decorate the brambles of the past

            Sometimes happiness becomes too much to bear

            Some blessings are impossible to grasp.

 

No need to analyze, no need to think

How these wild gardens came to be

No cause and effect, there is no link                                                                                 

But it feels like they’re blooming for me.

           

Chor.   Roadside roses, how they scent the evening air

            How they decorate the brambles of the past

            Sometimes happiness becomes too much to bear

            Some blessings seem too delicate to last.

 

Bridge: Don’t take it personal, but make sure you take

            The portion that Nature has served                                                                                        

Joy’s universal, and so’s the heartache

            Of having more than you deserve.

 

Chor.   Roadside roses, how they scent the evening air

            How they decorate the brambles of the past

            Sometimes happiness becomes too much to bear

             Some blessings are not meant for us to ask.

 

If I were to linger here and breathe this perfume

Sweeping my duties away

Would I feel entitled, would I start to assume

That I’ve earned the privilege to stay?

 

Chor.   Roadside roses, how they scent the evening air

            How they decorate the brambles of the past

            Sometimes happiness becomes too much to bear

            Some blessings are not meant for us to ask.

             Some blessings are impossible to grasp.

G. Wing, June 2013

Now multiply this by an entire island

Do you have a favorite nature metaphor of your own? I collect them. Care to share?

Mmm…

 

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.

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.

Miss Havisham Fights Back: When Literary Women Refuse To Know Their Place

My friend Kathleen Holliday writes poetry that always appeals to me–witty, lean, wry, poignant. But this one, published this week in the online journal SHARK REEF, really strikes me as apropos, in this year of #metoo, #time’sup, Nasty Women, pussy hats and Nevertheless, She Persisted.

Remember Miss Havisham, the creepy old maid in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations? Well, Kathleen has given her a much-needed makeover. Enjoy.

Ms. Havisham

I, too, had great expectations.
		To be or not to be a wife
		defined my life.

		My dowry guaranteed
		 a husband, and I would be
		a mother, helpmeet, nurse.
		Nothing could be worse than 
		that damning epithet:
		old maid.

		Left at the altar – jilted.
		My bouquet wilting,
		I drew my veil down over my face
		and let the yards of lace fall
		dragging through the dust.

		Years later, I still hold the knife:
		May I cut you a slice -
		a corner piece perhaps, with extra frosting?
		Don’t mind the spiders 
		and the mice racing in and out,
		tunnels crumbling behind them.

		Mr. Dickens, I implore you - 
		change mine to a happy ending.
		No funeral pyre,
		no more desires gone up in smoke.
 		Set me in some future time
		when I could say:
		never married,
		never needed to;
		earned a degree, had a job, a car,
		a condo in the city,
		a lover who never strayed.

		I’d celebrate my singular good fortune 
		with a cake - 
		not Mrs. Beeton’s recipe - 
		no butter, no gluten, no nuts.
		I’d clear up after with a cordless vac.
		I’d sweep the ceiling free of spider webs.
		I’d read a novel in one sitting
		then I’d take a nap.

[sorry about the formatting of the first line–it resisted fixing.]

Miss Havisham then…

…and now–fresh from her nap. 🙂 (Both pics courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

OK, you poets and short story writers–let’s hear it. Who else has a revised female archetype to share?

That Big Green Lady

Could America possibly have a more relevant poem right now than this one? 

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Image by H. Zell, Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to a wonderful article* by Walt Hunter in The Atlantic, “The Story Behind the Poem on the Statue of Liberty–and thanks to a very un-wonderful comment by the president–I’ve been thinking a lot  about Emma Lazarus’s poem.

Hunter’s article points out many features of  poem which I had never thought about before: its unusual structure (Petrarchan Sonnet–can I get a “yeah” from my English nerds?); its usage by various politicians in underlining our favorite dream of American exceptionalism; the nuance of the statue’s gender in contrast with statues of yore.

But here’s the passage of Hunter’s that really sticks with me:

The philosopher Simone Weil argues that the impersonal cry of “Why am I being hurt?” accompanies claims to human rights. To refuse to hear this cry of affliction, Weil continues, is the gravest injustice one might do to another. The voice of the statue in Lazarus’s poem can almost be heard as an uncanny reply, avant la lettre, to one of the slogans chanted by immigrants and refugees around the world today: “We are here because you were there.” The statue’s cry is a response to one version of Weil’s “Why am I being hurt” that specifies the global relation between the arrival of immigrants and the expansion of the colonial system.

“We are here because you were there.” America has immigrants because the global system we benefit from displaces people. But lucky us–we BENEFIT from those desperate people.

Raise your hand if you’re a child of immigrants. Thought so. Can’t find a way to talk about this with your anti-immigrant neighbor? Yeah, I struggle with that too. Meanwhile–stay involved. Stay heartened. And VOTE.

*Note: shout-out to Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings for bringing this article to my attention.

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.

How To Gift Yourself With Inspiration Without Drowning

I should really re-title this post and add a question mark, because sorting through all the inspiration available on the web is as daunting as it is delightful. I’m still a novice. So I’ll tell you what I do, and then I hope to hear back from some of you with even better strategies.

I limit the springs of inspiration I drink at, as much as possible, to the following:

  1. a daily poem, read first thing in the morning (before other stuff gets clogged in there). At first I used Poetry Daily, but, finding I wanted my poetry less random, I later switched to favorites like Mary Oliver and Brian Doyle, working my way through their books one poem at a time. But who knows? I may go back to randomizing just to see who appears.
  2. Brain Pickings, by Maria Popova. I became a subscriber this year, and after a few months I became, out of sheer gratitude, a paying subscriber. But Maria is so incredibly wide-ranging that I’ve had to learn how to pick my own Pickings. Survival tip to avoid inundation: assign myself ONE article per issue to read, then share with a friend or relative, including my own question or comment to create a real connection/dialogue. 
  3. On Being, the podcast by Krista Tippett. Survival tip to avoid inundation: listen to one episode per week while exercising.

Drink deep…but take time to savor and swallow!

This is what I try to hold myself to. Then there are BOOKS. How to limit the stack that grows beside my bed, and the list that threatens to run right off the notes-page of my calendar? Uh…gonna have to wait for one of you to advise me on this.

So…daily inspirations: how do YOU control the flow, pick your Pickings, or otherwise keep your sources of empathy and joy and motivation from drowning you? Please share your strategies, Wise Ones.

 

Empty Nest vs. Emptiness: There’s A Difference. But It Needs A Name.

Is it only coincidence that “empty nest” sounds so much like “emptiness”?  

Look, Ma, no one to say “Look, Ma”!

Wing Son One left last week for the east coast…after being “home” for a whole five days…mostly, we suspect, because we had his car. J/K. Sort of. No, really, we had a sweet visit–which just made the jolt all the sharper when I came home from work the following day to the empty spot where his car had been parked since last summer.

And that’s when I realized there was no English word for what I was feeling: sweet and sad. NOT “bittersweet.” Bitter implies regret, disappointment, wishing things were otherwise–none of which applies to our feelings about our son. We’re thrilled he’s off on his own. We just miss him like hell. Isn’t that the way parenting is supposed to be?

At least, that’s what my parenting song is about:

It’s OK if you didn’t listen to the song–you’re busy people, and it’s also a terribly amateur recording of my second-ever concert. But here’s what I would like help with: a word for what I’m describing. 

[Note: it isn’t “Schadenfreude,” as some people mistakenly think. Schadenfreude means taking delight in the misfortunes of others.]

Sweet & sad = ? Help me out, readers. What you got?