Catch-22 or the Starfish Story? A Trashy Tale

First of all, my northwestern friends–yes, I KNOW “seastars are not fish.” But most folks know that sweet story of the guy saving stranded seastars by tossing them back into the ocean, and in that story they’re “starfish.”

That story’s moral: in the face of huge, inexorable challeng, making tiny, individual change is still worthwhile.

I THINK this is that kind of story. Although for a while there, it felt more like the penultimate chapter of Catch-22. (Spoiler alert: if you’re intending to read Catch-22 and just haven’t gotten around to it yet, you should stop reading my blog right now.)

The whole thing started a couple of weeks ago, when I noticed a large mass of debris floating near the rocky edges of Iceberg Point, part of the San Juan National Monument which I’m grateful to call my big backyard. I contacted our wonderful Monument and BLM people and hoped for the best.

Days passed, and still the debris floated. But you could see it was degrading into bits.

After a week, the large chunks disappeared. “Oh well,” I thought, “they’re someone else’s problem now. But somebody oughta get that small stuff.” Then…”Hey! Great excuse for a paddle excursion!”

I had it all planned: net, garbage bags, wetsuit, gloves, tide chart. Then the smoke from the west coast wildfires sent our air quality numbers up near 200 and our ocean under a thick blanket of scary-looking, cold smog. (Think “The Nothing” from Neverending Story.)

By the time the skies and my calendar cleared, another week had passed. But finally, FINALLY, I was on my way. Oh, that felt good.

Here I come to save the day!

Up close, I found that the barbage gyre was–of course–styrofoam, and most of it had–of course–already crumbled into those tiny, hellish bits. Actually, MOST of it was probably already in the bellies of marine life testing the flavor of those white things. That thought spurred me through the messy task of circling and scooping the gyre.

Yesss!!!

After about 25 minutes, I had all I could gather (not to mention fit into the trash bag stuffed between my knees). MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. Then I looked toward the shore.

Uh-oh.

Here’s where Catch-22 came in. See, through 30 chapters, we have Yossarian wrestling with flashbacks, hinting at the scene behind his PTSD. Not till the second-to-last chapter do we see the scene in full: Yossarian in mid-flight, trying to save the life of his bombardier Snowden, binding Snowden’s leg wound and comforting him as he whimpers. Only when Yossarian’s first-aid task is complete does he discover…he’s treating the wrong wound. The real injury, the one that’s killing Snowden, is deep, internal, and entirely beyond Yossarian’s ability to cure.

Those big chunks of marine garbage? They weren’t gone. They were just lodged in a cove, slowly breaking into more and more horrible bits for idiots like me to scoop.

Shit.

There was nothing I could do in my weenie little boat. To salvage some sense of accomplishment, I balanced one floating chunk on my prow and paddled home, deflated.

You’re not the boss of me, garbage.

But! Let’s get back to the starfishy side of things, shall we? I happen to live on an island whose unofficial motto is, “Come For the Scenery, Stay For the Community.” (OK, that’s my PERSONAL motto; I don’t think anyone else says that. But they could.)

I got back on the email. Two days later, I and my BLM friend had organized a small crew to go after that cove-garbage from the land. Our most intrepid member, Mike, donned a drysuit and went after the junk from the water.

Waiting for Mike to get his drysuit on, and feeling grateful not to be Mike.

Most chunks had to be hauled with ropes. I got the smaller bits, like this sail.

I can’t even tell you how satisfying that work was. Well–maybe I just did.

Hey, anyone missing a large sailboat?

Next day, true autumn weather moved in and the sea turned nasty (but beautiful–like a Nasty Woman). We knew we’d acted just in time to prevent the total disintegration of that garbage pile.

We also knew, in the grand scheme of our poor ocean, what a minescule gesture our work had been. You don’t need me to tell you that either. The wound is deep, internal, and possibly even beyond our ability to cure.

But, like the rescued seastar–our work made a difference to that place. And to us. Nothing like a tiny dose of action, in the face of global pandemic and potlitical instability, to make you breathe a little deeper.

Memo From Dept. of Shameless Self-Promotion: Have I Got a Quarantine Book For You!

For a novelist with a blog, I gotta say, I RARELY blog about my novels. But watching some eagles wheel in the sky the other day, it hit me: could there be better binge-reading during a national lockdown than a trilogy about someone who can FLY?

So The Flying Burgowski is written for young adults. Even better! Now you can escape Earth’s quotidian clutches AND get back in touch with your inner teenager.

Who hasn’t yearned to fly?

On Dalby Island in Washington, Jocelyn Burgowski is turning fourteen, and life sucks. Her mom’s an alcoholic. Her dad just re-married; her brother is a butt. Only Jocelyn’s flying dreams keep her going: they seem so real!

Then, on her birthday, those dreams come true.

Learning her new powers in secret, Joss revels in the freedom we all long for. But when she and her brother are sent to live with Mom, Jocelyn is faced with a choice. Must she sacrifice her powers to save her mother? Does she have the strength to heal the damage caused by secrets of the past?

Or maybe you’ve been living in close quarters with said teens (or any children, age 11 and up) and they’ve read everything in the house, including the labels on your cleaning products? Great! Gift ’em my series…and yourself with the bliss of uninterruption.

What if someone hated you just for who you are?

On tiny Dalby Island, fourteen year-old Jocelyn Burgowski has a hidden enemy. Her flying power is no longer joyous and free—somebody wants to bring the Flyer down. But can Joss fight a force she doesn’t understand? Can she protect her powers without revealing her secret? And can she open her heart to the promise of real love when love itself could be her enemy?

During this period of pandemic, I’m offering a special deal: personalized, autographed copies of MY ENTIRE TRILOGY SENT DIRECTLY TO YOUR HOME for $25. (Normally, $35!)

What does “To thine own self be true” really mean, anyway?

After a summer of heartbreak and betrayal slumped into an epically rotten year, 16 year-old Jocelyn (The Flying) Burgowski is clawing her way back to her confident Flyer self. Leaving family and friends on little Dalby Island to face junior year on the mainland, Joss wonders if flying has permanently cut her off from the deep relationships she yearns for. The last person who knew about her power almost destroyed it—so how’s a Flyer supposed to find true love and friendship?

How does this work? Email me, gretchen.wing@gmail.com , with your postal address and the name of the person you’d like the autograph made out to. I’ll put the books in the good ol’ U.S. Mail, while you send me a check for $25 (plus a tip for postage if you feel so inclined). And…voila! You’ve just bought yourself the perfect escape.

Of course if you want the books immediately you can download them on Kindle, or wait a tad longer for print copies from Amazon. Even better, use this link to have your favorite Indie bookstore to order them for you! 

Listed prices will apply in that case. But if you want the set for $25 with my personal notation…you know what to do!

Hey, you know you’ve been having WAY too much screen time these days. Take a break with a book or three.

If you’re a regular reader of Wing’s World, don’t worry–I’m not suddenly going all-out Promo Mode. I just happen to believe that my books were made for this moment–and I should know, right? I made ’em. I so look forward to hearing from you!

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

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

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

“It makes a difference to ME.”

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

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

“Pfff.”

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

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

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

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

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

Ready for my close-up.

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

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

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

Not a bad life down here.

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

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

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

Caught MY eye, anyway. Silky-soft too.

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

Some people–and lots of deer–actually do.

Even Madrona bark looks floral in the sun.

Photo credit: My Special Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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…

 

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?

Watching Your Writing Role Model Strip Bare: Iris Graville Publishes Hiking Naked

If you’ve published your words in any form, you know the feeling when someone looks you in the eye and tells you they read what you published. It’s not like singing at a concert or displaying visual art. These are YOUR WORDS, your literal, expressed thoughts, straight from your brain into someone else’s. Who is about to tell you what they think.

Now imagine those words you’ve published are your MEMOIR. And imagine the people who are looking you in the eye are your neighbors, folks you bump into at the market, at the post office. 

My friend Iris’s new memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance, could not be better titled. As Iris tells it in her latest blog post, “Baring My Soul”:

I reel a bit each time someone says something like, “I’m reading your book, and it really speaks to me.” Or, “I was right there with you.” And, “My back hurt just reading about your work in the bakery!” What stuns me is the realization that, as I go about my life each day, some number of people are reading about it. There’s an intimacy in that knowing that I hadn’t anticipated. I’m discovering that the metaphor of “hiking naked” extends to how I feel about others now reading my words.

(Courtesy Homebound Publications)

My own forthcoming book, Altitude, Book Three of the Flying Burgowski series, could not be more different from Iris’s. My book’s a novel. It’s Young Adult (although I’m finding that Older Adults seem to like it just fine). It’s fantasy–not vampires nor zombies nor dystopian archer-warriors, certainly, but hey! my heroine can fly. So, yes. Fantasy enough.

The only thing my book has in common with Iris’s is that she helped “midwife” mine, via critique, while I did the same with hers (both of us with a LOT of help, and in her case, Masters-in-Fine-Arts-level help).

Well, maybe two more commonalities: they’re both set in the northwest, and they’re both about strong females.But that’s it.

So how can Iris be my writing role model? Because she is, to borrow her metaphor, hiking ahead of me on that rocky path called publication. She started years ago, creating her own press to co-publish Hands At Work: Portraits and Profiles of People Who Work With Their Hands, with photographer Summer Moon Scriver.

Then last year she published Bounty: Lopez Island Farmers, Food and Community–which is just what it sounds like, only more mouth-watering.

But all the while, Iris was working on that memoir. Crafting and drafting, re-crafting, re-drafting; pitching, pitching, pitching; writing and submitting short pieces to increase her visibility; keeping her chin up through inevitable rejections…until one day…

You go, girl.

I am still bummed to have missed Iris’s launch party because of some silly plane tickets to Ireland. But now that I’ve heard about it, I’m totally planning to follow in her footsteps at my own launch party in November.

(Not sure who took this photo…but Iris will tell me.)

Iris introduced by her own writing mentor, Ana Maria Spagna? How ’bout Gretchen Wing, introduced by Iris Graville? 

I better ask her, huh?

Berry Odd Life Lessons: Wisdom From the Razz Patch

My raspberries have gone crazy this year. Out of control, fill-the-fridge-wait-no-start-filling-the-freezer crazy.

I’m not bragging, understand. I’m simply gobsmacked. Because my raspberry patch’s fit of overabundance owes NOTHING to me. I’ve done diddly. Weeding? Nope. Fertilizing? Are you kidding? I didn’t even water them.

Note: this is a salad bowl, not a cereal bowl. And I’m filling it daily, and then some.

Wait, take it back–I did fight off a few salmonberry bushes a couple of weeks ago, which had insinuated themselves into the razzies–just enough to reach the good stuff. I won that little war, but the salmonberries definitely left their mark:

…and I’m not even showing you the scratches on my arms.

Point is, though–I didn’t EARN these berries. And yet I still get to enjoy them. Apparently Nature ain’t no meritocracy.

This is what benign neglect looks like.

Ironically enough, though, as I’m picking my way through this undeserved bounty, I find I’m practically killing myself to get every…last…berry…through the salmonberries, through the chain link fence the original planter of these berries put up…ooh! those ones just out of my reach look even better than the ones I just picked!

Just walk away, Gretchen.

Which tells me…what, exactly, about myself? I am perfectly happy to accept good fortune–so happy, in fact, that I unconsciously turn privilege into right and strain for the very last drop of goodness as though I had worked for it. 

Hmm. Lesson? Learn to accept the berries I cannot reach just as delightedly as those I can? Gratitude AND grace?

Workin’ on that. I’ll let you know.