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.

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 CafunĂ© (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 🙂

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…Dayenu. 

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?                                

Road Trip XI, Days 17-21: We Interrupt This Travel Blog…

…for a special promo for a special person, and a special book. My friend and writing buddy Iris Graville is about to launch her book of essays, Writer in a Life Vest, and when you’re done reading this, I think you’ll want to order a copy or two.

Coming soon to a (hopefully independent) bookstore near you, IF YOU ORDER IT!

Just in case you’re wondering, “But Gretchen, aren’t you still on the road? Has nothing happened during the past week?” the answer is, Yes, and No. We’re happily ensconced at Tierreich Farm (“Kingdom of the Animals”), a.k.a. the home of my Amazing Parents.

And Stevie, World’s Cutest Donkey

We’ve seen a ton of ACC basketball, eaten a ton of Mama Dip’s fried chicken and Allen & Son BBQ, walked and ridden our bikes through what’s left of the country woods of my youth (this place sure has grown in 30 years), and caught up with many of our Far & Dear.

We suspect the new owners of tweaking the recipe–easy on the vinegar, guys!

But since that’s always been the purpose of these road trips, I don’t feel the need to re-describe the above. Check out any of my old blog posts from the second week of March and you’ll find it there.

Instead, let me introduce you to Iris. As her Author Page on Homebound Publications puts it,

Iris Graville has lived in Washington State for four decades, after childhood and early adulthood in Chicago and small towns in Southern Illinois and Indiana. A long-time Quaker, an environmental and anti-racism activist, and a retired nurse, Iris believes everyone has a story to tell. She’s the author of two collections of profiles—Hands at Work and BOUNTY: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community. Her memoir, Hiking Naked, was a 2019 recipient of a Nautilus Award. 

…but as I put it, Iris is also a remarkable example of a writer at her most humble, hard-working, and creative. To start with, she created the post of “Writer in Residence” for the Washington State Ferries–just came up with the idea, got in touch with the Ferry Powers That Be, and made it happen! Then she rode the ferry at least once a week for the year, writing–you can read about that fascinating “job” here while you wait to read about it in her book.

And humble? As a member of her writing critique group, I was privileged not only to read many of this book’s essays in their early form, but also to listen to Iris grappling with the challenge of learning as much about the Salish Sea and its inhabitants as she possibly could, in order to interact with the experts she was meeting and interviewing…in order to tell the story of the Salish Sea’s glories and vulnerabilities without setting herself up as an “expert” herself. She was a public health nurse, for goodness’ sake–but thanks to all her work, Iris can now write like Rachel Carson! (Fun fact: Ms. Carson actually makes an imaginative appearance in one of Iris’s essays.)

So that was also the “hard-working” part. But back to “creative” for a moment: in case you’re turned off by the word “essay” (apologies on the part of English teachers everywhere for possibly ruining that word for everyone), Iris’s pieces are all over the place! This book “contains multitudes,” as Whitman said: narratives, interviews, poetry, letters, even a playful messing-around with keyboard symbols (one of my faves). It features whales (and whale poop!), gorgeous marine descriptions, vessels, statistics, and challenging questions. Its pieces are dire, funny, heart-wrenching, hopeful, and above all, inspiring.

When you read Writer in a Life Vest, you will want to do more to protect whatever fragile environment you feel connected to. And who knows? You may feel inspired to invent your own Writer-in-Residence program at a place of your choosing–Farmers’ Market? Train Station? Dunkin’ Donuts? (j/k–that might kill you)

Hey Iris–you go, girl!

The book will be launched on March 24 at 5:30 pm, and will feature Iris in conversation with Lorna Reese, Lopez writer and founder of SHARK REEF Literary Magazine. They’ll discuss Writer in a Life Vest and Iris’s desire for the essays to promote resilience, inspiration, and hope. Register here to join the program in-person at the Lopez Library. There is a limit of 20 seats. Register here for online the program.

So, my friends…order two copies, one for yourself and one for a whale-loving friend. Then take a moment to marvel at the hard work behind such writing. Then maybe go do some yourself! (Or just get outside for a good, long, grateful walk.)

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!

From Mystery Trip to Flexericity Trip: The Best-Laid Plans…

[Disclaimer: I fully understand that the storm of November 15, 2021 took an enormous toll on the lives, environment and property of thousands of folks in the Pacific Northwest, on either side of the border. Please know that this tale of plans gone sideways is not meant to lighten that truth.]

That said…here’s my response to “So that Birthday Mystery Trip you planned for your Mate–how’d it go?”

Chapter One: NO Canada!

Our top-secret Mystery Destination was the lovely Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, a place I’d been introduced to by a friend’s travel blog. Having studied the regulations, I knew we’d need a COVID test–the PCR type that requires labwork, not the instant antigen test. That test needed to be taken 72 hours in advance, no more. Since we were leaving on a Monday, I did the math: take test Friday morning, immediately send it off via UPS. The nice person at the company whose test kits I ordered assured me our results should be available online by mid-morning Monday, just in time for us to present at the border.

The Mate met me at the bakery Friday morning, just after our local UPS-ing shop opened. I went on break and we gingerly took our tests on the back deck. We sealed them up and walked over to the shop…where we were informed the UPS driver had already left. “With so few ferries, they just zip in first thing and go,” the woman in the shop told us sympathetically.

Horrified, we raced over the post office, ready to pay whatever it took to get that precious, swab-filled package to the lab next day. No luck: living on an island, “next day” has a whole new meaning. But, the clerk helpfully informed us, “The UPS driver’s probably waiting in the ferry line right now. Maybe you could drive down there and catch him?”

The Mate did just that, while I went back to work. Twenty minutes later he returned, reporting success! Hugs all ’round. Canada, here we come!

Or not. Next day, tracking our package, I found its arrival listed as Monday. I called the test-kit company…and once more a nice person informed me that, even with my package expedited, the best we could hope for would be results…”Maybe Monday evening. Maybe.”

Somehow, hanging around the border until evening, waiting on a “maybe” just didn’t appeal. And that was before I started paying attention to the weather.

Chapter Two: Plan B

So I said goodbye to my Canada plans. I called BC ferries and that cute little motel to cancel reservations. Then I got busy making more.

Some place special! Some place further away than the usual 1-or-2-night trip (we had 3 to play with). Some place with some options for not-too-steep hiking and biking. And some place not too high up; I didn’t want us getting snowed in anywhere.

Got it! The Hoh Rainforest.

I found us a cute cabin near the town of Forks (famous for glittery vampires), on the Soleduc River. Beautiful, remote venue near gorgeous hiking? Check. Beds for us plus surprise guest, Son Two? Check. (Son One couldn’t get away from work.) Small kitchen for me to prepare delicious birthday dinners? Check. Weather report? Uh, yeah…I mean, it’s supposed to be rainy. And pretty windy, come to think.

But hey–rainforest! Where else would we want to be?

Chapter Three: Nope.

So early that dark, wet and windy Monday morning, the Mate & I boarded the earliest ferry, the 6:40. It was already running 30 minutes late. How, we wondered, was that possible? Crew problems? Fog?

Turns out, that wind I’d been ignoring? It was now blowing so hard through Rosario Strait that the boat had to slow to what I texted Son Two (waiting on the mainland) as “a wallowing crawl.” But slowly, rolling and juddering, we made it to Anacortes, by now a full hour late.

This next part? It went exactly according to plan. (I had no idea how special that was.) As agreed with Son Two, I pulled into a convenience store and went in to get a growler filled–and he slipped into the driver’s seat. Surprise!

Happiness all ’round. We let the Mate drive, and I directed him toward the Coupeville ferry, the jumping-off point to the Olympic Peninsula. “Don’t worry,” I told Mate & Son, “that ferry’s running. I just checked.”

Well, it was running, when I checked. But 20 minutes later, when we got there, it wasn’t. “Might the winds die down later?” we asked the guy at the booth. His response: “Actually, they’re going to get worse. I’m sorry.”

Chapter Four: My Family’s Smart

Smarter than me. I was at a complete loss. Backtrack north, then head for the Cascades? Into what was probably a blizzard by now?

“Look, Mom,” Son Two said, consulting his phone. “We can keep going south and get on the other ferry, to the mainland. Then drive just a little and get on the one that goes to the Peninsula.”

“Are they actually running? In this weather?”

They were. I guess those crossings were short and sheltered enough. So here’s the route we took:

Totally, totally worth it. Huge shoutout to Washington State Ferries!

Chapter Five: Not So Fast

Along our happy way, as I congratulated myself on saving Plan B, my phone rang. The connection was spotty, but I managed to discern that it was the owner of the cabins near Forks. Saying something about “It’s pretty much Armageddon here.” I promised we’d bed down in Sequim that night–just fine, after such a long detour–and we’d see her in the morning. (Got a motel with a kitchen–yes!)

Next morning, she texted me this photo of her property.

Oh shit

With sincere wishes for a quick relief from the flooding and a mutually agreed-upon cancellation, I scrambled to find a motel in Forks NOT too close to a river. With a kitchen. Gotta have that kitchen! And I found one. Hooray. Off we go to hike in the rainforest!

“How far a drive is it?” the Mate asked.

“Lemme check the Google.” …. “Oh. Google says we can’t get there.”

Google was right. Highway 101 was closed just outside of Pt. Angeles. (Photo by WSDOT)

Thanks to WSDOT, whose photos I’m using here, I learned that the flooded Elwha River had strained the bridge so hard they couldn’t re-open until after major structural assessments.

Oh shit again (photo by WSDOT)

Chapter Six: Happy Endings

OK. No Forks. No Rainforest. Not even any of the beautiful points west of where we are. What’s left?

Why, everything! We found a trail leading up up up into the heart of Olympic National Park…

OMG, look at that flow!

It was steep enough, the water came pouring directly out of the mountainside…but that steepness kept it from pooling. Safe hiking!

Of course, as we gained elevation, we met up with frost…

…then snow…

…then…y’know what? I’m good with turning around here. You? Alrighty then. Let’s go find a motel, then check out the coastline.

Vancouver Island, from Port Angeles: the closest we got!

A visit to Dungeness Spit reminded us just how hard that wind was still blowing, even after the sun came out.

Returning from this walk, we had to take an alternate route–a tree had fallen over the road.

Thanks to my fixation with cooking dinner (no kitchen luck in Pt. A), I changed our final night’s reservations to the only affordable place I could find in Port Townsend with a kitchen: Fort Worden State Park.

What a joyous find! It had the coolest housing, converted officers’ quarters:

Our house wasn’t QUITE this grand–but close!

…amazing views…

Mt. Baker, looking back toward Whidbey Is. (photo by Son Two)

…bike trails…

Happy Birthday, Mate!

…and even, up among the batteries–huge structures to house huge guns (which I did not photograph)–poetry!

And yes–it had a wonderful kitchen for a wonderful birthday meal for my wonderful family.

“Can we eat now?”

Chapter Seven: Moral of the Story, or, Can We Wrap This Thing Up?

We came home to discover the storm had been much, MUCH worse than we’d imagined.

That road in the video? That’s the road to our house–our only exit. Here’s what the storm did:

Oh shit again, again.

But any “oh shits” for my island PALE in comparison with what the storm did to Vancouver Island and others north of here. They got SLAMMED, not only by rain and wind, but by snow, which then melted. As of this writing, much of the island is still under a state of emergency due to flooding. Ferries have been cancelled. Misery abounds.

O Canada, you’re in my thoughts. But I’m so relieved those COVID tests didn’t allow us to visit you in your time of trial.

There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home. There’s no…

I didn’t manage to put this post out there in time for official Thanksgiving. But my unofficial thanksgiving is this: thanks for the bravery of those who stride straight into the teeth of a storm. Thanks for the cozy love of my family, who made wherever we were be where I wanted to be. And thanks to who or whatever was responsible for getting us all home safely.

“Mystery Managed.”

Teaching an Old Human New Tricks: DogBlog

Hey. HEY.

Talkin’ to YOOOOO.

The name’s Maya. Got any treats? Oops, I mean…pleased to meetcha. My new human, Gretchen, has been spending way too much time on this tappity-tappity black thing, so I thought I’d take over for a while. My house, my rules.

I just got here, less than a week ago, and I’m satisfied that I am now Queen of the Household. I just need to vent a little about the humans who brought me to my new realm.

Our first meeting. I allowed them to rub my belly.

They SAY they are dog people. Malamute people, in fact–I’ve heard them bragging to other humans that I am actually their third Malamute. They speak often of a certain “Mickey,” “Molly,” and…whatshername…”Juniper.” Mickey apparently died young, whatever that means. Molly lived as long as she wanted to, apparently a long-ass time.

She was, it seems, also a Queen. Survey your realm, Queen Molly!

This “Juni” seems to have acted more like a cat, if you can believe that. Seems she was very, very, VERY fluffy. Didn’t like getting dirty or wet. (Ughh. Can’t believe I’m talking about cats.)

Like I said: fluffy.

She did like strong wind, they say–probably the only time the air could ever penetrate to her skin!

Hahaha, silly Juni. Should’ve shed harder.

Anyway, it’s just hard to believe these new humans of mine are so “experienced.” They seem awfully untrained to me.

First of all, they brought me here to my new realm not just in a car, but on a boat.

Something about a “fairy”? Didn’t get that part.

I was not a fan of this. I drooled a LOT.

That’ll teach ’em.

Once established in my new dwelling, they keep trying to take me places on a leash. Oh, humans. What’s the good of a leash when there are so many deer and bunnies to chase? I can just smell ’em!

You may drop the leash. Really. I’m good.

And when we do go places? We WALK. No running! I hear both of my humans bragging about how they used to be “distance runners,” but apparently now they’re too old and washed-up to do more than trot with me. No chase! No catch-me-if-you-can!

They even have to enlist their son, a grownup Human Puppy, to play Tug o’ War with me.

They also complain that I want too much attention. Well, what do they expect? Molly and Juni had each other to play with. I have only…sigh…them.

Maybe they’ll procure me my own puppy to play with.

The house is full of Molly & Juni’s puppy pictures. Well, how nice for them. Nobody wanted me when I was a puppy. That’s why I came to live here…and that’s why I’m for sure Queen of this place!

Never going anywhere again, furever and ever.

Oh please, don’t mind me. Walk around.

Anyhow, just wanted to say, to any of you other Kings and Queens out there: feel free to share your stories about how you whipped your humans into shape! Might be good for a howl.

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.