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 Cafun√© (Portuguese for running your hands through the hair of someone you love, according to 41 Fascinating Words From Other Languages We Should Definitely Import to English) :

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

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

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

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

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

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

possibly why they’re known as Fairy Slippers

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

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

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

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

Dayenu, Dayenu                                                                   

Had the rising sun not overwhelmed me…Dayenu.

Had my humble daily bread not filled me…Dayenu.

Had your arms not simply held me…Dayenu.

Dayenu, Dayenu.

Had the lilacs never breathed so sweetly‚ĶDayenu. 

Had the wild fawn not leapt so neatly…Dayenu.

Had you not loved me so completely…Dayenu.

Dayenu, Dayenu.

It would have been enough,

It would have blessed us to the core.

Had this morning been our only gift,

We would not have needed more.

Dayenu…Dayenu… Dayenu.

Dayenu…Dayenu… Dayenu.

Had the sunset not shanghaied my breathing…Dayenu.

Had the starlight not adorned the evening…Dayenu.

Had you not promised never leaving…Dayenu.

Dayenu…Dayenu

Dayenu…Dayenu.       

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

Road Trip XI, Days 50-56: Nevada, California, Oregon, Washinghome State!

Almost…there: the tulip fields of Skagit Valley

Road Trip XI¬†…by the numbers:
8 weeks.
10,000 miles (best guess).
26 states.
62 far-and-dear friends and family members.
14 national parks/monuments.
20 state parks.
6 post-season Tarheel men’s basketball games (5 victories + 1 almost!)
One of these was waiting for us in our pile of mail. Order yours at johnnytshirt.com ūüôā

…and by the category:

Best hike: Custer State Park, South Dakota, Needles region

My kind of needles

Best bike ride: Colorado National Monument rim road 

Wheeeee!

(Honorable mention: Bizz Johnson trail in Susanville, CA …but it doesn‚Äôt win because it gave The Mate a flat tire)

The tunnels are part of its charm.

Best waterfall: Sioux Falls…even though conflicted feelings arose when I read about its blasted, quarried history

So it used to be MORE beautiful???

Best trees: California redwoods

I mean…c’mon. What’s going to beat a redwood?

Best wildflowers: Rogue River National Recreation Trail, near Merlin, Oregon

I didn’t even know larkspurs came in scarlet!

Mariposa Lily!!

Best wildlife: tie between javelinas in Arizona…

piggie!!!

…and [not pictured] wild burros spotted in Utah off I-70 (a first for us)

Best sunset: outside our Virginia motel on our loversary

When God says, “Happy anniversary, y’all!”

Best restaurant meal: sushi in Chapel Hill with my parents

Mom, in her natural habitat [not pictured: sushi]

Best home-cooked dinner: our friend Ben’s roast lamb with chimichurri 

Our friends Lynn & Ben in the Blue Ridge [not pictured: lamb w/ chimichurri]

Best gift from our hosts: kumquats/avocados/oranges from our Hollywood cousins’ trees

Best car snack ever! Thanks, Cuzzies!

Biggest detour: dropping south all the way to Las Vegas in order to avoid dangerous, truck-toppling winds

The sand-filled sky, seen from our motel room, blotting out the mountains [not pictured: 2 toppled semi trucks we passed on Rt. 395 when we finally escaped the winds]

Best silver lining: getting to hike & clamber in Red Rocks National Preservation Area (or whatever it’s called) just outside of Vegas, just before the winds hit

Some people like casinos. I prefer rocks.

additional bonus to silver lining: the desert in bloom!

Yucca? Should be called yumma!

Longest day’s drive: Moab to Las Vegas (460 miles)

good excuse for one more Canyonlands picture!

Scariest drive: crossing the Cascades on snowy lil’ Rt. 89 past Mt. Lassen in California

The cute lil’ motel we stayed in at Old Station, CA [not pictured: next morning’s snow; too busy helping The Mate watch for ice patches]]

And now for a couple of less-traditional categories.

Best basketball game: UNC vs. Duke in the national semifinal (81-77)

South Dakota Black Hills, I’ll always associate you with that game!

Best dog: Ramses in Olympia

Also best-DRESSED dog–thanks to Dia Tornatore for the photo & the hospitality!

And finally, the Grand Travel Blog Award for Best New Discovery goes to…Oregon’s Rogue River Trail!

I never could catch my breath on this hike–just too much beauty!

We’re already talking about how to get back there.

See what I mean?
Waterfall over the trail? Eh…time for a photo.
New favorite place, old favorite person

…but for now, oh my goodness–it’s good to be home, safe and sound and grateful as all get-out for this long, LONG getting-out. And now, as Wing’s World morphs back into its non-travel mode…thanks for traveling with me anyway!

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. 

 

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?

Reading Weeds, Part III: Roadside Roses I Don‚Äôt 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‚Äôs 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…

 

Private Views of Public Lands: Who Do These People Think They Are? Oh. Heh. Us.

How do government workers stand it? All the democracy, I mean. All the dealing with people on whose behalf they are planning the roads or designing the curriculum…or, in this case, protecting the land.

This land. And this chocolate lily and this death camas.

The cover shot of this blog is part of the San Juan National Monument–which happens to be practically in my backyard. So I spend a lot of time out there–enough to feel a strong degree of ownership. “Yeah, yeah, public land…but they don’t know it and love it like I do.”

It’s not like the path is hard to find or anything.

Which is why it’s so hard, every year as Memorial Day approaches, watching the hordes of visitors begin to tromp my beloved paths. Or, often as not, tromp OFF¬†them, into the meadows and over the fragile lichens, despite the signs asking them oh-so-politely not to…

Have you ever seen a sweeter, more polite sign from the feds? It even says Thank you!

despite the not-subtle blockages of routes…

C’mon, people…sticks mean no walkies!

and, oh yeah, this brand-new sign with the trails perfectly marked and the endangered wildflowers listed (the ones you’re tromping on now, you!!! Get back on the trail! (Easy, girl.)

Thanks, taxpayers! (You’re welcome.)

How do they DO it, those Bureau of Land Management folks who, charged with protecting this fragile landscape, hosted public meeting after public meeting with every possible stakeholder, striking the perfect compromise between use and misuse, the perfect language for every sign–including when NOT to place a sign at all? And then to see how many people deliberately breeze past your handiwork because they NEED to go climb that rock?

THIS rock…which has a perfectly good access if you’d just walk a little further up the trail!

I know, believe me. I’ve scoffed my share of laws–dog off leash for years (though I always leashed up if I saw another person), lichens crushed, flowers picked because I wanted to. But that was BEFORE¬†someone asked me (politely) not to, and took the time to explain why.

Do we need to ask more politely? Explain more thoroughly? Or just resign ourselves to the fact that a certain percentage of people will always do exactly what they want no matter that–or even because–someone’s asking them not to?

I’m really bad at resignation. Guess there’s a reason I don’t work for the Bureau of Land Management. I have too much personal, private passion wrapped up in these lands…which aren’t private in the least.

Which is good. I happen to have neighbors who are equal parts wealthy, environmentally concerned, and generous. I walk and run on their paths as much as on the National Monument; they are contiguous, the same stunning stretch of coastline. And grateful as I am for their permission to drink in the private beauty, it feels weird to me that it IS private. That so few people have access…to wander off its trails, tromp its delicate meadows and lichens and…

Delicate lichens and red-leafed stonecrop that suddenly shows itself golden in the spring…

Oh dear. Here we go again. Guess I’ll just wrap it up this way: I love our democracy. I love the idea of public lands. And I appreciate the hell out of the folks who have to deal with the public ON the land, because…they sure are better at it than I am.

Road Trip VI, Days 12-15, Anza-Borrego Desert Park: Musings on Rarity

I know–usually I title my posts based on the start and end points of the days in question. But would you read a post about “LA to Scottsdale?” Me neither.

Yes, we left LA last Friday and are now visiting friends in the greater Phoenix area. But in between we visited Son One up in the San Bernardino Mountains–think 5,000 feet above the valley, where the air is scented with cedar and more different kinds of pine than I can remember–and from there spent nearly three days in Anza-Borrego Desert Park.

Never heard of it? Neither had we, until recently. It’s only the second-largest state park in California (and simultaneously a national monument), but it’s pretty much in the middle of nowhere: halfway between San Diego and Palm Springs. You have to WANT to go there.

The Mate and I went on two gloriously sunny hikes with our friends, noticing the touches of spring the recent rains have brought. I saw lots of tiny golden poppies, and red chuparosa looking like the custom-made hummingbird feeder it is.

Hummingbird feeder.

Hummingbird feeder.

But the flowers that really caught my attention were the singletons.

In a whole giant desert full of agave, I saw exactly ONE blooming.

Also called Century Plant, 'cause supposedly that's how often it blooms

Also called Century Plant, ’cause supposedly that’s how often it blooms

And traditional-looking barrel-type cactus? Same thing: ONE.

Actually I've no idea what kind of cactus this is. Anyone?

Actually I’ve no idea what kind of cactus this is. Anyone?

So which pictures do I post and write about? Why, those two. They’re not the prettiest things we saw, just the rarest. Rare = Special.

Why is that? Is the answer too obvious, or too subtle to perceive?

 

Rain, Rain…Please Come (But Not Like in Texas)

Just a quick post (as summer is suddenly upon me and my bakery job is gobbling larger chunks of my life) to say…here is a picture of the happiest plant on my island right now:

Yes, there ARE cacti in the coastal northwest! But they shouldn't be this happy this time of year.

Yes, there ARE cacti in the coastal northwest! But they shouldn’t be this happy this time of year.

Something’s wrong with this picture. We’re supposed to be soggy this time of year, wiping our muddy boots, wondering whether today’s moisture will be morning, evening, or some of each.

Moisture? I hardly remember what that is. We’re in drought. Nothing like California, nothing even as bad as the eastern part of our state, Washington. But enough to remind me that our state name, The Evergreen State, is in danger. And enough for me to beg those of you who enjoy complaining about rain to please, just keep quiet for a little while.

Unless you live in Texas. Then you’re allowed to complain.

Hang in there, people! Mother Nature is definitely in charge. All we can do is help each other.

What’s the Wildflower Equivalent of a BirdNerd?

Birdwatchers call themselves Bird Nerds. What does that make someone like me–a Wildflower Wonk? Consider this a slang contest–best entry gets highlighted in the next Wing’s World post.¬†

Just so you know what you’re dealing with, imagine this conversation between us. I’m returning from my walk in the meadows and woods of my beloved isle. You’re…indoors. Doing whatever you want.

Me: The chocolate lilies are blooming!!!

You: Uh. Chocolate lilies sound special. Do they smell like chocolate?

Me: No. They’re uh, just, like, really rare.

You. Uh-huh. Are they outrageously gorgeous?

Me: No. Just kinda brownish. That’s why they’re called, you know, chocolate. But they’re rare! They’re special.

You: That’s nice.

Me: And did I mention the spotted coral root? It’s out, like, a month early!

You: When’s dinner?

lily

My Mate is not that bad–which is why I made you the other half of the conversation, not him. But you get the idea. I get so excited about rare wildflowers, I don’t care if they’re pretty or sweet-smelling or even mildly attractive. I am a total…

orchid

What? Who can do better than Wildflower Wonk? Let me hear your ideas.