PeerSpirit Newsletter – The Owl and the Tree August 2021


The Usual/Unusual Summer

by Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea

After surviving what was touted as a once in a thousand year (we’ll see) “heat dome” the end of June, the month of July on Whidbey Island unfolded itself through a string of sunny days, cool evenings, and our garden abundance that ranged from raspberries to blueberries to lettuce that didn’t bolt and snap peas that lasted the entire month. We regularly visit farm stands and get fresh eggs from island hens. Friends had birthdays. We had picnics and homemade ice cream. All of this was Idyllic in all the ways that we have come to expect. And — we remain aware that expectations may be a relic of past thinking. In this new time, noticing shifts and changes is necessary daily practice. We are living through a usual/unusual summer with an ever-evolving question of what will truly “be normal.”

Ann picking blueberries

Jaden with his salmon


The normalcy/celebration side included a lovely week with the grandchildren — Jaden (now 16) and Ann (now 72) went salmon fishing every morning. On the last morning, before going to the airport, his persistence and learning curve paid off with a five-pound pink and a “high-five” to the LA city boy from the line-up of old salts along the beach.



Meanwhile, Sasha (now 10), Vivi (now 1.5) and Christina (now 75) did beach and puppy strolls, collage, cooking. There was Uno and Ticket to Ride, streaming Netflix, and rambling conversations before and after their screen time.


Sasha and Vivi on the beach


On the uh-oh/watchful side, driving the grandchildren from/to the airport we notice dozens of trees along the freeway that are obvious casualties of the extreme heat dome — half-cooked on their west-facing sides, curled leaves or clusters of brown needles, bark peeling. Our paper carried stories of tidal flats that baked the barnacles and mussel shells, impacted crops and gardens. Now weeks of no rain. On the other side of the mountains fires burn. There are fires in California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Colorado… the west is crisp, crackling, ablaze. The DNR closed all public lands and campgrounds east of the mountains. Stay home. Don’t start anything.

Then, almost miraculously, on August 7, overnight we had nearly a half inch of rain. It still rains in western Washington! We are relieved, grateful and reminded that there is SOME normalcy in a dry July and August and overarching weather patterns seem to be holding. But we don’t know for sure. What is normal?


Infrastructure is a thousand embedded expectations in modern life. It’s the underpinning of what makes things work. This is the summer of things working and not working — of things usual and not usual. It is also the summer of not knowing what will become usual, or what we should get accustomed to or what we will look upon as unusual when it occasionally works.

Last week we noticed a sign in the local grocery store explaining the empty shelf space: “There has been a Covid outbreak at the distribution center, sorry for the inconvenience.” Yikes. I know this town where the regional food warehouse is located. The warehouse is the replacement industry for lost logging jobs. Vaccination rates are low. Politics is red. Delta outbreak is high. These are people on the economic edge who need to work to support their families.

Empty shelves at our local grocery store

Local restaurants close early or open only a few days a week because of no wait-staff, or no cook. Amidst turbulent weather, airlines cancel flights because of no crew. The ferries between here and the mainland are running constantly delayed. The new ferry terminal automatic walkways don’t work all the time. The runs are taking longer, overloaded at odd times as people come and go without the usual traffic patterns.

We hear tourists — people who whip off their masks on the ferry, glad to be out of whatever city they come from — proclaim their right to bare-face-it on vacation. They complain that the fish aren’t running when they have time to fish. Nobody cued the orcas to swim by so they could show their grandchildren from the balcony of the VRBO. The service is too slow at the coffee stand.

Here are messages we want to convey:

  • We who live here want to stay healthy, so please be more careful of our community, not less. We will do the same if we come to your community.
  • The fish are on their own schedule, and the orcas are hungry and verging on collapse. Keep the pinks, throw the Chinooks (their food source) back.
  • Enjoy the beauty of our shoreline and meditate on preserving this for future generations.
  • Slow service is still service. People are serving you under difficult conditions, and often with a gracious smile. Tip them, thank them.
  • Stitch the social environment in every way you can, don’t rend it. Compassion, not judgment: let’s hold ourselves to higher standards of kindness at this time.

We are in this together: and no one knows where we are. Ambiguity is strenuous.

Trying to restore pre-pandemic order in our lives — from the personal to the societal — is pounding a square peg in a round hole. We can pound all we want — it won’t fit. We’ll shatter the peg or shatter the hole; we’ll break the hammer or hurt our arm. But no matter how frustrated or determined we are: what doesn’t fit into the New Now doesn’t fit. And that peg/that hole/our stamina is changing daily.

We two are vaccinated. We live in a vaccinated bubble and neighborhood. Our friends and family are vaccinated. We managed to travel this summer: to see cousins, to have a family reunion, a memorial service (read Ann’s blog) and a wedding. We did not get sick, nor spread sickness. We followed changing protocols, erring on the side of caution and common good.

We are in this together — and no one knows where we are. We need to move slowly, to pay attention, to be willing to change plans as conditions change — and be patient!

“When you are lost,” says Ann who has been a wilderness guide since the age of sixteen, “the most reliable action is to stop and look around, assess where you are, and if you can’t get your bearings — sit down and rest.”

It’s okay to be lost. Drink water, eat some almonds and dried fruit, take stock, help is on the way — from inside your intuition, or from around you from emerging wisdom and logic.

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.
— David Wagoner