Seasonal Blend

The blend is uneven, barely mixed

as winter cedes to spring in

fits and starts:

trumpeting geese over barren

fields

dangling buds

of red-flowered currant,

willow’s thin yellow curtains, last year’s

dry curls of dead grass among

discarded leaves.

Fits and starts of lime-green

moss inviting

touch

on a fresh morning, chill rain

slicking the boardwalk,

fallen

camellias and collapsed cattails,

their tough green shoots stabbing

at the sodden air. It is an uneven blend

of dark

mixing with light moving

slowly, the

doe settling into wood’s edge for its

evening chew.

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Spring is moving slowly here, with colder and wetter weather than normal. I dart out between rainfalls – it’s often just hours before the drizzle begins again.  I took these photos on forays to a local botanical garden, a park, and at the side of the road. They are a mix of wild and cultivated – the camellia tree was planted, the red-flowered currant, and many of the grasses and trees were not. Wild Cackling geese (relatives of Canada geese) fly high above power lines and the doe forages at the botanical garden. It all draws my eye, whether wild or not.

It’s between seasons and I’m feeling in-between myself, unsure where to go next, literally and figuratively. Patience.

Patience too, during this just-before-Spring time. Gardens and fields are still mostly under last year’s detritus but cherry blossoms are about to pop, narcissus and forsythia are out, birds are singing and the grass is greening up. My favorite season is a breath away…

Bamboo Variations

Bamboo:

leaves stems rustle and

whir, elegant in

motion.

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Some of these images use intentional camera movement, either moving the whole camera or zooming the lens with the shutter open. One (the 7th, with bluish leaves) records leaf movement by using a slow shutter speed and narrow aperture (1/60, f22) with a (more or less) steady, hand-held camera. One was taken on a still day with a macro lens, and only after seeing it on the monitor did I notice the spider webs.

The first three photos and the 6th one all derive from the same shot: 1 second at f8, zooming the lens a little bit while the shutter was open. The 3rd of that series is very close to the original shot; the others were processed using Color Efex Pro for a variety of looks; the 7th one (with bluish leaves) shows a solarization effect.

The 4th and 5th images were processed just in LR. I reduced the contrast and saturation, added haze and made subtle selective adjustments (e.g. to the largest and middle stalks in the 4th) for a more painterly look.

That begs the question, why use a camera when you’re moving towards the look of a drawing? Good question. Is there any more reason to make a photograph look like a drawing than it would be to make a drawing or painting look like a photograph? Each exercise is probably of limited value. And must a photograph clearly be a photograph, taken with a camera?

Sometimes it’s interesting to explore the edge where a picture created with one tool begins to look like it was created with another. I’m not interested in gimmicks though, and I respect the the integrity of the tool, so I hesitate.

Still, it was a pleasure to explore the subject by making big changes in processing and using unorthodox techniques like camera and lens movement – and I like the results, so I may do more.

Flowers emerge, snow falls…

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…flowers emerge,

and we may not be done with the snow! I understand that Meteorological Spring* began a few days ago, but judging by the looks of things where I live, we’re still betwixt and between, alternately charmed by early flowers and frustrated by cold, wet days.

A few weeks ago fragrant Witch-hazel bloomed at the botanical garden, then just Monday morning a generous helping of wet snow graced the woodlands. The bright, lime-green Osoberry buds that are tiny beacons in late winter woodlands here sported snow caps for a few hours on Monday – but no worries, they survived. March may swing our hopes abruptly back and forth but we know that underneath the daily changes, light is moving back in. And we are grateful.

*Meteorological Spring, a date meteorologists and climatologists use for easier record keeping, begins March 1st.

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It’s an unsteady time of year. It seems there are more dark and dreary days than promising ones, but there is still much to see, much to gape and wonder at.

  1.  Witch hazel (Hamamelis X intermedia ‘Jelena’) at the Bellevue Botanical Garden, shot at f 3.5 with a 60mm prime macro lens.
  2.  A snow-bedecked Douglas fir and Big-leaf Maples behind my home, shot at f 8 with a 20mm prime lens.
  3.  Witch-hazel again; this one still gripping last year’s thickly-veined leaves. Shot at f 6.3 with a 60mm prime macro lens.
  4.  More Douglas firs, shot at f 8 with a 20mm prime lens.
  5.  The ground beneath the fir trees. The Doug firs are like fussy ladies during storms, flicking their wrists and tossing branchlets down to the earth, far below.
  6. Witch hazel (Hamamelis X intermedia ‘Pallida‘) with a well thought out backdrop of Bloodtwig Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’) at the Bellevue Botanical Garden, shot at f 10 with a 60mm prime macro lens.
  7.  New leaf spears of the native understory shrub, Osoberry (Oemleria cerasiformis) shot at f 2.8 with a 20mm prime lens.  Osoberry, aka Indian plum, grows along the Pacific coast (and inland to the mountains) from British Columbia to California. The unsweet but edible fruit was mixed with other fruit and eaten by indigenous people; bees rely on the very early flowers.
  8.  These trees are covered with invasive ivy, a common sight in suburban woodlands in the Seattle area. It does make a handsome image! Shot at f 8 with a 20mm prime lens.
  9.  Another Witch hazel, Hamamelis japonica, at the Bellevue Botanical Garden, shot at f 7.1 with a 60mm  prime macro lens.

America has four native Witch-hazels but the winter-blooming species are native to China and Japan. The hybrids above (Hamamelis x intermedia) derive from Asian species. They’re a pleasure to see each year when little else is blooming, and when the fragrance is full they can draw you in like a magnet.

I find that photographing heavily fragrant plants often intoxicates me into forgetting to pay attention to what I’m doing. In the midst of the overwhelming sensory experience, as I click the shutter over and over, I think I am capturing the whole of it. The same thing happens at waterfalls, with their powerful noise and negative ions. When I get home the images disappoint, because they don’t – they can’t possibly –  approach that feeling of being carried away.

It’s more to be grateful for though, and gives me another challenge: remember to come back down to earth a few times in the midst of those experiences. Pay attention to the camera a little bit, too.

 

 

 

Using Another Lens

Metaphorically, that is. For the photos below I used a 60 mm prime lens on my camera. The aesthetic lens I used was more intentionally abstract and experimental than what usually goes on in the mind behind the camera.

 

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This group of Red alder trees was photographed using an in-camera art filter called Key Line (Olympus OM-D E-M1 camera) –  then lightly processed in Lightroom. What I like about the Key Line filter here is the way it emphasizes the linearity in the fine network of branches, last year’s heaps of dried grass and the bark markings.

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These images were also photographed using the Key Line filter, looking out a window that had a blue-violet object placed in it. The object went out of focus; the trees outside are in focus, but radically altered by the filter. Cropped and minimally processed in Lightroom.

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I’m attracted both to detailed linear images, and to fields of pure color without detail. Here I was photographing a small potted iris (Iris reticulata) indoors. There wasn’t much light, causing the camera’s automatic focus to search, sometimes unsuccessfully, for a focus point. Instead of switching to manual focus, I pressed the shutter when the image was out of focus to record the glowing colors. Minimal Lightroom processing.

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In the first photograph I focused on the raindrop-spattered window and let the light shining through the trees outside go soft. For the second photograph I didn’t do anything unusual as far as camera settings go, but I looked for a simplified, more abstract image. I found it along the edge of a marshy bay.  Later, I made very subtle adjustments in Lightroom.  All the photographs were taken in the last few days, in and near home in the Pacific Northwest.

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This week I made a big decision: I left my (more-than-full-time) job. With increased responsibilities at home, a full time job isn’t practical. The benefit is that I have more time – much more time – for photography.  I’m already enjoying it. More posts should be coming soon…

IT’S COMPLEX

We have a joke that comes up a lot – in response to anything puzzling, or in situations containing contradictions, we just say, “It’s complex.”   Long before the brain storm that struck four weeks ago today this phrase was shorthand for the shared knowledge that when contradictions arise, you acknowledge them and find a way forward, through and with the discrepancies. Or, maybe you set aside the conundrum and return later for another look, but there’s no getting around it – complexity is all around us.

So here we are. I go out

with my camera.

I see

dark and sad things, and

I see

beauty, which itself

is overlaid with

subtle

opacities,

somber films.

*

And

I have

no doubt,

light abides too.

 

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1)  Home – a foggy Pacific northwest woodland morning.

2) Chewed and fallen, a Cottonwood leaf at Quitobaquito Spring in Organ Pipe NM, Arizona.

3) Hydrangea bloom from 2016, still gathering the light at Bellevue Botanical Garden, Bellevue, WA.Japanese wood Buddha, ca 1130, from Kyoto, now in the collections of Seattle Asian Art Museum, which will soon close for a major renovation.

4) Japanese wood Buddha, ca 1130, from Kyoto, now in the collections of Seattle Asian Art Museum, which will soon close for a major renovation.

5) Bamboo in the breeze, Bellevue Botanical Garden.

6) Camelia bud in black and white, Bellevue Botanical Garden.

 

SOUTHWEST ARIZONA – A Rough Draft

I’m back home in the Pacific Northwest, and life has finally calmed down enough that I can work on photos and step back into blogging. It’s time to play with my impressions of Arizona. There was the vacation: three days in a remote corner of Arizona near the Mexico border, and the unexpected aftermath: three weeks in a Phoenix hospital. Thankfully, that’s behind us now.

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From the passenger seat at 60 mph, near the juncture of Route 85 and Route 86, and the town of Why.

Indeed.

Next, the ubiquitous Saguaro cactus, up close.

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Above is the “lush desert” of Organ Pipe National Monument. This 517 square mile (1,338 sq km) Biosphere Reserve, located in southwestern Arizona, contains Sonoran desert plants that reach their northern limits here. It’s named for one of them: the Organ Pipe cactus. The cacti in this photo are saguaro and cholla; we’ll get to the Organ Pipe.

A remarkable quality of this particular spot on earth is its long history of human habitation. Over thousands of years people have managed to live in this harsh environment. These days humans in the Organ Pipe NM landscape may be tourists, drug smugglers, illegal immigrants or human traffickers. More about that later.

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Below, scenes from the small town of Ajo, where we stayed. The town is fascinating and I recommend it to anyone with a taste for the offbeat.

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Above, Quitobaquito Spring at Organ Pipe NM and below, Organ Pipe cacti and the Ajo Mountains. You can see why this is called a lush desert – there is a plethora of different shades of green and the ground is thick with cacti and desert shrubs.

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In some sections of Organ Pipe NM there are frequent signs of human use, like this primitive rusted stove found only a stone’s throw from Mexico. There’s nothing but a low fence at the border, a political boundary that divides the land where the desert people live (the Tohono O’odham), splitting the indigenous people into two unequal parts – the American and the Mexican O’odham.

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Winter in the desert can be bleak, but the odd hummingbird animates the scene. This is probably a Costa’s hummingbird.

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The road to Painted Rock Petroglyph site, west of Phoenix. We saw a Roadrunner here but it was WAY too fast for my camera. This shot is more my speed – no traffic, take your time, stand in the middle of the road, compose – nice!

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On a more somber note, one of many roadside memorials we saw in Arizona. This one is just inside the Tohono O’odham reservation. Below, Teddy Bear Cholla cacti (Opuntia bigelovii) glow with the last light of a fast-setting sun.

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Below, the interesting Elephant tree (Bursera microphylla) which stores water in its trunk and lower limbs as insurance against fluctuating water availability.

One evening I had a tepary bean salad; these tasty beans are also highly specialized and  adapted to local conditions. They’ve been grown in this area (and especially in Mexico) for thousands of years. People quickly plant when the rains come and can harvest beans just two months later, without irrigation. One vendor was selling dried tepary beans at the tiny Ajo Saturday Farmers Market; there is a movement to return to crops like these that are adapted to the sudden appearance and disappearance of water here, instead of planting crops that require extensive irrigation. Seems logical, but….

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Above, Saguaro cacti, below, another view at Organ Pipe NM.

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Scrolling back through these images I can see that my take on this obscure wedge of Arizona may be pretty damned peculiar. I juxtapose rusted out cars, lonely trailers, and roadside memorials with botanical images of cacti. This southwestern sojourn was characterized by schizoid swings between the sublimely beautiful and the absurdly tragic. We began to see it as soon as we got outside Phoenix – the endless dry vistas, the small town struggles. The extremes intensified as we explored the section of Organ Pipe near the border – a beautiful natural desert spring contrasted with the jarring knowledge that smugglers were probably close by, helicopters were definitely buzzing us and good Samaritans were planting flagged water caches for desperate illegal immigrants. That energy continued back in Phoenix, where long, tense days in the intensive care unit and sleepless nights were interspersed with lovely dinners in local restaurants and countless friendly interactions with strangers.

I’m ready for a little middle ground now – just a little will do. I promise I won’t get too comfortable, just give me a bit of average.

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COGNITIVE WHIPLASH

I’m back in the rainy Pacific Northwest for a few days – actually, as I look out the window, I see it’s snowy!  It’s good to be at my full size computer, where I can work on my photographs and compose a post without squinting at the phone screen.

Those of you who have lived through your own or a loved one’s serious illness know that it’s a roller coaster ride – hence the title.  I hope the photos convey the ups and downs of the last two weeks – the unexpected heartache, and the unexpected beauty still to be found in places, things and people.

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Some explanation might be in order:

Mixed among photos from the hospital and ICU room are images from the Phoenix Art Museum, where I escaped late one afternoon for a restorative, two-hour gaze at art. The following evening I found time for a brief sunset walk at Phoenix Mountains Preserve, my second escape from “reality.”

The pitch black image with tiny lights is a powerful installation at the museum by Yayoi Kusama, an extraordinary, 87-year-old Japanese artist whose work I first heard about back in the early 70’s. It’s a strangely disorienting kind of pleasure to step into the black, mirrored room strung with lights that change colors. You can hardly sense where your feet are, or where the walls are – perhaps this was a practicum for the new reality.

The vigorously inked leaf shapes are from a 1777 Chinese ink painting by Huang Zhen at the Phoenix Art Museum. The Buddha is also from the museum. Though small, their Asian collection brought me a significant measure of peace.

I find it interesting how the green thingies that hang off the IV pole echo the budding mesquite leaves, and the steady logic of Don Judd’s red wall piece echoes the ICU monitoring equipment, with its reliance on precise numbers and measures.  Now that I look at these pictures I can see my approach to the two shots was perfectly congruent with my mood. The Judd made me feel centered and secure so the shot is composed and balanced; the ICU shot reflects the topsy-turvy feelings that place evokes.

The waterfall sculpture is at the museum’s sculpture court outside the entrance. The chairs casting shadows from strong Arizona sunlight are in the hospital’s Healing Garden. The mountain path, saguaro and sunset were taken at the Phoenix Mountains preserve.

Wednesday I fly back down to Phoenix. With any luck, rehab will already be underway. I am, as a friend said today, in a state of suspension these days.  Whether I’m looking up at an IV pole and dangling paraphernalia in the hospital ICU, or a tall saguaro and bright moon in the Phoenix Mountains, it’s all part of the new Cognitive Whiplash Dance.

LIFE CHANGING

Eight days ago we were getting out of the car for a quick lunch in Phoenix before our flight home, following a relatively short but very interesting vacation far out in the desert in southeastern Arizona. 

The lunch never happened. Long story short, we are still in Phoenix – I’m at an airbnb and my best friend, my life partner, my traveling mate and – well, the description could continue all night – but the fact is, he’s in the neuro ICU at a local hospital following a serious stroke. 

I am coping with a life changing event far from home.  I miss WordPress and the connection and pleasure it gives me. I don’t know what the future holds. We never do but it is muddier than usual. 

I wish I had wonderful photos of the desert to show you but they are still on the card because we didn’t bring a computer – it was a pretty unplugged vacation. It’s been just me and my smart phone for twelve days – thank god for smart phones! 

 I felt I should check in with you all. I have not visited any blogs in almost two weeks. Priorities.

But I will get back to it,  and I will do my best to try to accept and work with what comes my way, in each moment. Please, no pity. Maybe a little advice or support or kindness. We all know the world needs more kindness! 

Enough. Time to get back to the hospital and see what’s up. 

Seen on the Ferry

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And on the island…

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It was a quick day trip across Puget Sound to Marrowstone and Indian Islands, near Port Townsend. We hadn’t been there before and had an urge to check out the area.  The rather dark, cold and blustery day was like many other winter days in the Pacific Northwest, so that didn’t keep us from going out.

The ferry views are always pleasant if you can take the cold on deck! You could sit at a window, but the crossing is only a half hour, so I typically roam the ferry to see what I can see. I never sit down, though it would be satisfying with a good book – or good friends.

I enjoy the ferry itself – the heavy ropes, the nets to keep people off the deck, the safety signs, the solid build. Even the brooms were poised for a picture, so I clicked. The last shot is taken from behind the reinforced glass door towards the bow. I focused on the metal in the glass so the rest blurred. I like the effect.

The beach scenes are from Fort Flagler on Marrowstone Island.  A strategic coastal defense fort that is now a park, it was built in the 1890’s and was active during both World Wars and the Korean War. This spot and two others nearby were a “Triangle of Fire” that defended Puget Sound. By 1953 it was deactivated. The park has lovely views of the water and the Olympic Mountains (above).  And guess what – you can spend the night in the restored Engineer’s house, or how about the century-old Hospital Steward’s house?  That one comes with pressed tin ceilings in the bathroom, a claw foot tub, and of course a porch.  Prices are reasonable….

Finally,  in the tiny town of Nordland on Marrowstone Island, shellfish is still serious business:

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We should get back here next summer.

For now, eagerly looking forward to a few days in the desert this week, in a remote corner of Arizona.

GLASS HOUSE GLEANINGS

A New Year’s Day visit to Seattle’s Volunteer Park Conservatory was a pleasant diversion on a cold, damp first day of the year. The century-old glass house shelters a good variety of meticulously tended plants nestled happily in a palm house, a cactus and succulent house, a fern house, a bromeliad house, AND a seasonal house. Plenty to keep me occupied.

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Conservatories are wonderful places to renew your senses but they’re challenging places to photograph, with the riot of shapes, colors and textures all layered on top of one another.

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I look for simpler scenes and abstractions. Zeroing in on a plant detail is one way to make visual sense of the rich experience – so the cactus house is a natural starting point.

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Spanish moss (Tilandsia) drapes around an iron support in the Bromeliad house.

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The palm house boasts an elegant orchid display, but the flowers resist being photographed, at least by me. The angle is wrong, someone is in the way, the background is too busy, too many flowers are crowded together. Looking up soothes my frustration.

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Another place I look for images is windows, when they fog up from humidity or dirt.  You can get very painterly abstracts, looking through the clouded windows – from outside (first and fourth) or from inside (second and third). The resulting images aren’t for everyone but they’re some of my favorites.

 

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EXTRA:

At the end of the year the conservatory sets up an elaborate old Lionel train in the seasonal house, complete with old figurines waiting at the station. The whistle blows and sometimes smokes – it’s charming.

 

And the flowers! I didn’t ignore them altogether. Though I concentrated on leaves and on  finding abstract images, a few flowers cooperated too:

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I needed those sweet splashes of color!  We stayed until closing – 3:00 pm on this holiday – and saw many disappointed people peering in as we left.

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In a week I’m off to a desolate spot in the Arizona desert where I expect to be fascinated by the landscape and plants. I hope to see new birds and deeply moving night skies – there are very few towns where we’re going. Most of all I expect to be surprised – can’t wait for that!