LOCAL WALKS: (Wild)Flower Show, Part 2

1. The Calypso orchid, or Fairy slipper (Calypso bulbosa).


Finally, April.

When I was younger, much younger, May was my favorite month. A childhood spent

in chilly, upstate New York conditioned me to love the delicious weeks in May when

Lillies-of-the-valley and Forget-me-nots bloomed by the side of the garage

and Trilliums brightened the woods behind our house. Then, two things happened:

the world grew warmer, which seemed to push mid-spring back into April,

and I grew more sensitive to the tentative early hints that precede the

full-on abundance of mid-spring. Tender, lime-green leaves, cherry tree blossoms,

and the subtle blush of brighter skies excite me. April is my favorite month

and if I’m here another ten or twenty years

it might be March!


2. New branch tips perk up the Douglas fir trees.


April on Fidalgo Island means Fawn lilies, Calypso orchids, and Shooting stars:

three beloved beacons of spring. If that’s not enough, there’s a long, colorful parade

of small wildflowers that thrive on wet winters and springs and tolerate bone-dry summers.

In this manic month, I leapfrog from site to site, wanting to see it all.

Lucky for me, one location boasts a vivid display of flowers, thanks to its geology and siting.

Surrounded on three sides by water, forested in the middle, and encircled by grassy bluffs,

Washington Park is my go-to spot for spring botanizing.

On slopes by the water, the thin, poor soil left behind by glaciers

created an inhospitable environment for trees. With bent trunks and twisted branches,

they grow sparsely, leaving plenty of room for wildflowers to bask in the openings.

Small flowers that don’t mind poor soil flourish in the sun or huddle under a few trees

on the meadow’s edge. Some flowers connect with fungal networks underground,

finding nourishment there. It’s all about adapting to a complex system and it’s a good thing

that this small ecosystem by the Salish Sea is relatively intact.

I poke around, trying to see it all,

visiting the flower show as often as I can

before the stars of the show shrivel up

and disappear.


3. April 2nd: a lovely Smallflower Woodland star blooms. These always delight me with their faintly pink, deeply cleft petals.


This year, April brought gentle rains and cool, overcast days interrupted by exhilarating sunbreaks.

It was great weather for plants, if not for people longing for a perfect weekend. By the first week,

a dozen favorite flowers were already blooming. On the seventh day of the month, my darting eyes

fixated on the first ornate, pink-and-orange whiskered flowers of a Calypso orchid, a charming

flash of pink on the green and brown forest floor. Nearby, fanciful white pagoda hats

dangled from thin stems under the fir trees. The Fawn lilies had returned, too.

My breath released a shower of “Ahs.”


A Calypso orchid slideshow


A Fawn lily slideshow



By the middle of the month, upswept, magenta petals hovering over

the dagger points of stamens and pistils proved that another favorite was back –

Shooting stars!

Not only were they blooming at the edge of a meadow in the park,

they were growing in the high desert shrub-steppe, too,

sheltered under the pale, fuzzy leaves of gnarled Big sage bushes.


A Shooting star (Primula pauciflora) slideshow from Ancient Lakes, Washington



Shooting stars begin the slideshow below too, and I added some local fauna:

a Black oystercatcher, a Great blue heron, and a Gray whale that passed

through the channel one afternoon. I heard it first (there is something deeply,

reassuringly resonant about hearing an ocean-going mammal exhaling nearby).

There’s a photo of a pile of feathers on the ground, too, the remains of

some creature’s meal. I’m not a wildlife photographer but I pay close attention

to the beings I share space with – at least the ones that I can see!

Birds, especially. I love the way they animate the space –

have you ever thought about what a bird’s passage through the sky does to that “empty” space?

Suddenly, it has life and dimension. It wakes up.

The birds I photographed weren’t in flight but I’m sure you can imagine them arriving and departing.

Spring wildflowers arrive, too and they’re on time every year,

give or take a few days.

Once their reproductive work is done they pack up the show

and go home to the earth. There’s barely enough time

to see all the exhibits before the flowers fade.

But even fading flowers

are part of the endless show just outside our doors,

all given freely.



February was exciting, March was a promise kept, and April was more than I could wish for.


LOCAL WALKS: (Wild)Flower Show, Part 1

Part 1 of a series celebrating Spring wildflowers on Fidalgo Island, Washington.


1. The Satin-flower (Olsynium douglasii).


The flower show that I look forward to every winter

isn’t at a convention center in a major city. It’s entirely local –

not quite in my backyard but close to it.

Our winter is chilly, damp, and rather dark. We don’t contend with deep freezes

like other regions – in fact, the winter landscape is almost verdant with evergreens –

trees, shrubs, even hardy ferns are green all year. But trust me,

dragging through week after week of gray, 40-degree days

wears people down.

One almost wishes for a blizzard to break the tedium.

A flower show would do…

But I console myself by bundling up and taking walks. I suss out interesting

compositions involving a slice or two of light amidst the prevailing dark.

I dig deep into it and begin to appreciate the Northwest gloom

even as I long for spring and wonder when

I’ll see the first subtle signs that say

the parade is just around the corner.

Then, late in January, signs begin to appear –

buds swell, licorice ferns spring to life, and

the earliest leaves surface amidst winter’s detritus.



I grow more impatient.

Two weeks later the miracle materializes:

on the tenth of February the first tender wildflowers

grace an island meadow.

A perfect raised cup of celebratory, satin-purple petals.

I feast.

Unarmored against frigid winds or late snowstorms,

the delicate Satinflower sparks cold meadows alive.

It almost breaks my heart –

such joy after the long, dark winter.


3. February 10th: the first Satinflowers.


My eyes light up

like the light gathering outside.

Days are lengthening, temperatures are rising, and soon, down at the beach

tough leaves are bursting through gray piles of winter’s storm-tossed driftwood.

In the forested wetland, Swamp lanterns poke their yellow dunce-capped heads through the fertile muck.

I know it in my bones now: life is moving inexorably forward.

The (Wild)flower show is getting underway.


4. March 2nd: the first Red-flowering currant bud debuts.


March began with a thrilling frisson of intense color: the Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum).

Show me one bud on a currant bush

and I’m pumped! The same day I saw the first Red currant bud, there were

clusters of fat yellow Oregon grape buds (Berberis aquifolium)

and tiny Soopolallie (Shepherdia canadensis) flowers, a boon for early insects.

After a cool start to the year, the wildflower parade was slow to begin but

that suits me fine: more time to enjoy it!

On the 14th, just before the Ides of March, I saw a surprising observation on iNaturalist:

someone identified a patch of Satin-flowers in Washington Park. I know that park pretty well

and I never saw Satin-flowers there. I had to see them for myself!

The coordinates that were given weren’t very accurate. Plugging the latitude and longitude

into my phone, I found myself in the approximate location but the habitat was all wrong –

I was deep in a wooded ravine, not an agreeable spot for a grassy meadow denizen.

Looking around, I thought a patch of meadow should be just above me and to the east. After a little bushwacking

and a leg-stretching climb up a rock ledge, I emerged into the perfect environment

and there they were,

a little enclave of purple beauties, nodding their heads in the updraft

emanating from the tidal channel below. On that chilly spring afternoon

I was in heaven.

I sat in the grass and communed.



Toward the end of March, the pace picked up. Red currant bushes flowered exuberantly –

one twig snagged a tangle of Lace lichen and waved it around like ragged laundry.

Golden Swamp lanterns (Lysichiton americanus) lit up the forested wetland and in the rocky bluffs

overlooking the water, tiny, violet-blue flowers huddled together against the air’s chill.

The Small-flowered Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia parviflora), dwarfed by its own name,

has a sweet face almost no one sees – the flowers are only a few millimeters across.

A thousand feet above sea level, more Satin flowers dotted another meadow, this one featuring

views of distant mountain ranges. Sugarloaf’s vistas are exhilarating but

I was content to lie down on the earth and photograph flowers

inches away from my nose.

At about half that elevation, another meadow bore the red-orange revelation of a shaggy flower

called Harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida). Bitter cherry trees flowered gently, softening the roadsides.

Cheerful yellow Spring-gold (Lomatium utriculatum) hugged the ground

and willow trees went fuzzy-crazy. Up on Goose Rock, the dangling pink bells of Kinnickinnnick

glowed pink against the native ground cover’s glossy, deep green foliage.

The show was on but it required a little effort – a hike here,

a deep knee bend there, and always, open eyes.



All month, colors could be found in the details

but the landscape overall remained subdued. Low temperatures lingered,

clouds persisted, and it rained.

And rained again.

Weather forecasters bemoaned the cool, damp conditions

but I was happy. Cool and wet means

the (Wild)flower show lasts longer.

Below is a slideshow of my March Madness. Hover over the arrow and click to start.



If you’re curious about any of the flowers in the slideshow, just ask in the comments section.

Next up will be April, a (Wild)flower show to delight the senses.


FARTHER AFIELD: A Dusty Lake Interlude

Last week I was part of a group of seven friends – photographers, botanists, a lichenologist, a ceramicist, a filmmaker, psychologists, and social workers (some categories apply to several people) who journeyed east to explore the dramatic landscape east of the Cascade Range, in central Washington. The Columbia River runs north to south there, grown wide from a series of dams that provide power to customers throughout the northwest. Bluffs line one side of the river; the other side, where we hiked, is cut with canyons of basalt and graced by scattered lakes of all sizes and shapes. One is named Dusty Lake, perhaps for the dun-colored land it rests on.

On the way over the mountain pass, we fended off rain showers, snow squalls, and finally graupel, a kind of snow pellet. In between, glimpses of blue reassured us that it really is spring. As we lost elevation the precipitation cleared out and wind took over, pummelling the landscape. Skies remained overcast for most of our short trip. It could have been a boon to us photographers who dislike midday desert sun, but threatening rainclouds turned the light leaden and flat.

The weather wasn’t a photographer’s dream but we made do. The sculpted landscape thrills you with a power that derives from the liberating, whole-body sense that you are surrounded by limitless space. Grand, crenelated cliffs, here called coulees, rise high overhead, the domain of ravens easefully gliding on the updrafts. A gravel road turns a corner to reveal the surprise of a dark lake where white pelicans preen in the distance like a lost posse of ghosts. Swallows swoop, stitching air and water together. Along the lake margins, Red-winged blackbirds’ rusty cries rise from last year’s crackling-dry cattails. On dusty trails, tangles of weathered grass hide tiny gold and pink wildflower gems. The scent of sagebrush clears the mind as precious oils are released into the atmosphere. Little of the softness one associates with spring can be seen here; rough textures and subdued colors dominate.


2. Lakes are rimmed with evaporative deposits.
3. Dusty Lake.


Angled rock, sharp scents, and the rude, cold wind on our cheeks – Eastern Washington isn’t a comforting place but for those of us living on the wet, lush, western side of the state, it offers the novelty of open vistas set with a child’s geometry of huge, smooth, blocks of basalt. It’s a good recipe to awaken eyes accustomed to thick, green landscapes ringed with water. Needless to say, plant life on the other side of the Cascade Range is very different. On the first day of our trip, the botanists lucked out when we ran into a rare plant specialist collecting data for a population viability study of an endangered wildflower. (The “BOTANST” license plate was a giveaway). Looking for a place near the river so we wouldn’t have to drive too far, we had inadvertently chosen a special place to hike. The botanist was as excited to show a group of fellow plant lovers around as his friendly Burmese Mountain dog was eager to greet us. Mark pointed out more plants than we could remember – including the fuzzy-leaved rare wildflower, a member of the Borage family which, as Mark informed us, is a “sandy soil obligate.” Almost all the flowers we saw had yet to reach peak bloom or to even open a bud. Spring has been slow and cool in Washington and the flowers are late. No matter – we enjoyed the impromptu private tour of a piece of land that conceals rare secrets from casual visitors.


4. Last year’s dried, curled grasses swayed in the breeze – but this photo was made using intentional camera movement.
5. Spring brings a rush of water to the streams.
6. The white bits are not flower buds, they’re feathers and down from a large bird that met its end here.
7. I can’t resist a tangle of tumbleweeds. This is close to the river, where moisture is more available.
8. Venturing into the tangle.


The following day, after five campers struggled through a night of screaming winds (Joe and I are softies and stayed in town) we crossed the Columbia River and headed inland to hike at Dusty Lake. The landscape there is a schizoid salad of lakes, wetlands, and rocky, sage-dotted desert. The unusual scenery derives from cataclysmic events like the Missoula floods of 18,000 years ago when glacial floods made their marks on a landscape that had been sculpted by lava flows millions of years before. The geological wallops left imposing views and a dry, spare habitat that shelters interesting wildflowers, lichens, and lizards, among others. I think we all enjoyed switching back and forth between the expansive views and small curiosities. One early blooming wildflower delighted everyone with its incongruous beauty: the hot pink Darkthroat Shooting star (Primula pauciflora). Taking shelter under craggy old sage bushes, the flowers nodded their delicate heads in the breeze as if to agree with our praise. Lichens were another source of color, adorning the rocks, sagebrush, and soil with fiery orange, deep gold, and slate blue. The pops of color cut through the barren landscape like a warbler’s song ringing out across a hushed forest.

Eventually, we had our fill of hiking, photographing, and botanizing. We stopped for coffee and then had dinner at a local burger joint that had been in the same family for generations. Grandmother’s recipe for potato salad is still followed, to our delight. Three of our group departed for Seattle, braving snow over the pass in the dark. The rest of us met the next morning in Vantage for a walk along the river. As we discussed where to walk, we spotted a wild herd of Bighorn sheep grazing on a distant hill. We tried to get closer but couldn’t so there are no photos – but the memory is sweet. After a low-key river walk, we began exploring a side road that heads west, the direction home. A construction roadblock halted our progress so Joe and I decided to head back to the highway for the long trip home. I enjoyed watching the scenery evolve from clear, open skies to snow and mist on the pass, then back to springtime green. All the while I knew the computer was calling me – there were plenty of photographs to sort.

Richard and Sharon continued wandering slowly west, finally picking up the highway to cross the mountains. The trip was short but packed with outdoor discoveries and the pleasure of spending time with friends. When I went through the photos, I puzzled over unidentified plants and grew frustrated at the overall palette, which was very subdued. But that fits a high desert landscape under thick clouds. For this post, I decided to emphasize the quiet color range and leave out the pops of color. Bright flowers will show up in a later post. I promise.


9. The lovely Darkthroat Shooting star (color versions coming soon).
12. Big sagebrush (Artemesia tridentata) slowly breaks apart on the sandy desert floor.
13. To the right you can see Richard inspecting the rocks for lichens.
14. I believe this is Crater lichen, Diploschistes scruposus, a lichen found all over the world. We nicknamed this one the Blob. Somehow, Richard tolerates this kind of nonsense from the rest of us.
15. A massive basalt cliff with unlikely patterns formed long ago.
16. Rachel returns from a wander.
17. Dusty Lake from above.

18. Barb raises a hand for hiking with friends.


STATES of BEING: Entering


These photographs are about entering. Some are more literal, like the photo above and some are more metaphorical. Some may not make sense to you but they might to someone else. When I photograph, if all goes well I enter into a relationship with what’s around me, a relationship that unzips the strictures of thought and lets the moment bloom. This is what keeps me coming back to the camera – this entering into the particulars of place, this being absorbed into all that my senses perceive. Later on, the pleasures of looking at, reworking, and sharing the images I make are an extra happy byproduct of those times when it all goes well.


Entering, we embrace the particulars

of the timeplace –

(call it the placetime if you prefer).

We attend to a play of light, a certain hue

or shade of green, the fading trill of a bird –

not any bird, but this bird. We notice

the precise angle of the torn edge

on a vandalized billboard, the oddly sharp scent

of the air passing under our nose.

This entering into the wherewhen

(call it whenwhere if you prefer)

is tied to attention,

rapt attention.


It springs and spreads into awareness

from a liminal space

between eye, ear, nose, tongue, skin, and brain matter.

Senseorgans, brainmatter, attention, and entering –

yoked together

like tide and shore.

There is no apartness wherewhen

we dissolve the tangles

of self

that tend

to obscure

this particular






It was a morning in early summer. A silver haze shimmered and trembled over the lime trees. The air was laden with their fragrance. The temperature was like a caress. I remember – I need not recall – that I climbed up a tree stump and felt suddenly immersed in Itness. I did not call it by that name. I had no need for words. It and I were one.

Bernard Berenson


Additional posts in my “States of Being” series can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.


1. Branching out at a city park in Washington State.

Some years ago I realized that I was photographing a lot of tree branches. I wasn’t creating a project about trees, I was simply attracted to branches. A lifelong love of plants wasn’t enough to explain why branches kept showing up on my SD cards. Maybe it was because of my surroundings: I had moved from a New York City building with street and water views to a Seattle-area apartment on the corner of a building that backed up to a tree-filled ravine. The new window views were layered green walls of Douglas firs, Big-leaf maples, and Western red cedars growing together in a verdant chaos. When a job in Seattle began taking up most of my time, I could still make photos right from the deck of the apartment. That was my focus: teasing apart patterns in the entangled branches.

Pacific Northwest habitats and plants are very different from the East coast environment I knew for over half a century. I wanted to understand what I was looking at, sort out the names, and learn how this new region worked. Recognizing differences in tree branches was part of the learning process. I got to know the elegant sway of redcedar branches, the drooping tips and fine texture of Western hemlocks, and the saturated colors of Madrone trees. The ubiquitous Douglas fir tree was the landscape’s ragged backdrop along highways and in parks. In exposed settings, its contorted, weather-battered branches caught my attention. And there were so many lichens! A single tree limb could be sheathed in an astounding variety of them in this lichen-happy environment.

2. Lichen-covered twigs at a preserve in Washington.


But there’s more to it than that – what is it about branches? Something ancient connects humans to trees. Trees have offered us shelter since we first began walking around on two legs. They provide food, materials for building, and clothing. In a primal way, we are akin to trees, with our trunks and appendages. Our blood finds its way around using branches and our minds function via vast networks of branching neurons. We even organize our lives using branches – branches of government, taxonomy, genealogy, religion, and a host of other phenomena. The act of branching seems fundamental to life. Something starts out in one direction and splits in two, finding more space to occupy and enabling more to be done. Repeat that a thousand times and you’re going somewhere, you’re connecting to more than before. It works the other way, too: smaller branches feed larger ones. Systems on our planet depend on it.

I could cite example after example of how branches operate in life but I don’t want to forget aesthetics. That’s what I come back to – the basic beauty of trees. With their endless variety of forms, colors, and textures, tree branches stop my gaze and demand my attention, time and time again.


3. A city park in Washington.
4. The ravine behind my former apartment in Washington.
5. A peeling Madrone branch at a state park in Washington.
6. A national monument in Arizona.
7. A national park in Washington.
8. A state park in California.
9. Bigleaf maple branches are covered with moss and ferns at a city park in Washington.
10. Leiden, Netherlands as seen through branches at a historic landmark.
11. Tree branches screen the view from a street corner in Manhattan.
12. An old willow at a city park in Washington.
13. A Red elderberry branch between willow branches at a city park in Washington.
14. A Monkey puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana) at a city park in Washington.
15. A national park in Washington, elevation 5477 ft./1669 m.
16. A national forest in Washington. Did you know that conifers in alpine regions grow tall and thin and often have drooping branches so heavy snow will slide off the tree?
17. Southern live oaks (Quercus virginiana) with Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) on a roadside in South Carolina. Spanish “moss” is actually a flowering plant in the same family as pineapples. It’s not Spanish, either!
18. A state park in Washington
19. A state park in Washington.
20. A street corner in Antwerp, Belgium. Pollarding, the style of pruning that you see here, originated in Europe. It keeps trees from getting too big in urban environments.
21. Looking down on Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens) branches and Sword ferns from a canopy walk at a city zoo in California. Redwoods have two kinds of leaves: peripheral ones for photosynthesis (seen here) and axial leaves, which specialize in absorbing water. This helps them adapt to California’s dry summers.
22. Living and dead Joshua trees in a national park in California. Not actually a tree, Yucca brevifolia is a long-lived Mohave desert succulent, now endangered in parts of its range due to fire, climate change, and invasive grasses.

23. A willow branch in spring at a national historic site in New York.
24. Douglas fir trees screen the sunset at a state park in Washington.


LOCAL WALKS: Preserve Pleasure


A play on words:

I find pleasure at a nature preserve.

Thankful the land was preserved,

I return repeatedly,

my pleasure thus preserved.

Treading lightly, respectfully,

I help preserve the preserve

for the pleasure of all beings

who live and visit here.


2. Western redcedar and vernal pool.

Certain places become touchstones: we discover an appealing place, explore it, find pleasure there, and return many times. The site gains prominence in our personal lexicon of landscapes. A placid lake surrounded by a conifer forest became such a place for me shortly after I moved to Fidalgo Island. I hadn’t known that decades ago, a group of far-sighted people protected about 2800 acres (1132 ha) of forest land in the center of the island, preserving the area for passive recreation. Once I learned about the Anacortes Community Forest Lands, I began exploring them. Soon I found a touchstone at a place called Little Cranberry Lake. The forest around the lake abuts residential streets packed with one-family homes but it still feels blissfully serene, thanks to thousands of trees that march across the hilly terrain, right up to the edge of the lake.

Just what is the pleasure that I find at the preserve?

It’s the surprise of a water snake swimming in gently swaying S curves, the drama of dozens of blackened trees recovering from a fire, and the white hush of an unexpected snow shower in March.

It’s the slow motion of wavy reflections in calm water and the delight of orchids pushing through soft layers of moss and lichens.

It’s the solid feeling of my own two legs striding down a forest trail or jumping from rock to rock.

It’s the muffled buzz of a Chestnut-backed chickadee and the knowledge that I’m free to go where I choose, at my own pace in this sheltered, serene place.

4. Pond lily leaves emerge from the wetland.
5. One afternoon in 2019, an early spring snowfall took me by surprise. As a whitened sky passed its bounty to the earth all became quiet – the only sound was the light tap of snowflakes landing on leaves.

For a few years, I was in the habit of going to Little Cranberry Lake in the afternoon for a walk along the lake and up into the hills. I had a favorite circuit: cross the tip of the lake, follow a trail around a finger of downed, half-submerged trees, and fork left to climb a hill studded with massive rocks. At a small opening near the top of the hill, I would pause to admire a few old Madrone trees and photograph wildflowers set against pale, gray-green pillows of reindeer lichen. Then I would head back down and return to my starting point by tracing a rock-strewn trail along the lake’s edge. I would gaze at dozens of tall, dead tree trunks dotting the shallow lake and wonder what plants grow on the boggy island in the middle of the lake. Stepping from rock to rock, studying reflections of tree branches, and looking for wildlife, I often entered a blissful, meditative state. On summer days I wouldn’t get back to the parking lot until close to dusk. Sometimes I varied the route and explored the other side of the lake. Always, the preserve offered pleasure and peace.

Then I began seeing broken glass in the parking lot. People were taking advantage of the isolated location and breaking into locked cars to steal anything they thought they could sell. With regret, I stopped using the north lot and switched my Little Cranberry Lake walks to the forested wetlands and beaver ponds south of the lake. Access to that section is from a parking lot on a busy road, where break-ins are less likely. It’s been interesting to explore a different part of the preserve but I’ve missed my lakeside walk. Until a few days ago I thought I would have to walk an extra mile each way to get to the trails I used to enjoy. But I found out there are places on residential streets where you can park safely and enter the woods near the lake. I tried it last week. It was good to walk in those woods again, and good to know I can revisit the lake easily. There are many other trails in the Anacortes Community Forest Lands to explore, and another 2000 acres (809 ha) of state, county, and city parkland on the island so there’s no reason to complain! But I grew very fond of Little Cranberry Lake over the course of those first years living here. You can see why in these photographs, all made during the time when late winter transitions to early spring, from 2019 to 2023.


7. Lake reflections and intentional camera movement; reflections of cedar boughs, and reflected sedges.


9. Puddle abstract.
10. A view across Little Cranberry Lake.


On this Spring Equinox day of new beginnings, it might make sense to formulate an intention to support the preservation of nature in any small way we can. I’ve been reading an excellent book called “On Time and Water” by Icelandic writer Andri Snær Magnason. He asserts that although earth’s problems have reached a scale we find extremely difficult to comprehend, “…it’s possible to nudge the world. That the world is not just an out-of-control and meaningless flood, always in flux; it can be influenced, can be steered in the right direction. Our purpose is to be useful, to make a difference, to increase knowledge, to point the world in the right direction if it’s off course.”


11. Swamp lanterns (Lysichiton americanus) brighten the wetland for a few weeks.
12. The city once logged this land for income but now it is protected.
13. Stumps serve many purposes. Beginning life on a nursery stump gives trees more light, an advantage in a dim, conifer-dominated forest. Eventually, the stump will completely disappear under the growing tree. Western hemlocks (Tsuga heterophylla) often begin life this way.
14. Deer are plentiful on the island but I don’t often see handsome bucks like this one.


16. Plentiful moss (left), evergreen plants like Sword fern and Dwarf Oregon grape (middle), and some aquatic plants (right) add green to the landscape all year long.


17. The modest Osoberry (Oemleria cerasiformis) blooms very early in spring.
18. Moss spore capsules, wet from the rain.
19. This iPhone photo from a few days ago was made while I sat on a rock and gazed across the silent lake. A lone merganser and two cormorants were the only birds to be seen.
20. The subdued, mid-January sun sets behind the clouds at Little Cranberry Lake.




Among the definitions of the quotidian, which I think of as meaning commonplace or ordinary, is this: “something that returns or is expected every day.” Things that return or repeat become almost invisible – we see them so many times we stop paying attention. But if you choose to look, the quotidian has a beauty of its own.

What makes ordinary things so appealing? It must be in part because familiarity creates comfort. We feel secure knowing something will be the same the next time we encounter it. That idea reminds me of Bowlby and Ainsworth’s work on attachment theory, which laid the groundwork for new concepts in developmental psychology. You may remember that through observing mothers and infants, Mary Ainsworth theorized that having a reliable, secure person to return to after exploring the world is critical for a person’s ability to regulate their emotions. Collaborating with Ainsworth, John Bowlby published a now classic book, ‘Attachment and Loss’ in 1969, and decades later, attachment theory entered the mainstream. Maybe you’ve seen a quiz that determines your “attachment style” and what it means for your love life pop up on your social media.

As important as security is, I tend to enjoy things that break up routines. Exploring new places and ideas is exhilarating. Still, routines and familiar things have their place. Everyday objects evoke a particular kind of humble beauty, especially if we pay close attention. In the arts, painting has a long tradition of elevating the commonplace. Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s paintings of peasants, Morandi’s still lifes and Edward Hopper’s corner drugstores are familiar examples. Photographers have explored the aesthetics of the quotidian, too. Dorothea Lange, William Eggleston, Jan Groover, and many others focused on everyday scenes and objects.

But the funny thing about photographing the quotidian is that photographers have a tendency to look for the unexpected rather than the ordinary. Even when we photograph ordinary subjects (or perhaps especially then) we often emphasize something that looks slightly off, a quirk that will hold the viewer’s attention. An ordinary street corner is seen suffused with an eerie light, a chain link fence is blurred except for one link, or the quotidian ingredients of a typical diner breakfast are arranged to fit together like a puzzle.

It’s ordinary until it isn’t.



When we were in Vancouver last month, a friend took us on a neighborhood tour that included a vast construction site. At the edge of the work area, we stumbled across a chaotic pile of discarded materials and equipment. It was the essence of the quotidian. There were coils of rebar, a length of cable, rusty auger parts, a dumpster…do your eyes light up just imagining those objects? Ours did. To us, those prosaic objects told stories about real work, work that we rely on every day but seldom think about. Just the scale of construction can be very impressive. Building materials and tools often have dynamic shapes and intriguing patterns or textures. The rough world of construction can seem exciting to folks like us who spend a fair amount of time at computers or in offices.

So what did we do when we saw that jumble of discarded construction materials? We photographed it.




After we finished admiring the rust goldmine we walked back uphill and came to a street graced with “H-frames.” H-frames are power pole constructions that have been in place in Vancouver for up to 80 years – what I might call Vancouver Vernacular. They’re the kind of quotidian sights that locals usually take for granted but to me, they were an opportunity to see lines and negative space dance an intricate tango over my head. Maybe a square dance is a better metaphor! Even the lamposts and construction cranes got into the act, marking out precise spatial alignments against an opaque sky and twirling pirouettes in the glassy reflections of an office building.




Another recent quotidian find is a building I chanced upon in my own backyard. I was walking down a residential street near the shoreline. I’d never been on that street before. Below street level, jutting out over the water was an old wooden building and pier. I figured it had been a fish processing plant – fishing and crabbing have always been important industries here. It looked deserted and was clearly rundown. There was no way to climb down to it but using my phone, I followed a series of right and left turns that took me to a rough, dirt road that terminated at the building’s side. A truck parked nearby gave the impression that the structure was still in use. In declining light, I made a few photos and promised myself I’d be back.

When I got home I googled the address. It turns out that an enterprising diver named Chris Sparks is using part of the old cannery for his business, Wildcatch Seafood Products. He and other divers collect sea urchins and sea cucumbers around the San Juan Islands at depths of 20-80 feet underwater (6-24m). The delicacies are sold to the Japanese market overseas and sushi restaurants in Seattle. He also sells fresh-caught Dungeness crab when it’s in season. He operates out of the 98-year-old “red cannery” and hopes to renovate it and expand the business. It’s one of only two canneries left standing on the island so I hope he can make a go of it.

That kind of quotidian makes me happy.





February flashed by – isn’t it nice that the shortest month comes in winter? It helps us believe we’re making progress toward spring. In my region, February was cold and wet. Of course, to us cold means near or below freezing, which might feel pretty comfortable to a Minnesotan. Toward the end of the month, there was a week when temperatures plunged way below freezing at night and only rallied to freezing during the day – brr! I was glad I brought my long down coat when we moved here from the east coast. I used to wear it a lot to keep warm on winter days when icy winds whipped across the harbor and funneled down New York City street canyons. I hardly ever wear it here but I did last month. The longjohns were put to use, too.

As if to defy the weather, I went looking for one of our earliest wildflowers on February 10th and was thrilled to find several lovely blooms. I was beaming out there, all by myself, communing with the little purple bells, the wind-swept Douglas firs, and the azure water rippling in the channel below. The tender little Grass widow, or Satinflower, seems far too delicate to be blooming at this time of year. When it snowed later, I hoped the rest of them would delay opening.

Another source of delight last month was lichens of all kinds – plump, pale green mounds of Reindeer lichen (Cladonia sp.), elegant strands of Beard lichen (Usnea longissima), colorful colonies of Frog-pelt lichens (Peltigera sp.), wrinkled skins of lung lichens (Lobaria sp.), and many more. Lichens come alive in winter, having absorbed enough moisture to expand, soften, and show themselves to good advantage. Mosses are a highlight of winter here, too, adding bright green caps to rocks and stumps or intermingling with lichens on tree branches to form intricate mosaics. Buds are swelling on deciduous trees and bushes, lending the hills a soft look when seen from a distance. Longer days give us a little more time to get outside.

It’ll only get better now.

1. Foggy day in a wetland in the forest.

2. Usnea longissima lichens just after a light rain. Gone from much of its original range, its abundance here reassures me that our air is clean. It’s a good thing the land where the photo was made is protected.
3. Have you ever thought about how plants and lichens slow the rain’s passage to the ground?
4. This wetland is just steps away from Bowman Bay, which is fed by the Salish Sea and ultimately, the Pacific Ocean. Winter storms slosh salt water into the wetland, which means different plants grow here. In summer, the yellow flowers of Silverweed (Potentilla anserina) will bloom on the edge of this wetland but I don’t expect to find them in the forested wetland below.
5. This wetland is in a forested part of the interior of the island. Swamp lanterns (Lysichiton americanus) love it here. Their leaves already peek out of the water.
6. Madrones (Arbutus menziesii) shed bark in the late summer months. These pieces are soft from winter rain but if you pick up a piece in September it may crumble in your hand.
7. This green lichen is sometimes called Frog pelt lichen or Dog lichen in Britain. Peltigera brittanica grows on rocky outcrops and along roads and trails, typically in moist, coastal habitats. I believe the dark spots are cephalodia, structures that contain nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria. So three kingdoms of life are working together here: fungi, algae, and bacteria. Once again I thank Richard Droker for opening a window to the fascinating world of lichens.*


9. Here’s a quick slideshow of Grass widow flowers. I like the name Satinflower better.



10. The sun has set and the owls are hooting.


11. Here’s a slideshow of lichens and mosses observed in February around Fidalgo Island.



12. I didn’t spend a lot of time at Bowman Bay in February but one day during a very low tide, I explored rocks that are normally under water and found this collection of barnacles and snails.
13. I (and many others) have made this picture before. It’s hard to resist doing it again when you walk under the Deception Pass Bridge.
14. February offered pretty days, too. This is Mt. Erie, the highest point on the island and a favorite place for rock climbing.


15. Here’s a short slideshow of plants from Bloedel Conservatory in Vancouver, where we spent a few days mid-month.




16. A waterfall at Lynn Canyon in British Columbia, where we hiked during our visit to Vancouver.
17. Another waterfall at Lynn Canyon, viewed from a suspension bridge. Taking in the breathtaking view while standing on a narrow, swaying suspension hanging 50m (160 ft) over the creek below was a high point of the month!
18. Winter sky, just before sunset.



FARTHER AFIELD: Slow Shutter in Vancouver


“You know, the real world, this so-called world, is just something you put up with like everybody else. I’m in my element when I’m a little bit out of this world: then I’m in the real world – I’m on the beam. Because when I’m falling, I’m doing alright. When I’m slipping, I say, ‘Hey, this is interesting.’ It’s when I’m standing upright that bothers me… As a matter of fact, I’m really slipping most of the time. I’m like a slipping glimpser.” William de Kooning

From “Slipping Glimpser: William de Koonig’s Sublime Take on What it Means to be an Artist”: April 11, 2015. In “All That’s Interesting”


My own slip involves glimpsing carp in a conservatory with a camera set to a slow shutter speed. I was in Vancouver, Canada, for a few days and a visit to Bloedel Conservatory was just the thing on a cold, rainy afternoon. The domed conservatory is filled with tropical plants and free-flying birds, a perfect antidote to the midwinter blahs. As we slowly circumnavigated the walkway a little stream appeared and sure enough, bright orange carp were swimming there, making lazy circuits under a little bridge.

I’ve seen carp in streams in other conservatories and I decided to do what I’ve done before: photograph those svelte bodies slipping through the water as blurry shapes, using a slow shutter speed. Here’s the result (except for photo #8, where carp and water are stopped for a split second). The camera was usually on shutter priority at .4 seconds. I was, as de Kooning said, a little bit out of this world as I gratefully fell, slipped, and found the beam.



9. A watery interlude, sans carp.


10. An earthly pause.


11. The orchids slip, too.


12. Especially when you move the camera.


13. These visitors may or may not have been slipping glimpsers.


Vancouver is a city of more than 2.5 million souls. By contrast, the city I frequent for my daily espresso is home to just under 18,000 people. Scenic, diverse, and stimulating, Vancouver is less than two hours from home but we hadn’t been there since the pandemic closed the border. I wanted a quick and easy change of scenery so now that we can travel freely, it was an obvious choice.

We zipped through customs the first day and amused ourselves with miscellaneous errands and a delectable meal at a restaurant called East is East that serves foods from the Silk Road region. As I warmed my hands on a cup of peppery chai, dark-eyed waitresses flounced back and forth with stylish grace and customers lounged on piles of pillows. The soft murmur of conversations was a pleasant backdrop to a flavorful lunch of dhal and Bombay roti. It was a good way to slide into a “foreign” city, for though we Americans and Canadians share a language and a continent, there are still differences. The pleasure of parsing them is a key part of spending time in Canada.

We explored a residential neighborhood where the houses looked more like certain Long Island and Connecticut suburbs than the houses in our town, which is so much closer. After an afternoon coffee, we settled into an airbnb in North Van (that’s what locals call North Vancouver). Dinner was a pleasantly low-key affair and we turned in early.

The next day we met a fellow blogger, Penny Williams, aka Walking Woman. She led us on an unconventional tour of her neighborhood, the highlight of which was actually a sprawling construction site, Vancouver’s SkyTrain subway project. Very impressive on its own, the site became more compelling when we stumbled across a pile of abandoned machine parts and building materials. Giant augers! Rusty rebar! Half-full dumpsters! I’ll save that for another post.

14. Seen on our tour, a totem pole that was carved many years ago by the Nisga’a First Nations sculptor Norman Tait.

That afternoon we went to Bloedel Conservatory, where these photos were made. The weather had turned rainy and the conservatory’s atmosphere was a welcome respite. As I reacquainted myself with old tropical plant friends (I used to work at a large conservatory in New York) a bevy of girls interrupted the quiet with a silly, tuneless song voiced with the sweet enthusiasm of best school chums on a break from classes. They were clustered together on the walkway, cell phones in hand, trying to get the attention of a cockatoo named Mali. After much effort, Mali began to respond with raucous squawks. She flipped her fabulous headgear up and bobbed back and forth in rhythm with the girls while eyeing them intently. She got so revved up that she had to pull back and rest at one point. Then she started up again, this time adding fancy acrobatics involving her beak, her feet, and her well-worn perch. Eventually, the girls left, waving goodbye with musical giggles. I watched the cockatoo draw her body inward, cast her eyes down, and grow still. She seemed diminished, saddened. I consoled myself with the thought that Mali probably goes through this regularly and gets over it much faster than we humans would.

We walked back out into the cold, found the car, and paused at a pleasantly trendy, friendly cafe where they roast their own beans. Fortified, we then braved the traffic-snarled downtown streets to work our way back to North Van. Well, Joe braved the traffic while I navigated by keeping my iPhone on. Thanks to the map app (mapapp?) we worked our way through the dark city streets toward dinner at an excellent Chinese restaurant recommended by a friend of Penny’s. It was the real deal, at least as real as you can get outside someone’s kitchen in Shanghai. The ambiance reminded us of many meals shared with friends and family at classic Chinese restaurants in New York City’s Chinatown and Flushing.

The next morning we left the city behind for an exhilarating walk across a suspension bridge hanging high over waterfalls and a rushing creek. The Lynn Canyon trail led us through a glistening temperate rainforest to a blue-green pool fringed with boulders and gnarled redcedar trees. Mindful of the time, we cut the hike a little short, promising ourselves we’d be back. The final treat was lunch and it was some of the best South Indian food I’ve ever had. Warm conversations with the owner and his wife, who came to Vancouver from Chennai, topped off a memorable meal. If only they could deliver across the border! We’ll just have to go back.





1. Lysichiton americanus, also known as Skunk cabbage.


Spring is inching forward, working its tender way into my consciousness with light shifts and color sparks. The days are noticeably longer, the grass and moss have greened up, a few birds have begun singing, and the wildflower parade is getting started. On a walk last week, I spotted one of the earliest wildflowers rising from the murky muck of a wetland. Skunk cabbage – it may not be a pretty name and all I saw was a handful of muddy buds – but that’s all it took to inject a surge of energy into my step.

Lest you Easterners get confused, the Eastern North America plant called Skunk cabbage isn’t the same as the Western one. They belong to the same family, the Araceae, but the Eastern species looks different and is arguably stinkier – anyone who’s stepped on an Eastern skunk cabbage leaf knows how foul that odor can be!

Both plants have oversized, bold, cabbage-like leaves and dozens of tiny flowers neatly arranged on a spadix – the candle-shaped structure on the left in the photo above. The spadix (or flower spike) is protected by a spathe, which looks like a large petal. Western Skunk cabbage plants sport a bright gold spathe, which is why they’re also called Swamp lanterns.

2. Skunk cabbage or Swamp lantern buds.
3. Swamp lanterns on March 23rd, a few years ago.

Interestingly, both plants have close relatives in Asia. The Western species is Lysichiton americanus and its Asian relative is Lysichiton camtschatcensis. The Eastern species is Symplocarpus foetidus, with four other Symplocarpus species in Asia. It’s theorized that Lysichiton and Symplocarpus each migrated across the Bering land bridge millions of years ago, eventually finding their separate territories.

I read somewhere that our Skunk cabbage emits odors that vary with the temperature to help attract different insects for pollination. Amazing, right? It fits with my experience. The first time I photographed Skunk cabbage after moving to the West, I entered what I can only describe as an altered state of consciousness. Expecting a foul odor because of my experience with Skunk cabbage back East, I was surprised to smell what to me was a pleasant odor – not sweet like a rose but heavy, musky, and fragrant. As I got closer to the plants for close-ups I inhaled more and more of the scent and became intoxicated by it. No one else was around. It was just the quiet wetland, hundreds of Skunk cabbage plants heavy with scent, and me. I felt like I was truly communing with the plants.

The next year, I hoped to have the same experience, but no! I have never smelled the same heavy scent again even though I’ve been near large clusters of Skunk cabbage several times. It must have been the temperature – maybe the humidity, too.

But I digress (easy to do with cool plants). I want to introduce another plant that belongs to the same Araceae family: Elephant ears, or Colocasia esculenta. This is the distant cousin in the title of the post. Elephant ears are popular garden plants and are the important root vegetable known as taro, one of the earliest plants to be cultivated by humans. The starchy, tropical vegetable is a staple across many cultures, from Jamaica to West Africa, India, the Philipines, and beyond. I like Elephant ears because their giant leaves add drama to a little group of potted plants in front of my house. In winter I bring the plant inside. It’s clearly not happy there but it gets by until I can put it back out in the fresh air.

4. Colocasia leaves begin as tightly-rolled cylinders that slowly unfurl into huge, pendulent, heart-shaped leaves.
5. Elephant ears on the deck last summer.

Elephant ears have the same spadix and spathe structure as their distant relatives, Lysichiton and Symplocarpus. This is what distinguishes the family they belong to, the Araceae, or Arums. There are thousands of Arum species, mainly in the tropics. You may be familiar with Jack-in-the-pulpit or Philodendron, both in the Araceae family. The family has been around for more than 100 million years and includes the giant Sumatran Titan arum, or Corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum) which truly smells rotten when it blooms, once a year at most. A duckweed called Wolffia also belongs to the Araceae and is the smallest flowering plant on the planet!

I wasn’t aware of all this last week when I was busy photographing the leaves of my Elephant ear plant. It’s an appealing subject and that was enough. But later that day I was walking in a forest that gives way to swampy wetlands, thanks to the work of the American beaver. In the muddy wetland, I saw the first Skunk cabbage buds of the year! It occurred to me that it was similar to the Elephant ear I’d been photographing that morning. I delved into google, and here we are. Distant cousins, one biding its time indoors until it can grace the driveway edge and the other just beginning its annual cycle, snuggled in the wet woods.

6. See the bumps under that spathe? Those are the flower buds!
8. A Skunk cabbage with an artfully drooping spathe.
9. What luck! I found two slugs enjoying each other’s company inside a Skunk cabbage spathe. Black and white works better here. This is one of the photos I made the first time I saw Western Skunk cabbage and became intoxicated with its fragrance.
10. Another handsome Skunk cabbage plant rises from the detritus.

11. An infrared treatment.
10. An Elephant ear leaf in black and white.
11. Begging for more light in winter.
12. A dried Elephant ear leaf.



14. A closer view.
15. Taking liberties with color.
16. Behind tangles of vines, Swamp lanterns beam their cheerful Spring song.