REPEAT, and repeat…

Patterns. There’s something very reassuring about them. Whether a consistently repeating sequence of shapes, a loose gathering of similar elements or something in between, a pattern gets our attention. Patterns resonate deeply, maybe because their structure echoes the repeating sequences our brains depend on to configure perceptions and memories.

From well before birth we’re bathed in the regularity of our mother’s heartbeat, priming the pump for countless patterns we will perceive during our lives. As random as the world seems at times, patterns are woven throughout our experience, and like other beings on this planet, we depend on our ability to recognize them. Where would we be without pattern recognition, without rhythm and music and mathematical sequences, without that knack for making sense out of repetition?

Today, I’m interested in visual patterns, and there are thousands of them in my files. Here’s a smattering.

 

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The Photos:

  1. The skylight at the Museum of Northwest Art, a small museum in a small northwestern town a little over an hour north of Seattle. The formerly commercial space was re-purposed by a local architecture firm in the 90’s, and features cedar and hemlock paneling, a spiral staircase, and the skylight, which allows extra light into the gallery space.
  2. There’s something satisfying about window blinds – is it just the pattern? I don’t think so, I think it has to do with our relationship to windows themselves. For this photo I used an in-camera effect to heighten the contrast.
  3. At Seattle’s Japanese Garden the landscapers take pains to do things the Japanese way, lashing bamboo for fences in the traditional style. This one was done recently; it needs time to weather and blend with the landscape.
  4. Seattle’s King Street Station clock tower reminds us that patterns aren’t only found in repeating motifs like the columns on the facade, but are also recognizable gestalts, like the clock. Built in the early 1900’s, this was once the main train station for Seattle but, like train travel, the building has gone through changes over the years. A renovation was completed in 2013 – I should go insde and take a look.
  5. Deception Pass Bridge, which connects Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands, is about an hour and a half north of Seattle. Built high above the turbulent waters of Deception Pass in the 1930’s, the bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s about 180 feet above the water, and trails allow you to walk directly underneath, where this photo was taken.
  6. Patterns in carpets are an old tradition. This is a wool kilim-style rug from somewhere in the Middle east. Originally, most of the patterns woven into these rugs had particular meanings but now, I suspect the primary meaning is, “I hope the tourists like this one.”
  7. Seen in a Seattle alley, a pattern of bricks contrasts with random markings on a wall.
  8. The sandstone’s pattern evolved from millions of years of shifting sand dunes, at Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.
  9. This perfectly posed (poised, too!) lizard lives at a delightful roadside zoo. His wonderful skin is all pattern, in both texture and coloration. The Reptile Zoo is found along U.S. Rt. 2, as you head up into the Cascade Mountains from Seattle.
  10. Veins of fallen leaves and the mushrooms’ striate caps repeat their patterns with slight variations, giving us important clues. What would we do without these tools? How would we know what we were looking at if there were no repeating patterns?
  11. Cascade Oregon-grape (Mahonia nervosa) displays a rhythmic repetition reminiscent of Bach’s music, maybe a Cello Suite. Here’s an article about experiencing repetition in music.
  12. Picking up shells on the beach elicits a pattern if one kind of shell is favored. This little collection is from the U.S. east coast. I placed them (in a pattern!) on a page in a blank book, and photographed it: an instant book of shells. Often called jingle shells, or mermaids’ toenails, these shells can be found from Canada to Brazil, or so I read. In fact, there are many different species of jingle shells and apparently they’re found in Europe, China and New Zealand, but not on America’s west coast. Next week I’ll be on the coast of Oregon; maybe I’ll find other goodies there.
  13. Frank Gehry’s architectural riff on a smashed Stratocaster guitar takes your breath away the first time you see it. Seattle’s renamed Museum of Pop Culture (it used to be called the Experience Music Project) contains oodles of memorabilia about native son Jimi Hendrix. The free-form sheet metal style Gehry favors builds on repeating shapes, though they aren’t as obvious as the rectangles we’re used to. On a sunny day, the undulating, shiny curved walls reflect off each other, multiplying color and shape in a photographer’s dream.
  14. Skunk cabbage is in bloom now in many wet spots across the U.S. The eastern and western species are different, but they share an unpleasant odor and basic form. I think the spadix (the central spike carrying the tiny flowers) may be arranged in a Fibonacci Sequence, like pine cones, but I’m not sure.
  15. At a botanical garden, netting is used to protect plants from hungry rabbits and deer. When it rains, what a pretty sight!

 

 

Invitation

Last year color curled up tight, rolled itself into a ball and hid like a bear in winter. Emerging tentatively

now it spritzes the air with a stippling of pale mint green on charcoal gray branches,

blushes the twigs of dogwood blood red, or gold,

washes the magnolia tree’s petals faintly, with rose and cream

and softens the horizon with a thousand filmy greens

as the swollen buds of birch, alder and maple rejoice.

Color paints the tips of tiny moss leaves gold, and in the wetlands

shines see-through light on brave grass sprouts,

fixes a silky shimmer on the fur of willow catkins,

lights the sky with a delicate shade of lavender blue,

and invites reverie. Color returns, indifferent to all our small sufferings

ignorant of our diseases and wars, just the season’s dependable procession

for now.

 

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The photos:

  1. Magnolia flower; Rhododendron Species Garden, Federal Way, Washington.
  2. Magnolia petals on the ground; Bellevue Botanical Garden, Bellevue, Washington.
  3. Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis) buds and foliage; Bellevue Botanical Garden.
  4. Moss spore capsules; Bellevue Botanical Garden.
  5. Moss-covered rocks border a stream at the Seattle Japanese Garden, Seattle, Washington.
  6. A yellow variety of Red twig dogwood ( Cornus sericea); Juanita Bay Park, Kirkland, Washington.
  7. Native shrubs and trees in early April on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, Duvall, Washington.
  8. More trees and shrubs, including willows, on the trail in Duvall.
  9. New leaves of Red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium); O.O. Denny Park, Kirkland.
  10. Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), another Pacific northwest native; Juanita Bay Park.
  11. Flowering tree and cloud reflections in a stream at Bellevue Botanical Garden.
  12. Forget-me-nots (Myosotis arvensis) at Rhododendron Species Garden.
  13. A pair of Douglas fir cones nestled in moss at Rhododendron Species Garden.
  14. The woods are greening at home too. The moss glows like neon on the branches, but the Big Leaf maple (the gray-barked, spreading-limbed tree) hasn’t unfurled its leaves yet; Kirkland.
  15. Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) and Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) intermingle at Juanita Bay Park.
  16. An old willow begins to leaf out, and bright green Licorice fern adorns its branches at Juanita Bay Park.
  17. An insect pauses on a Magnolia bud at Seattle Japanese Garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CURVES

Here’s an idea to consider: there may be a recurring motif in your photography and/or your artwork that you haven’t discovered. Maybe a particular shape, line, gesture, tone or quality shows up, again and again. Maybe it’s even echoed in your body, in the way you move.  I’ve noticed that I return to a certain shape over and over again. It’s a curve, a curl, a rounding of line. Almost a circle but not quite, it’s more like an open sweep. Here it is, in photographs I made of grasses in the water and bursting fireweed seed pods.

 

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Word derivation tells us the word curve arose in late Middle English, from Latin curvare ‘to bend,’ and curvus ‘bent.’  Bending has interesting associations: bending the will, supplicating, the bend in the road….but a curve is a little different. Still, I can see the association between bending and curving clearly here:

 

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Here are the curves I’m drawn to again, this time in water. I think curves express water’s essence; formless on its own, water finds curves when other forces or elements act on it.

 

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This recurring curve lives inside my body and mind (which of course aren’t separate, though we insist on separating them). I picture it beginning tentatively, then building: a swoop, a swirl of the arm, maybe a twirl of the body….then I see a spiral floating expansively in the air. The curving gesture may be small and compact, perhaps repeating like arcs made by knitting needles, or the tight twists of a vine, sprung upon it’s own stem.

 

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On a straight path you’ll find me deviating in small, curved side shoots, ever mindful of what is appearing on the periphery. Another way the curve inhabits me.

 

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The curves in a twining house plant I had caught my eye, so I painted the leaf and stem, then photographed the plant and drawing curving together. A pine cone’s perfection of curved stem and spiraling sphere – such elegant curves – prompted me to make an ink drawing years ago, when I studied botanical drawing. Especially if I draw, the curve keeps appearing, rolling up to the surface of consciousness through the interstices of my neurons, neurons that curve in a tangled, unknowable dance.

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The curve I gravitate towards is something I see in the built environment, too. Of course, I’m not the only one responding with joy to curves, as you can see in the Richard Serra sculpture below.

 

 

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The curve has been with me for a long time, and it comes and goes, or maybe my awareness is what ebbs and flows.

 

 

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There’s something comforting about the idea of a motif recurring in my work, something to hang one’s hat on and organize around, perhaps. Not a bad thing is these complicated times.

 

Notes on the photos:

The first is of grasses and reeds in the Sammamish River, not far from home, January 2016.

The fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium) seed pods were photographed in a local park in August, 2016.

The Checkered lily (Fritillaria meleagris) was photographed at the Center for Urban Horticulture, April, 2014.

The swirling water photograph was taken at a fountain in Bremerton, Washington, in 2012.

The wave photo was taken at Youngs Creek, outside of Sultan, Washington, September, 2014, at f22, 1/3 second.

The vining stem of a Manroot plant (Marah fabaceus) was photographed in Duvall, Washington, May 2014.

The curving path is at Wright Park in Tacoma, Washington. Photographed last November.

The watercolor and ink drawing were made in the 1990’s.

The curved roof is at the Chinese Scholar’s Garden at the Staten Island Botanical Garden, New York City, photographed in 2011.

The Richard Serra sculpture is at LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It’s made of weathering steel and is titled “Band.”  It’s huge (12 feet high), and some consider it to be Serra’s magnum opus. In an interesting review, writer Guy Zimmerman said, “Standing in the Eastern gallery with Band you have the feeling that there is no valid reason to be anywhere else.”  I concur. My take on the sculpture can be seen here.  Photographed in 2016.

The curly, dried grass was photographed at Umtanum Creek, near Ellensberg, Washington, June, 2014.

The carp were photographed last year at Wright Conservatory, Tacoma, Washington.

The beached log was photographed at beautiful Rialto Beach, Washington, on a misty October afternoon in 2013. More photographs from that day are here.

 

Transient Beauty

Whether cultivated or wild, flowers are enchanting. Form, symmetry, color and scent – these reproductive structures offer an abundance of gifts, gifts that we return to over and over. For me the attraction to flowers is like an addiction – I see one and I’m gone.

Here is a clutch of beauties then, beauties whose bloom fades even as these words zip from your retina to your brain. This very transience is a large part of the appeal. Happily, the magic black box fixes them in time for a little longer. Enjoy.

 

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The cultivated flowers seen above – the orchids and cyclamen – were photographed recently inside conservatories in Seattle and Tacoma. Some flowers here are skating the dangerous border between cultivated and wild; having been planted long ago, they grow in place now without human help. The witch hazel flower (#9) blooms at a botanical garden, well cared for indeed. The gem-purple crocus flowers took root from bulbs someone set into a hollow in an old tree stump, at the edge of a suburban park: a gift to strangers. The sprightly yellow catkins and the pendent cluster of fuchsia-pink flowers are blooming at Juanita Bay Park, while last year’s dried grass stalks still blanket the wetlands, seen below.

 

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Water and soil alike remain cool this time of year, but a sunny March afternoon draws turtles up from their muddy hibernations to bask on a log. In a few months, white water lilies will bloom across the bay’s surface, and a feast of wildflowers will embellish nearby woodlands, fields, roadsides, and gardens. I’ll be ready.

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The photos:

  1. An orchid at Volunteer Park Conservatory, in Seattle, Washington.
  2. An orchid at Wright Park Conservatory in Tacoma, Washington.
  3. A white cyclamen at Volunteer Park Conservatory.
  4. A blossom on an old, bent cherry plum tree at the edge of a parking lot outside of Seattle. This tree, Prunus cerasifera, is also called Purple-leaved plum and is native to western Asia and the Caucasus.  Photographed with a Lensbaby.
  5. Another blossom from the parking lot trees, neglected but going strong. (Sadly, just down the block, a row of these lovely trees was removed last year because of construction work on a huge retail complex).
  6. More cherry plum blossoms, at Kruckeberg Botanical Garden in Seattle. This site will walk you through the difference between cherry and plum trees. Both are beautiful, both are celebrated. Cherry trees (Prunus serrulata), are blooming in Tokyo and Kyoto now, but in Washington, DC, peak bloom is not expected until the first week or two in April, due to cold weather. Plum trees (Prunus mume) originated around the Yangtze River in China. Their very early bloom bloom made them an important symbol in oriental art.
  7. Cherry plum trees bloom in the rain on a suburban street near Seattle. Taken with a phone from inside the car with the rain-strewn window rolled up.
  8. Yes, it’s a flower. This is a Weeping willow (Salix babylonica) catkin. Willows have male catkins on one tree, females on another, and this is a male catkin, ready and waiting at Juanita Bay Park.
  9. Witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’) flowers bloom alongside the dark curls of last year’s leaves, Bellevue Botanical Garden.
  10. A native Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum), blooms at Juanita Bay Park. Though the fruit isn’t palatable to humans, it’s eaten by animals, and hummingbirds take nectar from the flowers. As early as 1792, collections of this plant were made by Archibald Menzies, the naturalist on George Vancouver’s great global expedition. The explorers Lewis and Clark found R. sanguineum blooming further east, near the Columbia River, on March 27, 1806. Two hundred twelve years later it still blooms in late March, throughout the region.  It also blooms in cultivation, thanks to David Douglas, a botanist and explorer who enabled his employer, the Royal Horticultural Society (then called the Horticultural Society of London) to introduce the flowering currant to English horticulture in the mid 1820’s.  Here is a Royal Hort description of one of many cultivars available now.
  11. This charming group of crocus was growing in a huge tree stump at O.O. Denny Park in Kirkland. Someone must have planted them there, where just enough soil stuck to the stump for the little flowers to thrive and bloom.
  12. The new green shoots of the invasive Reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea) are rising quickly from the detritus of last year’s decaying growth. Volunteers are slowly removing many of the non-native plants at this popular wetland park. Currently they’re focused on Himalayan blackberry, a prickly, difficult plant to eradicate. I don’t know when they’ll ever get to the Reed canary grass. If they do, it would be a huge challenge to eradicate since much of it grows in very wet places.
  13. At least a dozen turtles lined up on this log to bask on a warm March afternoon at Juanita bay Park. Today it snowed briefly. Ah, March!

Dreams in the Dust

The old Techatticup gold mine in Eldorado Canyon, Nevada is the site of an eccentric, poorly maintained collection of rundown buildings and derelict vehicles. We drove there from Las Vegas in January, curious about this once-prosperous mine, where tours are now the only activity that generates money. On a winter day under a dull sky, the mine looked as forlorn as the surrounding landscape, a landscape whispering of desiccated wood and dreams blown to dust. Perhaps there’s promise around the next bend.

Paired with these photographs from the Eldorado Canyon mine are images from Valley of Fire State Park, a preserve about 90 minutes north of the mine. The Mohave desert in January has the spare beauty of subtle colors and gritty textures, quite a contrast to Las Vegas, where bright colors and glitter are the rule.

First, a look at the life-giving Colorado River, at the mouth of Eldorado Canyon. This is where ore from the mine was shipped downriver back in the 1800’s. The canyon cuts to the left, out of sight. We’re looking north here, with Nevada to the left and Arizona to the right. Hoover Dam is 15 or 20 miles upriver and Las Vegas is 45 miles northwest.

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The photos:

  1. The Colorado River at Eagle Wash, outside Nelson, NV.
  2. A Metro van permanently parked at Techatticup Mine, near Nelson, NV. These vans were made by International Harvester, and often used for bread or milk delivery. This one probably dates from 1959 or the early 60’s.
  3. A Dodge bus and an old gas pump at Techatticup Mine. The bus probably dates from about 1940.
  4. A slot canyon in the sandstone on the White Domes trail, Valley of Fire State Park, NV.
  5. Slot canyon, White Domes trail, Valley of Fire State Park.
  6. Fluid Drive chrome on a vintage car at Techatticup Mine. I don’t know what kind of car this was, but Fluid Drive was a Chrysler trademark from the 1940’s.
  7. Did you know that the three chrome portholes that many of us associate with Buick, are called ventiports? They actually vented heat in the beginning, but later, they were purely decorative. This is probably a 1952 model, perhaps an “archetypal” BuickCheck this out!! 
  8. A Valley of Fire roadside scene.
  9. A Valley of Fire roadside scene.
  10. Peering through the back window of a vintage car at the Techatticup Mine, with a few choice VW camper vans in the distance. There’s also a fake, crashed vintage plane at the mine that was used in a Kevin Kostner film.
  11. An old Chevy truck from 1936.  Here’s one that’s been restored – what a beauty! Unfortunately, almost all the vehicles at the mine have been vandalized; many have been painted over and scraper repeatedly. The door on this one says “Chicago Motor Club AAA” but also says “Wyoming.” There must be some great stories there…
  12. A late afternoon vista at Valley of Fire.
  13. Weathered rock formations on the White Domes trail at Valley of Fire. This photo was taken with my phone and processed in Silver Efex and Lightroom.
  14. There is a real mish-mash of objects to peruse as you wait for your mine tour (which I confess I didn’t take).  Tourist tchotchkes and historical artifacts jostle for space in several old wooden buildings. Here, old bottles gather light in a window. The Nehi soda bottle on the right is probably from the 1930’s, the Pepsi bottle from the 1940’s.
  15. A door knob inside the old store at the mine.
  16. A few rocks, and leaves from a Palo Verde tree, have gathered in a sandstone crevice at Valley of Fire.
  17. All that’s left of a desert shrub is this elegant skeleton in the sand, at Valley of Fire.
  18. One of the old mine buildings at Techatticup, with an assortment of rusted parts, animal skulls, and old wooden items scattered about.
  19. The Metro step van seen in #2. Bales of hay have been dumped just in front of the van, so maybe it still runs!
  20. On the road, approaching Valley of Fire State Park. I take a lot photos from the passenger seat, but for this one we stopped and I got out. The road was quiet enough that I could stand in the middle and get low for a more interesting angle. Processed in Silver Efex and Lightroom.
  21. On the road again, threading through a canyon at Valley of Fire State Park. It was almost noon and the sun was bouncing off the sandy road, an effect I emphasized in processing.

 

 

Drawing the World as the World Draws Us

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When we drop our preoccupations, the world

draws us in closer

and maybe, as we get closer, we’ll see the world is

drawing us, drawing us with the grandest and most minute gestures,

through every breath,

through every cell.

We’re lucky when we’re subsumed into the process

of this intricate artwork, more lucky when we are aware

that we’re part of it, that we’re so much

larger than

the sticky, messy, but necessary idea

called I.

 

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The photos:

  1. A pair of coots (Fulica americana) swims toward the shore of Sikes Lake in the Snoqualmie Valley, about 20 miles east of Seattle. The rugged Cascade Range rises in the background. Photographed with an Olympus OM-D EM1 camera and an Olympus Zuiko 45mm f1.8 lens; processed in Lightroom.
  2. Coots and American wigeons (Anas americana) congregate on a sheltered bay at Juanita Bay Park. Seattle is a little over a mile away across Lake Washington. Photographed with the 45mm f1.8 lens; processed in Lightroom.
  3. Reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea) at the edge of the Mercer Slough, a slow-moving body of water in Bellevue, which is also across the lake from Seattle. Photographed with an Olympus Zuiko 60mm f2.8 macro lens; processed in Lightroom.
  4. Sunlight illuminates the morning fog near home. Photographed with the 45mm f1.8  lens; processed in Lightroom.
  5. A Western redcedar branch (Thuja plicata) waves in the breeze at Mercer Slough; the striated, reddish bark of more cedars is seen in the background. Photographed with the 60mm f2.8 lens; processed in Lightroom.
  6. Indian plum, or Osoberry (Oemleria cerasiformis), a common early-blooming native shrub, blooms at Bellevue Botanical Garden. Photographed with a vintage Super Takumar 50mm f1.4 lens; processed in Color Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  7. Birch tree reflections on the placid Mercer Slough. The slough (pronounced “sloo”) is fed by numerous streams. In a wild water-dance, the water finds its way to Lake Washington, then, through a series of bays and canals that divide Seattle in half, the water reaches Puget Sound. Tide-driven Puget Sound waters flow out through the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the Pacific Ocean. Our area’s water is further enriched by an “underwater Amazon River” entering the Strait at its mouth, over a hundred fifty miles west of Seattle. Photographed with the 60mm f2.8 lens; processed in Lightroom.
  8. An old cherry tree in the wooded area of Bellevue Botanical Garden has just begun to flower. Photographed with the Super Takumar 50mm lens; processed in Color Efex and Lightroom.
  9. A stand of European silver birch trees (Betula pendula) at Mercer Slough. These graceful trees have become naturalized in our area. Photo made with the 60mm f2.8 lens; processed in Color Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  10. Fallen leaves, moist from recent rains, surround a cross-shaped shoot of new growth at Bellevue Botanical Garden. Photographed with the 60mm f2.8 lens; processed in Lightroom.
  11. An unidentified grass at Mercer Slough. Photographed with the 60mm f2.8 lens; processed in Lightroom.
  12. A close-up of cherry blossoms on the tree seen in #8. While I was there, a Downy woodpecker worked on dead branch while chickadees and juncos flitted through the trees, conversing amiably. Photographed with the Super Takumar 50mm lens; processed in Lightroom.
  13. Looking back in my files I find photos of this tree in bloom from April 3rd, 2017, and March 24th, 2013. We seem to be a little early this year.
  14. Two of last year’s willow leaves lay on the boardwalk handrail at Juanita bay Park, while this year’s fresh growth glows brilliantly in the distance as the sun goes down. Photographed with the 45mm f1.8 lens; processed in Lightroom.

 

 

 

Snowy Interlude

Snow comes and goes quickly in the Pacific Northwest, and here in the lowlands, it is more likely a delightful distraction than a dreadful inconvenience. We had a bit of snow last month, so before Spring is upon us, I thought I would post some photos of it. They were all taken at home.

Winter Retreat

All the colors snow lends

the landscape: palest gray, soft violet, smudged

dull green, luminous

buff….they comprise the dustings,

the coatings, the thought coverings, to

bloom in the

quieted

mind.

 

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The photos:

  1. Footprints on the sidewalk, from the window upstairs. This is not snow, it is graupel, an unusual (for us anyway) weather phenomenon that looks like granular snow, halfway between snow and hail. My German readers will be pleased to know I have learned the German word graupel, since we don’t seem to have an English one. Danke, Deutsch Sprache! The photo was taken with a Samsung phone, and processed in Lightroom, beginning with a Lightroom B&W preset.
  2. The ravine behind our building from my third floor deck, taken after a snowy night, at 7:25am. Olympus OMD EM1 camera with Olympus 45mm f1.8 lens. Processed in Silver Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  3. Three tree trunks in the graupel! Taken in the parking lot with a Samsung phone, processed in Silver Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  4. The sun lights up the woods after a snowfall. Taken from the third floor deck with with the OMD EM1 and 45mm f1.8 lens (at f4.5). Processed in Lightroom. The tree in the right foreground is an English holly (Ilex aquifolium), a species that has become invasive in Pacific northwest forests. Under these hollies, shade is dense and few native plants thrive.
  5. Another view of the woods taken from the third floor deck with the OMD EM1 and 45mm f1.8 lens (at f4.5). Processed in Color Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  6. Sun lights up the woods. Taken from inside, through a window. Camera and processing same as above.
  7. Two of our native Douglas fir trees (Pseudotsuga menziesii) with an understory of invasive Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) and the native, graceful Sword fern (Polystichum munitum). Taken from the third floor deck with the OMD EM1 &  45mm f1.8 lens (at f4.5). Processed in Color Efex Pro and Lightroom. 
  8. and 9. A potted Jasmine plant on the deck with spots of snow on its leaves. Both photos taken with the OMD EM1 and 45mm f1.8 lens, at f2.8. Photo #7 was processed in Color Efex & Lightroom, #8 in Lightroom only.

Speaking of snow, best wishes to my east coast USA friends, who are dealing with a gnarly nor-easter this weekend. Thousands of flights cancelled, power outages – all the usual fun!  And my friends in Europe had it worse, as a wickedly cold Siberian system caused deaths in at least ten different European countries, as well as the UK (Oh, the UK is part of Europe? I forgot, my brain was Brexited!) Maybe photos of snow and graupel aren’t what you want to see right now….I guess Spring can’t come soon enough!

Looking In/Seeing Through

Never one to be satisfied with received wisdom or the approved viewpoint, I have found my own ways to look at the world. As a plant lover, I like to wander through conservatories and photograph exotic flora, but you can also find me outside the building, looking in. From that viewpoint, everything is less defined. The smudging of edges, the obfuscation of boundaries and the hazy windows, invite a different kind of contemplation.  Something separates me from the plants, but this barrier (the glass) allows me to see them with fresh eyes. Perhaps it’s a more simplified view, since detail is lost. Also, the window frames lend a pleasing order to the view that’s lacking inside. Don’t get me wrong – I love the immersive experience of being inside a conservatory, but the view from outside is intriguing.

More images in this series can be found here, here and here.

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The photographs were taken recently at the Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle, using an Olympus OM D1 camera and two lenses: an Olympus 60mm f2.8 macro and an Olympus 45mm f1.8. The photos were processed in Lightroom. Here are a few notes on the processing:

#1 & #2 began with Lightroom split tone presets (found on the left side panel) and then were modified (tone curves, vignettes, etc.).

#3 began with a VSCO film preset, Agfa Portrait xps 160, from VSCO‘s Eclectic films #07, then it was modified.

#4 was processed in Lightroom.

#5 began with a VSCO film preset (Fuji Sensia 100 alt), then was modified.

#6 began with a Lightroom selenium toned preset, then was slightly modified.

#7, #8, #10, & #11 were processed in Lightroom only.

#9 began with the VSCO preset Fuji Sensia 100 warm, with further adjustments.

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I look forward to reading your comments and thoughts.

More than a Glimmer

Soon after I returned from my mid-January trip to the Nevada desert I began noticing small glimmers of Spring. First, it was the tentative strains of Song sparrows warming up their territorial melodies in the woods behind my home. At the botanical garden witch hazel scented the air with an intoxicating fragrance, and the same week, sturdy daffodil shoots pierced the dull brown earth, powering up like legions of little green soldiers.

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Under last year’s leaf detritus the warmed earth has been incubating new growth; even as I type, reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea) motors briskly through the decaying leaf matter and into the sunlight. Speaking of sunlight, there may not be a lot of it around here, but daylight is no longer scarce after 4:00 pm. What a pleasure!

 

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This is the time of year that our native Indian plum leafs out and thrusts cascades of tiny white flowers into the woods, providing nectar for early bees, moths, butterflies and hummingbirds.

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Willows curtain the marsh with beads of lime green on softly waving stems. Way out on Lake Washington one day, just after sunset, I watch four river otters cavorting. Rafts of coots, wigeons and grebes gather near the shore and a pair of Mallards hauls up on a log to rest.

 

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All the crisp brown leaves that were caught on branches and ferns are disintegrating into fine lace. I admire the map-like tracery of veins across the skeletonized leaves.  Pleasing little rows of bumps on Sword fern leaflets are evidence of plentiful spore dots (sori), located on the underside of the leaf. It’s rewarding to peer closely but sometimes I let my eyes and camera go out of focus, to better feel the wild energy of the cold air moving through the forest.

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Bloodtwig dogwood stems (Cornus sanguinea) are showy with color now, and display a handsome, architectural simplicity of form. A few small blossoms on a shrub I can’t identify nod shyly along the wood’s edge.

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At an arboretum in Seattle the earliest varieties of azaleas and cherry trees are blooming, and at their feet, snowdrops and crocuses punctuate thickly mulched beds. A few precocious daffodils are already out. Birdsong rings through the woodlands. We watch an Anna’s hummingbird flit impatiently from blossom to blossom in the azalea, his iridescent green back glinting brilliantly in the sunlight against clear pink flowers.

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For over a month I have noticed trees laden with long, elegant catkins. I couldn’t figure out what they were and it was driving me crazy. At the arboretum I came across one of these trees while on foot and took a close look at it. The catkins, which hold male flowers, each with four stamens, were fully out. Between clumps of them I found the tiniest red starburst flowers perched on vase-shaped buds: the female flowers. Last year’s leaves were still under the tree, so I photographed them, too. The clues made identification easier: the mystery tree is our native Beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta). This tree’s nuts are smaller than the European hazelnut so the species is not grown commercially, but it makes a nice specimen tree just the same, with its abundance of golden catkins.

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Hellebores have been blooming for a month now at the botanical garden, while fat buds on trees reach out into the delicately hued forest, and the Crepe myrtle tree’s patchwork bark seems to glow a little brighter than before.

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It’s happening. And it’s more than a glimmer.

 

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Some of these photos were made using a vintage super Takumar 50mm f1.4 prime lens, with an adapter to fit my camera. This film era lens is somewhat heavy (it has an all-metal construction) and it can be difficult to focus. It doesn’t produce the same kind of all-over tack sharpness that modern lenses have, but there’s a particular beauty to the way it renders colors and tones. I’ve mentioned it in previous posts. Here’s a quick video about the lens.

Number 2, #3 (except the daffodil shoots), #6, #9, #10, #11, #12, #20 and #21 were made with the old Takumar 50mm. All the others were made with an Olympus 60mm f2.8 macro lens.

For gardeners, the Witch hazels are Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ and Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise’.

One more thing – since beginning this post another mass shooting has occurred in the U.S.  I stand in sympathy for the victims and their families, and this includes all the kids who are traumatized by this event. I heard an interview with a 23-year-old newspaper reporter who has already covered three mass shootings. How does she deal with that? The National Association of Social Workers put out this statement, which notes that our country leads the world in mass shootings and recommends treating gun violence as a public health crisis. Mass shootings are complex problems, not reducible to one cause or one solution, but people in power need to begin the hard work of fixing this problem.

 

 

Death Valley

I wanted to escape the dreary northwest winter. Though a lot can be said for sticking with the situation you’re in and making the best of it, there would still be weeks and weeks of winter when we returned. I would have ample opportunity to build my moral character and strengthen that stiff upper lip by bearing down amidst the endless parade of damp, gray days that characterizes the Pacific northwest winter (yes, and maybe spring too…and OK, maybe fall).

So we flew to Las Vegas in January with the idea of visiting three desert parks. One was Death Valley, one of the hottest places in the world in summer. In the winter though, it’s quite tolerable, with the proper precautions. What I found was a landscape that, unlike the wet temperate forests where I live, does not invite you in. In fact, the close-up view at Death Valley tends to be off-putting; salt-encrusted soil and jagged rocks don’t really make you feel like luxuriating in their presence. The wider view – those grand vistas that Death Valley is famous for – does invite “Oh’s” and “Ah’s” but it is still a very harsh and unforgiving landscape.

Visitors walk the salt flats at Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park

A few quick facts about Death Valley, California, USA: this National Park was created in 1933.  3,000 square miles (7,800 km2) of it (or 91%) is designated as wilderness. The park is huge and isolated; services are few and far between. It’s a place of extremes: the highest temperature recorded on earth happened here on July 10, 1913, when the air temperature at Furnace Creek was 134° F (56.7°C). The area receives less than 2 1/2 inches of rain a year, but there are over 160 springs and ponds. The tallest point is Telescope Peak, at 11,043 feet high (3,366 m) and the lowest point in the park, Badwater Basin, is the lowest point in North America, at 282 feet (86 m) below sea level. The valley was named “Death Valley” in the mid 1800’s, by people known as the “Lost 49ers” who, with great difficulty, crossed this inhospitable land to reach California gold fields.

Driving west towards Death Valley from Las Vegas, we passed through red rock country:

A view from Rt. 160 as it cuts through Red Rock Canyon

Death Valley has a number of extraordinary sights but they are too spread out to visit in one day. We planned on two days, knowing we still would barely scratch the surface. However, it had not rained in about 117 days, and rain was finally on the way. After hearing the weather report, and thinking about a day spent driving through vast expanses of desert in a cold rain, we decided to scrap our second Death Valley day and go back towards Las Vegas. We thought we might get ahead of the storm, which was coming from the west. Heavy rain closed some roads in Death Valley the day after we were there, so I think we did the right thing.

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We spent time at three points of interest: Salt Creek, a meandering desert creek that supports the rare little Death Valley pupfish, Zabriskie Point, a scenic overlook where part of Antonioni’s film Zabriskie Point was made, and Badwater Basin. We tried for Artist’s Palette, a scenic loop with beautiful rock formations, but the sun was setting by the time we got there.

Salt Creek, Death Valley, where life is adapted to high salinity and harsh temperatures.

 

 

The endangered Death Valley pupfish lives in this creek, and a curious, salt-tolerant succulent called Pickleweed (Allenrolfea occidentalis) grows around it.

 

The view across Death Valley with the Panamint Range in the background

 

Another view across Death Valley, approaching Badwater Basin

 

At Badwater, a spring-fed pool in the salt-encrusted valley floor reflects the foothills of the Amargosa Range. A similar image in color is here.

 

Looking north across the salt flats at Badwater

 

 

A colorful rock formation caught my eye between Badwater and Artist’s Palette

 

The sinking sun heightens subtle desert colors.

 

Earlier in the day at Zabriskie Point, we admired the pale contours of Manly Peak against the soft purples of the Panamint Range.

 

Zabriskie Point’s mountain contours. These badlands are the remains of an ancient, eroded lake.

 

Another view from dramatic Zabriskie Point

 

The land itself seems to flow at Zabriskie Point.

 

Increasing clouds made for a quiet, but beautiful sunset as we drove out of the park.

If you compare these scenes with the lush, dripping greens in my previous post, you’ll understand how this rocky, spare landscape is diametrically opposed to the look and feel of northwest forests. That’s the draw for me, but the lack of plants at Death Valley was so ubiquitous that it put me off. For my taste, Red Rock Canyon was more appealing. I like at least a side dish of plant matter with my main landscape course!

Another location we explored on this trip was Valley of Fire State Park, a scenic red sandstone area about an hour northeast of Las Vegas. We also visited Eldorado Mine, an old gold mine full of odd memorabilia and junked vehicles near the Colorado River. More about those locations later!