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!

 

Winter Green

January in the Pacific northwest was wet, with over 8″ of rain; the average January precipitation is closer to 5 1/2″. That has made outdoor photography difficult, but I’ve been darting out between showers to a nearby park, hoping the rain doesn’t begin again before I reach my destination.

O.O. Denny Park isn’t far from home but it feels almost like another planet – a very green one, especially now. Local residents favor the park’s pleasant waterfront picnic and recreation area on Lake Washington, but across the street there is a deep, wet ravine dotted with tall, moss-covered trees and luxuriant undergrowth. The gurgling sound of  water from the park’s fast-moving creek stays within earshot as you walk a loop trail up the creek, across it, and back. There is a magical feeling here, a sense of stepping back into a place defined by trees, not cars.

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This month I’ve been inspired by the otherworldly quality of a landscape drenched in mist, mist that sometimes turned to rain as I walked, tempting me to run back to the car. If the rain is gentle the trees provide enough cover to wait it out; experiencing the changes adds to the pleasure. This week I was caught by a hailstorm. Ducking under an old cedar tree, I listened to the surprising clatter of tiny ice balls bouncing all about me. I emerged feeling frigid, with numb fingers and toes, but I’d been given a weather gift, and I was thankful.

Water is happy in the ravine; it stays and makes a home, decorating its domain with all manner of lichens, mosses and mushrooms, funneling its way up tree trunks and down them, too. Water speeds the rot and decomposition that smells so rich here, it makes tinkling stream music, it forces you to step carefully on slippery surfaces, it gives the Yellow Skunk cabbage all the oozy muck it wants, and sometimes – no, often –  it throws a hazy curtain of rain or hail over the lot, prompting you to squint, or maybe just close your eyes and breathe.

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When I first walked the paths at O.O. Denny Park, the landscape was so different from what I was used to seeing that I couldn’t take it in. I just gaped. As I walk the loop trail repeatedly, I see more.  I slowly prise the details apart and begin to see the patterns. The Big Leaf Maple thrusts moss-laden branches high into the sky for light, and each fall the maples drop a mother-lode of leaves. Because the leaves are huge and the forest is crowded with growth, many leaves are caught on the way down. There’s a pattern: caught leaves, decomposing in place.

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One day this week I tried to grab a window of time without rain, and made my way up the O.O. Denny ravine path, camera in hand. The clouds parted to reveal a rare glimpse of blue sky but it was a changeable day, and soon a cold drizzle began to fall. I paused and heard a ping, ping, ping. Soon tiny ice balls began bouncing all around me. I was transfixed. Bundled up in a down jacket and wool scarf but without gloves or a hat, I put my hood up and stepped backwards, taking shelter under a large cedar. The hail came clattering down. It coated the path in front of me white, it collected in furrows of leaves on the ground and in mossy crevices on trees, and it turned the ravine into a magical fantasy land.

Holding my camera under my scarf, I awkwardly reached for my phone in an inside pocket. With frozen fingers I composed a few pictures. Finally, the hail stopped and I set back out for my car, avoiding the muddy, icy puddles as well as I could. I was very cold and desperately wanted to feel that heater!

 

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More photos from O.O. Denny Park are here (Fall), here (Spring), and here (Spring).

The Photos:

  1. A section of the loop trail. Late one afternoon I noticed a tell-tale splotch of white on the path here. It was still wet so I looked up and sure enough, there was a Barred owl, staring me down from a perch just overhead. Not wanting to disturb the owl, I left the camera at my side, and enjoyed the opportunity for a brief, eye-to-eye connection across species lines.
  2. Bigleaf maples (Acer macrophyllum) form a tangle of green, enriched by abundant rain. The biggest maple in North America, Bigleaf has an affinity for mosses, ferns and lichens. Their lush growth on Bigleaf trunks and branches produces “canopy soil” full of nutrients. The trees can actually produce tiny canopy roots, taking advantage of the rich biomass, high above the forest floor.
  3. Flanking this Bigleaf maple are the gracefully swaying branches of Western Red cedar (Thuja plicata), a common northwestern evergreen. Given the right circumstances, these trees can live over 1,000 years and grow 230′ tall.
  4. The moss-covered tree is probably a young Bigleaf Maple; the orange leaves are Bigleaf Maple leaves.
  5. Somehow, a maple leaf was speared by this branch. It will probably hang here until it fully decomposes.
  6. Another maple leaf caught on a branch.
  7. And another – so precarious!
  8. A pause in the rain.
  9. A single Bigleaf maple can support several tons of “epiphytic material” – the mosses, lichens, ferns and associated bacterial and fungal species that live in the trees.
  10. Licorice ferns (Polypodium glycyrrhiza) take root in the moss on this branch. The trees in the background to the right are Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla).
  11. The Sword fern (Polystichum munitum) is a large, tough evergreen fern found throughout our area, up into Alaska, and down along the coast to southern California.
  12. Licorice fern has a similar distribution, and favors the trunks and branches of Bigleaf maples but will grow elsewhere.  A nibble of the rootlet yields a sweet, faintly licorice taste; the plant is used medicinally and for food. “Polypodium” refers to its habit of having many feet – growing from different points along a creeping rhizome.
  13. I believe this pretty lichen is Oakmoss, or Evernia prunastri. It grows across the Northern hemisphere and is used in the perfume industry in Europe.
  14. This fragment is typical of broken branches seen on the forest floor. It’s covered with a complex mix of lichens and moss, and I can’t identify a single one!
  15. Elegant Western Red cedars and sturdy Douglas firs create a cathedral-like atmosphere on one of my favorite sections of trail.
  16. These little bright gold mushrooms are probably Hygrocybe flavescens. They grow across North America; Europe has a very similar species.
  17. The Indian plum, or Osoberry (Oemleria cerasiformis) is already budding! Soon their tiny, white dangling bells will punctuate the forest. They’re the first native shrubs to flower here, offering nectar to early foraging bees. Song sparrows and Pacific wrens are singing…it won’t be long.
  18. The hailstorm.
  19. Local forests shine bright green in January because of an abundance of evergreen trees, ferns, understory plants, and mosses.
  20. Hail pellets are gathered in a cup of maple leaves on the forest floor.
  21. The hail won’t damage these ground covers that are green all year.
  22. Along the path, the little ice pellets begin to melt and soak into the ground. In an hour there will be no trace of the hail, except for mud, puddles, and more water in the creek that makes its way down to Lake Washington, through the complex of bays, canals and waterways that divide Seattle in half, into Puget Sound, through the Straight of Juan de Fuca, and finally, into the Pacific Ocean.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rough Edges

The streets and back alleys of Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood are rich with texture, literally and figuratively. Worn brick, surprising architectural juxtapositions, and the curious traces left by passers by are all fodder for the curious photographer.

Unlike the cities of Europe or even the eastern US, Seattle’s history began fairly recently, with active settlement getting underway about 160 years ago. A city of wooden buildings grew up on the logging industry, and then the combustibility of wood took the city down, in the “Great Fire” of 1889. It was quickly built back up, this time with brick, and many of those sturdy old structures still stand in Pioneer Square, where Seattle’s moody beauty come into its own.

It was a mid January afternoon and the goal was simply to wander around Pioneer Square, take photos, and enjoy the day. The weather was far from ideal, with dull, overcast skies and glare, so my processing choices were based on bringing more life to the images and involved more effects like infrared than I typically use. Below I’ll describe the “where” or “what” of the photographs and talk about processing decisions.

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The Photos:

  1. A photographer sets up a shot in an alley near Pioneer Square.  Processing: The highlights are blown out in the original, so I recovered some of the overexposed areas in Lightroom first. The image needed more punch, or a more graphic look. Settling on an infrared filter in Color Efex, I chose this off-kilter color style because I thought it suited the surroundings.
  2. A “Cash for your Banksy” poster with an L.A. phone number, posted in a Seattle alley? I’m still scratching my head about that one!  Processing: The original had too much going on and lacked focus. Again, I chose a color infrared effect in Color Efex. The color shift brought out the Banksy flyer and “TOM” graffiti nicely, but blackened the brick, so I lightened up the shadows and blacks a bit in Lightroom.
  3. What’s left of the old brick paving still gathers cigarette butts in this alley.  At the end of the block is Merrill Place, a renovation of a clutch of hundred-year-old buildings into retail space and condos. I bet the young urban professionals who buy a tony 1 -3 bedroom unit (paying mid to upper six figures) are the envy of their peers. We have an influx of new residents, a booming economy, and a construction boom in Seattle. The city was crowned “Crane Capitol of America” for two years running, with 58 cranes stabbing the skyline as of July, 2017.  Processing: The original was so dull that I wasn’t going to use it, but after seeing how well the infrared effect enhanced other images, I tried it again. To further emphasize the dark mystery of the alley I softened the focus, using the Color Efex “Glamor glow” filter. Then I added a vignette in Lightroom.
  4. Share a bike on the fly using the app on your phone, and you’ll help LimeBike and Spin grow their revenue! You’ll be doing good for the planet, too. Your first ride is free, after that it’s just $1/half hour. When you reach your destination, just leave the bike “anywhere responsible” and close the wheel lock. Next time you need a bike, your app will lead you to the nearest one. That’s how shared bikes work, and the trend is growing. Here, the competing company colors of two bikes left in an alley made a nice picture. I didn’t move them an inch!  Processing: A garbage bin marred the original so I cropped heavily to focus in on the bikes and reflections. I should have framed it better in the first place.  To emphasize the wonderful colors I used a film effect in Color Efex: Kodak Ektachrome 400X Pro. I lightened the center of the image slightly, and added a little vignetting in Lightroom.
  5. This photograph brings together three Pioneer Square themes: handsome old brick buildings, hanging flower baskets, and construction. Tarps are a recurring subject in my photography and I’m always on the lookout for them; for me, the tarp in front of the building doesn’t hurt the picture.  Processing: Silver Efex was used to convert to black and white, using the “Full Contrast & Structure” filter, Ilford PanX Plus 50 film simulation, and selenium toning. Back in Lightroom, blacks were darkened a bit and a slight vignette was added.
  6. Seattle Steam’s old smokestack is a welcome interruption in the cube-based skyline. When Seattle’s “Great Fire” of 1889 destroyed much of this area, companies like Seattle Steam took advantage of lucrative opportunities to rebuild the infrastructure. Over the years, Seattle Steam has gone through several owners and iterations, but the company still provides steam heat to many businesses and residences. Coal and oil are fuels of the past here; natural gas is preferred, and recently the company’s carbon footprint was reduced by 60% after installing equipment to use biomass – wood waste! – to heat the boilers. That’s coming full circle for a logging town!  Processing: Silver Efex was used to convert to black and white, using the “Fine Art High Key” filter, a Kodak 100 Tmax Pro film simulation and selenium toning. In Lightroom I cropped, darkened the exposure a little, increased the clarity, and sharpened.
  7. Perhaps there’s a restaurant in this old brick building, given the serious exhaust duct work.  Processing: This image is all about that beautiful duct, the way it contrasts with the brick, and its curve. I converted to black and white in Silver Efex; I don’t remember which settings I used. Back in Lightroom, a few minor adjustments included smoothing the tones on the duct slightly.
  8. I like the way these two older buildings follow the bend of the street and I’m surprised they haven’t been torn down (yet).  Processing: This poorly lit image went through several versions before I decided the sepia tones (a Lightroom preset) worked best. I adjusted the tone curve, opening up the shadows, then lightened the garage door and street, and darkened the upper right. I cropped to eliminate extraneous “stuff” and used Lightroom “Transform” to straighten building edges that appeared to lean.
  9. There’s that photographer again, framing a shot of the rail tracks that feed freight and passengers into and out of Seattle.  Processing: For consistency with the first photo of the photographer (actually my son) I used one of the colored infrared filters in Color Efex, which turned the green-leaved tree into a pink-blooming winter wonder. I added a lightened vignette in Lightroom.
  10. A heavy scrim of tree branches obscures one of Seattle’s landmarks, the building with the peaked roof line. Finished in 1914, the Smith Tower is the oldest skyscraper in town, and was for many years the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.  Processing: The photo was taken with my phone because I was traveling light, with just one lens. It wasn’t wide enough to capture what I wanted here, but the camera lens is. I cropped somewhat on both sides, decreased exposure and contrast, and made adjustments to saturation and luminance of each individual color. Because it was getting dark when the photo was taken, noise reduction was needed along with sharpening, both in Lightroom.
  11. A dock at the Seattle Ferry Terminal, where passengers walk or drive onto ferries to West Seattle, Bainbridge Island, Vashon Island or Bremerton, a town on the Kitsap Peninsula. It’s a pleasure to walk over to the waterfront from Pioneer Square and take in the views, where the skies over the water are ever changing.  Processing: The blue-toned, contrasty look comes from converting the photo to black and white first, then adding a color infrared filter in Color Efex to the black and white image.
  12. The shiny newcomer wedging itself into Seattle’s skyline is the F5 Tower. Each floor is a different size. Rainwater collection, rooftop solar power, and glass similar to that used at One World Trade Center in New York that both absorbs and reflects sunlight, are Gold LEED certification features. The offices will house F5 Networks, a tech company.  Processing: The original photo was all about the mix of old and new buildings with the F5 Tower in the background, but the composition was just too crowded and needed to be simplified. I cropped a lot out, zeroing in on the tower’s facade. Unfortunately, I have forgotten how I made the rest of the changes!
  13. Late afternoon sun sidles through the storm clouds over Puget Sound, seen from the ferry terminal. That could be the ferry from Bremerton coming in. The rugged, snow-covered Olympic Mountains seen on the horizon lie between Seattle and the coast, to our east. With the Cascade Range to Seattle’s west and Mount Rainier rising up to the southwest, mountain vistas provide a majestic frame for the city…when they aren’t obscured by clouds!  Processing: This photo just needed subtle adjustments in Lightroom, such as softening the clouds at the top by using the graduated filter to reduce contrast, using it again to slightly darken the upper corners, and adjusting luminance in most of the colors, individually.

I don’t use filters in Color Efex as much as I did for this batch of photos, and I don’t convert to black and white as often as I did here, but I enjoyed using the effects to add interest to many photos that tended to be flat, due to overcast skies. At the waterfront, conditions improved, and the final shot’s colors stood well on their own. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bringing Rain to the Desert

Perhaps it was fate. During the first week of January, we left cold, rainy Seattle behind for some Las Vegas sun. The desert city had not had any rain for 116 days, and for a few more pleasant days, the dry spell continued. Then the clouds arrived, and by our last day there was so much rain that the streets were flooding and our flight out was delayed. But, you work with what you have, so that’s what we did.

 

Rain and mist have drained the color from Red Rock Canyon

 

Besides the vagaries of weather and fate, travel photography has been on my mind – no wonder! It has its own pitfalls, doesn’t it?  We take pictures to document our experience, and for many of us, to share it later online. That can create pressure to perform, which in turn can dilute our ability to fully enjoy the experience itself. There can be many layers of removal from feeling alive in the moment when you travel. There you were, in the dry desert, gazing at scenery that was stunning, amazing, and just plain beautiful. You know that you appreciated the sights, but can you remember what you heard, smelled, touched or felt?

Chances are, I can’t tell you very much about the moment I took any of the photos below. Time has passed since I took them, of course. I may have been a bit sleep-deprived at the time. And that wonderful little black box, the one that helps me make images and memories, it tends to get in the way. No doubt, an insistent inner voice urged me to make the best pictures I possibly could, and reminded me that I only had one day there, I may never come back and even if I did, the light wouldn’t be the same, etc. etc. A perfect recipe for dulling the experience! Even the changes I make to my photographs later – the choices to highlight, sharpen edges, soften color, crop, whatever – can put distance between me and the original experience.

So we’re at a remove when we photograph our world, and sometimes more so when we’re traveling. That realization could call the whole process into question, but I haven’t given up on it.

I just wanted to note the pitfalls before diving in.

 

 

Three views from the plane, taken as we approached Las Vegas. You can see how bare the earth is. The body of water is Lake Mead, created in the 1930’s by damming the Colorado River, to provide hydroelectric power and water for agriculture in nearby California. The dam made it possible for Las Vegas to bloom straight out of that rocky soil.

Red Rock Canyon, from the highway

We landed in Las Vegas with enough time for a quick run over to Red Rock Canyon, a beautiful national conservation area that’s only 15 miles from the center of town. The sandstone mountains and canyons are popular for hiking and rock climbing. The land supports desert bighorn sheep and a destructive, if cute population of non-native wild burros. We heard most of the burros were in another area so sadly, we didn’t see any.

As the winter sun sunk behind the mountains, we made a few stops on the side of the road to drink in the desert landscape, then headed back to our hotel in Las Vegas.

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The contrast between the Mohave desert’s spare beauty and the incessant chaos of lights and noise that is Las Vegas hit me hard. I imagine the locals are used to the abrupt shift from the quiet, monochrome desert landscape to the gaudy, blaring city. It was difficult to comprehend how such a place, with its extreme investment in artifice, rose out of what is probably the most subtle landscape I’ve ever seen.

Nighttime in Las Vegas

 

The view out the hotel window, 26th floor

On our first full day we explored Valley Of Fire State Park – more about that later. The next two days we spent seeing a so-called ghost town, and driving over to Death Valley. We planned to spend one more day in Death Valley, but after almost three months without precipitation, it seems we brought the rain from Seattle to southern Nevada. There is precious little shelter in Death Valley. The monochromatic landscape was likely to be even grayer in the rain, so we decided to return to Red Rock Canyon, where we’d be closer to civilization and have the benefit of some tree cover. These photos are from our day at Red Rock Canyon, a day that started out partly cloudy but ended fully misty.

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Red Rock Canyon Photos:

  1. Mt. Wilson, elev. 7070 ft./2155 m., is about 25 miles by road from Las Vegas.  Want to try climbing it? Here are directions, from Backpacker magazine. Just out of sight is Blue Diamond Hill, a privately owned parcel of land at the edge of the conservation area. The owners want to build a 5,000 home development there. The largest gypsum mine in the state is just down the road; BDGH Gypsum makes agricultural gypsum and wallboard at a large plant there. The 5,000 home development is opposed by locals for a host of reasons, from increased traffic and light at night (the area outside Las Vegas boasts very dark night skies) to the possibility of houses falling into mine sinkholes.
  2. This landscape is interesting in any weather, with so many different textures and shapes. Adding to the plethora of patterns in the rocks here, is a group of Mohave yucca plants (Yucca schidigera), whose stark silhouettes dot the desert floor. Southern Paiute people used yucca extensively, making food, clothing, baskets, soap and other useful things from all of its parts.
  3. A desert wash at Willow Springs, where pink and gold rocks glow, even on a dreary winter day.
  4. Four close-ups of interesting sandstone patterns at Willow Springs.
  5. Numerous sandstone crevices have created microclimates for plants to grow in; note all the shrubs nestled in cracks and crannies, where extra moisture collects, and there may be a bit of shade on summer days, when temperatures can reach 110° F/44° C in summer.
  6. The rocks are beautiful to look at, and yield their secrets slowly. Recently, dinosaur tracks were identified in the rocks in a remote part of Red Rock Canyon.
  7. After much searching I think this is the Three-leaf sumac (Rhus triloba), aka Skunkbush. Those tightly packed buds will bloom into little yellow flowers in Spring. The berries that develop later are supposedly edible but tart. Indigenous people used the twigs in basketmaking (see the second paragraph).
  8. Raindrops on the Tulip prickly pear cactus (Opuntia phaeacantha). There are four species of prickly pear cactus at Red Rock.
  9. The distinctive stems of Ephedra have draped over a prickly pear pad at surprisingly lush Willow Springs. This is probably E. viridis, or Mormon tea, used for medicinal teas. The important drug ephedrine is derived from a related Asian Ephedra species, E. sinica, which has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 2000 years. Maybe the local Ephedra plant was used that long ago too, but since knowledge was transmitted verbally by indigenous people, records are sparse.
  10. Buckhorn cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa), one of several cholla cacti that thrive here.
  11. The Desert willow tree (Chilopsis linearis) is not a true willow, but is in the Bignonia family. It was still dropping leaves on the gravely ground at Willow Springs when we visited. The elegantly curved, straw-colored leaves contrast nicely with the wet rocks, and as the rain continued I was glad my camera is weather resistant, but at a certain point, you just need to get out of the rain!
  12. Two closeups of Mohave yucca leaves and fibers.
  13. Storm clouds hang heavy in the distance and the cacti are ready to drink up the rain. The yucca’s stiff leaves can funnel rain right down to the roots.
  14. Rain clouds conceal the mountaintop above a steep divide in the rocks.
  15. A withered old Pinyon pine tree frames a distant view. i found one pine cone on the ground that still had a few pine nuts in it so I eagerly put one in my mouth, but I should have known, it was a “dead” one – an empty nut that was nothing but hull. I’m sure the animals have eaten all of this year’s viable nuts long ago.
  16. A dried seed head stands sentinel over the view of a rocky precipice that is almost lost in the mist.

*

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the tragedy in Las Vegas three months ago, when 58 people were killed and over 500 people were injured at an outdoor concert. One man shooting a modified semi-automatic rifle from a high rise hotel room caused all that suffering. I saw “Vegas Strong” signs scattered about the city, but for the most part, the pain seemed to be buried. Later, I heard that fundraising to help families of the dead, injured and traumatized has fallen below expectations, in part due to a kind of disaster fatigue that seemed to set in after the US experienced three major hurricanes just before the shooting, and intense, destructive wildfires just after it. In any case, I wish the people who were injured and traumatized, and those who lost family and friends, a much better year in 2018, and all the help and healing that they deserve.

 

 

 

 

Vegas? Yes, Vegas.

Whiplash. That’s what it felt like, traveling from rainy, gray, sensible Seattle to colorful, hedonistic Las Vegas. As I threaded my way through crowds on the Strip on a Saturday night, my senses were bombarded by flashing neon lights, blaring music, vacant-eyed tourists clutching two-foot-tall drinks, men dressed in Batman costumes, and women dressed in, well, not much. “How did I get here?”, I wondered.

It sounded good at the time. Flights between Seattle and Vegas were cheap and hotels were giving out great deals, hoping you’d spend your money in the casino. So why not book a quick winter getaway to the desert? We could fly to Vegas and stay in a hotel there, but spend our time in the surrounding desert, exploring Death Valley and other nearby parks.

So that’s how we came to be in Sin City on a Saturday night, cruising the Strip with thousands of other lost souls.

But here’s the hard evidence that we actually made it past the slot machines and out of the city! Come along for the ride….

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The Photos:

  1. Vegas Suite: The “Eiffel Tower” replica at Paris, a major casino/resort; a woman holds her huge drink while waiting for the Bellagio fountain show, a fun extravaganza of waving fountains set to music; two women walk to their car after work; the lights on the Strip.
  2. We’ve driven 45 minutes northeast from Las Vegas and we’re exploring the beautiful Valley of Fire, Nevada’s first state park. The park features 46,000 acres (19,000 ha) of red sandstone, limestone, shale and conglomerates, in amazingly eroded and weathered formations. (All of the road photos in this post were taken from inside the car, most with a camera that had a polarizing filter on the lens. I should have removed the filter; it had a bad effect on the colors, especially behind the windshield glass.  More often than not, I would have been better off without the filter, even in the bright sun. Next time I’ll use it more judiciously.)
  3. The Mojave yucca (Yucca schidigera) is frequently encountered in the desert around Las Vegas. This plant relies on a particular moth for pollination, the moth in turn relying on the yucca as the place to deposit its eggs. After hatching, the larvae eat the yucca’s seeds: coevolution! The yucca’s roots, fruit, flowers and leaf fibers were all used by indigenous people, and yucca extracts are used medicinally. A yucca extract is used as a flavoring agent in root beer, too!
  4. Badlands on the way to Zabriskie Point, Death Valley.
  5. A few acorn caps remain on this Shrub oak (Quercus turbinella) at Red Rock Canyon, just outside Las Vegas.  The missing acorns could have been eaten by Bighorn sheep. We saw a pair of young Bighorn near the Visitors Center; they’re not too difficult to find at Red Rock.
  6. The blue hour arrives early in January. Short days make it difficult to see all the sights in Death Valley, where a long drive separates most points of interest. Winter is still better than summer though; summer high temperatures average over 116°F (47°C).
  7. A close view of Valley of Fire sandstone, showing (I believe) small, compaction band fins, caused by weathering and erosion. If you like rocks, Nevada is your place. It’s a giant geology lesson, laid bare!
  8. The road to Badwater slices through barren desert rock in Death Valley.
  9. A patch of sandy ground at Valley of Fire State Park, littered with dead wood, and if you look closely, many animal and bird tracks as well.
  10. A road through Red Rock Canyon, showing a typical band of red rock. The attractive color derives from hematite which has oxidized, like rusted iron. Compaction over millions of years has deepened the colors. The clouds were building that day, dulling the color somewhat. Soon after, it rained, and there’s nothing like the smell of rain after dry weather in the desert: a rich, mineral sharpness excites the air.
  11. The pretty gray leaves of White brittlebush (Encelia farinosa) at Valley of Fire. In Spring, after a good rain, this plant will be covered with yellow, daisy-like flowers on long stalks.
  12. Driving into Valley of Fire State Park.
  13. Reflections at Death Valley’s Badwater. This lowest point in the western hemisphere, at −279 feet (−85 m), is a very popular place even on a Monday in January. That’s salt in the foreground. Along with calcite, gypsum, and borax, salt becomes very concentrated as it drains off the surrounding landscape and comes to rest here, with nowhere else to go. Thick crusts from years of deposits make interesting patterns on the desert floor. The environment here is incredibly harsh; with no plants big enough to cast shade, the sun beats down on the sere landscape and dryness seems to crawl under your skin.
  14. Roadside geology is writ large on roads throughout Valley of Fire State Park. The very dark areas on the red rocks are probably desert varnish, a coating of windblown clay that slowly builds up, with the help of moisture and chemical processes. Many petroglyphs were carved into desert varnish in the American southwest. They can be seen at Valley of Fire and Red Rock Canyon. We were sorry to see rock art made by Desert archaic peoples thousands of years ago that appeared to have been vandalized in more recent times.  On a more positive note, in northern Nevada the oldest known petroglyphs in North America, dating to 10,000 – 14,000 years ago, are located on a Paiute reservation, where they should fare better than rock art on public lands.
  15. A nice specimen of Mojave yucca and the rocky landscape are silhouetted at Red Rock Canyon.
  16. It’s 4:45pm and the sun has set at Valley of Fire State Park. Time to head back to Las Vegas…

***

If you plan a trip to the area…

  • Avoid summer! Way too hot! 🙂 Always carry more water than you think you’ll need when out in the desert, even if you’re staying in your car. Services are few and far between in many areas. And watch your step – I had a nasty fall when the ground gave way under my foot – turns out, I was walking on top of an underground burrow! Unfortunately, that fall couldn’t have been predicted, but most hazards can be seen if you keep a watchful eye out.
  • Las Vegas is a good spot to base yourself if you want to explore the desert. Other interesting sites include the Hoover Dam and numerous ghost towns. Death Valley is a good two-hour drive, and really cannot be seen in one day. Consider staying in that area overnight. Grand Canyon is fours away. Closer to the city, one could easily be satisfied spending days at Valley of Fire and Red Rock Canyon.
  • Many hotels in Las Vegas have casinos on the first floor. In case you want to avoid the noisy, smoke-filled atmosphere of a Vegas casino, book a hotel without one. We did, and we were glad!
  • Vegas has some great eating opportunities, from elegant, top chef restaurants to little places away from the fray. We had great food and good experiences at two smaller restaurants (Mexican & Thai) in somewhat sketchy, downtown Vegas.
  • Before you go, get the Unofficial Guide to Las Vegas by Bob Sehlinger, published by Adventurekeen. Actually, get this before you book your flight and hotel, because there is invaluable information about hotels, casinos, shows, rates, fares, etc.  Snell Press puts out an excellent guide to Red Rock Canyon, Red Rock Canyon Visitors Guide. It contains information useful for the entire area. There are at least two guides to photographing Death Valley. I picked up an older one, The Photographer’s Guide to Death Valley, Countryman Press. It is excellent. The author, Shellye Poster, is currently a ranger at Death Valley; we ran into her at the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center.

 

 

 

 

Here

Here,

now,

Cascadia* quietly

gathers itself close. Shadows hide

summer’s disintegrating

dreams. Water swallows

a tangle of broken reeds.

Last season’s

push

pulls back

to center.

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The Photos:

  1. It’s 3:00 pm on December 11th at 47° 78′ North latitude. We’re walking a trail at the Paradise Valley Conservation Area, a park purchased by the county 17 years ago from the Lloyds, a Welsh family that homesteaded here back in 1887.  Western hemlock, Douglas fir, Red cedar, Cottonwood and Red alder are common in this second growth woodland, which is reverting back to a wild state after earlier use for timber production and livestock. Trees grow tall and thick and evening comes early.
  2. A disintegrating alder leaf has caught on a small branch along the trail. I find leaves caught on branches and foliage frequently. The transience of leaves stopped mid-fall is a subject I like to frame, photograph, and carry home as memory.
  3. Gunnera (G. tinctoria), a perennial related to rhubarb that’s gardeners love for its dramatic foliage. The leaves have been neatly mounded and “put to bed” for the winter next to a conservatory in Seattle.
  4. A maple leaf caught on a Sword fern (Polystichum munitum).  The Sword fern is an abundant evergreen understory fern found from Alaska to California. Notice how the maple leaf’s lobes are tucked under the fern leaflets. How long will it stay there?
  5. A Western hemlock has taken root on an old stump, probably a cedar, a common occurrence in these woods. The damp, temperate Pacific northwest is famous for its nursery logs and stumps. Eventually the stump will rot away and the roots will fill in. You can see this process at all stages in the woods here.
  6. Another leaf has come to rest on a Sword fern.
  7. Vegetation slowly disintegrates into the shallow waters at the north end of Lake Sammamish, in Marymoor Park. The park is heavily used for recreation, with a hugely popular off-leash dog run, frequent concerts, model plane flying, soccer, you name it. Even so, the river feeding Lake Sammamish supports a beaver lodge. An active Great Blue heron rookery is perched high in the Cottonwoods above the river, right next to a busy “dog beach.”  Minutes after I took this photo I watched a River otter sinuously swimming down the river. Several times it stuck its little whiskered muzzle up to look around and sniff the air, then curved back underwater with a fluid swoosh of its fat, muscular tail. The park has three million annual visitors and River otters, beavers and herons live here. That fact testifies to a deep respect for the environment that is characteristic of Pacific northwest culture.
  8. Gentle waves interrupt reflections on placid Juanita Bay Park in Kirkland, just east of Seattle. In the distance are mixed flocks of American coot, Green-winged teal, American wigeon, and Wood ducks. And Mallards, always Mallards! Bald eagles are nearby, ready to take advantage of any lapse in attention. The eagles prefer fish, but they will take waterfowl.
  9. A winter scene at Juanita Bay. The shapes and negative space created by the trees’ trunks and branches drew my attention. The bones of winter laid bare.
  10. Juanita Bay park is plagued with invasive species like this Reed canary grass, a problem throughout the county. To me, it has an interesting look as it collapses and decays, a process our wet climate encourages.
  11. The last reeds bend towards the water at Marymoor and fallen leaves dissolve into a rich muck on the bottom. This photo was taken with a new lens I’m getting used to. A polarizing filter would have reduced the glare off the water’s surface. I just ordered one – yes, it’s easy to accumulate gear!
  12. A single red berry, probably Red elderberry, dangles from a twig at Paradise Valley. Deer and elk like these but the nearest elk herd is miles away, so maybe a deer will nibble this one.
  13. The bay from the boardwalk at Juanita Bay on Christmas. We had snow on Christmas, a rarity here. Supposedly Seattle has only a 7% chance for a White Christmas. A few inches of good packing snow was great fun for the kids, not so slick that it caused accidents, and then gone three days later. Good for us! I’m sorry about the extreme cold eastern and Midwestern Americans and Canadians have been dealing with though!
  14. A group of Silver birch trees at Juanita Bay.
  15. A stand of Douglas firs and Western hemlocks at Paradise Valley.
  16. An old, non-native willow at Juanita Bay. Volunteers, some from local companies like Expedia, are helping to restore the native flora and remove the non-natives. The property used to be a golf course and has a number of ornamental trees like this that probably will not be removed. It can be a very fine balance to begin bringing a place back to its wild state.
  17. A snow-capped bird’s nest at Marymoor.
  18. Another old willow arches over a Juanita Bay boardwalk.
  19. Dried willow leaves cling to a branch at Juanita Bay. The branches hang down, but I I prefer this image on its side.
  20. An alder leaf is stuck in a tangle of twigs, Paradise Valley.
  21. Buds hold the promise of Spring, Paradise Valley.
  22. Grasses and fallen leaves slowly decay and enrich the soil at Juanita Beach Park. Taken on 1/1/18.
  23. Sunset over a field on West Snoqualmie River Road in Duvall, Washington. Taken at 4:05pm on 12/30/17; 47° 45′ N, 121° 57′ W.

* Cascadia is another name for the Pacific northwest, but it’s more than that. It refers to our “land of falling waters”  – the bioregion – and “a geographic terrain and a terrain of consciousness” (see Wikipedia).

 

 

 

Warm Places

With sunlight wan and thin here in the Northern hemisphere, this may be a good time for images from warmer places.

For two years running – in 2010 and 2011 – I left ice-cold New York behind and flew south to Fort Myers, midway up Florida’s Gulf coast. It was delightful! Between forays to well-known places like Everglades National Park and Sanibel Island, I roamed the region in a rented car with an eye out for ordinary local scenes. The best part of traveling to my mind is the serendipity of unexpected discoveries, and the discoveries that excite me the most are found in everyday, quotidian spaces, where locals engage in activities unique to the place, buildings display an unpretentious native style, and objects seem to speak a local dialect.

Florida gave up many such surprises – the restaurant with seven vultures hunched on the roof and a vintage pink Mercedes parked in front, the local man fishing atop a precarious mangrove root sticking out of the water, a humble block of pastel vernacular housing just outside the Everglades, a small cemetery hidden away in the dense foliage…

All ordinary in their place, but new and wondrous to my eyes.

The flora and fauna did not disappoint either. I feasted on tall palms and wide beaches, Roseate spoonbills and snowy egrets…but I gave a wide berth to the alligator crossing a sandy, one lane road I was driving. No need to tempt fate. Use the zoom.

Here’s a selection of images from those trips.

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The Photos:

  1. Nine-armed Sea Star (Luidia senegalensis) at Sanibel Island beach. This video shows one slowly crawling back to the water in Naples, an hour north of where I was.
  2. Parking lot palm fronds, near the Fort Meyers airport.
  3. U Pick Citrus sign, Lee County. Once you get away from the coast you find the agriculture. Cattle, goats, chickens, bees, oranges, vegetables – there are hundreds of farms in Lee county; there were 844 farms listed in 2012.
  4. a, b c & d: Scenes from Smallwood’s Store, an historic general store built over the water on an island at the edge of the Everglades. The store is now an informal museum devoted to early life in the area, displaying items like a child’s schoolwork and a bedroom arranged as it may have looked in the 1930’s. Hurricane Irma did some damage this year, but the store is standing and repairs are planned.
  5. A produce market in Immokalee – cheap and local, what could be better? Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc here. The authorities were apparently more interested in policing the wealthier coastal areas than protecting residents in Immokalee, many of whom are undocumented farm laborers and their families, from Haiti and Latin America.
  6. a, b: Evidence of a previous fire disappears quickly in the dense vegetation; a market stand after a rain shower at Immokalee.
  7. All dressed up and nowhere to go? The four inch Lubber grasshopper (Romalea microptera) moves slowly for a grasshopper. Unlike most we’re familiar with, it walks and climbs more often than it  jumps. These charmers can spit a spray of toxic chemicals when threatened. They damage crops and are controlled by picking them off, setting traps, and using insecticide. Here are some creative ways locals have dealt these critters a blow or two.
  8. An unidentified mix of Florida plants.
  9. An alligator that I braked for.
  10. A Great blue heron and a fisherman share space amicably on Sanibel Island.
  11. a & b: Sanibel scenes – Willets (Tringa semipalmata) probe for insects and other goodies along the waves’ edge. Sanibel is known world wide for its abundant shells. 
  12. A handsome group of White Ibis (Eudocimus albus) next to a shopping mall in Fort Myers.  Look closely and you can see a gray youngster in the background.
  13. A Brown pelican perched on a piling in Everglades City. These big birds can have a 6.5 foot (200cm) wingspan. They make dramatic plunge dives for fish, unlike the even larger American white pelican, which catches fish by dipping its pouch-shaped beak in the water while swimming.
  14. a, b, c & d: Local scenes, including a man fishing at dusk from a precarious perch on a mangrove thicket at Rookery Bay, a roadside check cashing establishment, and a heron/egret roost at dusk.
  15. A family barbecue at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve/ Ten Thousand Islands. There used to be hermits living in the Ten Thousand Islands/Everglades area. I don’t know if there are any left, but a local high school class wrote about them back in 1980.
  16. A congregation of alligators, Everglades National Park. (Yes, a congregation is what you call a group of gators!). The American alligator is at the southern edge of its range in the Everglades; the American crocodile reaches its northern limits there.
  17. Seen at the airport. Fill in the tag line, please! 🙂
  18. Homes in Everglades City, population 402 in 2013. The link is to an interesting NY Times article about this historic, out of the way little town.
  19. The Depot Restaurant in Everglades City, with an old pink Mercedes in the lot and a venue of vultures (really, that’s what a group of vultures is called!) on the roof. There were more vultures by the garbage cans out back. This restaurant is now closed.
  20. An old cemetery outside Fort Myers. Poring over a map, I noticed a “Cemetery Road” on the outskirts of a small town. I figured it must lead to a cemetery, probably an old one. It looked out of the way and intriguing, so I drove there. It was a great find and I enjoyed reading the old headstones, observing the mementos placed on graves, and photographing. This man died in 1981. Thirty years later, someone had left a handful of flowers on his grave.
  21. A spontaneous collage. I placed a plant fragment (Tillandsia fasciculata) I picked up on the map I was using, and photographed it. Most of the places I explored are visible on this piece of the map.
  22. A roadside scene in Everglades City.
  23. Looking up into a Royal palm (?) (Roystonea regia) near Edison Park in Fort Myers.
  24. Another mix of tropical flora.
  25. a & b: A Great blue heron and a Snowy egret. Both are common in Florida.
  26. Birders scope a flock of Black Skimmers (Rynchops niger) at Bunche Beach Preserve. The Black skimmer is one of my (many!) favorite birds. It’s lower mandible is longer than the upper mandible so it just drops its jaw, as it were, and skims food from the surface of the water (link to photo). Of course, this requires the ability to fly steadily just at the surface, making them really fun to watch.
  27. Beautiful Bunche Beach Preserve hearkens back to the old Florida, before rampant building obliterated so much land. Volunteers tore out all the invasive species here. A tidal wetland with beaches, inlets, and mangrove forests, the preserve is known for great birding. Fresh raccoon tracks marked the edge of this inlet.
  28. Spectacular little Sanibel Island is very scenic, but the town can be crowded.  As I write, it’s 73 degrees there. It’s 36 degrees here. ) – :
  29. A roadside sunset outside Immokalee. Immokalee is an agricultural center, and is home to many immigrants who work fields of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and citrus. The name means “My Home” in the Mikasuki language of the Miccosukee people. After being pushed out of their original territory, a small group of Miccosukee managed to resist resettlement in Oklahoma by escaping to the Everglades, where they adapted to the unique environment. A road built in 1928 signaled the beginning of assimilation; since gaining US government recognition as an Indian tribe, they have built a golf club and gaming resort, and an “Indian Village.” On this day it had just rained and then the sun came out, setting the road on fire. A fitting end to a stay in Florida.

 

 

 

 

Odds & Endings

Here is a miscellaneous group of images taken this year that have not been posted. The emphasis this time is urban. I’m going to attempt to tie them together with a bit of whimsy.

So: out with the old, in with the new, as cranes of all colors tear out a concrete building in downtown Seattle, exposing the upside-down, curvy underside of its neighbor.

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That’s a lot of work! I doubt those guys do anything exciting on their breaks, but if you’re setting up a silo for a new brewery at Pike Place Market, lucky you! You get to watch Mount Rainier bask in the glow of the setting sun.

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Just to the south a jumble of vents atop a building creates yet another oddball urban composition.

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Farther south in Seattle’s old Pioneer Square neighborhood, handsome brick buildings compose themselves against a clear blue sky – yes, blue sky happens in Seattle – in fact, the sky is blue here all summer long.

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A museum staircase provides another opportunity to enjoy architectural design.

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So does a 1929 Art Deco tower backed up by a newer building in downtown Seattle. In your eyes, the newer building may or may not have succeeded in taking its cues from the past. But like it or not, it’s fun to wander the city streets in search of patterns.

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At some point you have to give it all a rest, go out to the back alley, sit a spell. The cigarette buts tell me someone’s been doing just that.

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Maybe they daydream about the holidays and colorful toys from the past…

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Or maybe their reveries center on sunny days running through candy-colored gardens….

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And treats, yes, let’s not forget that. Here’s to all of you having as many treats as you want in the New Year!

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Whether you prefer Christmas red and green, Hanukah blue and white,

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or something else altogether,

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I wish you oodles of cheer, and lets make it ordinary cheer, like this fellow spreads down at Pike Place Market in Seattle. Sure, he has dreads down to his knees, his scarf is awry and his jacket frayed, but that’s what ordinary looks like, and maybe we need a little more of it.

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*

I thank you for your presence here. It’s meant a lot this year. I’ll see you again very soon, with photographs from a warmer place…pleasant dreams!

Both Sides of the Glass

This time of year, a few hours in a conservatory renews the spirits. You may not have thought about looking in from the outside of the building, but the view from the other side of the glass can be very interesting.

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These photos were made during two trips – one to the WW Seymour Botanical Conservatory in Tacoma, in November, one to the Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle in December. Both glass houses are over a hundred years old, and they’re kept going thanks to dedicated staff and volunteers. Here’s to those hard working people who maintain the plants, the facilities and everything else that keeps these wonderful resources running and available to the public.

The photos:

  1. A Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia reginae) inside the Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle.
  2. Dead leaves push against the glass, seen outside the WW Seymour Conservatory in Tacoma.
  3. More dried leaves pushing against the glass at the conservatory in Tacoma.
  4. A palm stem with coarse fibers surrounding the leaf sheath, inside the conservatory in Tacoma.
  5. A jumble of conservatory plants, including Spanish moss, or Tillandsia usneoides. That’s the familiar gray epiphyte which, draped heavily on live oak trees, is characteristic of much of the American south. It’s not a moss and it’s not from Spain – the original range was southeastern N. America, down through Central & S. America to Argentina. Now it has been introduced in other locations.
  6. A graceful orchid at the conservatory in Seattle.
  7. Dried plants settle against the windows of the WW Seymour conservatory in Tacoma.
  8. Ferns against the window at the conservatory in Tacoma. This photo was taken with a vintage lens, the Pentax Super Takumar 50mm F/1.4.
  9. Palm leaves, alive and healthy, inside the conservatory in Tacoma. Also taken with the Takumar 50mm F/1.4.
  10. Looking up at palm fronds in the conservatory in Tacoma.
  11. A single orchid petal in the conservatory in Seattle.
  12. A cactus inside the conservatory in Seattle.
  13. Same.
  14. I think this is a fan aloe, Aloe plicatilis, aka Kumara plicatilis, a South African plant. Seen at the conservatory in Seattle.
  15. I could look up at palms all day. Inside the conservatory in Seattle. This was taken with a Lensbaby Composer.
  16. Inside a vestibule at the conservatory in Seattle, plants are pressed up against the windows. Taken with a Lensbaby Composer.
  17. A complex shot – looking across a conservatory room, through windows to another room, with reflections. Taken with a Lensbaby Composer.
  18. An orchid display (maybe Dendrobium sp.) anchored by maidenhair ferns at the conservatory in Seattle, taken with a Lensbaby Composer.
  19. The Coleus plants were going strong at the conservatory in Tacoma, and made an interesting picture as they pressed against the glass. I walked all around the conservatory, getting as close as I could to it, to find scenes like this.
  20. A view of the front of the WW Seymour Conservatory in Tacoma. It’s a small one, but it’s full of Victorian charm!