Begonia Beguine

Soon this begonia will go back outside, but for now, it sings and dances indoors. The delicate, coin-sized flowers dangle shyly under arching leaves, and the whole plant appears ready to take flight.  It won’t take off, but in a few weeks I will, to northern Europe for most of April. These posts may slow to a crawl, so thank you in advance for tolerating any irregularity. Hopefully the begonia and her friends will manage without human intervention for a while.

 

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And for your listening pleasure…

 

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For all except #2, #8 and #10, I used an Olympus Zuiko 60mm f2.8 macro lens with apertures from f2.8 –  f4.5, handheld, natural light only.  For #2, #8 and #10 I used a vintage Super Takumar 50mm f1.4 with an adapter, at f1.4.  The photos were processed in Lightroom Classic and Color Efex Pro, using a variety of styles including solarization, infrared, and film effects.

If only the differences between people were accepted and appreciated as readily as the variations we enjoy in different photo processing styles….then the world would be a kinder, safer place.

***

They Rise and Fall

On a chilly, gray day last week, I ventured out to Cranberry Lake, a community forest preserve on Fidalgo Island. My favorite path there combines pieces of two trails – one hugs a curve of the lake and then ascends a steep hill through a fire-scarred forest; the other traces the long eastern edge of the namesake lake.

The trail that ascends the hill winds through Douglas fir and Western redcedars before meandering through forest openings where Madrone trees and Ocean Spray shrubs flourish, at its highest point. It descends through more Douglas fir and Salal thickets to the south end of the lake, where I like to turn and head back along the water’s edge. The lake is shallow there, and tall, thin tree skeletons standing in the water show that it was once forest. In the 1930’s a dam built at the other end grew the lake back into the woods, killing the trees. Later, beavers moved in and did their work; now a “garden” of stumps and trees draws wavering reflections in the calm water. It’s a fine spot for the visually preoccupied!

Just when I was farthest from the car that day, high on the hilltop, it began to snow. Sparse flakes drifted down through the trees to settle silently on the lake far below me. I’d left my gloves in the car but I continued on anyway, compelled by the poetry of unexpected weather. When I reached the shallow end of the lake, I was surprised to find it covered with ice, like a pale field spread out before me. The dead trees stood mute, locked in the ice, like ancient Greek columns witnessing the history of the seasons.

I carefully picked my way along the narrow, rocky path as the snow thickened. The weather-resistant camera would be OK, but there would be no changing lenses now.  I kept on shooting as one mesmerizing scene unfolded after another. A few steps, a choice, a click. A few more steps, another choice, a turn of a dial, a click. Trees standing, trees scarred from fire, trees fallen across the trail and into the water. Reflections blurring, then clearing, as the air carried more or fewer flakes. Cormorants watching snow sail over the lake from their stump and log perches. A lone Common merganser quietly floating towards the middle of the lake.

The prevailing hush transfixed me. I worked that little black box to frame the layered changes in the landscape, and though wildlife sightings always capture my attention, what stuck with me that day were the trees in all their guises and stages, their varied forms partially obscured by the pointillist haze of snow.

The trees rise and soar, they burn, fall over, die and slowly decompose. And they persist.

 

1. Lakefall

 

2. Sidelined

 

3. Dialogue

 

4. Snowhaze

 

5. Flake Flutter

 

6. Twig Scoops

 

7. Lean

 

8. Fade

 

9. After Fire, Green Returns

 

10. Scarred Trio

 

11. Fallen

 

12. Perched

 

13. Cut

 

14. Tumble

 

15. Honeysuckle Twist

 

16. Towards Whiteout (now my fingers are numb)

 

17. Cormorant Quartet

 

18. Light Gatherer

 

19. Stand, Reflect, Fall, Reflect

 

20. Horizon Log

 

21. Lone Merganser

***

 

 

Just Before Spring

It was one of the coldest February’s on record here, but I still went out for walks as often as I could. Sometimes it was only for a half hour and more than once, my fingers went numb as I worked with my camera. Temperatures are warming ever so slowly. We’re still consistently below normal, but the light is noticeably brighter now, birds are singing, a few buds are opening…

There is so much to see.

 

1. Weathered trees high on a bald overlooking a sparkling sea.

 

2. The late afternoon sun warming the underside of an old bridge.

 

3. The same bridge on another day, seen from a log-crossed, rocky peninsula at low tide.

 

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4. Thousands of Snow geese being one with the air, the field, each other….all of it.

 

5. A singular rock wiped clean by retreating waves, deep in conversation with the sand, the pebbles, and me.

 

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6. Svelte rocks that dance and wiggle their way into my heart.

 

7. Or a lumpen rock, strewn with green streamers from an eel grass party, cavorting with smaller stones while lining up its fine white markings with the ten directions.

 

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8. Magisterial rocks letting their green top coats dry out while drawing sun-warmth deep into their centers.

 

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9. What else is there to see?  A plum-colored path through a fuzzy fairytale forest draped with ferns, and set with the dark, knotted rootballs of fallen giants.

 

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10. Patterns shimmering through the air, making their non-linear way into the fir tree boughs, down to the earth, and up into my brain cells. Now, the shimmering patterns are yours.

 

11. And what is there to hear? Plenty. Just listen. Wherever you are right now, stop. Listen.

 

12. Whether sound emerges from a Song sparrow or a fishing vessel it travels through the same air, without caring what it meets. Sound rides the wind.

 

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13. Dizzying patterns abound, absorbing me into the binary rhythm of light and dark.

 

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14. The little rosettes of sedum leaves, the soft mosses and dried out grasses – they’re all waiting. Waiting without complaint or expectation in the knowledge that spring follows winter.  They know what to do and they will not fail to express the season.

 

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15. Old Douglas fir, ancient one, thick-barked, heavy-limbed, ever green, reaches out and invites me to duck under the branches on my way downhill. Thank you. I’m blessed.

 

16. More rhythm. Four straight Douglas fir trees alternate with the sinuous curves of a Madrone tree. The cold water below carries the cries of gulls out to the Salish sea.

 

17. Countless logs roll in and out along the shores of an island. A band of fir trees sucks in the light, hiding it well.

 

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18. The tides do their patient work, smoothing edges, rounding corners, loosening bark, fading colors….

 

19. The dimpled bark of a Madrona tree absorbs another sunset, burrowing light into every pore.

 

20. How much longer? How many more storms before this Douglas fir topples onto the beach? Not yet.

 

21. Rain.

 

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22. A lock on the old bridge, with just enough rust. I think.

 

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23. Water, sky, and earth bounce back and forth endlessly on a cold February afternoon, telling the tale of this one place.

 

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24. A fallen one effortlessly melds water and light.

 

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25. The creators, fire and water, bring it all home to us.

 

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

Permutations, variations, revisions and transformations

 

After it finds its way from camera to computer, what’s next for a photo? Does it get tweaked just a little, does it go through a carefully thought-out series of changes, or does it unexpectedly morph into something quite different from the original image?  Normally I don’t stray too far from the look of the original image, but for the past week I’ve been playing with a particular photo that lends itself to experimentation. Those exercises led me to make similar changes I normally might not consider to two other photos of the same subject.

The weathered, twisted juniper tree standing alone on a bluff over alternating bands of water and islands is a real beauty.  I often see people taking pictures of the tree, and its wood has been carved and written on with markers dozens of times. People feel compelled to document both the tree, and their own presence on the scenic overlook. I would never deface a tree but I understand the attraction. It’s a striking sight – deeply rooted, twisted and reaching to the sky, with only a single branch remaining green. It seems that the older this tree gets, the more spectacular a sight it is. I can’t pass that spot without getting the camera out and making more photographs. In fact, you may recognize it from previous posts.

Here are three different photos of the tree that were processed to create a variety of looks. Jumping back and forth between Lightroom Classic, Color Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro, I tweaked and slid and clicked and experimented until I ran out of ideas. Then I came back and played some more. Here are the results.

 

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Here’s the tree from another angle, at sunset, with Burrows Island, Lopez Island and the Olympic Mountains in the distance.

 

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Unseasonable and Unreasonable

Yes, it’s word play, but seriously, the unseasonably cold weather here in the Pacific northwest seems thoroughly unreasonable, to me at least. (We could talk about the futility of pairing reason with weather, but that would be another conversation). Seattle’s airport, Sea-Tac, marked its snowiest February on record before we were even half way through the month. The airport might get its coldest February on record, too. We’ve been locked into a nasty pattern of snow and cold for most of the month now, with more snow possible this week.

Winter weather in this part of the world normally consists of a tedious parade of gray days with plenty of drizzly rain and temperatures hovering around the mid 40’s F (7 C). We don’t have a lot of below-freezing days, and when it snows, it usually melts away in a day or two. Usually. But “usually” is just a memory, now that we’re stuck in this unreasonably unseasonable February.

Combine at least six inches of snow on barely plowed roads, temperatures consistently at or below freezing, and a declared state of emergency and you’ve got the perfect storm of difficult winter weather for our area. Then there were the cancelled flights, schools closed for days, impassable highways…we just don’t do snow that well. In these conditions a lovely walk outdoors has become a rare treat. I hadn’t realized until now that I’ve become spoiled by the region’s normally mild weather and the easy access to extraordinary natural habitats.

Of course, what we’re experiencing is nothing compared to many places in the US, Canada, and other places where snow is serious business and cold lasts all winter long.  When I lived in New York I was used to shoveling out my car and slipping and sliding down the sidewalks. Since moving here though, I’ve acclimated to a different reality and I’m just not used to real winter anymore. Imagine my distress when for a week, my go-to coffee shop either didn’t open at all or closed early. During the worst of it, when Seattle suffered through its “Snopocalypse” I had my own crisis, i.e. “OMG where am I going to get my espresso?”

Lest I sound unreasonable, I don’t expect any sympathy, especially from my hardy friends in colder places. This is actually more about a sense of wonder that our blue, spinning earth continues to bring us so many surprises. May it always be so, and may nature always have the upper hand.

***

It all began innocently enough with a light, rather picturesque coating of snow on the third of February.  At home, perfect little bird tracks in the snow and tiny ice balls in the nets protecting the fruit trees were a delightful novelty. The roads weren’t bad that day. Even the dirt road to Cranberry Lake was navigable, so I set out on a cold, careful walk in the woods. The forest was enchanting that afternoon, but my fingers got numb very quickly. I was grateful I had a warm home to return to.

 

1. A dusting of snow at Cranberry Lake.

 

2. Sword fern plants bowed down under coats of mealy-looking, icy snow in a dark corner of the woods.

 

3. The birds were busy, leaving a maze of tracks in the thin layer of snow under the feeders. I singled out one little hop for a black and white.

 

4. An enclosure to protect young fruit trees against deer was dotted with balls of ice.

 

The next day it was bitter cold and the roads were icy. I took pictures indoors, photographed a deer through the window, and caught up on things at home.

 

 

 

Soon the roads improved and the sun came out, but it was still very cold. I drove to a local park one day, hoping the road around it was passable. The boat dock sustained storm damage but – Yes! – the road was open. I drove happily through the woods at the proscribed 10 mph speed limit, stopping to photograph a twisted Maritime juniper tree. After 20 minutes in the cold I retreated back to the parking lot. Hearing the vibration of blasting music coming from a car, I muttered curses under my breath. Then I saw two young women sitting in their car, watching the sunset, and they seemed to be having a great time. Suddenly I realized the music was from the Bach Cello Suites! My frown turned to a smile. What prompted them to choose Bach instead of a hit from this week’s Top 100? I don’t know, and maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised by their choice. I gave them a thumbs up and a big smile. What a nice send-off to that icy-cold day.

 

6. Looking up into the dead branches of a Maritime juniper tree. Imagine standing under this noble tree while listening to a Bach Cello Suite.

 

7. The svelte mid-section of another maritime juniper tree.

 

8. As the sun set that day it left an orange glow behind the Olympic Mountains, 60 miles away.

 

A few days later there was another round of snow, this time in the form of big, wet flakes falling softly overnight, leaving clumps of the cottony stuff everywhere. It was still snowing that morning but I set out for the coffee shop anyway, creeping along on clean white roads. Hardly anyone was out. After getting coffee I drove around March Point and tried to photograph the snow falling but there was little light to work with, and once again my fingers numbed in minutes. Back at home, I noticed our little creek was an important source of fresh water for puffy little Dark-eyed Junco’s that were endlessly flitting back and forth between feeder and stream.

 

9. This little creek is dry as a bone in summer.

 

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10. Cattails wore top hats of snow over their fluffy seed heads on March Point.

 

11. Leaning stakes probably mark old shipping lanes at March Point, where oil refineries share space with herds of cattle and a Great blue heron rookery.

 

12. The snow thickened over Fidalgo Bay, smudging the horizon.

 

Three days later, more snow fell….is this getting repetitive? You bet it is! I prowled around the yard again….

 

13. A Sword fern seems to shrivel and shiver in the cold. These hardy, evergreen ferns should be OK except for clumps damaged by the weight of wet snow. I believe those clumps will gradually recoup as new fronds emerge to replace the ones that broke under the snow.

 

14. How long before these petite clumps of snow fall to the ground?

 

After that  snowstorm, another bout of cabin fever hit me so I made my way to Deception Pass State Park at a snail’s pace. The parking lot hadn’t been plowed but since it’s on a busy inter-island thoroughfare (and maybe because there are restrooms there), vehicles had been driving into the lot, leaving deep tracks in the slushy snow. I steered my little car along the tracks, stopped, and got out. The staircase under the bridge had been trampled just enough – I could walk down the stairs while clutching the railing (and feeling thankful for waterproof boots). Under the bridge is a network of trails that traces the forested edges of Deception Pass. Only a dusting of snow had filtered down through the thick canopy of trees there. The path was easy to follow but it was dark and cold in the woods. Again, I didn’t last long but just being in the woods, gratefully breathing fresh air, was a treat. A tiny mouse raced past me, oblivious to my presence. He pawed at the snow, searching for food, and then ran off into the dark woods. I thought about my warm home….

 

15. The forest is dark on a perimeter trail at Deception Pass State Park.

 

16. Last year’s Ocean Spray flower (Holodiscus discolor) drips with melting ice and snow.

 

17. The water racing through the pass that day was a cheerful turquoise color, and the view through the tall trees across to Pass Island was delightful.

 

18. The leathery, evergreen leaves of Salal (Gaultheria shallon) cheer up the forest floor in winter. The orange leaves are dead Redcedar leaves from the drought we had last summer. All the snow we’re getting now will help prevent drought in the months ahead.

 

19. The mouse. I enlarged and lightened the photo as much as I could, and it’s still hard to see him…that mouse was tiny!

 

Steps away from the parking lot is the Deception Pass bridge, which has a pedestrian walkway. It’s usually a spectacular view from the bridge, high over the rushing water, but on that day the view was reduced by moisture still hanging in the air. Far out on the water I could barely make out some cormorants, gulls, a few seals, and one sea lion – all working hard for their living.

 

20. Snow on the rocks below the bridge at Deception Pass.

 

21. North Beach from the Deception Pass bridge. No one walks the beach on this snowy day.

 

22. A phone photo taken on the road home that day.

 

One day I ventured off the island to Mount Vernon, a small city with a good food cooperative where I like to shop. On the way I passed acres of fallow, snowy fields. The sun is bright out on Skagit Flats. The orderly rows of crops with their striped furrows converging on the horizon was pleasing to see.

 

23. A bus for migrant workers sits in the field, waiting for Spring. It looks like this is one of Skagit Valley’s famous tulip fields – you can see them coming up. The snow won’t bother them a bit.

 

24. Afternoon sun throws a maze of shadows on a farm building.

 

The snow has melted a little now, but it’s still below freezing at night and not much above freezing during the day. Friday I took a walk at Bowman Bay, part of Deception Pass State Park.  I lingered on the trail until sunset. The tide was out and a lone Great blue heron was busy foraging in the quietly lapping waves. The sun felt good.

 

25. A Great blue heron picks its way through the riches of low tide.

 

***

Dark Places

Recently a friend said she appreciated that I “allowed the dark places to stay dark” in a photograph of rocks and sand. That comment struck a chord; I had been thinking about inviting more darkness into my photography.

The urge to photograph a particular thing or place erupts from a myriad of sources, some of which are unknown to me. But one reason I make photographs is to share a place, a moment, a detail or an impression with others.

One way of conceptualizing the process of photography, for me anyway, is that I am making maps of my world as I photograph it. Here is the tree, here, the rough bark, over there, the repeating pattern of a fern and there, its reflection or shadow.  A curve, a shade of green, a shape, a texture….I notice the details as well as the whole scene, and I want to share it all. I want to faithfully record all the bits of data, the way a map does.

 

1. Photograph as map. Little is left to the imagination; you won’t get lost here.

Maps present the facts in an evenhanded way, shedding enough light across the surface so that every important detail can be read. I’ve always loved maps and in photography I often gravitate towards brightness, preferring well-illuminated images.

But what about the dark places, what about the shadows? Especially in winter with its clouds, low sun and short days, darkness comes into the foreground. Why fight it? In this data-heavy world maybe it makes sense to allow more darkness to manifest, if only to balance the plethora of visual information.

Dark places don’t appear on maps, not anymore. But like the blank places on old maps that elicited so many questions, darkness can play an important role in photographs. So I’m acquiescing to darkness, trying to refrain from lifting out the shadows. Here’s a group of photos that invites darkness in.

 

2. On a late October afternoon lingering rays of sunlight illuminate a clump of ferns at the edge of an algae-coated wetland. The deep blue areas are reflections of a bright, clear autumn sky.

 

3. Same day, same location.

 

4. After a gentle snowfall the pale coating on logs and leaves does little to lighten a dark corner of the lake.

 

5. Freezing rain left an assortment of water droplets and ice pellets on the slender twigs of a Snowberry bush (Symphoricarpos albus).

 

6. Rain begins to fall on a lake at dusk. The sun has set, and what little is left of the light is mesmerizing. It’s getting really cold but….just a few more photos. You know how it is.

 

7. After sunset on a mid-winter day, all is dark except for a bog in the middle of the lake.

 

8. Deep shadows fall across a wetland in a forest, on an October afternoon.

 

9. The Yellow pond lily leaves are curling up and turning brown, but the Douglas fir trees won’t give up their color. The lake must have risen long ago and killed the trees. They still stand tall.

 

10. A late summer view of the same lake.

 

11. Another day, a different angle, in black and white.

 

I’m going to try to keep the importance of darkness in mind. Of course I would never abandon the light. Below there are more photos from the same location, which is a shallow lake surrounded by forest, called Little Cranberry Lake. The photographs represent eight different walks around the lake, between August 2018 and February 2019. I’ve come to love the trails in this preserve. Walking the trails in sunny and overcast weather, in the rain or just after a snowfall, there’s always something new to see.

 

12. The same photograph as #11, processed differently.

 

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13. Trails at Little Cranberry Lake are rocky and full of roots.

 

14. A favorite spot on one trail by the lake cuts underneath a vertical cliff where Redcedar trees enjoy the constant moisture.

 

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15. Reflections in the lake in late November, when the grasses were fading.

 

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16. On the same day, a light rain began to fall. The water was absolutely still.

 

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17. In a third photo of reflections made the same day, a moss-covered log supports an array of  plants.

 

18. A glorious September sky is reflected near the edge of the lake.

 

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19. This isn’t spring green – the photograph was made in the middle of January. The edges of this shallow lake provide no end of reflections to study.

 

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20. Here are the same greens, on land now, also in January.

 

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21. Bracken fern decays beautifully, turning various shades of yellow, gold, orange and brown. This is from a September walk.

 

22. A pair of mushrooms rises between the dead fronds of a Sword fern. There’s plenty of moisture in this bed of moss.

 

23. I hope this is a slick of algae or bacteria on the wetland, not oil.

 

24. Light, wet snow on lichens makes a kind of miniature winter wonderland.

 

25. A honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.) plant and a Snowberry bush seem to shiver in the fresh snow.

 

26. An infrared treatment in black and white gives the impression of snow. The photo was taken in February but on this day no snow fell.

***

Little Cranberry Lake is part of a collection of about 2800 acres of protected forest land on Fidalgo Island. Purchased in 1919 by a local power company, the forest was logged by the company for income for 60 or 70 years. In the late 1980’s local residents began to document how the practice of clearcutting was destroying the forest. A Friends of the Forest group coalesced and made their voices heard, along with residents who wanted trails, not logging in the island’s forests. Clearcutting ended in 1989, and now the Anacortes Community Forest Lands (ACFL) are permanently preserved and managed for recreational use.

 

Low Tide

I hadn’t planned to go to the beach; I didn’t know the tide was going out. I thought I might walk along a trail in Deception Pass State Park that wanders through the forest and along the shoreline. With the sun hanging low in the southwest, North Beach was looking chilly though, no sun there! I parked and considered my options. Steps away from the car, there’s a point of land where sunny West beach swings around a corner and takes a different name: North Beach. I hadn’t explored West Point (imaginative names!) because I’d been there at higher tides, when the water was high up on the rocks. Now as I looked down, the receding water revealed a wealth of complex shapes where the rugged promontory is wearing away bit by bit, as water works its infinitely patient way through rock.

Little sand-filled coves were strewn with smooth round stones, as green as moss, as orange as the sunset, as white as snow and as pretty as could be. Crags of ink-black rocks streaked with white rose from the water in a multitude of crenelated shapes. Smooth gray rocks were covered with softly delineated streaks from evaporating water that lingered in the crevices.

I scrambled down and picked my way through the intricate contours of rock and sand, waiting when necessary for an outgoing wave to jump across narrow rivulets. In one sheltered cove, the logs which had floated up on high tides and jammed behind the rocks were still white with frost on this sunny afternoon. I felt a dank chill there and the air smelled sharp with minerals. Off shore, two seals relaxed and let the swift tide carry them out of the pass. Hundreds of sea birds, too far out to identify, churned the air, their feet clapping the water as they struggled to take off.  An eagle flew low over the water’s surface, weighed down by a big catch, probably a sea duck. A second eagle followed close behind, then they vanished behind a forest-topped island.

What could be better than losing myself in this wonderland?

 

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As the sun began to set, people gravitated to West Beach to watch, cell phones in hand. Thirty miles to the southwest the Olympic Mountains were silhouetted against a nacreous sky like a strip of torn construction paper. Gulls stood solemnly on rocks warmed with orange sunlight, and the glassy water barely shimmered as the current quieted. Low tide, sunset.

 

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One last picture, with the phone…

 

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And,

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Your photographer

 

***

A google earth image of this location which appears to have been taken in summer during a very low tide is here.  Zoom in and you’ll see these rocks and the log-jammed cove, where someone may be sitting under a blue umbrella. The coordinates are N48.39  W122.66.

If anyone can tell me what the rocks I photographed are, I’d love to know.

And the colored sand, (#7 & #8) why is it arranged in those patterns, and what about those fine lines? Could it be that these are different kinds of finely crushed rocks with different magnetic charges, and when the waves wash the particles up, they fall into place relative to each another, something like iron filings around a magnet? That was the guess of one smart person I know. Or are some rock particles heavier, so they remain on the shore sooner or later than others do? There’s so much we don’t know.

Toss the Agenda, Just Be with the Trees

Chances are, most everyone who reads this has had a special relationship with a tree, or with a type of tree. My sacred groves have changed as I moved from place to place. Oak, beech, maple – those steadfast denizens of temperate North America were boon companions for decades, along with many others. Then seven years ago, the cast of characters changed when I moved to the Pacific northwest. Tall, raggedy lines of Douglas firs took over my horizons while elegant cedars and hemlocks called me deeper into the woods. Last July I moved again and the arboreal lineup shifted. Wandering the land, I saw the familiar silhouettes of Douglas fir, Western Redcedar, and Red alder, but subtle differences began to emerge. The island ecosystems here are different than the lowlands and foothills where I lived before. Colorful, wavy-branched Madrone trees are as plentiful here as Bigleaf maples were around Seattle. I don’t see as many willows now, but the scarce Maritime juniper is an endemic specialty here that’s worth seeking out.

Getting to know the quirks of local habitats is a slow process. Knowledge and understanding build organically as I ply forest trails, stroll beaches and tiptoe across mossy balds. What better way to absorb new information than to rest my gaze on a form, gather its essence at that moment, put the camera to my eye and make a photograph. At that moment, when things go well, I apprehend the whole that I’m situated in, without separation between me and my surroundings. You could say it’s a kind of adoration. The separateness we humans so often feel can quickly drop away when we’re immersed in an activity. Being in nature with all one’s senses alert is one of the more obvious ways to let go of all that makes us feel separate. But even the seemingly passive activity of looking at images can so immersive that we forget ourselves.

Separation can drop away at any time – that is an ever-present possibility. Approaching trees without an agenda about trees – or about anything – makes room for grounded, fresh experience. It’s my wish that you might approach these photographs with a spirit of no agenda. Skip the captions if that makes it easier – they’re here because I enjoy sharing ideas and information. Whatever works, I hope you can just be with the moment.

 

1. Western Redcedars (Thuja plicata), their lower branches thickly coated with moss, stand tall in the mist at Rockport State Park. Redcedars are undeniably graceful, with their sloping trunks that ease into the soil, and their billowing curtains of evergreen leaves.

 

2. This solid twist of driftwood could be from a Redcedar tree.

 

3. Curvy Pacific madrone trees (Arbutus menziesii) intertwine with upright Douglas firs along a path in Deception Pass State Park. The Madrone grows along the west coast of North America from California to British Columbia. In Puget Sound it seems to love steep slopes near water.

 

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4. Feathery evergreen leaves of a Redcedar waft in the breeze. This Pacific northwest species can live over a thousand years, attaining great height and girth. And dignity.

 

5. The green edges of our rocky islands are often set with Shore pines (Pinus contorta) along with Madrones and Douglas firs. On west-facing cliffs where the weather takes no prisoners, trees bend and eventually crumble into luxurious beds of Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) and Reindeer lichen (Cladonia sp.). This particular grouping makes me think of a dramatic dance: arms flailing, people collapsing on the floor….  This scene may appear static, but even as they decompose, trees lead a dynamic life interacting with the flora and fauna around them.

 

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6. These roots are probably Douglas fir or Shore pine. Research shows that in the same soil as the roots of trees there are vast mycorrhizal networks that pass critical information among trees, along with nutrients, carbon and water. There is a world of intelligent activity under our feet!

 

7. Fire happens. In August, 2016, it happened here, in a protected community forest.  The fire was put out, trails were closed for a time, and now the forest is healing. These Douglas firs were protected by thick bark.

 

8. A fallen Douglas fir has been sawed to make space for a trail. It’s sad to see the giants go, but before long new plants will take root on top of the log. A whole community of moss, ferns, mushrooms, lichens, shrubs and trees can establish itself on a prostrate tree. Not to mention spiders, beetles, squirrels, birds….

 

9. A mature tree that began life atop a nursery log slowly works its roots down into the ground.

 

10. Western hemlock boughs are nice places to lose yourself.

 

11. This species of juniper only grows on a handful of islands in Puget Sound and a few other nearby sites. Named the Maritime juniper (Juniperus maritima), it was differentiated from Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) in 2007, after research showed critical distinctions between the two species. The tree I photographed is next to an oft-traveled park road and is frequently photographed. Maybe all that attention buoys the tree in some mysterious way.

 

12. A tree that fell into a shallow lake provides support for native grasses as the wood gradually weathers into a maze of sinewy, sculptural shapes.

 

13. An old Shore pine lives up to its Latin name, Pinus contorta. This photo was taken in December, and all the green you see is evergreen – trees, mosses, ferns, grasses, and other plants. 

 

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14. In the forest, a neck-breaking upward gaze reveals wildly criss-crossing branches on a Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). I imagine the benefit of all those twists and turns is that each branch finds a little more light.

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15. This Douglas fir is said to be over 800 years old. Only part of it fits into the viewfinder! Step back, and neighboring trees complicate the picture so much that it’s hard to tell which tree is which. Stand underneath, and you feel the deep power of age and maturity, and a solidity of being that emanates beneficence through every crack and fissure.

 

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16. A close-up look at Douglas fir bark reveals congealed sap that cracked open, perhaps from temperature and humidity changes. There’s a whole world here on the skin of the tree, just as there is underneath the soil, high up in the canopy, and deep inside the heartwood.

 

17. The Madrone tree’s naturally peeling bark was used medicinally by indigenous peoples. Western researchers isolated Betulinic acid from the bark, an anti-inflamaotory and antimalarial substance that may also inhibit some cancers.

 

18. An immense Douglas fir spreads its roots like feet. The tree is probably hundreds of years old. Scattered old growth Douglas fir trees hang on in the forests here, and their noble girth does my ego good.  Being dwarfed by these great beings puts me in my places and settles my spirit.

 

19. The shallow, still waters of Little Cranberry Lake mirror a phantasmagoria of dead wood.

 

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20. Leaves of Redcedar flutter in the breeze after morning rain.

 

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21. This tree sings of long journeys by water and the constancy of the tides. It is as wild and raw as the winter wind.

 

***

Mary Oliver died last week. Here is a poem she wrote:

When I Am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

-Mary Oliver

 

 

 

Through the Gates

They aren’t snapshots;

they don’t happen quick as a snap

of the fingers, and unlike shots,

they’re not propelled outward

in search of a target. Rather they are

admissions.

Admissions of light and love.

Light that traveled 92 million miles

through vast emptiness

to filter down through clouds, bounce

around between objects, reflect off water

or rock, or the fine threads of lichens,

the fierce eyes of a hummingbird.

And with a shutter click

the light is absorbed,

admitted,

into my camera and mind. The gates.

The un-snapshots are

admissions

of light and love,

love for a world so exquisite

that we drink again

and again.

 

 

1. Short-eared owl stares me down; Farm to Market Road, Edison, Washington.

 

2. Licorice fern fronds on the Goose Rock Perimeter trail, Deception Pass State Park.

 

3. Window reflections and paint swatches on a warehouse in Edison.

 

4. Rain in December.

 

5. Dried Bracken fern; Heart Lake, Fidalgo Island, Washington

 

6. Sword fern decomposing at Sharpe Park, Fidalgo Island.

 

7. Cattails and tree trunks reflect in the still water of a shallow pond at Bowman Bay; Deception Pass State Park.

 

8. Rainy evening in January; Edison.

 

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9. Yellow lichens grow thickly on a damp cliff at North Beach; Deception Pass State Park.

 

10. Low tide at West Beach; Deception Pass State Park.

 

11. Driftwood on West Beach, with the San Juan Islands in the distance.

 

12. A resting branch frames a group of lichens, including a species of Parmelia slowly reaching across the bark like coral; West Beach.

 

13. Playing Santa at a small town Christmas parade; Anacortes, Washington.

 

14. Belgian draft horses at rest after the Christmas parade; Anacortes.

 

15. Roadside flooding and last summer’s Queen Anne’s Lace in the rain; Guemes Channel, March Point.

 

16. Dried Sword fern showing spore dots, or sori, at Sharpe Park.

 

17. The Granery; Edison.

 

18. The Granery lights; Edison.

 

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19. Old growth canopy of moss-covered trees at Rockport State Park.

 

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20. A tangle of trees, shrubs and ferns lit by January sun at Sharpe Park.

 

21. The view across Guemes Channel from March Point in the rain, from inside a car, with dried Queen Anne’s lace flowers swaying in the wind; Fidalgo Island.

 

22. Still life with toy ladder, clothespins and Japanese box.

 

23. Looking towards sunset, January 4th; North Beach.

 

***

 

Attributed to Hongzhi, a twelfth century Chinese Zen master:

“We all have the clear, wondrously bright field from the beginning. Many lifetimes of misunderstanding come only from distrust, hindrance, and screens of confusion that we create in a scenario of isolation.”

from Cultivating the Empty Field: The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi, by Taigen Dan Leighton. Tuttle; 2000.

 

The Long and Short of it

Wide views of breath-taking landscapes, close-ups that focus on the details: I’ll take both when it comes to photography.

Broad views at the edges where land transitions to water are commonplace, now that I live on an island again.

1. Clouds over the Olympics. 12/22/18

 

I remember how refreshing it was when I worked in lower Manhattan, to walk over to the edge of that island after a day at the office, and gaze at the Hudson River. Then I moved to a suburban environment where I didn’t see those broad views as often. I missed the feeling of release that I felt when taking in the world from a wider perspective.

There’s no doubt too, that narrower views which zero in on an intimate part of the landscape have always excited me, and they figure prominently in my work. Since I was a little girl, I took notice of the details around me, and easily lost myself in them.

2. Mushroom, leaves, grass and twigs: a backyard still life. 12/27/18

 

Of course I’m aware of the middle distance too, but it seems that the polarity of near and distant reflects some inner gestalt, deep inside me. This group of photographs swings back and forth between the two ends of the visual spectrum, within the limits of a narrow geographical range and time frame.  Come along with me and take a look:

 

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3. The broken plates of ancient rocks at my feet, the Olympic Mountains in the distance, and the mesmerizing sound of lapping waves keep me riveted. Washington Park, Fidalgo Island, Washington.  12/22/18

 

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4. Gentle waves lap at my feet again, but this distant view reveals the edge of the San Juan Islands instead of the mountains. Three Harlequin ducks perch on rocks rich with intertidal life, and overhead, an eagle’s high-pitched “kereee” cuts sharply through the air. Rosario Beach, Deception Pass State Park, Washington. 12/14/18

 

5. On this late afternoon walk I only had a long lens and I was struck by the beauty of the distant view, so I used the phone to record the scene as the sun descended. North Beach, Deception Pass State Park. 11/06/18

 

6. A pair of mushrooms, fallen leaves, and a bed of moss – it’s a world unto itself, and all you need to do is bend down and look. Behind my home on Fidalgo Island. 11/17/18

 

7. A wild garden composition of weathered wood, Licorice fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza) and the rosette of leaves of a Fringe cup (Tellima grandiflora) graces a rocky outcrop. I see bits of rust-colored bark from a Madrona tree (Arbutus menziesii) and one of its bright red berries, too. The tiny, succulent blue-green leaves of Broad-leaved stonecrop (Sedum spathufolium) are tucked into a corner, and moss, lichens and fallen leaves complete the picture. Pass Island, Deception Pass State Park. 11/06/18

 

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8. A Sword fern (Polystichum munitum) has found a strange home in a rocky cliff. It’s obviously struggling in this location but the scene is compelling, with the tight squeeze of plant and crevice, and the warm colors of lichens and dried fern fronds complementing green leaves and cool, blue-gray stone.  North Beach, Deception Pass State Park. 12/12/18

 

9. Fog obscures the details and beckons me forward, up the hill to Goose Rock. This forest of Western Redcedar, Douglas fir and Western hemlock is set with an understory of Sword ferns, like bouquets from another, more ancient time.  Deception Pass State park. 11/22/18

 

10. A giant has fallen in the woods. Along its flanks mushrooms sprout, and underneath it there are even more, sprouting up suddenly from wandering networks of mycelium that connect the forest underground, throughout the moist, rich soil. Soon moss will take hold on top of the log and Red huckleberry bushes will root there. Perhaps a hemlock tree will find a home on the log too, and eventually its roots will pass the wood and feel their way down into the soil. These ecosystems are called nursery logs, and they’re critical players in the forest symphony. Goose Rock Trail, Deception Pass State Park. 11/22/18

 

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11. On the wooded path it’s getting dark but across the water, afternoon sun picks out the details on an island named Ben Ure. Later, I learn that Mr. Ure was a smuggler of migrants from China in the late 1880’s. It’s said that he tied people in burlap bags to transport them in boats, and if something went wrong, he threw the bags overboard. Powerful currents at Deception Pass swept the victims away to wash up on the San Juan Islands; by then, surely they were dead. Immigration has always presented dangers, but we could do much better at reducing the hardship.  Goose Rock Perimeter Trail, Deception Pass State Park. 12/30/18

 

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12. A Western Redcedar’s roots are bared beside a rocky trail. Bits of dead cedar leaves have collected in the crevices after a dry summer, and a single Licorice fern frond has come to rest here too. Goose Rock Perimeter Trail, Deception Pass State Park. 12/30/18

 

13. A petite Licorice fern frond dangles from a mossy rock at Mt. Erie, the highest place on Fidalgo Island. 11/25/18

 

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14. Calm waters reflect the silvery grays of a December afternoon. Rosario Beach, Deception Pass State Park. 12/14/18

 

15. Up on Mount Erie, the view stretches for miles across lakes, farmland, and forests, then out past the Salish Sea to the rugged Olympic Mountain Range, 40 miles away. Fidalgo Island. 11/25/18

 

16. A thin film of oil, or perhaps bacteria, floats on a shallow pool of water in the forest, offering up obscure reflections of the trees and blue sky above. Little Cranberry Lake, Anacortes Community Forest Lands, Fidalgo Island. 10/22/18

 

17. A bevy of amber-colored mushrooms and one wavy-edged gray one nestle in the evergreen leaves of Bearberry, also called Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). Lighthouse Point, Deception Pass State Park.  11/20/18

 

18. The handsome Sword fern is ubiquitous in the Pacific Northwest, adapting to a variety of conditions.  It’s evergreen leaves turn an orangey rust color as they die. In spring, a batch of new fronds will unwind from tightly coiled fiddleheads. Goose Rock Trail, Deception Pass State Park.  11/22/18

 

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19. Lush even in winter, hardy Salal (Gaultheria shallon) spills onto the trail at the feet of forest giants. Goose Rock Perimeter Trail, Deception Pass State Park.  12/30/18

 

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20. Stretching up for every bit of light they can get, Western Redcedars and Western hemlocks cast deep shade on the forest floor. In the middle story, Red huckleberry bushes are almost invisible; having lost their leaves, their fine twigs form a green haze.  There’s magic in this juxtaposition of immense tree trunks and finely cut leaves and twigs. Goose Rock Perimeter Trail, Deception Pass State Park. 12/30/18

 

21. A bit of root calligraphy rises through the thin soil of a mossy bluff on Fidalgo island, high over the Salish Sea. Lighthouse Point, Deception Pass State Park.  01/01/19

 

22. Delicate lichens fluff up and come to life after a rain. There are two different lichens on this little twig – and you’d likely find more if you examined the length of it. Lighthouse Point, Deception Pass State Park.  12/10/18

 

23. I’m drawn to this old Madrona tree with its multi-colored bark that wrinkles just like my own skin. Lighthouse Point, Deception Pass State Park  01/01/19

 

24. As the sun sets over the water, the torn edge of the Olympic Mountains is in silhouette and the thinnest sliver of a crescent moon glimmers in the soft purple of the evening sky. Dog-walkers are transfixed, waves collapse rhythmically against the shore, and contentment reigns for a minute or two. West Beach, Deception Pass State Park.  11/10/18

 

Once again, I’ve posted more photographs than I feel I should. It’s hard to whittle them down to a more manageable batch. I hope that rather than feel overwhelmed, you have simply entered into the beauty and enjoyed it.