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…

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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.
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  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!

 

 

IMMANENCE

There is an immanence inherent in all things,

a constant becoming

not separate from, not outside of.

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Immanence – it’s a tricky word. It’s not the same as imminence. It is of course, the state of being immanent, which Merriam-Webster defines as indwelling or inherent, or within the limits of possible experience or knowledge.

The sense of immanence I’m getting at with these images (hopefully) is close to the concept discussed below in a Wikipedia entry about a French philosopher named Gilles Deleuze:

 

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
Plane of immanence (French plan d’immanence) is a founding concept in the metaphysics or ontology of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze. Immanence, meaning “existing or remaining within” generally offers a relative opposition to transcendence, that which is beyond or outside. Deleuze rejects the idea that life and creation are opposed to death and non-creation. He instead conceives of a plane of immanence that already includes life and death.
[Colebrook, in Deleuze: A Guide for the Perplexed states] “Deleuze refuses to see deviations, redundancies, destructions, cruelties or contingency as accidents that befall or lie outside life; life and death were aspects of desire or the plane of immanence.” This plane is a pure immanence, an unqualified immersion or embeddedness, an immanence which denies transcendence as a real distinction, Cartesian or otherwise. Pure immanence is thus often referred to as a pure plane, an infinite field or smooth space without substantial or constitutive division.
[Deleuze states] “We will say of pure immanence that it is A LIFE, and nothing else.”   This is not some abstract, mystical notion of life but a life, a specific yet impersonal, indefinite life discovered in the real singularity of events and virtuality of moments. A life is subjectless, neutral, and preceding all individuation and stratification, is present in all things, and thus always immanent to itself.

 

An ethics of immanence will disavow its reference to judgments of good and evil, right and wrong, as according to a transcendent model, rule or law. Rather the diversity of living things and particularity of events will demand the concrete methods of immanent evaluation (ethics) and immanent experimentation (creativity).

 

Lest you think I’ve gone off the rails, let’s just say that Deleuze’s ideas as presented above and in this link resonate with me now, as I look at these photos. I might also describe the quality I’m thinking about as a roving, ever-present sense of possibility and becoming, equally inherent in and permeating all things – the rain chain, the running boy, the shadow, your own eyes.

Photos:

  1. A rain chain at Seattle’s Washington Arboretum Japanese Garden. Rain chains can make the movement of water from roof to ground a delight to watch and hear.
  2. A bamboo pole keeps the old wooden doors closed at the Japanese Garden.
  3. A Madrone tree at Washington Park on Fidalgo Island. The peeling bark reveals wonderful colors, the branches curve and contort in pleasing ways.
  4. Dead limbs on an old juniper tree at Washington Park. Junipers normally don’t like the Pacific northwest but these trees, Juniperus maritima, have adapted to our islands in Puget Sound and a few spots on the Olympic Peninsula and coastal British Columbia. This species was “discovered,” i.e. recognized as genetically and reproductively distinct from the Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum), just ten years ago.
  5. A Ginkgo leaf on its way to the ground, stopped by a twig at the Japanese Garden.
  6. Late afternoon at the conservatory in Volunteer Park, Seattle.
  7. Espresso with a glass of water, and Christmas lights in the background; Pelican Bay Books, Anacortes, Washington.
  8. A boy leaving a cafe in Seattle. Dad let us have cookies!
  9. Looking out to the street while staying warm and cozy at Pelican Bay Books.
  10. Shadow play on a wall at home.
  11. & 12. Sunset over Lake Washington from Juanita Beach in Kirkland. Photos taken with my phone.

Autumn’s Quiet Radiance

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***

Continuing the autumn woods theme from last week, I returned to Moss Lake and O.O. Denny Park for more photographs. In some of these photos I steered towards a more impressionistic look, either when shooting or in processing. Maybe that forest magic is getting into my brain.

  1. Dead leaves on a Western Redcedar (Thuja plicata) glow like pewter in the late afternoon light. The two cedars of the Pacific northwest, Western Redcedar and Yellow Cedar, were tremendously important to early people in this area, supplying materials for transportation, shelter, tools and clothing. The Western Redcedar (not a true cedar) can attain a huge size and live for hundreds of years before falling and returning its nutrients back to the forest, where it will continue taking part in the long, winding thread of life.
  2. Layers of leaves: rust colored Big Leaf Maple leaves (Acer macrophyllum) and little Red Huckleberry leaves (Vaccinium parvifolium) mingle on the forest floor.
  3. Big Leaf Maple leaves can grow to 10 inches across. When they fall they often are trapped in tree branches before they can reach the ground. Clumps of moss can fall in storms and be caught in branches too, which is probably how this healthy clump came to rest in such a small tree. Mosses like this specimen, probably Douglas’ Neckera (Neckera Douglasii) can get all the nutrients they need from the air and rain.
  4. Another maple leaf is caught in a Red Huckleberry tree that still holds on a few leaves itself. I gave this image a flat, graphic look to accentuate the shapes and colors.
  5. Another leaf – you know what kind now – caught again.
  6. A maple leaf has fallen onto a clump of Sword fern (Polystichum munitum). Sword fern is a large, tough evergreen fern that grows prolifically in the Pacific northwest.
  7. A slowly decomposing stump, probably a Western Redcedar. It may have been burned long ago and bears evidence of woodpecker excavation. For how long will it continue to nourish the community of plants and animals around it? Research shows that this species has lower rates of nitrogen release than other trees in the same area, such as Douglas fir. But I have no doubt that every cell is valuable in some way – in fact, the tree stump may be nourishing you, if you enjoy the photo. It’s all part of the big dance.
  8. This log has a relatively thin covering of cedar leaves and mosses – maybe it fell only a few years ago. Many plants will take root on its surface as time passes.
  9. If you look very closely (slightly right of center), maybe you can see little lichens under the bits of moss on these branches. One lichen looks like Forking Bone (Hypogymnia inactiva). I read that the “inactiva” doesn’t mean this lichen is lazy, rather it means it doesn’t have the chemical reactivity of some of its relatives. And “Hypogymnia” refers to a naked underside. Make what you will of it!
  10. A tree that fell across a path was cut up and left to decompose. Sections of the wood bear pieces of Lungwort lichen (Lobaria pulmonaria). Three kingdoms of organisms symbiotically unite in this lichen: an algae, a fungus and a bacteria. Lungwort lichen is widespread, ranging across parts of Asia, North America and Africa. In Europe this lichen is declining. In our area it is associated with humid, old-growth forests. Sensitive to air pollution, the Lungwort lichen typically reproduces asexually, but after 10 – 25 years it may also reproduce sexually. Who knew lichens could live so long, and be so versatile?
  11. The flip side of our long-lived Lungwort lichen. People have used this plant for dye, in tanning, and for medicine. Moose and goats are known to dine on it and wild sheep probably eat it, too. The lungwort name arose, like many plant names, from an observation that the plant resembled something else – in this case, human lungs. It followed that lungwort lichen was used for lung ailments (as was the spotted-leaved perennial plant named Lungwort). Recent research has shown that L. pulmonaria has anti-inflammatory and gastroprotective properties.
  12. Bright yellow leaves fall into a roadside stream. I can’t identify this plant but it was striking. The green leaves are the invasive Himalayan blackberry (Rubus discolor), an Indian introduction by way of England that is abundant here.
  13. Specimens of Big Leaf Maple covered with mosses and Licorice fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza). Moss growth in the Pacific Northwest is luxuriant thanks to our wet, relatively mild climate. The spongy mats seen on these trees have taken decades to grow. An average mature Big Leaf Maple holds 87 lbs (35.5 kilos) of epiphyte biomass – moss, lichens, ferns, etc. That’s almost four times the biomass of the leaves! All those epiphytes are hard at work, gathering nutrients from the air and rain (and the occasional bird dropping), keeping everything in circulation.
  14. A Big Leaf Maple is the setting for two of our common evergreen forest ferns, Sword fern and Licorice fern. The seem to rejoice in the misty weather, holding their fronds aloft. Licorice fern’s rhizome – the root-like appendage connecting the plant to the tree trunk – really does taste like licorice; I’ve tried it. The plant was used medicinally for colds and sore throats by First Nations people in British Columbia.
  15. The rain has stopped but the humidity remains. Our rains tend to be the off-and-on, light, drizzly kind, not downpours. So far this year we’ve had about 42″ of rain, almost 10″ above normal. Rain down here means snow in the mountains, so Seattle skiers and snowboarders don’t mind all the precipitation. The plants like it, too. As for me, I’m ready for a string of dry days, but I’m doing my best to appreciate wet weather!
  16. Raindrops sprinkled across dead twigs, probably a Western hemlock.
  17. 18. & 19.  Red Huckleberry leaves are among the last to drop. They make a pretty, glowing haze in the woods.

A Spare Beauty

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Visit   https://lynn-wohlers.pixels.com/   to purchase framed or unframed prints on paper. Also available on wood, metal or acrylic.  If you don’t see the photograph you want on the site, let me know and I will make it available.  Free shipping is available on 11/27/17.

*

Just six months ago I was reveling in Spring flowers and the lengthening days of May. The air was charged with promise, and each time I went outdoors I knew I would find even more beauty. November’s pleasures are not as obvious, but they can get under your skin. There are days I have to force myself to go out into the wet chill – not only is it unpleasantly dark and wet, but I don’t expect the abundance of visual treats that I find in Spring.

I look harder these days to find the beauty, much harder. In this darkening time of year the rewards can be dramatic – mysterious dark woodlands, raging rivers, the ruined grace of a last leaf clinging to a branch tip.

Our native Vine maples (Acer circinatum) are some of the last trees to drop their leaves.  The species is variable; some trees show off in shades of green, yellow, orange and rose all at once, while others present a restrained palette of yellows and golds.  The play of light on a Vine maple’s golden leaves creates a delicately romantic scene even on an overcast day. The trees throw a warm wash of light onto a dim woodland where dark, hulking evergreens suck out the light (#1, #9).

Like certain Japanese maples, the Vine maple’s leaves are rounded but also lobed (#6 & #7). In fact, this tree is the only representative of its group outside Asia; it’s closest relatives are Japanese and Korean maples. A smaller under-story tree with an open habit and delicate branches, it can be easy to overlook, especially among the massive cedars, firs and hemlocks.

The leaves in #2 and #3, are obviously maple leaves but they have more deeply cut lobes than the Vine maple. They’re from our native Big Leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum), a large deciduous tree with huge leaves that have mostly fallen to the ground by this time of year. The leaves make a rich mulch on the forest floor, and on the fallen cedars and Douglas firs that interrupt the forest (#17).  Ferns, shrubs and more trees will take root on top of these logs, thanks to all the decaying biomass and our wet climate.

Three photos (#4, #9, #10) show scenes at Moss Lake Natural Area, a county wetland preserve. Many trees around Moss Lake are covered with deep layers of moss, lichens and ferns, like the tall Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla; #9).  As tree stumps slowly rot they too play host to deep layers of moss (#10), providing perfect spots for seedlings to get started. The preserve’s shallow, boggy lake (#15) is a calm setting for a clump of rushes (Juncus sp.).

Four of these photos (#5, #12, #13, #14) were taken in the rain on a day trip into the mountains.  Index, a small town about an hour northeast of Seattle, has a reputation for the best rock-climbing in the state, on rock like the granite face seen in #14. You can bet no one was climbing on the cold, rainy day we were there, as the North Fork Skykomish River raged past the town under low clouds ( #12, #13) and Red alders receded into the fog (#5).

Deception Falls (#4) is about 75 miles from Seattle and about ten minutes this side of a pass over the North Cascade Range. Deception Creek tumbles steeply over rocks as it meets the Tye River here, and an old growth forest dripping with mosses and ferns makes it a magical spot, even in the rain. When we left the house the sun was peeking out, but as so often happens this time of year, by the time we hit the foothills and began climbing the road into the Cascades, we were under rain clouds. I huddled under a tree to change lenses as carefully as I could, but sure enough, I let a raindrop fall on the sensor so most of the photos have a big smudge on them. Oh well, it’s fine now and we’ll go back another day!

#16 was taken at Marymoor Park, at the head of Lake Sammamish. The round leaves are the Fragrant waterlily, an import from eastern North America that’s an invasive weed here, pretty as it is.

Magnificent trees, serene lakes, fern-covered forest floors – they wouldn’t be the same without our wet climate, and they really are beautiful any time of year. You just have to go out and look.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Contained

A random group of images from a trip to New York comes together under the rubric “Contained,” then inspires a poem.

 

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Containing, contained:

  1. What’s left of a perfect espresso macchiato and eggplant pastry at La Colombe, 601 W. 27th St., NY, NY.
  2. A freestanding window frame contains the view at Queens Botanical Gardens, 43-50 Main Street in Flushing, NY.
  3. Packing crates for sculpture on the second floor of the Noguchi Museum, 9-01 33rd Rd., Queens, NY.
  4. Basket made by Pomo Indians (?) in what is now California, photographed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, NY.
  5. Looking up into a sculpture by Ruth Asawa at the David Zwirner Gallery, 525 W. 19th St., NY, NY.  Asawa (1926 – 2013) learned to draw while interred in camps in California & Arkansas during WW II.  Later, she studied with Josef Albers at Black Mountain College.
  6. Stacked trash cans at Fort Totten Park, Totten Ave. & 15 Rd., Bayside, NY.
  7. Moving sculpture (probably the work of Deborah Butterfield)  on West 22th St. in Chelsea, NY, NY.
  8. An old wooden toolbox, washed up at Little Bay, East River, near the Throgs Neck Bridge, Whitestone, NY.
  9. A portion of “Lorrkon (Hollow Log)” by John Mawurndjul, a leading Australian contemporary indigenous artist. This sculpture relates to the ceremonial use of painted hollow logs to inter people’s bones after death. At the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, NY.
  10. A sculpture by Ruth Asawa at David Zwirner Gallery,  525 W. 19th St., NY, NY.
  11. A locked door to a now empty ammunition magazine at Fort Totten Park, Totten Ave. & 15 Rd., Bayside, NY.
  12. A broom and trash cans by the ammunition magazine, Fort Totten Park, Totten Ave. & 15 Rd., Bayside, NY.

***

Containment

 

Feet ache. An afternoon treat of espresso and pastry revives me, and

I relax and look out at the city streets, as fresh now

after coffee, as a green garden framed

by a floating

window, the window’s square geometry signaling the reassuring

order of framed and enclosed spaces, spaces

that hold us as safely as a crated sculpture, the crate’s stamped symbols

advising “This side up” and so

the contents are safe, unbroken, captivating and precious,

like the basket with feathers on its rim, the basket

that could fly, and it did, it flew

like Ruth’s hands when she wove her round forms

(“We always saw her making art, it was part of her everyday existence”),

the empty/full shapes weightless, almost insubstantial, yet

anchored in craft and material,

the looped metal wires and round contours as familiar as a trash container – but

uncommonly beautiful. And even a trash can might

transcend its surroundings, by way of

aquamarine paint –

as the horse transcends the city street even when

wrapped and tied. Waiting patiently, blue-clad movers watch the street for

signs of trouble, and daydream about fishing a strip of

derelict shore where a toolbox sits,

also patient, also transcending its setting by wearing

ragged, green seaweed vestments,

its wooden surface bearing the creamy, painted evidence of usefulness,

which the hollow ceremonial log

sitting quietly in the museum vitrine,

is denied. Covered with tiny cross-hatchings in outback earth colors

(“I put the experience in my head and went to paint the same thing”),

the somber container

sits empty,

longing for the bones it should but will not contain.

Sixty blocks south, another receptacle hangs tenuously

from the ceiling of an art gallery

throwing cross-hatched shadows, whose

curves dance until

the door is shut

and nothing remains

but a sign indicating “No” and

a worn broom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brilliant or Subdued

I’ve been getting outdoors among the trees and taking photographs – what a change from New York!  November’s somber mood is settling in here, but October’s brilliant hues are still in the grasp of recent memory. Bright color continues to accent the landscape, fading to neutral day by day.

Photographing outdoors means responding quickly to the weather and light, and the varying moods they create together. Sun breaks, rain showers, a surprise snowfall – the changes are hard to keep up with. Just as I was getting comfortable with the brilliant foliage last month, I had to jettison my expectations of working with abundant, intense color. Shifting gears, I began to think about exploring the gathering dark and ways to express the quiet beauty of a threadbare landscape.

Here is a selection of images reflecting the season’s changes, from intense color to a restrained palette of lights and darks.

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***

These photographs were taken in and around Seattle, Washington, in the last month, using a variety of lenses and techniques.  For example, the blurred leaves (#2, #10, #24) were moving because it was windy, so I went with the flow and added camera movement too, using rhythmic, horizontal pans and a slower shutter speed. Then I processed the photos to enhance the abstract feeling.

I used a phone for two photographs – #17 and #18.  All processing was done in Lightroom or a combination of Color Effex or Silver Efex and Lightroom.

Seven photographs (#4, 5, 17, 23, 24, 25, 27) were taken with a vintage lens, an Asahi Pentax Super Takumar 50mm f/1.4 prime lens (what a mouthful!).  I bought it online several years ago, and got an adapter to fit it onto my mirrorless camera.  Made in the 1960’s, the lens has a slight golden tint (which you can remove but I chose not to) due to a Thorium coating, which makes it a wee bit radioactive, nothing to freak out about though. It has bright optics and an almost mystically smooth rendering of colors and tones. It will flare (as in #25) more than a modern lens but that can add to the artistry, so sometimes I shoot into the sun with it for that reason.  It’s difficult to focus accurately (remember, the camera’s electronics aren’t connected to the lens, it’s manual focus) so there’s considerable guesswork involved, but the results can be worth having less control. Not knowing what the outcome’s going to be is part of the magic.  This video demonstrates the lens.

Locations:

Bellevue Botanical Garden, Bellevue, WA: #1, 6 (leaves with raindrops), 8, 15 (leaves with raindrops), 18.

Juanita Beach Park, Kirkland WA:  #2, 9, 10, 22, 26.

Bloedel Reserve, Bainbridge Isalnd, WA: #3.

Juanita Bay Park, Kirkland WA:  #4, 5, 23, 24, 25, 27.

Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, WA: #6 (Camelia flower, Crab spider), 15 (Bluestem willow branches), 16, 17.

Marymoor Park, Redmond, WA: #6 (Mushroom, probably Amanita muscaria), 21.

At home on my deck, Kirkland, WA: #7, 14, 15 (snowy woods).

Moss Lake Natural Area, King County, WA: #11, 12, 13, 15 (Maple leaf), 20.

Kirkland, WA: #18.

Wright Park, Tacoma, WA: #19.