Seen on the Ferry

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And on the island…

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It was a quick day trip across Puget Sound to Marrowstone and Indian Islands, near Port Townsend. We hadn’t been there before and had an urge to check out the area.  The rather dark, cold and blustery day was like many other winter days in the Pacific Northwest, so that didn’t keep us from going out.

The ferry views are always pleasant if you can take the cold on deck! You could sit at a window, but the crossing is only a half hour, so I typically roam the ferry to see what I can see. I never sit down, though it would be satisfying with a good book – or good friends.

I enjoy the ferry itself – the heavy ropes, the nets to keep people off the deck, the safety signs, the solid build. Even the brooms were poised for a picture, so I clicked. The last shot is taken from behind the reinforced glass door towards the bow. I focused on the metal in the glass so the rest blurred. I like the effect.

The beach scenes are from Fort Flagler on Marrowstone Island.  A strategic coastal defense fort that is now a park, it was built in the 1890’s and was active during both World Wars and the Korean War. This spot and two others nearby were a “Triangle of Fire” that defended Puget Sound. By 1953 it was deactivated. The park has lovely views of the water and the Olympic Mountains (above).  And guess what – you can spend the night in the restored Engineer’s house, or how about the century-old Hospital Steward’s house?  That one comes with pressed tin ceilings in the bathroom, a claw foot tub, and of course a porch.  Prices are reasonable….

Finally,  in the tiny town of Nordland on Marrowstone Island, shellfish is still serious business:

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We should get back here next summer.

For now, eagerly looking forward to a few days in the desert this week, in a remote corner of Arizona.

GLASS HOUSE GLEANINGS

A New Year’s Day visit to Seattle’s Volunteer Park Conservatory was a pleasant diversion on a cold, damp first day of the year. The century-old glass house shelters a good variety of meticulously tended plants nestled happily in a palm house, a cactus and succulent house, a fern house, a bromeliad house, AND a seasonal house. Plenty to keep me occupied.

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Conservatories are wonderful places to renew your senses but they’re challenging places to photograph, with the riot of shapes, colors and textures all layered on top of one another.

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I look for simpler scenes and abstractions. Zeroing in on a plant detail is one way to make visual sense of the rich experience – so the cactus house is a natural starting point.

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Spanish moss (Tilandsia) drapes around an iron support in the Bromeliad house.

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The palm house boasts an elegant orchid display, but the flowers resist being photographed, at least by me. The angle is wrong, someone is in the way, the background is too busy, too many flowers are crowded together. Looking up soothes my frustration.

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Another place I look for images is windows, when they fog up from humidity or dirt.  You can get very painterly abstracts, looking through the clouded windows – from outside (first and fourth) or from inside (second and third). The resulting images aren’t for everyone but they’re some of my favorites.

 

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EXTRA:

At the end of the year the conservatory sets up an elaborate old Lionel train in the seasonal house, complete with old figurines waiting at the station. The whistle blows and sometimes smokes – it’s charming.

 

And the flowers! I didn’t ignore them altogether. Though I concentrated on leaves and on  finding abstract images, a few flowers cooperated too:

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I needed those sweet splashes of color!  We stayed until closing – 3:00 pm on this holiday – and saw many disappointed people peering in as we left.

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In a week I’m off to a desolate spot in the Arizona desert where I expect to be fascinated by the landscape and plants. I hope to see new birds and deeply moving night skies – there are very few towns where we’re going. Most of all I expect to be surprised – can’t wait for that!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ROUNDUP

2016…

A roundup of images from the year for you to enjoy. I gather these together at the tail end of 2016, here in the far end of earth’s time zones. Some of you have already struck the midnight gong and won’t see this until the first of January. No matter – the roundup is a bridge to the new year as much as a summation. In the coming months ideas will be refined, techniques tried again, subjects explored anew, discoveries made. I expect there will be something new under that future sun, too. We’ll see.

 

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I leave you with this little wren, tousled and mussed from the rain but sharp-eyed as ever.

I’ve grown this year, no doubt, and there’s more of that to do. The give and take among bloggers keeps me motivated, and scrolling through Flickr often helps inspire me to loosen up.

Thank you for supporting these wanderings – here’s to endless interestingness – and to the discovery of beauty in unexpected places.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FORWARD

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On to 2017…

 

and creativity –

more,

and more.

 

The Photos:

December fog settles into a stand of Douglas firs on the shores of Lake Washington

A rusty bolt holds fast on a footbridge near Seattle

Old willow, weep not…your reach is wider than we know

On the street, downtown Seattle: new construction

Winter ground: how beautiful are the fallen (a park near Seattle)

Calm waters on Lake Washington

 

 

 

ORDINARY

Ordinary sights

seen on early winter walks, drives and ferry rides

in my neck of the woods.

 

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It is December, and the light

fades.

Still, in the dim places, we know

beauty –

beauty enough

for spirit to expand.

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Photos:

Trumpeter swans arriving at winter feeding grounds, Sedro-Wooley

Old building on the Lyman-Hamilton Highway, Skagit County

Red Osier dogwood leaves, Skagit County

Shot-up mailbox, Carnation-Duvall Road, Duvall

Moss-covered vintage tanker truck, Carnation-Duvall Road, Duvall

Cattail reflections, Juanita Bay Park, Kirkland

Sunset on Lake Washington, Juanita Bay, Kirkland

Afternoon sun on Cottonwoods, Juanita Bay, Kirkland

Moss-covered Big leaf maple branches; roadside, from the car; Duvall

Old building on the Lyman-Hamilton Highway, Skagit County

Ferry window; ferry to Whidbey Island

Red alder trees, Juanita Bay Park, Kirkland

All locations in Washington State

CLOSE AT HAND

We find satisfaction – inspiration, even –

at

our

feet.

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Ten minutes from home,

familiar

yet new, rose hips

rejoice.

The wind has its

way, but –

I can work with it.

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Loving this earth we inhabit.

 

It’s simple.

 

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CALIFORNIA COAST: Quick take

Last month I attended a conference in Monterey, on California’s central coast (between San Francisco and Los Angeles). I planned to stay an extra day or so in the area after the conference, and then I came down with a nasty cold – the kind that lowers a curtain between you and the world.

So it went by in a blur but it wasn’t so bad that I couldn’t find scenes and places to photograph. We had decided not stay in busy, touristy Monterey, but to head up the coast a bit to the quiet fishing village of Moss Landing.  With a population under 300, the town spreads across a handful of streets, some lined with fishing boats, a few neatly set with modest bungalows, and one or two dotted with small restaurants.

Here is the back of one of the restaurants:

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This was taken in the parking lot behind the Lighthouse Harbor Grille, an unpretentious burger and breakfast spot in Moss Landing. Tables are covered with vintage oilcloth, which looked like it was used for practical purposes rather than clever irony. A German family with two small kids were the only other customers. The food was simple, fresh and cheap and satisfying.

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On the bulletin board in a restaurant, slices of local culture – a request for observations of endangered sharks and a John Deere farm equipment salesman’s card. The area is a favorite spot for whale watching and home of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, which conducts research in ocean science and technology.

Here’s the driveway and side of the house of our airbnb in Moss Landing.

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The owner of the house picked up a brush one day after a period of fruitless job searching, and the rest is history. The interior is even more exuberant. One of her paintings:

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Street scene, Moss Landing. It’s not just a fishing town – on the edge of town, acres of artichokes and strawberries stretch out in neat rows, right up to the blacktop of Highway 1. A farm stand sells truckloads of veggies and fruits at decent prices.

Ah, California produce!

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Below, the parking lot behind the farm stand, featuring Moss Landing’s impossible-to-miss landmark: a natural gas powered electricity generation plant. The stacks were built in 1964 but the plant has been upgraded many times, and is California’s largest electrical power plant. There’s something appealing, for me anyway, about a place that has such an anomalous mix of industry and nature.

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Many restaurants we visited on the central coast have restrooms in another building, often behind the restaurant.  Follow the red footprints to the bathroom door…

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More Moss Landing scenes.

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The California coast displays its funky side in places like Moss Landing but nearby is another slice of beach culture – paragliding – a pricey sport that puts you above it all…

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Marina Beach, just north of Monterey, is the home of the Coastal Condors, a hangliding and paragliding club established back in 1974. They get a great launch off the dunes. It was exhilarating to watch this man float up and down the beach, return to the launch dune, rest a minute and jump off into the wind again. Livin’ the dream!

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We were near Big Sur so we had to take that famous coastal drive.

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We passed a number of tempting little places to eat tucked into the Big Sur hills, finally settling on the only one with a parking space left!  It was Sunday, and the Big Sur coastal meander is mythically popular.

Big Sur Bakery is in a converted 30’s ranch style house so seating is tight, but the atmosphere is pleasantly laid back…our waiter had a man bun and got flustered by the crowds (did we ruin his vibe?)…the wine was good…so was the espresso…the food, fresh and tasty. And yes, the restrooms are in back in separate building. With a line.

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The hills rise sharply off Highway 1 opposite the ocean and are studded with Jubata grass, which is invasive but looked beautiful, waving it’s silvery seed heads in the wind.

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Point Lobos is a state reserve I want to revisit, maybe in winter when whales migrate through. The morning we were there, barking Sea lions lounged on the distant rocks, uncommon plants bloomed at our feet, and waves of Brown pelicans sailed by over restless waters. The scenery was breathtaking. One day I’ll get a lens that can capture distant wildlife. Trust me, the sea lions are in the upper left corner. And for now, a rough shot of the pelicans will suffice.

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Monday, on the way to the airport we detoured for a quick walk in Big Basin State Park, a redwood preserve and California’s oldest state park. Experiencing redwoods closeup was on my list and I wasn’t going to miss it, even if I felt like hell by that time.  Who wouldn’t want to commune with thousand-year-old beings as tall as the statue of liberty?

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These giants are way to big to get into the frame! In fact, it seems to me that you can’t ever see a whole redwood tree.  It was interesting to compare Big Basin with the Pacific northwest temperate rain forests I know – both are dominated by huge tree species with many of the same plants and animals (sword ferns, chickadees) and different ones (tan oak, giant chain fern [above]).

Moss Landing sits beside Elkhorn Slough, the largest piece of tidal salt marsh outside San Francisco, and a magnet for birders and kayakers looking to observe wildlife up close. We didn’t have time to get out on the water, and when we drove by the slough we didn’t see much.

Sometimes the best sights are in unexpected places, like this one right in town – a  flotilla of American white pelicans resting like puffs of cotton on the Old Salinas River. They had just arrived for the winter. The Brown pelicans stay all year. Lucky locals who get to watch pelicans year-round !

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Two more birds I was thrilled to see on this trip were the American avocet and the Black-necked Stilt; both are delicate looking shorebirds with very long legs. We found them working the mudflats off a local bridge we crossed while exploring the town. They’re in the photo below, mixed with coots, dowitchers, and ducks (take my word for it).

We were delighted to find sea otters here too, floating by on their backs in classic otter poses. They have an unfortunate habit of sinking under the water just when you put the camera to your eye. Another reason to come back – surely with time and persistence I could photograph a sea otter.

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Finally, this may not be a sunset that would impress a Californian, but it was sure pretty to my eyes, with those shimmering, soft tones and reflections.

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A quick take on a beautiful area – hope to get back before too long!

TIMES LIKE THESE?

When the worst happens – a cancer diagnosis, a Trump victory – I always take solace in the realization that outdoors the world goes on the same – the sun still rises, the air is sweet, birds fly and insects crawl, indifferent to our worries and drama.

 

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But, you say – but what about this earth, rocking on a razor’s edge of man-made changes, the  effects reaching deep into hot Amazonian forests, frigid Arctic ice and everywhere in between? Will the choice America has made mean it all only gets worse now? And what of humans, because we’re a piece of the earth too, as much as we forget that. Will imbalance and suffering worsen, and what of that? You’re right to ask. I don’t know.

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RETURNING

Leaves drop and return to earth,

water cycles

back and forth, visible

as raindrops, then

not. Energy curls

inward.

The slow fade of Fall.

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Photos taken in and around Seattle, Washington. We’ve had the rainiest October on record this year. It’s great for the mountain snowpack, but….

ASHOKAN

Ever since my first taste of the outdoors as a tiny infant, and my introduction to New York City at age five, the bustling stimulation of big cities and the primal beauty of wild places have had equally powerful holds on me. As a teenager stuck in the suburbs I dreamed of city life, and fled to New York as soon as I could. Living in New York City, I longed for big, open spaces. It was a tough longing to fulfill, with truly wild places being far from the city.

In 2004 I took a job with New York state that required traveling within a hundred mile radius of downtown Manhattan, where my department was headquartered near the present day Freedom Tower. When I could schedule work upstate I was so happy. I knew I’d have a chance to steal an hour or two in a wilder place, and reconnect with nature.

The Ashokan Reservoir was one of those special places. Set down among the soft folds of  the Catskill Mountains’ eastern edge, the reservoir isn’t far from Woodstock, Mount Tremper and  Phoenicia, places many city dwellers fondly recall from upstate jaunts. The Ashokan settles across miles of beautiful rolling countryside, hiding the remains of several communities abandoned over a hundred years ago, when it was created as part of a vast system to collect fresh water for New York City.

These days, the giant silver-blue basin supplies up to 40% of the city’s drinking water, and it’s a long journey to city apartments.  From the reservoir, water is shunted south through ninety-two miles of aqueduct to a holding reservoir closer to the city. The water settles there, flows south to yet another reservoir, and finally travels through two very old tunnels into the city water system. It was not a modest project, but then most projects associated with new York aren’t small scale.

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Hours from home, standing at the reservoir’s edge, I could breathe in the essence of the landscape that surrounded and held my own drinking water. The quiet spread out and enveloped me. Herds of grass-grazing deer and the occasional sight of a Bald eagle tearing at a fish on the shoreline, refreshed my city-sore brain cells.

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On a primal level, the reservoir was simply space – wide and plain and rolling out beyond the imagination. It was undulating hills, cold, deep water, sharp air and wildflowers at my feet. It was bigger than I was. I needed that.

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Is the name Ashokan familiar? It probably is if you’re American and you watch TV. Ken Burns’ popular TV series about the American Civil War featured a haunting lament by the name of Ashokan Farewell. Composed in the early 80’s by Jay Ungar, an American folk musician, the song came to signify all the troubled emotions and regrets of our Civil War years.

These days Jay Ungar still makes music and directs the Ashokan Center, the oldest environmental education center in the state, located just south of the reservoir. Listen to the song in a pure rendition by the composer and his family. And by the way, Jay is a Jewish boy from the Bronx. Go figure.

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For me the song conjures a poignant longing for deep connection, symbolized in the hills and valleys around the Ashokan reservoir, where there is something I can’t quite put my finger on, something that seems at once lost, and present.

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The photographs were taken in the summer and winter of 2010 and summer of 2011, from the causeway separating the reservoir’s two basins.