On and Off the Grid

Recently seen

in and around Seattle –

the hard and the soft,

rigid and supple,

all a part

of

some mysterious whole,

I suppose.

 

Photos taken with an Android phone (2nd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th) and a DSLR (!st, 3rd).  Processed in Lightroom and/or Perfect Effects.

The white flower is a magnolia, the orange & pink ones are coneflowers (Echinacea). The building at the bottom is a new University of Washington Medicine Research Center in Seattle.

Fiddling with Focus

This week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is to tinker with focus.

Is the focus just how sharp and clear an image is, or is it about more than that? Focusing manually on part of an object to separate it from the background and emphasize it is a technique I go back to again and again. I was thrilled when I first got my hands on a camera with manual focus control.  And digital processing adds another dimension to what can be done with focus. You can sharpen or blur certain areas but not others, or with Lightroom’s clarity tool you can intensify contrast, giving the appearance of sharper focus, or decrease the clarity for a hazy, soft effect – again, either over the entire image or on part of it.

And of course you can draw the viewer’s eye to what interested you – get them to focus on it – in many more ways, using composition or color for example.  So focus is a big topic, but here are a few images I fiddled with this weekend, during (and after) a trip to the local botanical garden.

Smoke trees seem to beg to have their soft, airy panicles contrasted with the details of  the tiny, subtly colored filaments. Manually focusing in does that, and a relatively wide aperture helps keep the background soft. Later, adding a pale halo (a vignette) around the edges of the image further emphasizes the soft-focus aspect of the plant and draws attention towards the details.

It seemed a good idea to do something similar with Angelica plants that are coming into full flower and driving the bees mad these days, so I focused on just a portion of the flower head and used a fairly wide aperture when I took the picture. But I decided to play with it some more in Lightroom, using the clarity tool selectively to increase blur towards the back of the flower and increase contrast just a little in the foreground.

Just for fun I thought I’d capture some of the color and form of the garden by using the manual focus again, but winding it completely out of focus (sometimes I feel like I’ve done that to myself!).  I find photos like this hard to look at and unsatisfying somehow  – I want to settle my eye somewhere.  But I like trying to abstract my surroundings, and I think if I keep playing with this I may get an image I really like.

And that’s what the Photo Challenge asked of us – to play around, to tinker, to fiddle with focus.

Hundreds of other responses to the challenge can be found right here.

THE FIRST YEAR

August 18, 2012 was the date of my first WordPress post.  There was just one comment on it, so it’s a safe bet that almost no one reading this also saw that first post. 

It was short and simple, and it established a theme I return to again and again: a particular view of the natural world.  I’ve posted images on this blog of the built world too, and people and things.  But the outdoors is for me the ground on which everything else depends, the field I return to, to cultivate again and again.

Here’s a reprise of that first post:

MID-AUGUST

Earth holds its breath for a few days – everything is still, heavy with light and summer dreams, waiting to move forward into autumn.

A late afternoon elegy of sunlight breaks through the tree line along the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, speaking of summer’s impending dispersion into fall.

This photo was taken (but sometimes I think they’re given to me) at a preserve near Woodinville, WA. I felt uninspired – glum, even. But I forced myself into the car and went searching  for a little deliverance. It came gradually:  a field of flowers, a jay, a wren, a creek, leaves, seeds…and color and light.

***

That post was followed by 100 more.   Putting together image and word, and then sending the finished product out into cyberspace, has become an important means of expression in my life.  Knowledgeable people may decry the overuse of the internet and its tendency to erode human relationships, but I have been enriched by my work here and the work and thoughts of all the people who visit.  New relationships spring forth out of this virtual world all the time, and yes, they may not have the thick texture of flesh and blood relationships, but they do enrich us.

So thank you for being here, whether it’s your first or 50th visit.  And please permit me the indulgence of reprising some of my favorite images from posts past…

Bluebrightly will wander here and there, but the blog will always return to dwell on the gifts of the natural world, and the blogger will always be thankful for you, the reader.

***

All images are mine except the soldier with poppies and the Afghan boy with the helmet.  Those two are courtesy of my son.

WATER, WOOD, STONE

Deception Pass State Park:

dramatic cliffs fall off into cold blue waters,

tiny cairns of smooth stones balanced on a stick

shine in the sun.

Songs of stone and water are sung here,

formed from universal elements

shaped to a particular place.

Songs of kayakers and anemones,

oystercatchers, kelp,

a single cloud.

Nearby on Whidbey Island,

a slim spit of land offers a mother lode

of driftwood,

and the beach becomes a sculpture garden.

Here songs of water and wood, of

silver grain and green blade,

open windows

to sky.

Standing high over the waters –

the Maiden of Deception Pass:

Ko-kwal-alwoot.

She kept her people from starving by marrying  a sea man. He had become enamored of her after watching her gathering food in the waters.  She merged with the sea, but walked back out to be with her people every year. (a Samish Indian story)

Carved from a cedar log and set firmly into the soil at Rosario Beach, she has weathered to the same silver white as the driftwood logs tossed by waves and piled on nearby shores.

The rough, wavy grain flows through her body

just

as the grain traces the twists of

log giants

on Ala Spit.

ONE SCENE, TWO TAKES

Or, as the current Weekly Photo Challenge puts is, One Shot, Two Ways.

In either case I think I have an affinity for this assignment, which is to capture two images of a scene, one horizontal and one vertical.  Seeing things in different ways comes naturally.  I often begin looking from a normal eye level angle, scanning left and right. Then I like to think about other ways to see a scene, switching up the viewpoint for another angle.

I could wade through the photo archives and come up with pairs of photos that demonstrate the principle of One Shot, Two Ways, but I’m trying to hew more closely to the spirit of the challenge by using photos taken just for it.  There was an opportunity for a little road trip the other day and I figured I’d look for a scene  that would lend itself to horizontal and vertical shots. Now, which way to go?

We had major construction and road closures to our south, so that direction was out. Last weekend we went north, and going west means Seattle, unless there’s time for an overnight out on the Olympic Peninsula.  So I scanned a map, searching for some place east of us and not too far away.  Somewhere new.  State Route 2, one of the handful of roads that manages to climb the great barrier of Washington’s Cascade Mountain range, would be the starting point, but then what?   I found a promising road on the map – a local two lane that parallels Rt. 2 for a few miles toward the tiny town of Index, famous for its 1000′ granite rock climbing wall.  We had yet to explore Index, so the route was set.

The road lived up to our expectations. It’s a secondary road that few people use, and it was a delightful ride as it lifted and tumbled and whizzed us around its curves. Tall second growth native trees hung with glowing green moss pressed hard upon its edges. When we stopped the car, the silence soothed our highway-buzzed nerves, bringing us back to that grounded place of rest and renewal.

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Index was a cool little town. With about 150 inhabitants, it’s hemmed in by that huge wall of granite, a beautiful winding river, railroad tracks that used to transport ore from mines nearby, and the jutting finger of Mt. Index to the south. There’s a general store, a tiny museum and a rafting and outdoor adventure outfit, and not much else. We heard that homes rarely come up for sale – it’s a tight community in a stunning landscape – and when they do, you’ll need to wait in line and pass muster to buy in. We could see why. Here are few phone photos around Index. Click to enlarge:

You can find more Weekly Photo Challenge double takes here.

It’s Six Weeks Past the Solstice…

… many flowers have bloomed and withered,

but others are coming into their own now,

in the gardens,

and in the wild places.

The other day – another bright and sunny one –

I thought I would see what’s blooming

at the Botanical Garden nearby:

IMG_4233

Here are descriptions of the flowers above  – with a little botany thrown in:

Hydrangeas are at their peak now. The first photo and the two after it show a pure species Hydrangea – H. aspera. No hybridizing here – just as nature made it, and isn’t it gorgeous? Plant breeders like to play around and hybridize to bring out certain qualities, and mostly they do come up with improvements on the species. But I like to see the species itself, too.  This one is native to China.

The fourth photo is a close up of the flower of Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora), a southeastern U.S. native shrub.

Then the Coneflower – Echinacea purpurea ‘White Swan’Echinacea is another American native. You may be familiar with cold and flu remedies made from parts of certain Echinacea species. As with many plant-based “natural” remedies, studies produce contradictory evidence as to their efficacy – some say they work, others claim they don’t.

The typical coneflower is purple or pink, but plant breeders somehow managed to create this nice off white cultivar with softly drooping petals that show off the bold head of disc flowers. Did you know that the “petals” around the head are (botanically speaking) ray flowers, which serve to draw attention to the plant? The head is made of many disc flowers, and that’s where fertilization and seed formation happen. So what we call the flower is actually hundreds of disc and ray flowers packed into an attractive bundle.

In the second Hydrangea photo above you can also see the two types of flowers – tiny reproductively active ones in the center where the bee is working, and pretty ray flowers around the edges, attracting pollinators – and us, too!

I’m not sure which white lily that is in the sixth photo, but it looks to me like Casa Blanca – a wonderful old standby. This one seems to be bursting with energy.

A view of the top of the Perennial Border at the garden shows Bear’s Breeches (Acanthus caroli-alexandri)  in the foreground and Pervoskia atriplicifoliaRussian Sage – behind it.

The eighth photo is a geranium, Geranium ‘Gerwat’ Rozanne, thought to be a hybrid of two Himalayan region geraniums. That gorgeous deep blue makes a good counterpoint to the hot colors that often predominate late summer gardens.

A close up of Perovskia atriplicafolia, or Russian sage, follows. It’s a very popular perennial, native to Central Asia, which blends beautifully with other plants.  It has a strange, pungent scent that I like, and when I see this flower I often crush a little in my hands and inhale deeply. Apparently I haven’t gone far enough though – the leaves can be smoked for a mild high, according to internet sources! And supposedly you can put the little flowers in a salad.

Then, a fat and happy bumblebee enjoying the pretty pink Siberian yarrow, Achillea sibirica ‘Camschatica Love Parade’. Maybe it’s time to talk about naming plants! I don’t know why, but someone decided to use a strange spelling for Kamchatka (a Russian province where the flower is native). Then on top of that they had to tack on “Love Parade” when they named this cultivar.  Well, I can guess why the “Love Parade” – it’s just pure advertising, isn’t it?

Siberian yarrow is native to an arc stretching from Canada through Alaska, over the Kamchatka Peninsula, and on down through parts of Japan, Korea & China.  It was used in both Chinese traditional and Native American medicine (and it still is).  My favorite use though, is for the I Ching, that ancient book of divination.  A bundle of 49 stalks of Achillea sibirica was painstakingly counted and divided following a complex method to produce one of 64 hexagrams, the meaning of which was then used to answer a query.  For centuries a method using 3 coins has been more popular than using yarrow stalks because it’s much quicker. Now there’s an even faster click method – the online I Ching.

Other yarrows, like the well known white wildflower Achillea millefolium, are common in many places worldwide and have been used medicinally and spiritually for tens of thousands of years (the name is from Achilles, of the Greek legend).  This link contains an extensive history of yarrow use along with some literary references.

Next is a close up of Baby’s Breath (Gypsophila paniculata ‘Schneeflocke’) – so much prettier here, where it has room to billow, than squashed into a tight bouquet. Originating in Europe and Asia, it has gotten out of hand in some parts of the U.S., becoming an invasive species. But in Peru it’s an important export for the florist trade.

More Hydrangeas follow – the white one with pink edging is H. paniculata ‘Ruby‘ and the final one is H. macrophylla ‘Jogosaki’ – a lacecap hydrangea from Japan.

While photographing a Hydrangea bloom I noticed a shiny green blob on a nearby leaf. It was so small I reached for my reading glasses to be sure – and yes – a Tree frog! How many times have I looked in vain for these wonderful little creatures, and never found one? So here’s the tiny guy with the big voice: our (very common) Pacific Tree Frog.  I’m sorry the photo wasn’t in better focus, but it was hard to get it just right.  Still, you can see its amusing expression – why so glum? It’s a beautiful day!

Weekly Photo Challenge

Sunny days

in the berry field

foreshadow

delicious desserts –

at least

for as long

as there are

raspberry ice cubes

in the freezer.

“Foreshadow” is the subject for this week’s photo challenge. More visual ideas of “Foreshadow” are here.

And…

I am pleased to have been included in the current issue of  Woven Tale Press – “an eclectic culling of the blogging web” compiled by Sandra Tyler. Take a look!