To the Mountain!


“The Mountain” in this case, is Mt. Rainier.  A powerful presence in the Seattle area, Mt. Rainier has an elegant silhouette that always turns my head. It rises on the horizon like a grandly elegant queen dressed in pale silk and dark velvet. Even for those who only see a huge dome of ice and rock, it’s a commanding feature of the the local landscape. Below, Rainier on clear days in June and November from Seattle.


The destination most people visit when going to the mountain is called Paradise, and for good reason. Paradise is stunning. It offers scenic trails that accommodate everyone; families, serious hikers, and people in wheelchairs can all wander together through mountain meadows and gape at breathtaking vistas.

But Paradise gets crowded.

Arrive after 10 am on a summer day and you’re probably going to park in a distant lot and then trudge uphill to the trailheads and lodge. We went to Sunrise, on the southeastern side of the mountain. It’s not as crowded, it offers plenty of spectacle, and at 6400 feet, it’s the highest place you can go on the mountain in a vehicle.  Rainier’s icy summit is much higher – over 14,400 feet – and getting up there is a whole different matter, best left to those in top physical condition.

As you switchback your way up the mountain towards Sunrise, Rainier is a formidable white beast looming overhead.


Partly due to its abrupt rise from the foothills below, Mt. Rainer makes its own weather.  Air warmed by the sun rises up the slopes, then it cools and clouds are created. When viewed from Seattle and the suburbs, the mountain is often graced with a frothy, cumulus cloud necklace around its middle. Sometimes Rainier sports a stylish white cap of clouds, and once in a while a curvy lenticular (lens shaped) cloud parks over the summit. The mountain has many faces, many moods.


When we arrived this time, the top of the mountain was draped in clouds.  I enjoyed watching them continually coalesce, dissolve and re-form in a mesmerizing, vaporous dance.

It’s all part of the pageantry.


Above, Emmons Glacier (the largest in the continental US) can be seen coming down the flank of the cloud-covered mountain, with the White River at its base and Frozen Lake to the side of the river. Little Tahoma, a satellite volcanic remnant of Rainer, is the craggy peak to the left.  Tahoma was the native name for Mount Rainier before British Captain George Vancouver named it for a friend, Rear Admiral Peter Rainier. I won’t go into my opinion of naming places after powerful friends instead of choosing a name that describes the place itself. Or how about honoring the name already given to the place by earlier inhabitants? You can guess my feelings on the matter.



Above, the White River braids through the valley. Originating from the Emmons glacier, the river flows 75 miles before meeting the Puyallup River, which empties into Puget Sound. The sound’s tidal water flows through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, which empties into the Pacific Ocean.

I imagine that a fist full of ice on Rainer’s summit at 14,400 feet might eventually become water deep in Puget Sound, perhaps 900 feet below sea level. The locations are only 75 miles apart as the crow (or raven) flies: over 23,000 feet difference in elevation, in just 75 miles.  Imagine Pacific Ocean water evaporating into clouds that drift east and eventually fall as snow somewhere up on Mt. Rainier: the circle is complete.




For a moment the clouds drift away and the summit emerges. The air is crisp with breezes that seem to emanate from the purest places. Butterflies float across my path and sip from lavender alpine asters. I hear a raven croak, it appears overhead a minute later, then disappears in silence. I peer at the mountain’s surface, fascinated by the glacier’s curved fissures and cracks. They look tiny from where I stand, like wrinkles, but these are the deep crevasses that form as glacial ice glides over the mountain’s rough surface, and they claim lives. Just days before we came to gaze at this glacier a climber fell into a crevasse while descending from his summit climb, and was killed.

Great beauty, great power.





The Silver Forest Trail at Sunrise is well named. The area saw a serious fire years ago; now, tree skeletons are scattered about the terrain like giant beasts and sculptures, some still upright, others long since collapsed. Each one nourishes the flora and fauna here, as it slowly decomposes.

































It’s sad to see the mountain disappear in the rear view mirror. I want to go right back up! Until next time……..




When Sun Masquerades as Moon

It’s been an exciting day across America, with millions of people seeing a solar eclipse. (Please though, can we just call it the solar eclipse? Spare me “The Great American Eclipse”).

We decided not to travel to any of the packed cities, towns and campsites in Oregon, a few hundred miles to our south. We could have seen the total eclipse there (along with tens of thousands of other people), but we figured it wasn’t worth the risk of getting stuck without gas or spending many hours in a giant traffic jam. We may have been wrong. The jury’s out on that until we hear the travel stories.

The Seattle area had a respectable 92% coverage, so we went to a local park where we could observe wildlife and have enough open space to experience the light dimming. I had been trying to find out how dark it would get. I hoped that with the moon covering almost all of the sun, it would turn quite dark outside.

In fact, there was actually plenty of light. It was as if you were seeing through a filter, but you could still see everything well. That was disappointing, but it just shows how extraordinarily powerful the sun is – shade out 92% of it on a summer morning, and it’s still daylight!  The air did get very cool though.

Since we couldn’t acquire glasses or a solar camera filter in time and weren’t in the path of totality, I focused on one fascinating effect: the crescent “shadows” that are cast through trees during a solar eclipse.   It was as if the sun was masquerading as the crescent moon, and it was delightful.

The internet is already full of videos of crescent shadows from the eclipse today, so here is my contribution, before it’s REALLY old news:





As people gazed upward, the ground put on a show too, with a maze of intersecting and overlapping crescent-shapes under the trees.


Even a bench was covered with crescents.




And the boardwalk railing was decorated with intertwining crescents. Anywhere there were trees, the eclipsed light filtering through them had big chunks taken out of it. The photo below was taken six minutes before we reached 92% coverage.  As time wore on and the eclipse faded, the crescent shapes began to look more like a gibbous moon.The photos below on the white background were taken 15 – 20 minutes after the ones of the bench and railing – you can see the difference in the shapes.


I decided to try making images that were more abstract:








There’s my backpack and the white board I used for the three photos above. We brought the cardboard and a sheet of paper with a pinhole in it to project an image of the eclipse, since we couldn’t look directly at it. When we’d had enough of the tiny, fuzzy, indirect image, I grabbed the white board and started placing it on the boardwalk and photographing. It was amazing how different leaves and different angles created different shapes and patterns – but of course, it didn’t last long.

I’m sorry there wasn’t more drama. It’s obvious you need to be in the path of totality for that. Maybe next time. Still, the eerie, dimmed light, the distinct chill in the air, the birds’ atypical chatter, the shared conversations, and those crazy crescent shadows were all a nice diversion.






Five years ago today I began this blog.  Perhaps it’s not surprising that my subject that day was summer’s “impending dispersion into fall” – a similar theme to my last post, about the “slow morph” that takes place as summer fades away. Nature is usually my subject matter but I do still love the city.  Here’s a shot from another August day, six years ago, before I moved to Washington. That’s the Freedom Tower going up two blocks from the office where I worked. It was a sunny Tuesday afternoon and I was taking a walk to de-stress before going home.

One World Trade Center Going Up-Edit

Now I live in a different city that is much smaller, and closer to the country. I take advantage of that proximity, as anyone who regularly visits this blog knows. I also take advantage of the proximity of people here on the web, where digital magic brings images and narratives from Europe, South America, Africa, Asia and Australia right to my desk.

There is a community here, which I deeply appreciate. The relationships that materialize from what I’ll call the cloud of internet ether space, enrich my life. Because of those relationships, I work harder. I try to put my best foot forward each time I post here, and that means my photography and writing skills keep growing. I’m inspired by what I see happening on your blogs, and by a variety of websites, like Flickr for example. Museum shows, books, and of course nature – there are so many sources of inspiration. But what happens here, between my blog and yours, is singular. It’s a continuous spiral of growth.

This photo of swirling water was taken on another August day, five years ago, on the shore of an island here in Puget Sound.

DSC04409 copy-2-Edit

Below is a photo from November, 2012 of a magical, moss-draped Pacific Northwest forest. Its not a dramatic mountaintop or an exquisite orchid. It’s not a fascinating portrait either. Just a spot in the woods which for a moment, glowed with meaning. Maybe that’s what we find here on the better days: a spot on the web that glows, for a moment, with meaning. Or with pleasure – that will do too!



Whatever we may say about needing to unplug, it is good, being plugged in to this ever-expanding community. Thank you for being here, and for the work you do.

Between Seasons

The slow morph already evident

now as

leaves curl,


tear and crumple.


























All but one of these photos were taken in Juanita Bay Park in Kirkland, Washington, in early August. In this lush wetland preserve, six different kinds of willow grow, and though native species outnumber non-natives, the majestic willow in the fourth photograph is one that must have been planted long ago. The old weeping willow vies for space with bracken fern and Creeping buttercup, cattails, cleavers and Cooley’s hedge nettle, bindweed, horsetails, blackberries and many other plants, native and non-native. This time of year the crisp definition of spring gives way to a tangled mass of leaves, stems, seeds, flowers, spores, sepals, twigs…all falling over each other as they begin to disintegrate.

Centuries ago a band of the Duwamish tribe made their winter home nearby. Salmon were plentiful in Lake Washington, and in season, berries could be gathered, roots pulled, bark peeled. Then whites came along, and smallpox silenced the stories of a people we know little of.  White people prospered here, and a hundred years ago the rich wetland was filled for a golf course. The golfers are gone now though, and the wetland slowly reasserts itself, encouraged by the good stewardship of area residents.

Locals make good use of the park’s trials and boardwalks. The gentleman pictured above was making his way to the end of the boardwalk, a platform on the bay. The bay is an inlet on Lake Washington, a long, glacier-formed ribbon of fresh, clean water surrounded by cities and towns; one of them is Seattle. On the quiet little inlet called Juanita Bay, turtles sun themselves amidst ducks and herons, lily pads and dragonflies.

It was hot that day. I exchanged a few words about the weather with the man as he pushed his walker over the rough wooden planks. I don’t know what he saw, because I know we see differently. I trust that we both felt refreshed by our time in the park. My photography that day was an act of love, a way to remember and share one view of a particular space/time configuration here on earth. So, what I saw: the jumbling tumble of plants as they begin their decline, the busy ant, the old man walking.

Off to the Woods!



























The Pacific Northwest has been feeling the heat lately, as a very persistent block of high pressure is parked over the West Coast. At the same time, over the border to our north, British Columbia is experiencing its worst wildfire season in 60 years. Thousands of people have evacuated their homes and the province is under a state of emergency that now looks like it will stretch to a month. Almost 900 wildfires have been reported since April 1st, so maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that smoke drifted down here early last week. Our air quality has been worse than Beijing’s! A swirl of cleaner air came through on Saturday, but overall we’re smothering in hot, stagnant, unhealthy air.

To add to the extremes, we are about to surpass the record for the most consecutive days without measurable rain.  At 51 dry days and counting, there is no precipitation in the forecast. My admittedly cynical prediction is that the clouds will come rolling back just in time to obscure the solar eclipse, two weeks hence. (I should say that summers are always dry and sunny here, and due to a very wet Spring, we aren’t in bad shape as far as moisture goes.)

Yesterday we tried a quick trip to the woods for some relief, but little comfort was to be had. Smoke lay heavy to the horizon and the sun was relentless.  To top it off, road work made traffic a trial.


So I was happy to discover that I had some decent photographs after all that. I had begun taking photographs before we arrived at our destination, shooting from the passenger seat as we slowly worked our way up a dusty, gravel forest service road. Spada Lake is a reservoir in the central Cascades foothills with day use recreation areas scattered around its perimeter. A pretty place to picnic, the lake is surrounded by thick, still-green forest. Sunlight sparkled on the alder leaves and little waterfalls still carried trickles of water, but views across the lake were very hazy.

For the in-motion shots I used a 45mm fixed lens and tried to focus on a tree (using auto focus) while panning the camera, with the window rolled down. The shutter speed that worked best was 1/6th; apertures ranged from f11 – f22.  It’s a hit or miss technique – you have to check to be sure you’re not getting just a white blur, and even as you adjust settings to find the best shutter speed and aperture, you’re still leaving much to chance, hoping for something useful. You don’t really know what you’re getting until you see the images on a bigger screen.  Processing often requires a significant amount of sliding up and down the contrast, clarity and other scales. It may sound like a lot of uncertainly and effort, but when it works you get very interesting results.

“Smokezilla” is easing today – we’ve slithered out of the unhealthy category and are back in the moderate zone. The air cooled overnight, and maybe I really cannot complain. The local botanical garden is ripe with the fruits of the gardeners’ work, I understand plenty of wildflowers are in bloom up on Mount Rainier, and closer to home, the beginning of fall’s photogenic decline can be seen. I am not lacking for subjects!