Distorted Realities?

These are not distorted realities.

They’re not illusions.

These are photographs of exactly what I saw.

Exactly.

(maybe)

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This is Marymoor Park in Redmond, Washington.

More specifically, the fringes of the park’s off-leash dog area. With forty acres of fields and woods to run in and the Sammamish Slough to swim in, the off leash area is where “dogs can be dogs.”  At 6pm on a September evening most of the dogs and their friends are heading home. The sun slips behind a cloud bank, then inches back to set the scenery aglow. Matted animal and human paths wind through stands of tall grass.  A few blackberry leaves have turned rose red, the berries themselves are shriveled from the drought.  A land snail holds tight, five feet up a dried tansy stalk.

Past the field and through the woods a boardwalk bends out over the tip of Lake Sammamish. Here, lily pads yellow and curl on the water’s surface and rushes and cattails pierce the cool air, as a Kingfisher rattles a complaint overhead. The little bright orange lanterns of Jewelweed shine at the edge of the woods. Like I do every year, I gently grasp and squeeze a ripe pod – after all, the plant’s other name is Touch-me-not. The lime green package springs apart in a quick and efficient burst of seed-scattering. This human being smiles.

We are hovering at the edge of fall, each in our own reality, each connected to the other, and to all.

 

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“The camera is a mirror with a memory, but it cannot think.” – Arnold Newman

…and I might add, it doesn’t feel.

 

 

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A Lensbaby Composer was used for many of these images, a 60mm macro for the rest,  on an Olympus om d1.

 

SOAKED & HAPPY

In last week’s post I wrote about the old ship La Merced, now used as an unconventional  breakwater for a shipyard on Fidalgo Island. We went to Fidalgo that day because I read about a fine park with expansive water views and easy trails. It sounded perfect for a day trip. We’d been to Fidalgo and Anacortes before but we hadn’t seen the northwest corner of the island.

To thoroughly explore Puget Sound’s islands you should travel by water, but a lot can be seen by bridge and ferry, too.  The region’s complex geography is a stew of wavy-edged shorelines, steep hills, hundreds of islands, deep basins, mountain watersheds and rich estuaries.  That means there are endless nooks and crannies to explore.  I’ve learned that whether I’m on Whidbey, Vashon, Bainbridge, Camano, Samish, or Fidalgo, each island has a unique atmosphere, and in spite of dozens of trips to different islands in the Sound, I’m barely familiar with them. Every time I browse a book, pour over a map or search online, I find more places to explore.

 

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Washington Park sits on a modest-sized peninsula with tranquil views of the sound and surrounding islands.  A one-way road traces the park’s edge; along the road are pull-outs for picnicking and walking along rocky beaches or through the woods.

The day we went to Fidalgo Island, a misty, intermittent rain kept the views from being picture postcard perfect, but the mist was welcome after two months of dry, sere days. I was in a relaxed, open mood as I traipsed around a rocky beach. Smooth, colorful stones clattered underfoot like weighty marbles. Seaweed, shells and driftwood invited scrutiny.  The last little Gumplant flower glowed yellow among withered brown stems. Song sparrows flitted in and out of the underbrush, gulls cried and cormorants plied the water for fish. Roots and rose hips dangled over the cliffs, weaving delicate patterns on the glacial till. A ferry dissolved into the horizonless gray mist, bound for the San Juan Islands.

I pulled my hood up and tucked my weather-resistant camera under my sweatshirt between shots, taking pictures quickly, then retreating under trees. I was getting wetter by the minute.

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A towering, long-dead Douglas fir perched at the edge of the eroding cliff and leaned precariously over the beach. Across the bay kids scampered on the rocks, oblivious to the rain. My feet were soaked through. It felt good.

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We continued along the road at the prescribed 10 mph speed limit, passing campers and people out for a walk. At the last pull-out, an ancient, twisted tree raised one steadfast, leafy branch above a grand view.  Across the pass, thickly forested Burrows Island rose darkly from the cold water.  A whale watching boat skidded back to port.  Did they see the resident pod of Orcas? Probably, but from my vantage point, only boats and gulls broke the water’s calm surface.  To my left, Whidbey Island lurked in the mist, and sixty miles south, Seattle sprawled a cacophony of metal and glass across another patch of land at the the water’s edge.

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I noticed a path leading down into a grove of Madrone trees (Arbutus menziesii). The madrone is one of my new favorites since moving west, with its smooth, brilliantly colored, peeling bark and curvy limbs. At my feet, Reindeer moss (really a lichen, Cladina portentosa) formed puffy clouds of the softest pale green, pierced by sharp grasses. I picked my way carefully across the wet earth, drinking in the color.

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The rain was picking up so we drove into town to Pelican Bay Books to dry off and warm up with an espresso. The bookstore, with its first-rate selection of new and used books, wood-burning stove, worn leather sofas, custom wood shelving and carefully crafted espresso bar, deserves a post of its own. But take my word for it – if you’re anywhere near Anacortes it’s worth a trip.

Enamored by Washington Park’s beauty and the old ship in Anacortes, we decided to return as soon as we could. Three days later we were back on Fidalgo island exploring another beautiful park (and returning to the bookstore!). More about that in another post.

 

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A STRANGE SIGHT

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The weather finally broke the other day in Western Washington, bringing cool, overcast skies and a smattering of rain. With Harvey and Irma in the news it may be hard to grasp the fact that there’s a serious drought on the west coast. Even worse, the dry conditions (with human “help”) spawned a tough wildfire season, bringing destruction and death, and a haze of sickening smoke and ash. So a wet forecast is a sweet relief these days, and it didn’t deter us from heading north to Fidalgo Island on Saturday. Our plan was to explore a small peninsula that overlooks the San Juan Islands.

We’re less familiar with this part of the state and we are ever curious, so we kept sharp eyes out for anything unusual as we drove across the island. On the way to the park I glimpsed a vision that was beyond unusual. Only briefly visible from the road, the strange sight appeared, then quickly disappeared. I flashed on some elaborate Hollywood film set. Did I really see a huge, dark hulk of a wooden ship on the shore with a cargo that appeared to be a forest?

Yes, it was an old wooden ship topped with a forest, growing like big hair gone completely wild.

 

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We continued to the park and agreed to check out the strange apparition later – I was pretty sure it wasn’t going anywhere.  I was soaked through after wandering along the shore, but the rain felt good, like renewal after two months of dry heat.

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The sky was still spitting a thin drizzle when we traced our route back along the shoreline, past the ferries to Canada and the San Juan islands, searching for a way to get closer to the mysterious specter.

We found it – a narrow, gravel road leading down a hill to a shipyard. We knew we might be kicked out at any minute but we drove on anyway. With growing excitement, we parked next to a couple of junked trucks and jumped out. A narrow, overgrown isthmus led straight to the ship, which loomed silently overhead.

By that time we had figured out that this wasn’t a shipwreck, but it was an unorthodox breakwater for the shipyard and marina.

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La Merced looks old because it is – it was built one hundred years ago in California. A four-masted schooner with auxiliary power, it sailed up, down and across the Pacific, delivering case oil for Standard Oil and other companies. Just four years into service, the ship was rammed by another boat while at anchor near Alcatraz. It was repaired though, and sailed the Pacific for a few more years before it became a floating fish cannery, working the salmon catch in Alaska. (The link is to an old photo showing La Merced’s four masts behind some cannery buildings).

Meanwhile, an enterprising man from Croatia named Anton Lovric was repairing boats in Anacortes, Washington, 1,572 nautical miles away. Tony Lovric had a colorful life. Born in 1924, he was captured by the Germans during WWII and spent 14 long months in hard labor at Dachau. After he was released, he studied naval architecture and worked in a Croatian shipyard. According to his obituary, he left for Italy in 1958, fearing punishment for his outspoken political views. From Italy he emigrated to the US, eventually arriving in Anacortes, a small northwest port town where he had friends. The place suited him. He married, had five children, and with much hard work and resourcefulness, turned a former seafood processing business into Lovric’s Sea-Craft, a ship repair yard and marina.

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Repurposing was second nature to Tony Lovric. In 1966 he bought the 232-foot ship La Merced, to use as a breakwater for his marina. Stripped of its masts, engines, bowsprit and other accouterments, the old ship was brought to Anacortes to begin another chapter in its long life. Set in place, filled with sand and surrounded with rocks, it remains there today. La Merced has now spent half its life out of the water. Not quite on land, but not floating either, she’s like a great beached whale, her skin rough with peeling paint instead of barnacles, her rusted hawse holes keeping watch over the shipyard.

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I doubt this old pulley was used for Lovric’s breakwater project, but who knows what it lifted into place over the years?  Lovric’s shipyard is still in the family. About ninety percent of their work is done on working boats, not pleasure craft. I like that. On that Saturday afternoon the bottom of a barge was being steam cleaned. Two rather handsome old wooden buildings are used for storage and machining. Boats of every size and shape are docked here, and at least one appears to be lived in.

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A tangle of rope, an old winch engine, trucks in various states of disrepair, wild blackberries running through it all…a ladder, a toilet bowl and a volleyball net propped against a metal wall with a dark opening into the overgrown hillside…there is “stuff” everywhere. It makes you drool, to think of all the things you could do with that stuff! Not to mention all the history that might be pried out of this site.

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We wondered about the lumber used to build La Merced. Maybe loggers felled those timbers back in the early 1900’s in the mountains just east of Fidalgo Island, mountains visible from the shipyard on a clear day. The logs could have been shipped to California and milled into the long boards needed for La Merced. The boards would have been nailed into place, caulked and pitched and painted, and finally, La Merced would float. She would sail the Pacific, awash in the waters of Australia, Hawaii, Alaska…and finally she would come to rest on Fidalgo Island, where her hull full of sand would support little plants grown from seeds blown in and dropped by birds…and slowly the little plants would become another forest, in an endless round of life.

This post isn’t about a classically scenic place like Mount Rainier, and the photos may leave something to be desired, given the rain that day.  But what a sight that massive, century-old ship is! Where once four tall masts held sails that caught distant ocean winds, trees sway in channel breezes. The wood used to build the ship may be slowly rotting, but it’s helping to keep a boat business afloat, it supports an ecosystem that adds to the local flora and fauna, and catches the eyes and imaginations of curious passers by, like me.

 

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Some of these photos are homages of sorts to blogging friends whose work I am always studying.  A few people who might be inspirations for these photos are: Al at burnt embers. He often works in film and inspires me to try film effects/colors, like those in the marina shot and the aqua-shuttered building photo. Also Linda at Romancing Reality, who takes masterful photos of dumpster surfaces – she surely inspired the rusty, scratched metal surface photo.  Louis, who is accomplished at graphic work and often shoots in maritime locations, inspired the rope photo.  Adrian nudges me to make an occasional darker, gutsier image (like the ladder) and experiment with film effects.  Otto, whose Instagrams also push me to experiment with effects, probably inspired the silhouetted, smudgy pulley photo. Many others I haven’t named this time (Lisa, “Chill” Adrian, Alan, Hedy, Denise, Ken, Jane, Gunta, Uli, Joshi, Pierre, 125tel, Patti, Dina, etc!) are pushing boundaries and perfecting their visions, inspiring me to do the same. And Linda at The Task at Hand, a far better storyteller than I am, inspires me to try weaving a written tale through my photographs, at least once in a while.

The Close Inspection

I used to have a job in surveillance. It wasn’t anything sinister – it involved inspecting state-funded programs for adults who had brain injuries and needed help to live independently.  Wading through records, interviewing participants, observing facilities and talking with administrators, I would carefully ferret out the details. I looked for faulty provision of services, but also for exemplary work on behalf of people who couldn’t advocate well for themselves. I surveyed, I cited, I educated, always paying close attention to the details.

Well before that, I lived in a zen monastery. Close attention to detail was valued there, too. Whether meditating, washing dishes or selling the cakes that supported our community, we made an effort to attend to and act in our environment with clear, detailed attention.  At the same time we sensed a vast spaciousness in the interstices. When we were at our best, recognizing that spaciousness helped us to challenge habitual boundaries, a process that opened our minds and freed our actions.

Going back even further in time, as a child I spent a lot of time carefully inspecting my surroundings, slowly falling in love with the world as it is. I’m lucky to have had a childhood free enough from want and strife that I could spend endless hours observing my environment.  I believe there is value in paying close attention to your surroundings, value in developing a sense of where you are grounded on the earth, and value in acting on that in a positive way. The actions we take vary according to our predilections, abilities and background, but each of us can benefit others in more ways than we imagine, especially when we get out of our own way.  Even with photography.

Here are 20 photographs that began taking shape on recent forays. On better days I made quick adjustments to that little black box in my hands and aimed the lens with an open mind and attention to detail.  The images were refined back at home with more close observation, and hopefully, with some measure of freedom from habitual ways of thinking.

 

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The photos were taken in and around Seattle, most with an Olympus OM D1, a few with an older model Samsung smartphone, processed using Lightroom, Silver Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro.