A Spare Beauty

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


52 comments

  1. I love the Moss Lake Natural Area trees with their deep layers of moss, lichens and ferns, Lynn. Of course all your photos are wonderful. I personally prefer the muted tones of late autumn and winter, so I find these quite beautiful. 🙂

    • Maybe it’s the decreasing day length, but as beautiful as it is, Fall has never been as easy for me to like as Spring. I like thinking of you enjoying the muted colors…thanks for commenting.

  2. Lovely, almost otherworldly. Many of the leaves are so pale they’re almost ghostly – seeing the iron bridge was reassuring. I’m from New York – lots of sugar and silver maples, but not those Big-Leaf ones, envious. And all that lovely moss and mist.

    • Thanks Robert, I was trying to convey that other-worldly feeling in some of these. Your comment about the iron bridge is funny – the rivers do get scary here, but we were told by a local that day that river wasn’t all that high, believe it or not. I grew up in Syracuse and Western NY, then NJ, so I know those woods! The Big-leaf maples are amazing trees, with leaves sometimes as big as a dinner plate, and mature trees holding a huge weight of moss and ferns. Every place has its beauty, as you know. I’m interested in celebrating the beauty of whatever particular place I find myself in.

      • I’m living in Boston right now, but I’m from Waterloo (1/2-way between Syracuse and Rochester). The Harvard arboretum isn’t too far from where I live, so I’m going to learn a few new trees there, I already found out the sweet gums are beautiful in the fall.

      • I bet that arboretum has some fine specimens. I see Sweet gums around here, planted along streets and in towns – they bring great color, even though we don’t have the freezes that I think enhance color in New England.

  3. Dear Lynn, it is so interesting reading about your region’s nature. You seem so lovingly connected to everything around you, it can warm one’s soul.
    I love your pictures #7 and #6 most, maybe because I love everything that’s light these days, but of course, all of your pictures sketch a beautiful view of autumn. Thank you so much!

    • What good words to hear, Ule, because being connected to the place where I am is important to me so I’m happy that shows. I was really happy with those two photos you mention, and I too gravitate to the light – I wonder why! 😉 Have a good week!

  4. I love “the ruined grace of a last leaf clinging to a branch tip.”, very well put. And you’re out in the rain, which is more than I’ve managed so far with my new TOUGH! Referencing the photo numbers in your text is also a good idea.
    Here, I’m caught by: 4 and 9 are very wild and striking, elemental I would say; and 15 is alive and active, and making off leftwards! 16 is simply beautiful. A 🙂

    • Ha ha! Yes, we didn’t really intend to be in the rain, but we’d driven so far, might as well get out and slog through it a little. But the photos aren’t so great when it’s coming down. Thanks for letting me know which photos you gravitate towards – #4 was almost too chaotic, but I worked on it and tamed it a bit. #9 is something you see regularly here, but often those trees are surrounded by many others and hard to single out in a photo. Thank you Adrian, and have a great week!

  5. When I read your title, I laughed out loud because of a fun and quite unrelated association. I have an acquaintance in Maine who has two sons, known affectionately as “the heir and the spare.” I’d not thought of him in some time, since he stopped posting to his blog. I need to get in touch.

    On the other hand, your willingness to share some of your “spare” beauty always is appreciated. Like so many photographers, you have a good bit of drama in the landscapes around you. It certainly leaves me envious, but on the other hand, it’s also a reminder that the challenge here is to find a way to make the distinctly non-dramatic interesting. Our fog isn’t your fog, for example — but at least we had fog yesterday morning. It’s a sign of changing seasons, and of a sparer beauty to come.

    Those ivory-colored leaves are a knockout!

    • I’m embarrassed to say, I idn’t even think of the multiple meaning s of the word “spare.” Oh well, it works either way! There is plenty of drama around here, it’s true, especially in the mountains, but I guess every landscape presents its own set of challenges, and opportunities. I can certainly find a bit of envy for your abundance of interesting flora. Glad you like those pale leaves – it was a pleasant surprise on a day I wasn’t expecting much. Have a good week!

  6. Lovely photos and writing and also makes me homesick for the beloved Northwest, except, of course, the wet and cold this time of year (but a season that yields beautiful photos like these).

    • People get attached to places, and this one has such a strong character, I can understand feeling homesick for it. It’s hard to feel that upbeat about this time of year for me, but I’m working on it! Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    • You often have favorites that are a little different from other people’s or from what I might expect; it’s very interesting. You’re right, Spring gets all the love. I think in New York especially, fall is fabulous, and early winter can be fine. late winter on the other hand…well, we just have go somewhere sunny & warm, right? Or duck into a greenhouse. Or hole up in the coffee shop. Good to hear from you!

  7. Again so beautiful pictures ! Lovely !! All these tender leaves – as if they are flying. You caught the nicest moments of autumn in your fotos. As you said: there is always beauty to be found. We just have to search and look. The pictures Nr. 7,15,16 are my favourites. They are all very beautiful, but Nr. 15 and 16 – they are so poetic – dreamlike – wonderful 🙂 And the leaves in Nr. 7 are magical. The woods are fascinating with moss and lichen, like in a fairy tale…..I love autumn 🙂

  8. mmm, I’m catching that wonderful damp woodsy scent! Wonderful detail and moody atmosphere in these shots. I love how you have captured my favorite season.

  9. Curious about the reason this species is called a vine maple, I searched but didn’t find a direct answer. A couple of sources mentioned the fact that in this species a limb can arc over into the ground and generate new roots. I wonder if that kind of arc reminded people of a vine.

    • Steve, that could be true, but I wonder if that is seen enough to have made it the reason for the name. I think it may be more about the relative look of that tree to our other maple, the Big Leaf Maple, which is a huge, sturdy tree. I think the woods here may have somewhat fewer species than in warmer places, so particular species’ characteristics could show in relation to others. The Vine maple is vine-like in the sense that it has very thin branches and often thin, multiple trunks. Though it doesn’t behave like a vine, compared to the massive, upright trees it mixes with – Douglas firs, Red cedar, Western hemlock & Big leaf maple, it’s shape overall is sort of vine-like. Just a wild stab here at a reason – it is always interesting to find out why plants were given their names. (I read about limbs arcing over and getting pinned down, then generating new roots too – amazing. I haven’t seen it, but I haven’t looked for that either).


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