High Contrast

Last week I talked about the contrast between my new home and the town where I used to live: life went from noisy and fairly stressful in Seattle’s growing metropolis, to the quiet and calm of a more rural setting. Looking at the photographs I’ve taken over the last two weeks, I see a lot of contrast too. Many of them are marked by the brilliant highlights and deep shadows of intense, midsummer sunlight. I hesitate to carry the high contrast metaphor too far – the shadows in my life are not terribly dark these days – but I can’t help wondering if the contrasts I’m seeing are purely a function of season and time of day. Maybe my general state of being is influencing what I photograph. Maybe I unconsciously gravitate towards high contrast scenes that reflect an inner state of being unsettled, which certainly makes sense for someone who has just moved.

In any case, here is a group of images I’ve made in the last few weeks, close to home. I’ve been taking walks in local parks and preserves and driving around the island to get the lay of the land. A few photos were taken with my phone when I didn’t take my camera or I didn’t have a wide lens. I hope you enjoy the views, whether close-up or distant. And I hope you might find your way up here, to America’s northwest corner. It’s quite a beautiful place.












































The photos:

  1. Looking east from March Point on Fidalgo Island, Mt. Baker’s snow-capped summit rises above the clouds. At 10,781 feet, this Cascade Mountain peak is visible from many places on Fidalgo Island, keeping me oriented as I drive around. Like most mountain peaks, its face constantly changes: sometimes obscured by a light fog of clouds, sometimes clear and sharp, other times lost altogether.
  2. A grain elevator on Rt. 20, the main road connecting the island with the mainland. Adjacent to the island, a fertile delta of agricultural land was created by diking the wetlands where the Skagit River, which begins high in the Cascades, empties into Skagit Bay. This land supports vast fields of tulips and other flower bulbs, potatoes, beets, berries, spinach and many other crops.
  3. An vintage pick-up truck at an abandoned farmstead on March Point, Fidalgo Island. March Point has two busy oil refineries, but cattle graze in the fields, and geese, herons and even pelicans are seen along the perimeter road.
  4. A typical Skagit County farm scene, with the foothills of the Cascades in the background.
  5. At Bowman Bay, part of Deception Pass State Park, a trail winds around the steep shoreline, and passes under a very old Douglas fir tree that’s slowly tipping down towards the water, far below.
  6. Red huckleberries (Vaccinium parvifolium) on the trail to Sares Head, a promontory on Fidalgo Island.
  7. Tiny Rattlesnake plantain orchids (Goodyera oblongifolia) rise from mossy woodlands at Kukatali Preserve, a pristine peninsula owned by the local Swinomish tribe, which opened the site up to the public in partnership with Washington State Parks. Another tiny orchid at Kukatali, the Alaska rein-orchid (Habenaria unalasencis or Piperia unalascensis), has gone through a number of name changes. You have to look hard to see both of these wildflowers, and unless they’re growing on a ridge above you, a photograph will require a deep bend too. These are the times I’m thankful for the camera’s articulating LCD screen!
  8. There’s a muddy, sheltered bay near home called Similk Bay. It’s full of beautiful driftwood logs that have washed ashore over the years.
  9. More driftwood, wildflowers and dry summer grasses at Similk.
  10. The burned bark is on a fir tree at Sares Head, where fires in 2003 and 1993 (?) scorched the beautiful madrone and Douglas fir trees. Reindeer moss (really a lichen) on the ground indicates a moist environment, but in the summer, even this lichen is brittle. The lower right photo shows two species of lichen clinging to the fine branches of a dead fir tree at Mount Erie Park.
  11. On Sares Head, a Douglas fir sculpted by wind and water looks out over Rosario Straight towards the scenic San Juan Islands, a popular destination reachable by boat or plane.
  12. A more southerly view from Sares Head, looking towards Northwest Island, Deception Island, and the shores of Deception Pass State park on Whidbey Island. I posted sunset views from Deception Pass last week. A huge blackened fir tree, probably felled during one of the fires, is off to the left.
  13. Fire-damaged firs make stark silhouettes at Sares Head, but the madrones put color back into the landscape with their orange bark and shiny, evergreen leaves.
  14. This tiny crab only caught my eye only because he moved. He put on a fierce show for a few seconds, then thought better of it and scuttled away into the seaweed in the wrack line (the edge of the debris left by the previous high tide). I think this is a Purple Shore crab (Hemigapsus nudus), a common denizen of the inter-tidal zone.
  15. Since I moved west, the madrone (Arbutus menziesii) with its striking bark, sinewy limbs and glossy leaves, has become one of my favorite trees. There are plenty of them on Fidalgo Island. These specimens at Sares Head have particularly beautiful, peeling bark.
  16. A local corner grocer has worms for sale. And beer, of course. All you need for an afternoon of fishing.
  17. A vintage Mercedes is parked along the main street in the very small town of Edison, about a half hour north of home. With its picturesque scattering of informal restaurants, galleries and shops, Edison has become a foodie pilgrimage site. I used to go there a few times a year – now I can make the trip any day of the week.
  18. Licorice fern often grows on trees, but it’s also happy taking root in the deep moss on the moist forest floor; here it glows in the late afternoon sunlight along the trail to Sares Head.
  19. The highest point on Fidalgo Island is Mt. Erie. At 1273 feet, it has a commanding view of the surrounding countryside and the waters beyond. You can drive all the way up to the top on a narrow, winding road, or hike up. The inhabited area towards the back of the photo is Whidbey Island, to the south. In the foreground is Lake Campbell, with Rodger Bluff holding the warmth of the evening sun. In the early 1940’s the painter Morris Graves built himself a primitive, secluded studio somewhere on that rock. He was driven out by the difficulties of getting supplies up to his aerie and the noise generated by a new naval base on Whidbey Island. He moved twice after that, ending up in northern California, close to Eureka. His story is as fascinating as his work is intriguing – I recommend reading at least the Wikipedia entry (highlighted above). The mystical overtones in his paintings connect powerfully to this area’s geography and atmosphere. Along with Mark Tobey, Guy Anderson, Kenneth Callahan and others, he was recognized as part of the Northwest School, an American art movement that took root here in Skagit County.
  20. At Kukatali Preserve a Bald eagle surveys the action. What a view he or she has, and how amazing it must be to take off and fly anywhere you want over this precious jewel of a landscape.


Here’s a map I made to try to sort out the complicated ins and outs of the island’s topography. If you’re curious about the places I mentioned above, this might help…a little.



And here’s a rough idea of the way Fidalgo fits into the larger scheme of things, at least geographically. It’s the yellow blob halfway between Seattle, Washington, US, and Vancouver, British Columbia, CA.























  1. These photos, and your detailed captions for each, give a fair idea of Fidalgo Island and its surroundings. There must be all sorts of things you could do, from art to outdoor activities both on land at at sea. It is small enough so that it does not overwhelm, and large enough that you could be a hermit if you want to.

    • You’re right, there are plenty of things to do here, and it does seem to be a good size. Sometimes I wish I’d come here years ago, but then I probably wouldn’t have been able to find work. No sense regretting the past, there are enough pleasures to look forward to in the future.

    • The first time we came out here, in 2011, we were instantly sold, and we happened to be in a position to make the big move. A NYC doctor I had at the time cautioned me against moving here on the basis of one nice trip, saying the dreary, gray winters and constant rain would get to me. I’m glad I didn’t listen. In fact, this little spot gets a lot less rain than Seattle, so I have that to look forward to! πŸ˜‰ Thanks for stopping by, Barry!

  2. Thank you for sharing your impressions of your amazing new home, Lynn. The views of the ocean are so serene, and make me want to drive straight west to the coast. πŸ™‚ And the little crab really took me by surprise, amid all your landscape photos. I does look fierce!

  3. Looks like a lovely area, and lovely photos. Your albums always give the feeling that we’ve really gotten at least a taste of the place, and not just postcards.
    Since I’m usually living in a region where the trees are leafless most of the year, I really appreciate the varieties with interesting bark. Around here it’s sycamores, and people plant paperbark maples, river birch, cork oaks, etc. but I’ve never seen these madrone trees, they’re great!

    • I feel like I’m shooting postcards lately, so I’m glad to hear you felt this was a little more than that. πŸ™‚ You know what Robert? Sometimes I find myself calling madrones sycamores! True! I used to love sycamores, especially on the streets of new York in the rain, when the peeling bark is at its most colorful. I guess the madrone doesn’t so well in the east – for one thing, I don’t think it stands up to much freezing, but I’ve never seen it in the south either, so it must be more than that. Around here and into lower BC it reaches its northern limit; they are more common in California.

  4. It’s easy to see from this selection that there is a wide variety of subjects and landscapes/seascapes that are readily available to you in your new location. Another wonderful set of images, Lynn. I’m picking #18 as my favorite. Ferns like these always seem more exotic than they really are but they’re beautiful just the same.

    • The slanting sunlight is really, really beautiful on the western edges of the islands in places like that. It’s going to take me a while to understand how to photograph the water scenes though….btw, there’s a sort of hot rod place nearby with a whole row of shiny vintage cars and trucks in the lot. We were just staying today we’ve got to check it out. Oh, what you could so with those old pieces of metal!

      • I’ve got my hands full with Upstate New York so it would be nice to get a little help from my friends in the Pacific Northwest.

    • I haven’t been there but it seems ,like a strange, strange situation to have to cross borders to get just about anything done, and to be cut off that way. We thought about Bellingham too, but this area feels more pleasant to us, in ways it’s hard to articulate. πŸ˜‰ You asked about earthquakes, tsunamis etc. before and though those don’t seem to be too likely, just this afternoon we came home to a large brush fire burning a few blocks away, sending smoke all over – but because of air currents, our road didn’t get the smoke. Hopefully they will put the fire out quickly. Always something!!

    • Even back in 2004 (when we spent some time around the area looking for potential relocation sites) Bellingham didn’t appeal to us (too crowded and expensive to boot). We did like a few places on the Olympic Peninsula. Lynden was attractive primarily because it was small yet close enough to amenities (plus it had a great dutch bakery). In the end, we opted for Colorado.

      As for the fire, that whole northwest corner of Washington is under an advisory:

  5. Although I’ve been up there many a time it’s always been for diving – I haven’t really explored the landscape. Your shots here, and I assume in the future help fill in that hole nicely. Speaking of diving, that little boat in #12 evokes deja vu. We were in that very spot last weekend, heading to dives at James Island and parts beyond.

    • It’s so cool that you recognize that spot! I’ve been thinking about what the landscape must look like from the water. We may try kayaking one of these days, in a nice sheltered spot. πŸ™‚

      • If you’re talking salt water, Bowman Bay is fairly protected, just around the corner from your picture. But just to see the islands from offshore, it might be worth trying a ferry trip from Anacortes to Friday Harbor.

      • I just took a great walk on a trail at Bowman’s Bay the other day, and talked to the kayak rental folks there – I think it was right after I replied to your comment above. . We’ll be doing a walk-on to the San Juans one of these days, maybe after the August rush. Then there’s the other direction….got to get up to Washington Pass before too long, too. These are all good problems to have.

  6. It is interesting to consider why certain places and environments match our inner needs. I was born and bred in a heavily industrialised area and from childhood vowed that I would live my adult years in the countryside – which I have done. But I am also interested in the fact that the instinctive desire to get away form noise, bustle and, sometimes, people might also be reflected in other less obvious choices I make. For example, whilst I like all of these pictures in a general way, the ones that speak to me most clearly are 4, 9, 13 and 18 – scenes where I can ‘commune’ with and quietly explore the environment

    • It’s always interesting to think about how images affect people, so I appreciate your giving me a little background with your explanation. I usually feel best when communing with a place as I quietly explore it, so it makes sense that the photographs that speak to people are those that carry that feeling forward.

  7. What a glorious place you’ve ended up in! And I do note “the shadows in my life are not terribly dark these days”: you have a way with words, and this is very good to hear. And I like the maps, my New World geography is not good, and these are very informative – good context! Photos that really get to me are 6 and 14!!!; and those in 15 are simply gorgeous – but in such cases can you remove the Olympus tags??? And I like 18 very much too. Very glad to hear you’re well settled! A πŸ™‚

    • It makes me glad to know you enjoyed the maps. I’m sure that most readers outside the US, and some inside, do not have a good picture of where I am, so that’s why I included the bigger picture one. The other one was for edification and fun, too, and I figured it might help cement the territory in my mind. It’s hard to sort out! Glad you like the berries, the crab – that was a lucky sighting! – and the bark. I must have forgotten to delete the Olympus tags, which you know are automatic, when I put the little galleries together. Always something! Thank you for being here, Adrian, it’s always a pleasure.

    • I wasn’t really familiar with him before moving out here…seeing his work in museums and reading books about him has made me an admirer….he was something else!

  8. Judging by your landscapes, you seem to be settling into the new setting and yet there’s still the little gems that you’ve been discovering and collecting all along on your travels away from home. It seems truly ideal in every way. It might be interesting to observe if your longing for espresso undergoes any shifts or changes. πŸ˜€

    Push comes to shove if I must choose a favorite landscape, it would be #1. It’s all there from foreground grasses and flowers to that amazing blue water to the mountain with the snow-capped peak and finally blue sky and clouds. What more could you ask for? Perhaps someday you’ll be blessed to catch a lenticular cloud. Definitely not postcard material… though I’ve rarely considered that to be a pejorative.

    That shot of the red huckleberry just shines! The orchids are so precious. Lovely indeed that we’re seeing some of the same flowers. The burnt bark in #10 and the madrone #15 are really cool. I love patterns like that in nature. Thought you might have had a drone for #19… it really does help to put things in perspective when you can get the layout from on high like that.
    I’m so happy for you. I think your images are telling me you like it in your new location. Or, am I simply projecting?

    • I am getting by without really good espresso, but when I do have it, I’m really, really happy! Thanks for reminding me that some of these, like #1 are not just postcard views. πŸ™‚ Re huckleberries can be very photogenic, in most every season – even without the berries. The tiny leaves are really nice when they turn in the fall, and the stems are so interesting, with their flattened silhouettes. As for the burnt bark and peeling bark, I am SURE I’ll be photographing more of those – they are fantastic. I saw three really excellent paintings of burnt bark in a show this week, and a huge madrone painting that you’d love.
      Gee, you can tell I like it? πŸ˜‰ We’re both very lucky.

      • Buy a Nespresso machine and frother. I can attest to the approval of the espresso lovers we know when we offer them a cup. Also, the pods are pretty cheap and the variety gives you a good choice. The beauty is that the maintenance on it is much, much less than regular espresso machines.

        Disclaimer: I don’t work for the company nor do I benefit from anyone buying either machines or pods. I just like their system (Melisa used to work at Williams-Sonoma and learned a lot about coffee makers and we chose Nespresso based on experience with it and liking the coffee over that of more expensive machines). I typically use it to make lattes with it.

    • It helps to get the perspective that an image like #19 has, so I’m glad that works for you, Julie. I think you have some great views on your property too, right? (Though #19 is from a park). The skies were very blue for a while, as often happens in summer, when it’s dry for several months here. Then we have wet weather for the balance of the year – fall, winter & spring – but we;ll get some breaks now and then. When there aren’t many clouds, things can be extremely clear because there isn’t too much pollution, and there are lots of nice breezes.

  9. Looks like you picked a fine area to relocate to, Lynn. If I were to leave New England I think the Northwest would be very appealing. Lots of nice shots in your scouting of the area.

    • It is certainly appealing! There are similarities to islands off the Maine coast, and maybe the Adirondacks ( the Cascades, just an hour inland from me) but the trees are different. We don’t have the fabulous fall color, but we have giants, and many, many evergreens, and evergreen ferns, which keep it green year-round. Being a transplant from the northeast, well, I love it! πŸ™‚

  10. Beautiful pictures of your new home and island πŸ™‚ The flowers in the first picture look like wild carrots?? And I love the clouds and the sky in the second foto! Beautiful sights of the coast, flora and fauna. The barks are great!! These different patterns, colours and forms. It seems there is enough to discover in your new and fascinating living area. What is quite reassuring to me is the sign “we’ve got worms” πŸ˜‰

    • Wild carrots, yes – we call them Queen Anne’s Lace here. Daucus carota, It’s been here in the US a long time (brought from Europe) and grows wild in many places. It’s abundant here – I just picked a bunch yesterday and felt NO guilt, there were many thousands. I love it when you have clouds like those in #2, too. It makes you feel expansive and free, right? Yes, there is more than enough to discover here! I’ve taken so many short, gorgeous hikes already, all to different places, all close to home. “We’ve got worms” is good to hear, ja! πŸ™‚

      • Oh dear, another neophyte… Now in these times of heat and drought I am so happy about the wild carrot. It is one of the few wild flowers that blooms everywhere and that without water!! And it is nice to take flowers without guilt, haha πŸ˜‰ That sounds great with your excursions! A long long holiday at home πŸ™‚

  11. A glorious collection. My favorite detail? The sign in the store window that announces, “We’ve got worms.” Clearly, you’ve landed in an area that can meet your every need — or, at least every potential need!

  12. Since I am responding so late, perhaps I can be forgiven for taking up so much room on your blog. I have something to say about most of your photographs, which I went through from the top very slowly. Thank you for another adventure.

    1. Those blues are incredible. And I like how the white flowers pair with the white building across the way.
    2. Silos are so cool. I hope you find a chance to go up close. I can’t believe how much the distant mountains add to this photoβ€”well, to scenes in general. I’ve only lived in the flatlands.
    3. What a strange structure. I’ve never seen one like it. Love all that rust.
    4. What a curious arc! I like how it functions in your photograph; it makes my eye linger in the foreground before zipping to the back along the ditch.
    5. I like how the lighter distance area draws you through. And I just like greenery. And a path through it. And that looming log telling me to move along.
    6. There you go with your wonderful shallow DOF, with the sunlight catching the leaves just so.
    7. Ditto with this one. I especially like the one on the left for the bright background. Also, I like how you made this composition work with four rather than three main elements.
    8. So old. So smooth. Love the colors and the composition. I’m impressed that you have already learned so many place names!
    9. Another path. Really nice. I love the contrasting rich browns and the sprinkling of greens and white. I like how the triangle on the left points to the dead trees. After seeing this whole post, I will say that this is my favorite of this wonderful collection.
    11 and 12. Oh, that blue. The water is such a different color from the water of the Gulf of Mexico, at least where I see it off the coast of Sarasota. The straw-colored grasses are a nice contrast.
    20. I like how I didn’t notice the eagle until I’d taken in the view as a whole, thanks to your clever composition.

    • No, thank you for the detailed comments, what a treat this is. Never too late.
      Re the blues, I’ve noticed they are strong up here, perhaps because there is water all around, reflecting back the skiy’s blue (wow, that is probably scientifically quite suspect!) and/or just because the air is clearer. Fewer cars, less particulate matter.
      I like these silos a lot and have thought about getting closer. I’ve got to find the little road that parallels the highway, that’s all. Not far away there’s a grange building, as old one (old for here) with a place name not in use anymore. Also cool. Also something I’ve been meaning to inspect.
      3 & 4 – Why did someone put that roof on those silos? πŸ™‚ I don’t know what that arc was.
      5 – Yes, move along lest it decides now’s the time to tumble down into the drink!
      8 – Similk Bay is very near us so I learned that one fast…I love place names…and there’s LOADS of driftwood like that around, and much of it huge logs. A defining feature of the Pacific northwest: huge logs gathered on the beaches, instead of thousands of people. πŸ˜‰
      9 is also at Similk Beach/Bay, where all the grass is very dry, making harmonious compositions with the Queen Anne’s Lace, which is plentiful. It’s captivating.
      11 & 12 – Maybe because that’s deeper water – more in toe sound – it has a bit of the Pacific Ocean blue in it. It’s less blue-gray than Atlantic waters, it’s richer. Who knows why? πŸ™‚
      20 – Not so much a clever composition as just trying to fit everything in with the lens that’s one the camera. I think you get that! πŸ™‚

  13. WOW!!! All new territory to explore … how exciting. I like the idea of isolating and thinking about contrast as a subject matter. At first I thought the set was going to be high contrast but some were high and others low. All great compositions, nicely seen and captured with favorites being 5 & 6! Good to draw a map of a new place like that. I did that when I moved to CO and it helped me understand a little better. We visited Whidbey Island in 2011 so I can imagine a little better. Good luck in your new home.

  14. Thank you! Yes, they’re not all high contrast, but in general, this time of year, in this place, seems to be a time of strong lights and darks, deep shadows, etc. Yes, drawing a map seemed like a good idea, but I probably need to do it again and again! πŸ˜‰ It’s complex around here, with all the ins and outs of the islands, rivers, etc. Whidbey is less than 10 minutes from here, the north end, that is. The south end is over an hour’s drive – it’s a long island. But yes, the islands have a simialr look, with each taking on a certain character. Wonderful to explore. Thanks for the good wishes!

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