As we transition from summer to fall, the wild grasses are bone dry. Dead cedar boughs litter the ground; maple leaves are splotched with yellow and brown. Berries are ripe, and seeds are ready to spring from their tight confines. It’s been a hot, dry summer, quickening the transition to fall. The paradox is this: as dry leaves crackle underfoot and trees are losing leaves earlier than usual, I am saddened and worried, but the color changes all around me are so very beautiful.
According to the U.S. Drought Monitor every corner of our state (and neighboring Oregon and Idaho) has been touched by the drought. Conditions range from abnormally dry to extreme, so maybe I should be thankful that our corner is experiencing “moderate drought.”
The drought seems to be putting an early halt to summer, resulting in color changes that are paradoxically sad and pretty at the same time. Burnished golds, rose-tinged rusts, and ghostly pale greens mingle harmoniously, like polite guests at a dinner party.
Many plants along the forest trails are covered with dust, spider webs decorate nearly every tree and bush, and crisply curled leaves litter the woods. Some forest patches remain verdant, especially alongside lakes where moisture lingers in the air, but I can’t get away from the evidence: drought has taken hold.
Fall color tiptoes in early.
I walk, I look, and I wait for rain.
- So-called Himalayan blackberries (Rubus armeniacus) were introduced from Europe for fruit production, but got way out of control. They form massive, impenetrable thickets with thousands of berries that just sit there uneaten, because there are so many of them. In this case, just a few canes are working their way into a tree nursery outside La Conner, Washington. I thought the bright leaves and berries were striking against the soft browns and grays of the trees and grasses.
- A feather as plain and gray as this one is hard to tie to a specific bird. But did you know there’s a Feather Atlas to help identify North American bird feathers? This one (which I still can’t identify!) fell next to a trail on a bald on the western edge of Fidalgo Island. A fire ripped through here, damaging some trees and felling others. Look closely and you can see charred rock and burned fir needles.
- Beside the same trail a lichen-covered rock and a host of dried grasses compose themselves beautifully, without help or interference from humans.
- Near the edge of Fidalgo Island where cool, northern waters often create misty conditions on the land above, reindeer lichen (Cladonia rangiferina) grows in cloud-like clumps. I’m careful not to touch it because it is brittle from the drought, and it grows very slowly. I’m frustrated every time I see a broken clump but trails here usually avoid reindeer lichen growth to prevent damage from careless hikers. (I’ll admit I stepped off the trail to take the photograph, but I tiptoed across rocks and bare ground). This photo was taken with a vintage lens I just found at a local thrift store for half the price it sells for online. It’s a Super Takumar 28mm f3.5 from the early 70’s. I have another Takumar lens so I knew this one could be good, and the adapter to fit it onto my camera is easy to find. I’ve been out with it several times, and I’m enjoying it a lot.
- Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium or Epilobium augsutifolium) is a familiar sight in the Pacific Northwest. Called Rosebay willowherb in Britain, the tall wildflower’s magenta flowers produce distinctive, silky-haired seeds that float away on late summer breezes.
- The graceful shrub called Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor) often grows near water and bears sprays of creamy white flowers in late Spring. This specimen, on a hill at Cranberry Lake Park on Fidalgo Island, has a surfeit of pale green lichens growing on its branches. With leaves shifting from green to yellow to orange, dried, peachy-tan flowers and frosty green lichens, it was a striking sight.
- The cool blue-gray color of Stink currant berries (Ribes bracteosum) complements deep forest greens. I read that the whole plant is covered with glands that emit a skunky odor, but I didn’t notice it. I’ll have to check next time!
- At Mt. Erie, the highest point on Fidalgo Island, a species of Usnea lichen hangs from a tree whose leaves are losing their chlorophyll prematurely. Late day sunlight sets the leaves on fire, and fine web threads map a spider’s domain.
- A Bracken fern frond has turned dry and golden for lack of moisture at Sharpe Park, Montgomery-Duban Headlands.
- An attractive flower that hangs on well in a drought is Gumweed (Grindelia integrifolia). This patch, framed by two huge logs, is between a small bay and a beach, a fairly wet location. The photograph was taken with the “new” 28mm Takumar lens, late in the day.
- The forest floor is littered with fallen branches, leaves, wildflower seeds, fir cones, mosses, and lichens. Quiet colors create a neutral palette that emphasizes texture – one advantage of the drought.
- At Cranberry Lake a smattering of trees still cling to their defiantly bright green attire but in the distance, the rusty colors are from cedar trees that have died, probably from too many dry summers.
- An insect is resting on the back of this pretty leaf at Mt. Erie. I didn’t see it until I got home and looked closely at the photo. It’s not the first time that has happened!
- Another photo taken with the “new” vintage lens, in low light on the edge of the woods. These branches are mostly on Madrone trees. The leaves may be from a Madrone too, but I’m not sure. In any case, the funky curves of tree trunks, dead branches and leaves draw an intriguing picture together.
- Spider webs are abundant in the forests these days. These are on a cedar tree. There may be more on my clothes…
- The intensely colored, winged seeds of this ornamental maple beam with joy in the afternoon sunlight at a town park in Anacortes, Washington.