A Drought Paradox

 

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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.

 

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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 experiencingย  “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.

 

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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.

 

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The Photos:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Beside the same trail a lichen-covered rock and a host of dried grasses compose themselves beautifully, without help or interference from humans.
  4. 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.ย  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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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!
  8. 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.
  9. A Bracken fern frond has turned dry and golden for lack of moisture at Sharpe Park, Montgomery-Duban Headlands.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. 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!
  14. 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.
  15. Spider webs are abundant in the forests these days. These are on a cedar tree. There may be more on my clothes…
  16. The intensely colored, winged seeds of this ornamental maple beam with joy in the afternoon sunlight at a town park in Anacortes, Washington.

 

 


74 comments

  1. While at Acadia I noticed some early foliage change in a few places and also here at home when we returned. It has been an odd summer with lack of rain almost causing a watering ban and request for reduced usage (not in our town but several nearby locations did experience water bans for a short time) followed by lots of rainy days and even some flash flooding in places, especially north of Boston. Now we have been without rain for over two weeks but there is Gordon heading through the Gulf of Mexico and that is due here next week. Odd times.

  2. Just this afternoon I remarked to my sister that it looks like some of the trees are turning, which seems a little early to me. But I look at the calendar and we are well into September already. I think the trees were stressed this year because of the drought conditions and that may have something to do with an early change. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a welcome change. I love photo #5. It has such a delicate look to me. well done, Lynn.

  3. It’s the same here even though it rained all winter like usual. Leaves have been turning brown and falling since late June! Two dry summers in a row is too much I guess. The last photo is exquisite!
    Alison

    • I know you have the same situation, Alison. Yes, the trees are getting hit hard – I hate to see the cedars losing leaves because I don’t know how much those will grow back. Soon the rain will return, but it’s going to take an awful lot to reverse this, I think. I’m glad you liked that last shot, thanks!

  4. Dear Lynn, you hit my state of mind perfectly with your superb pictures. After a long summer of heat and drought here as well I’m very much looking forward to autumn and glad about each sign of it. There are many of them already. Just like in your pictures, in each of which I also find a track of contradiction:
    hard and soft, flimsy and ponderous, colourful and grey …
    Did I ever mention that I not only appreciate your photos but also the factful and elaborate texts, often even poetic in one? I enjoy them exceedingly.
    I wish you a long, beautiful, rainy and maybe a bit misty autumn (does that sound like wonderful images?)

    • It’s so wonderful to hear that I connected with you that way, Ule. I know you have had some crazy weather too. Is anywhere in the world safe from these wild swings? I doubt it. I love your word pairs. I have often been attracted to opposites, like city and wilderness, so what you say about finding contradictions makes sense. It is a treat to read your comment! Also good to know you appreciate the little descriptions – sometimes they take so long and I wonder if I should go through that. I guess it’s worth it. ๐Ÿ™‚
      Looking forward to misty, poetic weather for both of us….

  5. Some lovely images, and I like your words, especially “Burnished golds, rose-tinged rusts, and ghostly pale greens mingle harmoniously, like polite guests at a dinner party.”
    All very worrying for the environment, though….

  6. Yes, I thought so, image 1 shows Bramble with its delicious blackberries – its very common (and native) here and yes, does it spread and take over places if given half a chance! But then, blackberry and apple crumble or pie – and all is forgiven! Love the colours in this 1 image; other favourites are 2,7 and 13. And drought, yes, there’s been extreme weather all over the world this year – we have just learnt that the summer in England was the hottest since records began – LOL! it really flattened me!!! A ๐Ÿ™‚

    • ๐Ÿ™‚ That particular black berry has really caused trouble, but we have a number of natives that never get out of hand like that one does. And blueberries, huckleberries, gooseberries, raspberries, thimbleberries, on and on. It s very fruity here. ๐Ÿ™‚ A blackberry and apple crumble sound excellent. I know you’ve had it rough – our summer was the second hottest on record, so we’re right behind you, but it’s not a competition any of us want, is it? I’m glad you’ll be looking lively again soon, Adrian!

  7. I hate to see anything suffering from a drought, but enjoyed this album. The dryness seems very appealing right now – – here, itโ€™s been wet and steamy hot – – sometimes driving by soggy field, it smells like someoneโ€™s cooking Cream of Wheat or something. On Monday I was helping to move some furniture, etc. and changed my teeshirt 3 times before lunchtime. Also enjoyed your writing, and the captions very much.
    Despite the brown grasses, the boulder in #3 looks like a whale or manatee surfacing in the meadow – – so then in the next shot, the reindeer lichen reminded me of a museum exhibit, of a preserved tidal pool.
    Iโ€™ve never seen maple seeds that were anything but green, yellow, or brown, those bright red ones in the last shot are just beautiful!

  8. Your photos are like little treasures in the early arid autumn! I am always enjoy these small details of beauty in your posts! I love the colour of the last one, the red maple seeds! I agree with you about the feelings. I love autumn but nowadays I feel a mixture of sadness too. Autumn starts too early and some trees are already completely brown yet.
    I like your photos nr. 8 and 12. Nr. 15 which is very atmospheric and I love the fireweedseeds. They are so “artistic” aren’t they?! I recently learned that they are called fireweeds, because they belong to the first plants that grow after a fire, but you probably know that. Here they are called “Weidenrรถschen” = willowroses / willowflowerets, so the english name says more about their appearance! The blackberries are getting to a problem here too, but I love the colours of their autumn leaves! – Well, we will see what comes next – I don’t know! I just hope it will change soon! But till then we can enjoy every little bit, like you made it visible in your pictures ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Early, arid autumn – that has an interesting ring! And it’s interesting that you pick out #8 and #15, those images aren’t as easy to like as some of the others. Willow roses or willow flowers makes sense to me too, because there are related plants here called willow herbs. Because fire happens pretty often in the west, you can see with your own eyes why fireweed has that name – sometimes you might drive by a filed of tree stumps (Maybe from cutting as well as fire) and the tallest plats are the fireweeds. We have rain in the forecast now, thankfully….in just a few days. It will smell good. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for your generous comments, Almuth!

      • The fireweed must look gorgeous in an area of burnt earth. Although it might sound cruel, but these vivid colours together with blackened soil – everything starts anew ๐Ÿ™‚ Luckily we don’t have so many fires here until now so I never saw them in this surroundings. We had only a few but half-heavy showers today – yeah ๐Ÿ™‚ and I am glad to hear that you too will get some rain soon. Maybe the drought is leaving now….and yes, the air will be clean and everything will smell good ๐Ÿ™‚ (about the pictures: I am not addicted to spider webs, haha! Nr. 15 has this beautiful light and Nr. 8 this nice composition and colours ๐Ÿ™‚ I would like to take a walk in Nr. 12 now!)

    • Keep your eyes out for those Super Takumars! I didn’t buy the lens at first, because I didn’t know anything about it. Looking it up on my phone, it seemed good, but I wanted to study it more. I was lucky it was still there the next time the shop opened. The had it for 30 USD but on ebay it’s usually at least 60USD. I can’t put my finger on what it is about the photos, but they do have a different look than ones made with the new lenses.

  9. The rain can’t come soon enough. Your bone-dry images have a quiet beauty and a testimony to your love of nature’s details, Lynn. The Stink Berry and Fireweed shots are standouts among this wonderful series.

  10. Waiting for rain can be one of the hardest experiences of life. Still, the ability to see the world as it is in the period of waiting is a real gift, and you’ve certainly gifted us with some fine images. I especially like the fireweed. It reminds me of our grasses, which are coming into their own now.

  11. Gorgeous pics and writing, as I’ve long come to expect from you, Lynn. You do what you do so well, and we’re all along for the ride. In this particular post, you perfectly capture that achingly beautiful melancholy that comes with the transition from summer to fall. As an aside, seeing those nest-like spiderwebs gives me hives. ๐Ÿ˜›

    • I love that you’re along for the ride, such a nice compliment. Achingly beautiful melancholy describes it well….and I’m really not too fond of spiders either! I make myself look, I make myself photograph them sometimes. It’s a stretch, kind of like pushing my own button. ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Your opening photo is a beaut. My eyes start in the middle, on those bright green leaves, then go back to the tree, on the leaves again, then to the blackberries. The dried grass is also nice (to look at) and its lines parallel those of the tree and other upright plant parts. In #3: Love the similarity of colors in the dry grass and rock lichens. Nice lines, too. #5: Color, lines, subject: yum. #10: Love the feeling of the trees sheltering the flowers, and water is always nice. Appealing composition; I looked at this one for a long time. #16: Color and bokeh get me. Thanks for the feather-atlas link; interesting.

    • Thank you for all that detail. The color in #5 – the fireweed seed head – is partly due to the discoloration of the lens. It was taken with my old 50mm Super Takumar. The bokeh in the last one is thanks to another lens, an Olympus macro lens that you can easily shoot straight into the light with. I’m glad you mentioned the lichen-covered rock and grasses – I really liked the all-over effect of the neutral colors, but it gets a little lost here among the others, maybe.

  13. It’s certainly been a dry summer and I’ve also been noticing what seems like changes earlier than usual. There’s just something about that fireweed that gets me, especially when it’s gone to seed. Great shot (one of my favorites in the series). I’ve also been trying to find a source for Ocean Spray. It looks so ethereal when in bloom. Sorry to cut this short, but you know why! ๐Ÿ˜€

    • We all need more rain here on the west coast – several others have chimed in. Glad you like the fireweed. We’ve had a little rain, and today the seed fluff was all matted together, so I was glad I took that photo when it was dry.
      I took a quick look for Ocean Spray, and I think you should give Sevenoaks Nursery a call. They’re in the Willamette Valley and are wholesale, but they should be able to steer you towards a retail source for Ocean Spray.
      https://www.sevenoaksnativenursery.com/

      And look what I just discovered – a fantastic nursery in Port Townsend, WA. They don’t carry Ocean Spray and aren’t geared to natives – it’s more of an exotics-that-grow-here place – but it looks like it would be great to visit if you’re nearby.
      http://www.farreachesfarm.com/default.asp

    • I’m pleased that you singled out #13, I was really happy with it, and it was fun to find the insect on the leaf when I looked at the photo back at home. I can see what you mean about conveying a sense of waiting for rain….we’re getting some these days, and it’s mostly overcast, which probably helps. I hope you will get a good, soaking rain – not this spitting and drizzling. ๐Ÿ™‚ (I know you have a post or two I haven’t seen yet – I’m looking forward to it, but I’m again far behind).

  14. Thirsty times. Last time I checked the paper it said we were 6 inches under normal for the rain year. We had a hint of rain early this AM, but not enough to do more than tease. Good times for gold colors, I guess.

    • We’ve had a little more than that up here, and things are looking a little better. But I hate seeing all the rust-colored cedar leaves – those trees seem really stressed. I hope you get more rain soon!

  15. I always feel very lazy when visiting your blog – your posts are full of such interesting details, sights and thoughts! Love your description here – “Burnished golds, rose-tinged rusts, and ghostly pale greens mingle harmoniously, like polite guests at a dinner party.” It’s just how this odd season has seemed – all areas moving and evolving at different rates trying to keep up with the oddness of the weather.. it seems reflective of the times somehow too, it’s like really no-one has any idea where we are anymore..! But the beauty that nature creates, and it’s tireless efforts to work to survive despite the circumstances are truly inspiring. (See, I can’t help but ramble at your blog, it brings up so many thoughts, thankyou!!)

    • Oh please, don’t feel badly, just be inspired. ๐Ÿ™‚ And I know you are, often. Your musings are interesting – and inspired, I think, so there you have it! Always nature, always.

  16. Light snow seasons and dry summers used to bring the early Fall colors to the mountains in Utah, as well…a phenomenon that was new and unexpected to my previously (at that time) desert-dwelling self. And yes, this is a bit of a paradox, isn’t it? A moderate rejoicing at the changing seasons, but at a cost. We can hope for a wet Winter up there to make up for it….which could easily bring a wet one down here, too. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Interesting…yes, it’s bittersweet. Looking around, it’s clear that plants are stressed, I love the warmth of summer (so different here than where you are) and miss that, but welcome the rain, since we need it, but then, too much and it’s depressing. Are we nev er satisfied? ๐Ÿ˜‰ Actaully I think it’s more about the paradox, like you said. Nice to read your words, Scott.

  17. I am here ๐Ÿค“ but I feel like I could be there…right in those spaces you capture Lynn…you know I love the woods…even with our touch of early snow…but these images have warmth and I can feel that…beauty…compose a lovely day ~ smiles hedy โ˜บ๏ธ๐Ÿ’ซโœŒ๏ธ


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