Entering In

 

Ten minutes from home

the mind

quiets.

 

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Mt. Erie is only 1,273 feet (388 meters) high, but it rises steeply from the surrounding land and is the highest point on Fidalgo Island. From miles away, on land or water, you can see Mt. Erie’s uneven bulge, topped by two cell antenna towers. At the top with the spindly cell towers there are a few small parking lots, some benches and viewing platforms, a toilet, a sculpture, and informational signs; one plaque honors a boy who died in a fall.

People enjoy driving up the twisting, two-lane road to the summit for the breath-taking view across the island and out to the Salish Sea. Most visitors leave it at that. But walk just a short distance into the woods below the peak and you’re in another world, enveloped in the hush of a forest layered in a hundred different greens.

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Coyote maybe. A chunk of moss nearby had been torn from its roots; the evidence suggested a struggle. Here was a vivid slice of wildness just steps from the road, a road most people use only to access the summit for a quick postcard view of the islands below.

If a visitor could contort like a bendable toy and lean way out over the rocks, they might see a climber or two. Mt. Erie has enough rocky outcroppings to make it the scene of intense rock climbing efforts. On the Mt. Erie Climbing facebook page you’ll find route names like Street Fighter, PTSD, and Beard on Fire, and photos of climbers in action with expansive views of tree-mounded islands and deep blue water behind them. 

I don’t have photos of climbers; I’d have to be under them, or beside them. I’ve taken my share of view pictures though – who can resist?

 

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Each time I go to Mt. Erie I admire those views, but these days I spend most of my time on the narrow, winding trails just below the top, where a different kind of magic invites closer looks.

 

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The Photos:

  1. This almost-prostrate Douglas fir hosts a thick collection of lichens. Underneath it a spongy layer of chartreuse moss supports Oregon-grape (Berberis nervosa) plants that are steadily turning red as autumn arrives.
  2. A closer view of lichens dangling from a fir tree on Mt. Erie. Lichens are tough to identify, and the Pacific northwest has a host of them, so I won’t venture further than saying this lichen is probably a species of Usnea.
  3. A closer look. Lichens are actually a complex marriage of an algae and a fungi. If that isn’t confusing enough, they also include a yeast. Lichens grow very slowly, so its important to try not to disturb them.
  4. I think this tree festooned with multiple lichen species is a Western Service berry (Amelanchier alnifolia).  I was drawn to the way the lichens’ cool gray-green coloring complements the warm gold of autumn leaves.
  5. A Douglas fir cone is nestled into a bed of moss. The rust-colored fir needles  probably dropped off the trees because of the drought we had this summer. Rain has returned and you can tell the moss is moist here, not shriveled and dried like it was last month. It’s soft to the touch too, which pleases me. Identifying moss is difficult, but I’ll guess this is urn haircap (Pogonatum urnigerum). (I cheated by locating a plant list for Mt. Erie and comparing photos and descriptions of mosses on the list with my photo).
  6. No one picks up fallen branches here to make things neat; it’s not a garden. The forest floor is crowded with moss, rocks, lichens, branches, ferns, and countless bits of flora and fauna that we’d need a hand lens to see. Step off the trail and you’re bound to be crushing some kind of intricate life form.
  7. The summer drought has even begun to affect the tough, evergreen Sword fern (Polystichum munitum). In the background, last year’s shriveled fronds are a cascading mass of crisp, brown curls. Even this year’s leaf is browning at the edges.
  8. Another tree limb draped with lichens. I’ve read that it may look like the lichen is killing the trees, but lichens are more likely to grow abundantly on trees that are already dying; leafless branches provide better space for the lichen to hold on.
  9. This bit of fur was just off the path, along with a disturbance in the moss. I picked up a piece of fur and smelled it – it had a rank, slightly sour scent, the smell of a wild animal. It went back where it was, to decompose in place.
  10. Trees at the top of Mt. Erie are exposed to the elements; some are mere skeletons. In the distance are Whidbey Island and the Salish Sea. As Wikipedia says, “The Salish Sea is the intricate network of coastal waterways that includes the southwestern portion of the Canadian province of British Columbia and the northwestern portion of the U.S. state of Washington.” Not exactly a sea, this body of water was named the Salish Sea only 30 years ago, by a local marine biologist attempting to raise awareness of the importance of the ecosystem. The “Salish” part recognizes the indigenous people who inhabited coastal areas here before Europeans arrived.
  11. A Douglas fir tree leans out over the spacious landscape at the top of Mt. Erie. Trees up here exist in every stage of growth, from sprouting seed to decaying stump, affording habitat for countless organisms.
  12. This photo was taken in July on a dry, sunny day. The prominent rock, called Rodger Bluff, barely fits within Deception Pass State Park boundaries. To see it closeup requires a longer hike than I’ve been up to so far, but maybe one day I’ll get there.
  13. Steep, moss-covered rocks and tall trees draped with lichens make magic at Mt. Erie. Sounds are muffled by all the soft plant matter, but chances are good that you’ll hear the hoarse call of a raven at least once if you spend an hour up here.
  14. These lichens have grown so long that the wind tangled them up.
  15. This Douglas fir is devoid of living branches and now hosts several kinds of lichens, forming an aesthetically pleasing screen of pointillist simplicity.
  16. Towards the end of the day the forest gets quite dark, but the bright mosses glisten with reflected light.
  17. Serviceberry leaves applaud the last light of the day.

 


88 comments

  1. Nice details and description. It looks a lot like other places we hiked on the Olympic Peninsula (as one might expect).

    Just curious; do you hike on your own or in a group? I ask because of bears and cougars. Or, aren’t there any on the island?

    • No, I’m pretty sure there aren’t any bears or cougars here, though I’ve seen bears at a distance from a trail on Rainier – that’s the mainland of course. I googled and found that cougars are reported on the mainland not far from here, and there was a bear on Orcas Island last year that swam there. They were trying to catch and relocate it. I think the main hazard for me would be an accident on the trail. I’m mostly alone, sometimes not. Hopefully, the cell will work if anything untoward happens.

    • I wouldn’t say “too much” because that implies that one would rather have more sun (or less acidity) and the climate is what it is. We have plenty of sun in the summer and not much the rest of the year. The main factor is probably the huge amount of moisture we have – the Pacific northwest (west of the Cascades) is known for abundant rainfall. Then here on the island, you might have even more moisture from fog, etc.
      I don’t think the soil is acid here, and I don’t think mosses and lichens necessarily prefer acid conditions.
      I just found this description of lichen habitat. I think it’s a good one. (Wish I saw it before I wrote this post). 🙂
      https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/beauty/lichens/habitat.shtml

    • It’s really nice to know you’ve been there, seen the view, and understand what I’m saying. I have nothing against enjoying the view but there’s more than that. Thanks so much, Jean. It’s an ongoing project, photographing the small bits of landscape I see here on Fidalgo.

    • And the light is fast disappearing, isn’t it? We are heading into a long stretch of mostly overcast skies, so it will be interesting to see how that goes. One nice thing about being here is knowing that when it gets really dark, like mid-winter, I can go to the shore and gather a little more light there. Thanks Paula!

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Steve, you’ve described what I try to do. The nice thing about this location is that I’m only traveling ten minutes from home! It’s a bit like a permanent vacation.

      • I enjoy your treks and close to home is especially rewarding. Of course close is relative. I’ve had some good fortune in my backyard, mostly insects, and Quabbin is only 20-30 minutes depending on the location I choose. It’s nice to wake up in the morning and decide to go to a favorite place close at hand. I love Acadia, but a visit there has to be more deliberate. 🙂

  2. Gosh you’re so lucky to be living so close to such a beautiful place!!! Luck well deserved. You certainly don’t have to do this, but a madcap project has just popped into my head >>> what about you and SEP2 doing black and white pictures of this place??????? But DON’T feel obligated!!! Here, I especially like 7, 10 and 11. A 🙂

    • That’s what I think – it’s pretty amazing to be living ten minutes from all of this (and there’s much more!). I do consistently make B&W’s using SEP2, but never as many as the color images. When I put together a post, often the one or two B&W’s don’t fit. That happened here – I have one view from the top in B&W that I didn’t include. Maybe I’ll do a B&W roundup with images from all over the island. I think I have enough already. Thank you for the nudge, Adrian, speak up any time!

  3. Quite lovely, Lynn. I’m envious that you have a place like this nearby where you can go and “the mind quiets”. With all the access it affords, the city is hardly peaceful. Maybe early morning Sunday is the closest thing. Anyway, I love the pics. There’s a haunted quality to them, which is perfect for the season.

    • Well, it’s a trade-off, as you know, and I enjoy living vicariously through your blog, dreaming about those pastries and museums. How I miss certain foods! But the quiet here has been really, really good. Where we lived before, the Seattle boom is having a powerful effect and it was never really quiet. I hope you can breathe deeply into those early Sunday mornings. Thanks!

  4. I wouldn’t be able to resist those views, either, with or without climbers.
    I’ve gone over all the photos multiple times trying to pick a favorite and, I have to say, you didn’t make it easy. I looked at each photo for quite a while but I make a decision after just scrolling quickly through the post. The one that always caught my interest the most is #4. It’s color and mystery just draws me in. Well done!

    • That really pleases me, Ken, becasue it’s one I really like, too, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to convey what I was seeing – it’s a complex scene. How nice to know you looked at each photo for more than a few seconds, in these days of sensory overload. Thank you.

  5. There is I feeling of intimate quietness conveyed in several of these pictures that appeals to me greatly. The restrained palette contributes significantly to the atmosphere.

    • The palette around here is pretty restrained these days, Louis, and if I go somewhere really bright and colorful, I almost don’t know what to do with it. You do get accustomed to certain kinds of light and color, as much as the weather and everything else. Intimate quietness is a good way to describe the feeling – thank you!

  6. Such an incredible series of photos ~ an incredible place. A view of life seldom seen, of course enhanced by your wonderful, detailed eye. A true gift for anyone is when they can say the following ~ “Ten minutes from home, the mind quiets.”

    • It is quite wonderful to have this place, and many others so close to home. We knew when we moved to Fidalgo that it would be good but we didn’t know just how many great parks and preserves there are, all close by. You’ve probably been to Deception Pass. That’s only ten minutes away, too! Thank you Randall, and have a great week.

  7. It does look like such a complex area, fantastic. Somehow it seems like the most “tactile” album you’ve done recently
    I picked up a tuft of fur when I was a kid, to ask a ranger what animal. The ranger explained it was rabbit, once through a coyote. The scat had broken down/washed away, but the (very clean-looking) fur lasted much longer.
    Looks like a wonderful area you’ve chosen.

    • Wow, that’s a wonderful story! Funny. I know I’ve seen owl pellets – in years past – where you could see little bones, fur, all kinds of things, all in a compact pellet. Very neat and dare I say, almost clean looking. 🙂 I like the idea of these images being tactile. Always great to hear from you, Robert! Have a great week….hope your new digs are also simpatico.

  8. Your opening words and your opening photograph bowl me over—the words because I am so familiar with that phenomenon, the photograph because I’ve never seen anything like it, and you’ve done a beautiful job presenting it. It must have felt absolutely wonderful to stand there, take it in, and know you’d be able to share the feeling and scene with the rest of us. The close-ups are edifying and worthy of their own contemplation. Oh! The colors and overall distribution of shape and color in #4 are spectacular, Lynn. The moss in #5 looks like a comforting bed for the cone to think about releasing seeds. Your explanation of #8 matches perfectly what is often said about Spanish moss. In #9 we may see an example of the beauty in decay or destruction, though perhaps the fur only indicates injury. In either case, we aren’t often given the opportunity to contemplate the beauty in the way fur changes color from the part that’s closer to the skin to the edge of the coat. And I’m impressed by what would be for me the bravery you had in picking up the fur and smelling it! A true naturalist! I’m glad you didn’t resist taking #10; it helps take me there. Oh, the light in #11! It’s just marvelous (and beautifully processed; I’ll bet that took some time). I love the combination of light, dark, bright, and muted. And again, the lighting gods were with you for #12. Also the composition gods. I really have a feel for distance in this one. I like the mood in #16; it really feels like the end of the day. You have outdone even yourself with this collection, Lynn.

    • It is very amazing to see these heavily moss and lichen-draped trees for the first time….how nice that the first photo struck you that way. Did I think I would be able to share the scene successfully? Probably not, but I was conscious of the possibility. There’s that double impetus behind picture-taking – to further something you’re doing for yourself, and to share with others. I think so anyway.
      I’m pleased that you enjoyed the feeling in #4 becasue that “all-over” feeling, the colors, etc. was so pretty, and I wasn’t sure it would translate successfully, but when I saw the photos and worked on it, it seemed it did. Thank you for looking closely at the fur, so beautiful, right? The photo isn’t quite in focus because it was dark on the forest floor there, but it was good enough. A friend I was with picked up the fur first, but it’s the kind of thing I do, too. 🙂
      The light in #11 was already pretty much the way you see it….a late day, southwest-facing glow. #12 was taken back in July – the only one here from that long ago. There was a different light and look from what I’m seeing now. #16 was, at first glance, too dark, then I realized that’s exactly what’s good about it, and refrained from lightening the shadows more than just a little. 🙂 Thanks you very much, Linda!

  9. Ten minutes from home
    the mind
    quiets.

    You do these scenes so well.
    Wish I could have experienced that! Sometimes the squirrels in my head just take over.
    “Poikilohydry” – what a marvelous word! I’ll have to memorize it! I’m sure I can work it into conversation some day? 😉 That is, if I can figure out how to pronounce it!

    #12 provides a glimpse of what your island has to offer, making me all the more sorry I missed it. I think we have a tendency to try to crowd way too much into these trips.
    Loved #5 for that lush green. We finally had the first hint of rain today. It was more a steady mist than actual rain, but I’ll take any bit of moisture we can get! Looked like some of the fire crews were getting sent back to their home territory. A very hopeful sign.

    • I’ve got squirrels in my head, too. 😉 But walking in the forests near home always fixes that. Poikilohydry – where did you see that? I have no idea how one would pronounce it. I’m glad to hear the fires are under control, and you’re getting rain (we are too, today). And yes, I cram too much into trips too, It’s hard not to. 🙂

      • 🐿. 🧘‍♀️
        “Poikilohydry” I could have sworn I read it from your text, but went searching and couldn’t find it. I’m guessing it may have come from the link you provided… or the rabbit hole it sent me into?
        Fall, another favorite season. You’ve caught that magical light that I associate with this time of year in several shots (#11 & 12, just for starters, not to mention #17). I love that low angle that seems to light things up or backlight so beautifully. Not to overlook the fresh scent that always comes with that first rain.
        #3 I see you’re drawn to the wispy tangles, too. Fireweed gone to seed also does that to me.
        #4 gets me for the color contrast
        #8 “draped in lichen”: we once had a flowering cherry tree I loved dearly (it bloomed twice a year), but lichen started growing on it. I assumed the lichen caused its demise, but it’s possible the tree was doing poorly before the lichen grew.

  10. Just my kind of mountain — a relatively short, easy climb with great views at the end 🙂

    Number 12 made the area look like a magical place — until my eye went to the white signs of civilization at top 😦 Guess we can’t have it all.

  11. Isn’t it amazing how a curve in the road – or a turn off the highway to a ‘back road’ or cresting a hill can transport you physically and spiritually to a new realm? There’s an emotional comfort, especially when you’re able to leave the bustling world behind and step into a quiet one. Nature is such a balm to the soul!
    Every photo presents a sense of calm – oh so peaceful.
    I think that area has been waiting for you!

    • Oh yes, Lisa, I love those turns of the road and crests on hills, where paths disappear into wider possibilities. You’re in tune as usual….what a nice idea….the island was waiting….thank you, amiga!

  12. WOW stunning 10 minutes from home 😳 beauty I can also feel the quiet and stillness ….I’d love it there I have no doubt! Appreciate your narratives and knowledge Lynn this post is another book 🤗 thank you smiles Hedy 😀

    • I’m sure you would reap some benefits of shinrin-yoku, Hedy (see Grahams’ comment above) 😉 It’s fabulous, and there are many other spots just as close – this is just one small one. Yeah, it’s a book – I spent a long time on it….hope to make the process more manageable next time but that’s the way it goes, isn’t it? Smiles to you!

  13. The views from the heights are lovely, but the remarkable diversity of the woods is so appealing. There’s a sheltering quality to many of the photos that’s almost palpable. As much as I respond to the openness of the prairie, it can be disorienting at times. I suppose that’s precisely the reason for the tales of pioneer women who went a bit off the rails after a few months of isolation in the middle of Nebraska or Kansas.

    I like the messiness, too, and smiled at your comment that “this isn’t a garden.” I’ve never been moved by a formal garden, but I can look at your photos and feel the impulse to go deeper and deeper and…. Speaking of going deeper, I was asked very recently what I carry with me when I go off on my little treks. Mace? A knife? A sidearm? I explained that I carry a camera and my quite remarkable ability to scream bloody murder. If that doesn’t do it, so be it. Besides, the truth is that in your woods or my back roads, we’re likely as safe as anywhere. It’s the clumsy stumble that’s probably the biggest threat.

    • Sheltering does express the feeling in this spot, very much. And funny you mention the disorienting quality of flat, open spaces like prairies. Yesterday we were driving through the agricultural land just the other side of the bridge that connects Fidalgo Is. to the mainland, and we found ourselves remarking about exactly that. We’ve come to orient ourselves on the island by glancing at Mt. Erie. Do you think there’s a dissertation out there dealing with your theory on why pioneer women went crazy on the plains? Maybe there is…
      I so agree with you about the clumsy stumble being the biggest threat. I made one almost two years ago, in a remote area and broke my arm, badly. But there were lots of people around. I just hope that doesn’t happen on a lonelier trail here, and if it does, hope I can scream bloody murder.

  14. WOW … quite a collection and a lot to ponder! Sort of a semi-rainforest? When I visited the Hoh Rainforest I found it quite challenging. I absolutely love #4 for its color and abstract quality and also love #11 … beautiful composition that appeals to my love of landscape! I have been shooting the fall colors and am having a hard time keeping up … shooting now, processing and posting later!

    • Temperate rainforest is how parts of the Pacific northwest are often described, though the island I’m on (Fidalgo) is actually drier than those places. We’re certainly nowhere near as wet as the Hoh. On the other hand, Mt. Erie is wetter than much of the rest of the island, I think. In any case, what you’re getting at I think is the immense amount of growth and complex detail – how to deal with it? Yes, it’s a challenge, but of course I like that. And then sometimes It’s frustrating that one can’t just go out and make straightforward compositions from nicely organized scenes. 🙂 It just doesn’t work that way here, for the most part. It’s all a jumble. Ha! A jumble-jungle!
      I’m always interested to know which photos appeal to you, so thank you for letting me know. The colors in #4 were beautiful, but more subtle than the color most places get in Fall. I’m sure you have an embarrassment of riches and it’s not surprise you feel you can’t keep up. I’m looking forward to seeing the results!

  15. I think I read once that the average visitor to a viewpoint never gets more than 1/4 mile from their car. Their loss. But then, I suspect the average visitor may not see the beauty in lichens, ferns, and moss. Amazing how much difference it makes to slow down and look more closely.

  16. Beautiful, beautiful, Lynn. The far and the near and the sea beyond. I always think there is something special about being high and looking down on the coastline. What I love most about this post are the lichen draped trees. Festooned would be a better word. And the bright luminous colours too of moss and fern. There is so much to find when you wander along trails at a gentle pace. Image to be proud of. Well done and lovely processing too.

    • Far and near – that makes me think of your alpine views and lichens. Festooned is a good word – next time I post, maybe I’ll contact you for vocabulary advice. 😉 Thanks so much Andy, I appreciate your thoughts.

  17. Oh my .. that is what I call lichen! I have it on many trees in my orchard and still have my reservations about it. I have to say, that I just love images 10/11/12 .. They are divine .. Thank you! 🙂👏

    • So maybe throw out your reservations? I guess it all depends on what you’re doing, and you may not want too much of a “lichen load” on orchard trees. 🙂 Thank you, Julie!

  18. I love your moss and lichen pictures most though your views over the landscape is really beautiful (I do understand that you couldn’t resist them). MtErie seems to be a photographers’ treasure chest.

    • 🙂 Mt. Erie is one of a generous handful of spectacular places on the island. When I moved here, I knew about three or four of them, and have since found more parks and preserves, and realized there is much more to the ones I knew about. So stay tuned, Ule, and thank you!

  19. Ten minutes from home – you lucky one!! Beautiful all the lichen and moss! They make the world so mystic and fairytalelike, don’t they? A bit enchanted. The colours of the moss in nr. 6 and 16 are my favourite greens. The lichen makes its own art as it seems winding around the trees; funny the details in nr. 3! A fantastic livingform – what did you say? Algae, funghi and yeast? Strange!!. Your views from “above” are beautiful too – what a sight! Is it a steep mountain area / steep ways? – it looks like that in some of your photos. The windcrooked trees remind me again of a world of fairytales or figures stretching their arms. Funny, I have a similar photo like nr. 5, but with different moss and a different cone 🙂 What are serviceberries? Oh I think I love them all. I could spend hours and hours in such a scenery. So many (small!) things to discover, especially for people who easily can be lost in details 🙂 I am looking forward to more pictures from your magicland!

    • Lichens and mosses are magical, for sure. Those mosses in #6 and #16 returned to their bright green color after the rain, which we needed. I like the contrast between that warm, spring green and the very gray greens of lichens, some of which are almost aqua in color. Mt. Erie is steep, especially on one side, and that’s why it qualifies as a mountain, even though it’s nowhere near as tall as the mountains on the mainland. It’s all relative, as they say! Serviceberry is a small tree – Amelanchier alnifolia. Pretty common on the island. I’m glad you enjoyed these – and I’m not surprised that you have a similar photos to the cone lying in the moss. Yes, you’d be lost here, in all the details. 🙂 Thank you!

      • Ah, Amelanchier, now I know. We have a kind of Amelanchier here and you can eat the fruits (I don’t dare it. I am always too frightened to get the wrong ones 😉 Serviceberry – a funny name for me! The green is so refreshing and vivid. I agree, together with these greyish tones it is nice! – I think if you go to Mt. Erie more often, you will soon have many muscles in your legs 🙂

      • I am sorry to say that I drive up there, then walk a little way down to the spot I like in the woods. But in general, trails on the island are up and down, very twisty, and full of rocks and roots, so if you go out a few times a week, you’ll get some exercise. And since you opened the door, the names this tree has in the US & Canada are really interesting. We have many Amelanchier species so people have named them different things in different regions. In some eastern regions, Shadbush, because it blooms when the shad, a very tasty fish, is running in the spring, or maybe it fruits when the fish are around. Shad (Alosa sapidissima) live mostly in the Atlantic,ocean but come up rivers to spawn. My grandmother used to love shad ore (eggs like caviar). I can still remember her talking about it.
        Serviceberry – a crazy explanation – in the old days, there would be no priests to perform religious services all winter. Just think – no baptisms, funerals, etc. In spring the serviceberry tree blooms and the services are performed once again, because the priest can travel more easily.
        In the south, Sarvis is a shortened form of Serviceberry, with a southern accent. 🙂 I remember my mother moving to western North Carolina, which is sort of south, and being fascinated by that name.
        In Canada, Saskatoon, from a Cree Indian name for the tree, misâskwatômina. And there are more!
        I have a few here in the yard and the birds were all over the tree a few months ago, shortly after we moved in. I understand it’s more common for Canadians to mae a pie from the berries than for Americans to do that. I guess we prefer apples and cherries here – oh, and blueberries….

  20. My kind of place, you know…and what a treasure to have it “ten minutes from home.” How special for you, Lynn…and such compelling photographs, too. 🙂


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