The Slow Curl Inward

In less than a month the shortest day of the year will mark another ending/beginning. Hanging low in the sky, the sun will begin climbing towards spring, however imperceptibly. As we approach the winter solstice the world seems to curve inward: leaf edges curl, hibernating animals wind into a ball, thoughts turn in on themselves.

Around here the beaches are strewn with pungent mounds of sloughed-off seaweed. The water is dotted with wintering ducks, diving for food, and pairs of eagles stand by their nests in a kind of pre-courtship bonding ritual. Pleasure boats are idle, and on most days the skies are washed with smudges of pewter and pearl. We may think in terms of endings – the end of summer, the end of good weather – but look closely and you’ll uncover ample evidence of the continuum of the seasons, folding one into the other. Here in the Pacific northwest, where temperatures are moderated by great bodies of water, the seasonal transitions are slow and subtle.

 

1. Strands of Bullwhip kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) mingle gracefully with seaweed on a narrow strip of sandy beach at Bowman Bay, in Deception Pass State Park.

 

2. An idle sailboat floats on calm water at Bowman Bay.

 

On the other side of the island from my house, a small, bowl-shaped bay abuts a ragged, rocky headland jutting into the Salish Sea. A loop trail meanders through a verdant ever green forest there, and emerges at a series of bluffs, high above the swirling, tidal waters of Deception Pass. This has become one of my favorite places to walk.

 

Trail, Bowman Bay

3. The trail to Lighthouse Point skirts an old Douglas fir tree and curves up a cliff.

 

4. Most of the seeds have been released from this summer wildflower. It could be harmless Water parsnip (Sium suave) or poisonous Water hemlock (Cicuta douglasii); both are in the Apiaceae family (along with celery, parsley and carrots) and both are found here.

 

 

5. Dew drops crowd a blade of American dune grass (Leymus mollis) at Bowman Bay. My guess is that the cool temperatures here slow down the decomposition process, but a warmer climate will likely change the rate of decay, along with many other biological processes.

 

6. Two Douglas maple leaves (Acer glabrum var. douglasii) leaves are slowly dissolving onto a sword fern frond (Polystichum munitum) in the shady forest at Lighthouse Point.

 

7. Old Douglas fir trees, their bark craggy with age, stand straight and tall in a frothy sea of bright green Salal (Gaultheria shallon). The Doug fir, as it’s called locally, is actually not a fir; it’s in the pine family.

 

Twice in the last week or so, I’ve walked the trails at Lighthouse Point. My mind empties quickly there, and I’m a field of receptivity, alert to whatever presents itself, without agenda or plan. I spread my attention out over the landscape and let it lead me. I feel the cool air around my face, I smell pungent piles of seaweed and fragrant firs and cedars, and I hear the gentle lapping of waves. Countless scenes unfold around me as I walk. With the camera hanging at my side, there is the great pleasure of peering through its rectangular frame, exercising my aesthetic vision, and pressing that little silver button.

 

8. Piles of Bullwhip kelp twisted together and washed up on a sliver of beach, coming to rest in one big smelly, sensuous, sculptural heap.

 

9. A large rock, worn smooth by countless tides, contrasts with the granular texture of tiny broken shells and rocks in a little scoop of a cove facing Deception Pass.

 

10. Fallen Douglas fir trees (Pseudotsuga menziesii) lend an otherworldly air to a bluff on the little-visited north side of Lighthouse Point.

 
 
 

11. Away from the windy headlands Douglas firs grow straight and tall. A gold lichen on the tree trunks reflects the gold leaves of deciduous trees in the background. They may be Scouler’s willow (Salix scouleriana). John Scouler was a nineteenth century Scottish naturalist and doctor who made extensive plant collections in western North America and the Galapagos. Those were the days!


12. Mushrooms along a trail at Lighthouse Point. Identifying these is beyond my pay grade.



13. More old Douglas fir trees lean over a narrow trail on the north side of Lighthouse Point. Their thick bark is protective, helping them survive fires that occur during the dry summers.



Beach Sliver

14. Gentle waves lap at a sliver of beach on Bowman Bay. This photograph was taken while I peered through trees growing from a rocky cliff above the beach. I used spot metering to emphasize the low November sunlight on the water and sand.

 

15. The San Juan Islands rise up across the Salish Sea, less than 13 miles away. The disturbance in the water is a bed of Bullwhip kelp. Harbor porpoises have just been feeding here (my camera only caught the tiniest crescent of fin). The Oxford dictionary says you can call a group of porpoises a pod, a herd, a school or a turmoil. I’ll go for turmoil – that perfectly describes the water when porpoises are actively feeding. The sun had set when I took this photo, and I had to hurry back on dim trails. I now have a flashlight in my pack.

 

The colors are muted, the light is scant, but the glory remains as autumn sheds its skin into winter’s bones. You have only to shed assumptions and look attentively.

 


71 comments

  1. I love these photos, their captions, and the words and feelings behind them! You are absolutely right about watching closely to see the signs of slow but sure seasonal changes. Our lives are like that also, but people tend to forget and sometimes have frightful awakenings when they suddenly find that ten or twenty years of their lives are gone.

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  2. I love your special sense for details and your love for nature! All pictures are beautiful. I love especially Nr. 4 – what a nice harmony of leaves 🙂 and Nr. 14: here, everything seems to be possible. Much room for fantasy! The kelp pictures are fascinating. A very special plant (?). Picture Nr. 13 is very poetic!!! And I liked the way how you described your wanderings with your camera. I feel the quiet and calm about it. Nice to accompany you!

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    • Yes, this kind of kelp is fascinating – it’s huge, for one thing. The first time I saw a piece washed up on a beach my jaw dropped. I coudln’t believe my eyes. I’m always happy to have you here, you know, and I’m glad you enjoyed the photos. I think actually each one you chose feels poetic. And by the way, #14 did not look so dark then, but with the spot metering selection in the camera, everything got very dramatic.

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      • I believe you about the kelp. The first moment I saw your photo I asked myself what is it??!! I ask myself what kind of wonderful things one can do with it. – I like the dramatic and the poetry of course 🙂

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    • I like that idea, Barry. Rocks like that appeal so much to me but are difficult to photograph. I imagine they would be hard to draw too, but maybe not. Oh, I love Arp! How cool that you thought of him!

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  3. YOu’re exactly right, the seasons are in a continuum, each one vital to all the others. I once photographed a sidewalk poem in Toronto, written line after line in a paved area inside one of the city parks. Kt begins “Sun slant low…” which I think a gloriously evocative phrase, and went on from there to talk about the winter season and what it brings. I must dig out my photo of the opening it, and post it on the 21st…

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  4. Very enjoyable. I enjoy the season, and time of day, with muted colors/scant light, as you say, even when things become indistinct. These scenes also have a predominant feeling of stillness – – I can’t imagine that array of dew drops in #5 would survive even the slightest breeze. I’d love to step into every one, even the otherworldly #10, except! that bullwhip kelp. Yikes, that’s when you shout at the astronauts in the sci-fi movie, to get back in their spaceship and blast off, get the heck off that planet, before the bullwhip kelp grabs your ankles.
    We’d gather up the dried (seedless) seedheads like #4, from Queen Anne’s Lace, etc. and when we had a bowlful, drop them over a campfire. All the little stems would burst into flames a couple inches above the fire, and you’d have a split-second fireworks show.

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    • Yes, stepping into #10 would be wonderful – the ground is covered with round mounds of soft reindeer lichen and moss – but we’ll skirt the kelp and seaweed. Wow, I never knew that about Queen Anne’s Lace. I’m sure it would work with these plants, too. I have to try that. It’s always a surprise with you, Robert, thanks for being here!

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  5. I can truly see and feel and sense every bit of your lovely meandering.
    #3 takes me right down that path.
    #7 I can almost step into this one. A path I would like to have taken! And thanks for the tidbit about the Doug fir not being a true fir. You brought back memories of my late husband (a logger at times) correcting me when I’d refer to the Doug as a “pine”! “No, it’s a fir”!
    #13 you caught the true nature of the twisted old firs. Seems to be a lesson for me about why b&w conversion.
    #15 Oh! And porpoises! How utterly marvelous! You might try a headlamp. They’re great for a hands free light without taking up much space in a pack. With LEDs these days, the light is just great.

    Here’s to many more beautiful nature walks and gorgeous skies. Sunsets make a good flashlight a must. No street lamps out there (thank heavens!) It’s no fun stumbling over gnarly roots. 😀

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    • Thank you, Gunta. I’m glad you’re familiar with Doug firs/pines ( 🙂 ) and are able to see who muting the color allows you to focus in on the textures and shapes. Black and white opens up a whole new world of processing possibilities. As for the headlamp, I thought of that but actually, it’s not so great to be out on the trails after dark here, becasue no one is around. So I will stick with the flashlight and not be tempted! Maybe I can convince someone to go with me at some point, and then I’ll use the headlamp. 😉

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  6. Lynn, thank you for sharing those open receptive moments with us – the photos are glorious and it was a joy to see the world through your eyes. “The slow curl inward” is the perfect title for this post and an apt metaphor for seasons in our lives as well. #8 and #14 were the most evocative images for me – abstract yet powerful. Always a pleasure to stop by!

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  7. Love “the skies are washed with smudges of pewter and pearl”! And numbers 1 and 6 really get to me, and 13 too. And yes, we hurtle towards the shortest day once again: I love the natural world. A 🙂

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    • In addition to pewter and pearl, we have lead and silver – all very metallic, isn’t it? 🙂 I can see you making an image very like #13 in your neck of the woods, possibly. Thanks for your thoughts, Adrian….what would we do without nature?

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  8. This evokes such calm, wordless pleasure in me – I can’t tell you how much I love and appreciate your sensitive, beautiful pictures and careful, thoughtful words. Magical. Thank you!

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  9. The writing in this post stands out as much as the photographs. It starts with the title and continues with “the world seems to curve inward: leaf edges curl, hibernating animals wind into a ball, thoughts turn in on themselves”; “The water is dotted with wintering ducks”; and the idea of the continuum of seasons. Wednesday I was noticing the buds on a shrub outside our local art association. Buds in November always surprise me, but there’s that continuity. “Dew drops crowd a blade of American dune grass” is nice, as is “I’m a field of receptivity” and your conclusion: “The colors are muted, the light is scant, but the glory remains as autumn sheds its skin into winter’s bones. You have only to shed assumptions and look attentively.” In the photography department, both bull-whip-kelp photos really get to me. I’ve never even seen photographs of this seaweed. Number 3 seems like it should be such an ordinary photograph, but it’s not. It has so much luscious detail, and you’ve controlled the lights and darks so well. It’s really really nice. I know you like leaves that have fallen on other leaves. You must have been excited to see those in #6, which I like a lot, too. The path in #7 is almost as inviting as the path in #3, and again you nailed the lights and darks. The color here and in #3 are lovely. I like the shapes in #9, the way they divide the picture plane into abstraction. Your toning of #13 is nice. And I like how that branch of the tree sort of points in the direction the path is leading. Number 14 is intriguing—Stieglitz-ish. It has just enough information to be readable, and no more. What a treat.

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    • Linda, thank you so much for the close reading and appreciative words. Like I was saying to Almuth above, when I first saw a piece of Bullwhip kelp (they’re really big, and tough). my jaw dropped. It was out at Rialto Beach, on the coast, when we vacationed here before moving, People sometimes tie them in knots and hang them off large pieces of driftwood – spontaneous assemblages. I’m thankful for your thoughts about #3, which I’ve walked by many times already, admiring the tree’s curve, but that day the light was on my side. The colors in #3 & #7 are both true to life, even though one is saturated. The monotones, like #13, #8 etc. felt right this time. #14 was all about spot metering – once I chose that and focused on the water, everything else disappeared. For the kinds of things I photograph, I’ve found it often makes a big difference. Thank you again, I know you’re busy! 😉

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    • I think it makes sense that you would like that one, Harrie. I have a few more, but the light was really fading. Maybe I’ll be able to photogrpah that again in better light – or maybe by that time, the leaves will have disintegrated!

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  10. Lynn, Your post reminded me of some of my favorite John Muir quotes about walking with nature. Your writing and your reverence for the beauty in the details and your ability to identify the flora and fauna is a joy to read. I love all of these images because I feel like I am there breathing it all in.

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  11. You have such an observant eye as you walk through the various scenery you visit, Lynn. Having been hiking deprived all this time, I especially enjoyed #3, the trail to Lighthouse Point. I could happily leap into the frame and walk that path. 🙂

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  12. This post is an absolute delight. Your commentary very effectively evokes the changing moods of nature at this season of the year and I love your awareness of ‘simple’ subject matter and scenes that are so easily passed by.

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  13. I agree with Linda. Your writing is excellent and the photography outstanding. I’ve found it impossible to pick a single favorite, so I’ve picked three: #6, #9 and #14. All the photos show a love of nature and a keen eye for composition. Well done, Lynn.

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    • Ken, you’re too kind. It’s interesting to see which images appeal more to you….I’m happy that the rock was one of them; rocks interest me but are often very difficult to photograph satisfactorily. We’ve talked about that syndrome with tree bark, right? We’ll agree to just keep working at it. Good to have you here, thanks again.

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    • Thank you so much, Otto. I remember when I first moved here in the winter, 6 years ago, it was so dark, I didn’t know what to do. It’s taken a while to get a sense of this landscape and what I want to do with it.

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  14. Another nice set, both evocative of many a trail and beach I’ve seen, but with fresh eyes and mood.

    For me the Bull kelp evokes many other memories too, viewed from within the water. Swimming through a forest of it, trying not to get snagged. The odd fish hanging out here and there, or sometimes a school of rockfish. Looking up towards the surface, seeing how the light plays on the fronds as they stream in the tides. Hanging on the end of one, waiting out a safety stop. The occasional denizens; kelp crabs, or sometimes other oddities. If you got good pictures of it simply lying on the beach I bet you’d have a field day with some of the views underwater.

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    • It must be quite an experience to swim through those kelp forests! And I have no doubt that looking up into them, with the light coming down, is fantastic. Even on land, I’ve noticed many times how warm and bright the light is on this kelp. Hanging onto one – cool! You’re right, I would be entranced. Thanks for describing that, Dave!

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  15. I so enjoyed this look at winter — not the harshness of storms or bare trees, but a folding of layers, a “curling inward” as you put it. My favorite in this series is #9 where the stark whiteness of that cracked granite (?) juxtaposes with the black pebbles and broken shells. It’s a reminder to me that this season, in the northern hemisphere, is a time for us to appreciate fractures and explore exposed crevices which are as much a part of the beautiful as the surface decoration of spring’s blooms and greenery.

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