Meandering the Edges

Meandering the edges, these

wavy borders

between wet and not-wet, these

liminal spaces

that inhale and exhale life,

I feel alive, calm.

Being present here is easy –

just a matter of embodying tidal shifts

from one state of being to another,

just being the rhythm of

back and forth.

On the lapping edges

light shimmers, fades

and carries all known and unknown colors forward.

This curving, expanding, effervescing

between – for it is a “between” –

is made for meandering.

Here, I am carried back to the ground of being,

where being comfortable

means being as shifty as

a cloud.

 

1. The quiet hour before low tide, on a sliver of Salish Sea* beach, strewn with weathered logs and fist-sized rocks. 

 

2. As the tide recedes, shades of deep purple and brick red emerge in the sand around a single blue rock marked with a skitter of celadon green.

 

3. High tides slowly add stones to a cheerful collection in the hollow of a beached Redcedar log.

 

4. Lace lichen hangs soft and weightless in the dim recess of wet forest along the shoreline. Lace lichen (Ramalina menziesii) is the state lichen of California, where it grows on the coast and at higher elevations. Here on the Salish Sea I find it hanging from the trees that line the moist rims of the islands.

 

5. Lace lichen is variable, sometimes forming flattened ribbons alongside the delicate openwork structures that give the lichen its name. Lichens are composite life forms,  consisting of a fungus and a cyanobacteria or a green alga, living symbiotically. The structure you see (the thallus) is the fungus, which protects the alga as it photosynthesizes and make nutrients.

 

6. Lace lichen at dusk, photographed with a vintage Takumar 50mm f1.4 lens.  Lichens are a complex sort of borderland life form, which to me feels philosophically appropriate for the marginal space where water meets and mixes with land.

 

7. The sun setting in the southwest, over the Salish Sea, is reflected on the water of Cranberry Lake, a fresh-water lake separated from a beach by a narrow strip of dunes.

 

8. Spider webs thread the thorny branches of a wild rose (probably Nootka rose, Rosa nutkana) on the shore of Cranberry Lake (so-called because early settlers grew cranberries here).

 

9. Sunset over Cranberry Lake is a graceful sonata of dark evergreens, their calm-water reflections, the ragged, torn-paper silhouette of the Olympic Mountains, wispy clouds and softly bending reeds.

 

10. The sturdy golden stems of Bullwhip kelp (Nereocystis Leutkeana), a thin strand of green seaweed, and a washed-up tree branch (probably a Madrone, or Arbutus menziesii), create a still life on the beach.  The Latin names of the Madrone tree and Lace lichen share a species name, menziesii, that honors Archibald Menzies, a Scottish naturalist and surgeon who explored this region in the 1790’s, on the four-year-long Vancouver Expedition. His was the first European record of Madrone trees.

 

11. The smooth stones of Rosario Beach glisten, inviting a closer look.  A fragment of green seaweed and bits of bark landed here, but they may float back into the water with the next wave.

 

12. A tangle of Bullwhip kelp is buried in the stones at Rosario Beach. Imagine how nourishing the seaweed would be as it slowly decomposes under the rocks. If the kelp lands far up on the beach, maybe it will decompose in place, and perhaps a coastal strand plant like American dune grass (Leymus mollis ssp. mollis) will take root there, holding the land fast against the tides, if only until the next spring tide or big storm.

 

13. The graceful American dune grass grows in the shelter of a driftwood log, just a few feet from the shoreline.

 

14. Sometimes it seems there are as many beached logs and pieces of driftwood on these beaches as there are blades of dune grass. This sinewy log washed up onto the fine sand of the beach seen in the first photograph.

 

15. This sculptural piece of driftwood could be a piece of a Western Redcedar tree (Thuja plicata), or perhaps it’s a from a Madrone. It looks like it could crawl away, given half a chance.

 

16. Behind heavy clouds, the sun lays golden light down on the waters of Northwest Pass. Two spindly Douglas fir trees stand apart from the forest that blankets Deception Island, one of hundreds of uninhabited islands dotting the Salish Sea.

 

17. A Great Blue heron (Ardea herodias) is sheltering well back from the water’s edge, in a tangle of wildflowers and driftwood. The wind is blowing hard on this December day, and it’s high tide, so perhaps the heron is waiting for the tide to turn before going back to foraging. The heron startled me as I meandered the beach, studying the rocks. Moving very slowly, I managed to take photographs without disturbing my new-found friend, even though I was only about 15 feet away.

 

 

18. Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) grows tall and strong here; the dried fronds persist for months. The “world’s most widespread fern”, sturdy bracken can be found in Washington State growing on Salish Sea shorelines, in suburban parks, and on subalpine avalanche tracks.

 

 

19. After the rain, lichens sparkle and drip. Because they gather moisture from rain, lichens are very susceptible to pollutants in rainwater. Some are highly sensitive to pollutants like sulphur dioxide, so just finding them growing at a given location is a sign of good air quality. There are at least two species here: the fruticose lichen (the one hanging down) is probably an Usnea, perhaps U. dasopoga.  A foliose lichen is stuck to the twig, and may be a Parmelia.  Some Usnea lichens have become rare in lowland Britain since industrialization; similarly, U. longissima was once common in the US and is now considered rare due to habitat loss and pollution. 

 

20. A fragment of lichen and a scattering of Shore pine (Pinus contorta) needles rest on a thick bed of moss. All three plants benefit from the moist climate on the edge of the Salish Sea. Identifying mosses and lichens is difficult, and I’m taking a pass at these two!

 

21. Lovely young Madrone trees emerge from the rich soil next to fallen trees on a bluff high above the water. Reindeer lichen (Cladonia sp.), mosses, and grasses arrange themselves at the feet of the Madrones into a perfect garden composition  – no flowers needed!

 

22. Raindrops clinging to the Red huckleberry twigs (Vaccinium parvifolium) glisten in the forest, just yards from a steep cliff that plunges into the cold waters of Deception Pass. The red berries were used by all the local indigenous people. The birds must like them too, because I never see many berries on Red huckleberry bushes.

 

23. It grows dark quickly under the thick canopy of Douglas fir and Western Redcedar trees, and a single raindrop hanging from a Red huckleberry branch catches my eye.

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

24. Two smooth stones and a third that’s partially buried. An entirely temporary arrangement.

 

25. Shimmering waves throw stones at the logs that line the beach.

 

26. A Shore pine and a Douglas fir huddle together on the rocks beside Cranberry Lake.

 

27. This weathered Douglas fir withstands strong gusts of wind up on Rosario Head, as it has for years. Unlike the tree, I’m mobile enough to choose a different location when those December winds blow, and that’s what I did – I quickly descended the grassy path for a more sheltered spot.

 

***

The photographs were taken this month at three locations in Deception Pass State Park close to, or at, the water’s edge.

*

From the Wikipedia entry on liminality:

“Major transformations occur at crossroads and other liminal places, at least partly because liminality—being so unstable—can pave the way for access to esoteric knowledge or understanding of both sides.[73] Liminality is sacred, alluring, and dangerous.”

*

For more about the beautiful Lace lichen, see this resource.

*

* The Salish Sea

“Salish Sea” is a relatively new term, approved in 2009 by the Coast Salish people and geographical name Boards in the US and Canada. It refers to an integrated marine ecosystem that comprises the Strait of Juan de Fuca (which separates northwestern Washington State from Vancouver Island, Canada), the Strait of Georgia (which separates Vancouver Island from the Canadian mainland) and Puget Sound, (which extends south past Seattle).

The Coast Salish people are thought to have inhabited this region for the last 11,000 years. The tribes enjoyed abundant resources in this land of temperate rainforests, rich waters and biologically productive tidal edges. Now many of these resources are dwindling or threatened, but people are working hard to conserve what’s left.

 

 

A Little Farther Into the Woods

Since moving to Fidalgo Island last July I’ve immersed myself in my immediate surroundings: the park, town and shoreline locations that are minutes from home. We are a long 90 miles (145km) from the ocean, but it’s still a water-defined landscape; Fidalgo’s shores look out onto sounds, bays, channels, and more islands, and even the forests here are dotted with lakes.

If you head east off the island, it’s a very different landscape. As you mount a high, arcing bridge, overlapping layers of foothills and mountains appear in the distance. Agricultural flatlands spread out on either side of the road, to the north and south. The view ahead steals the show as rhythmic mounds of forested hills rise up and gradually crumple into the jagged, rocky folds of the North Cascade Range. That rough and rugged terrain was beckoning me a few months ago – but I’m no mountaineer, so on a quiet Tuesday in October, we headed east for a lowland walk in the Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National forest.

 

1. Baker River Trail/East Bank Baker Lake Trail.

 

The goal was to meander along the East Bank Baker Lake Trail, an easy walk through the thick, coniferous forest that Baker River passes through as it divides into countless turquoise ribbons, braiding their way towards Baker Lake. The river’s namesake, Mt. Baker, or Koma Kulshan, is a young, glaciated volcano, and the third-highest mountain in the state, at 10,781 ft. (3286 m).  Koma Kulshan’s lofty, somber face dominates many a vista in this region. You might think Baker River begins under a glacier on Mt. Baker, but it actually rises under Whatcom Peak, to the northeast. From there, the river cuts a deep valley southwest, flowing around Mt. Baker before emptying into Baker Lake.

 

2. After a dry summer, the river is a series of shallow ribbons of cold water, unfurling over a rocky bed.

 

Getting to the trail was harder than we thought it would be. The first part was simple – drive east past fields and small towns on State Route 20. Then, in the tiny hamlet of Birdsview, you leave civilization behind to follow Baker Lake Road for 26 miles (42 km). The problem was the final six miles, where the road is not paved, and barely maintained. We still have the cars we brought with us from New York City seven years ago, and neither one is appropriate for the rough, deeply pot-holed forest roads that usually lead to trailheads. It’s really a pickup truck, SUV and Subaru world here. The going was tedious as we crawled back and forth across the road, trying not to wreck the car’s suspension. Occasional glimpses of snowy Mt. Baker beckoned through dense curtains of towering trees, and eventually the painfully slow slog ended.

 

3. The paved section of Baker Lake Road.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

4. The road narrows and begins to get rough while Mount Baker looms majestically above us.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

5. An old Redcedar leans heavily over the trail.

 

6. This beautifully built suspension bridge puts a little bounce into your step, like it or not.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

7. We saw thousands of small moths that day, both alive and dead. This one came to rest on a Redcedar bough. Shining drops of morning dew still cling to the delicate wings and body.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

8. This little one was alive, but maybe not for long.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

9. A dew-spangled dead moth is cradled in the leaf litter.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

10. Another rough-hewn wooden bridge on the trail crosses one of many creeks feeding Baker River. The rustic bridges are a real pleasure to see, to touch, and to walk across.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

11. I have great respect for the people who built these bridges.

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

13. The bridge views were mesmerizing. Baker River rippled past water-sculpted rocks and the light danced over smooth stones that were barely covered by the shallow water.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

14. Looking up river it’s easy to picture how, after a winter of heavy snow in the mountains, the river fills up with glacial melt and roars down towards Baker Lake, taking fallen trees along for the ride, only to abandon the logs in untidy clumps, as the flow dwindles over the summer.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

15. Bigleaf maples had dropped their leaves in layers of nourishing mulch – in the woods, on the trail, and on the road, too.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

16. Mushrooms crowded this stump like a Hong Kong high rise.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

17. A fresh mushroom bouquet decorated with sprays of Licorice fern.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

18. This handsome specimen emerged from thick moss on the moist forest floor.

 

19. Forest floor synergy could be seen at our feet: rotting logs, fallen leaves and twigs, moss, mushrooms, and so much more that we didn’t see, all working together to support life.

 

20. A hiker stops to admire an old growth Redcedar pressing against huge boulder covered with moss, lichens and ferns.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

21. Constant moisture from the river nearby means that in this part of the forest, every dead limb wears a luxurious coat of spongy moss, all year long.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

22. Feathery-boughed cedars with their tapered trunks and waving, mossy branches made an enchanted forest scene. Green never departs from this forest, it just waxes and wanes in intensity.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

23. Cedar bark invites a close look, especially when the tree sports a stripe of bright green lichen. Look closely and you’ll see other lichens here, too.

 

24. The drab but pert American Dipper is always a thrill to see. This little bundle of energy forages by dipping, walking and even swimming in the rushing water of tumbling streams. When perched, dippers constantly bounce up and down, and movement is about all that gives them away, since the plain gray birds are hard to see among dark boulders, fallen trees, and the noisy, rushing water.

 

OL

25. The days were getting shorter and we had a late start that day, so we turned back to avoid driving 26 miles in darkness.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

26. Low-angled sun silvered the meandering river.

 

27. As we were about to get into the car, I noticed a maple leaf caught on a twig and made one more photograph. There’s always one more….

 

If you’re in the area:

The East Bank Baker Lake and Baker River Trails are about 115 (185km) miles from Seattle, and about 124 miles (200km) from Vancouver, BC.  The trailhead is 64 rather slow miles from where I live. Once you arrive at the large parking lot, if it’s an off-season weekday, you may be all alone. Set out on the wide, flat trail among huge boulders and towering trees, and soon you’ll sense the river behind the trees. In half a mile a suspension bridge crosses the river. From there, the Baker Lake Trail continues down the river and then follows the lake edge, for a total of 14.5 miles one way. Along the trail you’ll find more bridges, and views of the snow-covered mountains high above that are the repositories for all this rushing water. If you don’t cross the first bridge you can continue straight upriver on the Baker River Trail, reaching a campground in 2.6 miles. It was so pleasant the day we were there, and there was so much to look at, that we didn’t get far at all. That was not the object. The point was to feel, hear, see, and smell this unique place, to fully sense the aliveness of one small corner of our planet.

 

Local Attractions

The small city of Anacortes spans the north end of Fidalgo Island, extends a thin arm to the east, grabs a wide peninsula to the west, and funnels south into the green heart of the island. East of the city proper, two oil refineries scatter storage tanks and pipe stacks over a thumb of land called March Point. Anacortes’ city limits include residential areas, thickly forested parks, a small airport and the busy San Juan Island ferry terminal.

On a map the city seems to be reaching out and gobbling up the island, but the “Old Town” of Anacortes huddles close to the waterfront on the north tip of the island. With deep water access to the Salish Sea, Anacortes is a watery gateway to the Pacific. In a time of relentless real estate pressure from Seattle’s explosive growth, it heartens me to see the laid back, unpretentious city is hanging on – perhaps by a fishing-line-thin thread –  to its working waterfront roots. Pleasure and leisure are the raison d’etre for most boats you see around the island, but businesses serving working boats persist.

This sliver of working waterfront draws me into town, camera in hand. Here is a group of buildings and ships that caught my eye in Anacortes.

 

1. The Shell Oil and Andeavor refineries are major tax payers and employers for the county, but compared to other refineries in the U.S., this complex is small potatoes. Gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, fuel oils, liquefied petroleum gas, and asphalt are manufactured here on March Point. This view from Anacortes looks across Fidalgo Bay, where eelgrass beds and tidal marsh provide habitat for fish, shellfish, invertebrates, and birds.

 

2. Following the road around March Point reveals ships and birds plying the waters, with a backdrop of snow-covered Mount Baker in the distance. Behind you, the refinery business never stops, but neither does the wildlife.  A Great Blue heron rookery, situated less than a mile southeast of the refineries, was found to contain 757 nests at last month’s count, by the Skagit Land Trust, which protects and monitors the nesting site.  Small herds of cattle graze among the refinery tanks, and eagles roam the sky. Industry and nature appear to coexist without incident, but realistically, I know there are dangers – obvious ones like an accident in 2010 that killed five workers, and insidious risks, like the slight decline in eelgrass reported last year.

 

3. A small fishing boat, probably out for Dungeness crab, returns to Anacortes under heavy skies on a Friday afternoon in November. Marine industries – seafood preparation, boat repair, cargo handling, marinas, etc. – employ about 15% of island residents.  I enjoy seeing boat traffic involved in work but when summer comes, it’s a different story, as the town fills up with recreational boaters from all over the world.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but I hope the balance doesn’t ever shift entirely away from marine businesses.

 

4. I found this Dungeness crab washed up on a sliver of rocky shoreline in town. Most likely it was caught, and then thrown away, because it’s under the size limit of 6.25 inches. Females, softshell and undersized crabs must be released if caught, but they may not all survive. The daily recreational limit here is just 5 males; the tightly regulated season runs from October 6th through the last day of December. Commercial, licensed crab fishers have a 30 pot limit in the area near Fidalgo Island. The entire Puget Sound commercial Dungeness crab fishery is expected to land 2,874,707 pounds of crab this year.

 

5. The “Oregon” fishing vessel is tied up at Trident Seafoods. Across the channel is Guemes Island; the rolling hills of the San Juan Islands rise in the distance. Seattle-based Trident Seafoods is the biggest seafood company in the U.S. They process fish on board and onshore, with over 40 vessels and 17 plants. At their Anacortes plant, built in 1989, fish like pollock and salmon, caught in Alaskan waters, are frozen and made into ready-to-cook portions for food service use.

 

6. A Trident Seafoods’ catcher/processor, the 312-foot-long Island Enterprise, is undergoing work at Dakota Creek Industries, a ship building and repair business based in Anacortes. Billowing tarps worthy of Christo prompted me to pull over for a closer look.

 

7. Another look at the Island Enterprise under wraps at sunset. Dakota Creek, family-owned and run for over 40 years, builds and repairs everything from fire boats to ferries to research vessels, and of course, fishing vessels.

 

8. One more shot of the Island Enterprise at the dock, taken just after 4pm on a chilly November afternoon.

 

9. Just a few blocks from the working waterfront is Pelican Bay Books, a new and used bookstore with an understated and functional exterior, and a beckoning interior. Their espresso is very good and you can cozy up near a fireplace on a worn leather sofa with a book, the NY Times, or the local paper, if that’s your preference. Maybe someone will play a little subdued jazz on the piano. Maybe you’ll buy a book, or maybe you’ll just enjoy the ambiance.

 

10. Another late afternoon view of the bookstore’s side door.

 

11. The older section of Anacortes has loads of charming, slightly funky small homes, like this one on a side street.

 

12. Back near the waterfront, between Trident Seafoods and the Puget Sound Rope Corporation, there are three tall tanks, a parking lot and a handful of buildings. What’s going on there, I don’t know. There’s no sign (other than the Keep Out signs) and nothing helpful came up online.

 

13. Three tanks and a telephone pole.  OK, and a fence and a sidewalk. A bit of barbed wire, too.

 

14. This decrepit building has become a favorite subject of mine. It was built in a diamond shape, with the wide angle to the right in this view. I read online that the lot and building sold for $500,000 in 2008, so I assume there were plans to tear the building down and build anew, for light manufacturing. Those plans must have fallen through, and the old warehouse, built in 1900, is still standing.

 

15. The acute angled side of the building.

 

16. One end of the building is almost in the Guemes Channel. It was probably a fish processing plant. It would have been a smelly, miserable job a hundred years ago.

 

17. Working the scene with different lenses. This was taken this summer, when the blackberries threatened to crawl into the building. I used a vintage Takumar 28mm, f3.5 lens.

 

18. This view was taken with a different vintage Takumar lens, a 50mm f2.8.

 

19. How much longer will the old building stand?