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).Β  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.

 

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

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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

 

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

 

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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.

 

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

 

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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.Β  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.

 


79 comments

  1. I second Paula Graham’s comment, absolutely gorgeous, what a fantastic album. The other adjective that surfaces, looking at these roads, trails, bridges, and riverbanks, is appealing. All the lush scenery is so appealing, especially to someone in the Great Lakes’ gray season, man I’d like to walking around the bend on one of those trails, driving down the road, or leaning on old wood of the rustic bridges. With all the green, it’s ironic that my favorites are the browns, #9 who would believe a dead moth in the leaf litter could be beautiful and truly poignant, and, not to sound too flowery, the dewdrops make it almost magical. A very sweet “send-off” as the old folks say. And 16, 17, 18 are stunners, you’re going to have all the fungus calling you for their formal portraits. 18 is hard to resist running your fingers over that moss and spongy texture. And a great finish with that leaf suspended in its fall to earth. This is a coffee table book

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    • Appealing works for me, Robert! πŸ˜‰ The moths were amazing that day, definitely poignant. And i have no problem with magical. Mushrooms are very photogenic, aren’t they? Around here, there’s so much moss, and they do look nice against the soft, dark greens. I do touch….yesterday I was photographing feathery hanging lichens and it had just rained. They were soft as anything could be, and nearly weightless. Thank you so much, Robert, and I hope you’re having a good week.

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    • It’s luck and pluck, maybe, because it all started when the great State of NY made certain budget cuts back in 2011, throwing me out of the office, prompting questions, and opening up new possibilities. Moving out here, where we knew no one, was a leap of faith. Remember this story the next time you’re faced with a challenging opportunity – you never know how things might work out! As for the camera work, well it’s practice, isn’t it? And quite a few of these images went back to the editor (that would be me) over and over until they seemed good enough. πŸ™‚

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  2. Good pictures, my friend – and the dipper is just like our’s, minus the white! I like 9, 15 , 19, 23 and 27 >>> but 15 and 16 are simply ohhhh!!!! >>> and I love the allusion to Hong Kong high rises!!! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

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    • I didn’t know you had a dipper! I had to wait until i moved west to see one, and Joe saw one first – I was furious with him! πŸ˜‰ Glad you liked the highrise metaphor – sometimes those things just appear out of the blue. It’s helpful to know what appeals to you, too. #9 was one I was sure about but #15 I almost left out, and #19 went through some major changes – cropping, etc. Thank you for your thoughts, Adrian.

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  3. As always you have found some excellent subjects. And it looks like there is plenty left to find in your neck of the woods for future wanderings. I really like the compositions of the 2 small shots between 12 & 13. And, the cluster of mushrooms in 16 & 17 are very beautiful too! Wonderful work.

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    • Oh, no doubt there are unlimited opportunities here for photographic subjects. We just need to work on the vehicle issues for trips into the mountains. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Denise.

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  4. This was a most enjoyable time exploring with you, Lynn. What a stunning area you now call home. Your landscape shots set the scene and then your intimate scenes of nature are what really draw me in. The image of the moth and dew choked me up, it is so beautiful and melancholy. Others among this gem of a set are your sepia studies, the feathery cedar image….oh, really, I love them all. πŸ™‚ Thanks for taking me there.

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    • The moths were quite a sight that day. I would love to know if it’s normal for there to be so many at once in small area. It was like a giant hatching had happened recently, and now they were dying off. Strange. I’m glad you like the monochromes, and the cedars – I dialed the clarity back a little on that one to emphasize that magical feeling these forests have. Thank you, Jane, and have a great week.

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    • Thank you, there’s no question that beauty is easy to find here. By the way, this walk was not on the island, but about 60 miles inland, in the national forest. It’s all the Pacific northwest of course, and many plants grow in both areas, but the feeling there is different from here on Fidalgo Island.

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    • It’s always good to hear from you, Paul, I appreciate that! I think there are a lot of trail sin that area, and I’m sure you recognize the look and feel of it. I just need to find a better vehicle to drive on those forest roads, so I can go more often. πŸ˜‰

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    • The weather was OK, it was mostly overcast and not too cold, but it did get a bit dark for photography. I use a camera with a small sensor, and that’s one drawback, but it’s so much easier to carry than a DSLR. I cannot complain! Thank you!

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      • Which leads me to ask: which camera were you using for these? The images are stunning, to say the least. I’ve had a couple of trips into a Texas forest now, and I’ve already discovered that photographing in a forest and on a prairie are different propositions.

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    • Oh, even both of our cars wouldn’t be worth a jeep. πŸ™‚ But eventually we’ll figure something out, and in the meantime, one can always drive v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y. I’m glad you like the post, Vicki, thank you.

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  5. Again such wonderful photos and it was very nice to follow your narrative writing! All pictures are beautiful. Nr 2, 6 8 (the pattern of the moth and the plant together are great) and 13 are special to me as is Nr. 9: it is touching somehow, the rolled-up moth, dipped with raindrops. Its figure could be that of a human being, curled up as in an ancient grave. I believe we have a bird here similar to your American dipper. I never saw it. It is rather seldom and more black and white, but it lives along the rivers: Cinclus cinclus https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wasseramseln. I am glad, that your area is dotted! with lakes πŸ˜‰ I just get accustomed to that dinky word πŸ™‚ It seems that you moved to a very variegated area. Mount Baker looks impressive. I am looking forward to more beautiful details from your new home!

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    • Yes, your C. cinclus is very, very similar. I used to read about them and was yearning to see one, and when Joe saw one first I was so mad! πŸ˜‰ That was when we first moved here – our Dipper is only in the west – but since then I’ve seen it maybe 6 or more times. It isn’t where I live, I have to go into the mountains to find it. It happens to have a beautiful song, too. You’re right, there is a lot of variety here, in terms of scenery. Rugged mountains and picturesque islands, with farmland in between. Nothing dinky about it! πŸ˜‰

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    • They were everywhere, and I was unable to figure out what kind they are, just looking online – as you know, there are a lot of moths! It was strange to see them like that, so many dead ones, but beautiful, too. Who knows Camilla, maybe you’ll get to the states some day and travel to the Pacific northwest.

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    • Karl, it’s always pleasure to hear from you. Funny that you chose two low-angle photos. I like doing that but I don’t do it often enough. I wonder what you would do here, with your camera….thanks for being here, and have a great holiday season.

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  6. Pingback: Jo’s Monday walk : Blessing the fishermen | restlessjo

  7. You have such magnificent hikes in your area, Lynn, and you capture the details wonderfully as always. I love the mushrooms, ferns and dead wood (esp. #17,18, 19), the tree striped with lichen, the suspension bridge at different angles, and the rainbow-dotted moths. What beauty you found despite the long approach in an inappropriate car over rough terrain. πŸ™‚ Happy holidays, Lynn!

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  8. I didn’t realize you were that far from the ocean. So a sound and a bay are not considered ocean. Interesting. Around here (Sarasota, Florida), if you’ve been here long at all, you learn that we are not on the ocean either. We are on the Gulf (of Mexico). Florida ocean happens on the east coast of the state. . . . I really like how you describe your surroundings. . . . And of your photos, I especially like #7 and #9. I think of photographs of dead animals as little memorials to them, and these are very nice memorials indeed. The tonal contrast in #9 is particularly appealing. . . . In #22 you really have captured that feeling of enchantment. Maybe it’s all those different shades of green. And the featheriness. What you said. . . . Love those stripes in #23.

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    • We’re way farther from the ocean by road – you’d need to take a ferry, or go a long way around, south of Seattle, and then west out to the ocean, but there are mountains in between (the Olympics) as well. It’s over 4 hours, at least, so it’s not a day trip. There’s salt water because the strait – the huge funnel of water between us and Canada – so so wide, so the ocean water comes in and mixes with all the fresh glacial water coming down off the mountains, making a rich watery habitat. It’s hard to describe in words, without looking at a map. I get what you’re saying about the west coast of FL, too – it sure looks like the ocean! Here, it only looks like the ocean in some places, in others, there are layers and layers of islands. I’m glad you like the moth memorials, I like the idea of approaching them that way very much. They were quite a sight that day. One day I hope you’ll get out here. πŸ™‚

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  9. Beautiful stuff, Lynn…I have a new place to go when I run away from Life.

    I love the river shots…and the trails…and bridges…and the tender moths in their return….

    What a trip…thank you again….

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    • Tender moths in their return, that’s beautiful. I’ve spent over 90% of my time exploring closer to home, but there’s a whole world in the mountains and it’s not far away. I need better wheels, and there probably won’t be too much exploring in that direction until it gets warmer again, but it’s nice to know there’s so much more to see. Some day you’ll get up here, Scott, I’m sure of it. I hope you and your family enjoy the holidays!

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