Permutations, variations, revisions and transformations

 

After it finds its way from camera to computer, what’s next for a photo? Does it get tweaked just a little, does it go through a carefully thought-out series of changes, or does it unexpectedly morph into something quite different from the original image?  Normally I don’t stray too far from the look of the original image, but for the past week I’ve been playing with a particular photo that lends itself to experimentation. Those exercises led me to make similar changes I normally might not consider to two other photos of the same subject.

The weathered, twisted juniper tree standing alone on a bluff over alternating bands of water and islands is a real beauty.  I often see people taking pictures of the tree, and its wood has been carved and written on with markers dozens of times. People feel compelled to document both the tree, and their own presence on the scenic overlook. I would never deface a tree but I understand the attraction. It’s a striking sight – deeply rooted, twisted and reaching to the sky, with only a single branch remaining green. It seems that the older this tree gets, the more spectacular a sight it is. I can’t pass that spot without getting the camera out and making more photographs. In fact, you may recognize it from previous posts.

Here are three different photos of the tree that were processed to create a variety of looks. Jumping back and forth between Lightroom Classic, Color Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro, I tweaked and slid and clicked and experimented until I ran out of ideas. Then I came back and played some more. Here are the results.

 

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Here’s the tree from another angle, at sunset, with Burrows Island, Lopez Island and the Olympic Mountains in the distance.

 

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Unseasonable and Unreasonable

Yes, it’s word play, but seriously, the unseasonably cold weather here in the Pacific northwest seems thoroughly unreasonable, to me at least. (We could talk about the futility of pairing reason with weather, but that would be another conversation). Seattle’s airport, Sea-Tac, marked its snowiest February on record before we were even half way through the month. The airport might get its coldest February on record, too. We’ve been locked into a nasty pattern of snow and cold for most of the month now, with more snow possible this week.

Winter weather in this part of the world normally consists of a tedious parade of gray days with plenty of drizzly rain and temperatures hovering around the mid 40’s F (7 C). We don’t have a lot of below-freezing days, and when it snows, it usually melts away in a day or two. Usually. But “usually” is just a memory, now that we’re stuck in this unreasonably unseasonable February.

Combine at least six inches of snow on barely plowed roads, temperatures consistently at or below freezing, and a declared state of emergency and you’ve got the perfect storm of difficult winter weather for our area. Then there were the cancelled flights, schools closed for days, impassable highways…we just don’t do snow that well. In these conditions a lovely walk outdoors has become a rare treat. I hadn’t realized until now that I’ve become spoiled by the region’s normally mild weather and the easy access to extraordinary natural habitats.

Of course, what we’re experiencing is nothing compared to many places in the US, Canada, and other places where snow is serious business and cold lasts all winter long.  When I lived in New York I was used to shoveling out my car and slipping and sliding down the sidewalks. Since moving here though, I’ve acclimated to a different reality and I’m just not used to real winter anymore. Imagine my distress when for a week, my go-to coffee shop either didn’t open at all or closed early. During the worst of it, when Seattle suffered through its “Snopocalypse” I had my own crisis, i.e. “OMG where am I going to get my espresso?”

Lest I sound unreasonable, I don’t expect any sympathy, especially from my hardy friends in colder places. This is actually more about a sense of wonder that our blue, spinning earth continues to bring us so many surprises. May it always be so, and may nature always have the upper hand.

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It all began innocently enough with a light, rather picturesque coating of snow on the third of February.  At home, perfect little bird tracks in the snow and tiny ice balls in the nets protecting the fruit trees were a delightful novelty. The roads weren’t bad that day. Even the dirt road to Cranberry Lake was navigable, so I set out on a cold, careful walk in the woods. The forest was enchanting that afternoon, but my fingers got numb very quickly. I was grateful I had a warm home to return to.

 

1. A dusting of snow at Cranberry Lake.

 

2. Sword fern plants bowed down under coats of mealy-looking, icy snow in a dark corner of the woods.

 

3. The birds were busy, leaving a maze of tracks in the thin layer of snow under the feeders. I singled out one little hop for a black and white.

 

4. An enclosure to protect young fruit trees against deer was dotted with balls of ice.

 

The next day it was bitter cold and the roads were icy. I took pictures indoors, photographed a deer through the window, and caught up on things at home.

 

 

 

Soon the roads improved and the sun came out, but it was still very cold. I drove to a local park one day, hoping the road around it was passable. The boat dock sustained storm damage but – Yes! – the road was open. I drove happily through the woods at the proscribed 10 mph speed limit, stopping to photograph a twisted Maritime juniper tree. After 20 minutes in the cold I retreated back to the parking lot. Hearing the vibration of blasting music coming from a car, I muttered curses under my breath. Then I saw two young women sitting in their car, watching the sunset, and they seemed to be having a great time. Suddenly I realized the music was from the Bach Cello Suites! My frown turned to a smile. What prompted them to choose Bach instead of a hit from this week’s Top 100? I don’t know, and maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised by their choice. I gave them a thumbs up and a big smile. What a nice send-off to that icy-cold day.

 

6. Looking up into the dead branches of a Maritime juniper tree. Imagine standing under this noble tree while listening to a Bach Cello Suite.

 

7. The svelte mid-section of another maritime juniper tree.

 

8. As the sun set that day it left an orange glow behind the Olympic Mountains, 60 miles away.

 

A few days later there was another round of snow, this time in the form of big, wet flakes falling softly overnight, leaving clumps of the cottony stuff everywhere. It was still snowing that morning but I set out for the coffee shop anyway, creeping along on clean white roads. Hardly anyone was out. After getting coffee I drove around March Point and tried to photograph the snow falling but there was little light to work with, and once again my fingers numbed in minutes. Back at home, I noticed our little creek was an important source of fresh water for puffy little Dark-eyed Junco’s that were endlessly flitting back and forth between feeder and stream.

 

9. This little creek is dry as a bone in summer.

 

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10. Cattails wore top hats of snow over their fluffy seed heads on March Point.

 

11. Leaning stakes probably mark old shipping lanes at March Point, where oil refineries share space with herds of cattle and a Great blue heron rookery.

 

12. The snow thickened over Fidalgo Bay, smudging the horizon.

 

Three days later, more snow fell….is this getting repetitive? You bet it is! I prowled around the yard again….

 

13. A Sword fern seems to shrivel and shiver in the cold. These hardy, evergreen ferns should be OK except for clumps damaged by the weight of wet snow. I believe those clumps will gradually recoup as new fronds emerge to replace the ones that broke under the snow.

 

14. How long before these petite clumps of snow fall to the ground?

 

After that  snowstorm, another bout of cabin fever hit me so I made my way to Deception Pass State Park at a snail’s pace. The parking lot hadn’t been plowed but since it’s on a busy inter-island thoroughfare (and maybe because there are restrooms there), vehicles had been driving into the lot, leaving deep tracks in the slushy snow. I steered my little car along the tracks, stopped, and got out. The staircase under the bridge had been trampled just enough – I could walk down the stairs while clutching the railing (and feeling thankful for waterproof boots). Under the bridge is a network of trails that traces the forested edges of Deception Pass. Only a dusting of snow had filtered down through the thick canopy of trees there. The path was easy to follow but it was dark and cold in the woods. Again, I didn’t last long but just being in the woods, gratefully breathing fresh air, was a treat. A tiny mouse raced past me, oblivious to my presence. He pawed at the snow, searching for food, and then ran off into the dark woods. I thought about my warm home….

 

15. The forest is dark on a perimeter trail at Deception Pass State Park.

 

16. Last year’s Ocean Spray flower (Holodiscus discolor) drips with melting ice and snow.

 

17. The water racing through the pass that day was a cheerful turquoise color, and the view through the tall trees across to Pass Island was delightful.

 

18. The leathery, evergreen leaves of Salal (Gaultheria shallon) cheer up the forest floor in winter. The orange leaves are dead Redcedar leaves from the drought we had last summer. All the snow we’re getting now will help prevent drought in the months ahead.

 

19. The mouse. I enlarged and lightened the photo as much as I could, and it’s still hard to see him…that mouse was tiny!

 

Steps away from the parking lot is the Deception Pass bridge, which has a pedestrian walkway. It’s usually a spectacular view from the bridge, high over the rushing water, but on that day the view was reduced by moisture still hanging in the air. Far out on the water I could barely make out some cormorants, gulls, a few seals, and one sea lion – all working hard for their living.

 

20. Snow on the rocks below the bridge at Deception Pass.

 

21. North Beach from the Deception Pass bridge. No one walks the beach on this snowy day.

 

22. A phone photo taken on the road home that day.

 

One day I ventured off the island to Mount Vernon, a small city with a good food cooperative where I like to shop. On the way I passed acres of fallow, snowy fields. The sun is bright out on Skagit Flats. The orderly rows of crops with their striped furrows converging on the horizon was pleasing to see.

 

23. A bus for migrant workers sits in the field, waiting for Spring. It looks like this is one of Skagit Valley’s famous tulip fields – you can see them coming up. The snow won’t bother them a bit.

 

24. Afternoon sun throws a maze of shadows on a farm building.

 

The snow has melted a little now, but it’s still below freezing at night and not much above freezing during the day. Friday I took a walk at Bowman Bay, part of Deception Pass State Park.  I lingered on the trail until sunset. The tide was out and a lone Great blue heron was busy foraging in the quietly lapping waves. The sun felt good.

 

25. A Great blue heron picks its way through the riches of low tide.

 

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Dark Places

Recently a friend said she appreciated that I “allowed the dark places to stay dark” in a photograph of rocks and sand. That comment struck a chord; I had been thinking about inviting more darkness into my photography.

The urge to photograph a particular thing or place erupts from a myriad of sources, some of which are unknown to me. But one reason I make photographs is to share a place, a moment, a detail or an impression with others.

One way of conceptualizing the process of photography, for me anyway, is that I am making maps of my world as I photograph it. Here is the tree, here, the rough bark, over there, the repeating pattern of a fern and there, its reflection or shadow.  A curve, a shade of green, a shape, a texture….I notice the details as well as the whole scene, and I want to share it all. I want to faithfully record all the bits of data, the way a map does.

 

1. Photograph as map. Little is left to the imagination; you won’t get lost here.

Maps present the facts in an evenhanded way, shedding enough light across the surface so that every important detail can be read. I’ve always loved maps and in photography I often gravitate towards brightness, preferring well-illuminated images.

But what about the dark places, what about the shadows? Especially in winter with its clouds, low sun and short days, darkness comes into the foreground. Why fight it? In this data-heavy world maybe it makes sense to allow more darkness to manifest, if only to balance the plethora of visual information.

Dark places don’t appear on maps, not anymore. But like the blank places on old maps that elicited so many questions, darkness can play an important role in photographs. So I’m acquiescing to darkness, trying to refrain from lifting out the shadows. Here’s a group of photos that invites darkness in.

 

2. On a late October afternoon lingering rays of sunlight illuminate a clump of ferns at the edge of an algae-coated wetland. The deep blue areas are reflections of a bright, clear autumn sky.

 

3. Same day, same location.

 

4. After a gentle snowfall the pale coating on logs and leaves does little to lighten a dark corner of the lake.

 

5. Freezing rain left an assortment of water droplets and ice pellets on the slender twigs of a Snowberry bush (Symphoricarpos albus).

 

6. Rain begins to fall on a lake at dusk. The sun has set, and what little is left of the light is mesmerizing. It’s getting really cold but….just a few more photos. You know how it is.

 

7. After sunset on a mid-winter day, all is dark except for a bog in the middle of the lake.

 

8. Deep shadows fall across a wetland in a forest, on an October afternoon.

 

9. The Yellow pond lily leaves are curling up and turning brown, but the Douglas fir trees won’t give up their color. The lake must have risen long ago and killed the trees. They still stand tall.

 

10. A late summer view of the same lake.

 

11. Another day, a different angle, in black and white.

 

I’m going to try to keep the importance of darkness in mind. Of course I would never abandon the light. Below there are more photos from the same location, which is a shallow lake surrounded by forest, called Little Cranberry Lake. The photographs represent eight different walks around the lake, between August 2018 and February 2019. I’ve come to love the trails in this preserve. Walking the trails in sunny and overcast weather, in the rain or just after a snowfall, there’s always something new to see.

 

12. The same photograph as #11, processed differently.

 

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13. Trails at Little Cranberry Lake are rocky and full of roots.

 

14. A favorite spot on one trail by the lake cuts underneath a vertical cliff where Redcedar trees enjoy the constant moisture.

 

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15. Reflections in the lake in late November, when the grasses were fading.

 

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16. On the same day, a light rain began to fall. The water was absolutely still.

 

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17. In a third photo of reflections made the same day, a moss-covered log supports an array of  plants.

 

18. A glorious September sky is reflected near the edge of the lake.

 

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19. This isn’t spring green – the photograph was made in the middle of January. The edges of this shallow lake provide no end of reflections to study.

 

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20. Here are the same greens, on land now, also in January.

 

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21. Bracken fern decays beautifully, turning various shades of yellow, gold, orange and brown. This is from a September walk.

 

22. A pair of mushrooms rises between the dead fronds of a Sword fern. There’s plenty of moisture in this bed of moss.

 

23. I hope this is a slick of algae or bacteria on the wetland, not oil.

 

24. Light, wet snow on lichens makes a kind of miniature winter wonderland.

 

25. A honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.) plant and a Snowberry bush seem to shiver in the fresh snow.

 

26. An infrared treatment in black and white gives the impression of snow. The photo was taken in February but on this day no snow fell.

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Little Cranberry Lake is part of a collection of about 2800 acres of protected forest land on Fidalgo Island. Purchased in 1919 by a local power company, the forest was logged by the company for income for 60 or 70 years. In the late 1980’s local residents began to document how the practice of clearcutting was destroying the forest. A Friends of the Forest group coalesced and made their voices heard, along with residents who wanted trails, not logging in the island’s forests. Clearcutting ended in 1989, and now the Anacortes Community Forest Lands (ACFL) are permanently preserved and managed for recreational use.

 

Low Tide

I hadn’t planned to go to the beach; I didn’t know the tide was going out. I thought I might walk along a trail in Deception Pass State Park that wanders through the forest and along the shoreline. With the sun hanging low in the southwest, North Beach was looking chilly though, no sun there! I parked and considered my options. Steps away from the car, there’s a point of land where sunny West beach swings around a corner and takes a different name: North Beach. I hadn’t explored West Point (imaginative names!) because I’d been there at higher tides, when the water was high up on the rocks. Now as I looked down, the receding water revealed a wealth of complex shapes where the rugged promontory is wearing away bit by bit, as water works its infinitely patient way through rock.

Little sand-filled coves were strewn with smooth round stones, as green as moss, as orange as the sunset, as white as snow and as pretty as could be. Crags of ink-black rocks streaked with white rose from the water in a multitude of crenelated shapes. Smooth gray rocks were covered with softly delineated streaks from evaporating water that lingered in the crevices.

I scrambled down and picked my way through the intricate contours of rock and sand, waiting when necessary for an outgoing wave to jump across narrow rivulets. In one sheltered cove, the logs which had floated up on high tides and jammed behind the rocks were still white with frost on this sunny afternoon. I felt a dank chill there and the air smelled sharp with minerals. Off shore, two seals relaxed and let the swift tide carry them out of the pass. Hundreds of sea birds, too far out to identify, churned the air, their feet clapping the water as they struggled to take off.  An eagle flew low over the water’s surface, weighed down by a big catch, probably a sea duck. A second eagle followed close behind, then they vanished behind a forest-topped island.

What could be better than losing myself in this wonderland?

 

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As the sun began to set, people gravitated to West Beach to watch, cell phones in hand. Thirty miles to the southwest the Olympic Mountains were silhouetted against a nacreous sky like a strip of torn construction paper. Gulls stood solemnly on rocks warmed with orange sunlight, and the glassy water barely shimmered as the current quieted. Low tide, sunset.

 

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One last picture, with the phone…

 

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And,

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Your photographer

 

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A google earth image of this location which appears to have been taken in summer during a very low tide is here.  Zoom in and you’ll see these rocks and the log-jammed cove, where someone may be sitting under a blue umbrella. The coordinates are N48.39  W122.66.

If anyone can tell me what the rocks I photographed are, I’d love to know.

And the colored sand, (#7 & #8) why is it arranged in those patterns, and what about those fine lines? Could it be that these are different kinds of finely crushed rocks with different magnetic charges, and when the waves wash the particles up, they fall into place relative to each another, something like iron filings around a magnet? That was the guess of one smart person I know. Or are some rock particles heavier, so they remain on the shore sooner or later than others do? There’s so much we don’t know.