On a chilly, gray day last week, I ventured out to Cranberry Lake, a community forest preserve on Fidalgo Island. My favorite path there combines pieces of two trails – one hugs a curve of the lake and then ascends a steep hill through a fire-scarred forest; the other traces the long eastern edge of the namesake lake.
The trail that ascends the hill winds through Douglas fir and Western redcedars before meandering through forest openings where Madrone trees and Ocean Spray shrubs flourish, at its highest point. It descends through more Douglas fir and Salal thickets to the south end of the lake, where I like to turn and head back along the water’s edge. The lake is shallow there, and tall, thin tree skeletons standing in the water show that it was once forest. In the 1930’s a dam built at the other end grew the lake back into the woods, killing the trees. Later, beavers moved in and did their work; now a “garden” of stumps and trees draws wavering reflections in the calm water. It’s a fine spot for the visually preoccupied!
Just when I was farthest from the car that day, high on the hilltop, it began to snow. Sparse flakes drifted down through the trees to settle silently on the lake far below me. I’d left my gloves in the car but I continued on anyway, compelled by the poetry of unexpected weather. When I reached the shallow end of the lake, I was surprised to find it covered with ice, like a pale field spread out before me. The dead trees stood mute, locked in the ice, like ancient Greek columns witnessing the history of the seasons.
I carefully picked my way along the narrow, rocky path as the snow thickened. The weather-resistant camera would be OK, but there would be no changing lenses now. I kept on shooting as one mesmerizing scene unfolded after another. A few steps, a choice, a click. A few more steps, another choice, a turn of a dial, a click. Trees standing, trees scarred from fire, trees fallen across the trail and into the water. Reflections blurring, then clearing, as the air carried more or fewer flakes. Cormorants watching snow sail over the lake from their stump and log perches. A lone Common merganser quietly floating towards the middle of the lake.
The prevailing hush transfixed me. I worked that little black box to frame the layered changes in the landscape, and though wildlife sightings always capture my attention, what stuck with me that day were the trees in all their guises and stages, their varied forms partially obscured by the pointillist haze of snow.
The trees rise and soar, they burn, fall over, die and slowly decompose. And they persist.