ROCK, WOOD, WATER

As a threesome, they don’t fit into any existing system I can think of; they’re not the Western world’s four elements (fire, earth, air, water), nor the Aristotelian five elements (earth, water, air, fire ether). They’re not Taoism’s five elements either (wood, fire, earth, metal, water) and they won’t work for “Rock, paper scissors.”

These three elements, or let me call them beings, are speaking to me lately, making their presence known as I roam forest and coast. Maybe they’re my own cosmology, for now at least: Rock, Wood, Water.

 

1. The Fidalgo Island shoreline carves alternating rhythms of Rock, Wood and Water: sheer cliffs set with Madrone, Shore pine, and Douglas fir trees abut narrow beaches littered with driftwood and thick with intertidal life. Back and forth it goes, Water wearing down Rock, Wood nourished by Water and nestling into Rock, Rock giving structure to Water and Wood….

 

Language treats them as distinct, even abstracted things but they are tightly woven together, constantly interacting with one another and the other beings of the land –  including humans.

David Abram, in his book The Spell of the Sensuous, describes what can happen when we embed ourselves in a naming, separating language world: “….the character of linguistic discourse in the ‘developed’ or ‘civilized’ world, where language functions largely to deny reciprocity with nature–by defining the rest of nature as inert, mechanical and determinate—and where, in consequence, our sensorial participation with the land around us must remain mute, inchoate, and in most cases wholly unconscious.”

 

2. Wood in two guises (which we call “Western dogwood” and “Douglas fir”) invites us to touch, to experience smooth and rough with fingertips as well as eyes.

Having achieved the ability to converse about our world scientifically, which certainly has value, we have lost much of the directness of pure sensory experience, and the profound delight it can bring. This loss of direct experience of the wild alienates us from what we need to preserve, if we value life on earth. As Abram says later in the book, “For it is only at the scale of our direct, sensory interactions with the land around us that we can appropriately notice and respond to the immediate needs of the living world.”

 

3. Setting aside the nature photographer’s usual desire for sharp focus, I set a longer shutter speed (without using a tripod) to show the soft swoosh of the waves as the tide brought Water back to nourish vulnerable intertidal flora and fauna.

 

But the camera – that complicated little black box – isn’t that another intermediary, another barrier between me and the sensory world? It is, but I think when we use it as a tool to remind ourselves of the power and beauty of the natural world, it may serve to nudge us back out there, into the midst of it all. That’s my hope.

 

4. Water’s nourishing presence on beach grass invites us closer.

 

5. Water and Wood embrace. After Rain traces paths around a Madrone tree branch it falls to the ground, giving life from above and below.

 

6. Maybe repeated freezes and thaws – Water’s work – caused this rock to fracture. Wood is present too, in the scatter of pine needles.

 

This island where I live is alive with Water, Rock and Wood beings. Once covered with thick, wet forests of towering evergreens, Fidalgo still cradles a group of the Old Ones near its center and a myriad of younger trees fringe the hills. Driftwood giants litter the beaches between worn rock outcroppings. Rock protrudes from the trails and defines the highest point. Fog hazes over the mornings, waves lap at shorelines, lakes dot the island’s center.

 

7. Water, Rock and Wood play disappearing acts over Burrows Bay on Fidalgo’s west shore. One small boat plys an open patch of water as the San Juan Islands and Canada’s Vancouver Island fade into the mist beyond. The names are useful, but the pleasure of this moment didn’t require any names. It was just cool breeze, evergreen scent, quiet and cloud-soft.

 

8. Wood in the form of an old Maritime juniper tree digs its roots into the rocky soil.

 

9. We often have gentle rains here that stop and start, which makes going out with the camera easier – especially if the camera is weather-sealed. Transitory moments like this are alive with change.

 

Our words identify things, making it easier for us to talk about them. But don’t be fooled into thinking that the things we perceive and talk about are separate. They’re all tied together, engaged in a complex dance of energy. Even the beings that look the most solid and unmoving are changing all the time.

 

10. Rock, with a delicate splash of lichens, near Twisp, Washington.

 

11. Wood rising in a form we call Black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) sits happily by the wet ditch, where its branches are ruffled by an errant spring breeze.

 

 

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12. The Rockwater dance never ends. I noticed this detail on neighboring Whidbey Island’s North Beach.

 

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13. From a plane high over a mountain range, Water and Rock enchanted me.

 

14. Wood has a little human intervention, in the form of a driftwood sculpture on the beach. Someone has balanced Wood with a distant island and the shimmering blue Water.

 

15. The purity of Water can be mesmerizing. This photograph was taken while riding home from Europe in a plane. It might have been over Greenland, and I admit, I wanted to pinpoint the location. But in the end it was the wordless experience of melting into that horizonless horizon that mattered most.

 

***

These photos were all made recently, mostly close to home. #2 was at Rockport State Park, about 50 miles east, and the rocks in #6 and #10 were in the dry hills outside Twisp, Washington, about 150 miles east. I’ve been roaming as often as possible, mostly in familiar places. It’s been exciting to experience how spring behaves in this maritime climate – there have been new-to-me flowers to see in the forests and on the bluffs, wild herbs to taste, birdsong to enjoy and changes to observe along the beaches. The backlog of photos is getting fat! I may try to post more often. More from Europe will be coming too.

I hope your senses are alive with the season’s changes.

 

 

 

Double Vision/Doppelt gesehen

For almost two years we have followed each other’s blogs. Recognizing that we’re kindred spirits, we soon began sharing observations about nature, blogging and language by email. As ideas were tossed back and forth across a 4900 mile, 9 hour time difference, a theme emerged: we tended to focus on differences and similarities in our environment, both physical and cultural. Plant species, the weather, words and phrases – we compared and contrasted them all. It was an entirely virtual relationship, honed in the realms of blog comments and emails. Then last month I traveled to northern Germany, where I visited my grandmother’s birthplace. That happens to be near the city where Almuth lives, so we had an opportunity to meet in person! A plan developed: we would spend a fine Spring day together.

 

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We met at the Bnb in Hannover where I was staying, then took a tram to Herrenhausen Gardens, an array of historical gardens dating back to the 17th century. The popular Great Garden (Großer Garten) is one of Europe’s most admired baroque formal gardens. Its history is interesting, but we prefer botanical gardens so we bee-lined for the Berggarten (Mountain Garden), across the street. After a stimulating stroll through gardens packed with Spring flowers, we enjoyed treats and coffee in the stylish park cafe. We jumped back on the tram to Hannover’s old town, where we discovered a few offbeat “historical” sights, like the protective wrapping around the facade at the old Town Hall (Altes Rathaus).  We capped the day with a traditional German meal at the Broyan Haus restaurant.

Of course we both took dozens of photographs and unsurprisingly, some are almost identical. After I got home Almuth proposed that we collaborate on a post with our favorite photos from that memorable Spring day. What a great idea, I thought! We quickly realized how many permutations there can be for posting “together.” There are the complications of different languages. Readers might be confused by too many photos. After thinking it through we decided to each create a post about the day, using our own photos, with links to the other person’s post. We sent drafts back and forth so the flow of text and images in our posts would almost match. If you’re using a desktop, try opening two browsers and viewing the posts side by side; on smaller devices we hope you can get the idea by going back and forth.

Here’s a look at the day through my eyes, and here’s a look at the day through Almuth’s eyes.

 

1. As soon as we entered the garden we noticed a set of beautiful shadows on a wall. I’m often drawn to juxtapositions of man-made and natural shapes, and this fits the bill.

2. There’s a great German word, Schattenspiele – it means shadow games. It’s too bad we don’t combine words more in English, the way Germans do.  It’s interesting to think about how language differences influence the way we see our world, but whether it’s Schattenspiele, shadow play, or whatever you name it – photographers everywhere love shadows.

3. I chose black and white to convey the different textures here – a highly textured ground cover, the fine-lined birch bark, and smooth shadows falling evenly over everything.

4. Almuth photographed a naturally landscaped stream with gorgeous birch trees. Of course I like that too, but trees like this one really aroused my interest. Like many trees in Europe, it appears to be pollarded. Pollarding is a pruning practice wherein upper branches are removed, promoting dense growth while maintaining a manageable size. Wikipedia says this very old practice kept trees within the bounds of medieval walled cities. Pollarding is far less common in the US, where space isn’t typically an issue. I always associated it with France, but I found many examples in the Netherlands, Belgium and northern Germany.

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5. While in Europe I made a conscious effort to take more photos of people than I ordinarily do, so here’s a gardener watering a bed of tulips. The light was harsh and I have a lot to learn about photographing people. I think I prefer Almuth’s version.

6. There we are, engrossed in the beauty of Spring flowers. I couldn’t resist playing with the colors in this photo (made by a certain patient someone).

7. We sat down to rest and made friends with this little fellow, who happily devoured all the peanuts we were willing to give away. We have a similar squirrel in the Pacific northwest but it doesn’t have those cool ear tufts.

8. Throughout my travels in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, I was impressed by huge specimen trees in the cities. Over here, trees planted by humans haven’t had as much time to grow. Our giants are more likely to be in the forests.

9. Thick “fuzz” that protects this fern from the cold was sloughing off in an attractive way, another sign of Spring. The horticulturalists wrapped last year’s dried fern fronds into a nest-like bowl for winter protection. See Almuth’s post for a photograph of this intelligently aesthetic landscaping practice.

10. A group of rare Suntel beech trees (Fagus sylvatica var. suntelensis or F. sylvatica ‘Tortuosa’) kept us glued to the path, wide-eyed and smiling. This European native naturally grows in a low, twisting, criss-crossing form, making the trees ill-suited to most commercial purposes. They were called Witch wood or Deveil’s beech in the past becasue people believed the trees were bewitched. Many were destroyed. This old Berggarten specimen gets meticulous care. Cultivars are now sold in nurseries around the world.

11. In the old town we found a few weathered gravestones standing mute among the flowers.

12. This is exactly the kind of sculpture I love seeing in Europe. I don’t know when it was carved but it has the vivid, emotional power of art from the Middle Ages, and it gets the message across, especially when reading isn’t an option.

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13. Wrapped buildings have intrigued me for years, and Hannover’s gothic Town Hall (Altes Rathaus) is a fine example (as long as restoration continues to be done on it). The burning question is whether the color of the wraps was intentional or not, because it sure does harmonize nicely with that old brick! Almuth called it Brick Gothic bagged – I love that!

14. A newer wrapped building provided us with more photo ops just a few blocks away.

15. Construction sites are always good places to see buildings in a different light.

16. My world was jostled and turned every which way on this trip, but everything was as rosy as the paint color on this building (which I changed in Color Efex). Old, new, virtual, real – the categories didn’t really matter.  It was a whirlwind of impressions.

***

Readers of this blog know that I feel strongly about place. The uniqueness of each place on earth is worth celebrating. I believe that despite global culture we are still situated in place, that geography influences us more than we realize. I also believe being situated in a particular time and culture influences the way we think; for example, my native language leads me to see the world differently than the way someone who speaks another language sees it. We each construct slightly different realities.

These differences have been part of the pleasure of getting to know Almuth, but we also share a lot. Her approach to life, the way she sees and thinks – those qualities felt familiar to me even before we met. I imagined I would feel comfortable with her and I did. Yet differences persist, and they are fascinating. This is part of what resonates with me here on the internet: we find differences and similarities. Our curiosity is endlessly pricked. We learn, and our horizons expand.

KEEPING UP…

…with seasonal changes is a motivating force. I missed three weeks of spring while I was away. That worried me, because after observing summer, fall and winter here on Fidalgo Island, I didn’t want to miss seeing the changes spring would bring.

But it was fine – when I returned from Europe 12 days ago, tender, green growth was visible everywhere. The spring ephemerals – wildflowers that take advantage of extra light on the forest floor before the trees leaf out – were blooming. These flowers benefit from spring rain too, and it’s been unusually dry. But at least for now the morning dew, and some moisture remaining in the soil, keep the green machine chugging along.

I’ve taken a walk outside most every day, not wanting to miss a minute of this fleeting season. I’m curious to see how spring here differs from spring 70 miles south, where I used to live. Many of the major players in this ecosystem are the same – the dominant evergreen trees, the understory of salal and sword fern, the basic weather patterns – but there are striking differences. Sussing out the disparities, season by season, is fascinating.

I’ve taken walks at a community forest around a lake, at my favorite places in Deception Pass State Park, and at a local park on a peninsula. Those locations are close to home but one day we drove an hour inland to Rockport State Park, where the ecosystem is a little different. In each place wildflowers were blooming, ferns were unfurling, birds were singing, insects were buzzing, and the cool, fresh air gave me a little shiver until I warmed up from trudging up and down hills.

I brought along a favorite macro lens, a wider-angled prime lens, and once, the old Super Takumar 50mm vintage lens, which can be a challenge to use, but produces some unique images. The sun has been bright lately, which isn’t ideal for photographing tiny, delicate wildflowers. I did what I could with the conditions I found. It was fun getting back to Lightroom. I really enjoy pushing those sliders around and manipulating images, but I’m rusty after three solid weeks away from it. In any case, I think you’ll enjoy the fruits of my walks – I hope so. I’ll get back to the Europe trip later – this feels like it can’t wait!

 

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1. Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) like all ferns, is interesting to peer at up close. I love those tightly coiled little fists. Some people harvest and eat the fiddleheads, but the safety of ingesting this fern is controversial.

 

2. Bracken again. Slightly different species of this fern grow in North, Central and South America, in Europe, in Africa, in China and Southeast Asia, and in Australia. In other words, it’s everywhere! Cattle farmers don’t like it because it can poison livestock.

 

3. A Twisted stalk, probably Clasping Twisted-stalk, aka Watermelon berry (Streptopus amplexifolius), unfolding in the shady understory of the old growth forest at Rockport State Park. The small flowers hide under the stalk – you have to get down really low to see them. A very elegant plant!

 

4. I think this is a close relative, Rose Twisted-stalk (Streptopus lanceolatus, v. roseus). It’s easier to identify after the flowers open, but what a beauty it is at this stage. Rockport State Park.

 

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4. Another elegant plant, though many people may not realize it, is our native Vine maple (Acer circinatum). This small forest tree is found, like many of our native plants, from southwest British Columbia to northern California. Close relatives are the familiar Japanese and Korean maples of Asia.

 

5. The little Calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa) is found in cool forests in the US, Japan, China, Korea, Mongolia, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Baltics. The plant depends on particular soil fungi and does not transplant well.

 

6. Calypso orchid petals seen from above. The flower does not produce nectar, but the fancy digs (seen in #5) are quite attractive to insects. Though a bee may leave disappointed, just one more futile try for nectar at another flower may be enough for pollination. Orchids often use this strategy of pollination by deception.

 

7. Looking up in the deep shade of the forest at Goose Rock, Deception Pass State Park. The cheerful oval leaves are the Red Huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium), a common understory plant of our woods. Indigenous people made good use of the small berries. Whenever I see them there are only a few left; the birds and animals always seem to beat me to the berry.

 

8. Pacific Bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa), with its ferny foliage, creates a soft, pleasing picture wherever it grows. It’s a popular garden plant; the nursery trade has hybridized these flowers to produce much bigger, more deeply colored pink blooms, and pure white flowers as well. Rockport State Park.

 

9. Black and white? Color? I chose a highly desaturated look for this sweet fiddlehead unfurling it’s fronds at Cranberry Lake, on Fidalgo Island.

 

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10. The little Chocolate lily, (Fritillaria affinis) is a western lily of well-drained sites. Locally, it’s often found on bluffs and balds, the open spaces scraped clean by glaciers long ago. The small, brown and gold flowers can be hard to spot.  I had to sit down on the ground to get this angle; this plant was just a few inches tall. Taken with the vintage Super Takumar 50mm lens at f2 or f2.8.

 

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11. Another take on the Chocolate lily, seen from above and processed in sepia tones. This plant is similar to (but much smaller than) the garden plant Fritillaria meleagris, or Checkered lily, which is now rare in its native Eurasian range.

 

12. Death camas (Toxicoscordian venenosus), at Washington Park, where I saw hundreds of the pretty little plants, which are poisonous from head to toe, to both humans and livestock.

 

13. In bud here are two Common camas flowers (Cammasia quamash). Camas was an important food plant for indigenous people here in the northwest. It often grows near Death camas (above). The flowers are different, but when the flowers are gone it’s hard to tell the bulbs apart, and the bulbs are what people ate. Supposedly, tribes weeded out the Death camas plants to protect themselves against accidental poisoning. Taken with the Super Takumar 50mm lens.

 

14. Here’s an open Common camas flower, in a shadier place, where you can appreciate the delicate lavender color. Also taken with the Super Takumar.

 

15. Spring color is reflected in a fast-moving stream at Rockport State Park.

 

16. Is this a small bee? I don’t know. I was trying to photograph the impossibly tiny flowers of what’s known around here as Sugar-scoop, or Three-leaf foamflower (Tiarella trifoliata). The tiny flowers are scattered along a stem held high over three-part leaves. A delicate beauty, it rewards you if you can get close; in this case the reward doubled.

 

17. A stump of rotting wood is left in place at Rockport State Park. Downed trees are full of possibilities for many life forms, from tough lichens and luxurious mosses to the Douglas squirrels that use them as a picnic table and the Pileated woodpeckers that excavate meals from them.

 

18. Western starflower (Trientalis latifolia) sends up one or two flower stalks on delicate stems, leaving the flowers dangling over the whorl of leaves. It’s a beautiful sight when the pale stars are scattered above deep green leaves on the forest floor. Deception Pass.

 

19. The humble Starflower may have supplied indigenous people with food from its tubers. It’s slightly different from the Northern and Arctic starflower (Trientalis borealis and T. arctica), which grow in eastern North America, and Europe and Asia.

 

20. Stink currant – that’s a fine name! It describes the smell of crushed leaves, not the fruit, which is reported to be unpleasant to delicious, depending on the bush. Ribes bracteosum is the Latin name for this gooseberry relative that grows from Canada down to northern California. I found this one at Rockport State Park,

 

20. A woodland trail at Cranberry Lake, part of the Anacortes Community Forest Lands. Taken with the Super Takumar lens.

 

21. This buttercup (Ranunculas sp.) has lost its petals, but the stamens and developing achenes (the tiny fruits that hold a seed) are the same joyful yellow. Goose Rock, Deception Pass.

 

22. I couldn’t resist including this burgeoning specimen of dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). It was along a roadside at Rockport State Park but of course, they are everywhere!

 

23. Meadow, or Field chickweed (Cerastium arvense) and pink Sea Blush, aka Short-spurred Pletritis (Plectritis congesta) bloom happily in a meadow. Washington Park, Fidalgo Island.

 

24. A Red huckleberry bush gathers a shaft of light angling through the thick canopy of Douglas firs, Western hemlocks, and Redcedars. Deception Pass.

 

25. Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) has come into flower recently. The mid-size bush or small tree graces our roadsides with pretty, cream-colored panicles of flowers. The compound leaves are handsome too, with their elegant tips and finely-toothed edges.

 

26. Fringecup (Tellima grandiflora) is easy to overlook but a close-up view is rewarding. This is another Spring wildflower that is available as a garden plant, with bigger, more colorful flowers. Indigenous people used the plant medicinally. According to Wikipedia, T. grandiflora contains a compound with antiviral properties. Deception Pass. 

 

27. Two Vanilla leaf (Achlys triphylla) plants rise above Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) fronds, which in turn hover over the flattened evergreen fronds of Sword fern (Polystichum munitum). Snow crushed the Sword fern plants while the others slept underground – but Sword fern is putting out new fronds. Vanilla leaf sometimes makes a delicate ground cover in the forest. The vanilla-scented leaves were used to repel insects and perfume living quarters.

 

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28. A Western trillium (Trillium ovatum) past its prime is still beautiful. As the flower slowly turns deep pink, the petals will shrivel and fall away. See the holes in the leaves? I suspect a slug or other creature chewed a big bite in the plant a while ago, when the leaves were tightly folded to the center. The unfurled leaves now reveal three holes. Rockport State Park.

***

Abundance! That’s Spring for you! This is longer than my usual posts, but the flowers just keep coming! Soon the flora parade will fizzle to a frizz, as our dry summer weather takes hold.