RANDOM OBSERVATIONS

1.

What catches the eye at a random moment –

sometimes it’s the usual suspect,

sometimes it’s not.

2.


3.


4.


5.

6.

††

7.


8.

†

9.


10.

11.


12.

Two of these were taken with my phone – #3, and #8. The rest were taken with my well-worn Olympus OM-D EM-1 camera using several different prime lenses. I didn’t venture far for these; they are things that caught my eye at home or nearby.

  1. A fallen tulip at a local public garden.
  2. A poppy at the same garden. These petals too will fall, and when they do, they will become invisible to most garden visitors. Such is life; most people follow the received wisdom that says healthy flowers on their stems are beautiful, while those that have fallen to the ground are not worth your time. We know differently.
  3. Neon in the bookstore window; let me sing the praises of our used bookstore: they always have the NY Times and a local paper on hand, they serve excellent espresso and bake fragrant rosemary-olive oil rolls right in the store, they often exhibit decent art, they stock an intelligent mix of used and new books, and the WC is tastefully decorated.
  4. Playing with reflections and my shadow.
  5. Seaweed wrapped around a branch after a high tide at Lottie Bay.
  6. Seaweed twirled around branches, three months earlier. It looks like it’s been a long time since the tide was this high – maybe this happened during a winter storm.
  7. Boxes inside a greenhouse, seen through a plastic tarp.
  8. A view through the car window from Fidalgo Island’s March Point; an oil refinery is right behind me, and an uninhabited, protected island is to the right. The island on the left is only accessible by boat or plane and has relatively few residents.
  9. The berries of Twisted Stalk (Streptopus amplexifolius). The woodland wildflower can be found here, and in the Yukon, in Korea, in Burma, in Germany, Spain….in other words, it has a wide distribution. This particular plant is in a small pot and really should go into the ground, but for now I enjoy the bright red berries at the kitchen window.
  10. Looking west late on a summer day, the water glints through tall grasses at Ship Harbor, Fidalgo Island.
  11. A tiny mushroom on a mossy log at Mount Erie, Fidalgo Island.
  12. An old outbuilding collapses into the ground on Whidbey Island. Wood returns to the earth readily in this damp climate.

Funke’s Pigsty / Funkes Schweinestall

A Double Eye-catcher / Doppelter Blickfang

photographed and written by two bloggers in two languages / fotografiert und geschrieben von zwei Bloggerinnen in zwei Sprachen

1. Pigsty Door, Klein Reken

While traveling in Germany this past April, I spent a day with my friend Ule in the little village of Klein Reken, in the rural province of Munsterland. Being born and raised in America where the built environment is not very old, I was captivated by Klein Reken’s traditional half-timbered architecture – especially one well-worn, deserted building I saw when we strolled through the village. As we walked around the structure, I took picture after picture, honing in on peeling paint, patched brick and rusty locks, wondering about the curtains in an upstairs window. Ule said she was drawn to the place too and had noticed it even before she moved to the town. She too had photographed the venerable building, delighting in the structure, the textures and the muted colors.

After I got home Ule and I talked about collaborating on a post about the old building. As we worked together more ideas surfaced and the post grew, so we decided to split it into two: this post includes old photos from the town archives, two of Ule’s photos, twelve of mine and a bit of local history. Next time we’ll show you the results of a photo exchange, where we each chose photos from the other person’s archive to process in our own way.

Our posts are different – you can see Ule’s post here.


Während meiner Deutschlandreise im vergangenen April verbrachte ich einen Tag mit meiner Freundin Ule in dem kleinen Dorf Klein Reken im ländlichen Münsterland. Ich bin in Amerika geboren und aufgewachsen, wo die Bebauung nicht sehr alt ist, und war fasziniert von traditioneller Fachwerkarchitektur in Klein Reken – besonders von einem baufälligen, verlassenen Gebäude, das ich beim Bummeln durch das Dorf gesehen habe. Als wir um das Gebäude herumgingen, machte ich ein Bild nach dem anderen, wobei ich mich in abblätternde Farbe, geflickte Ziegel und rostige Schlösser vertiefte und mich über die Vorhänge in einem Fenster im Obergeschoss wunderte. Ule sagte, sie sei ebenfalls von dem Ort fasziniert und habe es schon bemerkt, bevor sie in den Ort umgezogen sei. Auch sie hatte das Gebäude fotografiert und war begeistert von der Struktur, den Texturen und den verblichenen Farben.

Nachdem ich zu Hause angekommen war, sprachen wir über die Zusammenarbeit an einem Beitrag über das alte Gebäude. Während wir zusammenarbeiteten, tauchten weitere Ideen auf und der Beitrag wuchs, so beschlossen wir, ihn in zwei Teile aufzuteilen: Dieser Beitrag enthält alte Fotos aus dem Archiv des örtlichen Heimatvereins, zwei von Ules Fotos, zwölf von mir und ein bisschen Ortsgeschichte. Das nächste Mal zeigen wir euch die Ergebnisse eines Fotoaustauschs, bei dem wir jeweils Fotos der anderen Person ausgewählt haben, um sie auf unsere eigene Weise zu verarbeiten.

Unsere Beiträge sind unterschiedlich – ihr könnt den Beitrag von Ule hier sehen.

2. Funke’s Pigsty; photo by Ule
3. The pigsty and a neighboring house; photo by Ule

The worn brick and wood were mute reminders of the village’s farming past; indeed, Ule said villagers called the building “Funke’s pigsty” – for that’s what it had been. No one keeps pigs in the middle of the village anymore, but clearly someone was still providing minimal upkeep to the building. Doors were shuttered, a brick wall was roughly patched with concrete, and many coats of paint were evident. I wondered why the old half-timbered structure continued to settle into place essentially unchanged, while the village around it grew more prosperous. In my country a structure like this would have been torn down decades ago, or perhaps converted into a chic restaurant.

Der abgenutzte Ziegel und das Holz erinnerten stumm an die bäuerliche Vergangenheit des Dorfes. Tatsächlich, so Ule, nannten die Dorfbewohner das Gebäude “Funkes Schweinestall” – denn so war es gewesen. Niemand hält mehr Schweine in der Mitte des Dorfes, aber offensichtlich sorgte immer noch jemand für den minimalen Unterhalt des Gebäudes. Die Türen waren mit Fensterläden verschlossen, eine Mauer war grob mit Beton geflickt, und viele Anstriche waren zu erkennen. Ich fragte mich, warum sich das alte Fachwerkgebäude im Wesentlichen unverändert weiter festsetzte, während das Dorf um es herum florierte. In meinem Land wäre ein solches Gebäude vor Jahrzehnten abgerissen oder in ein schickes Restaurant umgewandelt worden.

††

4.
5.
6.
7.
8.

My friend Ule said she would find out more about the history of the place. She did, and the resulting glimpse into rural life is a real treasure! Here’s her friend Kurt, reminiscing about the building:

Meine Freundin Ule sagte, sie würde mehr über die Geschichte des Ortes erfahren. Sie tat es und der daraus resultierende Einblick in das ländliche Leben ist ein wahrer Schatz! Hier ist ihr Freund Kurt, der sich an das Gebäude erinnert:

“Even in my childhood this was an old house of poor construction, but it always looked well maintained. At that time a family lived there, whose children I often played with, in the yard behind the house when I was allowed to accompany my grandmother there for a visit. In the yard there were chickens, also cats, which were never allowed in the house, at the most, just outside on the windowsill.”
At that time there was no toilet, no water in the house, and they had no stable, because the father of the family did not work as a farmer, but earned his livelihood in mining in the Ruhr area, like many men after the completion of the railroad in 1877. In fact, the poor village came to a little modest prosperity through these jobs for the first time.
Kurt remembers well the year 1955, when the Mühlenweg (Mill Road) got its own water supply. He was able to watch the home owners at work digging the trenches for the pipes themselves, since he was home with the measles at that time. This event was just right for him as a remedy for boredom.
Thereafter, his family did not need to pump the water out of the well, which was especially a relief on the weekly bathing days when the zinc tub was filled, into which all the family members – one after the other in the same water – climbed for thorough cleaning.  Only later did Kurt’s family get the first proper bathroom on the Mühlenweg, tiled and with a bath stove – luxury! Such luxury had never been seen in the miner family’s house next door.

“Schon in meiner Kindheit war das ein altes Haus von ärmlichem Zuschnitt, das aber immer gepflegt wirkte. Damals wohnte dort eine Familie, mit deren Kindern ich im Hof hinter dem Haus oft gespielt habe, wenn ich meine Großmutter zu einem Besuch dorthin begleiten durfte. Im Hof gab es Hühner, auch Katzen, die niemals ins Haus durften, allenfalls draußen auf der Fensterbank liegen.” Im Haus gab es damals keine Toilette, kein Wasser, keinen Stall, da der Familienvater nicht als Bauer arbeitete, sondern im Bergbau im Ruhrgebiet seinen Lebensunterhalt verdiente, wie viele Männer nach der Fertigstellung der Eisenbahn 1877. Tatsächlich kam in das arme Dorf durch diese Arbeitsplätze zum ersten Mal ein wenig bescheidener Wohlstand. Kurt erinnert sich gut an das Jahr 1955, als der Mühlenweg eine eigene Wasserversorgung bekam, er konnte den Hauseigentümern, die selbst die Gräben für die Leitungen aushuben, bei den Arbeiten zuschauen, weil er zu der Zeit mit Masern zuhause bleiben musste. Da kam dieses Ereignis als Mittel gegen die Langeweile gerade recht. Danach musste seine Familie das Wasser nicht mehr aus dem Brunnen pumpen, das war besonders an den Waschtagen und den wöchentlichen Badetagen eine Erleichterung, wenn die Zinkwanne gefüllt wurde, in die alle Familienmitglieder – einer nach dem anderen in dasselbe Wasser – zur gründlichen Reinigung stiegen. Erst später bekam Kurts Familie das erste richtige Badezimmer am Mühlenweg, gefliest und mit Badeofen – Luxus! Solchen Luxus hat das Häuschen der Bergarbeiterfamilie nie gesehen.

Ule tells me that in the late 1950s, the miner’s family moved to a house in the new Antoniussiedlung on the outskirts of the village. The half-timbered house was sold and converted into a pigsty, henceforth it was called “Funke’s pigsty.”

Ule erzählt mir, dass die Bergmannsfamilie Ende der 1950er Jahre in ein Haus in der neuen Antoniussiedlung am Rande des Dorfes gezogen ist. Das Fachwerkhaus wurde verkauft und in einen Schweinestall umgewandelt, von nun an hieß es “Funkes Schweinestall”.††††

†

9.
10.

11.
12.
13.

Ule dug up more village lore, learning that in years past there were a number of farms in the village, some run as a sideline business, with only one cow.  The cows were driven in the morning over the mill path to the pastures behind a railway embankment. Since they left “traces” on the way, the mill path came to be known as the Kudrizkistraße (Cowshit Path). Kurt said that During World War II, a village resident addressed a field postcard to his family with “Kudrizkistraße” with no further location information – and it reached its destination. Once two children, Martin and Heinz, made a joke of throwing swine manure on the cows. And forty years later, Martin recalls being punished by the farm servant Alwis with a slap on the neck he handed them while he rode past on his bicycle. Martin added that otherwise, Alwis was very fond of children and never averse to a joke.

Ule grub weitere Überlieferungen aus dem Dorf aus und erfuhr, dass es in den vergangenen Jahren eine Reihe von Bauernhöfen im Dorf gab, von denen einige als Nebendienst betrieben wurden und nur eine Kuh hatte. Die Kühe wurden morgens über den Mühlenweg zu den Weiden hinter einem Bahndamm gefahren. Da sie unterwegs “Spuren” hinterließen, wurde der Mühlenweg als Kudrizkistraße bekannt. Kurt sagte, dass ein Dorfbewohner während des Zweiten Weltkriegs seiner Familie eine Feldpostkarte mit der Aufschrift “Kudrizkistraße” ohne weitere Ortsangaben zugesandt habe – und dass sie ihr Ziel erreicht habe. Einmal machten die beiden Kinder Martin und Heinz einen Scherz, indem sie Schweinegülle auf die Kühe warfen. Und vierzig Jahre später erinnert sich Martin, wie er von dem Hofdiener Alwis mit einem Schlag auf den Hals bestraft wurde, den er ihnen reichte, als er mit seinem Fahrrad vorbeifuhr. Martin fügte hinzu, dass Alwis ansonsten sehr kinderlieb und keinem Witz abgeneigt sei.

Ule hoped to find an old photo of the building in the Reken archives but there weren’t any because in those days, photography was reserved for more imposing buildings, like churches, inns and schools. As Ule says, “no house of poor people or pigsty was worthy of such attention and expense.” However, a set of evocative old photos was procured from the town archive. You can see some below.

Ule hoffte, ein altes Foto des Gebäudes in den Archiven von Reken finden zu können, aber es gab kein Foto, denn damals war die Fotografie für imposantere Gebäude wie Kirchen, Gasthäuser und Schulen reserviert. Wie Ule sagt, “war kein Haus von Armen oder Schweinestall einer solchen Aufmerksamkeit und Kosten würdig.” Aus dem Stadtarchiv wurde jedoch eine Reihe anregender alter Fotos beschafft. Sie können einige unten sehen.

The lack of photographic records of the pigsty was remedied once Ule moved to the village. She noticed the building right away, and watched it grow a little more crooked every year. It’s not surprising that she found it to be a compelling photography subject. I’m glad she made sure we wandered past it on our walk that day. I had to apologize for leaving everyone else waiting while I kept taking pictures – it was hard to stop.

Nein, es gab keine Fotos von unserem Schweinestall … bis Ule ins Dorf zog. Sie bemerkte das Gebäude sofort und sah zu, wie es jedes Jahr ein bisschen schief wurde. Es ist nicht verwunderlich, dass sie im alten Gebäude ein überzeugendes Fotomotiv gefunden hat. Ich bin froh, dass sie dafür gesorgt hat, dass wir an diesem Tag auf unserem Spaziergang daran vorbeigegangen sind. Ich musste mich entschuldigen, dass ich alle warten ließ, während ich weiter fotografierte – es war schwer aufzuhören.

14.

We are planning another post, this time with a few photos of each other’s that we will process our own way. Stay tuned!

Wir planen einen weiteren Beitrag, diesmal mit ein paar Fotos aus dem Archiv der jeweils anderen, die wir auf unsere eigene Weise bearbeiten werden. Bleib dran!


LOCAL WALKS: Wind in the Garden

Wind in the garden isn’t what a photographer wants, but there I was. The sky was pearly gray,

then

blue-and-white, and

gray again, and the flowers grinned

in a thousand bright colors.

Stillness came and went on rabbit’s feet,

the fickle sun flirted,

wobbly petals whipped

back and forth.

Gust, breeze

toss, scatter.

Stillness within.

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.


9.

10.

11.

12.

13.

14.

15.

16.



17.

18.



The photographs were taken on a windy afternoon at the Washington State University Discovery Garden, a public garden located in Mount Vernon, Washington, that is maintained by members of the Skagit County Extension Master Gardeners Program. June is glorious in the garden; I didn’t want to allow the wind to frustrate me so I went with it. When everything blew I put the camera on shutter priority, dialed back the exposure if I needed to, and set a long enough shutter speed to show the blur of movement (e.g. 1/4 sec.). When stillness prevailed I went back to aperture priority, shooting from f4.5 to f18. No tripod – I like to keep moving.

If you like the blurred photos, especially the more abstract ones, you might enjoy a recent post by Linda Grashoff at Romancing Reality. She has created some outstanding images using a different technique, Intentional Camera Movement.

ROAD TRIP: Over the Pass

A few weeks ago we took a three day road trip to the Methow Valley, a popular weekend hiking, biking and skiing destination in north-central Washington State. I read that Methow is an Okanagan word for sunflower (seeds). I don’t know why “seeds” is in parentheses, but I suppose that the sunflower is Arrowleaf balsmaroot, a locally abundant flower that brightens the valley’s hills in Spring.

Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) flowers backed by Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) at peak bloom.

To get to the Methow Valley we had to drive over the North Cascade Mountains, following the two-lane North Cascade Highway east for over 100 miles. By the time we reached the pass, our elevation had increased by about 5,450 feet (1661m). It’s an exhilarating drive, once you get into the mountains. We stopped at Newhalem, a tiny company town built around the hydroelectric plant that has powered Seattle for almost a hundred years. Here, we took a short walk on the Trail of Cedars to enjoy the view of the Skagit River and the beauty of the mature forest around it.

Skagit River at Newhalem, with mares’ tails clouds
Northern Starflower (Trientalis arctica) on the forest floor.
Mid-day shadows are well defined, and black and white brings them out.

We stopped a second time at an overlook to gaze at the blue-green waters of Diablo Lake, a reservoir created by one of three successive dams on the Skagit River.

Diablo Lake with Davis Peak in the background

As we approached the pass the clouds thickened and patches of snow appeared on the sides of the road. The North Cascade Highway is very avalanche-prone during the winter and closes from October until sometime in May, depending on weather. For a good six months you have to drive further south to another pass if you want to get from one side of the state to the other.

North Cascade Highway (Route 20) heading towards Washington Pass

Up at the pass there’s an overlook with an impressive mountain view where I hoped to stop for a look. The short road to the overlook was closed and still snowy, but we were able to park the car outside the gate and walk up. Taking care on the snow, we sucked in the fresh mountain air and enjoyed the silence.

Ravaged trees covered with lichens stand tall at Washington Pass.

A North Cascade mountain view at Washington Pass


The lichen-splotched rocks are an elegant complement to the plant life at the rugged pass.

Willow catkins

Liberty Bell mountain from Washington Pass

As we walked back to the car, a pair of Gray jays flew into view. It was clear that they were checking us out, and I knew what that meant – they wanted food! These birds are called Camp robbers, a well-deserved reputation. We happened to have a bag of nuts with us so we doled out a few peanuts, and could barely contain our joy the two jays swooped down onto our hands and grabbed the treats. I’ve fed birds by hand before, but not jays. I was struck by the satisfying plunk of their strong feet on my hand – these birds actually have a little weight to them, unlike the tiny chickadees I’m used to.

Hitting the Jackpot


Over the pass, down the mountain and into the valley we drove, from the wet west side of the Cascades to the dry east side. Before checking into our bnb we made one more stop, at Lewis Butte, where we dawdled amidst fragrant bitterbrush, lovely lupines, and sparkling aspens.

Aspen grove off Gunn Ranch Road, Winthrop

A pond reflects the Cascade foothills
A tree skeleton amidst the wildflowers near Lewis Butte

Homes with views

It’s such a pleasure to be able to experience a completely different environment after just a few hours’ drive. The small towns of Methow Valley have their charms too, with their “Wild West” atmosphere. They can get overrun with tourists at times, but it wasn’t a problem on this trip. We had a great time exploring back roads, and I plan to post photos from the rest of the trip later.

LOCAL WALKS: MORNING FOG

1. Driftwood, Lottie Bay

A late May walk on a cool, foggy morning, a favorite place ten minutes from home…

If you fly over this corner of Fidalgo Island in a small plane and look down, you’ll see a bay shaped like the curved knife used for chopping vegetables, sometimes called a mezzluna.  The knife edge is the beach. A rocky cliff takes a bite out of the edge and a long, narrow pier draws a fine line across the blade and into the bay. (A map is below, for reference.)

A bit of lawn disappears into thick woods surrounding the bay; the quiet water is speckled with rocks. To the west are more islands. In the distance, the Strait of Juan de Fuca disappears into the mist. In the off season the pier is deserted, the waters empty but for an occasional kayaker or small boat, the paths lightly traveled.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

2. At anchor in the fog, Bowman Bay

On this foggy morning there was just one other vehicle in the lot. I was effectively alone. We think of fog as removal: it takes away our ability to see clearly, it muffles sounds and obscures things.

But fog brings not-knowing forward, and what does that do? It returns us to the Wonder.

I’m not sure what’s ahead. I slow down.

3. Flowering grass, Bowman Bay

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

4. The path to Lighthouse Point, nearly overtaken by wildflowers and dune grass.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

5. The growth of past seasons mixes with the fresh blades of dune grass on a tangled mess of crumbling driftwood.

 

Wild Nootka roses (Rosa nutkana) sprinkle the path like fat, pink polka dots. The pretty magenta flowers of Common vetch (Vicia sativa) are plentiful too, but are almost lost in  the welcoming, cloud-like drifts of Cow parsnip (Heracleum lanatum).

Stillness hangs heavy. The air is cool.

At the south end of the beach is a tombolo, an Italian-derived word for a narrow strip of land connecting an island to the mainland. This tombolo, strung between two bays, connects Lighthouse Point to Fidalgo Island. It’s the kind of place where edges have no edge, dancing with the tides, creating and erasing boundaries with the unpredictability of a butterfly’s flight. One day, masses of seaweed wash up onto the beach in spongy, pungent mounds. Another day a windstorm spills bay water into the marshy wetland. Sands shift and reach into the dune grass that lines a path over the tombolo. Waves cut shallow scoops from the shoreline. Forty-foot logs are tossed about like toothpicks, eventually becoming rooted in place by wildflowers growing around them. The rubbery ropes of Bullwhip kelp scribe messages in the sand alongside dainty racoon tracks.

It’s always changing here.

7. A receding tide deposits layers of seaweed on the beach and bares barnacle-studded rocks at the base of the cliff.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

8. On top of the cliff the view through the smooth branches of a Madrone tree is fine. Even on a foggy day. Especially so.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

9. Splashes of ochre-colored lichens, chestnut-hued moss, wildflowers, grasses and stunted trees provide decor on a cliff to the north of Light House Point.

On the back side of the tombolo a damp wetland gives way to a sheltered cove called Lottie Bay. This bay is fed by the straight whose churning waters barrel through Deception Pass several times a day, carrying water from the Pacific, ninety miles to the west. With its muddy, shallow bottom, the little cove is a favorite spot of gulls, ducks and chattering Kingfishers. On this day Kildeer spew their high-pitched cries into the gray air, raising the alarm at the slightest perception of threat. One bird drags its wing in the classic “broken wing” feint, designed by some mysterious twist of genetic material to draw would-be predators towards the bird pretending to be injured and away from its vulnerable young.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

10. Cow parsnip (Heracleum lanatum) is beginning to go to seed. The young plant stems were peeled and eaten like celery by local tribes. Black bears forage on it too, which makes me wonder if the bear that swam ashore near here three weeks earlier might have snacked on this plant. That young bear swam to several other islands before being spotted back on the mainland, near a highway. It was finally darted, captured, and hauled off to the mountains. Life should be easier there, assuming this youngster didn’t get too used to dining on birdseed and trash during his island odyssey.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

11. A washed up, barnacle-studded branch is caught in a tangle of dune grass. Another still life to admire, until it all changes again with the next tide.

I return to this magical place at different hours, in fair and foul weather, through all the seasons. Because different habitats are jammed up against one another edge to edge, there are quick, dramatic changes to experience with all my senses. The chill in the air, the scent of low tides, the zippy flight of swallows and the echoing calls of Oystercatchers – it’s always a sensory banquet.

Woods, beaches, a wetland or two, rocky cliffs, a muddy bay, off-shore islands – all in the space of a half mile or so. That’s just what I see on foot, but if I were a seal or an otter, an eagle or a squirrel, then I would have parsed this place into different components. I’d have it memorized by sense instead of names: the place of fast water, the high tree where everything can be seen, the tangle of brush to hide in…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

12. A bouquet of wildflowers cascades off a cliff on Lighthouse Point. Delicate pink Streambank Spring beauty (Montia or Claytonia parvifolia) intermingles with the yellow flowers and succulent, blue-green leaves of Broad-leaved stonecrop (Sedum spathufolium).  Grasses, Licorice fern and Bedstraw (Galium triflorum) help anchor the mass to the rocks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

13. Delicate Streambank Spring beauty.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

14. I believe this is Baltic rush, Juncus balticus. Rushes look like grass until you get closer.  They’re “walk right by” plants of cool, damp places that most people don’t notice. In Spring, the discerning eye can find a complex, beautiful architecture in their flowers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

15. The evergreen Sword fern (Polystichum munitum) is ubiquitous in the northwest, thriving in many different habitats. The repeating patterns are irresistible.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

16. Seaweed caught on a branch shows just how high the tides can go. This may have happened last winter in a storm. It’s a rather desolate look, but I think it captures the wildness of this place.

***

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn
by Wu Men (Hui-k’ai)

English version by Stephen Mitchell

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

from Poetry Chaikhana Blog

(The poem is a verse from Ordinary Mind is the Way, Case 19 in the Gateless Gate (Mumonkon), a compilation of zen koans compiled over 700 years ago in China by Chinese Zen master Wu-men Hui-hai.)

 

***

A rough map of the places mentioned in this post

Eyes on Leiden

1. Morning in the heart of Leiden.

Leiden is on the Oude Rijn, part of the Rhine delta that empties into the North Sea. Like a number of historic cities in the Netherlands, it’s old; a hill settlement goes back to at least 860. The country’s oldest university, Leiden University, was founded here in 1575. A picturesque, canal-filled, culturally vibrant city, it seemed a good place to begin a trip to northern Europe – not least because our flight from Seattle landed in nearby Amsterdam.

I found an airbnb at a beautiful home on a canal (which turned out to be one of the best places I’ve ever stayed in). Most people are fluent in English. Museums are not as crowded as they are in big cities like Amsterdam, and there are things to see (Rembrandt’s birthplace, an historic botanical garden). The transportation looked doable….so we made Leiden the first destination on a three-week northern Europe  trip.

 

2. An early morning view from our second floor digs on a picturesque canal. The little structure is a small aviary full of parrots and other exotic birds.

 

Leiden turned out to be more delightful than we could have imagined. The people we met were open, warm, enthusiastic, intelligent. I know, it seems idealized and it’s a generalization, but that was our experience. The food we ate wasn’t elaborate, but it was excellent. It seemed to us that the ingredients were fresher, and respectful attention went into the preparation. I enjoyed the aesthetic awareness and care brought to bear on everyday functionality (like the trains and buses) and mundane details of daily life (like clean streets). In restaurants and coffee shops people appeared to be immersed in animated conversations.

Western civilization’s long history in Europe lends a certain depth to life there. On the other hand, I think Americans carry a sense of wide possibilities, facing towards the future, which Europe’s tradition-laden culture can dampen. Of course it was just a few weeks, not a year or a decade, so my observations are superficial. The same holds for my photographs, which don’t have the kind of depth that I’m able to bring to subjects I’ve lived with a long time. With those reservations, here’s a group of photos from four days spent walking around Leiden.

 

3. FF Burgers makes great burgers and serves a variety of sides, from papadoms to sweet potatoes. Blankets on the bench are there to wrap yourself against the chilly Spring air.

 

4. A quiet moment at Anne & Max, which advertises “slow coffee.” The espresso was perfect, the food delicious.

 

5. A street corner in the heart of the city, where cars are scarce.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

6. There were lots of handsome vintage bikes around.

 

7. The cats have learned to watch out for them.

 

8. The Jackdaws mostly watch out for errant crumbs – they don’t seem to be afraid of much.

 

9. I couldn’t stop admiring the cobblestones and brick.

 

10. Where I live, the only things this old are rocks, and maybe a few trees.

 

 

 

12. The titles on these books speak to the fact that this is a university town.

 

 

 

14. A mural, and the ubiquitous bikes.

 

15. A residence in the old part of town. I wonder what’s up with the stack of stone circles on the left.

 

16. Leiden has some wonderful old trees, like this sycamore next to a canal.

 

17. More historic architecture from the city center.

 

18. The canal reflections never stop.

 

19. Even locals stopped to take pictures with their phones of this sunset, lighting up the underside of a bridge.

 

 

21. The coat of arms for Eva van Hoogeveen, “a very decent and praiseworthy girl,” the daughter of Albrecht van Hoogeveen, a mayor of Leiden in the mid-1600’s. Houses for poor widows and unmarried women were built here in 1654-55.

 

22. I tried, but this was untranslatable. Maybe Harrie can explain.

 

23. Fallen flowers and reflections in a canal.

 

24. A view from the Burcht, where a fortified tower built in the 11th century affords an opportunity to gaze through the trees at a jumble of colorfully tiled rooftops.

 

25. An evening view down a bike-strewn street in the heart of Leiden.

 

The highlights of Leiden were things we didn’t plan, as is often the case. We stumbled across an especially fascinating “un-museum” – the American Pilgrim Museum. There was a good hour or more spent exploring a spell-binding antique store, housed in a warren of centuries-old, connected buildings. The Saturday market and the botanical garden next to Leiden University were both impressive, but I’ll save the garden, antique shop and museum for later.

While we were in Leiden we took a quick train ride to Rotterdam; that’s another story too. From Leiden we traveled to Ghent, Belgium, another old city full of canals and history. There was a day in Lille, France, a week in Germany, and a few days in Amsterdam. We were on the move a lot, though we were careful to avoid one-night stops. Most people I know have been to Europe, many of them more than once. I wasn’t interested in Europe when I was younger. Later, family and job responsibilities kept me from traveling more than a week at a time. But finally the time, the desire, and the funds converged, so we did bounce from country to country a bit, wanting to experience as much as possible. As I get a little more perspective on the trip it seems worth it though. It was a late-life crash course in northern European culture, and we’re better for having done it.

 

26. Sunset, canal view, Zoeterwoodse Singel.