LOCAL WALKS: Sugarloaf

Sugarloaf – the name is used a lot for peaks and promontories, but why it was given to this hill on Fidalgo Island I don’t know. At 1275 feet (389m) it’s a bit lower than the island’s highest point, Mount Erie. Neither place gets snow very often. As it happened though, the first time I hiked to Sugarloaf there were a few patches of snow on the ground. That was mid-February of this year.

1. Looking southwest towards Whidbey Island from Sugarloaf.

The sun was shining through the trees and ferns but clouds obscured the horizon. I had taken an easier route than the one most people use. Instead of beginning the hike at the bottom I drove up the winding, two-lane road that leads to the top of Mount Erie. Part-way up the drive there’s a trailhead for Sugarloaf and room for a car or two on the side of the road. I parked there and set out, keeping a map close at hand because of the confusing maze of trails through these woods. Trail 215 is part of the Anacortes Community Forest Lands and is rated technically difficult because of numerous rocks, roots and a few steep pitches, but it’s short. I was at the top after about a half mile of winding through the forest.

2. A large old Douglas fir reaches out as if to embrace the trail.

3. The snow won’t last long.
4. Sword fern brightens the way with emerald green.

The view of Whidbey Island and the San Juans was a nice reward and behind some trees, a slice of the Cascade Range was visible in the other direction. Tall, fire-blackened Douglas fir trees stood in the clearing alongside the fresh green of young Madrones. I wondered how long ago the fire came through here. How was it extinguished, so far from a water source?

5. Some were spared, some weren’t.
6. Madrone trees grow among fire-blackened logs.

7. Rocks at Sugarloaf tell stories I can’t decipher.

I enjoyed the hike but it wasn’t until May that I got back there again, this time with a group of native plant enthusiasts. Learning about Fidalgo Island’s wildflowers was exciting. Gripped by a fever of wildflower identification, I came back three times that month, introducing friends to favorite new figures in my personal forest lexicon.

I worked at identifying flowers that were new to me, recording what I saw with the camera. When I could, I got down close for the challenging task of making photographs that were more than documents, often failing, sometimes succeeding. This kept me busy for weeks.

All of the flowers here were seen on Sugarloaf in May.

8. Setting up to photograph wildflowers in a meadow on Mount Erie.

12. A tiny moth was disturbed when I sat on a rock to have lunch.

13. Sugarloaf trail in spring.

15. Close-up of a Heuchera leaf.
16. Fog settles among the islands of the Salish Sea.

After the spring wildflower frenzy I didn’t get back up to Sugarloaf all summer. Then a few weeks ago I returned for a quiet woodland walk. I saw no one. One last flower bloomed in an opening, mushrooms lined the trail, and raindrops glistened in the bushes in the low, angled light. I amused myself with photographing tiny twigs and mushrooms.

18.
19.

20.
21.
22.
23. Two Douglas firs in the last sunlight of the day.

A raven soared by and was quickly gone, riding the mountainside updrafts. I lingered to watch the sunset over the mountains, far off in the distance. By the time I was heading back down the trail, the sun had gone under and it was getting dark. Dozens of small white mushrooms growing in the fir needle duff lit up the forest gloom, like little stars showing me the way.

I’ll be back.

24. A raven tilts its tail to catch an updraft and glide away.
25. Sunset at Sugarloaf.

26. Mushrooms in the forest.

***


53 comments

  1. Marvelous, Lynn. Your landscapes are dreamy and your close-ups are gorgeous. I love your fortitude in the wildflower hunt and fun to revisit favorite spots in different seasons. I felt a calmness after reading this. ☺️

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    • It wasn’t fortitude, I was just obsessed! It’s a good thing I have time off. πŸ˜‰ Seriously, thank you very much, Jane. I’m glad you liked the seasonal approach, even if the seasons aren’t quite as distinct here as they are in some places. Enjoy the rest of your weekend. πŸ™‚

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    • It would be nice to see flowers like those that early in the year, but all of those photos are from May, except that lest one from a few weeks ago. The link was good! I saw Danny Kaye in the back of a health food restaurant I used to go to in NYC, way back in the 70’s. He was hard to miss. πŸ™‚

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    • Those tiny Heauchera’s are some of my favorites up there – there’s a whole row of them on a little cliff at the side of the trail. The ethereal clusters lean out like a delicate froth, and are so pretty to see as you climb towards them. How nice that you zeroed in on that one! The plant has been extensively hybridized and is very popular in perennial borders, sold as “Coral Bells.” If you have a garden, you could grow it! Thanks, Robert.

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  2. I always enjoy a walk in the northwest wood with you! You always point out such beautiful subjects through you photographs. In this series my very favorite is 2 … beautifully framed! I love the way the branch comes right at me. Other standouts are the delicate flowers in the 14 series. I also am drawn to 22 pensive yet delicate and peaceful. This is a good example of a centered subject that works well with an asymmetrical background.

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    • πŸ™‚ The centered subject and the off-center background….I try not to center the subjects but I don’t have to tell you, that’s where they often look best. You would love seeing the old Douglas fir in #2. I’ve tried to get that image several times. It’s hard. That one works but I feel like it could be better. It IS an amazing tree, with that branch reaching out over the curve of the path. πŸ™‚ Thank you, Denise. Stay warm! πŸ™‚

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  3. Beautiful pictures! Wow, what a variety of little flowers and one is nicer then the other (we would say: eine hΓΌbscher als die andere πŸ™‚ And so many orchids! I love the little rose. I prefer wild roses in general. They are so nice in their “smallness”. I am astonished that the larkspur is blooming in May! I think overhere it is blooming in summertime. Okay, early summertime as I just read. Nevertheless your May must be quite mild. The plant next to the picture #11 where you wrote paintbrush looks a bit like Honeysuckle to me? Or is it paintbrush too? Funny name by the way. I can see the brush πŸ™‚ The moth is fabulous. What colors and what a fantastic pattern! A perfect pattern for cloth, right? You got the tiny flowers of #14 very well. Nr. #4 is so nice. I always love these “shiny” leaves. I like your thought of the mushroom-stars leading you the way out of the wood. A bit like HΓ€nsel and Gretel πŸ™‚

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    • I was telling Graham above that the final edits I made to the text disappeared. When I wrote them over again I rushed, so I missed a few, including the names of those two plants. They were there and then they were gone, and I didn’t notice, oops! I put them back. πŸ™‚ You were right. Honeysuckle has a familiar form, doesn’t it? That one is very exotic for around here, I think. The paintbrush is one of many similar flowers in the West. And the wild rose – we have two here and I agree, the simple, open friendly shapes are appealing. Larkspur – I think that was late May, and it kept going for a while, as I remember. Such a gorgeous blue, but this one is quite short. The moth was a tiny surprise, fluttering up when I sat down – I bothered it, otherwise, I never would have seen it. How about fabric with a pattern of that moth and some of the ones you have photographed? In linen with an off-white background. πŸ™‚ All the photos in #14 were made at f2.8, that’s where the soft background comes from. πŸ™‚ Thank you, Almuth, I’m glad you enjoyed this – I wanted to share the wildflower photos and finally, I did.

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      • I love larkspur, the blue is incredible! Lark is a bird right? This paintbrush looks a bit familiar to me, Maybe they remind me of a different flower. I agree with you, the pattern from the moth would be beautiful for cloth. PrΓͺt Γ  porter πŸ™‚ – So you learned a lot about your environment and your tiny flowers this year. I remember so well that you wanted to be there in springtime and I can understand that very well. What nice findings! I wish you more surprising and fulfilling botanical sightings πŸ™‚

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        • πŸ™‚ Yes, I was really looking forward to spring here. I went out many, many times to a variety of parks here during spring to look for wildflowers. Doing the field trip with the native plant group was really helpful. We’ll go away next March but we should be back for the busiest time, and it will be fun to chase after the flowers again. Hopefully, I will feel a little less crazy next spring – at least a few flowers will be familiar (but I’m sure I will have to relearn some of them, too).

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        • And I am sure you will find some more πŸ™‚ Such field trips are really a good thing. I wanted to do one here in town, but the summer was too hot, unfortunately. Spring is a better time for such trips. Do they have trips with different topics?

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        • This one was part of a whole weekend of trips and talks organized every year by a native plant group in my state. Next year it will be in a different place – this year it just happened to be right on my island, which was super lucky. This organization sometimes has one-day trips to different places, always for plants. Of course, bird trips organized by birdwatching groups are popular. There must be mushroom trips too. I’ve seen geology trips advertised, too….there is always something going on!

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  4. This collection offers a masterclass in how to look and see. Some years ago, while holidaying in Scotland, we enjoyed an interesting walk around Loch Etive. A few days later we took the same walk in the company of a ranger. The transformation in our experience was quite revealing. Your post reminded me of that occasion.

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  5. It is very interesting to return to the same places at different times of the year. It’s a sweet and pleasant way to realize that time goes by, whether in nature … or in our lives!
    This post reveals very well your great pleasure in research and botany. And as always, beautiful images and details that fill our eyes! Thank you.
    I wish you a nice week!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly – returning in different seasons, in different weather, different times of the day – one gets to know a place this way. I do enjoy figuring out the names of the plants (and birds) that I find – it’s a challenge that grips me like a madness sometimes. As always, your comment is very perceptive. Thank you!!

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  6. The light on the foreground of #1 is handled beautifully, Lynn. And including that dead tree in the composition gives you an appealing L shape. Snow is hard to photograph; you did it very well in #3. I love the backlighting in #4. Jessica Winder (https://natureinfocus.blog/) recently wrote about xenoliths, which she defined as β€œa natural formation in granite rocks where a different kind of rock has been incorporated in the matrix.” I wonder if that white bit in your granite rock (#7) is a xenolith. Interesting photo even if it isn’t. I like the photos of #14, especially the first one, though all show your typical mastery of bokeh. The stripes of #16 are wonderful. How good of the clouds to cooperate. Those must be magic mushrooms in #25. Good job catching them! All in all, another enjoyable walk with youβ€”photos and story. I’m so glad you blog.

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    • I thought of you when I included the rock. πŸ™‚ Thank you for the link – I hadn’t seen her blog and I like all the variety – love all the water shots in “W”. That rock could be a xenolith, who knows. Geology mystifies me. It’s a lith anyway. πŸ˜‰ The mushrooms at the end were an offhand, casual shot – it was too dark to make a decent photo and I don’t have the technical expertise to convey what I saw. Then as i was working on this post I thought, why not put it into words and go a little heavy with the processing on the photo? The end result does bear some passing resemblance to what I saw. It was fun to reverse floor and ceiling in my head like that. I’m glad you’re glad. πŸ™‚

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  7. Love “Dozens of small white mushrooms growing in the fir needle duff lit up the forest gloom, like little stars showing me the way.”, and the picture too – that’s a good, magical way of thinking about things, my friend! Lots to like here: I suppose my favourite is 15; but also 6, 9, 10, 17, 18, 19, 22, 25 – a lot of good stuff!!! Hope you aren’t miffed about my electing not to wear dayglow on dark mornings – I’m being careful. A πŸ™‚

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    • It was a vision, Adrain, as I was rushing down the trail, wanting to get back to my car before it was impossible to see. Sometimes if you’re flying along, associations loosen. Does that make sense? Magical thinking is a good thing to indulge in when walking in the woods or making art, or walking on the levels, but can’t we please refrain from it when making political decisions? πŸ˜‰ I’m so glad you like the wildflowers and other details. No dayglo clothing? Maybe an accessory? A bright red reindeer nose might be seasonal….

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  8. Isn’t it fun to be obsessed by something, and to have your imagination and curiosity fired up? I’m glad we got to enjoy your forays into wildflowers. Your photos are stunning as always; I especially love 9, 10, 11, and 14. πŸ™‚

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    • Lots of practice, Ken, because I’ve always had a thing for that kind of look. The tiniest flowers are certainly harder, but the Oly 60mm macro at f2.8 generally works well for them. I think you know I have no patience for tripods so the other factor is the problem of something going out of focus because you breathed. πŸ™‚ That happens, but hopefully, I click enough times to get a few good ones. I was afraid those images might get lost in that little gallery so I’m really happy you saw them and approved. Thank you!

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  9. You start with a breathtaking view of Sugarloaf’s Whidbey Island, and I know immediately, here comes such a wonderful walk again!
    Your text puts me in the right mood for it, and the mighty Douglas fir astonishes me: how tiny the path is, compared to the mighty branches that build a barrier, as if they want to prevent you from moving on.
    Touching I find the young Madrones among the black-burned wood, such fires are terrible, but they seem to challenge new life.
    But most of all I love your bouquet of wildflowers: they are especially finely photographed and even named – that must have been a lot of work. I imagine you, enchanted by so much beauty, stepping from plant to plant to find the right place for the next shot.
    With the autumnal gentle sunsets you round off your successful dramaturgy and I happily return to my own world. Thank you for this wonderful trip, dear Lynn

    Liked by 1 person

    • πŸ™‚ Thank you, Ule. The little Madrones coming up between the charred pieces of wood is a beautiful sight to see. There’s another forest I visit a lot near here which also had a bad fire. It’s interesting to see the plants growing there, too, and the fire scars on the trees. The dominant tree in the forests on our island is Douglas fir, which has very thick bark. That helps it survive fires. There is a long period of very dry weather every summer so fires are a fact of life, but the Douglas fir often lives through them. (Of course, on a relatively small island like this one, any fire that starts will be put out pretty quickly. Before white people arrived it was different – fires burned longer. Suppressing fires isn’t always the best thing to do for the environment, but that’s another discussion). I had so much fun identifying the wildflowers, and the field trip I took one day with a native plant group helped a lot. I really was obsessed with it. You imagine right – stepping slowly, carefully. πŸ™‚ So glad you enjoyed the local walk, Ule, wish you were here!!

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