LOCAL WALKS: Signs of Spring in the Pacific Northwest

Because we need it….

1. Skunk cabbage, also known as Swamp lantern, lights up a wetland on Fidalgo Island. Lysichiton americanum was considered famine food by Pacific Northwest tribes so it wasn’t eaten often. The leaves were used for lining baskets and steaming pits.
2. Look closely at catkins and you’ll see they’re composed of dozens of tiny flowers that release pollen into the Spring air. These catkins are probably Red alder (Alnus rubra), an abundant tree on moist sites in our area.
3. More catkins. These don’t dangle but are upright. It’s a willow (Salix sp.) of some kind. We have many willow species and so far, I haven’t learned to tell them apart.


4. One of our most delightful signs of Spring is the Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum). Its luscious pink flowers grace drab, late winter woodlands with just the pop of color we need. Seeds from this plant were sent back to Europe by explorer David Douglas (1799-1834) and after a few years, they flowered. The introduction of the attractive shrub into the nursery trade was so successful that it covered Douglas’ expedition costs. Thanks to Douglas, a blogging friend living in Brussels has been enjoying the same flowering shrub on her deck that I’ve been photographing along wooded trails near home.

5. A pink haze of Red-flowering currant. This photo and the one above it were made with a vintage Takumar 50mm f1.4 lens.
6. In a dim tangle of fallen trees and branches, Red-flowering currant provides a bright spot.
7. Look carefully and you can see a Red-flowering currant bush blooming high up on this rock wall, its roots buried deep in a crevice. Lichens, Licorice fern, mosses, and other plants adorn this cliff at Lighthouse Point, in Deception Pass State Park.

8. I can’t resist!

9. I literally jumped up and down when I saw this tiny gem, the first of the little Spring wildflowers that grace the bluffs and small meadows on our island. In the iris family, this diminutive beauty is called a Satin flower, or Douglas’ grass-widow (Olsynium douglasii). The pair of flowers was just a few inches tall, growing near the edge of a sheer cliff. As the turbulent waters of Deception Pass rushed past below me, I crept up to the flowers on hands and knees, trying to photograph them despite stiff joints and a chilly breeze. You can bet I was smiling.

10. An early bee. It was a few minutes past 5pm when I saw this motionless bee on a Soapberry (Shepherdia canadensis) plant. It’s also called Soopolallie, “soop” like soap and olallie, a native tribal word for berry. The berries foam up when beaten to make a native dish. The tiny flowers must be providing nectar for early bees at a time when few flowers are available.

11. This distinctively marked Blacktail deer, a subspecies of the Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) has been munching its way through our yard off and on since we arrived in July, 2018. In this photo, taken March 8th, we think she looks pregnant. Recently she seems slimmer, so we’re hoping to see a fawn with her soon. Taken with a vintage Takumar 50mm f1.4 lens.

12. Mount Baker is about 40 miles as the crow flies from this field near Skagit Bay. Up on the snow-covered mountain, the Mt. Baker Ski Area has closed temporarily to allow its ski patrol medical professionals to assist people elsewhere. Skiers and boarders will have to wait and see if the lifts run again this season. Back in the winter of 1998-1999, Mt. Baker achieved the world record for seasonal snowfall: 1,140 inches, or 95 feet (28.9m).
13. The upright leaves and dangling flowers of Indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) are a welcome sight in the forest. Indian plum (also called Osoberry) blooms early, in late winter. It’s an important nectar source for early bees and hummingbirds. I have photos of buds dated as early as January 30th. This photo was made March 10th, with a vintage Takumar 50mm f1.4 lens.
14. Indian plum leaves on a bush growing along a seasonal stream next to our house. Photo made with a vintage Takumar 50mm f1.4 lens.

15. The fine, green twigs and buds of the Red huckleberry bush (Vaccinium parviflorum) are a common sight in forests on Fidalgo Island. Later there will be little juicy, red berries. Supposedly a great pie can be made (using plenty of sugar, I bet) but I’ve never seen more than a few berries on a bush.
16. Kayakers are out again, plying the calm waters of Rosario Bay at Deception Pass. On a quieter bay behind the rock on the left, we watched a Harbor seal cavorting last week. Tail slaps, leaps out of the water and bubble blowing made up the above-water repertoire that seemed to impress a nearby female. Who knows what else was happening below the water! We can’t be 100% sure of the seals’ sex, but the display, which went on for over 20 minutes, sure had that “Check me out!” look.

17. Common mergansers (Mergus merganser) were gathering at Padilla Bay on this blustery March day. Soon they’ll migrate north to nest. Mergansers are diving ducks. I’ve seen them hunt in packs by herding minnows into tight schools so the fishing is easier. In the background, the whiter areas are sections that have been logged more recently than the darker areas.
18. This dark scene appeals to me for its muddy, early Spring atmosphere.

19. Mud at my feet, cherry blossoms overhead: Spring.

20. Thousands of Trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator) overwinter in agricultural fields just east of Fidalgo Island. The Trumpeter swan is the heaviest bird in North America and has the longest wingspan – up to 8 feet, or 2.4 meters. Every fall our county’s farmers leave some potatoes and corn in their fields for the swans to forage all winter long. Soon they’ll be off to Alaska to breed.
21. Shooting into bright sunlight drained the color out of this photo, an effect I think adds a nice atmosphere to this roadside scene of Trumpeter swans drinking from a flooded field with a farmer on his tractor in the distance.
22. Skagit County farmers grow acres of daffodils and tulips. This field was planted by RoozenGaarde, a family company that grows flowers from bulbs. It’s largest tulip bulb grower in North America, with 1000 acres of flower fields and 16 acres of greenhouses here in the Skagit Valley. The “daffs” are at peak bloom now; tulips will bloom in about a month.

23. Back in the forest, Swamp lanterns bloom along a seep at the edge of the wetland.
Spring! I love it.

***


111 comments

  1. Your pictures are always so beautiful. It’s so nice to see pictures from the Pacific Northwest, I sometimes miss it. Hope you are well. Be safe and stay healthy. Sending best wishes from Munich. J.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jutta, what a surprise – it’s good to hear from you. I didn’t even know you had moved to Munich. And of course, you might miss the PNW once in a while! I still miss NYC. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Take care and thanks for the good wishes. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • What a great comment, Howard – I’m glad! Some of the players are different here, but the overall feeling is the same as it is where you live, I imagine. Enjoy, and keep healthy. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  2. I like the diagonal arrangement of the skunk cabbage in #1. The apparent glow in #23 justifies the name “swamp lantern.”

    The catkins in #2 look surprisingly like the inflorescence of ragweed, whose many little flowers also hang downโ€”also like the bee in #10.

    Your text in #4 serves as a reminder that the world has become increasingly internationalized since the Age of Exploration.

    How about that wing-flap in #20? Who’d’ve thought trumpeter swans would eat potatoes?

    It’s not everyone who has current currant pictures. Did you know that currants are named for Corinth?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Steve. This is the first year that I’ve truly understood the “Swamp lantern” moniker, since I’ve seen more than usual, and some have been in dim places. I never thought of a resemblance between catkins and ragweed – interesting! And the bee – I tried to ID him, but it was a no go. The potato-eating swans surprised me when I moved here – so strange, but it seems to work. Currant and Corinth? No. THanks for the comment! ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. What a lovely set, Lynn–I know I’m ready for spring as well.
    The rains have begun here, daffs starting to peak through, crocuses coming up all around, the birds extra active and noisy. A nice contrast to things going on in “our world”.

    And Mr. Douglas–my, what a busy fellow, nomenclature-wise! (Douglas firs are named for him as well, I presume…)

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    • Our rains were really heavy all February, setting us up well. Now it’s dry again but hopefully, we’ll get more rain soon. Isn’t it fantastic to open this door in the early morning these days and hear all that birdsong? I love it. And yes, just what the doctor ordered, or if he didn’t, he should have. Or she should have. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Yes, the trees, Douglas squirrels too, and Douglasia, an alpine flower, a Hawaiian pandanus tree, a Hawaaian fern and a Hawaaian feather. The story of his death is wild…

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  4. The Red-flowering currant is blooming in my garden right now, it s always causing a smile of welcome to spring in me, and a deep and excited humming from the early bumble bees. You captured the currants in an especially delicat way, so tender and charming. Your photos show that there is spring and new life after every dark period, a message I feel is important during the Corona weeks we are going through. World wide humanity may be re-found through this. Your pictures help to remember how smiling feels.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I thought maybe you had one of the currants too…I know you’re enjoying it (and more!). You can imagine how exciting it is to see that delicate pink amidst all the dark greens and browns here. A dark period indeed, but at least we have the beauty of Spring to help keep us grounded, right? Your hope that humanity becomes a little kinder is a good one. I suppose there will be many examples in the news (and in our lives) of extremes of behavior, positive and negative. It would be nice if people come out of this with more tolerance. Your last sentence is a treasure, Ule! A treasure!

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      • โ˜บ
        The extremes are already happening, in both directions as you say. As to the future, we’ll see.
        It must be breathtaking suddenly meeting a blooming currant in winterly nature. I have never seen one in the wild.

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  5. Your blog is always The Site for Sore Eyes, really like a balm. I donโ€™t think Iโ€™ve ever seen that red-flowering currant, or the satin flower – – what beautiful, vibrant colors to see shimmering in the woods. Almost like fuschia color? And you got a great shot of that swan, practicing his conducting in the mirror, to lead the other trumpeters I guess.
    Skunk cabbage, now thatโ€™s familiar. But I hadnโ€™t known the โ€œswamp lanternโ€ name, thatโ€™s cool, and it does look like muted yellow flames. You really gave it a nice treatment in that first photo, and #23 — people will want to run out and plant it, if theyโ€™ve got a boggy corner in their garden. Iโ€™ve always thought the leaves were attractive, but if youโ€™ve ever stepped on one accidentally, you donโ€™t forget the smell!
    Along the Milwaukee River, it’s more akin to #18, saturated mud, but you can smell spring things brewing. Thanks for a really lovely spring album!

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    • We need balms these days… The currant is a West Coast plant. So’s the little Satin flower; that one blooms and disappears quickly. The currant might be sold in some of your local nurseries. There are many plants native to the strip of land from SE Alaska to northern CA, and west of the mountains. That coastal strip has its own weather and flora. ๐Ÿ™‚
      The eastern Skunk cabbage isn’t bright yellow. That yellow color gave the plant the lantern name – it really beams in dark places, especially when low sunlight hits it. Sometimes when it’s at peak bloom there is a heavy, perfumy scent that hangs in the air. It’s intoxicating, and unlike that stink of the crushed leaves. An interesting plant!!
      I like that muddy look, too – there’s beauty there, the beauty of squishy growing things. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thank you, Robert. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  6. Hooray for signs of Spring. This was a delightful and beautiful walk with you, Lynn. I’d jump for joy if I came across that little jewel of a Satin Flower too. It’s a cutie and a delight to see. The currant also.
    But, as I bet you’d anticipate, I was especially happy to see your Skunk Cabbages. So different from ours and that last really demonstrates the lantern moniker. They seem to glow.
    Thanks for such an uplifting post, they all are actually, but seeing Spring bursting out is much needed right now. โค

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    • I was hoping you would like these Skunk cabbage photos. ๐Ÿ™‚ The Satin flowers are fragile and only las ta few days – I was lucky to be there at the right time, and before the hoards started visiting the park. I imagine they’re trampled now, sadly. But there are places that are less well-known, and I’ll be trying to concentrate my walking in them now. There’s so much more of Spring to see! ๐Ÿ™‚

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        • The timing was perfect – these were fresh, and the light was nice. My impression is that a number of the Pacific northwestern versions of plants and animals aren’t quite as colorful as the eastern versions. Blue jay vs. Stellers jay, PNW Song sparrow vs. “normal” Song sparrow, Rose-breasted vs. Black-headed grosbeak, we have nothing like a Cardinal, fewer trilliums, nothing like pink lady’s slippers…..That theory is probably could be way off, but anyway, this one goes against the grain of it. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  7. A wonderful spring selection and a welcome pick me up in these difficult days. The bee looks suspiciously waspish to me. I am walking tomorrow and I hope I find as many bursts of spring colour.

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  8. Cheerful reminders of what’s out there beyond the buildings we suddenly find ourselves stuck inside. In keeping with my wall obsession, I particularly loved the shot of the cliff with the currant bush, lichens, and mosses all over it. Almost like the patchy walls of Antigua that we admired!

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    • I can see the connection between that cliff face, which I’ve looked at a lot, and the Antigua wall photos. It’s cool that you made the connection. I hope you get out once in a while without too much difficulty. Crazy times!

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    • It was exciting to find a group of them standing in a puddle not far from the raid. Too often they’re a good distance away, and of course, they’re not usually standing in a pretty puddle. ๐Ÿ™‚ Glad you enjoyed it, Sheri, and I’m glad you’re enjoying Spring on your river. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • Skunklets, that’s too much! Named in honor of him are Douglas firs, Douglas squirrels and some Hawaiian plants. He had an interesting life, it’s worth doing a search. Take care Penny, and thanks for stopping by. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • That’s so good to hear, Alex. I wasn’t sure, which is probably no surprise. It was one of those instances where what you see in person has a far different impact than the photo. You know you’re not going to be able to photograph the feeling you’re getting but you try anyway, and then you get home and fiddle with it to get as close as possible. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I hope all is well with you – I know it’s been crazy around you.

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      • Yes, we have two species, the Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator, and the Goosander Mergus merganser. Happy to have surprised you! Yes, the virus storm is fast approaching here, and we have leg and back problems – but luckily a few friends who can help us if we need it. You two take care too. A ๐Ÿ™‚

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  9. And what a beautiful Spring you are having up there!

    I’m glad you managed to crawl/creep up to your beloved flowers in #9…makes me smile to imagine you jumping up and down when you saw them. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • One thing I love about it is that it’s very slow because the weather never really heats up. It’s been really thrilling to find and learn the local Spring wildflowers. They’re different than what I saw where I lived before – just an hour or so north and it’s a different environment, primarily because of all the water. Thank you Scott, I appreciate your kindness. ๐Ÿ™‚

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    • ๐Ÿ™‚ It will come, with mud, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰ It’s nice here because we have a long time fo temps between the low 40’s and mid 50’s. It doesn’t get super cold and it never really heats up either so Spring takes its time. I hope you can find that “follow” button. Take care!!!

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  10. You’ve done a great job finding and photographing these beautiful signs of spring. They capture the essence of spring so well. Favorites in this set include; #1 Swamp Lanterns, #13 Indian Plum, #19 Cherry Blossoms Overhead and #23 Swmap Lanterns, again. I love the dark atmosphere and light!

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    • Thanks so much, Denise. You still have plenty of snow around, I imagine. We can see it in the distance here. Those Swamp lanterns – it was good timing as they were at their peak, and quite untouched. Spot metering is my friend, darkening the surroundings. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Take care of yourself. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  11. These spring details that happen around us are wonderful and they were very well captured by Lynn’s sensitivity through a set of beautiful images and curious information.
    I found the interaction between farmers and trumpeter swans very interesting. Usually the human race is selfish enough to want to remove everything from the earth without thinking about others, especially animals. I’d say it’s nice!
    To conclude I would say that this is a good post to feed the hope of better times that we all need so much.
    Thanks for sharing!

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    • I guess it’s what we call a two-way street with the swans and farmers – lots of fertilizer on the fields! ๐Ÿ˜‰ But seriously, it IS a wonderful custom. There is a great deal of respect for the land in this area, and it pervades across all parts of life. It was one of the things that drew us to this area. We sure need better times, but it’s going to take a while, isn’t it, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. I hope life is not too difficult where you are. Thank you for the lovely comment and take care.

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  12. Hi Lynn, What a delight. I am thankful for your identification abilities! Your opening image of the skunk cabbage is gorgeous– I remember they really do smell like skunk, don’t they? And your red currant images are refreshing- #8 is especially pretty. I hope I run into a Satin Flower…maybe I have and thought it was a crocus. Mt Baker, your landscapes and the Trumpeter are so vibrant. (I noticed a funny typo in the Merganser paragraph ๐Ÿ˜‚…or maybe they just aren’t good at diving?) And your Cherry Blossom branches and dark country road appeal to me very much. Thank you for an eye-opening spring walk. ๐Ÿ’šWishing you days filled with comfort in nature and uplifting moments. Take care.

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    • Identifying plants is an obsession….maybe it’s the way I put the scientific genes to good use. ๐Ÿ™‚ There are great resources online, including lists made by our state native plant society of plants they found at many of my favorite places near home. It’s good to hear that dark, muddy country road appealed to you. Re stumbling on the Satin flower (aka Grasswidow!) – only in the right place. This is from Wikipedia: “It is native to western North America, from southern British Columbia south to northern California, and east to northwest Utah. It is the only species in the genus Olsynium in North America, the remaining 11 species being from South America.” Calflora shows it only in a few spots, mostly near OR. The crocuses are crocuses. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks again for gently noting the typo and seeing the humor in it. I wish you days of comfort in nature too, whether real or virtual.

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  13. Thank you for this lovely wander through the PNW wilderness. We just got back yesterday from 6 weeks in India and Malaysia and I haven’t been outdoors yet so it’s lovely to get this glimpse. Tomorrow I hope I’ve recovered enough from the long journey home and jet lag to hike the forest trail close to home and see the sweet early emergence of spring here myself.
    I too would have been smiling at the satin flowers.
    Alison

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    • I’m so glad you made it home without major disruptions. And it’s good that you can hike outdoors; that will feel great! Yesterday I found a trail in a popular park here that hardly anyone else was on – it was heaven. Take care, rest, and thanks for stopping by. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  14. Pingback: Jo’s Monday walk : Portagem to Ammaia | restlessjo

    • It pleases me that you point out #18, Robert. This is not typically a bright place, and it took me years to get used to that. But I like it now. Spot metering helps, too. ๐Ÿ™‚ Spring brings a special emotion for sure! Thank you!

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  15. Your are right: we need it. The best place to find peace and rest is nature and you found wonderful moments. Moments of spring ๐Ÿ™‚ I love love the swamp lanterns! They really look as if they lighten up the darker places in the wood. Incredible! Didn’t we see a similar kind here in the Berggarten? I think you told me, they grow in your area. But these are wonderful and you captured them so well. I like the Red-flowering currant very much. An early colorful sign of spring and you made such beautiful pictures of them. These pinkish spots are so delightful. The tender branches with promising buds and tiny flowers are always a joy to see. I joyn in into your jumping up and down by the sight of this wildflower in #9! Wow, what a beauty!!! I never saw something like that before. I think I will have to show it to my mother. She will love it! About the bee: I think she dressed up in a fantastic wasp costume ๐Ÿ˜‰ Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I hope you don’t mind. I like the cute deer and #12! #18 is great and shows your eye for art again. Lovely shot from the swans. You really lightened my heart up in these dark times. Thank you Lynn.

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    • The Swamp lanterns do lighten dark places. I noticed a place yesterday as I was driving home that had hundreds and hundreds of them, all in a low, scrappy-looking wooded swamp right at the side of the road. I’m sorry, i don’t remember seeing one in the Berggarten but I’m sure you’re right…actually I think I might remember it. ๐Ÿ™‚ I love the idea that you might show one of my flower photos to your mother, who I know has been a gardener for years. That little one comes early and is gone quickly. It’s very fragile and tiny. I’m so glad I saw it that day. Yes, the bee pretending to be a wasp, OK, whatever!! That was so funny! ๐Ÿ™‚ I saw a photo in an insect book of a kind of bee that looked very similar to this one, so I thought maybe it’s NOT a wasp, but really, I have no idea. We have not seen our deer for a week, but I think she moves though when we’re at our computers and we don’t even know she’s here. Stealth deer. I’m glad you appreciate #18. There’s something appealing about it – it’s something that I have seen so many times. You lighten my heart too, with your comments, so thank YOU. And stay healthy.

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      • Hundreds of them? Amazing. That must be awesome!!! A fascinating plant. The name ‘lantern’ won’t be far fetched. – I don’t know either about the beewasp or waspbee ๐Ÿ˜‰ I don’t know the wasps from the US. It reminded me of our wasps. But in the world of insects everythings possible ๐Ÿ™‚ – I am sure the deer walks around your house while you are staring on your screens, haha. Probably it looks through your windows, looking over your shoulder ๐Ÿ™‚ Stay healthy too and take care!

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  16. What a lovely array of Spring blossoms bursting through. It’s definitely a lovely place to live on your side of the world.

    (and 95feet of snow, well that’s some record).

    As always, I love viewing your photography skills, aside from the actual subject matter. In number 7, I immediately saw the shape of a deer or moose in the cracks in the rocks – I have rather vivid imagination.

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    • Such a nice comment, Hedy, in this time of feeling crazed and distracted. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But getting out does work wonders, and yes, it’s getting pretty decent around here. I see the deer/moose! That’s funny.
      I hope all’s well with you and the family, everyone in their separate province…take care, Spring is coming.

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    • Yes, we’re still getting out, but the governor of our state just put more restrictions in place. There’s nothing that says you can’t go for a walk – I am just picking where I walk carefully, avoiding the places that are getting busy because so many kids and parents are home. It’s cool that you like #18 – it’s not what I usually show but I really liked that scene. But the field of daffodils? You must see those all the time, no? Soon the huge tulip fields will be blooming. Maybe I’ll take a few pictures of those, too. Thanks for the link – that helps…but of course the good ones are expensive. It’s something to think about. You be careful too, especially when you’re out on the job.

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  17. The red currant is always a good sign of spring. I had one in the yard for 30 years, but in recent years it’s been fading and this year it’s done. Looks like you found Mt. Baker on a severe clear day. Can you imagine that much snow?

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    • Yes, I’ve really come to love those Red currants! And there’s something even more thrilling about seeing them blooming in the woods. That being said, maybe when things return to normal you can get a replacement for the tired one. We do have some super clear days now and then, though it’s obviously not the norm. I suppose they’re going to be even clearer while traffic is reduced. And no, I really can’t imagine that much snow in one season! Crazy. Thanks Dave! Stay well.

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    • Thank you – those earliest signs are such a pleasure – some must be showing where you are now, right? (I can’t remember where you live). I’m glad you enjoyed the post, thank you.

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    • I googled Sand lily – wow! I had never seen that plant. ๐Ÿ™‚ 4500′ – now I see why you’re waiting. ๐Ÿ™‚ And yes, dry landscapes are so very beautiful – I love them. I long to just go over the mountains here, to visit the east side of our state, but that is just a little too long a trip to make right now. Patience, right?

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