SYNAPTIC CROSSINGS

A runway show…

elegant black dresses

spare shapes

nubby textures

graceful curves

atypical lines

strong statements.

They’re here too – the shapes, textures, lines, and curves.

The statements.

Here

five thousand miles from Paris, at my door.

Seeing it all, I’m inspired

to grasp the magic box made of plastic and metal in my old hands.

To point it at something

just as a complex of sensations hisses

along the intricate pathways of my bodymind, informing a decision

to click.

I’ll pry the smooth little square from the box later.

I’ll sit in front of the computer

eyes fixed on the screen, fingers hovering over the keyboard

images floating in the light.

I’ll pick and choose. In some obscure part of my

thinking/feeling brain I’ll be moved

to make one shape darker, another shape brighter

one part sharper, one softer.

And then the leap over here

to this place where we meet across time and space

entangling our neurons with light.

The place where, when the stars align

you might experience a heightened noticing

a raised eyebrow, a widened pupil, a slight

upturn at the corners of the mouth.

There.

The job is done.

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What are these pictures?

  1. Leaves and bud of a Clasping twisted stalk (Streptopus amplexifolius).
  2. Leaf tip of an unidentified wildflower.
  3. Dead tree; Washington Park, Fidalgo Island.
  4. Buddha statue under a damaged plastic bag.
  5. Reflection of a tall, dead tree; Cranberry Lake, Fidalgo Island.
  6. Round rock under a damaged plastic bag.
  7. Nest that fell on the ground; Deception Pass State Park, Whidbey Island.
  8. Rock patterns; Larrabee State Park, Bellingham, Washington.
  9. Petals of a Dark-throated Shooting star (Primula pauciflora) seen from above.
  10. My shadow and a reflection.
  11. Three California sea lions snuggling on a float, seen from above; Newport, Oregon.
  12. Patterns in the sand; Bowman Bay beach, Deception Pass State Park, Fidalgo Island.

RAMBLING THROUGH the MONTH of MAY

We’re mid-way through May and already, trees are thick with leaves, dandelions have gone to seed, and rainbows of flowers vie for our attention. I’ve been rambling through local parks with my camera, photographing wildflowers, sea-and-sky horizons, and anything else that catches my eye. Last week we drove east for an hour to visit a state park that features a different type of ecosystem than ours. We don’t have Dogwood trees here but they were in full flower there. The forest floor displayed a soft, green carpet of Vanilla leaf plants. Their oddly toothed, tripartite leaves and candle-like flower wands always delight me.

Deception Pass State Park reopened recently to a flood of visitors. We got there early that first morning, ahead of the crowds. What a pleasure it was to walk across the wide beaches on a minus tide (minus tides are lower than mean low water and usually occur at a new or full moon). On a rocky cliff we found violet-blue larkspurs dancing in the breeze with the pure white flowers of Field chickweed. Two days later I went up to Goose Rock, also part of Deception Pass, and found more Spring wildflowers blooming on the sunny bluffs.

Harbor porpoises and seals have been in evidence, though I never can get them “on film.” There was a weasel in the yard – the first either of us had ever seen – and on the same day a Barred owl was being attacked by angry Robins. The Black-headed grosbeaks have returned after wintering in Mexico. They’re a delight, settling in at the seed and suet feeders for leisurely meals and whistling their cheerful songs from branches overhead. Insects are busy everywhere, pollinating flowers and devouring leaves. Slugs, are busy too – I’ve lost one tender plant to them already. Through rainy days and sunny days, life has a firm grip on every inch of the outdoors. I’m grateful for every minute that I can revel in it.

I could go on and on about the marvelous month of May but let the photographs tell the story. They were all made between the 1st and 17th of May, 2020.

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1. A Pacific dogwood blossom (Cornus nuttalii).

2. The forest is awash in a hundred kinds of green. Ferns, mosses, leaves, lichens, liverworts, flowers – they all play parts in a grand scheme that’s far bigger than our understanding of it. This scene is at Rockport State Park.
3. A Red Huckleberry twig (Vaccinium parvifolium) adorned with tiny flowers is reaching for the light. The flowers will morph into berries over the summer, providing food for small mammals and birds.
4. The Olympic Mountains, partly obscured by clouds, seen from Sares Head, Fidalgo Island.

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7. Ferns are unfolding everywhere – this one is a Sword fern (Polystichum munitum), by far the most common fern around here.
8. Decatur Island, seen from Washington Park on Fidalgo Island. Decatur can’t be accessed by bridge or ferry and if you want to fly in or dock your boat here, you’ll have to get permission from the community first. There are no stores on the island so you’ll need to come prepared…or be lucky enough to be visiting one of fewer than 100 residents.
9. Like sapphires in the rough, Menzies’ larkspur (Delphinium menziesii) and Field chickweed cascade down the grassy edge of a steep cliff at Lighthouse Point. Deception Pass State Park.
10. Early this month there were still a few Fawn lilies (Erythronium oreganum) blooming here and there on the island. I’m sorry to see them go.

11. This handsome, chunky moth appeared at our kitchen window while I was putting this post together. The wingspan is 2 – over 3 inches! A Western Washington University moth website helped me identify it as a Bedstraw hawkmoth, aka Gallium sphinx moth (Hyles gallii). It ranges across the globe in northern latitudes, preferring coniferous forests. In our region it feeds on Fireweed species (Epilobium).
12. Last year’s cattails still tower above this year’s tender green shoots in a wetland at Deception Pass State Park, which reopened for hiking on May 5th.

13. The American robin (Turdus migratorius) is as common as a dandelion, but all the same, it’s a handsome bird. This one perched on a post on the morning Deception Pass opened up. For about 7 weeks, wildlife had the park to itself. I regret any disturbance we humans caused when we returned.

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15. Small-flowered alumroot (Heuchera micrantha) is just beginning to flower.
16. Yesterday I put my camera inside this lovely haze of alumroot flowers.

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17. False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum) doesn’t look like false anything to me; it looks like true beauty. A wildflower of moist, rich woods, it’s uncommon on Fidalgo Island, if it occurs at all. I saw this one at Rockport State Park. Most of the park is under 1000′ elevation and is situated beside a river at the base of a mountain, where fog is frequent, water from streams is abundant, and the soil is rich.

18. The zig-zag stalk of a Clasping twisted stalk (Streptopus amplexifolius), also at Rockport State Park. This interesting wildflower, with small, bell-like flowers held under the leaves, ranges across Canada, the northern US, eastern Asia, eastern Russia and southern Europe.
19. Curious? Here you go – the hidden flowers of Clasping twisted stalk.

20. Tall Western hemlocks, Douglas firs and Western redcedars at Rockport State Park often are covered in moss and lichens. This one has enough moss to fill a railroad car. OK, I made that up.
21. Delicate Lace lichen (Ramalina menziesii) enjoys the moist air near the shoreline at Deception Pass. It may look like the Spanish moss that grows on southern trees, but it’s a lichen. Lichens are symbiotic unions of fungi and algae. Some lichens are very sensitive to pollution. Just looking at the structure of Lace lichen makes it easy to see how particles of pollution can be caught in the strands. The abundance of this lichen tells me the air is clean here.

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23. Last year’s dried fronds dangle in front of the new, lime green leaves of a Maidenhair fern (Adantium pedatum) one of my favorite plants. At home among consistently moist rocks, few Maidenhair ferns thrive on Fidalgo Island. I’ve only found two small colonies of them so far.
24. A close-up of a Maidenhair fern.

25. An old branch rests on a bed of Reindeer lichen at Washington Park. In late winter and early Spring, Reindeer lichen responds to abundant moisture with soft pillows of new growth in very small increments. Summer is very dry here and the lichen is quite brittle and easily damaged then.



26. I was excited to see this flock of Whimbrels (Numenius phaeopus) at West Beach, Deception Pass, recently. They were hunted for food and sport until hunting migratory birds was outlawed in 1918, and hunting may still occur on their wintering grounds. Plus, they face habitat loss. These individuals may have wintered in California and are probably on their way to breeding grounds in Alaska.
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Photos #3, 7, 21, 22, & 23 were made with a vintage Super Takumar 50mm f1.4 lens (plus adapter). Photos #2 & 6b were made with a Motorola phone. Most of the other photos were made with an Olympus Zuiko 60mm f2.8 macro lens. It’s advertised as a macro but it’s my favorite walk-around lens. On my OM-D EM-1 camera, it’s the rough equivalent of a 120mm lens on a full frame camera. The last photo was made with an Olympus Zuiko ED 14-150mm f4-5.6 zoom lens.

JUST ONE: Western Red-cedar

We drift in a liminal space these days, caught between a past that’s just out of reach and a future that never comes into focus. Floating in a murky emotional soup of fear, longing, resignation and hope, we grope blindly for some shred of reassurance. At a time like this the thoroughly solid presence of old trees can be a welcome comfort. Maybe you’ve been lingering under big trees, consciously or unconsciously seeking solace. In the Pacific Northwest, the Western Red-cedar is one tree whose benign, gentle presence can soothe and center frayed nerves.

My wish is that you could stand beneath this

stately tree-being, stand there quietly,

breathe along with bark, leaves,

and roots.

Bend your head way back and gaze far

up into the branches until your eyes tire. Peer closely

at the russet-colored bark and discover life

hidden in the darkest fissures. Trace the wide arc

of a single branch as it dips down, then

climbs back up towards the light.

Squat down,

follow the sensuous twists and curves of roots until

they disappear into the thick, spongy duff.

Inhale the sharp, fresh fragrance and listen to the

soft shushing of swaying branches.

Commune. Lose yourself

in the presence of this graceful tree,

forget the news,

shake off your worries.

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There are times when we suffer; there are times when the Red-cedars suffer. They fall, they burn in fires, they’re attacked by fungi and beetles, felled by loggers and stressed by climatic changes. Those that are taken from the forest may become shingles, siding, outdoor furniture, even caskets. Those that fall become new homes for fungi, plants and animals. Those that rot at the base may still stand, their hollows sheltering bears and other animals. Those that are burned nourish the soil.

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10. Fire destroyed these giants on the Trail of Cedars in Newhalem, Washington, in 2015.

11. This venerable tree made it through the fire that killed the trees in the photo above.
12. The trunk of this old Red-cedar looks dead but branches on the right side are alive and reaching for light.

13. Feathers scattered over old and new Red-cedar leaves tell a sad tale.

14. A Western hemlock and a tiny Western Red-cedar take root in the shelter of a rotting driftwood log.

15. Receiving the light.

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The Red-cedar tree (and its relative the Alaska or Yellow-cedar) has played an outsized role in the lives of people living in the Pacific Northwest coastal areas. Regarded as the ‘tree of life’ by the Kakawaka’wakw, the species was, and still is, highly respected by all Northwest coast indigenous cultures. Ceremonial uses for the tree were not separate from other uses but were an integral part of everyday life. Nearly every part of the tree could be put to medicinal use. The bark, which was stripped off the tree in manageable quantities so the tree wasn’t harmed, was used for a wide variety of everyday objects like clothing, mats, dishes, ropes – the list goes on. Exceptionally large trees were once abundant in the forests so houses were built from Red-cedar poles, beams and planks. The straight-grained, rot-resistant, buoyant wood is not too hard to be worked with stone tools. Canoes are still made by Pacific Northwest tribes from carefully selected Red-cedar trees. Annual inter-tribal canoe journeys that keep these traditions alive, have taken place every summer since the 1980’s. In coastal forests, particularly in British Columbia, there are numerous culturally modified trees (CMT’s). These trees show evidence of being stripped of pieces bark or wood or otherwise modified for indigenous use, long ago or more recently. They are a living historical record and are respected as such.

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They’re not cedars, by the way. In fact, Thuja plicata is a member of the Cypress family, along with our native junipers; true cedars are native to the Old World. American cedar chests, with their familiar, moth-repellent, aromatic fragrance, were made from Eastern red-cedar, which is a juniper tree that grows in the eastern half of the U.S. But enough confusion! There is no mistaking Western red-cedar once you’ve seen it a few times. With its distinctive, vertically patterned bark, curved branches and gracefully drooping sprays of evergreen foliage, it is a dominant tree of the moist, lowland forests within its range.

Though its cones are small and often overlooked, they tell the story of Red-cedar’s reproduction. Both male and female cones are found on each tree. After developing in the previous summer, pollen cones shed their pollen into the wind in March. Around here that means several weeks of sneezing and dusty-looking cars. Seed cones trap and funnel the drifting pollen into ovules, where fertilization takes place in May. By September, the seed cones have matured and turned brown and can begin releasing seeds, to be carried by the wind. They’ll land some distance from the parent tree. Some will sprout into seedlings but the seedlings often have a tough time surviving. Perhaps as insurance, Red-cedar trees can also reproduce vegetatively. Low-hanging and fallen branches can root and even fallen trees may develop new, viable branches.

The oldest known Western red-cedar trees are well over a thousand years old; the biggest trees include one on Vancouver Island that is about 20′ (6m) in diameter and 182′ (56m) tall, and one on the Oregon coast that measured about 17′ in diameter and 153′ tall in 2010. In the face of this kind of longevity it might be worthwhile to ponder the fate of the scores of human generations that have lived and passed away while these old giants have persisted.

My wish for you is that you can relax under an old Red-cedar tree – but any big tree near you will do. My wish for the trees themselves is that no more Red-cedars suffer damaging harm from human causes – or at the very least, that no more giants are logged.

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21. An imperfect photograph of a perfect pair: Barred owls sheltering in a Red-cedar tree.

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