FIRE & WATER

Spring has been wet here. With lots of rain falling on weekends and less on weekdays, it hasn’t been fun for those with regular jobs who want to get out on their days off. Farmers must be happy though, and wildfires are less likely, at least for now. The Pacific Northwest is known for rain but summers here are actually bone dry, so wildfires become a concern if summer is preceded by a dry spring or winter. This spring, however, fire is far from my mind as I organize my outings for short spells of dry air that may follow a gloomy, morning fog. Ducking out between showers on a damp trail that skirts a lake or leads to views of the Salish Sea, I’m always aware of water. Fire’s role in the local ecology is less evident, but is still clearly visible in the stands of burned trees, charred logs and fresh, green growth around blackened stumps. With water and fire in mind, here is a selection of photos that call attention to these two primal elements.

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1. Dangerous currents roiling through a narrow passage reveal the relentless power of water.

2. Evidence of a fire in a forest near Twisp, Washington.

3. Water in its frozen state is an uncommon sight on Fidalgo Island. Luckily, I was out for a walk in the woods when this gentle snow shower began.

4. Charred tree trunks and scarce undergrowth tell fire’s story.

5. Sitting in the car, watching the rain.

6. The ground is littered with burned wood for a long time after a fire. As it decomposes it adds nutrients to the soil.

7. Rain clings to the long needles of a Shore pine, a close relative of Lodgepole pine. In the Pacific Northwest, people complain about “June Gloom.” Rainy days like the one last week when I took this photo are frequent, and frustrating.

8. Grass casts a shadow on a log burned in a 2014 fire started by people building a campfire on a dry day, in a place where campfires aren’t allowed.

9. The pretty Lyall’s star tulip (Calochortus lyallii) wet with raindrops, graces a field on the eastern slope of the North Cascade Mountain Range.

10. Daisies encircle a burned stump in a field overcome by fire two summers ago, less than a mile from where I live.

11. Trees died from flooding when this lake was created. On the hill in the background, just out of sight, a fire raged six years ago.

13. A small waterfall in the foothills of the North Cascades.

14. Fire is frequent on the dry, eastern side of the North Cascades. Evergreen foliage is a rusty orange color and tree trunks are charred black from a fire that once burned hot but now nourishes the soil.

15. Slender branches scrape the surface of a lake, mixing with reflections of other branches, creating a rippling chaos of light and shadow.

16. A Yellow-pine chipmunk that has seen its share of tussles (look at those ears!) watches me carefully from a safe perch in a charred Lodgepole pine on the east side of the Cascades.

17. Early spring fog and morning dew at home.

19. Some of these trees were burned, others were drowned. They stand and then fall in a lake frequented by fish, otters, beavers, ducks and more creatures, all part of patterns of interdependence that are more complex than we know.

20. Another example of water and fire: the trees were killed by a fire up here at Washington Pass (elev. 5,476′ or 1669m).

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Most of these photos were taken on Fidalgo Island; some are from the other side of the mountains, where dry conditions prevail much of the year. The activity of water and fire is something experienced by every creature on this earth, but the particular way these elements operate is unique to each location on our planet. Fire’s history here on Fidalgo Island is different from it’s history in Kansas or Kazakhstan. I think it’s worthwhile getting to know the elements intimately, in your own locale. How often does it snow? What are the textures of your snow, and what is the scent of rain on a hot day where you live? How often does fire tear across the fields, if at all? Are there native plants or animals where you live that are adapted to periodic fires? And what about the human relationship to water and fire – where does fear come in? What about the need to control? And what about capitalism?

Humans seem to have increasingly difficult relationships to fire and water. We understand that we are dependent on water and fire for our very lives, but we want them to stay in their places. We keep thinking that we know where those places are, even when time and time again, floods and fires prove otherwise. Instead of being flexible and working with water and fire, we stiffen and create inflexible environments amidst changing circumstances. We build houses in all the wrong places, encroaching further and further into places where wildfires or floods are very likely to occur. Fires or floods can be natural components of great cycles that we refuse to recognize or cannot imagine. At the same time, our frenzied activity has modified the earth’s climate and made wildfires and floods bigger and more frequent than we can remember them ever being before.

What’s the answer? Draw back. Pay attention. Don’t build in places where fire is part of the natural order of things; don’t build where flooding from storms is part of the balance of nature. Work with and respect fire and water and cut back on activities that pollute and warm the earth. I know that I’m preaching to the choir here, but there are probably still things we can each do to support working in harmony with water and fire instead of against them. And we can get closer to the elements, get intimate and comfortable with their activities in our own back yards. They’re not separate – they are us.

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59 comments

  1. Excellent message with which to end your photo essay, Lynn. I ventured to Malibu State Beach today and the ocean rushing under the houses on the beach is unsettling.
    Your research paired with your intimate photos of the land make for a great read. The snow shower image stopped me in my tracks (or scroll) for its soft beauty, snowflakes and the framing. Love the tulip and daisies and your scrappy chipmunk. All your images are thoughtful. Thanks for the much needed moment of relaxation in this crazy world.

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  2. 3- snow is such a delight in a forested scene like this. It doesn’t happen often unless we climb in elevation.
    4- a natural, helpful fire unlike the devastation left by wildfires in logged areas (or stump farms as I call them). The sort of intense fires we see in logging areas often leaves behind completely sterile soil.
    7- I delight in those clinging drops of rain. After a drier than usual May, we seem to be getting a bit more moisture than usual this month. It seems I’m not the only one grateful for the unusual rain since the flowers are bursting out all over. Having the raindrops clinging to vegetation on its way to the ground helps to prevent erosion. I can almost smell the rain in this image.
    8- yet another story of people out of touch with their environment… though it’s so delightful it almost redeems the cause of it… almost.
    12- the textures and colors actually made me gasp. Ever so delightful.
    18- but this one brought out an additional thrill with that touch of the green leaves. Exquisite.
    16- haven’t figured out why it is, but most of the individuals in our chipmunk colony have bits of ear missing.
    😀

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    • Continue to preach to the choir, and the rest of the congregation may eventually receive the message and harmonize. Your Lyall’s star tulip is extraordinary. I thought at first glance that it was an orchid!

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    • We have to do better by our forests. Stump farms indeed. On a brighter note, I’m happy to hear your area has also been getting more rain. Hooray! The campfire out of control was on a small “mountain” in the middle of a park here (not Deception Pass, another one). It amazes me that they were able to get enough equipment up there fast enough to prevent much damage. The fire only seems to have burned in a small area but the road is a steep climb away, through the woods. It’s good they got up there and put it out before it went too far. There are good fires and bad fires, right? Let me know if you ever find out about the chipmunks’ ears…thanks for the detailed comment, Gunta!

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  3. While your spring has been so so, over here in Bergen, Norway, we have had a gorgeous and unusually dry May and June. Throughout the year it usually rains twice as much in Bergen than for instance in Seattle. So I regard Seattle as a sunny city – particularly in the summer season. Anyway, once again I am taken by the beauty in your images. You have captured the feelings of the northwest.

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    • Actually, for me, this Spring has been really beautiful. The extra rain has made everything lush, and the showers rarely last more than a few hours so it has not been hard to get out. But it’s amazing to me that Seattle seems sunny to you – it’s all relative, isn’t it? People think this is a moody landscape, but around Bergen, it must be far more moody-looking. Thank you, Otto, I appreciate your comment.

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  4. As you so nicely point out as humans we change the climate and refuse to adapt to the changes and then are surprised with more flooding etc. I am particularly drawn to # 10 and the contrast of life vs death.

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    • Thanks, Howard. I’m glad the commenting issue has stopped. #10 was made on a hill that burned just after we moved here. The fire was put out, then came back. We weren’t happy about that one because there is nothing but woods between us and that location, and it’s less than a mile away. But this is a relatively small island where fires seem to get quick attention. Still, it’s great to have the extra rain this year.

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  5. Look at all the verticality in #11 (like the two instances of 1 in that numeral).
    #14 provides a harmonious mixing of green and brown foliage juxtaposed with those charcoal trunks.
    You’ve got an effective use of minimalist focus in #17. What was the light-colored, thread-like element slightly below the center?
    Look at the negative space in #7.
    Charred bark lends itself to photographic abstractions, as in #12 and #18.
    I suspect #9 will be a viewer favorite.
    And who’d expect to see a picture of snow now?

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    • You have me laughing right from the start with your observation that the number looks like the photo. Good one! I processed #14 differently than I usually process photos – lots of detail and not much depth. I owe part of the look of #17 to the lens, which was wide open at f1.8. There was no cropping and very little processing on that one. The thread-like thingie is a spider web. We have lots of spiders around here. 🙂 In #7 there was lots of cropping, for the reason you mention. Thank you for paying such close attention, Steve – it’s always a pleasure to read your comments.

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  6. I really like both photos in #12. But honestly, they’re all good. I’ve never heard of Twisp, Washington so I had to look it up on a map. The Google says it’s only 38 hours (2575.8 miles) from Webster! We’re practically neighbors! You can come over and borrow a cup of sugar and I can borrow your Lensbaby.

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    • Twisp is such a great name, isn’t it? But the sugar, I don’t know…oh, I just realized I could use it for hummingbird food, so I’m game for that exchange. Let me know when you’re five minutes away and I’ll direct you in (but note that we’re another 3h 18m past Twist – over the mountains, through the woods and across the bridge.) 😉

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  7. A striking message, especially your last words, combined with a wonderful series of photos! You are right, we are interfering with nature too often, too much. We should give it more space for our own health. But most of the time we are too reckless or too unconcerned. The power of the water in your first picture is impressive, really strong. I like the raindrops on the needles. 6 and 8 are fantastic: the contrast of the living and the dead, if I can say so, especially this yellowgreen in front of or around the burnt black wood. #11 is awesome!!! I love it! Bark and structures of the burnt wood are special too. The bark of the Madrone tree is like written words, like a text (sending us messages maybe 😉 #15 is nice, the world upside down. Always beautiful these reflections. They remind me of a textile in this picture. The chipmunk is very cute and the little tulip is lovely. The topic of fires as a circle of life is always important. Didn’t you tell me about Native Americans that worked with the fire to live on the land? I recently saw a documentary about Australia and the Aborigines, that work with fire too, to nourish the earth and to prevent special plants from growing. “get intimate and comfortable with their activities..They’re not separate – they are us” So true! Lets hope more and more people understand that.

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    • Thanks for seeing calligraphy in the Madrone bark – I see that, too. And seeing a textile pattern in #15. These days I think it’s pretty easy to get anything printed on fabric…. I’m not sure if we talked about Native Americans and fire but yes, probably many tribes used controlled burning for various purposes. It’s such a big subject…so many tribes and such a long history that we don’t know a lot about. People are beginning to see the value of “prescribed burning” more and more, but I don’t think there has been much progress getting people to stop building houses in vulnerable places. Here’s an excellent article I found with great photos…in English, of course! The tribes they’re talking about live roughly in the area Joe and I visited (and I blogged about) in northern California.
      https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/nov/21/wildfire-prescribed-burns-california-native-americans

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      • Thank you for the link. I just read a bit and it is very interesting. Yes, these people evolved (?) / developed with the land. What a difference. Most of us forgot about it or lost contact to nature at all. I will read the rest later.

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  8. These photos are all nice to study, as always, even #3 with snow! Which is too recent in Milwaukee to contemplate with any sense of comfort! 🙂
    And this is such a good essay on our relationship with fire & water – – I think some of the frustration and bitterness that seems to be plaguing us, is that many people have a confused sensation of control and dominance slipping away. We never had control of nature of course, but if you’re brought up believing our human destiny is to tame and consume, and in quick technological fixes, then when those things don’t work, people thrash around feeling hard-done-to. Time to cool down, calm down, grow up.
    I love #15 a lot. I’m big on chaos, of course, as you know from reading my posts, and this rippling chaos is just so cool. Not to sound too “artsy” or pretentious, but there’s a poem I remember from college, by Howard Nemerov, that frequently pops up in my mind, “The Tapestry.” “On that side of the tapestry…Nothing but thread to see/Knotted and rooted thread/Spelling a world unsaid.” And that photo has the right feel, “A forest of loose ends.” Well, that’s my English 101 lesson for the day!  Somewhere my old English prof’s ear are burning.

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    • Sorry I made you think about snow, Robert…it’s enough! Let summer take over! Your points about control, etc. are well taken, for sure. A vote for chaos! That’s nice to hear. I do struggle with it, trying to tame it just enough to make an image coherent but still chaotic. Does that make sense? The ideas about loose threads, the backs of tapestries (having done some needlework years ago, I have marveled at how different the backs and fronts are), rooted thread, a word unsaid, are all interesting. I just found the poem and it’s a delight. A little like the Emporer’s New Clothes, but better.Mark me present for any Eng. 101 class you’re ready to give. 🙂

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  9. Such a beautiful contrast. And to keep in the poetic vein, last of the poem COURAGE by Helen Frazee Bower:
    “Courage,” I said, and took you by the hand,
    “Is one white flower in a fire-swept land.”

    Keep Safe, Miss Blue

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  10. Lovely pictures, Lynn, and fire-water a good idea. I had no idea you’d be affected by fires in the far NW. I especially like the fire photos. My favourites are 2 (composition); 8 (makes me think of Wareham Forest, where I’ve often birdwatched; v interesting birds and reptiles; suffered very seriously recently from a discarded BBQ fire); 9; 16; 18. 🙂

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    • Thank you, Adrian, especially for affirming that I did the right thing by including #2, which isn’t as sharp as some of the others and almost didn’t make it. But it was the composition, yes, and the way it tells a story. Glad you liked the little chipmunk too – he was so mad at us! Enjoy your weekend, your week, etc. 😉

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  11. The lucidity of the text accompanies the beauty of the images and the beautiful details they reveal.
    The last paragraph is perhaps the most important, but unfortunately the least heard.
    In Portugal the problems are similar. There are always constructions made in areas of water lines and “we” continue to plant what the fire appreciates instead of the native flora that would give more protection and delay the progress of the fires that always happen.
    In fact, yesterday there was already a big fire in a protected region … areas that are always very coveted …
    Being fundamental elements in nature and in our lives, they deserved our respect and care. As you said.

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  12. A wonderful collection and message Lynn. My favourites – the snow (such a quiet gentle photograph), the tulip for its overt beauty, the chipmunk, and the photo immediately beneath it for it’s enticing delicacy.
    We’ve been having a lot of rain here too. We call it June-uary – it happens quite frequently. Hopefully July will bring summer.
    Alison

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    • Thank you, Alison, and June-uary is a new one to me! We have June Gloom. Oh well, it’s really not so bad. The rain is typically gentle and sporadic. Summer is coming! But just not yet, in spite of the calendar! 😉

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    • “The party game’ – that’s a good one. The fact is, I take lots of photos and can’t resist sharing a good number of them. So people naturally tend to identify which ones are favorites, and of course, it can be useful to know. It’s also interesting to get a sense of the way some people gravitate towards certain kinds of images, the way you know I gravitate to your camera sketches and grass images. Thanks Louis, have a good week!

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  13. Lovely pictures – all of them.
    But I like #1 (it looks so dynamic), #8 (the green!) most. And it’s funny, but for me the right one of the #18 pictures looks like the profil of a woman with long hair for me.

    And you’re so right with what you write.
    And I also think – even if you should look also at things from a global perspective – it’s really important (and fun!) to get to know you’re local area. Because someone should protect that area too and local people are the ones who should play an activ part.

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  14. Indeed Lynn follow the laws/rules of nature…imagine where would all be 😌 I hope soon I’ll be able to go on a hike with you…white rock is close not so far…the rain clings to the long needles…I feel that feeling…well get through this yet! Big hugs and love ~ Hedy

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    • You’ll have to come our way, ’cause they’re not letting me on your side of the border! And given what’s going on here, I can’t blame them. Luckily it’s not too bad in our area but there’s no question that this is going to drag on and on. I’m really glad you were able to see the family and enjoy a change of scenery. Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

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  15. You open this series with one water and one fire picture each, the water present and the fire absent. In this way you define the boundaries of your subject, and at the same time you show your method, namely the constant change between the two elements – except for the combination of both in the last, extremely beautiful shots, dear Lynn.
    In general, I like the water images better, but there are special fire images that stand out: first of all, the pair with the burnt bark of the Madrones in #12, whose lines are so dynamic and vivid, and in #18, where the right photo looks particularly noble due to the desaturated look.
    Your appellative text appeals to me especially here. Even though I am lucky enough to live in a privileged region where fire and water never (yet) come close in threatening quantities. This is quite different in parts of the USA, as I know from the news. And we must learn to remember that every tree felled, every dam, every channelled river, every campfire or barbecue has an impact on the balance of nature throughout the world – and that each and every one of us is responsible for it. You have reminded us of this here.

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    • Thank you for a thoughtful comment, Ule. I do enjoy taking photos of charred bark – it can be found easily here and the variations in pattern and texture are endlessly fascinating. The way you summed up the importance of how we use fire and water is a good point. it can be too easy to forget the ramifications of our actions and the majority of people, may not even be conscious of the far-ranging consequences of their actions. There have been fights to tear down dams here in the west….and some have been successful. Where I live now, trees come down all the time. Every place is different…it’s all about being conscious and respectful of the conditions where you are, I think. And if you can reach out a little and remind others to pay attention, even better.

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  16. Another good idea and interesting theme combining these elements. Probably of no surprise the last is my favorite in the group. I like the composition … the way the branch points to the peak and great clouds.

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  17. Pairing two of the essential elements has worked well for this post with so many examples of death and rebirth. I enjoyed your snowfall scene. We didn’t get our usual, although there doesn’t seem to be a usual any longer, winter snow this past season so I am envious of that and the star tulip is a gorgeous flower. And just before that image, the contrast between green life and charred death is a stunner as well. Very nice collection, as always, Lynn. Fidalgo is an island of so many treasures as are the mountains you visit..

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    • I agree, there doesn’t seem to be a usual these days. The Star tulip, which I think I should have called Lyall’s mariposa lily, seems to have a fairly limited distribution, only east of the Cascades. I was probably very lucky to see it that day and would love to see it again. But there ARE quite a few special plants here on Fidalgo, and having the mountains in striking distance is a big plus. Thanks Steve! Have a good weekend!

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  18. Pingback: Mandala #152 – Fire & Water – Mandala Vihara

  19. I like your eye…what you see…and how that makes you feel to render the words that you do.

    I remember your snow falling over water in that third image…the one you used in the previous post is one of my favorites of yours.

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    • It’s gratifying to know that you remember that image in the snow. I was SO lucky to be there at that time. You understand. I was at the same preserve yesterday and thought of that day. August can be dreary but you never know what you’re going to find, so getting out is worth it. Yesterday I found another orchid that I didn’t know grew here. I’ve only seen it a few times, in places like Mt. Rainier, and was surprised to find a colony of them in one small area – of course, it’s the spot that I’ve always felt was the secret little special place up there. 🙂

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