LOCAL WALKS: Benign Neglect

Are you ever curious about an empty lot that you’ve passed countless times? Maybe an abandoned building or a field exudes an aura that captures your attention. Not far from my home there’s a tract of land next to a highway that I used to wonder about. Last June my curiosity intensified when masses of wildflowers appeared there. Tall, magenta flowers ascended a rocky cliff next to the highway. More flowers marched across the ridge top but beyond that was anyone’s guess – I could see no further. I really wanted to know what was up there! Each time I drove by I strained to see where the overgrown gravel road leading into the property went. A chain was strung across the bottom of the road and a “For Sale” sign sat next to it for months. Then the sign was removed, adding another question: did someone buy the property? As the height of summer approached and the profusion of foxgloves and daisies grew more colorful, my brain tingled with visions of what might be up there. I fantasized about gathering a bouquet of wildflowers and carting them home to enjoy all day long.

So I convinced my partner in crime to explore – well, to trespass – with me one fine, June day. We pulled into the gravel drive and parked off to the side. I thought at best we might look like potential buyers, at worst we were trespassing. I figured I could probably finesse the situation if anyone came along and questioned us.*

But no one did. What a sight it was up there! The land appeared to be a large parcel that someone began clearing years ago, perhaps to build a house or a development. Maybe the money ran out and the project was abandoned. The land is nothing more than three little contour lines on a topographic map – but as we climbed the hill, a network of undulating fields, rock outcroppings and woodlands unfolded before us. Small groves of blackened, dead trees and burned rocks told us a fire once ripped across the ridge. Summers here are very dry and fires can flare up quickly, but this one appeared to have been put out before it did much damage. Scrambling up a rock outcrop, I saw a slice of blue water surrounded by firs in the distance, a view that must have sealed the deal for the buyer.

Here are photographs from that delightful June afternoon. Benign neglect has allowed a whole community of plants, insects, animals, and birds to thrive in this patch of land beside a busy highway. The living beings here appear to be doing fine without any human interference. Each expresses its individual nature even as the whole blends into a hidden, human-free Arcadia. To my mind, the sky and clouds together with the land and its inhabitants are breathing a symphony into existence. After spending a few hours up there, I could only respect the fabric of the landscape for what it was. I hoped the human hand would continue to play a very minor role in the landscape. Imagine how nice that would be.


1. A river of daisies.

2. A stand of Douglas fir trees shows what fire can do. The low branches of young trees would have quickly caught fire, causing the entire tree to become engulfed. Mature Douglas firs tend not to have branches at the bottom, making it harder for flames to travel up the tree. They also have very thick bark that protects them from fires. Many of the oldest Douglas firs on Fidalgo Island sport charcoal-black scars from fires past, but they are still going strong.




6. Foxgloves were scattered everywhere.




10. A profusion of Foxgloves and daisies among charred trees and branches.

12. A tiny Rufous hummingbird resting high in a tree watched us carefully. (I didn’t have a zoom lens with me so I did the best I could).

13. This field has scant shade, a result of logging and fire that created optimal conditions for sun-loving grasses and flowers like Foxgloves and daisies. Soil disturbance from logging probably prevented native plants from gaining a better foothold, though the field does contain some natives. Many non-native plants favor disturbed soil, which is why you often see them on roadsides and vacant lots. But what an effective combination this is, aesthetically – Foxgloves for height and color, daisies for mass, and grasses to tie it all together. These attractive flowers arrived without conscious human help and established themselves artfully. A garden designer might be envious.


15. I didn’t see the tiny insects on these flowers until after I got home and imported the photo.

16. Campbell Lake is in the distance. I believe the rust-colored moss was burnt in the fire.

17. Fresh green moss grows in patches where the ground is still black from the fire. The lands heals slowly.


19. It looks like the older Douglas firs here will make it. If the land is left to its own devices, new Douglas firs and a procession of plants and animals will appear over the years. But chances are, sometime in the next decade or so this land will be turned into houses and roads.




* I don’t advocate trespassing. In this case, I had enough familiarity with the land and the larger environment to feel that it I could probably walk on the property without harming anyone or anything. Strictly speaking, I should not have wandered up there.


    • Yes, well the thing is, zoom lenses are big and heavy and I don’t like big and heavy. That is the problem! But I’m glad you enjoyed the walk…I will try to remember to keep you “posted” about the land. It seems it’s been vacant a while. Enjoy your weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

    • You assumed right…it was the only lens I had on me that day so that is what was trained on the little hummingbird so far up, too. ๐Ÿ˜‰ And the wide-angles are just phone shots.
      I found what appears to be a good used 12mm f2. It should get here soon…
      Thanks, John, it’s always good to hear from you.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. So love the grasses and 5…cool and the colour pallet feels warm and light…feels like Iโ€™m there…always appreciated Lynn ~ hugs from a painting break โ˜บ๏ธ๐Ÿ™‹โ€โ™€๏ธ๐Ÿ’ซ๐Ÿค—โ˜€๏ธ

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I appreciate your letting me know you enjoyed the post. We moved to the Pacific Northwest from NYC in 2012, and retired to Fidalgo island a few years ago. It may not come close to New York in cultural terms but natural beauty is abundant here. Many acres have been set aside, all over the island, for parks and preserves. If you have a minute, scroll down and check out some of the other Local Walks posts for more vicarious pleasure. Have a good Sunday!


    • I love exploring in general, but especially these odd places that have been neglected and left to find their own way – whether it’s nature or a building. Especially in cities, vacant lots are precious. Thanks for commenting, and I’m glad you enjoyed those photos of grasses, a favorite subject.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. ๐Ÿค #7 with its simplicity and gentle rhythm, only subtly disrupted by the counterpoint of small splashes of yellow as the eye finally reaches the bottom right after a leisurely appreciation of the textures in the main body of the image.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Grasses are so beautiful, and as you say, they’re rhythmic. You found the yellow flowers hiding in there, exactly the way I hoped someone would notice them! ๐Ÿ™‚ They too are European natives. You may have them in your area. They’re called Yellow bartsia or Yellow glandweed. Thank you, Graham. Have a good day, what’s left of it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I usually put quotation marks around “vacant” when I use the term “vacant lot” because I’ve found so many interesting things to photograph in such places. Your experience of finding masses of wildflowers at one such property last June parallels mine at many “vacant” lots over the past two decades. Are you familiar with the adjective ruderal, which means ‘growing where the natural vegetational cover has been disturbed by humans’?

    What caught my attention in #5 is the way all those small grass seed heads (if that’s what they are) fill the frame, surrounding and contrasting with the only other element, the charred tree trunk. (I see that sudrakarma had a similar reaction.)

    Do I detect a deliberate reducing of the clarity in #10 and maybe also #7? The rust-colored moss in #16 is attractive; did you do closer and more-abstract takes on it? I wonder if the tiny insects in #15 are thrips (a word that ends in s in the singular as well as the plural).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Funny you should say that about vacant – see oneowner’s remark, above yours. Great minds think alike. ๐Ÿ™‚ I have depended on “vacant” lots for picking wildflowers for at least 40 years. A favorite lot was one I found in Yonkers in 1981. I later learned it had been part of the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, where my father, who lived in Brooklyn then, had his first real job (as a chemist). What a coincidence!
      Ruderal – no – thank you, that’s perfect! I looked it up – from the Latin for rubble. So interesting, now I have to try to remember it. Use it or lose it, right?
      I assume those are grass seed heads around the charred trunk. The light was not great but I did what I could with that photo. It was mid-day, mid-summer. I should think about going back and seeing what’s up there now. With all the burned wood, under better light conditions I might find some good compositions. I could look more closely at the moss, too, which I did not do that day. It was the kind of day that moves one to just enjoy the whole scene (though I always find at least a few details to zero in on).
      Thrips sounds right. I don’t know my insects well at all.
      Yes, deliberate reduction of clarity, sometimes with the clarity slider, sometimes with the dehaze slider, sometimes in Color Efex pro. ๐Ÿ™‚
      Thank you, Steve.


  4. What a remarkable adventure and well worth the โ€œtrespass.โ€œ OK, legally thatโ€™s what it is, but in this particular case you did absolutely no harm. I especially like the semi-abstracts of the grasses. I tried to find the location on Google maps and canโ€™t be sure. You said itโ€™s along a highway so that must mean along Route 20. But I canโ€™t figure out site-lines based on what I can see of the lake. I just get tweaky like that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh no, another map person! I do the same thing! Where? Where? I want to know where! I’ll send it to you off the blog. Yes, Rt. 20 is the only highway up here. Site lines are so crazy in topographically complex places. It’s all steep hills and cliffs here, and when you’re not looking or you go ’round a bend, everything changes places. Especially the mountains, very shifty, they are. ๐Ÿ˜‰
      The grass photos would be fun to take farther from their “original nature” by playing with color, contrast, and everything else. Now I’m tempted…
      Glad you enjoyed this, thanks. I’m wishing you good air!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. These explorations shared, by known or unknown places, are very pleasant. I am more adventurous and my companion most rational, not liking to go beyond indications of prohibition, etc. But I go always take a look …
    This place is beautiful and the view is really fabulous. The photos, as always magnificent.
    I wish you a good week and thank you very much for sharing these corners of your world!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Interesting post and wonderful photos. As you point out nature usually does best without human interference. Your first image is lovely with several of my favorite things … flowers, trees, water and mountains … who could ask for more! I especially like the 3 grass images. All the lines and angles make them somewhat abstract and I could see them printed very large.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The first photo was taken with a phone, and not the best one by any means, but the content makes up for the imperfect rendering, right? It was a perfect day. Grasses often make great subjects…I’m playing around with those images some more to see where else they might go. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thanks, Denise.


  7. How glad I am that you still wandered up there. Otherwise we would have to do without the magic of foxglove and daisies and the luck to discover a little untouched nature. Thanks to your courage to break the law, dear Lynn.
    I really like your poetic thriller about trespassing. Especially the flowers that climb up a slope and run over the ridge. What metaphors! And what phtographs!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! I don’t know about a poetic thriller, but it WAS a beautiful afternoon. I couldn’t resist – I wanted to see how far the flowers went, you know? But I was a little wary of wandering around all alone since no one can see from the highway what’s happening up there. I was glad that Joe agreed to be my bodyguard. He’s the best! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  8. A very fine set of photos! I like the way you processed these beautiful fields of flowers, the dreamlike atmosphere is perfect ๐Ÿ™‚ Yes, I am curious too about such places. I love these neglected areas, where nature can grow and expand and I am glad you went there. So nice these little daisies and I love the wild growing foxgloves (in German it is finger-hat. Always funny the similarities and the differences of plant names!). Also the colorful islands of moss are wonderful. It is a very colorful place anyway. I am fascinated by the Douglas fir trees and their strong bark. Incredible that they can stand the fire or at least some of it! I just saw a documentary about wood fires and how dangerous they get, when the tree tops catch fire. A fireman said you can do nothing when the tree tops are burning and the fire can cross distances of 200 m! Crazy. So nature created a good mix to keep some trees alive. The pictures with the dark stems are beautiful 3-5. I like the weed that reminds me of a warp, ready for weaving. The hummingbird is so cute and your photo shows his size so well ๐Ÿ™‚ And the insects – I am happy you found some. The 3rd picture is missing here, I can only see the bug and the fly. I hardly could see the ones in the foxglove – you have very sharp eyes ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thank you for this nice trip into this dreamland.

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’ve talked about our mutual interest in places like this and I know you understand exactly how it feels to be burning with curiosity about something. The neglected places don’t usually turn out to be as pretty as this one, but I think I was there on a perfect day, at least for the flowers.
      I like Finger-hat much better than Foxglove! I can picture it better. ๐Ÿ™‚
      That’s interesting about fires in the treetops and when you’re in the dry season, which we are in now all over the West, it can be really bad. The weather patterns create these super-dry conditions every year – it’s a natural cycle – and if fires get started then it’s hard to stop them. When lower, smaller plants have grown for years without any fire, they become fuel and the fire can whip up to the treetops quickly. California is having a terrible time this year. We have been lucky so far.
      I appreciate the positive comment on the hummingbird photo – it’s true, if you can see the context you get a better idea of the size.
      Someone else told me one of the photos in a “gallery” in a different post was missing, but when I looked it was there. Strange. Anyway, it’s a daisy with a bumblebee. And you got the general idea. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I heard about California. It is crazy, the power of the fires! – Yes, there was another post, where the 3rd photo was missing. Seems to be the same effect. But yes, I got the idea ๐Ÿ™‚ You were lucky to find this pearl / little treasure. It was interesting to see, how the land recovers after a fire. Nature always comes back ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  9. A Daniel Moynihan coinage, that phrase, do I remember rightly? It can be cynically applied (to justify not fixing appalling situations), but also has legit applications and this sure is one. Did you ever see the video of thriving wildlife in the Chernobyl area, some 5-10 years later? Human neglect proving beneficial indeed…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know where it comes from…I assumed it was older than he is, but yes, it can be used in different ways and that time it was all for the good, as far as I’m concerned. I haven’t seen that video…but overall, much as many signs of the human hand please me (like so many things you see on your walks, like an espresso, like art in a museum…) I think we’d do well to do less, to refrain more than we’re wont to do. I bet we could go on for hours with that philosophical discussion! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

  10. How beautiful. In a couple of views, 16 & 18, Iโ€™d have guessed it was Maine.
    Those grasses in 7 & 8 are so nice, and 9 makes such a great, precise etching. And I totally flip for #5, the beautiful silvery leaves and the tree trunk making a bold inky stroke. The leaves superimposed on that black trunk give an impression of movement, a breeze. Very cool!
    (I saw the comment above re Danโ€™l Patrick Moynihan, and felt compelled to look up โ€œbenign neglect,โ€ Websterโ€™s has it as 1899 coinage, the same year as cloud-cuckoo-land, social engineering, radium, phototherapy. and about 300 other new words! I guess the end of that century, and being hit with a big wave of scientific and technological change, was really stimulating all kinds of thinking.
    My folks have always had foxgloves in their garden, but Iโ€™ve never seen any as nice as these in your photos. Fun to see the tiny bugs, walking around these white-and-purple bell chambers, maybe making tiny shouts or songs, to try out the echoes. I hope you have a wonderful Labor Day Weekend, closing out kind of a strange summer, and thanks for this nice treat, I appreciate it. RPT

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I can see Maine in those views…it’s been a very long time since I was there. Very interesting about 1899 – instantly I go to 1999. Remember all the fear of the millennium? That seems so long ago.
      The foxgloves up there are very healthy. I guess they have just what they want. I was so shocked when we first came out here to find them growing on roadsides along with other “weeds” that I’m used to from back east, like daisies. They’re not all over the place, but when they turn up, they still surprise me a bit. Ahh, the echoing bell-chamber…that one wants to be a poem. Wonderful!
      A strange summer to follow a weird spring I guess, and fall promises to torture us with politics. I am SO glad that I have this refuge. Going outdoors, being creative with the camera, pushing color and light around on the screen and then flinging it out there to see what comes back. Good stuff comes back, like your comment. You have a good one, too!


  11. At last a little time for a comment or two. Good for you for deciding to go for the questionably-according-to-Hoyle adventure, well worth the minimal risk, and I’m sure you could have satisfied any justifiably-curious watchperson’s concerns. What a glorious spot. I feel myself so drawn in to 1, 13,16, and 18, and I want to sit for a spell and contemplate the serenity of 6. And I can’t wait to see what you’ll be doing with your 12mm f/2.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence…this being a public space, my reporting is perhaps a little more cautious than my actions. ๐Ÿ˜‰ And yes, it was glorious, except for traffic noise. It was peak bloom – I had been eying that ridge as I drove past for several weeks, watching the flowers. I couldn’t wait any longer. It surprised me to no end to see foxgloves growing wild out here when we moved west – that doesn’t happen in NY/NJ/CT, not that I ever saw.
      The lens – do you use an Olympus? I only know a few people who do. The lens arrived and seems to be fine. I’m working on getting used to it – I think every lens has its own “personality.” It takes a while to figure out what each lens does well, and what it isn’t good for. Zoom lenses never please me the way primes do and I was using a 17mm f2 for wider angle shots, which just wasn’t wide enough. I would love to take the 12mm to a big city for architecture, street scenes, etc. Have a good weekend!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry Iโ€™m so late in answering your question, but there have been so many other pressing issues demanding priority. It has set off a plethora of memories, of which Iโ€™ll try to be frugal and recall only a few. My first serious camera was an Olympus Pen-D, which I bought in a department store in Tokyo when I participated in a tour of the Orient as a tenor in my college choir in 1964. It made half-frame images, which meant that I could get 72 on a standard 36-picture 35mm film. Of course, I didnโ€™t realize at the time that each would give me only half the resolution of full-frame images, but there are still some that I value. It lasted about 8 years, if memory serves. I had another Olympus that I won as part of my prize for Best-in-Show in a Washington Post photo contest, and it lasted about 7 years. My auxiliary camera now is an Olympus Stylus Tough TG-4, with which I am very happy. Itโ€™s shockproof for falls of 6 feet or so and waterproof to several dozen meters. And its macro capability is phenomenal. Also, the stereo microscope I used in veterinary practice is also an Olympus, and it still works perfectly.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I can imagine that just buying your first serious camera, under those circumstances, is enough for a flood of memories. And then winning a camera and using it for all those years – more good stories must be attached to all of that! I think you know Adrian of FATman blog fame, who also cherishes his Oly Tough. I should look at one sometime! I’ve read about the scientific instrument part of the Olympus “array” of products and how well-respected they are. That’s reassuring but the camera business is being taken over by another company. We will see how it all shakes out…

          Liked by 2 people

  12. Fantastic “study” of this lot. What a great find, Lynn. Your images are all delightful. I particularly enjoyed 5 – very cool shot, and 7, 8, 9 -the long grass is something I am always drawn to– beautifully done.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No problem Harrie! The grasses up there are nice – the whole place was. The burned trees so have a powerful presence. But right now, they just make me think of the mess we’re in over here. We have not been able to go for a walk for almost a week because the air is so unhealthy. It’s going to be at least a few more days before we can get outside. Unbelievable.


  13. Your images and words move me greatly, more than I am able to communicate.

    They also demonstrate how art and science can enhance one another.

    Regarding the fires, one of Sharon’s WNPS programs was presented by Paul Hessburg. If he is not already known to you check out Paul Hessburg Era of Megafires wildfire forest health โ€” North 40

    One more link possibly of interest – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/312580401_A_look_at_how_lace_lichen_came_to_be_known_as_Ramalina_menziesii_and_how_it_grows_its_nets

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a happy surprise it was to see your comment. Thank you so much – you’re too generous. It’s gratifying to know that someone is moved by a post that I’ve put together. Thanks too for what you said about art and science. Not either-or, both-and!
      Thank you for the links – I should have known about Hessburg but I didn’t. The “patchy” nature of forests pre-European settlement is very interesting. I was aware of much of the rest of the information but didn’t really know about that piece. Nice graphics in that film, too. And what fun to read the paper about Lace lichen. I like seeing that old specimen with the careful brown ink script and the Harvard herbarium stamp. It just ocurred to me that once the wildflower season is over, the lichen season begins, i.e. many lichens are nourished by fall and winter rains, and look their best. Lace lichen doesn’t move me in the summer but in the winter, when it’s soft and springy and cool gray-green, I really appreciate it. The interviewer asked some great questions…that last photo makes me crazy. Thanks again, Richard!


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