LOCAL WALKS: Beach and Dune

When we think of beaches and dunes we usually picture a seashore, probably by the ocean. But just over the bridge from my home there’s a breathtaking stretch of beach backed by sand dunes and a narrow strip of forest. Walking along that beach feels a lot like being at the ocean, so much so that you might not guess it’s 90 miles away. Masses of cold, Pacific water funnel down the Strait of Juan de Fuca twice a day, creating a rich maritime ecosystem. Luckily for the plants, animals and humans that pass through this particular spot, a state park was established here almost a hundred years ago, protecting this unusual habitat on the northwest corner of Whidbey Island. Whenever I want to walk along a beach and listen to waves lapping at my feet, this is where I go.

1. I usually come here late in the day. The beach faces west and at sunset, even on the coldest days, someone is always enjoying the view. The bulge on the right is a rough shelter made from driftwood that piles up in heaps, providing creative opportunities for amateur architects.

2.

3.

4.

5. Behind the shoreline, wind and water sculpt the land. There are round rocks dotted with lichens that could have been tossed there by storms decades ago. Tough plants that tolerate blowing sand, sporadic moisture, and poor soil are here, too, and in the forest there’s a surprise: an immense Douglas fir tree that has been there for over 800 years.

6. A close look at a lichen-spotted rock found in the sand dunes. Everything is worth a look!

7. I think this is American silvertop (Glehnia littoralis), a plant in the carrot/parsley family. Up to its neck in fine sand and swimming in seeds, I’m confident this plant has done its job. I’ll look for the flowers next year.

8. The old, contorted Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) sprawls on high ground just above the dunes. Standing under its sheltering limbs I feel a stillness resonating from the core of the tree, passing through every cell and into the air around and inside me.

9. A view toward the water from behind the old Doug fir.

10. Broken branches and Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) cones litter the mossy ground on a dry August day.

11. In the forest, Western dogwood (Cornus nuttallii) trees display warm Fall colors on branches hung with an assortment of gray-green lichens. You may recognize this scene – a similar one is in my previous post, “What it Might Be.”

12. On a scrubby hillock an ancient, toppled Western yew (Taxus brevifolia) tree pushes its branch tips up toward the light. This is c̓əx̌bidac, the bow wood tree. The strong, heavy wood can be used for bows, paddles, digging sticks and awls. The slow-growing Pacific yew is not at all common here. It is the original source of taxol, or paclitaxel, an important cancer drug. Thankfully, the drug can now be manufactured through cell culture techniques, taking pressure off wild trees.

13. Yew bark, the precious substance from which paclitaxel was made.

14. Colonies of lichens are at home on the deadwood. But why call it dead at all? Life springs up, reaches out and cycles around, even here.

15. This fierce little denizen of the dunes is the Douglas squirrel (Tamiasciurus douglasii) who is busy scolding me.

16. The middle dunes are anchored by tough grasses and Douglas fir trees.

17. A glimpse of Salish Sea waters and the San Juan Islands through a thicket of Sitka spruce, Douglas fir and beach grasses.

*

19. Bullwhip kelp (Nereocyctis luetkeana) blades shine orange in the late sun on the beach. The blades (like leaves) are draped over the stipe (the stem) of this huge seaweed that grows abundantly just offshore. Follow this link to learn about early uses for Bullwhip kelp and find out how to make a Bullwhip kelp rattle. 🙂

20. Here’s a contemporary use for Bullwhip kelp – spontaneous beach sculpture.

21. These two pieces of driftwood formed a nice minimalist picture at sunset.

22. Raindrops speckle colorful rocks that were tossed into a driftwood cavity by the waves.

*

*

24. A corny sailboat-in-the-sunset image – it’s trite but it’s hard to resist recording scenes like this.

25. The sun has set. Time to go home.

The unknowable ocean flows

down the strait

mixing currents and creatures,

ceaselessly anointing the beach

with life. A woman walks along the shore

barefoot in winter, carrying nothing.

A child climbs a driftwood pinnacle,

three Buffleheads bob among the breakers, and

a crab claw lands at my feet.

The wide, pale sky blesses it all.

***

Dedicated to J-J. P. He was a great neighbor who was taken from his family and friends way too soon. RIP

***


74 comments

    • Thank you, Adrian. My aim here is to knock you flat. 😉 Our neighbor died very suddenly from unknown causes, at just 46. It’s really hard for the family at a time like this. It just happened so I felt I had to do something, if only to mention him here. Thanks again, and I know you’re keeping safe, too.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. As I am yearning for the seaside these days, numbers 2, 19, 20, 21, 23 reflect the most what I am after at the moment: deep breath of salty air, giving you lightness and freedom inside. Your photos give me these feelings.
    Let’s hope your neighbour was allowed to go without suffering.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I bet you’re yearning for the seaside! You describe it well – the salty air giving a sense of lightness and freedom, I like that. Hopefully, you will be there again before too long. The possibility of traveling seems so far away right now, doesn’t it? We don’t think our friend and neighbor suffered much but it’s so hard for his family. The loss reminds us of the preciousness of life. Thank you, Ule, take care.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s a beautiful place. There’s a shallow lake behind the woods and I didn’t even have room to include photos of the lake. Another time. Some of the photos you mention are a result of trying to simplify and find those wonderful abstracts that are right there if only you can see them. You know! 🙂 Thanks for your thoughts, Harrie, and I hope you enjoy the weekend, too.

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    • L’immensité et le détail – ce sont deux pôles où je me trouve souvent. J’adore regarder les détails mais j’apprécie aussi la grande vue. J’apprécie vraiment ton commentaire, Irene, merci. Passe un bon weekend!

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  2. #2 recalls the type of drawing in which Escher had one sort of world transform into another; in your case the transformation goes from upper left to lower right. In the sunset sequence #23–25, the manufactured object morphs from a bench to a sailboat to a car.

    Regarding #18: a lupine flower in a fern strikes me as a novel combination. For all the bluebonnets we have in Texas, I don’t remember ever seeing one fern-bedecked. With mushrooms, it seems most are unpalatable or outright poisonous; with serpents, most aren’t venomous but some are. According to National Geographic, “There are more than 3,000 species of snakes on the planet and they’re found everywhere except in Antarctica, Iceland, Ireland, Greenland, and New Zealand. About 600 species are venomous, and only about 200—seven percent—are able to kill or significantly wound a human.”

    #19 reminds me of the scads of orange bull kelp I enjoyed seeing in New Zealand. Similarly, the rounded rocks in #22 remind me of some I saw there. You say their presence in the driftwood log is natural, yet I can’t help thinking people may have augmented reality. Likewise in #20, it seems we can attribute the spontaneity to humans rather than waves. In #8, the thick limb at the left seems like a person.

    In the caption for #15 you used the word denizen. Did you know that except for the ending it’s the cognate of French dans?

    There’s a Y in #10, and #13 got me thinking of YewTube. No letter, but a nice abstraction of lichens in #6.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Escher would be at home in #2, good call! 🙂 I agree about the lupine coming up in that Bracken – strange! That species is short, too, because plants are subject to a lot of wind and blowing sand there. I wonder if the fern eventually buried the flower. Speaking of snakes, I saw one just recently in the dunes, not far from the beach. Of course, it slithered away before I could take a picture but I’m pretty sure it was a very harmless garter and I was quite pleased to see it.
      People do put rocks into logs sometimes but the waves do it as well. The wind can be incredibly powerful after crossing the open Pacific ocean, funneling down the strait, and then ramming into Whidbey Island at gale force. That’s how driftwood gets rearranged, an impressive sight (the child in the right-hand picture in #23 is watching huge logs get tossed by the sea during a storm at high tide). For sure humans tied those Bullwhip stipes to that driftwood in #20. They’re rubbery and strong. We once used a piece to haul a heavy piece of driftwood across the sand in Oregon. It worked well.
      No, I didn’t know about the denizen – dams connection. Cool. Funny about the Y shaped branch and the yew tree! 🙂 Thanks for keeping my mind churning, Steve, and have a good weekend!

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    • Aww, that’s nice to hear. And when you posted the photos of Nuremberg with the old architecture, I missed Europe. 🙂 Thanks so much. I have no doubt that you will enjoy your weekend, and I will try to do the same. 🙂

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  3. There is the sea … and there are other “seas” modeled by time, nature and eyes. The sea of our eyes!
    I don’t know which photo I like the most, because they are all beautiful looks with magnificent graphics. For some people, as Lynn, beauty exists anywhere. Naturally and without effort.
    And it’s beautiful when someone grabs that beauty, adds some words to it and says goodbye to a friend.
    Peace to him.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. These are wonderful Lynn. Great observations as always. We are fortunate to have you share this very interesting and photogenic place with us. The first is a great image … I love everything about it! I love the find in #16 along with the detail in the grasses. The raindrops on the colorful rocks was lucky moment … they look like speckled gems!

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    • You know what happened with those raindrops, don’t you? 🙂 Within seconds, it was all over. So you’re absolutely right, it was lucky that I was there at that moment. Of course, those moments aren’t exactly rare around here! 😉 We tend to get these light passing showers fairly often and I try to remind myself to take advantage of it rather than feel there’s nothing that can be done. Thanks for your good words, I appreciate it. Stay safe!

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  5. Wow, great post Lynn. I really love it all! This post is especially harmonious. Sounds strange? I don’t know, but it all fits so well together. You seemed to have been in the flow here 🙂 I like the photos from the beach, the “face” in #3, the wonderful lichen patterns in #6 and the deadwood in #10 and the beautiful old Douglas fir trees. You are right, there is a special atmosphere about these old trees. Maybe we feel more connected to mother earth? With #11 I had a deja vu 🙂 The yew tree bark reminds me of our pine trees. Astonishing how similar it looks. I looked at the site you recommended: this language looks fascinating and is so different from all I have ever seen! Is there any relation to other languages in other countries? I think I have to read more about it. The Cladonia is cute, I love it. It seems to be a different form from the one I know here. The Amanita fungi looks pretty lively in the weed, great! To make it a bit short: my favorite pictures are from #19 until the end. I love love all the sunset pictures. Nr 19 is my most favorite photo, then 20 and 21 and the final one, 24 (19 is gorgoeus!). The group of pictures from 23 could be from a travel guide, but nicer 🙂 I am sorry to hear about the loss of your neighbor. Such a sudden death is always a shock. Take care Lynn and thank you for this day at the beach!

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    • Hi Almuth, it’s good to hear that the post flows, since there are so many photos! Honestly, it’s been a hard week but maybe there was some harmony in the photos that calmed me. I’m glad you had the time to click on the link to the Lushootseed site. The tribe that owns land very close to where I live is related and I believe their language sounds very similar. These languages don’t sound like anything I have ever heard either! I don’t know if anyone has been able to find connections to other languages. The theory is that people arrived in N. America from Aisa over a land bridge between Alaska & Siberia around 16,000 years ago. Even if that’s true there has been a lot of time for languages to evolve. Of course, there was a connection to Asia but that is in the distant past.
      I think we have many different Cladonia species here so it’s not surprising that this one looks different from yours.
      Maybe you were feeling cold when you wrote this so the warmer-toned photos appealed to you the most. 😉 The beach took a beating on 13 November in a big storm. Everything was picked up and thrown back violently, the water came way up and tossed picnic tables around, the beach was eroded, etc. We need the grasses to grow back well next year and anchor it again. The shoes I wore that day are soaking in a bucket of water with a little bleach – they didn’t smell too good after I had to wade back to the parking lot through the water that inundated the trails at the park where I was that day, which isn’t far from this beach. This virtual day at the beach doesn’t include the sounds and smells but it seems that you got a lot out of it – I’m glad! 🙂

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      • Okay, the idea of a relation to other languages was a bit naive. I had to think of Basque. Once it was said that it is related to Caucasian, which is so far away. I don’t know if it is up-to-date, but there are fascinating connections. It would be interesting to see if there are anys connections to languages in Asia, but maybe I am naive again 😉 Okay, theory….

        About the kelp pictures: I love complementary colors and this yellow and blue is amazing 🙂 as well as the soft tones of the evening light. Wonderful!
        Oh dear, I have a sense of how your shoes must smell like, urgs 😉 Maybe you can put some spice into them, haha. Did you find interesting flotsam? These storms can do terrible harm to the coastline. I hope it recovers soon.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Put some spice into them? 🙂 Funny! Actually, I filled a bucket with water, added a tiny bit of bleach, and soaked them for a few days. Now they will need a week to dry out but I think that did the trick, as we say when something works. So far I have found one interesting, small piece of wood. There are bits of plastic garbage that get left on the beach but not a lot. Yesterday I saw a large, torn piece of a boat, way up high on the beach. Crazy. The beaches that were hit hard are in Deception Pass State Park, which does not have enough money and resources in normal times. I don’t know how they’re going to cope with all the mess. I guess a lot of it will just be left in place for nature to work on.

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    • Thanks, Howard, it’s something I’ve done since I was very young, appreciating all the details outside…I remember finding rabbit droppings in a field by our house when I was 3 years old and bringing them home. 🙂

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  6. This is of course fairly familiar territory for me, nevertheless some of the photos in this collection jump right out at me as if I’ve never been in the PNW: 2, 13, and especially 19. And that old Douglas fir is magnificent.
    Alison

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  7. These images convey a calm, soothing, meditative mood. There is a personal, intimate dialogue taking place between photographer and subject , The relationship is enhanced by the carefully chosen viewing points, the cropping and the restrained use of colour. I like them a lot!

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  8. I was captivated by the pebbles in #3, #4, and #19 as I scrolled through the post. When I saw #22 I thought you had found a chest full of gems. But then I was taken by #23 (large); the solitude of the empty bench, the beach grasses, the distance islands, shrouded by those beautiful low clouds. The idea of ‘yūgen’ came to mind. A fitting image to accompany your poem…my condolences for the loss of your friend and neighbor, Lynn.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Mic. I had to go back to the sources to read up on yugen – I couldn’t quite remember the meaning. (and thanks to your comment I passed an enjoyable morning tea time reading about Japanese aesthetics from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Of course, yugen is still a little unclear and that’s part of the picture, isn’t it? I thought the photo you’re talking about might have been better on its own but you still saw the beauty in that quiet scene. Thank you for your thoughts, Mic, I appreciate your presence.

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    • It’s nice to know you see the beauty of the old Doug fir, which is hard to photograph, and of course, pictures are never the same as being with it. No worries about commenting at any point in time, especially these days! It’s very good to hear you like to take it slowly with these posts-of-many-pictures. 😉 BTW I registered for the 12/18 class, hoping to encourage myself to pick up a pencil or a brush. 🙂

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  9. Lynn, I agree completely with Jean M’s comment above – – I see you’ve posted, and set that aside for a treat when there’s time to really enjoy it. (I’ve been having trouble commenting on your posts, entered this sev’l times, so hope you don’t receive this message 4 times!) Your posts always arrive like a thoughtful gift, not sure I always remember to say, very much appreciated, so I’ll do that now before it slips my mind (feeling scatter-brained right now, nine days until my final papers are due for the semester.) I enjoyed your photos and poem as a calming respite. A nice message in your poem, too, sorry to hear about your neighbor.

    Wow, I haven’t seen too many trees as crazily akimbo as that wavy gravy fir in #8. It’s contorted six ways to Sunday but doesn’t look tortured, it looks exuberant and content, having a fine time with its slo-mo dancing on its wild spot on the shore, I can see why you get a peaceful vibe hanging out under it. It’s funny, I love these shore shots, with big sweeps of water, dunes, and sky in 4, 5, 23, 24 and it would be fantastic to step into those scenes and breath the salt air, but my favorites in this album are the small-scale settings, like the miniature lichen forest in 14, and 18, with the lupine coming up out of the ferns, with all their strong, triangular serrations, like a flower blooming with complete lack of concern in a sawmill. And your minimalist 21, enough color, texture, and shadow to be interesting but still restful for the eye.
    And you always seem to find mysterious messages left out there on your walks, like the hieroglyphics/runes in the last post, or 10 in this one. (I know you said the cone was from a spruce, but when I saw the picture, it said to me, “Pining? Why?”)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Final papers just ahead of the holidays, with COVID, what a recipe for stress, Robert! I hope you’ll make some good down-time happen.
      Yes, that old Doug fir is contorted six ways to Sunday but seems perfectly content. Hanging out with it is a privilege – it just feels good. When I lived far from oceans and beaches I longed to breathe that air, too…even here it feels like the ocean, just a little gentler, usually. And the water is salty – I’ve tasted it. 😉 I love your description of the lupine in the ferns, wow! That “Why?” in #10 does have a presence when you look at it apart from its surroundings. I don’t go looking for messages, which probably doesn’t surprise you, but I think curious eyes alert to an aesthetic slant to anything and everything are what get me to those messages. Thank you for YOUR message, I really appreciate it.

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  10. Pingback: Jo’s Monday walk : Azinhal, almost ends in tears | restlessjo

  11. A gorgeous collection, Lynn. I love to join you for your walks. Your landscapes are always stunning and in this series, I really lingered over your close-ups. The Lupine in the Fern is exquisite, the mushrooms, the kelp and the drizzled beach rocks. I can imagine you coming upon these scenes and saying “aha” to yourself. 🙂 I also love the wave crashing seemingly perilously close to the people and cliched or not, I love the sailboat and sunsets. And the gnarled Douglas Fir!
    Your final poem and dedication is beautiful. Sorry for your loss.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My eyes do light up repeatedly, at the big picture and all those interesting details. It’s nice to know you enjoy seeing them, too. The waves were ferocious on the day I took the two photos in #23 and we could actually see scores of huge logs in the water being tossed around. You want to make a video at those times! But I guess you got the idea. 🙂 Sunsets are hard to resist, especially out here on the West Coast, right? Thanks so much for your kind words, Jane. We’d grow really fond of our neighbor – long story – I’ll tell you about it someday. Have a good weekend. 🙂

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  12. Your beach and dune… some similarities/other differences.
    #3… love the polished rocks washed up on shore and that foamy, sudsy water. Yesterday with high surf warnings, the foamy bits turned the water’s edge to pure white suds for a wide stretch out to sea. I LOVE the ever changing look of the ocean.
    #4… great catch of god rays. This scene could easily have been on so many of our ocean shores.
    #6… amazing and charming detail of this unusual looking lichen
    #8… your Doug fir reminds me so much of ones found on the coast of Big Sur – perhaps a different sort of tree, but that same twisty shape… created by the elements
    #13… that yew bark is amazing and fabulous
    #15… fierce is probably a good word for this one (but they ARE cute!)
    #21… nice abstract
    #22… there’s just something about rocks
    #23… can easily relate to all the moods
    #24… not trite at all… it’s a beautiful evocative setting, what drawns us in.
    So sorry to hear of your neighbor.

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    • It’s really fun to compare and contrast our environments, isn’t it? And remember, we are fully 90 miles from the ocean, but I think you had direct experience of that so you get it. I think the contorted trees of Bir Sur are Monterey cypress – Douglas fir is way at the end of its range down there and I don’t think it’s too common. Not sure though. Anyway, contorted trees of any kind are wonderful to see. We’ve noticed the little Douglas squirrels behave differently than the gray squirrles. When they’re surprised by a human they seem to get tough and mad, even coming toward you a little bit, as if to try to scare you off. Then they emit those hysterical, high-pitched calls and high-tail it outa there. So funny!
      I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Gunta, and thanks for your kind words. Take care and stay safe!

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      • You capture the essence of a place I hold dear. For what its worth I particularly like 3, 4, 6, 11, 16, 19, and 22. 6 is interesting and beautiful. (Those of us with a tendency to use those words interchangeably have been admonished.) The light on the Bullwhip kelp in 19 is breathtaking. Amazing how much the raindrop speckles alter the rocks in 22. I would like to see large versions of 11 and the 2nd photo in 18.

        Back to 6, how many people find lichens worth a look? I’d like to know why Rhizocarpon often has such distinct concentric patterns. By the way, it would be delightful to go out there at night with a UV flashlight as the Rhizocarpon will fluoresce brightly.

        Regarding pebbles (4-64mm) Nova Scotia has a wonderful pamphlet which might interest you – ags.earthsciences.dal.ca/TransferFolder/NSPebbles2.pdf

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        • I TRY to convey the essence of places and am very happy that this post works for someone who’s known West Beach far longer than I have.
          The interchangeability of interesting and beautiful! I belong to that club for sure – I find myself reacting to things with those words all the time (and often wish I could come up with something more original, which just leads to “fascinating” and “gorgeous”). 😉
          I wonder if you happen to have been back in the dunes when the dogwoods turn those beautiful colors? There’s one spot where they make the curtain-like effect (#11) that you and I both find appealing, and the cool tones of the lichens really add something special.
          Do you know the tree in #12? There’s an amazing prostrate juniper right across from it, and a few nicely gnarled old Doug firs. It’s a special spot.
          I love the booklet you linked to; it’s excellent – accessible and clear. I had no idea the word pebble applies to such large rocks! Thank you, the booklet should be helpful if I can only remember where I file it. Such an information bath this century is!
          Thanks too for identifying the lichen in #6. A google image search of Rhizocarpon turns up quite an array of forms. Maybe one could linger a little past sundown on a warmer evening and try the UV light – that would be cool!
          Thank you for your kind, interesting (!) comment, Richard.

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        • You have not known West Beach as long, but by now you know it (and many other places up there) better.
          I don’t recall the dogwoods’ colors.
          I do recall a path which seemed like a tunnel through Ramalina menziesii.
          The old Douglas fir is the only tree which I specifically remember. “Interesting” the way Douglas firs grow so differently on the exposed flanks of our islands.
          Regarding Western Yew (#12), according to Andy MacKinnon it is an endophytic fungus that might actually be producing the taxol.
          Can’t resist a bit more on Rhizocarpon. It grows very slowly in very harsh places (on the order of 0.05mm/yr). Adjusting for a factors affecting growth rate such as climate fluctuations, radial measurement of some very large Arctic individuals indicate ages far exceeding Bristlecone pines.
          Your responses to everyone’s comments are interesting and kind.
          With Mount Erie now I’m 2 observations behind. (#15 really blows me away.)

          Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, the tunnel through the Ramalina – it’s thick back there! I would like to show you that Yew and the junipers the next time you’re up this way.
          I hear you about the Doug firs’ different growth habits – sometimes so straight and tall, sometimes so contorted. That old one seems far back from the worst of the weather. Maybe that’s not true – who knows what that beach looked like hundreds of years ago? It may have been narrower.
          How strange about the Yew fungus. And I love the thought of the old, old – OK, ancient! – Rhizocarpon, just hanging out there in the Arctic, adding another hair’s-width of growth each year. Barely enough to show a visible difference in one’s lifetime, I bet. I like that.
          Thank you, Richard – your comments mean a lot…and for you to say what you did about my replies, well it’s good. 🙂

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  13. Once again you have taken us along on a wonderful visit, or visits, to a lovely location, Lynn. All the shots, both intimate and wider views, are so appealing. My favorite is the green lichen but my eye happily dwells on so many. The yew views and, of course, Doug the squirrel, and the contorted Douglas Fir. So many! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Yew views” – why didn’t I think of that? 😉 The little Doug squirrels are characters. They’re very erratic, compared to Gray squirrels, running back and forth, seemingly unable to make up their minds. We’ve had one or two take peanuts from our hands but then no more – did that individual die by the talons of a hawk or??? Endlessly entertaining! As it all is, as you know. I thank you!

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  14. What a wonderful place to live close by to Lynn . Your connection with it knowledge and curiosity knows no bounds ! A real treasure trove of photos to enjoy along with those links . A lovely slow coffee time read for sure .
    Your post really makes me want to go explore close to home and appreciate it more … no beach side walks 😦 but quite a few lumps and bumps with views !

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you – I see that you’re not far away so maybe you’ll get back up here at some point. Of course, if you can do it on a weekday, it’ll be a better experience. I appreciate your stopping by and commenting (gotta love those Dougies!).

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  15. Pingback: 36 – Beaches v1 – Beach Walk Reflections: Thoughts from thinking while walking


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