INKLING*

A month before the Spring equinox, this

here-now world

brightens, greens, expands.

Tentative birdsongs are more insistent. Scents elude me in

the cold morning air, save for woodsmoke wafting from

the neighbor’s chimney. Chores abandoned,

I poke along a narrow trail, alert

to the floods of tiny green shoots

that crowd the way. Wild honeysuckle vines sprout new leaves

and the sturdy stonecrop’s succulent leaves bulge

with winter rain. Wildflower, fern,

moss, lichen – they’re all jamming in

perfect harmony: a breathing, life-affirming

wildgarden.

Down below, blue-green seawater spreads

across the bay like a bright tablecloth set for no one

– except the Buffleheads, the Harbor seals, the

fish, and the insects threading erratic paths

above the water.

I sense the hush of a pregnant moment between winter and spring.

*

The lichens, the budding trees, the awakened birds

go on with their lives. No need to think about pauses,

no need to roll words through their brains

in a doomed attempt

to describe the beauty that

they are.

***

1. Tall Douglas firs grace the shores of the pass. At their feet, lush gardens of ferns, moss, lichens, and wildflowers bask in the always-moist environment.
2. The new leaves of Licorice fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza) appeared last fall with the rain that arrived after our summer drought. All winter they’ve been green beacons of hope.
3. Ocean spray, or Ironwood (Holodiscus discolor) is unfolding its leaves now but the gracefully drooping, creamy white flower clusters won’t open until June.
4. Raindrops cling to a rootlet on the underside of a huge, downed Douglas fir tree.
5. Storm clouds break over Skagit Bay. The rain here falls as snow in the mountains, snow that will melt and nourish us here in the lowlands through the dry summer months.

*

6. Douglas firs cling precariously to rocks at Bowman Bay, last summer’s grasses continue their slow decline, and rushes are reflected in the calm water of Heart Lake.

*

7. Which plant is it? I’m not sure but the message is clear.
8. This is probably Pacific willow (Salix lucida ssp. lasiandra), a large, spreading shrub that likes wet areas like the lakeside where I photographed it.
9. Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii) cling to the rocks on the Lighthouse Point trail at Deception Pass State Park. A bright carpet of moss, grass, and wildflowers spreads underneath the trees.
10. A long-dead tree supports a colorful patchwork of lichens. They may not die back in winter like the wildflowers do, but their colors still convey the message of spring to my mind.

11. The diminutive Rattlesnake plantain’s leaves (Goodyera oblongifolia) have been hugging the ground for months. They look especially fresh these days. A tiny garden of golf tee-shaped lichens (Cladonia sp.), moss, a Douglas fir branch tip, and more lichens decorates a rock along a steep trail in a mature forest. Nearby, plump, green rosettes of Broadleaf stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium) snuggle into the folds of a Peltigera lichen. More lichens and moss (maybe Common haircap moss – Polytrichum commune) surround them. The stonecrop will send up stalks of yellow flowers in May or June and the Rattlesnake plantain, (actually an orchid) will bloom in July.

*

12. Tightly curled leaves of Yellow pond lilies (Nuphar polysepala) will open soon in the shallow water of Little Cranberry Lake, where beavers are continually creating the kind of habitat this plant prefers.
13. Willows by the roadside, a glorious sight.
14. Here’s Little Cranberry Lake again. A single pair of wild Trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator) rest on a half-submerged log in deep shade. Soon they’ll head to Alaska or northwestern Canada to breed. They’ll be back late next year.

*

*inkling (n.)

c. 1400, apparently from the gerund of the Middle English verb inclen “utter in an undertone, hint at, hint” (mid-14c.), which is of unknown origin; perhaps it is related to Old English inca “doubt, suspicion, question, scruple.” However the earliest record of the word is as a nyngkiling; and The Middle English Compendium offers that this is not a misdivision of an inkling but rather suggests the word is a nasalized variant of nikking “a hint, slight indication,” gerundive of the Middle English verb nikken “to mark (a text) for correction” (mid-15c.), from nik (n.) “a notch, tally” (see nick (n.)).

From https://www.etymonline.com/word/inkling

ABSORBED

This week I was thinking about the quality of being absorbed in an activity. I wondered about the origin of the word so I googled it. In an online etymology dictionary, I read that the English “absorb” comes from an old French word that derives from Latin. Breaking it down, “ab” in this case means “from” and “sorb” comes from the Latin sorbeo, to suck in or swallow. These combine into “absorbere” or “absorbeo” – to swallow up or devour. The Proto-Indo-European language root was “srebh.” I can really hear the sound of sucking in that word! I wonder if it ultimately derived from the sound of a nursing child.

In German there is absorbieren. A related German word, schlürfen, sounds to me like someone slurping beer. 😉 In Dutch there’s slurpen, in Italian, assorbito. The Welsh word is amsugno; perhaps Graham will explain how that fits in. Or doesn’t.

At any rate, by the 18th century, absorbed also meant completely gripping one’s attention. When we are absorbed we incorporate and assimilate with full attention (again, think of a nursing child, oblivious to everything but the task at hand). The idea of complete attention is important. To be absorbed in something necessitates an absence of distraction. It’s almost a refusal of incoming sensory information, except within the narrow field of engagement. When I think about being absorbed I sense a unity, a lack of boundary between what we call the self and the object of our attention. The separation that our minds create between ourselves and the rest of the world is useful for functioning in daily life but when we’re completely absorbed in an activity the separation recedes. Some of these ideas are my personal associations with the experience of being absorbed. Isn’t it interesting that we humans communicate by using agreed-upon word meanings but we each have a whole host of subjective associations attached to words as well?

This state of absorption is akin to flow, a concept developed by Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. His interest in creativity and happiness led him to assert that being fully absorbed in something for its own sake, or being in the flow as he called it, enhances our feelings of well-being and our creativity. Csikszentmihalyi talked about the importance of a balance between skill and challenge in the flow state. He recognized that motivation in this state is intrinsic, not external. The theory of a flow state isn’t exactly the same as the concept of being absorbed in something, but active focus and a sense of timelessness are characteristic of both.

This state of flow or absorption is a very human quality, something we all experience. As photographers, we’re pleased when we sense the dropping away of day-to-day worries and concerns and become fully absorbed in what we’re doing. Truth be told, we often hope that when we get home we’ll find an image that reflects the way we felt, even if it doesn’t convey the full experience. Looking through photographs that I made in the last month, there are hardly any pretty blue skies. The fullness of spring is just a dream. But even in less than optimal conditions, when inspiration doesn’t come easy, it’s possible to enter into a meditative state of absorption. And whether a pleasing photograph results or not, any time spent being absorbed in something is its own reward.

*

1. It’s easy to be absorbed in the changing light of a fog bank at sunset.
2. And once you look, it’s just as easy to get lost in sand patterns on a beach.

3. Even a disintegrating fern frond rivets my attention.

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11. Fog again. The barely visible structure of a bridge in the distance drew me into the mist.

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*

Whether it’s a small detail, a wide vista, or something in between, being absorbed in what I see is one of the best things about being human on this earth. It goes without saying that music, touch, and all of the senses offer the possibility and pleasure of full absorption into the moment. I hope everyone experiences at least a few moments of absorption today.

***