A DOZEN DUETS

The pairs of photos you’ll see below developed while I was reviewing photographs I’ve made this year. I looked through everything that hasn’t been shown here on Bluebrightly and has a rating of 3 stars or more. Three stars? Lightroom users can use stars to assign personal ratings to photos. I assign keywords and ratings as soon as I import files. This system gives me general reference points that help me locate photos later.

As I skimmed through the images I focused on photographs that I’m not likely to use in future posts on specific subjects, like southern Utah plants (coming soon, maybe!). I noticed an atmosphere or mood in many of the photographs so I started thinking about putting together a series of images reflecting this sensibility. It’s hard to articulate what it was that I saw in those images, except that they felt contemplative and seemed to lean more toward feelings, less toward facts.

When I narrowed my choices down and put the photos into a folder, relationships between pairs of photographs jumped out at me. Certain images talked to one another. So I thought, why not show them in pairs? The connections – or dialogues – center around different qualities like texture, directionality, color, or something less definable. Usually, the subject matter is different and some other quality links the images. These pairings won’t make sense to everyone but if one “duet” sparks an idea, expands a possibility in your mind, or simply pleases you aesthetically, I’m happy. For me, one important function of art is to get the mind out of its rut, take it off-road, and let it wander into new territory. The ground is fertile there. Maybe the sun is out.

(If you’re curious about the subjects they’re listed at the bottom.)

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

*

***

  1. Left: amaryllis bud at home; Right: driftwood closeup
  2. Left: padlock on an old shed at a park; Right: lichen-covered bark closeup
  3. Left: Lace lichen (Ramalina menziesii) in the wind; Right: lichen-covered rock in Utah
  4. Left: looking out the car window on a rainy day; Right: tidal patterns in the sand at a beach
  5. Left: more tidal effects at the beach; Right: Lace lichen
  6. Left and right: intentional camera movement images of a Fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum)
  7. Left: eroded rocks at a beach; Right: plastic garbage in the grass on a roadside
  8. Left: Field chickweed (Cerastium arvense) and old roots; Right: Snow geese (Anser caerulescens) flying over a field
  9. Left: beach rock and sand detail; Right: chained fence on a roadside
  10. Left: Lopez island through the window of a park shelter; Right: brick building in Panguitch, Utah
  11. Left: lichen on a tree, maybe Eyed beard (Usnea quasirigida); Right: looking out the car window on a rainy day
  12. Left: eelgrass (Zostera marina) on a beach; Right: a rock in Utah

***

LOCAL WALKS: The Bliss of Transience

1. Small camas (Camassia quamash).

The idea that bliss and transience go together may seem counterintuitive since we humans tend to get attached to things and usually find change challenging. But deep pleasure can come from experiencing impermanence. If you guessed that I’m thinking about the here-today-gone-tomorrow nature of spring, you’re right. In spring evanescent clouds mist the trees while flowers grow buds, bloom, and fade in a vivid parade that passes quickly. It’s hard not to want to make these fleeting moments last longer but maybe knowing that every gem-like spring flower is followed by a new one can ease the regret. Maybe fully sensing the beauty of life’s fluctuating rhythms is a better bliss than grasping at frozen bits of time.

Spring arrives in early February here with subtle, barely perceptible whispers. Buds swell, willows sport fuzzy catkins, and a few non-migrant birds sing tentatively. The leaves of certain orchids that won’t bloom for months appear in mossy places at the edge of the woods. This slow, steady unfolding is due to moderate temperatures – most of the time the thermometer doesn’t fall very low or rise very high. Cold Salish Sea waters that flow around our island even out the weather, creating optimal conditions for lush growth. As the days lengthen the greens that pervade our landscape intensify bit by bit, leaf by leaf. February, March, April, May, and June can all make claims on spring in the cool maritime Pacific Northwest.

2. A miniaturist’s dream. This tiny landscape of moss, lichens, and one sprouting plant was flourishing atop a trailside rock well before the Spring equinox. Feb. 18th.
3. A tightly coiled Goldback fern (Pityrogramma triangularis) fiddlehead emerges among last year’s fronds. Feb. 25th.
4. A cool, rainy day in the forest. March 18th.

*

7. At the end of March, just before we left for Utah, I checked a location where wild larkspurs grow and found little hairy fists buds. By the time I got home, the flowers were just beginning to bloom (#19). March 31st.

This spring I was away for two weeks in April, during the height of the time when roadsides display one of my favorite sights: the soft-edged, lime-green haze of budding deciduous trees. Acutely aware of the progression of flora and fauna during springtime, I was afraid I might miss something while I was away. But when I returned it seemed that the world had held its breath – the trees were still bright and fluffy and the wildflower show was just getting started.

With my head still spinning out visions of red rock dreams, I stepped into the moist glow of green fields and forests to search for wildflowers. I was eager to check out all the familiar places that I’d been the month before, where I knew wildflowers should be in bloom. But there was one catch: a Northern elephant seal pup, the first known to be born on the island, needed attention too. As a volunteer “seal sitter” for a network that protects marine mammals on the west coast, I felt an obligation to guard the young elephant seal pup and help educate the public. His mother made the inconvenient choice to give birth at a busy state park (the one that happens to be my favorite) on Jan 31st. She nursed him for 26 days and then swam away, leaving him all alone. It’s normal for this species to nurse for about a month and then leave pups to fend for themselves but most elephant seals are born in colonies where the pups have plenty of company. This guy only had humans!

For two busy weeks, I bounced between volunteering, dips into local parks, physical therapy appointments, yoga classes, and the usual chores everyone needs to tick off their to-do list. As the weather got warmer, the park got busier and the human/wildlife interface became harder to control, as one of the photos in the slideshow makes clear. Finally, it was decided that it would be best for all concerned to move young Emerson the elephant seal to an uninhabited island where he wouldn’t be surrounded by curious people all day long. To keep chaos to a minimum, the public wasn’t notified in advance and even volunteers didn’t get the news until the day after he was relocated. Suddenly I was free of my obligation, which was a bittersweet relief. I’d grown fond of this character with his big, dark eyes, sleepy afternoons, and a predilection for resting under the signs we used to inform the public to stay at least 50 yards away. I was glad Joe and I spent a few hours with him the day before the big move. True to form, that afternoon he rested for hours next to one of the signs, then suddenly (suddenly for an elephant seal looks nothing like suddenly for a chipmunk) decided to mosy down to the water, just to stick his nose in. Swimming is what seals are supposed to do but during his time at the park, Emerson mostly slept.

I learned a lot about Northern elephant seals over the last three months. I also came to see the park and its habitat differently. My sense of this park now encompassed an odd creature needing protection, a never-ending stream of curious humans with their dogs, and an assortment of signs and orange traffic cones that had to be moved every day because you never knew where Emerson would turn up in the morning. My cherished vision of this space as a sanctuary made way for a concept that sometimes seemed more like a zoo than a refuge. I wasn’t always happy about that but I learned a lot. It’s good to know this old brain can still be flexible.

But what about the wildflowers? I’ve been outside making the rounds, peering at the ground. The little gems won’t be here for long and that’s the beauty of it – they keep me fully awake in the present.

*

8. The Dark-throated shooting star (Primlua pauciflora) is a star of the spring wildflower show in spite of its short stature. April 25th.

9. The same species, five days earlier, in bud.

*

12. Rain rolls down the smooth bark of a Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) tree. Most of our rain falls gently; driving rainstorms are rare. If you go out in the rain there’s a good chance it will let up enough to use your camera. April 25th.
13. They’re not wildflowers but these cultivated apple blossoms promise delicious fruit later in the summer if we get there before the animals. May 1st.
14. This odd plant with succulent leaves is a Claytonia, probably C. exigua, a member of the purslane family (Portulacaceae). Known as Serpentine spring beauty, it’s one of several plants that grow comfortably in the serpentine soil at one of our parks. Serpentine soils lack many nutrients and tend to be shallow, which means roots can’t reach deep. This short, if not stunted plant has waxy leaves that help retain water later in the summer when the shallow soil gets very dry. Apr. 25th.

*

*

18. A riot of deep blue graces a rocky bald called Sares Head, high over the Salish Sea. This is Small camas, the same flower seen in the first photo. The small bulbs were dug, stored, and pit-roasted by local tribes. May 3rd.
19. Another blue beauty is Menzies larkspur (Delphinium menziesii). It’s been a banner year for them. They looked pretty on this bald alongside a fallen Doug fir tree and mounds of Reindeer lichen (Cladonia sp.). These are the flowers seen in bud in #7. May 1st.
20. Here’s a flower that doesn’t have any chlorophyll. Dependent on other plants for nutrients, Oneflower broomrape (Aphyllon purpureum) grows near plants that it parasitizes, in this case probably stonecrops (Sedum). Apr. 21st.
21. The graceful Fawn lilies (Erythronium oregonum) have finished blooming. I was lucky to find this one still open on a rainy day. Apr. 25th.

*

*

*

25. Checker lilies (Fritillaria lanceolata) are doing well this year. I’ve seen more than in other years. Local tribes steamed or boiled the bulbs, which are small and look a bit like fat rice grains. Apr. 30th.

26. An old Seaside juniper tree spreads out near the waters of Burrows Channel. Field chickweed (Cerastium arvense) blooms in the grass.

***

Treading along in this dreamlike, illusory realm,
Without looking for the traces I may have left;
A cuckoo’s song beckons me to return home,
Hearing this, I tilt my head to see
Who has told me to turn back;
But do not ask me where I am going,
As I travel in this limitless world,
Where every step I take is my home.

~ Eihei Dogen

from Heine, Steven, translator. Zen Poetry of Dogen. by Eihei Dogen. Tuttle Publishing, 1997.

FARTHER AFIELD: Utah Rocks!

It’s all about geology in Utah. This post zeroes in on the impressive variety of rocks that can be seen in southern Utah. Between April 3rd and 13th, we drove from the far southwest corner of Utah to Torrey, a small town in central Utah near Capitol Reef National Park. We put about 1680 miles (2703km) on our rented SUV, traveling on highways, two-lane local roads, and rough, unpaved roads. We walked through canyons, up cliffs, and along mountain ridges. It was a rock odyssey, from the enormous, ancient formations layered into the distance to the red rock dust on our boots and in our noses. In Utah, the shapes, colors, and textures of rock run the gamut from subtle to bizarre. Going back and forth between spacious, soul-satisfying vistas and mesmerizing details, it was a ten-day orgy of aesthetic pleasure.

*

1. Along the highway near St. George, in the southwesternmost corner of Utah.
2. Detail of a rock face on the Hickman Bridge Trail, Capitol Reef National Park.
3. Pebbles, Capitol Reef National Park.
4. Along Cathedral Road, Capitol Reef National Park.
5. Temple of the Sun, Capitol Reef National Park.
6.
7. Snow Canyon State Park. The dark areas are sharp, medium-sized rocks; I believe they’re basalt lava flow. The dull green areas are covered with tough, desert plants.
8. For thousands of years people have inscribed signs and symbols on rocks to communicate. Over the years, different cultures made their marks on these rocks at Parowan Gap in Parowan, Utah. Interpretations of petroglyphs vary depending on who you’re talking to. To a modern-day Paiute elder a particular series of glyphs may tell a story that’s totally different from the message that a European-American scientist sees.
9. Depressions worn into the rocks hold the scant water that falls here, allowing it to become a lifeline for wildlife.
10.
11.
12. How could people resist putting rocks into these holes worn into the vertical faces of a canyon? Capitol Gorge, Capitol Reef National Park.
13. Capitol Gorge, Capitol Reef National Park.
14. Capitol Reef National Park.
15. Along the Burr Trail, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I think these hills are bentonite.
16. Along Notom-Bullfrog Road. We made a long, dusty loop by driving from Torrey on Highway 24 to Highway 12 (a rather remote two-lane road) to Burr Trail Road (more remote) to Notom-Bullfrog Road (seriously remote) and back to Rt. 24. Road conditions and weather must be checked before you set out. Plenty of water and food must be on board too, just in case. We passed only a few vehicles on the more remote sections of the route. The grandeur of this landscape made the strongest impression on me the day we drove that 120-mile (193km) loop.
17. Burr Trail Road rock and juniper trees. It may look like soft sand but walk up to it and you’ll see that it’s really solid rock. The Burr Trail Road passes through Boulder, Utah, a tiny town so remote that it was the last place in America to get mail by mule train. In the early 1930s, a road was built and residents began receiving mail carried by wheeled vehicles instead of pack animals.
18. View from the Hickman Bridge Trail, Capitol Reef National Park.
19. Rock detail, Hickman Bridge Trail, Capitol Reef National Park.
20. Along the Burr Trail, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
21. Rock detail, Rt. 24, Capitol Reef National Park.
22. Context of the photo above: at the bottom of the frame you can see juniper trees. Most of these trees are taller than people. Imagine how high this cliff towers over park visitors.
23. Bryce Canyon National Park.
24. Some of the rock at Snow Canyon State Park (near St. George) is wrinkled like an elephant’s skin. This is cross-bedded, 173-million-year-old Navaho sandstone.
25. Along Cathedral Road, Capitol Reef National Park.

*

Southern Utah’s landscape is harsh, forbidding. Maps tell the story of settler’s reactions with plainspoken names like Box-Death Hollow Wilderness, Rattlesnake Bench, Tarantula Mesa, Hell’s Backbone, and Last Chance Desert. Summer is hot, winter cold, and spring rains can bring floods. But the beauty beyond all that, between the dust blowing in your face and the endless miles of cracked earth, is truly sublime. In the last letter he wrote before he disappeared forever, Everett Ruess recalled riding “over miles of rough country, forcing my way through tall sage and stubborn oak brush, and driving the burros down canyon slopes so steep that they could hardly keep from falling.” He enjoyed the beauty of the wilderness and the vagrant life he was leading, preferring “the saddle to the streetcar and the star-sprinkled sky to a roof, the obscure and difficult trail, leading into the unknown, to any paved highway, and the deep peace of the wild to the discontent bred by cities.”

This desert land touches your soul.

*

25. A view from the Burr Trail, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

***

Quotes from Rusho, W.L. (1983). Everett Ruess, A Vagabond for Beauty. Peregrine Smith Books.

***