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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 cuckooโ€™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.


61 comments

  1. Much, so much, to delight in, but I’m comment only on your opening observation about the relationship between bliss and transience. You are in excellent company! Back in 1970, author John Fowles (much better known for The Magus, The Collector, The Ivory Tower, etc) published a new version of his personal philosophy called The Aristos. In it, he drew attention to the two elements of the single word, “worthwhile.” It is the “while,” he argues, the impermanence, that creates the “worth,” the value.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Penny, Thank you! The author is familiar but not the work, nor the reading of “worthwhile.” That’s so interesting. I hope you’ve been exploring your own neighborhood and will be posting soon.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am about to post! you’ll see… BTW I forwarded your Bliss & Transience post to a wonderful ethnobotanist friend of mine, familiar with much of the world but not your islands’ bit of it, and she was as enchanted as I — she & I one spring spent a lot of time flat on our tummies admiring the rare wild orchid species up the Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, a great trip

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Such a beautiful collection of photos, Lynn. The brilliant purple of the Dark-throated shooting star was especially compelling. Your prose was so poetic in this post, the thoughts about transience and spring, the way you see the beauty in everything. Always a delight to visit here and see the world through your eyes.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those Shooting stars are so pretty. The patch I know best is in the grass at a park, just where grass gives way to rock, and then to channel water. A lovely location. I found them in a few more places this year, too, and last year we were amazed to see a closely related species in the very dry desert steppe of eastern Washington. It’s good to hear that you appreciate the prose, the ideas, and the images. You and I don’t like to stick to just one discipline! ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Like

  3. Beautiful selection of photos, Lynn. I feel compelled to pick a favorite and today I’m picking #8. I may pock a different one tomorrow but I’ll wait and see. I’ll take the opportunity to look again.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Ken, it’s great to hear from you. How’s beautiful downtown Webster?? It would be excellent if you take another look – I realize there’s an abundance of images here. Have a good week!

      Like

  4. Great story about Emerson, I hope he will be lucky with his new and more peaceful location. You showed us so much floral beauties, many thanks but the Calypso orchids got my special attention ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know you love plants, Rudi, and I was thinking you might find these interesting. And Emerson, I hope he survives. We will probably never see him again but the females tend to return to the same places so we do expect to see his mother again. It was quite a learning experience for me and I’m really glad that I volunteered. Have a great week!

      Like

  5. “The Bliss of Transience” – love that.

    Beautiful selection of captured visual impressions, Lynn.

    โ–ชโ—พโ—ผโ—พโ–ชโ–ซโ—ฝโ—ปโ—ฝโ–ซโ–ชโ—พโ—ผโ—พโ–ชโ–ซโ—ฝโ—ปโ—ฝโ–ซโ–ชโ—พโ—ผโ—พโ–ช
    โ–ซโ—ฝโ—ปโ—ฝโ–ซโ–ชโ—พโ—ผโ—พโ–ชโ–ซโ—ฝโ—ปโ—ฝโ–ซโ–ชโ—พโ—ผโ—พโ–ชโ–ซโ—ฝโ—ปโ—ฝโ–ซ

    Liked by 1 person

    • A weekend named after them that’s cool! Ours are very, very small and most people don’t notice them or know about them here. It’s a different species, not as showy as yours. But we love them all, don’t we? ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • We even have a few of them in the garden.
        Here a small excerpt from” Kitzing news” about the festival:

        The lily plant (also known as checkerboard flower or peewit egg) was once again the focus of a large festival on Sunday. Although the organizing Altengronau countrywomen would have wished for a little more of the sunshine that weather god Peter has sent in the past few days, the checkerboard flower likes it rather damp and so the clouds and now and then a few raindrops came closer to it.

        Nevertheless, the traditional chess flower festival, which is widely known, was a real magnet for visitors and the work that the rural women’s association has been doing every year since 2000 – if Corona does not intervene – was rewarded with a success in every respect.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Parasitic, chlorophyll-less โ€œbroomrapesโ€ (what a name!) and โ€œpollination by deceptionโ€ – thereโ€™s so much more going on in the forest than I know. Iโ€™m thankful to have you as my gentle guide.

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a name indeed, and the other name is Cancer root! Ugh! But they’re interesting little plants. It’s good to hear from you – glad you enjoyed the post, thank you for letting me know you’re here.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. The elephant seal pup is so cute! I love your pictures here. In spite of the “human surroundings” it looks so relaxed on your photos ๐Ÿ™‚ I think seals have a talent for lying around in relaxation, haha. It must have been a big challenge for you to manage the pup and the people. Then the mixed feelings about saying goodbye. Wow, what a crazy time, stressful but happy too. I didn’t know that the mothers leave so soon. A colony of humans and cars instead of other seals – I hope the pup will recover soon from this strange period in his life ๐Ÿ˜‰ Good to hear that everything seems to be well!!
    I love the tiny wildflowers, like every spring ๐Ÿ™‚ They are all so exceptional. My favourite picture is #2, the miniature landscape with moss and lichen! Your love for nature can be found in your poetic writing as well as in your beautiful pictures. They show the aboundance of spring.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree, seals seem to have that special talent. The life cycle of this species is fascinating – the mother doesn’t eat anything while nursing and loses so much weight. Her milk can be up to 55% fat. The pup can live for up to 5 months on just what the mother fed him!! He probably still has not eaten anything. He will need to teach himself how to dive and catch food. If he survives he will spend most of the time in the ocean, diving very deep for 30 minutes and only coming up for maybe 2 minutes. When they come up for air they can be eaten by killer whales or large sharks so people don’t see them out in the ocean – most of our knowledge about them is from observing them on land. They were thought to be extinct in the late 1800s until a small colony was found off the coast of Mexico.
      Sometimes it was very challenging, like the day when I took the picture of him next to the parking lot, which was open that day. I was the only volunteer there, he moved around, and people wanted to get in their cars to leave. Chaos. it was exhausting. Other times it was relaxing and fun.
      I KNEW you would love #2! ๐Ÿ™‚ Every time I see that photo I think of you. THanks!

      Liked by 1 person

      • That is crazy, how long the seals can stay without food. The mother as well as the pup. Nature has strange ideas, but they all seem to work. I wish I could stand a week without food with 55% of fat in my nutrition ๐Ÿ˜‰ And that they have to learn everything for themselves. So maybe it is innate or is it not? Do they really have to learn it? A hard education. I hope it will be faster than all its enemies! After all it was a nice experience for you beeing the volunteer for the pup ๐Ÿ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

        • Hmm, I don’t think I want to go a week without food, even if I didn’t need to eat – there’s too much pleasure in it. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I suppose a lot of the skills elephant seals need to learn are innate – they must be. Last night there was a get-together for all the volunteers. Everyone told stories about their time volunteering – it was really very nice. It’s a nice group of people. Everyone had to learn on their feet because things kept changing. Soon Emerson’s mother will probably come to the island to molt so maybe I’ll help out with that, too. We’ll see what happens.

          Liked by 1 person

        • You are right, it is too much fun ๐Ÿ™‚ But my hips would appreciate it ๐Ÿ˜‰
          That sounds nice with the group and I am sure you all learned a lot. A good idea to make a meeting and exchange thoughts. The expression “learn on their feet” is new to me! I think we have a similar, but I just forgot ๐Ÿ˜‰
          I am curious if you will help again. The mother must be impressive, let alone her size.

          Liked by 1 person

        • That expression is usually “think on your feet” meaning you can make decisions while in the middle of doing things. That was pretty much the way the people in charge of the volunteer effort and the volunteers themselves were doing. When Elsie Mae, the mother, arrives to molt I hope to help out, or when any other elephant seal shows up on our island. She was in a post I did back in June – https://bluebrightly.com/2021/06/09/a-pleasure-garden/

          Liked by 1 person

        • That was a beautiful picture! Their life has extreme sites. I wouldn’t have thought so. But what do I know, right ๐Ÿ˜‰ Elsie Mae is a funny name for a seal like that ๐Ÿ™‚ How nice, that she chose Fidalgo Island as a new seasonal Habitat.

          Liked by 1 person

  8. Such a wonderful experience with Emerson! But I’ll be back for a closer look at all the precious flowers when I can spend more time….. the first taste has been exquisite!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I soaked up every image and view today. The starflower really does seem to have an impossibly thin stem. I love change in nature, it can be challenging to our comfort but is completely worth it to have the sense of wonder it brings! Beautiful poetry at the end. Thanks for the lovely post to grace this grey day with yet more chill and hail! Snowed halfway down Mt. Si the night before last too. I’m glad the cooler weather this spring likely held over the budding leaves and flowers until your return from Utah, at least. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mt. Si, such a gorgeous view to have but the sight of snow there at this time of year, well, enough already! I see snow in the foothills behind Mt. Vernon up here, too, just east of I-5. I went out yesterday for a walk between Bowman Bay & Rosario and there was a cold breeze over the water that worked its way up into the forest edge where I’d hoped to be sheltered. But it’s better than abnormally hot weather, right?

      Liked by 1 person

  10. In this “transit” through life where every moment doesn’t come back, we just have to try to “inspire time” as best we can. And to do it through what gives us pleasure, sharing, help, joy and what makes us feel at peace.
    This post is life, spring and potential hope, whether in each image, in each bud, flower, detail, etc… and also in Emerson that with the help of all of you will certainly have a future much more peaceful. We hope.
    In his misfortune of being abandoned in the wrong place, he lifted hearts and encouraged good actions. It was a new experience for many.
    In fact, there is always something positive even in what is apparently negative, isn’t there?
    One more time, excellent post and images! I love all of them!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, you really can’t say it was the wrong place because so many people learned so much from the experience – both the volunteers and the visitors.
      I’m enjoying the little local wildflowers these days – it has been a good year for them: enough moisture and cool, even temperatures. I appreciate your thoughts about how to best use the time we have, Dulce. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I believe the time difference between Portugal and the west coast of the United States is 7 or 8 hours. So, at this moment it will be May 13th, so I can already congratulate you on your birthday. And wish you a happy day, with tenderness, good times and especially with health. Today and in the future.
    And also gratitude for Life!
    Spring hugs!๐ŸŒผ๐ŸŒž๐Ÿค—๐Ÿ€

    Liked by 1 person

  12. A huge contrast to the rocky deserts of Utah!ย  And a great thought that is worth pursuing: do bliss and transience belong together or do they form opposites?

    You open the picture arc with my beloved Camassia in full freshness, while she has just passed in my garden and shows only withered stalks (until next year).ย  If transience is associated with return, then for me it is an essential part of happiness.

    But the Primula pauciflora is just as charming as the Camassia, and you’ve given it an enchanting bokeh too!

    Spring is really your season, dear Lynn, at this time you take more loving photos than ever – although one cannot say that at other times your pictures are less good – they never shine so brightly with love and joy.ย  Also of freshness, which again points to transience.

    You then crown all of this with the quote that culminates in a reference to where we could find our happiness if we were able to live like this:

    ย Where every step I take is my home.
    ย ~ Eihei Dogen

    By the way: best wishes for your birthday!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Let’s not say either they belong together or are opposites, let’s say that contrary to most people’s belief, they can go together well. Dogen certainly tried to communicate that.
      How cool to see that you’re growing Camassia…ours are probably smaller but the colors have been incredible – some that I’ve seen are a very deep purple, and some are more blue-purple. Along with the larkspurs (little Delphiniums) they get my vote for color. ๐Ÿ™‚ You’re right, Spring is my season. I come alive and am happy to be immersed in all the new growth for a while. Thank you for your comment and good wishes…it’s cool and rainy again but the sun will be back! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I loved seeing all those flowers and ferns, especially the Calypsos, but the one image that nailed me to the wall was that wonderful miniaturists’ dream intimate landscape. Just The sort of thing I look for and yours is inspirational, Lynn.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The tiny Calypso orchids are wonderful…that magenta pops against the bright greens and even though the flowers are little more than an inch long on short stems, they announce themselves in the woods, often along trails where they seem to remain unmolested. I’m glad you enjoyed the little lichen scene – it’s always tricky with so many huge trees creating so much shade and my stubborn refusal to do anything but handhold the camera. ๐Ÿ˜‰ That one worked OK. Happy Spring!!!

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Wow, just the beauty and variety of life in the PNW is so amazing to me.

    About photo 2: The miniaturist’s dream. I just last week met a moss sculptor in Denver. I took her business card at a booth. ๐Ÿ™‚

    #5: The currant is so lovely.

    #6: I had no idea that orchids grew wild in the USA. How ignorant am I? We have an orchid right now in our window (from Whole Foods or Sprouts, I don’t remember), and I always try very hard when I have an orchid to keep it alive so it can re-bloom and thrive. I’m no expert but I’ve learned a little about trimming and watering them so they don’t die.

    The seal pup story is wonderful! How beautiful for the volunteers and park personnel to have this opportunity to get to know little Emerson. Was the seal named after Ralph Waldo Emerson, the transcendentalist?

    Last, I loved the poem by Dogen. I have read a little of his work, but not much. This one was not one by him I had before encountered.

    Liked by 1 person

    • OK, now you have me wondering what a moss sculptor makes. Intriguing! The currant bush in #5 has become a well-loved garden plant. I love that it’s one of the first things to bloom here, it lights up the forest.
      If you’ve figured out orchid care then you should learn more about all the natives – there are loads of them! There’s an older book with in-depth information and photos of American orchids you might want to check out sometime. https://www.amazon.com/Wild-Orchids-Across-North-America/dp/0881927201
      Here’s an earlier post about my favorite local orchid that I bet you’ll enjoy: https://bluebrightly.com/2020/07/30/just-one-rein-orchids/
      That’s a nice idea about Emerson! Someone came up with that name because his relatives have been given names like “Elsie Mae” (his mother) so they wanted a boy’s name starting with Em. Yesterday Elsie Mae returned from 2+ months at sea, where she was eating to regain the weight lost while nursing. She’ll molt for a month on land without eating then return to the water to eat again. I’m glad she chose the place she’s used for molting previously – it’s not in the park!
      Dogen can be difficult! I think a person’s mind has to be a bit loose (like a poet’s!) to understand him. I’d never seen this quote before either; most of what I’ve read isn’t as straightforwardly poetic as this. Thanks very much, Holly, it’s good to know that what I’m doing is really appreciated. Happy Spring!

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Hearing from other seriously drought stricken parts of the globe sure makes me appreciate the moisture we’ve been getting these past weeks. Our flora and fauna like it as well. It’s eased my dread for the summer months a bit.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I have come back to this post over and over since you posted it. I can’t get past the first two images. I am totally taken by the blues in the first image; The soft blue of the background and the richness of the blues of bud and blossom are all tenderly cared for I think. I then get caught by the second one. As you point out, a miniaturist’s dream, but even more, almost otherworldly. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like it…until now.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So nice to hear, Mic…thank you very much. The first image is a little unusual for me. It’s pretty accurate as to the flower color. The Camas flowers were growing in clumps (#18 is from the same place, same day) among grass and rocks on a bald overlooking the water. I wanted to photograph the flower with the water behind it – I was sure it would look good – so I sat down and used the handy flip screen. I like the high-key look. The only one tenderly caring for those flowers is nature, with abundant rain, cooler-than-average temperatures, and that spectacular location that provides lots of light and more moisture. And this photographer tenderly cared for them while she was in their presence. ๐Ÿ™‚
      I wouldn’t have seen #2 if the elephant seal’s presence hadn’t blocked me from my usual trail access. I had to go a different way to get to my favorite places. I saw another trail I hadn’t taken so I explored that. Have you seen those little cup lichens? I think I used to see them in certain places in NY. They’re very common here, as are all the “ingredients” in that image. But there was something nice going on with the arrangement, a little magic. The springtime light was good and everything was so lush and fresh. Better yet, the rock was almost at eye level because the trail is on a steep hill so I didn’t have to lie down. Still, I often am disappointed when I try to make photos of cup lichens because I don’t have enough light – they’re usually close to the ground or on the ground, with so many bigger plants around them. This little scene worked. I know it worked because you said so. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t recall ever seeing cup lichens in the wild, Lynn. Leah said she has seen them here but couldn’t tell me where…something for me to be on the lookout for!

        It was the photographer’s tender care of the blues that I meant to refer to. ๐Ÿ˜‰

        Liked by 1 person


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