LOCAL WALKS: Around Pass Lake


There’s a lake near my house set in a forest of tall evergreen trees that spill down to the shoreline. A road that swings by one end of the lake offers drivers a refreshing glimpse of liquid calm. I think of the lake as a bowl masquerading as the sky, reflecting limitless bright blue, opaque, chalky gray, or smudged pewter, as the weather shifts with the seasons.

Like most people, I usually drive by this lake with another destination in mind. But when my preferred spots are too crowded or far away I might turn into the crunchy gravel parking lot, park the car, and meander through the forest. The trails there don’t feature spectacular views but they do offer a cool, cocoon-like embrace. Sometimes that’s what I need.


The Loop Trail

As it leaves the whirring traffic behind the dirt trail enters a dim, amphitheater-like space of towering trees set among arcing sprays of emerald green sword ferns. There’s not much middle story here – the flora is mostly confined to evergreen ground covers below and stately conifers above with branches beginning far overhead. Winding up a rocky hill, the trail enters a drier part of the woods where discrete openings invite patches of grass and wildflowers. A small slice of the Salish Sea is visible through the maze of crisscrossing branches if you stand in just the right spot. The trail heads down and back up into a brushy opening where blackberries grow. Plunging back into the dim forest, the trail climbs, falls, zigzags and curves back around through mature firs and cedars to complete a two-mile loop. As you walk, every five or ten minutes there’s a subtle change of atmosphere, light, and flora, depending on where you are in relation to the lake, the elevation, the soil, and even the logging history. This land was once logged, some areas more recently than others. Now it’s a protected state park.

3. If they’re this tall now, imagine how tall the trees must have been before the forest was loggged.
4. The trail climbs and the terrain opens up.
5. On an offshoot trail a Bigleaf maple struggles for light in a deep ravine.
6. Blades of grass catch the setting sun on a dry slope.
7. By September, the grass has bent to the ground.
8. Closer to the lake the rugged bark of a Douglas fir tree and a few stray Sword ferns fronds corral the last minutes of sunlight.
9. The fruit of the native Bitter cherry hangs over the lake in September.

The Name

On maps, it’s Pass Lake, a name that might benefit from an explanation. It’s not called Pass Lake because it’s near a mountain pass, rather, the name comes from its proximity to a channel called Deception Pass. This deep, churning channel separates two islands with promontories that border a “very narrow and intricate channel, which…abounded with rocks above and beneath the surface of the water.”* So wrote George Vancouver in his journal of the American Northwest Coast Expedition of 1792. Anchored off what we now know is a very long island, he sent Naval Master Joseph Whidbey and a crew to explore the twists and turns of the shoreline in a smaller sailing yawl. The expedition was busy mapping and naming everything in sight, in order to claim territory for the British Crown. After five days the men returned and reported that the land mass was as they suspected – a long peninsula. Then the HMS Discovery sailed up the other side of the “peninsula” and Whidbey was sent out again to examine the jagged coast in detail. This time he found that “very narrow and intricate channel” which leads to the other side. The peninsula was actually an island! Vancouver decided to name the channel “Deception Passage.”

Thanks to politics and power, maps retained that name with one small change: somewhere along the way, “Deception Passage” became “Deception Pass.” It made sense to call the small lake that empties into the channel “Pass Lake.”

Here it is, concealing its charms on a foggy autumn afternoon.

11. Trees tumble into the lake. No one tidies up the mess because this natural cycle benefits many creatures.
13. This photograph is from last December. All the rest were made in July, August, and September 2018 – 2022.

A Little More About Names…

Of course, Vancouver and his men weren’t the first people to name the channel – they weren’t even the first Europeans to label it. Two years earlier, a Spanish Peruvian explorer in command of a ship taken from the British was searching for the coveted Northwest Passage and found the deceptive channel. Manuel Quimper Benitez del Pino named it “Boca de Fion” or “Boca de Fidalgo” depending on your source. Later, complicated disputes and negotiations between Britain and Spain resulted in Vancouver renaming much of what the Spanish charted. Some Spanish names were kept; the island on the north side of the channel is still called Fidalgo Island, in honor of a Spanish explorer.

But what about the much longer history of this region before white men came and conquered? A Coast Salish name for the channel is Xwchsónges, the “Gateway to the hills, interior, or inland.” You can hear the melodious pronunciation of the name here.*  

Enough about names!

Almost at sea level, 94-acre Pass Lake has a maximum depth of just 23 feet (about 6m). A pipe under the road at the south end feeds lake water into a creek that runs through the forest and empties into Bowman Bay. River otters can leave the bay, run uphill through the woods, and carefully cross the road if they want to forage in Pass Lake. (They can’t use the pipe because a cage blocks anything bigger than small fish.) I’ve only seen otters once in the lake but I’ve discovered haul-out sites (trampled grass, scat, and many bits of bones and crayfish shells) a few times while picking my way along the heavily wooded shoreline. Great blue herons, Bald eagles, Belted kingfishers, and overwintering ducks also feast on what the lake provides. I’m not sure people have as much luck. I never see the flick of a fishing line – just solitary, still, peaceful people drifting on the calm water in small, non-motorized boats. It’s catch-and-release anyway.


At Loose Ends? Try Intentional Camera Movement

Pass Lake is part of a state park with an extensive trail system. The loop trail described above connects with a little-known trail to a truly immense Western redcedar tree and to another trail with an old mine, the ruins of a miner’s cabin, and a pleasant view across a ravine. I began exploring these trails in September 2018, a few months after moving to Fidalgo Island. From time to time I go back when I’m at loose ends or if the thick fog hovering over the lake propels me into the parking lot for the best view of the lake. The lake is a natural subject but the dense forest around it can make isolating subjects for photography very challenging. I like to experiment with intentional camera movement to simplify the landscape.

18. Jiggling the camera just a little produced this effect.
19. The patch of grass in #7, with camera movement.

Whatever you call it, this modest lake and the healthy forest around it are a treasure. I’m sure of it because on a hot, dry day this summer when I set out with no food or water, the forest provided. I didn’t think I would be out long enough to get thirsty but within a half hour, my mouth was dry. After 45 minutes of trudging up and down hills, I was desperately scanning every leaf for something edible to chew on. Then I saw them – bright red huckleberries (Vaccinium parvifolium) dangling from pretty bushes at the side of the trail. And there was more – the last Salmonberries (Rubus spectabilis) just needed a gentle tug. Near the ground, I found Trailing blackberry vines (Rubus ursinus) that gave up a few deliciously ripe berries. The stray beams of sunlight that the forest allowed to shine had produced just enough food to slate my thirst. And make me smile.




  1. Asemic 6
    Interesting toponymic etymology
    Magical misty mirror 11
    Veiled minimalism 12
    Sylvan ICM
    All topped of with a beautiful berry bounty.


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  2. Beautiful pictures Lynn. Like last time I like the ones with the light most (#4, 8, 9), but also the sceneries with the fog. Funny, I thought nearly the same about #6: asemic writing or a letter. The grasses really speak for themselves, right?! Your intentional camera movement is fascinating. 18 looks almost like a painting. I like 16 too. Very atmospheric. It reminds me of old negatives and I like the way of movement in it. It builds patterns that could be used on a cloth. I will come back for reading 🙂

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    • That’s the light you’ve been talking about. 😉 Grasses are such wonderful subjects and now’s a good time for them. #18 was unexpected – I didn’t know what wiggling the camera just a little would do but I liked it. Yes, the patterns in #16 would be great for a print on fabric. It just needs someone with your design skill to figure out how to repeat the pattern. 😉

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    • Thanks, it’s good to hear from you. I use a camera with a small sensor (Olympus EM-1 MkIII) so the lack of light in places like this can be difficult. But again, intentional camera movement helps with that issue. There are some Douglas firs and Western redcedars near the lake that are massive – I bet you’d love them.


  3. Beautiful portfolio, Lynn. I’m fascinated by the fog shots. I wish we had more days like that here.
    There is a park near here which used to be an old apple orchard. It had been abandoned and the town claimed it for parkland. You can still find some apple trees bearing fruit but they feed quite a lot of deer in the area. I always thought it would be cool to get a photo of one eating from the trees but no luck so far.

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    • It’s harder than one might think to photograph fog but you probably know that. I’ve found that when I’m in the midst of it, the experience is like a waterfall – it’s multi-sensory. That makes you forget that the camera is only recording a small, small slice of what you’re experiencing. Sometimes I look at the file and there’s almost nothing there but I was having this great experience being mesmerized by the drifting fog! 😉 The old apple orchard-turned-park sounds really nice. I bet it’s pretty after a snowfall, too. You’ll have to stake out the deer! Maybe tie a few apples onto some branches….just kidding….thanks!


  4. Number 17 evoked the most unusual sensation of ‘Alice tumbling down the rabbit hole as in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. What a weird experience my imagination conjured up.

    Your words always draw such beautiful images to pair with your actual photos.

    As always thanks for sharing your wonderful part of the world.

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    • Your “Alice” association makes total sense and you know what? That happened as I was bringing the camera from my side (where it may have been hanging upside down from a strap) to shoulder height, with my finger on the shutter by mistake. The shutter on this camera is trigger-happy but it’s caused interesting things to happen.
      It’s really good to read that you appreciate the words and images together – that’s the challenge, getting both where I want them and making it all work together. Thanks so much, Vicki – it must be “tomorrow” where you are (the sun hasn’t even gone down on Monday yet here). Happy Tuesday!


  5. Hi! Nice walk. I looked at the Lake from above in Google Maps, which is always fun. A lot of trees! 🙂 I prefer the Name ‘Xwchsónges’. (the ‘here’-link unfortunately didn’t work, on my computer). Lately I have started to let Google Translate your words. It looses quality, but it saves the Dutch Philosopher a lot of time.. Where would I be without Google.. 🙂 The foggy shots are favorite. See you!

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    • That’s cool that you looked at it on Google earth – I love doing that, too. Yeah, so many trees! And we live close to that, under more trees. 😉 Maybe I can send you that link again or another one – it’s a very interesting language, very different from anything I’ve heard. There are two Coast Salish tribes that are active here but there aren’t many people who speak the language as far as I know. I get it about the translator – I use it a lot. My friend Ule in Germany writes poems sometimes. If she translates the poem (and her English is excellent) it comes out very differently than google. But that’s poetry and it’s harder to translate. But, TIME! We are inundated with data! Help! 😉 Have you photographed in fog much? I was telling Ken above (oneowner) that it’s really harder than I thought it would be. So it’s good that you like those precious photos!
      (Harrie – we’re grandparents now (OK, it’s my son, not Joe’s) of twin boys! Born 8/24 and one came home last night – they were premature – So exciting!).

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    • No, I’m not sure why. We’re blessedly free from most annoying insects, have few poisonous plants to worry about (unless you’re going to go around eating everything in sight) and we have no poisonous snakes. The other side of the mountains (the eastern part of Washington state) is different. So come on over, Paula! 😉


  6. I really like this feeling that you describe as “they do offer a cool, cocoon-like embrace”
    Yes, there are places that are special, that embrace our gaze and are cozy. And feeling it is always good.
    I enjoyed the tour, the images and these photographic experiences with curious effects.
    I like all the images, but especially the ones shared with the fog. Always beautiful and magical!

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  7. You describe this walk so well and with real affection for the place. I love all the photos but especially the first two ICM ones and all those with fog, with the one with the boat my absolute favourite I think! We visited Deception Pass when touring WA but never came across this lake, unfortunately,

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    • The lake is fairly small and may not look like much from the road if you’re on the way to one of the more dramatic places along the coast. But dig a little deeper and there’s always more to find, right? It’s interesting that you like the ICM and fog photos – they all have a softer look, which I tend to favor, too. But then there are times when more contrast works, I guess it all depends. I wonder where the person who owned that boat was because it’s not a lake people swim in. It’s evocative to see it all by itself in the fog – I suppose someone left it there and came ashore in an even smaller boat? OK, I’m going in circles. Thank you for your thoughts!

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    • That tree – it’s really beautiful and it’s surrounded by hundreds of evergreens so it really stopped me in my tracks. Over the years it seems to have twisted and turned whichever way it needed to in order to find the light – sound familiar? 😉
      I’m glad you noticed that one, Don…hope you’re having a good week!

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  8. That was a rich and colorful harvest! Good, that nature is always feeding us. The link for the word Xwchsónges unfortunately don’t work. I was so eager to listen to it. I am such a language nerd 😉 The different aspects of these woods are so pleasing. I like the lightness in the second picture. Though you often tell me how dark the woods are there seem to be light moments too. The hight of the trees is impressive and makes you feel small – or just in the right size, right 😉 Talking of pass I really thought of passage. The history of names could be a long one, but mostly I like the original names. They often say or describe more than the modern names.

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    • I changed the link – try it again. You’ll find that word in the second row of photos. You’re right, there are light moments for sure – especially near lakes or on the shore of the island. The trees are very, very tall because we have so little freezing weather in winter. They can grow almost all year long. And they get so much rain from October to June. There are some very old trees scattered around the island, too, which is really nice. I usually like the old names that describe the qualities of places, too. Way too many places are named after people!

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  10. You took me on a journey around a lake that I’ve passed often (no pun intended 😂), but never stopped at. I’ve seen the fishermen on lazy peaceful water there, but had no idea there would be otters. I do like your camera shake photos very much, and as I read and scrolled I thought oh #4 has such special light, then #9 caught my eye, but it is #10 that takes the prize for me in this collection. Beautiful, Lynn.

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    • Hi Alison, thanks for commenting…and yes, I bet you’ve passed by this little lake a few times! It’s nice to know that you enjoyed the intentional camera movement photos, the fog, and the dark but sunlit forest. I hope you guys had a little rain this weekend, too – we had a touch yesterday, the first in a long time. 🙂

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  11. I didn’t know about “Boca de Fion”, or Manuel Quimper Benítez del Pino, or give much thought to Fidalgo. The kid from Lima did good. As for pics, I’m partial to 11-14. I haven’t really experimented with deliberate movement – it’s usually been quite unintentional. 😉

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    • Each time I read about local history I learn new things – I’d never heard of “the other guy” either. Lately, my finger’s been pressing the shutter inadvertently sometimes when I’m moving around with the camera. A few of those were almost interesting! 🙂

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  12. Beautiful captures, Lynn. There is something about the ‘simple’ places of nature that we often visit and get so use to the surrounding, or as you say, their ability to “offer a cool, cocoon-like embrace” that makes us feel good, regardless of weather or mood. You capture this experience well, and the photos of the fog & then the movement of ferns are very soothing. Beautiful work, as always 🙂

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  13. Oh, you know so well how to catch the sun, dear Lynn!  There’s hardly a frame in which it doesn’t at least play high up in the treetops, give some gold shimmer to the distant background, or cast a spotlight on a tiny speck of the dark forest floor.
    Especially delicate is the sunlight in No. 6. It’s wonderful how the autumn-pale grasses shine out of the grey, a real highlight of this post.
    Or the bitter cherries above the colored reflections of the lake. 
    But what really takes my breath away are the amazing fog photos from Pass Lake (#10-12)!  And – wow – the tiny, sharp leaves floating in the foggy emptiness of the water in the foreground of No.10!

    I also find the information about names very interesting.  I’ve always wondered about the more Spanish-sounding Anacortes or Fidalgo, which I would have placed closer to the Mexican border. Fidalgo always makes me think of a great John Treadwell Nichols novel, Milagro.

    It’s great how you use ICM, not as a wildly random alienation, but with a gentle, almost orderly design of the too many details in the forest.

    The highlight of the walk is of course the fact that your forest finally saved you from thirst 😉.

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    • Yes, it still seems odd to me to have Spanish names here. ‘Anacortes’ is an odd one – Anne Curtis Bowman was the wife of an early settler. The name was made from her name. I’m glad you realized that the highlight was being saved from certain death by a handful of berries – they were exceptionally good! 😉 Thanks for your thoughts about ICM, too. I continue to experiment with it. I go back and forth about fog photos. Sometimes they look like “nothing.” 🙂 I’m happy with these but there are many that don’t work, in my opinion. I find that photographing fog is like photographing a waterfall in the sense that the experience is way more powerful than the visual record because it’s multi-sensorial. Thank you, Ule, I wish you were here in person but I’m glad you’re here virtually. 🙂

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      • Fotographing the multi-sensorial in a way that is working for the viewer without additional explanation is really challenging, I agree.
        Your photos always make me feel being there by your side, when you take your walks, dear Lynn. Even though it’s not completely the same …

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