Continuum

I think about my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents

and those who went before –

all of them gone to the cool earth – yet

I feel their support. The subtle threads of connection reach

the other way too, shimmering in the blood of my son, his infant twins,

maybe beyond.

When I was a little girl I watched my mother and her mother intently,

as children do. They discussed ordinary tasks: the making of gravy,

the way to set the dinner table. I sensed a deep bond

between us: three generations of women connected by

genes and blood, place and time. They taught me what beauty is –

a perfect white camelia, a tender biscuit,

a sparkling emerald, a warm smile.

The lessons buoyed me in dark times

long after their deaths

sweet tokens

of the past.

1.

I visited my son and his new family: twin boys,

my grandchildren. I watched as they were

held and fed,

bounced and tickled. I gazed as intensely as

I did those long years ago when I watched my mother and grandmother.

I am still learning

where beauty is

in this hard world.

2.

The boys fell asleep and we talked about the value of art,

about being a new therapist and being new to therapy. We talked about Ukraine,

where the twins’ mother was born. She had offered to help old friends from her

school days but they spurned the idea, wanting only

money for the troops.

Revenge over comfort.

The talk turned lighter then, to family resemblances. I said I could see

my grandfather in the twins’ faces, their high foreheads, their curious, solemn eyes.

My son carries his name, a tribute to his forge-ahead energy,

endearing quirks, his confident way of moving

through life. A stubborn, self-made man, he framed out

a secure place in life for himself and his family. Now my son,

easily a foot taller than his great-grandfather and inhabiting

a different world,

dreams the same dreams,

makes them real again.

3.

The day after the visit I waded through a box of old photos

and papers looking for pictures of “The Colonel”

(as my grandfather was called) to send to J. She was curious

about my grandfather, wanted to know more about the

mythical man whose blood runs in her children’s veins. Head bent,

I rummaged through the box and pulled out a sixty-year-old letter

typed on onionskin and dictated by my grandfather

in reply to a researcher inquiring about his background.

He said he didn’t know

what his own grandfather did for a living. Maybe

they were too preoccupied with survival in the coal mine hollows

of West Virginia to remember their forebears’ lives. But

the Colonel got out.

He did well.

4.

In the box, a scrawled list of Paris restaurants proves it.

Penciled on hotel stationery by my grandmother

in her energetic, round script, the list tells

who you can call if you can’t find good Scotch

(their favorite drink) and which restaurant has a good view

of l’Arc de Triumph. Halfway into the box I pulled out

a glossy, black-and-white, 8×10 of the two of them

enjoying drinks with friends at a crowded Manhattan restaurant.

Smiles all around.

Leafing through the fragile papers and photographs

I sensed a subtle vapor-like energy,

an ethereal column of mist wafting through my core

ribbon-like, down to the past generations and on

to my child and grandchildren. Warm feelings

washed over me –

like the oxytocin rush I get when I hold the babies, a

visceral connection to my

peopled past

and future.

5.

And in the box there was a cherished missive from the past, a poem

my mother transcribed before she died. I’d wondered

where I put it,

worried that I’d lost it but there it was, folded in thirds just like

the first time I found it, weeks after she died.

Fifteen months of fitful struggles with pancreatic cancer

finally over.

I had taken time off from work and flown down to her house

to wade through the contents, exhausting work

in the best of circumstances made harder

by the sheer number of objects. Room to room, I sorted, never expecting

to find a carefully penned poem on yellow legal paper,

folded and tucked into a dresser drawer with

my mother’s socks and stockings.

I stopped to read (she knew that would happen).

I was glad to be alone as I listened to her voice

reciting the words, threading through time,

pulling the bond tight.

A heartstab of love

from the cool, rich earth

of the grave.

6.

To Those I Love

If I should ever leave you whom I love
To go along the silent way,
Grieve not,
Nor speak of me with tears,
But laugh and talk of me as if I were beside you there.

(I’d come – I’d come, could I but find a way!
But would not tears and grief be barriers?)
And when you hear a song
Or see a bird I loved,
Please do not let the thought of me be sad
For I am loving you just as I always have
You were so good to me!

There are so many things I wanted still to do

So many things to say to you
Remember that I did not fear
It was just leaving you that was so hard to face
We cannot see beyond

But this I know;
I love you so
‘twas heaven here with you!

Isla Paschal Richardson

7.

***

About the photographs:

All except the rock (#3) and the photo below were made using intentional camera movement (ICM). Most are one-second exposures at f22. Sometimes I moved my whole body, not just the camera, mimicking the waves coming ashore or the arcing outline of a rock. It was the day after I went through the box of papers, a day of rain and strong tides. I didn’t intend to do anything other than get outdoors between rain showers but I always have a camera with me and I wanted to do something different with it. Camera movement sprang to mind. The images seem to reflect the mood I was in – why wouldn’t they?

8.

***

LOWERING SKIES, CALM WATER

Did you know that in this context “lowering” rhymes with showering and was originally spelled louring? Lour is a Middle English verb meaning frown or scowl. That certainly fits the skies on a recent January afternoon.

But as often happens in this small corner of the world, that afternoon as the clouds scowled overhead, a wedge of gold hovered over the water to the southwest. The promising opening in the sky was caused by the Olympic rainshadow. The what? See the Olympic Mountain Range behind the trees in photo #2 below? When the wind blows across the Pacific Ocean from the west toward the mountains (which it often does) something interesting happens. As it pushes against the mountains and rises, the air cools. Cooler air can’t hold onto water vapor so the moisture condenses, producing rain in the lowlands and snow on the mountaintops. Then the wind travels down the other side of the mountains, warming as it goes. Now it holds the moisture, which makes the east side of the mountains much drier than the west side. A roughly oval-shaped area of dryer air results: the Olympic rainshadow.

Sunny Sequim, a town in the rainshadow, gets only 16 inches (40cm) of annual rainfall while the rainy town of Forks receives 199 inches (505cm) a year! Where I live, just outside the rainshadow, the annual precipitation is about 26 inches (66cm) and winter skies are often overcast. I’ve learned to look for brighter skies in the southwest corner of the island, closer to the rainshadow. Even if the sun isn’t quite shining there, I can often get a sweet glimpse of golden light spreading across the Salish Sea. A fifteen-minute drive from one end of the island to the other opens up an entirely different view.

That was the case on the January afternoon when most of these photos were made.

1. The rainshadow in the southwest, seen from Cranberry Lake on neighboring Whidbey Island. Crossing the bridge to Whidbey Island put me a little closer to the rainshadow.
2. The lake’s surface reflects the light like a mirror. The snow-capped Olympic Mountains seen behind the trees are about 60 miles (100km) away as the crow flies. On the other side of the trees, the Salish Sea connects the dots of islands, mainland, and ocean.
3. Ducks, grebes, cormorants, herons, and gulls use the lake in winter. Here’s the evidence.
4. There’s that opening in the sky again, throwing silver light onto the lake. The light changes quickly on days like this.
5. On a December afternoon two years ago, I photographed the sun shining over the Salish Sea from a tangle of branches beside the lake. Once more, the rainshadow was responsible for the light show.
6. Sand dunes separate the lake from a sandy beach strewn with driftwood. Unlike the calm, reflective surface of the water, the grass, trees, and sand hold the light close.
7. Did an animal bed down here in the dunes last night? Soon the grass tips will darken but now they almost glitter from the rainshadow’s light.
8. The nooks and crannies of a massive, 800-year-old Douglas fir tree receive the day’s last light.
9. The sun briefly ignites a stand of weather-ravaged fir trees on the beach.
10. Gentle ebb tide waves lap at the shore. In the north, islands are heaped in blue.
11. It’s dark overhead but a tear in the clouds allows the sun to brighten rocks scattered by the last high tide.

12. Across the Salish Sea, the Olympics are hiding under the clouds. At my feet, the swish of foamy water and the delicate clatter of small stones is soothing to the soul.
13. Winter windstorms and King tides pushed piles of driftwood far up onto the beach. Like a boneyard, all is still. For now.

***

BEING SEEING

when I’m on the trails

and when I’m not,

beingseeing.

In the park by the sea

here’s what I see

when I’m

seeingbeing.

1. Treebeing with intentional camera movement, using a vintage Takumar 50mm lens on a Pen-F mirrorless camera.

*

A one-way road traces a two-mile loop around the perimeter of Washington Park. Most visitors take their walks on the pavement and with few cars and varied scenery, it’s a very pleasant outing. But I prefer the tangle of trails that weave around and beyond the loop road. I pull into a rough parking place along the road, stash my backpack in the trunk, check that I have what I need in my pockets, and plunge into the woods.

Within minutes, the forest gives way to meadows and rocky outcrops with seawater views to the southwest. The golden light filtering through the trees here is as welcome on a winter afternoon as it was on summer evenings.

2. An iPhone view of the loop road on a December afternoon.

*

Here’s the lay of the land: in the center of the 220-acre park, dozens of campsites are scattered under a tall conifer forest. On the park’s north side a boat ramp and a small beach beckon families and boaters and along the western edge, a cement stairway leads to a rocky beach with a stretch of forested cliffs. My favorite part of the park is on the southern edge, where the land slopes down to the water in a series of mounds and ravines. As the terrain dips and rises, views of blue-green seawater appear and disappear. On sunny days, the light bouncing off the channel warms the trunks of rugged, weathered trees that tell stories of a landscape where the summer sun beats mercilessly and winter windstorms batter the hills with rain.

Difficult conditions make interesting habitats. The poor soil supports tiny, odd ferns in the rock crevices, a wealth of lichens, and meadows full of flowers in spring. When the summer drought shuts down the flower show, tufts of dried grass color the meadows gold. For a few months, the landscape is so parched that every step crunches something – dried leaves, sticks, grasses, lichens – even moss crumbles underfoot.

Then the autumn rains return and the landscape wakes up. Emerald green Licorice ferns uncoil, mounds of reindeer lichens puff up like clouds, and the Madrone trees glow in a rainbow of russet, orange, and lime green. This is when I like to roam the trails. With the flowers gone, twisted, contorted trees and intricate collections of detritus on the ground capture my attention. I slow down. The circuits in my brain fire up and my senses are alert to darting birds, a tapestry of color, and the play of light across the trail. Just being here is enough.

But you know I have my camera.

*

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4. Its’ scarred bark wet with rain, a twisty Madrone leans in toward the water’s bright light.
5. This Madrone’s bark is peeling as if the tree’s muscle wants to break out of its skin.

*

6. Tree drama abounds on the edge of the park, where branches speak a language that is not foreign to me – or you.

*

7. Leaning Madrones interrupt the repeating verticality of young Douglas fir trees.
8. An old Madrone seems to reach for an opening in the forest. (This photo was made with a vintage Takumar 50mm lens on a mirrorless Pen-F camera).
9. A Madrone palette spilled onto the ground.
10. Clumps of Reindeer lichen (Cladonia sp.) swell and soften with moisture in the fall. Tiny green dots point to the beginnings of plants resurrected by the rain.
11. Wallace’s spikemoss (Selaginella wallacei) is not a moss, but a vascular plant that reproduces by spores. Here, it creeps across a lichen-covered rock. The tips are green but much of the plant is whitish because Tundra saucer lichen (Ochrolechia upsaliensis) is growing on it. In the Alps, Tundra saucer lichen grows above the tree line but here, it was growing at less than 50 feet above sea level.*

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13. An old Seaside juniper sprawls across a ridge. The branches on this tree fork like antlers on the deer above.
14. The sun peaks out after November rain. I keep to the grass – the rocks and soil are slippery now.
15. Another rainy day yields a hazy view through Seaside juniper branches. (Made with a vintage Takumar 50mm lens on a mirrorless Olympus EM-1 camera).
16. Raindrops hang from juniper twigs on a misty January afternoon.

*

17. An impossible tangle of juniper branches obscures the view of the channel.
18. I watch the sunset through a byzantine screen of a juniper’s lacy twigs and foliage. (Made with a vintage Takumar 50mm lens on a mirrorless Olympus EM-1 camera)
19. After a rainy November day, the sun illuminates the world.

*

20. Dusk settles a deep hush into the hills across the water.
21. The setting sun framed by a fragment of Madrone bark, a week before the shortest day of the year.

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This post fits into two categories that I use: Local Walks and States of Being. To see more posts in these categories scroll way down and click on the category. More posts about Washington Park are here and here.

*Excellent photos of the plant and lichen in #11, photographed in Washington Park by my friend Richard Droker, are here.

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