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.

***


65 comments

  1. “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.” Bliss. As usual, majestic words and beautiful captures. Didn’t want this reverie to end. All the best- autumn jade

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  2. I like the grasses and your writings in 6 and 7, too. My cat growing up loved to sack out in the middle of a clump of ornamental grasses in the garden, I’m sure he felt secure there and approximating the African savannah experience.
    And appreciate the clear explanation of a rainshadow, I get it now.
    That ancient Douglas Fir is wonderful, and such a shift from the almost-glittering grasses, it could almost have been done in black ink, one of those Japanese sumi-e paintings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Funny about your cat and I like that thought about his ancient roots. We all got ’em!
      The rainshadow bit was rewritten over and over for clarity so if you get it then I may have succeeded, hallelujah! (Wow, I spelled that right the first time!)
      It’s just a small part of the old Doug fir, which is hard to photograph. I’d like to import an Asian artist to sit there and relate to it, get it on paper. πŸ™‚ Have a good week, Robert, and thanks!

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  3. You have captured the true beauty and winter feelings for the Great Pacific Northwest. Plus, you have captured our families’ all time favorite tree at Deception Pass Park and our dear friend the 800 plus year old Doug Fir. What a beauty and if only it could share all the history it has experienced!!!! CAN YOU IMAGINE?

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    • Phil, good to hear from you! I’ve wondered about all that history, too. Such a survivor it is. It feels SO good to stand under it, alone. I have many favorite trees around here and of course, this is one of the best. Photographs only show a small part of it….
      Have a good week, Phil, and keep a lookout! πŸ˜‰

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  4. I have heard of mountain rainshadows but never linked them to this beautiful light you have…wow! Thanks for explaining. And the pronunciation of lowering skies! Never knew that either. I really like #2 and #4 as examples with the golden light but the cloud/snow shrouded mountains in the background. Wonderful post, Lynn.

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    • I guess the quality of the light here does relate to the abundance of water and more particularly, it changes depending on the mountains – where you are in relation to them, etc. The topography is really complex. I didn’t know about that pronunciation, either. I looked up the word to be sure I was using it correctly and went down a little rabbit hole. πŸ™‚ #2 & 4 are only a few minutes apart, just pivoting a little, but I chose to desaturate #4 a little. So glad you liked those, Mic, thank you very much.

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    • That makes me happy, Hans, because telling a story with the image order is what I like to do, even if the story doesn’t have an obvious beginning, middle, and end. Wind and water – not the easiest things to talk about or illustrate but you are doing it. πŸ™‚

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  5. This old postman wishes to live in a ‘rainshadow’.. But, wrong country.. Nederland means ‘laaggelegen land’- low-lying country. Our highest ‘peak’ is The Vaalserberg, on the border with Germany and Belgium: 322,5m.; no snow on top.. Fine post again, Lynn! About light for me. The first shots show your words very well. Love the old Douglas shot; and the blue boneyard. Bye!

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    • Hi Harrie, it’s funny, being in or almost in the rainshadow changes the vegetation a lot, which has been fascinating to learn about. When we lived closer to Seattle we weren’t near the rainshadow. It took me several years (after we moved up here) to figure out that I could just hurry toward the southwest part of the island to get a little more light. πŸ˜‰ Once again, I’d like to hear the word, “laaggelegen.” Love it. And of course, the low country has its own beauty. Blue boneyard…that could be a song….

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  6. nice. love the silhouetted forms in #8.

    your precipitation statistics prompted me to look up mine: apparently my town gets 1297 mm (51.1 inch) annually on average.

    βœ¨πŸ¦‹πŸ’­πŸ‡πŸ—πŸŒ±πŸŒ…β˜€βš–β˜ΊπŸ€βœ¨

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  7. You live in such a beautiful part of the world and your photos always do it justice! When I see them I want to visit again, even though we almost never return to a place. That rain shadow effect is also responsible for the eastern side of the UK being rather drier than the west, as we have a ridge of hills and mountains down the middle of the country – but being lower than yours for the most part, the effect is less marked.

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    • Hi Sarah, well, maybe you’ll swing by on your way somewhere else at some point and do a repeat visit anyway. It’s really nice to read a comment from someone who has been here before. I didn’t know about the differences in precipitation from one side of the UK to the other – very interesting, thanks for that. Have a good week!

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  8. This post explains well the power of a mountain and how it interferes with the meteorology of this entire region close to the ocean. And the photos, well contrasted, reveal the sun/cloud interaction between them and with other elements of nature.
    Both the light and the reflection of the sea are really magnificent in some photos!
    I enjoyed the tour!πŸ™‚

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  9. Well! for all I’m entranced by the photos, and the gifts of being so close to the rainshadow, this time around you got me all fixated on the alternate pronunciations of “lowering”, dep. on context & meaning. (Just like “minute”, or “tear”, and others, also have two pronunciations, each purpose-driven.) This caused me to look up the near-rhyming word with a similar meaning, namely “glowering,” and I discover it too comes from the Middle English, though not apparently the same strand (or whatever they are called) of Middle English. And so I while away a drizzly afternoon!

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    • πŸ™‚ I was a surprise to me – I looked up the word to be sure I was using it correctly and found out about the pronunciation. I confess to a little more worm-hole exploration, too. But maybe you’re back out there – I think I heard you’re having better weather today. We’re getting rain, which we really need, and will have pleasant weather tomorrow so I’m not complaining.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. Weather forecasters have it rough here. The ins and outs of the topography (mountains, water, etc) make it really hard to predict what’s going to happen and it varies quite a lot from place to place. I imagine if they like a challenge they enjoy forecasting in the PNW, especially up this way. I hope all’s well with you!

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  10. It is kind of startling the difference in rain between Forks and Sequim (or even Port Townsend), isn’t it? And I’d bet most Americans wouldn’t have a clue that the Olympic mountain range even exists.

    While it’s not quite the same, now I’ve got a Cat Stevens song, Moonshadow chasing worms through my ears…

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    • It was quite a change from NYC, where the weather works very differently – and is a lot easier to predict, I think. You’re right, the Olympics aren’t well known but maybe that’s OK. OK, you infected me, are you happy now? πŸ˜‰

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    • Thank you so much, Mthobisi, it’s good to see you here again. Maybe the last photo appeals to your sense of design, with all the soft blue colors in it. I hope all’s well in your part of the world!

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    • That was a surprise, wasn’t it? Language is fascinating and it must be a constant source of fun for you, given that you’re bilingual and live with someone who’s also bilingual, with such a different native language. You guys must have a lot of odd wordplay jokes. Glad you enjoyed the rainshadow effect, Alex, and I hope you’re enjoying winter in the desert. πŸ™‚

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  11. Beautiful, dramatic light in your landscapes, Lynn. I’ve learned about rain shadows now, thank you, and it is amazing the difference in rainfall amounts. Really, your whole set is about the great light you’ve found glinting off trees, waves, clouds and the sea. And what was sleeping in that cozy hollow in the grasses? 😊

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    • This is such a good time of year for light – when it’s not totally overcast or raining like it is now. Learning about local weather phenomena like the rainshadow has been interesting but putting that information into a clear paragraph was a challenge! Thanks for your thoughts. And it looks like you’re done with the fronts for now, I bet that’s a relief!

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  12. Wonderful images and interesting phenomenon! Aware of the earth’s shadow to the east at sunset and west at sunrise, rainshadows are something I’ve never heard of before. Something I call gap lighting happens here and looks similar to me … when there is a gap between the mountains and low clouds. It often produces colorful sunrise and sunset scenes lighting up the clouds above. I especially like the colors as seen through the branches in #5. Other favorites are those where the rain shadow is really prominent as in #s 1, 12 & 13.

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    • I think I’ve seen you take advantage of that. πŸ™‚ I love what mountains and clouds do together – they’re always dancing. We have one particularly tall mountain that can be seen from many places on the east side of the island (it’s in the North Cascades) and I never tire of watching its many faces – when I can see it! Today won’t be one of those days. Thank you for taking the time to make a thoughtful comment, Denise. πŸ™‚

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  13. I love the way you follow a breadcrumb trail and tumble down rabbit holes Lynne ! We seem to have plenty of those scowly frowning lowering skies here through out the year . Those slices of light that change rapidly are really rather lovely, you have to be quick on the click I find but you did IT and created some atmospheric pictures ! That ancient old douglas fir … how many little picnics have been enjoyed sat on that low down branch I wonder …
    If the patch of flattened dune grasses had a back door so to speak it might have been a smeuse πŸ™‚
    https://twitter.com/robgmacfarlane/status/837555617707388928?lang=en-GB love spotting such out for walks myself .
    Have a great weekend Lynne , looking out of the window here just now it feels like we are currently experiencing what might be called a ‘pea souper’ thick but not with pollution I hope Lol

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, a new word from “the” Robert Macfarlane, very cool. Now please help me remember that ’cause it’s a good one! You have such a way with words – your comment is a delight to read. Quick on the click for sure but first you have to get yourself off the computer and out the door!
      As for the old tree, hopefully, people are careful not to climb on it – it’s just too special, although I totally see the temptation. There’s a sign nearby and a loose barrier that doesn’t keep people away but helps remind them to respect the tree. It’s tricky, right?
      I’ve heard of pea soupers and it’s looking pretty gray here, too, though not very thick yet. It’s so good to hear from you…I’m wondering what you’re up to and would love to hear more….

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  14. This is a wonderful post! In word and pictures! I wrote it before, but this one belongs to the top 5 πŸ™‚ Really, beautiful pictures of the landscape. I can feel and see your love for it here and your poetic words underline (underscore?) this feeling. Very well written. As someone mentioned before, I don’t want this to end πŸ™‚

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    • It’s so interesting that you think this is one of the “top five.” πŸ˜‰ That’s good to hear. It was hard to get the explanation of the rainshadow to be clear. The photos were mostly from two afternoons. The light really is gorgeous in the late afternoons when the clouds part over the water. Yesterday it almost happened but not quite. From our house it’s very hard to tell if it’s brighter over on that part of the island – too many tall trees. You have to get in the car or take a long walk to be get to a place where you can see. Then if it looks brighter, that’s where I go. And luckily that’s where some of my favorite places are anyway (like Bowman Bay). Thank you very much for this comment! Sorry it ended! πŸ˜‰

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  15. That heavy January grey, it can get oppressive at times, but it also brings out all the colours and reflections and white lights. It’s moody. Those heavy clouds! Great finds.

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    • I also hadn’t heard the expression β€œlowering” in relation to clouds, I love that..we get a lot of them here between the hills..

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      • I don’t recall ever hearing anyone use the word but it’s one I’ve come across when reading and it seems so apt, it stuck with me. Then when I looked it up and found out how it’s pronounced I guess I liked it even more. πŸ˜‰
        The January gray doesn’t get too oppressive here – maybe it’s because there are so many water features around – lakes and bays and everything. Moody, for sure, and I like that. Thanks for commenting, Cath, enjoy what’s left of your weekend. πŸ™‚

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  16. Thank you for this delightFULL lightshow! You do know how I love nature giving us treats like these. Your last image and description made me smile a bit remembering a comment you made way back when about our ‘messy’ beaches (with the piles of driftwood). πŸ˜‰ I think perhaps you understand now…?

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    • I’m glad you enjoyed the photos, Gunta…it already seems far away, this wintery look. As for the driftwood, it’s amazing how much the random-looking piles change during winter storms. I don’t remember making that comment but for sure, west coast beaches up here are totally different from east coast beaches. I like stepping from log to log, it’s like being a kid again. πŸ™‚

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      • The one that startled me the most when I first started regularly visiting the beach at Bandon was how much the sand was moved around and rearranged by the storms. A gently sloping path I often climbed over a large sand dune suddenly changed to a nearly vertical drop of perhaps 8-10 ft near the ocean’s edge. It really impressed me with the power of those mighty waves.
        I do hope you keep in mind the warnings about how little water it takes to move those logs around and stepping from one log to the next can be quite dangerous…. though I suppose your location may not be quite as wild as the beaches I visit. 😳
        We had about a week of mild, sunny weather and today we’re back to radical swings from sun to rain to graupel… time to settle back down to cleaning up lightroom! (Not to mention the usual housekeeping.) πŸ™„

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