A Little Farther Into the Woods

Since moving to Fidalgo Island last July I’ve immersed myself in my immediate surroundings: the park, town and shoreline locations that are minutes from home. We are a long 90 miles (145km) from the ocean, but it’s still a water-defined landscape; Fidalgo’s shores look out onto sounds, bays, channels, and more islands, and even the forests here are dotted with lakes.

If you head east off the island, it’s a very different landscape. As you mount a high, arcing bridge, overlapping layers of foothills and mountains appear in the distance. Agricultural flatlands spread out on either side of the road, to the north and south. The view ahead steals the show as rhythmic mounds of forested hills rise up and gradually crumple into the jagged, rocky folds of the North Cascade Range. That rough and rugged terrain was beckoning me a few months ago – but I’m no mountaineer, so on a quiet Tuesday in October, we headed east for a lowland walk in the Mount Baker – Snoqualmie National forest.

 

1. Baker River Trail/East Bank Baker Lake Trail.

 

The goal was to meander along the East Bank Baker Lake Trail, an easy walk through the thick, coniferous forest that Baker River passes through as it divides into countless turquoise ribbons, braiding their way towards Baker Lake. The river’s namesake, Mt. Baker, or Koma Kulshan, is a young, glaciated volcano, and the third-highest mountain in the state, at 10,781 ft. (3286 m).  Koma Kulshan’s lofty, somber face dominates many a vista in this region. You might think Baker River begins under a glacier on Mt. Baker, but it actually rises under Whatcom Peak, to the northeast. From there, the river cuts a deep valley southwest, flowing around Mt. Baker before emptying into Baker Lake.

 

2. After a dry summer, the river is a series of shallow ribbons of cold water, unfurling over a rocky bed.

 

Getting to the trail was harder than we thought it would be. The first part was simple – drive east past fields and small towns on State Route 20. Then, in the tiny hamlet of Birdsview, you leave civilization behind to follow Baker Lake Road for 26 miles (42 km). The problem was the final six miles, where the road is not paved, and barely maintained. We still have the cars we brought with us from New York City seven years ago, and neither one is appropriate for the rough, deeply pot-holed forest roads that usually lead to trailheads. It’s really a pickup truck, SUV and Subaru world here. The going was tedious as we crawled back and forth across the road, trying not to wreck the car’s suspension. Occasional glimpses of snowy Mt. Baker beckoned through dense curtains of towering trees, and eventually the painfully slow slog ended.

 

3. The paved section of Baker Lake Road.

 

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4. The road narrows and begins to get rough while Mount Baker looms majestically above us.

 

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5. An old Redcedar leans heavily over the trail.

 

6. This beautifully built suspension bridge puts a little bounce into your step, like it or not.

 

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7. We saw thousands of small moths that day, both alive and dead. This one came to rest on a Redcedar bough. Shining drops of morning dew still cling to the delicate wings and body.

 

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8. This little one was alive, but maybe not for long.

 

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9. A dew-spangled dead moth is cradled in the leaf litter.

 

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10. Another rough-hewn wooden bridge on the trail crosses one of many creeks feeding Baker River. The rustic bridges are a real pleasure to see, to touch, and to walk across.

 

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11. I have great respect for the people who built these bridges.

 

 

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13. The bridge views were mesmerizing. Baker River rippled past water-sculpted rocks and the light danced over smooth stones that were barely covered by the shallow water.

 

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14. Looking up river it’s easy to picture how, after a winter of heavy snow in the mountains, the river fills up with glacial melt and roars down towards Baker Lake, taking fallen trees along for the ride, only to abandon the logs in untidy clumps, as the flow dwindles over the summer.

 

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15. Bigleaf maples had dropped their leaves in layers of nourishing mulch – in the woods, on the trail, and on the road, too.

 

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16. Mushrooms crowded this stump like a Hong Kong high rise.

 

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17. A fresh mushroom bouquet decorated with sprays of Licorice fern.

 

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18. This handsome specimen emerged from thick moss on the moist forest floor.

 

19. Forest floor synergy could be seen at our feet: rotting logs, fallen leaves and twigs, moss, mushrooms, and so much more that we didn’t see, all working together to support life.

 

20. A hiker stops to admire an old growth Redcedar pressing against huge boulder covered with moss, lichens and ferns.

 

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21. Constant moisture from the river nearby means that in this part of the forest, every dead limb wears a luxurious coat of spongy moss, all year long.

 

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22. Feathery-boughed cedars with their tapered trunks and waving, mossy branches made an enchanted forest scene. Green never departs from this forest, it just waxes and wanes in intensity.

 

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23. Cedar bark invites a close look, especially when the tree sports a stripe of bright green lichen. Look closely and you’ll see other lichens here, too.

 

24. The drab but pert American Dipper is always a thrill to see. This little bundle of energy forages by dipping, walking and even swimming in the rushing water of tumbling streams. When perched, dippers constantly bounce up and down, and movement is about all that gives them away, since the plain gray birds are hard to see among dark boulders, fallen trees, and the noisy, rushing water.

 

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25. The days were getting shorter and we had a late start that day, so we turned back to avoid driving 26 miles in darkness.

 

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26. Low-angled sun silvered the meandering river.

 

27. As we were about to get into the car, I noticed a maple leaf caught on a twig and made one more photograph. There’s always one more….

 

If you’re in the area:

The East Bank Baker Lake and Baker River Trails are about 115 (185km) miles from Seattle, and about 124 miles (200km) from Vancouver, BC.  The trailhead is 64 rather slow miles from where I live. Once you arrive at the large parking lot, if it’s an off-season weekday, you may be all alone. Set out on the wide, flat trail among huge boulders and towering trees, and soon you’ll sense the river behind the trees. In half a mile a suspension bridge crosses the river. From there, the Baker Lake Trail continues down the river and then follows the lake edge, for a total of 14.5 miles one way. Along the trail you’ll find more bridges, and views of the snow-covered mountains high above that are the repositories for all this rushing water. If you don’t cross the first bridge you can continue straight upriver on the Baker River Trail, reaching a campground in 2.6 miles. It was so pleasant the day we were there, and there was so much to look at, that we didn’t get far at all. That was not the object. The point was to feel, hear, see, and smell this unique place, to fully sense the aliveness of one small corner of our planet.

 

Local Attractions

The small city of Anacortes spans the north end of Fidalgo Island, extends a thin arm to the east, grabs a wide peninsula to the west, and funnels south into the green heart of the island. East of the city proper, two oil refineries scatter storage tanks and pipe stacks over a thumb of land called March Point. Anacortes’ city limits include residential areas, thickly forested parks, a small airport and the busy San Juan Island ferry terminal.

On a map the city seems to be reaching out and gobbling up the island, but the “Old Town” of Anacortes huddles close to the waterfront on the north tip of the island. With deep water access to the Salish Sea, Anacortes is a watery gateway to the Pacific. In a time of relentless real estate pressure from Seattle’s explosive growth, it heartens me to see the laid back, unpretentious city is hanging on – perhaps by a fishing-line-thin thread –  to its working waterfront roots. Pleasure and leisure are the raison d’etre for most boats you see around the island, but businesses serving working boats persist.

This sliver of working waterfront draws me into town, camera in hand. Here is a group of buildings and ships that caught my eye in Anacortes.

 

1. The Shell Oil and Andeavor refineries are major tax payers and employers for the county, but compared to other refineries in the U.S., this complex is small potatoes. Gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, fuel oils, liquefied petroleum gas, and asphalt are manufactured here on March Point. This view from Anacortes looks across Fidalgo Bay, where eelgrass beds and tidal marsh provide habitat for fish, shellfish, invertebrates, and birds.

 

2. Following the road around March Point reveals ships and birds plying the waters, with a backdrop of snow-covered Mount Baker in the distance. Behind you, the refinery business never stops, but neither does the wildlife.  A Great Blue heron rookery, situated less than a mile southeast of the refineries, was found to contain 757 nests at last month’s count, by the Skagit Land Trust, which protects and monitors the nesting site.  Small herds of cattle graze among the refinery tanks, and eagles roam the sky. Industry and nature appear to coexist without incident, but realistically, I know there are dangers – obvious ones like an accident in 2010 that killed five workers, and insidious risks, like the slight decline in eelgrass reported last year.

 

3. A small fishing boat, probably out for Dungeness crab, returns to Anacortes under heavy skies on a Friday afternoon in November. Marine industries – seafood preparation, boat repair, cargo handling, marinas, etc. – employ about 15% of island residents.  I enjoy seeing boat traffic involved in work but when summer comes, it’s a different story, as the town fills up with recreational boaters from all over the world.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but I hope the balance doesn’t ever shift entirely away from marine businesses.

 

4. I found this Dungeness crab washed up on a sliver of rocky shoreline in town. Most likely it was caught, and then thrown away, because it’s under the size limit of 6.25 inches. Females, softshell and undersized crabs must be released if caught, but they may not all survive. The daily recreational limit here is just 5 males; the tightly regulated season runs from October 6th through the last day of December. Commercial, licensed crab fishers have a 30 pot limit in the area near Fidalgo Island. The entire Puget Sound commercial Dungeness crab fishery is expected to land 2,874,707 pounds of crab this year.

 

5. The “Oregon” fishing vessel is tied up at Trident Seafoods. Across the channel is Guemes Island; the rolling hills of the San Juan Islands rise in the distance. Seattle-based Trident Seafoods is the biggest seafood company in the U.S. They process fish on board and onshore, with over 40 vessels and 17 plants. At their Anacortes plant, built in 1989, fish like pollock and salmon, caught in Alaskan waters, are frozen and made into ready-to-cook portions for food service use.

 

6. A Trident Seafoods’ catcher/processor, the 312-foot-long Island Enterprise, is undergoing work at Dakota Creek Industries, a ship building and repair business based in Anacortes. Billowing tarps worthy of Christo prompted me to pull over for a closer look.

 

7. Another look at the Island Enterprise under wraps at sunset. Dakota Creek, family-owned and run for over 40 years, builds and repairs everything from fire boats to ferries to research vessels, and of course, fishing vessels.

 

8. One more shot of the Island Enterprise at the dock, taken just after 4pm on a chilly November afternoon.

 

9. Just a few blocks from the working waterfront is Pelican Bay Books, a new and used bookstore with an understated and functional exterior, and a beckoning interior. Their espresso is very good and you can cozy up near a fireplace on a worn leather sofa with a book, the NY Times, or the local paper, if that’s your preference. Maybe someone will play a little subdued jazz on the piano. Maybe you’ll buy a book, or maybe you’ll just enjoy the ambiance.

 

10. Another late afternoon view of the bookstore’s side door.

 

11. The older section of Anacortes has loads of charming, slightly funky small homes, like this one on a side street.

 

12. Back near the waterfront, between Trident Seafoods and the Puget Sound Rope Corporation, there are three tall tanks, a parking lot and a handful of buildings. What’s going on there, I don’t know. There’s no sign (other than the Keep Out signs) and nothing helpful came up online.

 

13. Three tanks and a telephone pole.  OK, and a fence and a sidewalk. A bit of barbed wire, too.

 

14. This decrepit building has become a favorite subject of mine. It was built in a diamond shape, with the wide angle to the right in this view. I read online that the lot and building sold for $500,000 in 2008, so I assume there were plans to tear the building down and build anew, for light manufacturing. Those plans must have fallen through, and the old warehouse, built in 1900, is still standing.

 

15. The acute angled side of the building.

 

16. One end of the building is almost in the Guemes Channel. It was probably a fish processing plant. It would have been a smelly, miserable job a hundred years ago.

 

17. Working the scene with different lenses. This was taken this summer, when the blackberries threatened to crawl into the building. I used a vintage Takumar 28mm, f3.5 lens.

 

18. This view was taken with a different vintage Takumar lens, a 50mm f2.8.

 

19. How much longer will the old building stand?

 

The Slow Curl Inward

In less than a month the shortest day of the year will mark another ending/beginning. Hanging low in the sky, the sun will begin climbing towards spring, however imperceptibly. As we approach the winter solstice the world seems to curve inward: leaf edges curl, hibernating animals wind into a ball, thoughts turn in on themselves.

Around here the beaches are strewn with pungent mounds of sloughed-off seaweed. The water is dotted with wintering ducks, diving for food, and pairs of eagles stand by their nests in a kind of pre-courtship bonding ritual. Pleasure boats are idle, and on most days the skies are washed with smudges of pewter and pearl. We may think in terms of endings – the end of summer, the end of good weather – but look closely and you’ll uncover ample evidence of the continuum of the seasons, folding one into the other. Here in the Pacific northwest, where temperatures are moderated by great bodies of water, the seasonal transitions are slow and subtle.

 

1. Strands of Bullwhip kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) mingle gracefully with seaweed on a narrow strip of sandy beach at Bowman Bay, in Deception Pass State Park.

 

2. An idle sailboat floats on calm water at Bowman Bay.

 

On the other side of the island from my house, a small, bowl-shaped bay abuts a ragged, rocky headland jutting into the Salish Sea. A loop trail meanders through a verdant ever green forest there, and emerges at a series of bluffs, high above the swirling, tidal waters of Deception Pass. This has become one of my favorite places to walk.

 

Trail, Bowman Bay

3. The trail to Lighthouse Point skirts an old Douglas fir tree and curves up a cliff.

 

4. Most of the seeds have been released from this summer wildflower. It could be harmless Water parsnip (Sium suave) or poisonous Water hemlock (Cicuta douglasii); both are in the Apiaceae family (along with celery, parsley and carrots) and both are found here.

 

 

5. Dew drops crowd a blade of American dune grass (Leymus mollis) at Bowman Bay. My guess is that the cool temperatures here slow down the decomposition process, but a warmer climate will likely change the rate of decay, along with many other biological processes.

 

6. Two Douglas maple leaves (Acer glabrum var. douglasii) leaves are slowly dissolving onto a sword fern frond (Polystichum munitum) in the shady forest at Lighthouse Point.

 

7. Old Douglas fir trees, their bark craggy with age, stand straight and tall in a frothy sea of bright green Salal (Gaultheria shallon). The Doug fir, as it’s called locally, is actually not a fir; it’s in the pine family.

 

Twice in the last week or so, I’ve walked the trails at Lighthouse Point. My mind empties quickly there, and I’m a field of receptivity, alert to whatever presents itself, without agenda or plan. I spread my attention out over the landscape and let it lead me. I feel the cool air around my face, I smell pungent piles of seaweed and fragrant firs and cedars, and I hear the gentle lapping of waves. Countless scenes unfold around me as I walk. With the camera hanging at my side, there is the great pleasure of peering through its rectangular frame, exercising my aesthetic vision, and pressing that little silver button.

 

8. Piles of Bullwhip kelp twisted together and washed up on a sliver of beach, coming to rest in one big smelly, sensuous, sculptural heap.

 

9. A large rock, worn smooth by countless tides, contrasts with the granular texture of tiny broken shells and rocks in a little scoop of a cove facing Deception Pass.

 

10. Fallen Douglas fir trees (Pseudotsuga menziesii) lend an otherworldly air to a bluff on the little-visited north side of Lighthouse Point.

 
 
 

11. Away from the windy headlands Douglas firs grow straight and tall. A gold lichen on the tree trunks reflects the gold leaves of deciduous trees in the background. They may be Scouler’s willow (Salix scouleriana). John Scouler was a nineteenth century Scottish naturalist and doctor who made extensive plant collections in western North America and the Galapagos. Those were the days!


12. Mushrooms along a trail at Lighthouse Point. Identifying these is beyond my pay grade.



13. More old Douglas fir trees lean over a narrow trail on the north side of Lighthouse Point. Their thick bark is protective, helping them survive fires that occur during the dry summers.



Beach Sliver

14. Gentle waves lap at a sliver of beach on Bowman Bay. This photograph was taken while I peered through trees growing from a rocky cliff above the beach. I used spot metering to emphasize the low November sunlight on the water and sand.

 

15. The San Juan Islands rise up across the Salish Sea, less than 13 miles away. The disturbance in the water is a bed of Bullwhip kelp. Harbor porpoises have just been feeding here (my camera only caught the tiniest crescent of fin). The Oxford dictionary says you can call a group of porpoises a pod, a herd, a school or a turmoil. I’ll go for turmoil – that perfectly describes the water when porpoises are actively feeding. The sun had set when I took this photo, and I had to hurry back on dim trails. I now have a flashlight in my pack.

 

The colors are muted, the light is scant, but the glory remains as autumn sheds its skin into winter’s bones. You have only to shed assumptions and look attentively.

 

Inspiration’s Residue

In October I went to southern California for a week to explore the Los Angeles area, and also, to see some art. I chose three places to look at art: The Broad (a contemporary art museum), the Watts Towers, and the Noah Purifoy Foundation’s Joshua Tree Outdoor Museum. The Broad appealed because it’s a new museum, full of contemporary art. Watts Towers had been on my mind because I’ve known about this artistic landmark for decades, and I wanted to see it in person. I’d been to the Joshua Tree Outdoor Art Museum four years ago and was very impressed; this time I would have the pleasure of sharing it with my partner.

All three experiences were inspiring. This word “inspire” in English, derives from the Latin “in” – into – and “spirare” – breathe. When we’re inspired, we receive a breath from the world. For me, seeing art is one of the best ways to be inspired.

To illustrate that idea, here is a group of photos from The Broad, the Watts Towers, and the Joshua Tree Outdoor Museum, along with a handful of photos I made on the trip that reflect the inspiration I reaped from the paintings, sculpture and architecture I saw.

 

1. The escalator at The Broad allows visitors to make a slow but powerful transition from the first floor entry to the upper level galleries.

 

Before I go any further, there is something that happened recently that for me, is related to the act of being with art. Last week Bernie Glassman died. He was my zen teacher. My experience at the Zen Community of New York, where I lived for five years in the early 1980’s, was transformative. What I learned during those years cannot be summed up easily, if at all, but it influenced the rest of my life.

In a 2001 interview during which he discussed his social action and interfaith work, Glassman said, “The goal is an infinite circle in which everything is included.” Impossible goals are conundrums to wrestle with, and to live by. He lived his, however imperfectly, and I’m sad to see him transition to another plane. But like any important inspiration or influence, once the spark is lit, the flames burn on.

The aesthetic impulse, spiritual grounding, and a deep love of nature are braided through my life: they’re intertwined tightly sometimes, loosely or not at all at other times, but they always continue. For you the threads are probably different, but in any case, I believe that impulses and inspirations from different parts of life strengthen one another when brought together. I think there is value in being aware of the braids of inspirations in our lives, and value in expressing them through art.

 

 

2. A sculpture made from baking pans, by Noah Purifoy. Purifoy moved from Los Angeles to a desert property in Joshua Tree in 1989, and created art there until his death in 2004, at age 82. He was an exuberantly inventive artist who primarily used discarded materials in his work.

 

3. The door on a large corrugated steel building created by Purifoy in the desert. His work is at the Smithsonian, the National Gallery of Art, the Whitney and other museums. A solo show at the Tilton Gallery in New York just closed last week.

 

4. A detail from the interior of a room-sized work by Purifoy, called Carousel. Purifoy’s story is a moving one: born poor and black in the deep south, in 1917, he eventually earned three college degrees, and was a respected political activist, deeply influenced by the infamous 1965 Watts riots. He worked with the physical and emotional residue from the riots, and ultimately filled ten acres of desert with a series of brilliant assemblages and installations.

 

 

 

 

 

Turning the Wheel

6. A discarded CD glinted in the dry grass on a roadside in the Malibu Hills. We had pulled over to take in the view, but the discs caught my eye. Investigating, I found more CD’s scattered on the ground. I turned away from the view of distant hills, and photographed CD’s in the grass instead.

 

7. Another CD on the roadside. Morning dew glistens on the underside of the disc. As I write this, fire rages here. Two people have died, hundreds have lost their houses, the ground is blackened, and I’m sure these plastic discs have been obliterated.

 

8. I didn’t disturb the CD’s, I just tried to photograph them where they fell. Why were they thrown on the side of the road? Some of them bore handwritten titles. Maybe they were someone failed Hollywood wannabe’s videos. The photos or the CD’s themselves could be the beginning of a story, or maybe the end of one….

 

9. Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles was completed in 2003. Its gleaming stainless steel skin, stretching over the curved, sail-like forms, is a delight to photograph.

 

10. In the Broad museum’s galleries a model poses in front of a painting by Mark Tansey. She may be beautiful, but the audacity to stand in the way of visitors who were there to look at the art, not her, amazed me. It was not a professional photo shoot, it was just another couple of L.A. folks working hard to put an image across. The painting is called Achilles and the Tortoise.

 

 

 

 

 

12. A guard turned a chair to face the wall in a gallery at the Broad, and the shadows instantly morphed it into another (very temporary) artwork.

 

13. Safety fencing has fascinated me for years – I like the way the fence plays against its shadow: material and immaterial, both/and. Neither the fence nor the shadow is more important; they have equal weight.

 

14. More safety fencing, photographed while waiting for a take-out meal in Los Angeles.

 

15. The fence and shadow are given a solarized effect in Color Efex pro.

 

16. The Watts Towers were going through an extensive renovation when we visited, so we weren’t able to get as close as I would have liked. This street view gives an idea of the ordinary surroundings; the sculptural towers and mosaics, built by Simon Rodia from 1921 – 1954, are located in the working class Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.

 

 

 

 

 

18. Sunlight illuminates the tropical colors of a lounge chair on a Los Angeles deck, echoed by shadow patterns.

 

Last but not least, a bit of commentary from Noah Purifoy.

 

Additional Notes:

I’ve mixed the art and installations I saw with my own photographs in this post. I don’t mean to imply that what I made comes anywhere near what artists who worked years to achieve their visions – people like Ellsworth Kelly, Simon Rodia or Noah Purifoy –  have produced. Rather the idea here is about how seeing art inspires one to turn around and make art. Being present with good works of art awakens something inside us that can broaden our perspective, enable us to see the world differently, and open us to different points of view. We are inspired, and Bernie Glassman’s infinite circle expands. Taking the next step and translating that wider perspective into your own artwork is, well, a good thing.

Deception Pass State Park: the Long and the Short of it…

Ten minutes from home, a spectacular bit of coastline and woodlands awaits. I knew about Deception Pass State Park before I moved here, but I had no idea of the variety of terrain this corner of the world encompasses. Now that I’ve lived here for four months, I’m beginning to understand the scope: whether taking the long view out across the water or peering in at the details, it seems the possibilities for discovery here are inexhaustible.

The 3,854-acre (1,560 ha) park straddles the ends of two large islands, and takes in many smaller islands too – some named, some just piles of rocks. Deception Pass boasts huge, ancient trees, stunning sunsets, a wave-tossed coastline, sheer cliffs, class 2 and 3 rapids under an engineering feat of a bridge, colorful underwater lifeforms, freshwater lakes, and a lot more.

Deception Pass was mapped by the Vancouver Expedition, in 1792.  Navigating the intricate ins and outs of the coastline here is difficult; rocks are everywhere, the water can be shallow, and currents can roil. It took a while before George Vancouver found the tight passage from the east side of what was then thought to be a peninsula, to the west side of it. After Vancouver sent Joseph Whidbey out in smaller boats to explore the area in depth, they realized that the peninsula is an island – actually two islands, Whidbey and Fidalgo. So Vancouver named the watery passageway “Deception Pass.”

Over a century later (in 1923), land on either side of the narrow pass was given to the state for a park.  Then in 1935, a breathtaking, 976-foot bridge span was completed, connecting Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands. The bridge passes high over the water and across rocky Pass Island, giving Whidbey Island better access to the mainland. These days, two million yearly visitors visit the park, arriving by road or approaching by water.  They camp, fish, boat, hike, dive, surf, gawk at the views and enjoy themselves, and parts of the park can get crowded on weekends, but quiet corners are easy to find.

I’ve put together a collection of photos I’ve taken in the park, at locations on Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands. These photos were made in the last two months, so the view is only of the park in autumn.  As I get to know Deception Pass better, I’ll be posting more images of it from various perspectives, in different kinds of light, and over the course of four seasons. I’m looking forward to exploring both the long and short of this exceptional landscape.

 

 

1. Rosario Beach in the fog

 

2. An immense Red cedar (Thuja plicata) shares air space with Douglas firs and Bigleaf maples.

 

 

 

 

4. Looking northeast from Deception Pass bridge. Drivers can park and walk across. With the rush of traffic behind you and breathtaking views ahead, it’s an experience!  In this photo, a fast incoming tide counteracted by strong westerly winds creates chaotic currents.

 

5. Here’s the bridge from underneath. Walk down a set of stairs, and you can hear traffic roaring  overhead, watch the water rushing through the channel far beneath you, and view an engineering wonder, right in front of you.

 

6. Goose Rock is a glacier-scratched bald where lichens cover the ground and an expansive view opens out towards the Pacific Ocean, over 90 miles away as the crow flies. Speaking of crows, you’re likely to see their relatives the ravens up here, riding high on the wind.

 

7. Reindeer lichen (Cladonia or Cladina, various species), also called reindeer moss. Here at Goose Rock, attractive lichen pillows are surrounded by a sea of moss.

 

 

 

9. Sword ferns decorate the trail to Goose Rock, and fallen trees, sawed apart to open the trail, support a lush nursery of mushrooms, mosses, licorice ferns and other plants.

 

10. This Douglas fir tree is purported to be over 850 years old; the photo shows just part of it. Unlike most Douglas firs, it’s not straight and tall, but has been twisted by centuries of difficult conditions on this site, hard by a windy beach on the Salish Sea.

 

11. Lucky kayaker! The waters around Rosario Beach are usually calm, and perfect for kayaking. A seal may show up, and I’ve seen Black oystercatchers, Great blue herons and gulls on the rocks.

 

12. A section of the Deception Pass bridge, seen from the Lighthouse Point trail on Fidalgo Island. Three kayakers are heading into Canoe Pass, the quieter, safer passage between Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands. On the right is the steep-sided Pass Island.

 

13. A view of the bridge from North Beach on Whidbey Island.

 

14. A surfer in a wetsuit enjoys waves created by the stiff winds funneling down the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Along with an incoming tide, the wind produced enough action for some excellent rides on surf breaking over a rocky point, at North Beach. Remember, this is 90 miles from the coast!

 

 

 

16. Back in the woods, on a forest trail connecting Rosario Beach to Bowman Bay, Snowberries (Symphoricarpos albus) hang delicately from a twig. Growing readily in moist, shady places, these plants are a common sight in the park.

 

17. Lichens are everywhere at Deception Pass – hanging from trees, growing on rocks, on logs, and scattered over the ground after a windy rain. This one drips with rain, and is attached to a twig by a strand of spider silk. Scenes like this are missed by hikers in a hurry.

 

18. A common understory plant, the Red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium) has branches that grow in a subtle zig-zag fashion, and small, oviod leaves held flat to absorb the light filtering down through the thick tree canopy.

 

19. Douglas fir trees cling to a sheer rock face at Lighthouse Point.

 

20. A view like this makes you glad this land was set aside as a park, and when a a curious seal pops its head out of the water and a pair of Bald eagles flies by, there’s no doubt about the value of habitat preservation.

 

 

 

22. Sunset over Rosario Beach rocks. On a very low tide you can walk out to the rocks and explore tide pools.  Look carefully and you’ll see a Great blue heron craning its neck out, to the right of the middle hump on the widest rock.

 

A few words about the photo groupings above:

#3 (between #2 and #4):  a) On an early November walk to Goose Rock, a bluff sitting high over the pass, I found this single leaf, hanging on after a storm.  b) The trail connecting Rosario Beach and Bowman Bay is set with many Madrone (Arbutus menziesii), trees. Some died long ago, possibly from fires, but they still stand, weathered and twisted. This section of a tree appealed to me for the gentle curve and smooth wood.

#8: a,b,c) Mushrooms are abundant, ever since our drought was broken by a series of rainy days – well, rainy weeks. These three photos were taken the same day, on the trail to Goose Rock. I won’t hazard a guess as to the identification of the mushrooms.

#15: People often pile the smooth rocks found on our beaches into cairns, and Rosario Beach is a good place for it. As you can see, there are plenty of nicely rounded rocks to pile up, if you have the patience. The photo of seaweed washed up on the beach was taken at North Beach, where the surfer (#14) was. I have a feeling that what washes up isn’t always as colorful as it was on that windy day, but I don’t know. I’ll have to go back again – and again – to find out. That will be my pleasure.

#21: Three “postcard” views around the park: a) Surf from a strong incoming tide splashes the rocky point between North and West Beaches, on the Whidbey Island side of the park. The land mass on the right is Deception Island, and like many of the smaller islands in the area, is uninhabited and can only be reached by boat.  b) This was taken on Big Cedar Trail, a trail winding through the forest to a ravine where the big Red cedar in #2 grows.  c) A late afternoon view from Lighthouse Point trail (there’s no lighthouse, just amazing scenery), taken with my phone.

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Forgive me for making such a long post; I appreciate your patience. The images of Deception Pass were piling up! I hope you enjoyed these, and more than that, I hope you’ll come here some day. But don’t be deceived into thinking there aren’t equally wonderful views – long and short – in your neck of the woods. Fresh eyes will find them!

 

 

 

 

SEEING IN SIXES

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Lenswork Publishing is best known for its bi-monthly photography magazine, published since 1993.  If you haven’t seen it, the publication is different from most photography magazines. Featuring meticulously printed portfolios of photographs in black and white and color, the magazine does not include how-to articles or advertising, but focuses on the creative process and photography as a way of life. Lenswork celebrates 25 years this year with a special anniversary issue, out now.

Lenswork also publishes Seeing in Sixes, a book of six-image photographic projects. The book evolved from publisher Brooks Jensen’s appreciation of haiku, and the six-word story, originated by Ernest Hemingway. The concise formats appealed to Jensen, as they obviously do to many people. Over the years, as Jensen published photographers’ work in Lenswork, he noticed that many portfolios he viewed became repetitive after the 6th image. This led him to wonder if small projects – presentations of work that are more than a single, stand-alone image one sees in a gallery, but less than a lengthy photo essay – might be a particularly satisfying way to see someone’s work.  Ultimately he decided that the best vehicle for six-image projects is a high quality book that inspires readers, and so in 2016 Jensen put the word out to the community of Lenswork readers to submit their projects. The response was overwhelming. Seeing in Sixes 2016 was published, followed by a 2017 iteration, and now, Seeing in Sixes 2018.

It’s a pleasure to tell you that my work appears in Seeing in Sixes 2018.  The 311-page book includes projects by 50 photographers, in black and white and color. (The projects in the book are only 4% of the entries that were submitted, so I’m very pleased to be included.) I chose to submit six photographs from the series I’ve been working on for several years that explores plant life seen through foggy windows. The project is titled, “At the Conservatory: Transgressing Expectations.”

For the current book, Brooks Jensen and Maureen Gallagher (the co-author) looked for “projects about life rather than about photography.”  Other criteria included originality, consistency of style, excellence of craft, and projects that “create their own small world within the limitation of six images only.”

Some of the images I have in the book have been seen on this blog, here and here.  All six are shown below.

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1. Excerpt from Seeing in Sixes: “At the Conservatory: Transgressing Expectations”

 

2. Excerpt from Seeing in Sixes: At the Conservatory: Transgressing Expectations

 

3. Excerpt from Seeing in Sixes: At the Conservatory: Transgressing Expectations

 

4. Excerpt from Seeing in Sixes: At the Conservatory: Transgressing Expectations

 

5. Excerpt from Seeing in Sixes: At the Conservatory: Transgressing Expectations

 

6. Excerpt from Seeing in Sixes: At the Conservatory: Transgressing Expectations

**

I like the concept of photographic projects. I think distilling a project down to six images is a valuable exercise. Below are six photos of spider webs and lichen strands suspended from twigs and touched by dew or sunlight, made in the last few weeks. They are likely the beginning of a new subject I’ll focus on. I recommend giving the six-image project a try, and when the call for entries for a 2019 Seeing in Sixes is announced sometime next year, submit your photographs! There is so much great work being done, and I bet some of it is yours.

 

7. Morning dew coats spider webs suspended from a twig in my yard on Fidalgo Island.

 

8. A lichen suspended from two twigs, glows in the setting sun at Rosario Beach. Deception Pass Park, Fidalgo Island.

 

9. Dew-covered spiderwebs connect the dots between decomposing leaves still clinging to a tree in my yard on Fidalgo Island.

 

10. A spider web bedecked with dew and raindrops stretches between the railing supports of a boat dock at Rosario Beach. Deception Pass State Park, Fidalgo Island.

 

11. Lichens absorb and reflect the sun’s late-day magic as they drape from the twigs of a Douglas fir tree at Rosario Beach. Deception Pass State park, Fidalgo Island.

 

12. A lichen strand appears to relax on a twig as it absorbs the last of the day’s sunlight at Rosario Beach. Deception Pass State park, Fidalgo Island.

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You can watch a short video here that shows Seeing in Sixes going to press. The book can be purchased on the Lenswork website.

The interest and support of readers here on WordPress has been a big factor in my growth and confidence, and your presence keeps me on this path. Thank you!

 

 

Rambling Around L.A. with Flora

Who’s Flora? Flora is Fauna’s pal. You know, the one who makes everything livable.

Flora’s strong presence in L.A. is a key ingredient of the city’s identity. The city is chock full of glamorous botanical introductions from faraway places, native plants that thrived here for eons and everything in between. The “florabundance” of southern California captivated me, so here’s a selection of plants from in and around L. A.  –  a selection guaranteed to be completely unscientific and thoroughly skewed.  Most of these images are of trees because trees got to me on this trip, but you’ll find a few other plants in too, for the sake of variety.

 

1. The silhouette of a Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) frames distant hills on a trail at Topanga State Park’s Trippet Ranch, which is about an hour’s drive from downtown L.A.

 

2. More Coast live oaks at Trippet Ranch. The day we were there birds, squirrels and deer were feasting on the ripening acorns.

 

3. A fallen branch, probably oak, at Trippet Ranch. The live oaks of California take on wonderfully sinuous, expressive shapes as they grow.

 

4. Staying with the oaks, here’s a lovely, plump little acorn on a Tucker’s oak tree (Quercus John-tuckeri) at Joshua Tree National Park. The park is a good two or more-hour drive from L.A. but it’s well worth the effort to get there. More on that in another post.

 

5. Just off a trail in Joshua Tree National Park, the eponymous Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) stands tall. It is actually not a tree, it’s a type of yucca. This specimen suffered an injury to its trunk but it soldiers on, in a very harsh environment. The area has only received about two inches of rain this year; about a third of that fell just after we left, causing road closures and evacuations in town.

 

6. Back in downtown Los Angeles, hilly streets mean you might get to look down on a freshly clipped topiary tree. What a treat!

 

7. In trendy Silver Lake everyone has a little corner of paradise; this one comes with a generous sprinkling of banana plants and Bird of Paradise plants (Strelitzia). Oh, and a vintage Ford Falcon parked out front does add a certain charm to the block.

 

8. The fruit of a South American Silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa) hangs heavy on the branch, on a street in the Watts neighborhood of L.A. These trees drop their leaves before flowering – what a sight the brilliant magenta pink flowers are on bare-leaved trees!

 

9. On just about any block in L.A. there will be a corner like this one, with lollipop palm trees, telephone poles and criss-crossed wires, street lamps, and random signs. You’ll often find a certain glow in the sky too, maybe from the city’s relentlessly sunny skies and its proximity to the ocean. Or perhaps it’s that stubborn inversion layer. Or maybe all that light is just bouncing around so much that it glows.

 

 

11. At my feet on a residential street, a tree was artfully creeping over the sidewalk, and scattering its pretty golden leaves about like glitter on a movie star’s gown. OK, that’s a stretch, but this little scene did delight my eyes.

 

12. Down at the beach, forests of kelp grow just off shore. Now and then they toss us an offering. Giant Kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) is actually a fast-growing algae, and I’m not kidding about the forest part – offshore kelp beds are thick, and plants can reach well over 40′ tall. 

 

13. A tangle of branches looks a bit haunted, in a ravine at Trippet Ranch, Topanga State Park.

 

14. I think this is a Peruvian peppertree (Schinus molle), one of many exotics planted around L.A. This was at Elysian Park, L.A.’s oldest park and a nice, quick escape from the frantic traffic of the city below.

 

15. At Angel’s Point in Elysian Park another Mexican fan palm stands tall amidst an unlikely assortment of objects. A whimsical sculpture seems to mock the heavy-handedness of downtown high-rises, and five glorious ravens sail freely on the updraft of a glowing, if smoggy, L.A. sunset.

 

16. I was struck by the sight of tree roots penetrating deep into rocky cliffs, in a number of places around the city. This photo was taken on the road to Mt. Wilson Observatory, a narrow, winding two-lane that had me clutching the edge of my seat more than once.

 

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17. Evergreens cling to the rocky hillsides of Angeles National Forest, along the precipitous road that climbs up to Mount Wilson Observatory, elevation 5,712 ft/1741m.  Two of the largest telescopes in the world (for their time) are here. The location benefits from regional inversion layers that trap clearer air on top of the mountain, but it suffers from light-polluted night skies.

 

18. Another view of oaks in a ravine, through filtered light at Trippet Ranch, Topanga State Forest.

 

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19.  Warm, arid southern California even manages glimpses of autumn here and there. This fiery tree appears to be a maple. I found it on a roadside, high up in the Angeles National Forest, about an hour from downtown.

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This meager offering doesn’t begin to do justice to the amazing variety of flora in and around Los Angeles. Interestingly enough, both the arid wilderness around L.A. and the well-irrigated landscape in and near the city offer up an astounding variety of plant life.  I hope this post encourages you to take another look around your own neighborhood. There may be more to it than you realize.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SO(very)CAL: L.A. and Around

Earlier this week, I returned home from a week traveling in and around Los Angeles. We put 751 miles on the rental car. Whew!

Here are a few highlights from the city, the desert, the mountains and the beach.

 

1. Nancy Rubins’ monumental sculpture at the Museum of Contemporary Art, downtown L.A.

 

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2. Sunset on Route 62, leaving Joshua Tree

 

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3. Fallen Floss-silk tree (Ceiba speciosa) blossoms, Watts, L.A.

 

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4. A young Joshua tree stands near Shelter, a sculpture by Noah Purifoy (1917 – 2004), at the Noah Purifoy Foundation’s Outdoor Desert Museum of Assemblage Sculpture in Joshua Tree.

 

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5. Along the Barker Dam Trail at Joshua Tree National Park.  Parry’s Nolina in the foreground, a prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) cactus to the right, unidentified red flowers behind boulders.

 

6. A meal at Mh Zh – red lentils with herbs, hummus Bling, and grilled farm bread.

 

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7. The Bradbury Building in downtown L.A., where key scenes from Blade Runner were shot.

 

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8. A Venice street corner.

 

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9. A culinary suggestion from Venice Beach

 

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10. Looking up into a Brugmansia flower (aka Angels trumpet) at Descanso Gardens, La Canada Flintridge.

 

11. A museum guard walks past Robert Therrien’s sculpture, Under the Table, at  The Broad Museum, L.A.

 

12. Eucalyptus trees are ubiquitous in southern California, but that doesn’t make them any less beautiful.

 

13. The famous Los Angeles sprawl seen from the road to Mt. Wilson, in the Angeles National Forest.

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14. California beaches have a calm beauty on overcast days. Zuma Beach/ Point Dume, near Malibu.

 

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15. At Joshua Tree National Park, granite rocks take on an oddly malleable quality in the receding light, as if they were globs of dough ready for the oven.  

 

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16. At pretty Hermosa Beach, wet sand reflects a pier full of sunset-watchers.

 

More on the photos:

  1. This muscular sculpture on a plaza at the Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A. has a long title that describes the materials: Chas’ Stainless Steel, Mark Thompson’s Airplane Parts, About 1000 Pounds of Stainless Steel Wire, and Gagosian’s Beverly Hills Space. It’s by artist Nancy Rubins and was installed in 2001. I like the way it interrupts the grids of surrounding high rises by taking similar rectangular, hard-edged forms, breaking them up and setting them at all angles.
  2. This lopsided sunset meets heavy cloud cover on the road out of Joshua Tree. The narrowly focused light show preceded a lengthy display of lightening over a distant desert mountain range. When we got back to L.A. it was raining. Several people remarked that it took them by surprise – after all, who checks the weather forecast in a place where warm, sunny weather is an everyday occurrence?
  3. The Floss-silk tree was blooming all over town, adding joyful pink highlights to the greens and browns of the California autumn landscape. The tree is native to South America and is related to the kapok tree. The leaves fall off before the tree blooms, so the huge flowers are even more dramatic – perfect for a city known for creating drama.
  4. The Outdoor Desert Museum of Assemblage Sculpture is just that, but also much more. It’s difficult to describe the impact of seeing Noah Purifoy’s fifteen years’ labor weathering in the spare, harsh Mohave desert. If inventiveness, artistic expertise and social commentary interest you, you may be here for hours, as we were. I first visited the site in 2014; photos of Purifoy’s sculptures from that visit can be found here.
  5. Joshua Tree National Park is one of those oddly otherworldy, spectacular landscapes that one never forgets. Coming back to it for a second look, I was not disappointed – in fact, our hike on the Barker Dam loop trail was a high point of the trip. Photos from a 2014 visit to Joshua Tree are here and I plan to post more from this year’s trip soon.
  6. Near our airbnb in the busy L.A. neighborhood of Silver Lake, there’s a casual Israeli/Middle eastern restaurant called Mh Zh. We sat at a counter inside (all the “real” tables are outside on the sidewalk) and chatted with the manager while watching the chef slide rack after rack of delicious-looking food into the flaming oven. The employees were relaxed and upbeat, the food was amazing, and watching it all go in and out of that oven was pure theater.
  7. The Bradley Building is a refreshing bit of 19th and 20th century style in the middle of modern L.A. You’ll recognize it immediately as the place where much of Blade Runner was filmed. Walk in, wander around the first floor, and climb the stairs until you’re met by ropes marking off the tenants’ space – one of whom is the LAPD’s Internal Affairs Division! Many films and commercials have used this handsome space that abounds with intricate details. An interior door opens onto Blue Bottle Coffee, an airy, high-style (21st century version) coffee shop where we enjoyed great espresso and an order of perfectly poached eggs on toast.
  8. The facade of Yellow Fever restaurant in Venice, a still somewhat funky town fifteen miles west of LA. The restaurant advertises “Asian bowls for your soul” and is takes no cash. Is credit more soulful, I wonder?
  9. This sign kind of sums up why we didn’t spend much time in Venice. Can you say, “Tacky?”  The little canals of Venice are attractive enough, if you manage to disregard the occasional small, unpowered boat loaded down with belongings, obviously serving as a tiny home for a less fortunate person than those living in the chic, multi-million dollar homes lining the canals.
  10. Twenty minutes from downtown LA is the quiet oasis of Descanso Gardens. I can’t say I was very impressed; maybe I was there at the wrong time of year. Still, it was a pleasant hour or two, the oaks are splendid, and I always love to see Brugmansias in bloom.
  11. I wanted to see the Broad Museum, which opened three years ago. I did find some gems there but when all was said and done I was, well, overwhelmed with being underwhelmed. Or something like that. There are just too many in-your-face, big spectacle pieces. There isn’t enough coherent, thoughtful art.  An excellent review of the architecture and collection is here.
  12. Eucalyptus doesn’t grow where I live, so I’m especially susceptible to its charms. This one, a pretty basic specimen, is quite beautiful if you study the sinuous curves of trunk and branch against the light flutter of gray-green leaves. It towers above the ground at the Watts Towers, a delightful community space that will (hopefully) show up soon, in another post about L.A.
  13. It may not be a great image, but this gives you an idea of the juxtaposition of wild outdoor space and urban sprawl that is characteristic of Los Angeles County. You can see views like this from many different high spots around LA; this one was taken on the road up to Mt. Wilson. The Mount Wilson Observatory is the site of pioneering research in astrophysics, and several of the world’s largest (at the time they were installed) telescopes are housed there. The twisting, narrow road isn’t easy on an acrophobe, but once you’re up there, cares do drop away.
  14. We visited Zuma Beach and Point Dume State Park on an overcast morning – a perfect time, it turns out, if you’re more interested in scenery than swimming. We saw dolphins swim just a few feet from a pair of surfers who were respectful enough to remain quiet, and watched a Great egret catching grasshoppers along the roadside.
  15. Another view of the sculptural desert landscape at Joshua Tree National Park.
  16. Hermosa Beach is a small beach town about 45 minutes from downtown LA. The first pier here was built in 1904, and three years later the incorporated city acquired two miles of beach, to remain perpetually free from commerce and open to all. Without commerce, I would not have enjoyed the fabulous Mh Zh restaurant or several great cafes, but everything has its place, doesn’t it? I was glad I could get away from L.A.’s commercial intensity and go out to the desert, up to the mountains, and onto the beach, in beautiful SoCal.

Layers of Perception

For years I’ve been interested in photographing scenes through various types of barriers or screens. The most obvious “barrier” that might change the way the world looks is a window, and I like it obscured – by raindrops, fog, dirt, whatever. Fences, nets and clear plastic tarps are interesting to look through, too. Seeing the world through snowfall is magical, and a mass of tangled branches or grasses can become another screen that veils the landscape. Even a spiderweb can be a diaphanous curtain between you and what lies beyond. Admittedly, our natural tendency is to focus on the fine design of a spiderweb and stop there. But another way to observe the scene is to allow the details to shift out of focus, then take in the gestalt of the whole scene, front to back.

 

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Seeing the world through a screen or a barrier can encourage you to enter into a hazier kind of perception, switching off the defining mind that wants to label everything it discerns. This alternate way of seeing can enlarge your perceptual world. Objects behind a translucent barrier are less defined and often abstracted, allowing you to let go of the habitual mental state of identifying and naming, and rest your gaze on pure form and color.

Reversing the process and observing the details of a barrier’s own properties, like the specks of dirt on a window or the finely woven texture of a net, is another way to expand perception and appreciate the whole of what is. Right in front of you.

 

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Once I get started taking pictures through a barrier, I like to play with the elements of the scene. The emphasis might shift between planes, or it might be about layers of different planes, a dance of different surfaces. In any case, I believe that loosening the perceptual process can allow new relationships to emerge.

There are examples in previous posts here, here and here and a few more in this post. Most of them involve looking through fogged up conservatory windows. For this post I’ve corralled a handful of images photographed through a variety of objects. A few focus on the barrier itself. I hope some of them catch your imagination.

 

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The photos:

  1. Shade cloth is pulled over a section of greenhouse roof.  I was drawn to the contrasting light and dark shapes and textures, and the softening of the window frames’ crisp outlines under the shade cloth. Taken with an Olympus E-M1 and a  60mm f2.8 macro lens, processed in Lightroom.
  2. Again I was drawn to contrasting surfaces – the minutely detailed condensation on the glass versus the blurred glow of sunlight on the trees outside. Photographed with a 45mm f1.8 lens, processed in Lightroom.
  3. It was deck cleaning day at my old apartment. A worker hosed the deck down with a pressure washer, and the screen and door were soaking wet. As he paused to check his equipment, I photographed the scene. The colors glowed and nothing outside the window was clear, but the houseplants indoors were sharply outlined. Photographed with a 45mm f1.8 lens, processed in Lightroom.
  4. Peering across the water through red cedar branches; Cranberry Lake, Fidalgo Island. Photographed with a vintage Takumar 28mm f3.5 lens, processed in Color Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  5. At an agricultural research facility some fruit trees are covered with nets to protect them from hungry birds and animals. At the far end of the day with the sun deep into the horizon, the apple tree’s stiff, silhouetted contours set against the net’s fine texture and soft folds got my attention. Photographed with a Motorola Android phone, processed in Lightroom.
  6. Removing the color can allow one to focus more on form, texture and line, and less on identifying the object. I was intrigued by the net’s presence as it hovered between flimsiness and solidity. Photographed with a phone, processed in Silver Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  7. My eye was caught by graceful curves and elegant folds in the netting complementing the curled up, dried leaves and apples caught inside. Photographed with a phone, processed in Lightroom.
  8. Late-day light did the work, showing off the protected tree’s form as if it were a sculpture in a museum. Photographed with a phone, processed in Lightroom.
  9. Extra nets piled behind a greenhouse seem very substantial when they’re bundled up; at the same time, there is a textured transparency to them.  Photographed with a phone, processed in Color Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  10. Black and white emphasizes the angled light on the draped folds of the sheltering net. Photographed with a phone, processed in Lightroom, using a black and white profile, then tweaking it.
  11. An apple and leaf press against the confining net, and its textured grid flattens out the picture plane. EM-1 camera with 60mm f2.8 macro lens, processed in Color Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  12. At Washington Pass in the North Cascades (elev. 5,476′ or 1,669m), red leaves of a low-growing shrub push through the bare, dead branches of an evergreen, creating a filigree of layered branches, twigs and leaves. EM-1 camera with 12 – 40mm f2.8 zoom lens, processed in Color Efex pro and Lightroom.
  13. A vine sprawls across a roof at a nursery. I like the way shapes are simplified when seen through this translucent roofing material. Photographed with a phone, processed in Color Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  14. A tree trunk seen through the crossing branches of a Red huckleberry bush (Vaccinium parvifoluium). EM-1 camera with 40 – 150mm f4.0-5.6 zoom lens, processed in Lightroom.
  15. A book title winks from between the slats of a bookcase.  EM-1 camera with vintage Takumar 28mm f3.5 lens, processed in Lightroom.

 

Entering In

 

Ten minutes from home

the mind

quiets.

 

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Mt. Erie is only 1,273 feet (388 meters) high, but it rises steeply from the surrounding land and is the highest point on Fidalgo Island. From miles away, on land or water, you can see Mt. Erie’s uneven bulge, topped by two cell antenna towers. At the top with the spindly cell towers there are a few small parking lots, some benches and viewing platforms, a toilet, a sculpture, and informational signs; one plaque honors a boy who died in a fall.

People enjoy driving up the twisting, two-lane road to the summit for the breath-taking view across the island and out to the Salish Sea. Most visitors leave it at that. But walk just a short distance into the woods below the peak and you’re in another world, enveloped in the hush of a forest layered in a hundred different greens.

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Coyote maybe. A chunk of moss nearby had been torn from its roots; the evidence suggested a struggle. Here was a vivid slice of wildness just steps from the road, a road most people use only to access the summit for a quick postcard view of the islands below.

If a visitor could contort like a bendable toy and lean way out over the rocks, they might see a climber or two. Mt. Erie has enough rocky outcroppings to make it the scene of intense rock climbing efforts. On the Mt. Erie Climbing facebook page you’ll find route names like Street Fighter, PTSD, and Beard on Fire, and photos of climbers in action with expansive views of tree-mounded islands and deep blue water behind them. 

I don’t have photos of climbers; I’d have to be under them, or beside them. I’ve taken my share of view pictures though – who can resist?

 

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Each time I go to Mt. Erie I admire those views, but these days I spend most of my time on the narrow, winding trails just below the top, where a different kind of magic invites closer looks.

 

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The Photos:

  1. This almost-prostrate Douglas fir hosts a thick collection of lichens. Underneath it a spongy layer of chartreuse moss supports Oregon-grape (Berberis nervosa) plants that are steadily turning red as autumn arrives.
  2. A closer view of lichens dangling from a fir tree on Mt. Erie. Lichens are tough to identify, and the Pacific northwest has a host of them, so I won’t venture further than saying this lichen is probably a species of Usnea.
  3. A closer look. Lichens are actually a complex marriage of an algae and a fungi. If that isn’t confusing enough, they also include a yeast. Lichens grow very slowly, so its important to try not to disturb them.
  4. I think this tree festooned with multiple lichen species is a Western Service berry (Amelanchier alnifolia).  I was drawn to the way the lichens’ cool gray-green coloring complements the warm gold of autumn leaves.
  5. A Douglas fir cone is nestled into a bed of moss. The rust-colored fir needles  probably dropped off the trees because of the drought we had this summer. Rain has returned and you can tell the moss is moist here, not shriveled and dried like it was last month. It’s soft to the touch too, which pleases me. Identifying moss is difficult, but I’ll guess this is urn haircap (Pogonatum urnigerum). (I cheated by locating a plant list for Mt. Erie and comparing photos and descriptions of mosses on the list with my photo).
  6. No one picks up fallen branches here to make things neat; it’s not a garden. The forest floor is crowded with moss, rocks, lichens, branches, ferns, and countless bits of flora and fauna that we’d need a hand lens to see. Step off the trail and you’re bound to be crushing some kind of intricate life form.
  7. The summer drought has even begun to affect the tough, evergreen Sword fern (Polystichum munitum). In the background, last year’s shriveled fronds are a cascading mass of crisp, brown curls. Even this year’s leaf is browning at the edges.
  8. Another tree limb draped with lichens. I’ve read that it may look like the lichen is killing the trees, but lichens are more likely to grow abundantly on trees that are already dying; leafless branches provide better space for the lichen to hold on.
  9. This bit of fur was just off the path, along with a disturbance in the moss. I picked up a piece of fur and smelled it – it had a rank, slightly sour scent, the smell of a wild animal. It went back where it was, to decompose in place.
  10. Trees at the top of Mt. Erie are exposed to the elements; some are mere skeletons. In the distance are Whidbey Island and the Salish Sea. As Wikipedia says, “The Salish Sea is the intricate network of coastal waterways that includes the southwestern portion of the Canadian province of British Columbia and the northwestern portion of the U.S. state of Washington.” Not exactly a sea, this body of water was named the Salish Sea only 30 years ago, by a local marine biologist attempting to raise awareness of the importance of the ecosystem. The “Salish” part recognizes the indigenous people who inhabited coastal areas here before Europeans arrived.
  11. A Douglas fir tree leans out over the spacious landscape at the top of Mt. Erie. Trees up here exist in every stage of growth, from sprouting seed to decaying stump, affording habitat for countless organisms.
  12. This photo was taken in July on a dry, sunny day. The prominent rock, called Rodger Bluff, barely fits within Deception Pass State Park boundaries. To see it closeup requires a longer hike than I’ve been up to so far, but maybe one day I’ll get there.
  13. Steep, moss-covered rocks and tall trees draped with lichens make magic at Mt. Erie. Sounds are muffled by all the soft plant matter, but chances are good that you’ll hear the hoarse call of a raven at least once if you spend an hour up here.
  14. These lichens have grown so long that the wind tangled them up.
  15. This Douglas fir is devoid of living branches and now hosts several kinds of lichens, forming an aesthetically pleasing screen of pointillist simplicity.
  16. Towards the end of the day the forest gets quite dark, but the bright mosses glisten with reflected light.
  17. Serviceberry leaves applaud the last light of the day.