LOCAL WALKS: Preserve Pleasure


A play on words:

I find pleasure at a nature preserve.

Thankful the land was preserved,

I return repeatedly,

my pleasure thus preserved.

Treading lightly, respectfully,

I help preserve the preserve

for the pleasure of all beings

who live and visit here.


2. Western redcedar and vernal pool.

Certain places become touchstones: we discover an appealing place, explore it, find pleasure there, and return many times. The site gains prominence in our personal lexicon of landscapes. A placid lake surrounded by a conifer forest became such a place for me shortly after I moved to Fidalgo Island. I hadn’t known that decades ago, a group of far-sighted people protected about 2800 acres (1132 ha) of forest land in the center of the island, preserving the area for passive recreation. Once I learned about the Anacortes Community Forest Lands, I began exploring them. Soon I found a touchstone at a place called Little Cranberry Lake. The forest around the lake abuts residential streets packed with one-family homes but it still feels blissfully serene, thanks to thousands of trees that march across the hilly terrain, right up to the edge of the lake.

Just what is the pleasure that I find at the preserve?

It’s the surprise of a water snake swimming in gently swaying S curves, the drama of dozens of blackened trees recovering from a fire, and the white hush of an unexpected snow shower in March.

It’s the slow motion of wavy reflections in calm water and the delight of orchids pushing through soft layers of moss and lichens.

It’s the solid feeling of my own two legs striding down a forest trail or jumping from rock to rock.

It’s the muffled buzz of a Chestnut-backed chickadee and the knowledge that I’m free to go where I choose, at my own pace in this sheltered, serene place.

4. Pond lily leaves emerge from the wetland.
5. One afternoon in 2019, an early spring snowfall took me by surprise. As a whitened sky passed its bounty to the earth all became quiet – the only sound was the light tap of snowflakes landing on leaves.

For a few years, I was in the habit of going to Little Cranberry Lake in the afternoon for a walk along the lake and up into the hills. I had a favorite circuit: cross the tip of the lake, follow a trail around a finger of downed, half-submerged trees, and fork left to climb a hill studded with massive rocks. At a small opening near the top of the hill, I would pause to admire a few old Madrone trees and photograph wildflowers set against pale, gray-green pillows of reindeer lichen. Then I would head back down and return to my starting point by tracing a rock-strewn trail along the lake’s edge. I would gaze at dozens of tall, dead tree trunks dotting the shallow lake and wonder what plants grow on the boggy island in the middle of the lake. Stepping from rock to rock, studying reflections of tree branches, and looking for wildlife, I often entered a blissful, meditative state. On summer days I wouldn’t get back to the parking lot until close to dusk. Sometimes I varied the route and explored the other side of the lake. Always, the preserve offered pleasure and peace.

Then I began seeing broken glass in the parking lot. People were taking advantage of the isolated location and breaking into locked cars to steal anything they thought they could sell. With regret, I stopped using the north lot and switched my Little Cranberry Lake walks to the forested wetlands and beaver ponds south of the lake. Access to that section is from a parking lot on a busy road, where break-ins are less likely. It’s been interesting to explore a different part of the preserve but I’ve missed my lakeside walk. Until a few days ago I thought I would have to walk an extra mile each way to get to the trails I used to enjoy. But I found out there are places on residential streets where you can park safely and enter the woods near the lake. I tried it last week. It was good to walk in those woods again, and good to know I can revisit the lake easily. There are many other trails in the Anacortes Community Forest Lands to explore, and another 2000 acres (809 ha) of state, county, and city parkland on the island so there’s no reason to complain! But I grew very fond of Little Cranberry Lake over the course of those first years living here. You can see why in these photographs, all made during the time when late winter transitions to early spring, from 2019 to 2023.


7. Lake reflections and intentional camera movement; reflections of cedar boughs, and reflected sedges.


9. Puddle abstract.
10. A view across Little Cranberry Lake.


On this Spring Equinox day of new beginnings, it might make sense to formulate an intention to support the preservation of nature in any small way we can. I’ve been reading an excellent book called “On Time and Water” by Icelandic writer Andri Snær Magnason. He asserts that although earth’s problems have reached a scale we find extremely difficult to comprehend, “…it’s possible to nudge the world. That the world is not just an out-of-control and meaningless flood, always in flux; it can be influenced, can be steered in the right direction. Our purpose is to be useful, to make a difference, to increase knowledge, to point the world in the right direction if it’s off course.”


11. Swamp lanterns (Lysichiton americanus) brighten the wetland for a few weeks.
12. The city once logged this land for income but now it is protected.
13. Stumps serve many purposes. Beginning life on a nursery stump gives trees more light, an advantage in a dim, conifer-dominated forest. Eventually, the stump will completely disappear under the growing tree. Western hemlocks (Tsuga heterophylla) often begin life this way.
14. Deer are plentiful on the island but I don’t often see handsome bucks like this one.


16. Plentiful moss (left), evergreen plants like Sword fern and Dwarf Oregon grape (middle), and some aquatic plants (right) add green to the landscape all year long.


17. The modest Osoberry (Oemleria cerasiformis) blooms very early in spring.
18. Moss spore capsules, wet from the rain.
19. This iPhone photo from a few days ago was made while I sat on a rock and gazed across the silent lake. A lone merganser and two cormorants were the only birds to be seen.
20. The subdued, mid-January sun sets behind the clouds at Little Cranberry Lake.




Among the definitions of the quotidian, which I think of as meaning commonplace or ordinary, is this: “something that returns or is expected every day.” Things that return or repeat become almost invisible – we see them so many times we stop paying attention. But if you choose to look, the quotidian has a beauty of its own.

What makes ordinary things so appealing? It must be in part because familiarity creates comfort. We feel secure knowing something will be the same the next time we encounter it. That idea reminds me of Bowlby and Ainsworth’s work on attachment theory, which laid the groundwork for new concepts in developmental psychology. You may remember that through observing mothers and infants, Mary Ainsworth theorized that having a reliable, secure person to return to after exploring the world is critical for a person’s ability to regulate their emotions. Collaborating with Ainsworth, John Bowlby published a now classic book, ‘Attachment and Loss’ in 1969, and decades later, attachment theory entered the mainstream. Maybe you’ve seen a quiz that determines your “attachment style” and what it means for your love life pop up on your social media.

As important as security is, I tend to enjoy things that break up routines. Exploring new places and ideas is exhilarating. Still, routines and familiar things have their place. Everyday objects evoke a particular kind of humble beauty, especially if we pay close attention. In the arts, painting has a long tradition of elevating the commonplace. Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s paintings of peasants, Morandi’s still lifes and Edward Hopper’s corner drugstores are familiar examples. Photographers have explored the aesthetics of the quotidian, too. Dorothea Lange, William Eggleston, Jan Groover, and many others focused on everyday scenes and objects.

But the funny thing about photographing the quotidian is that photographers have a tendency to look for the unexpected rather than the ordinary. Even when we photograph ordinary subjects (or perhaps especially then) we often emphasize something that looks slightly off, a quirk that will hold the viewer’s attention. An ordinary street corner is seen suffused with an eerie light, a chain link fence is blurred except for one link, or the quotidian ingredients of a typical diner breakfast are arranged to fit together like a puzzle.

It’s ordinary until it isn’t.



When we were in Vancouver last month, a friend took us on a neighborhood tour that included a vast construction site. At the edge of the work area, we stumbled across a chaotic pile of discarded materials and equipment. It was the essence of the quotidian. There were coils of rebar, a length of cable, rusty auger parts, a dumpster…do your eyes light up just imagining those objects? Ours did. To us, those prosaic objects told stories about real work, work that we rely on every day but seldom think about. Just the scale of construction can be very impressive. Building materials and tools often have dynamic shapes and intriguing patterns or textures. The rough world of construction can seem exciting to folks like us who spend a fair amount of time at computers or in offices.

So what did we do when we saw that jumble of discarded construction materials? We photographed it.




After we finished admiring the rust goldmine we walked back uphill and came to a street graced with “H-frames.” H-frames are power pole constructions that have been in place in Vancouver for up to 80 years – what I might call Vancouver Vernacular. They’re the kind of quotidian sights that locals usually take for granted but to me, they were an opportunity to see lines and negative space dance an intricate tango over my head. Maybe a square dance is a better metaphor! Even the lamposts and construction cranes got into the act, marking out precise spatial alignments against an opaque sky and twirling pirouettes in the glassy reflections of an office building.




Another recent quotidian find is a building I chanced upon in my own backyard. I was walking down a residential street near the shoreline. I’d never been on that street before. Below street level, jutting out over the water was an old wooden building and pier. I figured it had been a fish processing plant – fishing and crabbing have always been important industries here. It looked deserted and was clearly rundown. There was no way to climb down to it but using my phone, I followed a series of right and left turns that took me to a rough, dirt road that terminated at the building’s side. A truck parked nearby gave the impression that the structure was still in use. In declining light, I made a few photos and promised myself I’d be back.

When I got home I googled the address. It turns out that an enterprising diver named Chris Sparks is using part of the old cannery for his business, Wildcatch Seafood Products. He and other divers collect sea urchins and sea cucumbers around the San Juan Islands at depths of 20-80 feet underwater (6-24m). The delicacies are sold to the Japanese market overseas and sushi restaurants in Seattle. He also sells fresh-caught Dungeness crab when it’s in season. He operates out of the 98-year-old “red cannery” and hopes to renovate it and expand the business. It’s one of only two canneries left standing on the island so I hope he can make a go of it.

That kind of quotidian makes me happy.





February flashed by – isn’t it nice that the shortest month comes in winter? It helps us believe we’re making progress toward spring. In my region, February was cold and wet. Of course, to us cold means near or below freezing, which might feel pretty comfortable to a Minnesotan. Toward the end of the month, there was a week when temperatures plunged way below freezing at night and only rallied to freezing during the day – brr! I was glad I brought my long down coat when we moved here from the east coast. I used to wear it a lot to keep warm on winter days when icy winds whipped across the harbor and funneled down New York City street canyons. I hardly ever wear it here but I did last month. The longjohns were put to use, too.

As if to defy the weather, I went looking for one of our earliest wildflowers on February 10th and was thrilled to find several lovely blooms. I was beaming out there, all by myself, communing with the little purple bells, the wind-swept Douglas firs, and the azure water rippling in the channel below. The tender little Grass widow, or Satinflower, seems far too delicate to be blooming at this time of year. When it snowed later, I hoped the rest of them would delay opening.

Another source of delight last month was lichens of all kinds – plump, pale green mounds of Reindeer lichen (Cladonia sp.), elegant strands of Beard lichen (Usnea longissima), colorful colonies of Frog-pelt lichens (Peltigera sp.), wrinkled skins of lung lichens (Lobaria sp.), and many more. Lichens come alive in winter, having absorbed enough moisture to expand, soften, and show themselves to good advantage. Mosses are a highlight of winter here, too, adding bright green caps to rocks and stumps or intermingling with lichens on tree branches to form intricate mosaics. Buds are swelling on deciduous trees and bushes, lending the hills a soft look when seen from a distance. Longer days give us a little more time to get outside.

It’ll only get better now.

1. Foggy day in a wetland in the forest.

2. Usnea longissima lichens just after a light rain. Gone from much of its original range, its abundance here reassures me that our air is clean. It’s a good thing the land where the photo was made is protected.
3. Have you ever thought about how plants and lichens slow the rain’s passage to the ground?
4. This wetland is just steps away from Bowman Bay, which is fed by the Salish Sea and ultimately, the Pacific Ocean. Winter storms slosh salt water into the wetland, which means different plants grow here. In summer, the yellow flowers of Silverweed (Potentilla anserina) will bloom on the edge of this wetland but I don’t expect to find them in the forested wetland below.
5. This wetland is in a forested part of the interior of the island. Swamp lanterns (Lysichiton americanus) love it here. Their leaves already peek out of the water.
6. Madrones (Arbutus menziesii) shed bark in the late summer months. These pieces are soft from winter rain but if you pick up a piece in September it may crumble in your hand.
7. This green lichen is sometimes called Frog pelt lichen or Dog lichen in Britain. Peltigera brittanica grows on rocky outcrops and along roads and trails, typically in moist, coastal habitats. I believe the dark spots are cephalodia, structures that contain nitrogen-fixing cyanobacteria. So three kingdoms of life are working together here: fungi, algae, and bacteria. Once again I thank Richard Droker for opening a window to the fascinating world of lichens.*


9. Here’s a quick slideshow of Grass widow flowers. I like the name Satinflower better.



10. The sun has set and the owls are hooting.


11. Here’s a slideshow of lichens and mosses observed in February around Fidalgo Island.



12. I didn’t spend a lot of time at Bowman Bay in February but one day during a very low tide, I explored rocks that are normally under water and found this collection of barnacles and snails.
13. I (and many others) have made this picture before. It’s hard to resist doing it again when you walk under the Deception Pass Bridge.
14. February offered pretty days, too. This is Mt. Erie, the highest point on the island and a favorite place for rock climbing.


15. Here’s a short slideshow of plants from Bloedel Conservatory in Vancouver, where we spent a few days mid-month.




16. A waterfall at Lynn Canyon in British Columbia, where we hiked during our visit to Vancouver.
17. Another waterfall at Lynn Canyon, viewed from a suspension bridge. Taking in the breathtaking view while standing on a narrow, swaying suspension hanging 50m (160 ft) over the creek below was a high point of the month!
18. Winter sky, just before sunset.



FARTHER AFIELD: Slow Shutter in Vancouver


“You know, the real world, this so-called world, is just something you put up with like everybody else. I’m in my element when I’m a little bit out of this world: then I’m in the real world – I’m on the beam. Because when I’m falling, I’m doing alright. When I’m slipping, I say, ‘Hey, this is interesting.’ It’s when I’m standing upright that bothers me… As a matter of fact, I’m really slipping most of the time. I’m like a slipping glimpser.” William de Kooning

From “Slipping Glimpser: William de Koonig’s Sublime Take on What it Means to be an Artist”: April 11, 2015. In “All That’s Interesting”


My own slip involves glimpsing carp in a conservatory with a camera set to a slow shutter speed. I was in Vancouver, Canada, for a few days and a visit to Bloedel Conservatory was just the thing on a cold, rainy afternoon. The domed conservatory is filled with tropical plants and free-flying birds, a perfect antidote to the midwinter blahs. As we slowly circumnavigated the walkway a little stream appeared and sure enough, bright orange carp were swimming there, making lazy circuits under a little bridge.

I’ve seen carp in streams in other conservatories and I decided to do what I’ve done before: photograph those svelte bodies slipping through the water as blurry shapes, using a slow shutter speed. Here’s the result (except for photo #8, where carp and water are stopped for a split second). The camera was usually on shutter priority at .4 seconds. I was, as de Kooning said, a little bit out of this world as I gratefully fell, slipped, and found the beam.



9. A watery interlude, sans carp.


10. An earthly pause.


11. The orchids slip, too.


12. Especially when you move the camera.


13. These visitors may or may not have been slipping glimpsers.


Vancouver is a city of more than 2.5 million souls. By contrast, the city I frequent for my daily espresso is home to just under 18,000 people. Scenic, diverse, and stimulating, Vancouver is less than two hours from home but we hadn’t been there since the pandemic closed the border. I wanted a quick and easy change of scenery so now that we can travel freely, it was an obvious choice.

We zipped through customs the first day and amused ourselves with miscellaneous errands and a delectable meal at a restaurant called East is East that serves foods from the Silk Road region. As I warmed my hands on a cup of peppery chai, dark-eyed waitresses flounced back and forth with stylish grace and customers lounged on piles of pillows. The soft murmur of conversations was a pleasant backdrop to a flavorful lunch of dhal and Bombay roti. It was a good way to slide into a “foreign” city, for though we Americans and Canadians share a language and a continent, there are still differences. The pleasure of parsing them is a key part of spending time in Canada.

We explored a residential neighborhood where the houses looked more like certain Long Island and Connecticut suburbs than the houses in our town, which is so much closer. After an afternoon coffee, we settled into an airbnb in North Van (that’s what locals call North Vancouver). Dinner was a pleasantly low-key affair and we turned in early.

The next day we met a fellow blogger, Penny Williams, aka Walking Woman. She led us on an unconventional tour of her neighborhood, the highlight of which was actually a sprawling construction site, Vancouver’s SkyTrain subway project. Very impressive on its own, the site became more compelling when we stumbled across a pile of abandoned machine parts and building materials. Giant augers! Rusty rebar! Half-full dumpsters! I’ll save that for another post.

14. Seen on our tour, a totem pole that was carved many years ago by the Nisga’a First Nations sculptor Norman Tait.

That afternoon we went to Bloedel Conservatory, where these photos were made. The weather had turned rainy and the conservatory’s atmosphere was a welcome respite. As I reacquainted myself with old tropical plant friends (I used to work at a large conservatory in New York) a bevy of girls interrupted the quiet with a silly, tuneless song voiced with the sweet enthusiasm of best school chums on a break from classes. They were clustered together on the walkway, cell phones in hand, trying to get the attention of a cockatoo named Mali. After much effort, Mali began to respond with raucous squawks. She flipped her fabulous headgear up and bobbed back and forth in rhythm with the girls while eyeing them intently. She got so revved up that she had to pull back and rest at one point. Then she started up again, this time adding fancy acrobatics involving her beak, her feet, and her well-worn perch. Eventually, the girls left, waving goodbye with musical giggles. I watched the cockatoo draw her body inward, cast her eyes down, and grow still. She seemed diminished, saddened. I consoled myself with the thought that Mali probably goes through this regularly and gets over it much faster than we humans would.

We walked back out into the cold, found the car, and paused at a pleasantly trendy, friendly cafe where they roast their own beans. Fortified, we then braved the traffic-snarled downtown streets to work our way back to North Van. Well, Joe braved the traffic while I navigated by keeping my iPhone on. Thanks to the map app (mapapp?) we worked our way through the dark city streets toward dinner at an excellent Chinese restaurant recommended by a friend of Penny’s. It was the real deal, at least as real as you can get outside someone’s kitchen in Shanghai. The ambiance reminded us of many meals shared with friends and family at classic Chinese restaurants in New York City’s Chinatown and Flushing.

The next morning we left the city behind for an exhilarating walk across a suspension bridge hanging high over waterfalls and a rushing creek. The Lynn Canyon trail led us through a glistening temperate rainforest to a blue-green pool fringed with boulders and gnarled redcedar trees. Mindful of the time, we cut the hike a little short, promising ourselves we’d be back. The final treat was lunch and it was some of the best South Indian food I’ve ever had. Warm conversations with the owner and his wife, who came to Vancouver from Chennai, topped off a memorable meal. If only they could deliver across the border! We’ll just have to go back.





1. Lysichiton americanus, also known as Skunk cabbage.


Spring is inching forward, working its tender way into my consciousness with light shifts and color sparks. The days are noticeably longer, the grass and moss have greened up, a few birds have begun singing, and the wildflower parade is getting started. On a walk last week, I spotted one of the earliest wildflowers rising from the murky muck of a wetland. Skunk cabbage – it may not be a pretty name and all I saw was a handful of muddy buds – but that’s all it took to inject a surge of energy into my step.

Lest you Easterners get confused, the Eastern North America plant called Skunk cabbage isn’t the same as the Western one. They belong to the same family, the Araceae, but the Eastern species looks different and is arguably stinkier – anyone who’s stepped on an Eastern skunk cabbage leaf knows how foul that odor can be!

Both plants have oversized, bold, cabbage-like leaves and dozens of tiny flowers neatly arranged on a spadix – the candle-shaped structure on the left in the photo above. The spadix (or flower spike) is protected by a spathe, which looks like a large petal. Western Skunk cabbage plants sport a bright gold spathe, which is why they’re also called Swamp lanterns.

2. Skunk cabbage or Swamp lantern buds.
3. Swamp lanterns on March 23rd, a few years ago.

Interestingly, both plants have close relatives in Asia. The Western species is Lysichiton americanus and its Asian relative is Lysichiton camtschatcensis. The Eastern species is Symplocarpus foetidus, with four other Symplocarpus species in Asia. It’s theorized that Lysichiton and Symplocarpus each migrated across the Bering land bridge millions of years ago, eventually finding their separate territories.

I read somewhere that our Skunk cabbage emits odors that vary with the temperature to help attract different insects for pollination. Amazing, right? It fits with my experience. The first time I photographed Skunk cabbage after moving to the West, I entered what I can only describe as an altered state of consciousness. Expecting a foul odor because of my experience with Skunk cabbage back East, I was surprised to smell what to me was a pleasant odor – not sweet like a rose but heavy, musky, and fragrant. As I got closer to the plants for close-ups I inhaled more and more of the scent and became intoxicated by it. No one else was around. It was just the quiet wetland, hundreds of Skunk cabbage plants heavy with scent, and me. I felt like I was truly communing with the plants.

The next year, I hoped to have the same experience, but no! I have never smelled the same heavy scent again even though I’ve been near large clusters of Skunk cabbage several times. It must have been the temperature – maybe the humidity, too.

But I digress (easy to do with cool plants). I want to introduce another plant that belongs to the same Araceae family: Elephant ears, or Colocasia esculenta. This is the distant cousin in the title of the post. Elephant ears are popular garden plants and are the important root vegetable known as taro, one of the earliest plants to be cultivated by humans. The starchy, tropical vegetable is a staple across many cultures, from Jamaica to West Africa, India, the Philipines, and beyond. I like Elephant ears because their giant leaves add drama to a little group of potted plants in front of my house. In winter I bring the plant inside. It’s clearly not happy there but it gets by until I can put it back out in the fresh air.

4. Colocasia leaves begin as tightly-rolled cylinders that slowly unfurl into huge, pendulent, heart-shaped leaves.
5. Elephant ears on the deck last summer.

Elephant ears have the same spadix and spathe structure as their distant relatives, Lysichiton and Symplocarpus. This is what distinguishes the family they belong to, the Araceae, or Arums. There are thousands of Arum species, mainly in the tropics. You may be familiar with Jack-in-the-pulpit or Philodendron, both in the Araceae family. The family has been around for more than 100 million years and includes the giant Sumatran Titan arum, or Corpse flower (Amorphophallus titanum) which truly smells rotten when it blooms, once a year at most. A duckweed called Wolffia also belongs to the Araceae and is the smallest flowering plant on the planet!

I wasn’t aware of all this last week when I was busy photographing the leaves of my Elephant ear plant. It’s an appealing subject and that was enough. But later that day I was walking in a forest that gives way to swampy wetlands, thanks to the work of the American beaver. In the muddy wetland, I saw the first Skunk cabbage buds of the year! It occurred to me that it was similar to the Elephant ear I’d been photographing that morning. I delved into google, and here we are. Distant cousins, one biding its time indoors until it can grace the driveway edge and the other just beginning its annual cycle, snuggled in the wet woods.

6. See the bumps under that spathe? Those are the flower buds!
8. A Skunk cabbage with an artfully drooping spathe.
9. What luck! I found two slugs enjoying each other’s company inside a Skunk cabbage spathe. Black and white works better here. This is one of the photos I made the first time I saw Western Skunk cabbage and became intoxicated with its fragrance.
10. Another handsome Skunk cabbage plant rises from the detritus.

11. An infrared treatment.
10. An Elephant ear leaf in black and white.
11. Begging for more light in winter.
12. A dried Elephant ear leaf.



14. A closer view.
15. Taking liberties with color.
16. Behind tangles of vines, Swamp lanterns beam their cheerful Spring song.



On a cold January afternoon at sunset, I’m alone, but not alone – driftwood, rocks, fir trees, clouds, and seaweed, all sit with me. Diving ducks and soaring eagles turn my head, gently lapping waves quiet my mind. Separateness disappears.

1. January 31st, 5:00PM.
2. January 31st, 5:03PM.

On another day, Douglas fir trees and I share a wind-buffeted view of Deception Island, floating mirage-like in boundaryless waters.

3. January 8th, 3:52PM.

One afternoon we go in search of Snow geese. Tens of thousands of them – some say over 100,000 – spend the winter feeding on agricultural fields on the mainland, about 15 minutes from home. To find them we ply the angular roads that break the fields into neat rectangles. After about ten minutes I spot a thin white line in the distance. It looks like a river reflecting light back to the sky but I am almost certain the white line is a large flock of geese. We drive toward it – straight, right, then left. There they are, perhaps two thousand of them covering the brown, muddy fields. We pull over, roll down the car windows, and watch, transfixed. After a few minutes, a signal we don’t see causes a small group to break away and take to the air with high-pitched, nasal honks. Soon the sky is filled with them, flashing black and white across the gray clouds.

When it’s time they’ll fly back to Wrangle Island, in Arcitc Russia, to breed. For now, they brighten our winter.

4. January 25th, 3:56PM.
5. January 25th, 4:02PM .


By the end of January, buds are swelling on the Red-flowering currant bushes. Never indecisive, they know what to do. They pace themselves with the light, incrementally growing larger and softer. Not too fast, not too slow, strong yet gentle. Qualities we can aspire to as we go about the business of our day.

6. January 28th, 4:08PM. Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum).
7. Cold snap. January 29th, 4:39PM.

Lichens come into their own during the first month of the year. Soft and swollen with moisture, Lace lichen hangs in pendulous tangles. Foliose lichens like the one below look as though they could take flight.

8. January 1st, 4:59PM. Lace lichen (Ramalina menziesii).
9. January 7th, 4:17PM. I thought this was Hypogymnia canadensis. My lichen expert friend tells me it’s Hypogymnia physodes on the left and Parmelia sulcata on the right.
10. January 1st, 4:59PM.

Sunsets needn’t be spectacular. A quiet vantage point on a hilltop perch above a channel or a sheltered spot in a rocky cove is all I need to dream myself into a deep calm on a winter afternoon.

11. January 7th, 4:21PM.
12. January 20th, 5:16PM.

Winter windstorms stretch strands of Lace lichen tight across twig chasms.

13. January 1st, 4:58PM.
14. January 1st, 5:24PM.

Driftwood logs change positions over the winter, especially when a King tide coincides with onshore winds. The massive logs are dense with water but slide some waves under them and off they go. Maybe they’ll land on another beach or maybe they’ll drift back and sit down inches from the last resting spot. When I walk down to the beach the logs appear to have been there forever, as solid as houses. But out in the middle of the channel, I see giant logs riding waves. I know they move around. I just don’t know their itinerary…

15. January 23rd, 5:44PM.
16. January 23rd, 5:54PM.
17. January 23rd, 5:42PM.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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



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?




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.



when I’m on the trails

and when I’m not,


In the park by the sea

here’s what I see

when I’m


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.



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.*



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.


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.


2022 WRAP-UP

Summarizing a year of photography is a daunting task and choosing the best photos of the year seems impossible. If you do choose your favorites and decide to post them, then I wonder if it’s mainly an exercise in self-congratulation. Will the photographer benefit more from the process than the reader? Having said that, I’ll admit that I only wavered for a few minutes before deciding to take a stab at it. I hope you’ll enjoy looking.

So here are some favorites from 2022. Most appeared in the blog this year, some did not. I like posting series of images that tell a story and obviously, this series can’t do that. What I’ve done instead is order the photographs so there’s a flow from one to the next. Below the photographs, you’ll see a summary of the experiences that made this year especially memorable. A slideshow accompanies the story – look for the arrow on the right.

1. Dark-throated Shooting star (Primula pauciflora); Washington Park, Fidalgo Island, Washington.
2. Bull-whip kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana); Deception Pass State Park, Fidalgo Island.
3. Bull-whip kelp; Deception Pass State Park, Fidalgo Island.
4. Lace lichen (Ramalina menziesii) in Spring; Washington Park.
5. Giant white fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum) photographed with intentional camera movement; Washington Park.
6. The Deception Pass bridge in fog, from the Fidalgo Island side.
7. A lichen, probably Eyed Beard (Usnea quasirigida); Anacortes Community Forest Lands, Fidalgo Island.
8. Sunset; Deception Pass State Park.
9. Water vapor obscures walkers and a Canada goose family; Deception Pass State Park.
10. Looking down on a garden of Bull-whip kelp; Deception Pass State Park.
11. A forest path photographed with intentional camera movement; Ginnett Road, Fidalgo Island.
12. Grasses and wildflower seeds photographed with intentional camera movement; Deception Pass State Park, Whidbey Island side.
13. Fog at Mattole Beach; Ferndale, California.
14. A rock at Centerville Beach; Ferndale, CA.
15. Desert detritus; Old Irontown, Utah.
16. A roadside view; Torrey, UT.
17. A view from a trail at Snow Canyon State Park; St. George, UT.
18. Grass seedhead at Kukutali Preserve; Swinomish Indian Reservation, Fidalgo Island.
19. Sunset over the Olympic Mountain Range; Deception Pass State Park.

20. A barely visible bridge in heavy fog; Deception Pass State Park.
21. Wet feather on a rocky shoreline at Washington Park; Fidalgo Island.


Photographically, 2022 was a year of honing skills. I focused more on using wide-angle lenses for landscape views than I had in the past and continued experimenting with intentional camera movement. New Lightroom updates made it easy to select subjects, skies, and backgrounds or to lift the atmosphere of an image with colored highlights and shadows. I began using those edits regularly. I became more selective about what to keep and thought about how photography enables us to record scenes so easily that we often forget to consider the potential emotional impact of an image.

Trips always inspire me photographically and this year was no exception, with a memorable spring trip to the Southwest that included visits to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and best of all, Capitol Reef National Park. In October we returned to Humboldt County in northern California. It was good to see that the excellent Airbnb where we’ve stayed before, the local coffee shop, and the Mexican restaurant we like all weathered the pandemic. We explored Redwood forests, drove into the backcountry, and spent peaceful hours on spectacularly lonely beaches.

The biggest events of the year were not the trips though. They centered around the emergence of new life. At the tail end of January, a Northern elephant seal came ashore at my favorite beach and gave birth to her first pup. The area was closed off for months as Elsie Mae (born 4 years ago on a neighboring island) fed her pup, Emerson. In February I saw them and met the people who protect them, working as volunteers with the Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network. I decided to join the volunteers in protecting the seals and educating the public about the first-ever Northern elephant seal born on Fidalgo Island. It was intensely busy and very rewarding. In June, Elsie Mae returned to the area to molt, requiring more hours of volunteering. Then in October, she came ashore for a rest and we wondered if she was pregnant again. Only time will tell.

In April I had a surprise from my son and his girlfriend who announced they were pregnant – with twins! Late in August, two tiny boys came into this world: my first grandchildren. It’s hard to describe how having a grandchild transforms your relationship with your own child. It gives you a very different perspective on your life, their life, and life itself. Holding the babies brought all my parental instincts back in play. Words cannot do it justice!

Sandwiched between the birth of the elephant seal pup and the momentous arrival of my own grandsons, I had an unusual experience in the forest. I was searching for orchids at one of my favorite places here on Fidalgo Island. Alone in the quiet forest, I suddenly heard a loud hissing sound and saw something jump in front of me. Startled, I realized it was a medium-sized bird, wings fully outstretched, and she – it had to be a female – was furious! She was not going to let me go any farther in that direction. I stopped, looked around, and saw two balls of fluff in the moss on the ground! I could see they were Nighthawks but I hadn’t seen a Nighthawk in many years. It was deeply moving to go eye-to-eye with this wild creature in such an unexpected encounter in the heart of the forest. I apologized to her and quickly made several photos while carefully backing away. It was a privilege to see them – this species is declining here and is not normally seen on the island. And here was a healthy Nighthawk and two chicks!

As if to make sure I understood the theme of new life, one day a doe with twin fawns walked through our yard. Then I found something unexpected in a photograph I uploaded. It was August and I had been photographing Bull-whip kelp in the park. Almost hidden in the giant kelp strands was a small, pure white Harbor seal pup! Later I learned that some Harbor seal pups are born prematurely with their lanugo, a white coat they normally lose before birth. I hope the little pup survived! My own grandchildren were also born prematurely and I see their parents devoting themselves to their care. The babies, the elephant seal pup I watched over for months, the tiny Nighthawk chicks, the baby Harbor seal – it’s been a year to take heart in new life.

Slideshow: click the arrow on the right.