WALK WITH ME

Through fields, down old railroad tracks and along the edges, where June makes and keeps a million promises.

 

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Bees, wasps, ladybugs – insects are busy everywhere.

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Grasses are laden with flowers that few people see, but look closely – there’s another world there. Above us, the Cottonwood trees have gone to seed, launching a heavenly mist of cottonwood snow that collects in everywhere nook and cranny.

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The late afternoon sun shines on foxglove flower spikes, and makes shadow play from the stamens and pistils inside each flower – amazing!  Horsetails have grown as tall as we are and these primitive plants are radiant in the bright light of a late spring day.

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On days like this, it seems the weather changes as often as the road curves.

 

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Animal life is everywhere – rabbits bound into the bushes, mother ducks herd their ducklings (fewer every day, as the eagles take their share), young, curious deer wander about, turtles bask in the sun, and look, there’s even a river otter – or is it a beaver? –  munching on marsh plants.  Speaking of beavers, that lodge is getting bigger again.

 

 

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Wildflowers are blooming and going to seed faster than we can track. Sheer heaven it is, sheer heaven!

 

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The Photos:

  1. Moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria) flowers grow tall and straight along the railroad tracks in Woodinville, Washington.
  2. This close-up may be a little out of focus, but it captures the spirit as a fat bumblebee heads towards another drink at the foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) fountain.
  3. a.) A wasp (?) on a daisy   b.) Two Pacific forktail (Ischnura cervula) damselflies on Himalayan blackberry.. The Pacific forktail is a common, widespread species here, found from early March through November. The Himalayan blackberry was brought here for fruit years ago and isn’t from the Himalaya, it’s from Armenia and northern Iran – and now it’s a ubiquitous, difficult to control weed in the Pacific northwest.  c.) Here’s some “foam” from Spittlebugs, probably the Meadow spittlebug, which overwinters as eggs that hatch into nymphs the spring. Nymphs exude the foam to protect them from predators while they feed. In most cases, not too much damage is done to the plants.  d.) Nothing like a ladybug to brighten the day! This one’s an Asian multicolored ladybeetle (Harmonia axyridis), yet another introduction, brought over to control aphids. So far these little guys have not become invasive, as far as I know.
  4. An unidentified grass in full flower. If you get a chance to peer closely at a blooming grass, do it and you may be amazed!
  5. a.) Cottonwood seeds have fallen onto a fern frond. Female Cottonwood trees bear the seed catkins. An individual seed, little more than a ball of fluff with a tiny dark center, can travel for miles. I’ve watched young ducklings nibble them off the water’s surface, too.  b.) Cottonwood fluff collects in the grass on a city street.
  6. Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is another common plant here that isn’t native. The beautiful flowers are from Europe. but have naturalized here and are often seen along roadsides and railroad tracks.
  7. Field horsetails (Equisetum arvense) can be noxious weeds, but their radial symmetry is quite beautiful, and en masse they make pleasing patterns for the photographer – not the gardener though! They are found all over the Northern Hemisphere and have been put to many uses, from polishing tool to medicine and food.
  8. On the road in the Snoqualmie Valley, an agricultural area just east of Seattle.
  9. Look up!
  10. A well-tended horse farm – excuse me, private dressage facility – in the Snoqualmie Valley.  Called River Run Ranch, it was on the market for $9.9 million a few years ago. The view here includes snow-capped peaks and rounded blue foothills of the Central Cascade Range, and it’s only about 20 miles from Seattle.
  11. a.) Two young deer, a doe and a buck, are curious about me, but at the last minute they decide to circle around, leaving about twelve feet between us.  b.) River otter or beaver – I’m not sure which. Both live in Lake Washington, where this poor photo was taken by an over-exited person – me.  c.) A prosperous looking beaver lodge in the Sammamish River at Marymoor Park.
  12. There she is, sweet thing, keeping a wary eye out. Heading towards the winery.
  13. A Great Blue heron watches for morsels at a shallow bay of Lake Washington.
  14. Nymphaea odorata, the American pond lily, will soon send up flower stems, but I think the leaves are beautiful too. What a striking composition they make with the tall, slender stems of cattails.
  15. The pretty little Herb-Robert (Geranium robertianum) is a common sight around here. Apparently this flower is native to Europe AND North America, at least eastern North America. Taken with the Takumar 50mm lens (see #20).
  16. This fun plant is called Manroot (Marah oreganus). It’s a sprawling, fast-growing, large-leaved wild vine that often bears delicate white flowers and these “cucumbers” (which are not edible) at the same time. A native plant, it has been pout to many medicinal uses.
  17. The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) needs no introduction to west coast gardeners. The California state flower, this drought-tolerant poppy isn’t what you would expect to see in the rain-soaked Pacific northwest, but we are dry all summer, so the poppy manages pretty well.  Taken using an Olympus 60mm f2.8 macro lens.
  18. This lovely wild shrub rose, the Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana ) grows throughout the west. Bees, butterflies, birds, mammals – many wild beings depend on it as a food and shelter source. For me, the beauty is enough.
  19. Again, look up! Unless it’s pouring rain, it’s almost always a good thing to do.
  20. Another native plant, this is probably the Meadow lupine, Lupinus polyphyllus. There are many lupines in the American west, and they’re hard to tell apart, but they’re all wonderful to see in flower. The photo was taken with a vintage lens, the Pentax Super Takumar 50mm f1.4, which requires an adapter to fit my camera. The inexpensive lens has a soft, warm and sometimes ethereal look. A nice way to end a delightful June day of wandering through the unkempt edges of the county, here in the Pacific northwest.

FRAMED and BOOKED

…and photographed.

 

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The story:

This is an ongoing project that I return to every now and then. It started about 14 years ago, when I had a garden and wanted to do something different with flower photography. One day I took a picture frame with a piece of white board inside it, and placed it behind a low-growing clump of flowers. I don’t remember how I propped the frame up but I did, and I made some photographs.  I also placed a blank book behind flowers and photographed the flowers against, or “in” the open blank book.  I liked the play of different levels of reality – a “real” flower, a photograph of a flower as if it was a picture in a book, and the overarching idea of removing a piece of nature from its environment to “capture” it, as one does in a flower painting, or an herbarium specimen. Is one really any more real than the other?

Six years ago I played with the idea again, placing a bouquet of wildflowers I picked in front of a picture frame that contained a white mat and glass. I photographed it outdoors, where the natural light threw shadows of the flowers onto the frame (#6).  Then I placed the bouquet next to the frame so that the flowers’ shadows and reflections fell onto the frame. I photographed that, and included some of the flowers and stems in the composition (#7). This increased the complexity of the image, which now included the “real” flowers and leaves, their shadows, and their reflections. Slivers of reflected sky added blue to the colors on the glass. The photograph itself is a form of representation, a trace we perceive from the original object, a step removed from looking at the flowers themselves. I am often just as delighted, or more delighted, to look at the traces things leave – a shadow, a reflection – as I am to look at the thing itself.

This goes back to Kant’s Ding an sich, or the thing in itself. From Wikipedia:

Kant argued the sum of all objects, the empirical world, is a complex of appearances whose existence and connection occur only in our representations.[2] Kant introduces the thing-in-itself as follows:

And we indeed, rightly considering objects of sense as mere appearances, confess thereby that they are based upon a thing in itself, though we know not this thing as it is in itself, but only know its appearances, viz., the way in which our senses are affected by this unknown something.

— Prolegomena, § 32

 

It’s a good reminder that it’s all about what and how our senses perceive the world; we can’t say that we know anything outside our sensory experiences of it. On a certain level, it’s all representation.

This spring I returned again to the idea of photographing natural objects on blank books, or in empty frames. I draped a few vines growing in pots across a piece of heavy paper, put a frame on top, and photographed it, making sure the composition included leaves outside the picture frame as well as inside it. The urge to frame something is akin to the urge to put things into words, in a way.  We want to preserve and identify and remember a piece of nature, so we remove it, name it, describe it, photograph it, etc. We take these processes for granted, but they’re worth thinking about. Allowing plants to trail outside the frame is a reminder that we can’t really define or capture anything that’s alive, let alone capture any given moment. And that’s no reason to stop trying. There are people who would say that experiencing the flower or the vine directly is superior to viewing its photograph or shadow or reflection. Maybe not. Maybe each way can be valued equally.

 

The photos:

1. – 5. were taken recently, outdoors on a deck. The first has stems of vines that are growing in pots, pulled down across a piece of heavy paper, with an old empty frame placed on top.  The second is a dead Angelica leaf; the next three are dried parrot tulip flower petals.  In #5 the wire on the back of the frame is included. I like both versions – with and without the wire – without the wire it is a more logical picture, but maybe the version with the wire prompts you to think more.

6. & 7. were taken several years ago and are described above. Sadly, the place where I picked that bouquet is no longer graced by wildflowers. It’s a deserted railway bed. Someone got rid of all the butterfly bushes and most of the other wildflowers that were growing happily there – why, I don’t know.

8. (described above) was taken with my first digital camera, a Sony Mavica, which I bought used from someone on ebay, around 2001. It used floppy disks! You could put ten images on each disk, then just pop the disk into your computer, and you had your 3 megapixel images to work with. What an amazing change it was from taking a rolls of film from the point and shoot camera to the drugstore for developing.

9. & 10. were taken recently. I have many small collections of shells and other objects from nature. I have a number of blank books, too. Years ago at an estate sale in a wealthy little Connecticut town, I stumbled across a pile of high quality blank books and bought most of them, for a song. Maybe the home owner had been a book printer – were these the samples?

11. & 12. are different views of a dried Angelica leaf on an old blank book.  13. shows a Queen Anne’s lace flower on a spiral-bound blank book that has black pages.

14. shows a collection of things I picked up on beaches in Oregon and California on a recent trip, arranged on the cover of a large blank book bound in black cloth. The mushroom was found on the beach, too!  The black rocks are from a remote beach on northern California’s Lost Coast called Shelter Cove. You get there by foot, plane, or boat, or by carefully driving 45 minutes down a rough, steeply winding road that’s nearly washed out at one point. One way in, one way out – just hope you don’t get sick when you’re out there. They call the beach black sand but it’s really made of smooth black pebbles, and the shell fragments were hiding among them. But I digress….

 

 

May in the Garden

An explosion of beauty invites closer looks…

 

Worries fall away. Self-referential thoughts and chattering preoccupation fade as the graceful curve of a petal, the intoxicating scent of fruity roses and the crunch of footsteps on gravel light up forgotten territories of the mind.

 

 

 

 

 

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*

These photos were taken at Bellevue Botanical Garden (near Seattle), all on May 21st. I used a 45mm f1.8 prime lens for all except the black and white paired peonies, the peony from behind and the tree from underneath – those three were made with a 60mm f2.8 macro lens. The camera is a micro 4/3rds (Olympus OM-D EM-1) so the lens focal length equivalents on a “normal” camera are about 90mm and 120mm, respectively. I used apertures from f1.8 to f20, for a soft background on some images and a sharp scene across the frame for others, and I often used spot metering.

The processing was done in Lightroom, but I also used Color Efex Pro on about four of these for additional enhancing, to get the image looking more the way I sensed it. The three black and whites were done in Silver Efex Pro, with a few additional tweaks in Lightroom. I’m one of those photographers who really enjoys the processing, so I don’t mind spending time modifying images after I’ve downloaded them. That might be because I was involved in drawing long before I took up photography seriously; I take the same pleasure in manipulating light, form, texture, and color on the computer that I did working with them on paper.

 

BEACHED

I do a fair amount of research before I travel to a new place, but never so much that the sense of discovery is quashed. In that spirit, our road trip to southwestern Oregon and neighboring northwestern California unfolded with a nice balance of the known and the unpredictable: we always knew where we were staying at night, but every day offered up new discoveries.

 

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Take beaches, for example: I’ve seen photos of Oregon beaches and I’ve been to a few of them, so I thought I knew what to expect: crashing surf, vast expanses of sand set with sun-bleached log giants, craggy sea stacks. I expected I’d find sea stars and hoped to spot sea lions. But fossils and rows of geometrically patterned rocks on the beach? No, I didn’t expect that!

 

That’s Beverley Beach, on Oregon’s central coast in the first photo.  We pulled off Route 101 there one day with little more than a sign to entice us. The parking lot is on the opposite side of the road from the beach, so we took the short path following a log-packed creek under the highway and out to a broad, sweeping beach. Savoring the instant “Ahhh” of relaxation you get when you meet the ocean, we slowly meandered south, enjoying the mind-freeing spaciousness and the satisfying give of sand underfoot. It was a brisk day, the sky packed with cumulus clouds, the tide half-way in, the views up and down the beach nearly empty. No ships, few birds, just ocean, earth and sky, and a pin-like gash on the horizon where a distant lighthouse stood.

Soon the landscape changed, and we arrived at a steep, hard-packed mud cliff, oozing moisture from runoff overhead.

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Curious about the muddy cliff, I leaned in, and peering closely, I saw one, two, hundreds – no, thousands – of fossils, arrayed at eye level: a paleontologist’s home run. There were shells displayed at every possible angle, and odd, perfectly spherical protrusions, too. Wonderment is a gift, and we had it in spades that day as we walked the beach, but part of me wishes I’d known a little about the geology here before. I was entranced by the fossils and oddly-shaped rocks but I had no idea I was witnessing evidence of two different formations from tens of millions of years ago: a neat pairing of sediment layers and volcanic ash layers, the now-compacted ash hailing all the way from the distant Cascade Mountains.

Here’s a quick video about Beverley Beach fossils. The photos below may picture the volcanic layer but so far, I’ve been unable to find out what makes these intriguing, sculptural shapes.

 

 

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The beach offered up treasures, too:

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And apparently there are things to eat:

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What a piece of luck it was to choose that beach to explore.

Another day we wandered north on Route 101 from Newport, searching for a spot we remembered from a previous trip on the Oregon coast, a scenic overlook that was as far south as we got that time. Eventually we found it (I’m not called Balboa for nothing!) on a narrow, two-lane road called Otter Crest Loop that parallels the highway.  The Ben Jones Bridge, built in 1927, spans a dramatic gorge overlooking a wild strip of coastline. Inspecting the rocks, once again we found Pelagic cormorants nesting here, on precarious crevices high up on a salt-sprayed cliff. Photographing them proved beyond my capability, but it felt good just to watch the birds swoop in to their narrow perches, and listen to wave after wave of foamy turquoise seawater crashing into the rocky shore.

 

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The central coast of Oregon is so packed with scenic pull-outs, it’s hard to know where to stop. Gunta, an Oregon coast expert who blogs at Movin’ On, recommended Cape Perpetua, a headland which is the highest viewpoint on the Oregon coast reachable by car.  Advertised to provide fantastic views on clear days, Cape Perpetua afforded us a dramatic view of a darkening squall drawing nearer and nearer as the air grew colder and colder. A short loop trail through the woods features mighty evergreens and an old stone and wood shelter looking out across the Pacific.  The intense contrast between snug forest and windy sea was a perfect mix.

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One minute, dark clouds and icy-cold winds bit our faces, the next, sunbreaks lit up the shore:

 

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And then it was on to southern Oregon and a rewarding day of botanizing with Gunta (close encounters with carnivorous plants!). The day after that we romped on another spectacular Oregon beach, on our way to northern California, where house-sized redwoods kept us humble, and a hundred miles from the ocean, in a charming mining town, the oldest continuously used Chinese temple in California kept us humble, too…but that’s another story, or maybe several stories.

 

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ALL THE SOUNDS

On a cool October morning in 1972, I woke up with a plan: I would write down every single sound I heard on that day.  As soon as I was aware of a sound, I began to record what I heard in a small notebook.  At the end of the day, exhausted, I fell back into bed and noted the last sounds I heard; the final sound was “breathing.”   In the following days I went through the notebook, deciphering my scribbles and working out the grammatical kinks, resulting in a 60 page typed manuscript.

Since that day I’ve contemplated repeating the exercise, but the world is infinitely noisier now than it was back then.  In any case, the piece stands on its own: a lopsided record of an ordinary day, made extraordinary by a single-minded focus on sound.

Here are a few excerpts from the Sounds piece, interspersed with images to complement, rather than explicitly adhere to, the narrative.  I noted the time sporadically throughout the day, whenever I thought to look at a clock.  In this excerpted version a line:  ___________  means I’m skipping ahead to a later time in the day.  I begin here at 9:30 am, a few hours after I woke up.

9:30am

light switch turning on

light switch turning off

stomach grumbling

sparrows chirping

blue jay calling

door opening

clothes sliding against each other

door closing

clothes falling on chair

paper falling on the floor

door opening

paper bag rustling

jars hitting each other

door closing

door opening

glass hitting the counter

door closing liquid pouring door opening

door closing

blue jay calling

___________________________

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1:13pm

page turning

lid screwing on

swallowing

glass hitting other glass

paper rustling

biting

chewing

bell chiming

my voice

voice

match striking matchbook

paper sliding across table

paper rustling

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my voice

voice

footsteps

siren whining

horn honking

bell chiming

liquid pouring

voice

my voice

footsteps

humming

chairs scraping the floor

voices

footsteps

banging

match striking matchbook

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footsteps

crash

sirens whining

papers rustling

crash

piece of wood hitting table

voice

my voice

whistling

paper tearing

sandpaper sanding wood

swallowing

fingers scratching head

voice

my voice

burp

laughing

___________________________

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6:40

truck passing on the street

feet stamping

hands clapping

fingers snapping

elevator door closing

laughing

cooing

voice

elevator door opening

elevator door closing

elevator door opening

elevator door closing

elevator door opening

footsteps

door opening

door closing

my voice

___________________

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voice

slide projector motor running

laughing

voices

chairs creaking

whispering

paper rustling

cigarette pack dropping into bag

voices

coughing

pad rubbing leg

blowing

laughing

slide projector clicking

voices

laughing

voices

laughing

slide projector clicking

____________________________

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8:40

my footsteps

ladder hitting the floor

my voice

voice

whistling

traffic passing on street

chewing

bus passing on street

hand rubbing my hair and face

elevator door opening

elevator door closing

elevator running

fingers tapping

elevator door opening

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voice

radio

voices

laughing

whistling

plastic rustling

horn honking

voice

my voice

kiss

voices

kiss

laughing

my footsteps

my voice

kiss

my voice

nibbling

subway passing by

burp

motor in clock running

 

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A few words of explanation: Early that morning I made a decision to record sounds by naming what made the sound, rather than spelling out what the noise sounded like. I quickly realized that trying to write down the actual sound I heard was impossible, in most cases. Using a tape recorder to make an actual recording was not a consideration, because my primary interest was in exploring the relationship – or the space, in a way – between the sensory traces an object makes (our perception) and a record of those traces, a concern that interests me to this day. *

What is different about a sound you hear and the mute, written words that describe that sound? What is lost and what is gained when you step back from direct experience, and put something – in this case, the written word – between you and the experience? What does a day look like when the traces that are left of it are only a written description of the sounds that were heard and some bits of memory? How is the shape of the day itself altered when one sensory component of it moves into the foreground?

I was in my final year at School of Visual Arts in New York when I made the Sounds piece. I had moved back to my parents’ house temporarily, after losing a shared Brooklyn loft and all my belongings in an unfortunate incident. Each morning that semester I awakened to the quiet of suburbia, then I commuted by bus to the city and took the subway to school or to my part time job as an artist’s assistant at a studio on Irving Place. On this October day I went to work first, then walked to an evening art history class, probably with Carter Ratcliff.  Thankfully, those classes were usually a lecture with slides, and were relatively quiet.  But as soon as my friends figured out what I was doing, they made their best efforts to interrupt any quiet that would give me a rest from mad scribbling in my notebook by producing an assortment of difficult-to-describe sounds. A few are seen above, along with my foot-stamping frustration. Unsurprisingly, it was for me, a day of few words.

I used a small notebook to write down what I heard that day. When I was in a quiet place I would hear the page turning. Later, when I typed up the piece, I chose to follow the same page spacing as in the original notebook, so that “page turning” appears at the top of some pages. The piece was submitted as part of my final work for a fine arts degree, and was well received. Now the paper edges have softened, the cover is tattered, and rust is slowly eating into the binder’s metal insert.  I hope to transcribe and digitize it one of these days.

An earlier post on this subject with photos of the original manuscript is here.

The photos:

  1. A light fixture for sale at ABC Carpet and Home on Broadway, in New York City. I took the photo in New York on October 17, 2017, exactly 45 years after I made the Sounds piece.  What goes around comes around; the artfully distressed wall behind the light is reminiscent of the way walls actually looked in downtown lofts in the early 70’s. It wasn’t chic then, it was just what existed.
  2. A rope-tied rock serves as a polite barrier in a path at Seattle’s Japanese Garden.
  3. A view of trees outside a window. A small piece of blue glass in a wood frame rests against the window.
  4. A collection of insects at an eccentric museum inside a Roman Catholic seminary in Mount Angel, Oregon.
  5. At the Seattle Japanese Garden, workers erected a tarp to protect plants while they worked on a new addition to a structure in the garden.
  6. Hoses on the old wood floor of an auto repair shop in Ferndale, California.
  7. The view across the street from the ABC store window where the lighting fixture photo above was taken. This view hasn’t changed since I was in school.
  8. A single rubber glove dropped on a sidewalk in Seattle.

 

 

* A concern with investigating the difference between objects as they are and as we perceive them was prevalent in the 1960’s and 70’s art world. It was a time when conceptual art questioned art itself, and minimalism was beginning to battle it out with post-minimalism, a term coined by art critic Robert Pincus-Witten, who taught at SVA.  Dorothea Rockburne, one of a number of working artists who taught at SVA then, would often bring up Kant in connection with ideas like this one, from Wikipedia:

Kant argued the sum of all objects, the empirical world, is a complex of appearances whose existence and connection occur only in our representations.[2] Kant introduces the thing-in-itself as follows:

And we indeed, rightly considering objects of sense as mere appearances, confess thereby that they are based upon a thing in itself, though we know not this thing as it is in itself, but only know its appearances, viz., the way in which our senses are affected by this unknown something.

— Prolegomena, § 32

 

 

 

 

 

April to May

For pure, unbridled joy nothing beats the transition from April to May, for me. Deciduous trees are covered with tiny pinpricks of intense yellow-green, washing the landscape with pointillist light and color. Birds are vocal, the skies are changeable, and everything is new.

 

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This article arrived in my inbox while I was putting this post together. It’s great news about chocolate! The next time I feel a need to boost my eyesight while processing photos, I’ll grab a few squares.

The photos (with some notes on processing and on the plants):

  1. There are many willow species where I live. I think these are Pacific willows (Salix lucida) with big, bright yellow catkins, thriving in the wetlands at Juanita Bay Park east of Seattle. You can see a few of last year’s cattails in the foreground. The willow trees are way ahead of the cattails, which were just beginning to push their leaves up out of the ground when the photo was made, April 30th.
  2. This gorgeous old Weeping willow is a subject I return to again and again – you’ve seen it here before. The tree was probably planted here decades ago, when the area was a golf course. Now the venerable tree blends into wetlands allowed to go wild and is covered with native Licorice ferns, lichens and moss. I processed the photo to emphasize the mystical, romantic quality of the tree in its present setting.
  3. The ravine behind my apartment rejoices in Spring. Bigleaf maples are hung with chunky, dangling yellow flower clusters, and evergreens provide a cool blue-green backdrop for the maples’ intense celebration of color. The middle tree is an older Douglas fir with branches high up on its straight, solid trunk.
  4. A small and attractive native tree, this Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) grows near the Weeping willow in photo #2, which almost forms a curtain around it. The Red elderberry sports graceful cream-colored flower clusters that become brilliant red berries in Fall, making the tree pop out along roadsides. In this photo the willow branches are all around the elderberry, but I focused the lens only on the elderberry, using a wide, f2.5 aperture.
  5. This time I focused on the nearest willow branches and let the elderberry go out of focus, using the same aperture. Using Lightroom’s radial filter, I reduced the contrast and clarity of the elderberry branch a bit more.
  6. I’m not sure what species this is – possibly a Dryopteris fern, growing at Bellevue Botanical Garden. The interweaving of the two fronds as they grow intrigued me. Ferns are excellent photography subjects and lend themselves perfectly to black and white; remove distracting color and the repeating patterns and uniform structure of the plant become more obvious.
  7. How much longer before these two turtles slip back into the water? The sun is gone! They are Red-eared sliders, native to the US south, not the Pacific northwest. They’ve been popular pets for decades – I remember having them as a child – and sometimes, people release their pets into the wild and they reproduce.  There is a similar native turtle, the Western painted turtle. The other Washington state turtle, the Western pond turtle, is almost extirpated here, thanks to habitat loss and the ingestion of eggs and hatchlings by bullfrogs, which (surprise!) humans also introduced.
  8. Another human introduction, but not an invasive one, is the beautiful Magnolia tree. This one may have been planted at Juanita Bay Park when it was a golf course.
  9. Pacific bleeding-heart (Dicentra formosa) is already forming seed pods by the end of April; the blooms are gone by mid May in lowland locations. Pacific bleeding heart is a native understory flower of woodlands, and a beauty it is, with abundant, fern-like foliage and pale pink flowers set on gracefully arcing stems. When the pea-like pods release the seeds, ants carry them home to eat a nutritious little appendage on the seed, leaving the rest…and Bleeding hearts are spread around. This photo was taken at a local park where the delicate plants thrive along a trail frequented by people and dogs. Somehow it all works out.
  10. The stunningly beautiful little Jeffrey’s shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) is another native flower. This individual however, was planted – at Bellevue Botanical Garden. I remember finding a group of Shooting stars along a wet, rocky trail in the mountains – what a thrill! I saw them again last year on Mt. Rainer on June 30th – a full two months later then they bloom down here. Altitude changes everything.
  11. Talk about tiny! The Piggyback plant’s flowers (Tolmiea menziesii) require patience to see well. The plant is named for the odd way its leaves sprout stems and new leaves. The flowers are tiny, finely detailed, subtly colored gems perched along the stem inches from the ground. I used a macro lens and luck for this photo, and I cropped it. The flowers grow at O.O. Denny Park in a busy, suburban town. Photographed on April 29th.
  12. Peer under a Vine maple tree’s leaves in spring, and you’ll find clusters of small, deep red and cream-colored flowers.
  13. At Juanita Bay Park, a nice marriage of native and non-native flowers: a decidedly hybrid Rhododendron grows amidst the delicate foliage of the native Pacific bleeding heart, whose flower is pictured above (#9).
  14. Looking up at O.O. Denny Park, I saw a maze of Bigleaf maple and Red alder branches with fresh leaves spread out to gather the sun.
  15. The leaves of Maidenhair fern make a frothy ground cover and are an attractive foil for larger, sturdier flowers that grow up through the foliage, at Bellevue Botanical Garden. I used a solarization effect in Color efex, sepia toner in Silver efex, and careful vignetting in Lightroom for this photo.
  16. The Star-flowered Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum stellatum, formerly Smilacina stellata) is another good subject for black and white photography, with its formally arranged, elegantly shaped leaves and clean white star-shaped flowers. This wildflower is native to much of North America; it’s leaves often interweave like those seen here, creating a dense, elegant carpet of deep green under the trees.
  17. A plum tree, perhaps. I don’t know – I didn’t check when I photographed this pretty blossoming tree at Bellevue Botanical Garden, on April 30th.
  18. Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) are beautiful all year long, not least when their foliage is brand new. This was taken looking up and through the foliage, from under the tree. After shooting with a wide aperture, I made a tiny tweak to the tone curve, a few subtle color adjustments, and a little cropping and sharpening.
  19. A close-up of the same tree’s delicate, pendulous flower.
  20. I love the tightly coiled, intense energy of fern fiddleheads. This is the well-known Pacific northwest native, Sword fern (Polystichum munitum). It is evergreen, hardy and tough, growing in all sorts of difficult conditions – almost the antithesis of what one thinks of when one envisions a fern. But nature is full of surprises. And spring has many faces. I touched on just a few here and chose to use a variety of processing styles for the photos. After the dreary uniformity of our Pacific northwest winter, Spring’s multiplicity of form and color is a tonic I’m happy to drink.

 

WHAT HAPPENED?

What happened was, we packed our bags into a little red car

that came from a place called enterprise, and the little red car

went south, south past Portland and

down to the sea. Pretty enterprising. We paused

in Newport, but it wasn’t really Newport, it was down a rutted road where

elk browsed, unbothered by our raised eyebrows, open mouths and clicking shutters.

We were back behind everything, by the slough, wet with rain. After a few days

we traveled on, gathering sights and sounds and smells and

the air of places we’d never been. Cape Perpetua, Yaquina Head, Ocean Dunes,

Humbug Mountain.

Gold Beach, Hunter Creek, Beverley Beach and Brookings. Hiouichi, Stout Grove, Prairie

Creek (now we are in California), Arcata. Eureka, Ferndale.

Ferndale, the slow, friendly, easy little town we came to love.

And there was Willow Creek,

Hawkins Bar, Burnt Ranch.

Yes, it’s a litany, and there’s more:

Weaverville, Junction City, Helena. Horse Mountain, Red Crest,

Myers Flat, Briceland, and Shelter Cove. Shelter Cove, the place of crashing surf, black

sand and triumphant hikers emerging from lost days on the Lost Coast.

Then later, Bald Hills, Patrick Creek, Cave Junction, Grants Pass.

We are back in Oregon now.  Corvalis, and Portland. Twelve days and then home,

home to fat inboxes, piles of snail mail, and thousands of pictures to take us back

and carry us

onward.

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The photos (and there will be more!):

  1. The muddy, pot-holed, hairpin-turned, steep and long road to our airbnb on a slough outside Newport, Oregon. A road that held wonders, once you could relax your grip on the steering wheel.
  2. A forest of Port Orford cedar trees on Hunter Creek Road outside Gold beach, Oregon, where fellow blogger Gunta of Movin’ On lives.
  3. This tiny tree frog makes a big noise, but not when he’s in hand; at our Ferndale, California aribnb.
  4. Lovely, spring-blooming Bleeding hearts (Dicentra formosa) along a quiet back road outside Newport, OR.
  5. Looking up into the Redwood trees at Redwood National Forest, California.
  6. The tide’s coming in at Shelter Cove, on California’s Lost Coast. One road in, one road out, and be ready for 45 minutes of winding, steep, rough road.
  7. A local combing the beach, for what, I don’t know. Beverley Beach, Oregon.
  8. At Myers Beach in southern Oregon, a sea stack and the distant headlands are reflected in the shimmering water of low tide.
  9. The black sand at Shelter Cove is mostly smooth black pebbles streaked with white.
  10. A sea squall rushes towards land at Cape Perpetua, Oregon. It got very cold, very fast that morning.
  11. A hiker rests and takes in the view at Shelter Cove. It’s the end of a three-day backpacking trip up California’s Lost Coast for this admirable man.
  12. Shelter Cove residents erected this sign to warn tourists like us about the dangers of their beach. We were careful!
  13. An old, rusted cleat on a pier in Newport, Oregon, with the town’s iconic 1930’s bridge in the background.
  14. California sea lions try to get shut-eye on platforms built just for them on the Newport waterfront. Tourists can stroll out onto a short pier and watch all day.
  15. One of Ferndale’s many pristine Victorian buildings.
  16. Our little red rental car at Myers Beach, on the southern coast of Oregon.
  17. Alder trees and ferns line a section of the road to our Newport airbnb.
  18. The uncommon Brook wakerobin, a diminutive trillium relative, found in southwestern Oregon and northwestern California.
  19. Redwood trees dwarf the cars on the Avenue of the Giants, in northern California.

 

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REPEAT, and repeat…

Patterns. There’s something very reassuring about them. Whether a consistently repeating sequence of shapes, a loose gathering of similar elements or something in between, a pattern gets our attention. Patterns resonate deeply, maybe because their structure echoes the repeating sequences our brains depend on to configure perceptions and memories.

From well before birth we’re bathed in the regularity of our mother’s heartbeat, priming the pump for countless patterns we will perceive during our lives. As random as the world seems at times, patterns are woven throughout our experience, and like other beings on this planet, we depend on our ability to recognize them. Where would we be without pattern recognition, without rhythm and music and mathematical sequences, without that knack for making sense out of repetition?

Today, I’m interested in visual patterns, and there are thousands of them in my files. Here’s a smattering.

 

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The Photos:

  1. The skylight at the Museum of Northwest Art, a small museum in a small northwestern town a little over an hour north of Seattle. The formerly commercial space was re-purposed by a local architecture firm in the 90’s, and features cedar and hemlock paneling, a spiral staircase, and the skylight, which allows extra light into the gallery space.
  2. There’s something satisfying about window blinds – is it just the pattern? I don’t think so, I think it has to do with our relationship to windows themselves. For this photo I used an in-camera effect to heighten the contrast.
  3. At Seattle’s Japanese Garden the landscapers take pains to do things the Japanese way, lashing bamboo for fences in the traditional style. This one was done recently; it needs time to weather and blend with the landscape.
  4. Seattle’s King Street Station clock tower reminds us that patterns aren’t only found in repeating motifs like the columns on the facade, but are also recognizable gestalts, like the clock. Built in the early 1900’s, this was once the main train station for Seattle but, like train travel, the building has gone through changes over the years. A renovation was completed in 2013 – I should go insde and take a look.
  5. Deception Pass Bridge, which connects Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands, is about an hour and a half north of Seattle. Built high above the turbulent waters of Deception Pass in the 1930’s, the bridge is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s about 180 feet above the water, and trails allow you to walk directly underneath, where this photo was taken.
  6. Patterns in carpets are an old tradition. This is a wool kilim-style rug from somewhere in the Middle east. Originally, most of the patterns woven into these rugs had particular meanings but now, I suspect the primary meaning is, “I hope the tourists like this one.”
  7. Seen in a Seattle alley, a pattern of bricks contrasts with random markings on a wall.
  8. The sandstone’s pattern evolved from millions of years of shifting sand dunes, at Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.
  9. This perfectly posed (poised, too!) lizard lives at a delightful roadside zoo. His wonderful skin is all pattern, in both texture and coloration. The Reptile Zoo is found along U.S. Rt. 2, as you head up into the Cascade Mountains from Seattle.
  10. Veins of fallen leaves and the mushrooms’ striate caps repeat their patterns with slight variations, giving us important clues. What would we do without these tools? How would we know what we were looking at if there were no repeating patterns?
  11. Cascade Oregon-grape (Mahonia nervosa) displays a rhythmic repetition reminiscent of Bach’s music, maybe a Cello Suite. Here’s an article about experiencing repetition in music.
  12. Picking up shells on the beach elicits a pattern if one kind of shell is favored. This little collection is from the U.S. east coast. I placed them (in a pattern!) on a page in a blank book, and photographed it: an instant book of shells. Often called jingle shells, or mermaids’ toenails, these shells can be found from Canada to Brazil, or so I read. In fact, there are many different species of jingle shells and apparently they’re found in Europe, China and New Zealand, but not on America’s west coast. Next week I’ll be on the coast of Oregon; maybe I’ll find other goodies there.
  13. Frank Gehry’s architectural riff on a smashed Stratocaster guitar takes your breath away the first time you see it. Seattle’s renamed Museum of Pop Culture (it used to be called the Experience Music Project) contains oodles of memorabilia about native son Jimi Hendrix. The free-form sheet metal style Gehry favors builds on repeating shapes, though they aren’t as obvious as the rectangles we’re used to. On a sunny day, the undulating, shiny curved walls reflect off each other, multiplying color and shape in a photographer’s dream.
  14. Skunk cabbage is in bloom now in many wet spots across the U.S. The eastern and western species are different, but they share an unpleasant odor and basic form. I think the spadix (the central spike carrying the tiny flowers) may be arranged in a Fibonacci Sequence, like pine cones, but I’m not sure.
  15. At a botanical garden, netting is used to protect plants from hungry rabbits and deer. When it rains, what a pretty sight!

 

 

Invitation

Last year color curled up tight, rolled itself into a ball and hid like a bear in winter. Emerging tentatively

now it spritzes the air with a stippling of pale mint green on charcoal gray branches,

blushes the twigs of dogwood blood red, or gold,

washes the magnolia tree’s petals faintly, with rose and cream

and softens the horizon with a thousand filmy greens

as the swollen buds of birch, alder and maple rejoice.

Color paints the tips of tiny moss leaves gold, and in the wetlands

shines see-through light on brave grass sprouts,

fixes a silky shimmer on the fur of willow catkins,

lights the sky with a delicate shade of lavender blue,

and invites reverie. Color returns, indifferent to all our small sufferings

ignorant of our diseases and wars, just the season’s dependable procession

for now.

 

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The photos:

  1. Magnolia flower; Rhododendron Species Garden, Federal Way, Washington.
  2. Magnolia petals on the ground; Bellevue Botanical Garden, Bellevue, Washington.
  3. Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis) buds and foliage; Bellevue Botanical Garden.
  4. Moss spore capsules; Bellevue Botanical Garden.
  5. Moss-covered rocks border a stream at the Seattle Japanese Garden, Seattle, Washington.
  6. A yellow variety of Red twig dogwood ( Cornus sericea); Juanita Bay Park, Kirkland, Washington.
  7. Native shrubs and trees in early April on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, Duvall, Washington.
  8. More trees and shrubs, including willows, on the trail in Duvall.
  9. New leaves of Red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium); O.O. Denny Park, Kirkland.
  10. Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), another Pacific northwest native; Juanita Bay Park.
  11. Flowering tree and cloud reflections in a stream at Bellevue Botanical Garden.
  12. Forget-me-nots (Myosotis arvensis) at Rhododendron Species Garden.
  13. A pair of Douglas fir cones nestled in moss at Rhododendron Species Garden.
  14. The woods are greening at home too. The moss glows like neon on the branches, but the Big Leaf maple (the gray-barked, spreading-limbed tree) hasn’t unfurled its leaves yet; Kirkland.
  15. Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) and Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) intermingle at Juanita Bay Park.
  16. An old willow begins to leaf out, and bright green Licorice fern adorns its branches at Juanita Bay Park.
  17. An insect pauses on a Magnolia bud at Seattle Japanese Garden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CURVES

Here’s an idea to consider: there may be a recurring motif in your photography and/or your artwork that you haven’t discovered. Maybe a particular shape, line, gesture, tone or quality shows up, again and again. Maybe it’s even echoed in your body, in the way you move.  I’ve noticed that I return to a certain shape over and over again. It’s a curve, a curl, a rounding of line. Almost a circle but not quite, it’s more like an open sweep. Here it is, in photographs I made of grasses in the water and bursting fireweed seed pods.

 

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Word derivation tells us the word curve arose in late Middle English, from Latin curvare ‘to bend,’ and curvus ‘bent.’  Bending has interesting associations: bending the will, supplicating, the bend in the road….but a curve is a little different. Still, I can see the association between bending and curving clearly here:

 

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Here are the curves I’m drawn to again, this time in water. I think curves express water’s essence; formless on its own, water finds curves when other forces or elements act on it.

 

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This recurring curve lives inside my body and mind (which of course aren’t separate, though we insist on separating them). I picture it beginning tentatively, then building: a swoop, a swirl of the arm, maybe a twirl of the body….then I see a spiral floating expansively in the air. The curving gesture may be small and compact, perhaps repeating like arcs made by knitting needles, or the tight twists of a vine, sprung upon it’s own stem.

 

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On a straight path you’ll find me deviating in small, curved side shoots, ever mindful of what is appearing on the periphery. Another way the curve inhabits me.

 

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The curves in a twining house plant I had caught my eye, so I painted the leaf and stem, then photographed the plant and drawing curving together. A pine cone’s perfection of curved stem and spiraling sphere – such elegant curves – prompted me to make an ink drawing years ago, when I studied botanical drawing. Especially if I draw, the curve keeps appearing, rolling up to the surface of consciousness through the interstices of my neurons, neurons that curve in a tangled, unknowable dance.

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The curve I gravitate towards is something I see in the built environment, too. Of course, I’m not the only one responding with joy to curves, as you can see in the Richard Serra sculpture below.

 

 

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The curve has been with me for a long time, and it comes and goes, or maybe my awareness is what ebbs and flows.

 

 

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There’s something comforting about the idea of a motif recurring in my work, something to hang one’s hat on and organize around, perhaps. Not a bad thing is these complicated times.

 

Notes on the photos:

The first is of grasses and reeds in the Sammamish River, not far from home, January 2016.

The fireweed (Chamaenerion angustifolium) seed pods were photographed in a local park in August, 2016.

The Checkered lily (Fritillaria meleagris) was photographed at the Center for Urban Horticulture, April, 2014.

The swirling water photograph was taken at a fountain in Bremerton, Washington, in 2012.

The wave photo was taken at Youngs Creek, outside of Sultan, Washington, September, 2014, at f22, 1/3 second.

The vining stem of a Manroot plant (Marah fabaceus) was photographed in Duvall, Washington, May 2014.

The curving path is at Wright Park in Tacoma, Washington. Photographed last November.

The watercolor and ink drawing were made in the 1990’s.

The curved roof is at the Chinese Scholar’s Garden at the Staten Island Botanical Garden, New York City, photographed in 2011.

The Richard Serra sculpture is at LACMA, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. It’s made of weathering steel and is titled “Band.”  It’s huge (12 feet high), and some consider it to be Serra’s magnum opus. In an interesting review, writer Guy Zimmerman said, “Standing in the Eastern gallery with Band you have the feeling that there is no valid reason to be anywhere else.”  I concur. My take on the sculpture can be seen here.  Photographed in 2016.

The curly, dried grass was photographed at Umtanum Creek, near Ellensberg, Washington, June, 2014.

The carp were photographed last year at Wright Conservatory, Tacoma, Washington.

The beached log was photographed at beautiful Rialto Beach, Washington, on a misty October afternoon in 2013. More photographs from that day are here.