KEEPING UP…

…with seasonal changes is a motivating force. I missed three weeks of spring while I was away. That worried me, because after observing summer, fall and winter here on Fidalgo Island, I didn’t want to miss seeing the changes spring would bring.

But it was fine – when I returned from Europe 12 days ago, tender, green growth was visible everywhere. The spring ephemerals – wildflowers that take advantage of extra light on the forest floor before the trees leaf out – were blooming. These flowers benefit from spring rain too, and it’s been unusually dry. But at least for now the morning dew, and some moisture remaining in the soil, keep the green machine chugging along.

I’ve taken a walk outside most every day, not wanting to miss a minute of this fleeting season. I’m curious to see how spring here differs from spring 70 miles south, where I used to live. Many of the major players in this ecosystem are the same – the dominant evergreen trees, the understory of salal and sword fern, the basic weather patterns – but there are striking differences. Sussing out the disparities, season by season, is fascinating.

I’ve taken walks at a community forest around a lake, at my favorite places in Deception Pass State Park, and at a local park on a peninsula. Those locations are close to home but one day we drove an hour inland to Rockport State Park, where the ecosystem is a little different. In each place wildflowers were blooming, ferns were unfurling, birds were singing, insects were buzzing, and the cool, fresh air gave me a little shiver until I warmed up from trudging up and down hills.

I brought along a favorite macro lens, a wider-angled prime lens, and once, the old Super Takumar 50mm vintage lens, which can be a challenge to use, but produces some unique images. The sun has been bright lately, which isn’t ideal for photographing tiny, delicate wildflowers. I did what I could with the conditions I found. It was fun getting back to Lightroom. I really enjoy pushing those sliders around and manipulating images, but I’m rusty after three solid weeks away from it. In any case, I think you’ll enjoy the fruits of my walks – I hope so. I’ll get back to the Europe trip later – this feels like it can’t wait!

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

1. Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) like all ferns, is interesting to peer at up close. I love those tightly coiled little fists. Some people harvest and eat the fiddleheads, but the safety of ingesting this fern is controversial.

 

2. Bracken again. Slightly different species of this fern grow in North, Central and South America, in Europe, in Africa, in China and Southeast Asia, and in Australia. In other words, it’s everywhere! Cattle farmers don’t like it because it can poison livestock.

 

3. A Twisted stalk, probably Clasping Twisted-stalk, aka Watermelon berry (Streptopus amplexifolius), unfolding in the shady understory of the old growth forest at Rockport State Park. The small flowers hide under the stalk – you have to get down really low to see them. A very elegant plant!

 

4. I think this is a close relative, Rose Twisted-stalk (Streptopus lanceolatus, v. roseus). It’s easier to identify after the flowers open, but what a beauty it is at this stage. Rockport State Park.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

4. Another elegant plant, though many people may not realize it, is our native Vine maple (Acer circinatum). This small forest tree is found, like many of our native plants, from southwest British Columbia to northern California. Close relatives are the familiar Japanese and Korean maples of Asia.

 

5. The little Calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa) is found in cool forests in the US, Japan, China, Korea, Mongolia, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Baltics. The plant depends on particular soil fungi and does not transplant well.

 

6. Calypso orchid petals seen from above. The flower does not produce nectar, but the fancy digs (seen in #5) are quite attractive to insects. Though a bee may leave disappointed, just one more futile try for nectar at another flower may be enough for pollination. Orchids often use this strategy of pollination by deception.

 

7. Looking up in the deep shade of the forest at Goose Rock, Deception Pass State Park. The cheerful oval leaves are the Red Huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium), a common understory plant of our woods. Indigenous people made good use of the small berries. Whenever I see them there are only a few left; the birds and animals always seem to beat me to the berry.

 

8. Pacific Bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa), with its ferny foliage, creates a soft, pleasing picture wherever it grows. It’s a popular garden plant; the nursery trade has hybridized these flowers to produce much bigger, more deeply colored pink blooms, and pure white flowers as well. Rockport State Park.

 

9. Black and white? Color? I chose a highly desaturated look for this sweet fiddlehead unfurling it’s fronds at Cranberry Lake, on Fidalgo Island.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

10. The little Chocolate lily, (Fritillaria affinis) is a western lily of well-drained sites. Locally, it’s often found on bluffs and balds, the open spaces scraped clean by glaciers long ago. The small, brown and gold flowers can be hard to spot.  I had to sit down on the ground to get this angle; this plant was just a few inches tall. Taken with the vintage Super Takumar 50mm lens at f2 or f2.8.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

11. Another take on the Chocolate lily, seen from above and processed in sepia tones. This plant is similar to (but much smaller than) the garden plant Fritillaria meleagris, or Checkered lily, which is now rare in its native Eurasian range.

 

12. Death camas (Toxicoscordian venenosus), at Washington Park, where I saw hundreds of the pretty little plants, which are poisonous from head to toe, to both humans and livestock.

 

13. In bud here are two Common camas flowers (Cammasia quamash). Camas was an important food plant for indigenous people here in the northwest. It often grows near Death camas (above). The flowers are different, but when the flowers are gone it’s hard to tell the bulbs apart, and the bulbs are what people ate. Supposedly, tribes weeded out the Death camas plants to protect themselves against accidental poisoning. Taken with the Super Takumar 50mm lens.

 

14. Here’s an open Common camas flower, in a shadier place, where you can appreciate the delicate lavender color. Also taken with the Super Takumar.

 

15. Spring color is reflected in a fast-moving stream at Rockport State Park.

 

16. Is this a small bee? I don’t know. I was trying to photograph the impossibly tiny flowers of what’s known around here as Sugar-scoop, or Three-leaf foamflower (Tiarella trifoliata). The tiny flowers are scattered along a stem held high over three-part leaves. A delicate beauty, it rewards you if you can get close; in this case the reward doubled.

 

17. A stump of rotting wood is left in place at Rockport State Park. Downed trees are full of possibilities for many life forms, from tough lichens and luxurious mosses to the Douglas squirrels that use them as a picnic table and the Pileated woodpeckers that excavate meals from them.

 

18. Western starflower (Trientalis latifolia) sends up one or two flower stalks on delicate stems, leaving the flowers dangling over the whorl of leaves. It’s a beautiful sight when the pale stars are scattered above deep green leaves on the forest floor. Deception Pass.

 

19. The humble Starflower may have supplied indigenous people with food from its tubers. It’s slightly different from the Northern and Arctic starflower (Trientalis borealis and T. arctica), which grow in eastern North America, and Europe and Asia.

 

20. Stink currant – that’s a fine name! It describes the smell of crushed leaves, not the fruit, which is reported to be unpleasant to delicious, depending on the bush. Ribes bracteosum is the Latin name for this gooseberry relative that grows from Canada down to northern California. I found this one at Rockport State Park,

 

20. A woodland trail at Cranberry Lake, part of the Anacortes Community Forest Lands. Taken with the Super Takumar lens.

 

21. This buttercup (Ranunculas sp.) has lost its petals, but the stamens and developing achenes (the tiny fruits that hold a seed) are the same joyful yellow. Goose Rock, Deception Pass.

 

22. I couldn’t resist including this burgeoning specimen of dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). It was along a roadside at Rockport State Park but of course, they are everywhere!

 

23. Meadow, or Field chickweed (Cerastium arvense) and pink Sea Blush, aka Short-spurred Pletritis (Plectritis congesta) bloom happily in a meadow. Washington Park, Fidalgo Island.

 

24. A Red huckleberry bush gathers a shaft of light angling through the thick canopy of Douglas firs, Western hemlocks, and Redcedars. Deception Pass.

 

25. Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) has come into flower recently. The mid-size bush or small tree graces our roadsides with pretty, cream-colored panicles of flowers. The compound leaves are handsome too, with their elegant tips and finely-toothed edges.

 

26. Fringecup (Tellima grandiflora) is easy to overlook but a close-up view is rewarding. This is another Spring wildflower that is available as a garden plant, with bigger, more colorful flowers. Indigenous people used the plant medicinally. According to Wikipedia, T. grandiflora contains a compound with antiviral properties. Deception Pass. 

 

27. Two Vanilla leaf (Achlys triphylla) plants rise above Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) fronds, which in turn hover over the flattened evergreen fronds of Sword fern (Polystichum munitum). Snow crushed the Sword fern plants while the others slept underground – but Sword fern is putting out new fronds. Vanilla leaf sometimes makes a delicate ground cover in the forest. The vanilla-scented leaves were used to repel insects and perfume living quarters.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

28. A Western trillium (Trillium ovatum) past its prime is still beautiful. As the flower slowly turns deep pink, the petals will shrivel and fall away. See the holes in the leaves? I suspect a slug or other creature chewed a big bite in the plant a while ago, when the leaves were tightly folded to the center. The unfurled leaves now reveal three holes. Rockport State Park.

***

Abundance! That’s Spring for you! This is longer than my usual posts, but the flowers just keep coming! Soon the flora parade will fizzle to a frizz, as our dry summer weather takes hold.

Tilting the Axis

1.

My axis tilted

by a trip. Nineteen days

swallowing

impressions

whole,

or did I pick at them? Bits

and pieces

maybe…

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

2.

 

Or not.

In any case,

I looked up.

 

3.

 

Down.

 

4.

 

Out.

 

5.

 

Across.

 

6.

 

And through, yes, I looked through a lot: through trees, screens, fences, windows, doors, glass cases, and

my camera. That one. A lot.

 

7.

 

8.

 

9.

 

10.

 

11.

 

There were willow trees, and poems.

 

12.

 

13.

 

14.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

15.

 

There were many coins,

there was not enough water.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

16.

 

17.

 

Plenty of good espresso though…

 

18.

 

Planes, trains

trams, buses, cars,

boats and feet –

I used them all,

inscribing a ragged northern European circle:

Amsterdam,

Leiden, Rotterdam,

Ghent, Antwerp,

Lille,

Cologne, Frankfurt, Klein Reken, Hannover, Rahden, Lavelsloh,

Badhoevdorp, and Amsterdam again.

 

 

My brain

was chaos: too little

sleep, too many

sights, sounds, smells,

thoughts

and feelings swirling around in

a joyful stew.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

20.

 

How did I manage?

People. Friends,

relatives, and above all,

that one guy in

the center of it all, kept me

from blowing away.

 

21. Ben, Joe, Ule Rolff.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

22. Elke and Anette

 

23a. Almuth

 

23b. Jeanine

 

 

 

My axis tilted to the Old World,

nine hours ahead. A different time

and place,

layered with history,

awash in art, architecture,

fresh food, abundant conversation,

and in the lovely month of April,

flowers, buds, and birds.

(More of those later)

Then it was time to return to the New World.

 

24.

 

So here I am, slowly digesting

three weeks of impressions. More photos

will follow. Thank you

for being here.

***

 

A few notes on the photos:

  1. A White stork flies near its nest, in the German countryside. These huge, mythic creatures migrate between Africa and Europe, and forage in fields for all manner of meat: insects, mice, lizards, worms – whatever! They’re making a comeback now, after declining over the past several hundred years.
  2. Roof tiles on the street; old town, Leiden, Netherlands.
  3. Cologne (Koln), Germany.  Pollarded trees are much more common in Europe than in the US. Wikipedia says that pollarding, a method of pruning to keep trees to a manageable size and promote dense, leafy growth, is mentioned in an ancient Roman text.
  4. A floor mosaic at the MSK Museum (Museum Voor Schone Kunsten) in Ghent, Belgium.
  5. Somewhere over Greenland, strange land forms rose from the clouds.
  6. A neat row of trees in the German countryside. Long or short, rows of trees appear again and again in the countryside of the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.
  7. A textured glass door in a private home in Germany yields amorphous blobs of pure color.
  8. An old church in Hannover, Germany, viewed through a fine fuzz of new leaves.
  9. At the Wallraf-Richartz/Ludwig Museum in Cologne, excavation work being done next door is seen through a black, textured screen. A museum complex that will have a collection spanning two millennia and ruins of the Roman governor’s palace and a Jewish ritual bath, is underway.
  10. In Lille, France, an old brick building retains only its’ face; mute, empty windows frame the inner walls and the buildings beyond.
  11. Handsome doors in a century-old home in Leiden lead to a balcony overlooking over a canal.
  12. Also in Leiden, a willow tree hangs gracefully over one of many canals that meander through the city.
  13. The Wall Poems of Leiden project began in 1992. Written in a variety of languages, the poems number more than a hundred. It’s quite wonderful to come upon one unexpectedly…maybe this one especially. The photo shows a fragment of “The Hours Rise Up Putting Off Stars and It Is” by e.e.cummings.
  14. Another willow tree on a canal in Leiden.
  15. Strange story – this carved stone in Antwerp records a line from the old song, “There is a Tavern in the Town.” Why? Author Willem Elsschot (a pseudonym for Alphonsus Josephus de Ridder; 1882-1960) was a respected Belgian author whose last work incorporates the lyrics of the song. You can follow the story via quotes that are placed in various locations around the city. Called Het Dwaallicht, or Will-o’-the-wisp, the novella has been called, “A jewel in the treasure chest of Dutch language” (Kader Abdolah).
  16. A teacup and the previous day’s collection of Euro coins. That was early; by the end of the trip, they were weighing down our pockets.
  17. Detail from a still life at the Wallraf-Richartz/Ludwig Museum in Cologne. I like to have a bottle of water handy, and when it runs out, where do I fill it? Water fountains are rare. No one wants to give away water. If I want a glass of water in a restaurant, chances are I’ll pay for it, even if it comes from the tap. We became adept at filling our water bottles in restaurant the bathrooms (not so much the bathrooms of train stations, which cost a Euro to enter). It was disappointing when the sink was so tiny, the bottle couldn’t wedge under the faucet. Water may have been hard to come by, but great food was plentiful, even in the train stations.
  18. Espresso Perfetto in Cologne is a lively, popular cafe in the Italian tradition: your espresso is pulled, poured and served with great care; the little glass of sparkling water is there, the little chocolate too, and the people watching is very, very good. We observed one happy, rotund man come to the counter for tray after tray of delicious pastries to bring to his friends. There is a shiny array of high end espresso machines to peruse, and there are blankets for the outdoor seats, because Europeans aren’t going to let cold weather stop them from enjoying the freedom of a smoke. Or is it life parading by that’s the real draw?
  19. A collage of photos of transport arrangements, from feet to airplanes. In the Netherlands, our OV cards got us on trains, trams and buses, but they weren’t good in Belgium or Germany. No worry – navigating the systems wasn’t too difficult, especially with the help of English-speaking natives. In one train station, where student volunteers kept the line moving for the ticket and information desks, our volunteer was a Syrian native who spoke Arabic, Dutch, English, a bit of French and German. Put us to shame!
  20. A tangle of foliage at Hortus Botanicus, a botanical garden in Leiden. The oldest section dates back to 1590. The great Linnaeus spent time here!
  21. That special guy, flanked by dear friends in Germany. Click on Ule’s name to visit her website.
  22. Third cousins once removed? I’m not exactly sure, but Elke and Anette were great companions on a long afternoon spent delving into family history, by way of the beautifully kept old farmhouse and barn where my paternal grandmother grew up, a pretty village church that dates back to the 1600’s, family photos, stories, and – yum! – homemade plum kuchen and coffee.
  23. a. b. & c.  Three remarkable people. 23a is a blogging friend Almuth, who took us under her wing for a fabulous day in Hannover. Click on her name to visit her site. Jeanine hosted us in Leiden, with brilliant style. Click on Harrie’s name (23c) to visit his website – we enjoyed a great afternoon talking and walking with him. I also met Karl Ursus, and though the photo turned out very blurry, the conversation was clear as could be.
  24. A drawing by Walter Dahn at the Kestnergesellschaft, an art gallery in Hannover.

morning meander, home edition

***

 

1.

 

2.

 

3.

 

4.

 

5.

 

6.

 

7.

 

8.

 

9.

 

10.

 

11.

 

12.

 

13.

 

14.

 

15.

 

16.

 

17.

 

***

These photos were all made early in the morning in my yard, on the last day of March. A nice fog had settled in. When the sun broke through the mist, tiny dew drops sparkled on spider webs, and lit up like diamonds in the grass. I wouldn’t have known those spider webs were there, had I not gone out and paid attention, and if I waited an hour, it would have been over. It can be difficult to let go of what you’re doing and switch gears, but it is so worth it sometimes. 

I used an Olympus 45mm f1.8 lens, at f1.8 for most of the twig photos, at f2, f3.2 & f5.6 for the others, and f9 for the telephone pole. (That would be like a 90mm lens on most digital SLR’s, since I use a micro four thirds camera – an Olympus OM D EM-1, a model that’s now six years old, and eternity in technological terms.)

Old Forest

Under an ancient volcanic mountain on the edge of the North Cascades, a wide river meanders through a moss-shrouded forest of giant Douglas firs, Western hemlocks, Western Redcedars, and Bigleaf maples. Lumber has been a prominent industry here for centuries, so you’d be correct to think that a healthy forest with easy river access would have been harvested at least once by now. Somehow, part of this verdant lowland forest escaped the cut.

“Rockport State Park” isn’t a place name that excites me. It doesn’t make me want to know more. I had passed by the park sign several times without a thought, bound for places like “Diablo” and “Twisp.” But it turns out, there’s magic behind that sign; after reading about the park, I was determined to go beyond the sign.

Winter is quiet in this corner of the world. Few people are interested in walking through damp woods on a chilly day in January.  They’re up in the mountains skiing, they’ve gone south, they’re indoors. So a winter weekday afternoon proved to be a good time to walk the trails at Rockport State Park. The predominantly evergreen forest practically glowed with vivid greens. Leaves, lichens and mosses dripped with moisture, thanks in part to nearby Skagit River. Creeks gurgled, the trees stretched higher than we could see, mist floated in and out of the tree canopy, and shafts of sunlight knifed into the fern-laden understory. The effect was otherworldly. We were smitten.

Two weeks later we returned to walk another trail, where we were treated to a meeting with a magnificent Redcedar tree that has owned that spot in the forest for hundreds of years. Regal doesn’t begin to describe the bearing of that tree.

I wonder what early Spring flowers are beginning to poke though the moss and forest floor litter now. We’ll have to wait until we return from a trip to explore the park again. In the meantime, here are photographs from two mid-winter walks in the old growth forest at Rockport State Park.

 

1. On the Way

2. Greenglow

3. Sword fern fronds

4. The green machine at work in January

5. Bigleaf maple trees were leafless but colorful, from thick coats of moss, lichens, liverworts and ferns.

6. Moisture dripped through multiple layers of growth to the forest floor.

7. Everywhere, fallen leaves were caught on branches, and even trapped in lichen clumps. What’s happening between the decaying leaf and the lichen strands is a language I don’t speak, but sometimes I can feel it – that quiet language of nourishment and constant change.

8. Precious drops of water hung like pearls on a slender piece of Usnea longissima lichen. The lichen will use what it needs, and what’s left will drip down to nourish another part of the forest. A sign of clean air, Usnea doesn’t grow in places with significant air pollution.

9. A fallen leaf from a Bigleaf maple tree has laid here long enough for moss to crawl over it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

10. Age and youth.

11. The bench gives you an idea of the immense size of this old Redcedar. Leaning against it was comforting. Circumambulating it, I paid my respects.

12. A certain someone leans in.

13. Water drop magic.

14. Moss or lichen? It can be hard to tell.  I think this is a moss. Naming the plants isn’t necessary but it gives me pleasure. It helps keep me grounded.

15. A big piece of foliose lichen, probably lung lichen (Lobaria pulmonaria), tumbled to the ground to rest on a bed of Sword fern and Bigleaf maple leaves. This lichen can be found in wet places in North America, Asia, Europe and Africa, and it’s been used medicinally in most if not all of those continents, as well as for dye and perfume making.

16. Trees could be seen at every stage of life and decay.

17. Mist and moss conspired to create an otherworldly feeling.

18. There was elegance along the trail.

19. A leaf caught on a branch, wrapped around it, and stuck to itself. Then another leaf landed on the first one, and they breathed the moist, forest air together.

20. Either my fingers were too cold, or I was too lazy to switch lenses on my camera. I photographed the river in brilliant sunlight with my phone, which doesn’t handle bright contrast well. But you can get the idea – it’s a big river with an abundance of life all around it.

21. Creeks race through the forest to feed the river below.

22. A tree trio in black and white.

23. Thanks to mild winters and abundant moisture, massive amounts of mosses, lichens, liverworts and ferns live in the trees. Bigleaf maples can actually grow roots from under the bark on their branches, tapping into the nutrients of the spongy mass of life.

24. Another Bigleaf maple leaf caught on a twig, in a most unlikely manner. Such a delicate balance, and believe me, I didn’t touch it!

25. On the drive home clouds shifted over the heavily logged foothills. The pale patchwork shows what might have been, if the forest behind us had been logged too. I’m glad those trees still stand.

***

When this post is published I’ll be in the air, hurtling east towards Amsterdam for three weeks’ vacation in northern Europe. While on the road I won’t have the tools I prefer to do a proper post. Another post is scheduled for a week from now, and maybe I’ll post a few phone photos from the streets European cities if there’s time. When I return, I hope to get back to Rockport to see what changes the waking-up season has brought to this beautiful forest.

Lens and camera notes: On my second visit to the park, I used the vintage Super-Takumar 50mm f1.4. lens (discussed in this post) most of the day.  When I wanted a wider view I used my phone.  Photos #2, #3, #5, #6, #7, #13, #15, #19 and #24 were taken with the Takumar. Photos #1, #11, #12, #20, and #21 were taken with the phone.  Photos #4, #8, #9, #10, #14, #16, #17, #18, and #23 are from my first visit, when I used a Panasonic 20mm f1.7 lens and an Olympus 60mm f2.8 macro lens. I used an Olympus 14-150mm f4/5.6 zoom lens that day for #22 and #25.

Spring(ing) Through an Old Lens

The first blooms have opened, the birds are singing, the air is fresh. It’s time for immersion.

 

1.

 

2.

 

3.

 

I can get lost in a lens. Especially the old Super Takumar 50mm f1.4. From time to time I get it out, twist it onto the camera body, dial the aperture way down, and see what happens. (Here’s a video about the lens).

 

4.

 

5.

 

6.

 

The white blossoms of a native Bitter cherry tree (Prunus emarginata) grace a patch of scrappy woods that’s between our house and the one next door. What a lift for the spirit, seeing that sprinkling of white among the bare branches and evergreens. And there are little Indian plums (Oemleria cerasiformis) in the woods, with joyous, lime green leaves and sweet little sprays of dangling flowers.

 

7.

 

8.

 

The emerging energy around the yard is echoed at the state park a few miles away, where red alder (Alnus rubra) catkins glow with color and the rocks follow suit with blooms of lichen, perhaps Orange boulder lichen (Porpidia flavocaerulescens).  Sometimes I wish I could pack a tiny lichenologist, or a botanist in my pocket, and take him out whenever I had a question. I’d pull him out, point to a mysterious lichen and say, “There! Tell me a story about that one!”  If you doubt the existence of lichenologists, here’s an excellent article about one. It’s a great read. Seriously! I included another lichen photo, of a twig with at least four different species on it, just because lichens are cool.

There’s so much to learn.

Back on the trail in the park, diminutive Rattlesnake plantains (Goodyera oblongifolia) nestle in the moss. They will produce slender stalks covered with tiny white orchids; hopefully they will wait until I return. And the humble Red dead-nettle, or henbit, (Lamium purpureum), which hitchhiked here from Europe, is already blooming. Henbit hides its pale blooms under colorful leaves arranged in neat pairs. Seen from above, it’s almost architectural in its orderliness, like a tiny stupa.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

9.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

10.

 

11.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

12.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

13.

 

Then there’s the beauty below, the star of our early Spring forests, Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum). This native shrub delights woodland walkers, hummingbirds and bees with a profusion of charming raspberry-colored flowers.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

14.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

15.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

16.

 

Along the water the steep, rocky cliffs retain enough moisture for clumps of grass to take hold in crevices. I’m drawn by the artful way last year’s tattered leaf blades jostle with this year’s growth. In the forest, Red Huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium) leaves unfurl along green, zigzagging stems. The edible red berries will appear later, but I doubt I’ll get to eat one – the birds and mammals are likely to beat me to it. Next to a tree stump on the edge of the forest, hardy Siberian miner’s lettuce (Claytonia sibirica) blooms. The edible plant can be used in salads but I don’t know whose dog, or which wild creature may have left their mark here, so I’ll pass.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

17.

 

18.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

19.

 

Our common evergreen fern, the Sword fern (Polystichum munitum) took a beating this winter from heavy, long-lasting snow. Clumps of this normally attractive understory plant lie flat on the ground now, their fronds broken and spotted with dead patches. Frankly, I haven’t wanted to look at Sword ferns lately, but a few dried fronds curled against a rock made beautifully intricate shadows, a pleasing sight. No doubt, even the dead fronds can be beautiful but soon their distinctive fiddleheads will begin to unwind, and I’m looking forward to seeing a Sword fern rejuvenation.

Near one end of a favorite trail, the small leaves of Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) dot the dark landscape like a pointillist’s dream.

 

20.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

21.

 

It’s getting late….time to go.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

All of these photos were made with the Takumar 50mm f1.4 lens, during the past week. Yesterday I went for a quick walk before dinner. I rushed out of the house with the old Takumar lens on the camera and a macro lens in the bag. Neither one was the right choice for photographing this Common loon swimming in the bay at sunset. It would have been nice to be able to zoom in closer. It is what it is though, and as a record of a moving scene, it ain’t half bad. So: have the lenses or the camera you’ll need with you – but if you don’t have the right equipment, do what you can and be satisfied.

 

***

 

 

Begonia Beguine

Soon this begonia will go back outside, but for now, it sings and dances indoors. The delicate, coin-sized flowers dangle shyly under arching leaves, and the whole plant appears ready to take flight.  It won’t take off, but in a few weeks I will, to northern Europe for most of April. These posts may slow to a crawl, so thank you in advance for tolerating any irregularity. Hopefully the begonia and her friends will manage without human intervention for a while.

 

1.

 

2.

 

 

3.

 

4.

 

5.

 

6.

 

7.

 

8.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

9.

 

10.

 

11.

 

***

And for your listening pleasure…

 

***

For all except #2, #8 and #10, I used an Olympus Zuiko 60mm f2.8 macro lens with apertures from f2.8 –  f4.5, handheld, natural light only.  For #2, #8 and #10 I used a vintage Super Takumar 50mm f1.4 with an adapter, at f1.4.  The photos were processed in Lightroom Classic and Color Efex Pro, using a variety of styles including solarization, infrared, and film effects.

If only the differences between people were accepted and appreciated as readily as the variations we enjoy in different photo processing styles….then the world would be a kinder, safer place.

***

They Rise and Fall

On a chilly, gray day last week, I ventured out to Cranberry Lake, a community forest preserve on Fidalgo Island. My favorite path there combines pieces of two trails – one hugs a curve of the lake and then ascends a steep hill through a fire-scarred forest; the other traces the long eastern edge of the namesake lake.

The trail that ascends the hill winds through Douglas fir and Western redcedars before meandering through forest openings where Madrone trees and Ocean Spray shrubs flourish, at its highest point. It descends through more Douglas fir and Salal thickets to the south end of the lake, where I like to turn and head back along the water’s edge. The lake is shallow there, and tall, thin tree skeletons standing in the water show that it was once forest. In the 1930’s a dam built at the other end grew the lake back into the woods, killing the trees. Later, beavers moved in and did their work; now a “garden” of stumps and trees draws wavering reflections in the calm water. It’s a fine spot for the visually preoccupied!

Just when I was farthest from the car that day, high on the hilltop, it began to snow. Sparse flakes drifted down through the trees to settle silently on the lake far below me. I’d left my gloves in the car but I continued on anyway, compelled by the poetry of unexpected weather. When I reached the shallow end of the lake, I was surprised to find it covered with ice, like a pale field spread out before me. The dead trees stood mute, locked in the ice, like ancient Greek columns witnessing the history of the seasons.

I carefully picked my way along the narrow, rocky path as the snow thickened. The weather-resistant camera would be OK, but there would be no changing lenses now.  I kept on shooting as one mesmerizing scene unfolded after another. A few steps, a choice, a click. A few more steps, another choice, a turn of a dial, a click. Trees standing, trees scarred from fire, trees fallen across the trail and into the water. Reflections blurring, then clearing, as the air carried more or fewer flakes. Cormorants watching snow sail over the lake from their stump and log perches. A lone Common merganser quietly floating towards the middle of the lake.

The prevailing hush transfixed me. I worked that little black box to frame the layered changes in the landscape, and though wildlife sightings always capture my attention, what stuck with me that day were the trees in all their guises and stages, their varied forms partially obscured by the pointillist haze of snow.

The trees rise and soar, they burn, fall over, die and slowly decompose. And they persist.

 

1. Lakefall

 

2. Sidelined

 

3. Dialogue

 

4. Snowhaze

 

5. Flake Flutter

 

6. Twig Scoops

 

7. Lean

 

8. Fade

 

9. After Fire, Green Returns

 

10. Scarred Trio

 

11. Fallen

 

12. Perched

 

13. Cut

 

14. Tumble

 

15. Honeysuckle Twist

 

16. Towards Whiteout (now my fingers are numb)

 

17. Cormorant Quartet

 

18. Light Gatherer

 

19. Stand, Reflect, Fall, Reflect

 

20. Horizon Log

 

21. Lone Merganser

***

 

 

Just Before Spring

It was one of the coldest February’s on record here, but I still went out for walks as often as I could. Sometimes it was only for a half hour and more than once, my fingers went numb as I worked with my camera. Temperatures are warming ever so slowly. We’re still consistently below normal, but the light is noticeably brighter now, birds are singing, a few buds are opening…

There is so much to see.

 

1. Weathered trees high on a bald overlooking a sparkling sea.

 

2. The late afternoon sun warming the underside of an old bridge.

 

3. The same bridge on another day, seen from a log-crossed, rocky peninsula at low tide.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

4. Thousands of Snow geese being one with the air, the field, each other….all of it.

 

5. A singular rock wiped clean by retreating waves, deep in conversation with the sand, the pebbles, and me.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

6. Svelte rocks that dance and wiggle their way into my heart.

 

7. Or a lumpen rock, strewn with green streamers from an eel grass party, cavorting with smaller stones while lining up its fine white markings with the ten directions.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

8. Magisterial rocks letting their green top coats dry out while drawing sun-warmth deep into their centers.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

9. What else is there to see?  A plum-colored path through a fuzzy fairytale forest draped with ferns, and set with the dark, knotted rootballs of fallen giants.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

10. Patterns shimmering through the air, making their non-linear way into the fir tree boughs, down to the earth, and up into my brain cells. Now, the shimmering patterns are yours.

 

11. And what is there to hear? Plenty. Just listen. Wherever you are right now, stop. Listen.

 

12. Whether sound emerges from a Song sparrow or a fishing vessel it travels through the same air, without caring what it meets. Sound rides the wind.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

13. Dizzying patterns abound, absorbing me into the binary rhythm of light and dark.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

14. The little rosettes of sedum leaves, the soft mosses and dried out grasses – they’re all waiting. Waiting without complaint or expectation in the knowledge that spring follows winter.  They know what to do and they will not fail to express the season.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

15. Old Douglas fir, ancient one, thick-barked, heavy-limbed, ever green, reaches out and invites me to duck under the branches on my way downhill. Thank you. I’m blessed.

 

16. More rhythm. Four straight Douglas fir trees alternate with the sinuous curves of a Madrone tree. The cold water below carries the cries of gulls out to the Salish sea.

 

17. Countless logs roll in and out along the shores of an island. A band of fir trees sucks in the light, hiding it well.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

18. The tides do their patient work, smoothing edges, rounding corners, loosening bark, fading colors….

 

19. The dimpled bark of a Madrona tree absorbs another sunset, burrowing light into every pore.

 

20. How much longer? How many more storms before this Douglas fir topples onto the beach? Not yet.

 

21. Rain.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

22. A lock on the old bridge, with just enough rust. I think.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

23. Water, sky, and earth bounce back and forth endlessly on a cold February afternoon, telling the tale of this one place.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

24. A fallen one effortlessly melds water and light.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

25. The creators, fire and water, bring it all home to us.

 

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

Permutations, variations, revisions and transformations

 

After it finds its way from camera to computer, what’s next for a photo? Does it get tweaked just a little, does it go through a carefully thought-out series of changes, or does it unexpectedly morph into something quite different from the original image?  Normally I don’t stray too far from the look of the original image, but for the past week I’ve been playing with a particular photo that lends itself to experimentation. Those exercises led me to make similar changes I normally might not consider to two other photos of the same subject.

The weathered, twisted juniper tree standing alone on a bluff over alternating bands of water and islands is a real beauty.  I often see people taking pictures of the tree, and its wood has been carved and written on with markers dozens of times. People feel compelled to document both the tree, and their own presence on the scenic overlook. I would never deface a tree but I understand the attraction. It’s a striking sight – deeply rooted, twisted and reaching to the sky, with only a single branch remaining green. It seems that the older this tree gets, the more spectacular a sight it is. I can’t pass that spot without getting the camera out and making more photographs. In fact, you may recognize it from previous posts.

Here are three different photos of the tree that were processed to create a variety of looks. Jumping back and forth between Lightroom Classic, Color Efex Pro and Silver Efex Pro, I tweaked and slid and clicked and experimented until I ran out of ideas. Then I came back and played some more. Here are the results.

 

1.

 

2.

 

3.

 

4.

 

5.

 

6.

 

7.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

8.

 

9.

 

10.

 

11.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

12.

 

13.

 

14.

 

15.

 

16.

 

17.

 

Here’s the tree from another angle, at sunset, with Burrows Island, Lopez Island and the Olympic Mountains in the distance.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

***

Unseasonable and Unreasonable

Yes, it’s word play, but seriously, the unseasonably cold weather here in the Pacific northwest seems thoroughly unreasonable, to me at least. (We could talk about the futility of pairing reason with weather, but that would be another conversation). Seattle’s airport, Sea-Tac, marked its snowiest February on record before we were even half way through the month. The airport might get its coldest February on record, too. We’ve been locked into a nasty pattern of snow and cold for most of the month now, with more snow possible this week.

Winter weather in this part of the world normally consists of a tedious parade of gray days with plenty of drizzly rain and temperatures hovering around the mid 40’s F (7 C). We don’t have a lot of below-freezing days, and when it snows, it usually melts away in a day or two. Usually. But “usually” is just a memory, now that we’re stuck in this unreasonably unseasonable February.

Combine at least six inches of snow on barely plowed roads, temperatures consistently at or below freezing, and a declared state of emergency and you’ve got the perfect storm of difficult winter weather for our area. Then there were the cancelled flights, schools closed for days, impassable highways…we just don’t do snow that well. In these conditions a lovely walk outdoors has become a rare treat. I hadn’t realized until now that I’ve become spoiled by the region’s normally mild weather and the easy access to extraordinary natural habitats.

Of course, what we’re experiencing is nothing compared to many places in the US, Canada, and other places where snow is serious business and cold lasts all winter long.  When I lived in New York I was used to shoveling out my car and slipping and sliding down the sidewalks. Since moving here though, I’ve acclimated to a different reality and I’m just not used to real winter anymore. Imagine my distress when for a week, my go-to coffee shop either didn’t open at all or closed early. During the worst of it, when Seattle suffered through its “Snopocalypse” I had my own crisis, i.e. “OMG where am I going to get my espresso?”

Lest I sound unreasonable, I don’t expect any sympathy, especially from my hardy friends in colder places. This is actually more about a sense of wonder that our blue, spinning earth continues to bring us so many surprises. May it always be so, and may nature always have the upper hand.

***

It all began innocently enough with a light, rather picturesque coating of snow on the third of February.  At home, perfect little bird tracks in the snow and tiny ice balls in the nets protecting the fruit trees were a delightful novelty. The roads weren’t bad that day. Even the dirt road to Cranberry Lake was navigable, so I set out on a cold, careful walk in the woods. The forest was enchanting that afternoon, but my fingers got numb very quickly. I was grateful I had a warm home to return to.

 

1. A dusting of snow at Cranberry Lake.

 

2. Sword fern plants bowed down under coats of mealy-looking, icy snow in a dark corner of the woods.

 

3. The birds were busy, leaving a maze of tracks in the thin layer of snow under the feeders. I singled out one little hop for a black and white.

 

4. An enclosure to protect young fruit trees against deer was dotted with balls of ice.

 

The next day it was bitter cold and the roads were icy. I took pictures indoors, photographed a deer through the window, and caught up on things at home.

 

 

 

Soon the roads improved and the sun came out, but it was still very cold. I drove to a local park one day, hoping the road around it was passable. The boat dock sustained storm damage but – Yes! – the road was open. I drove happily through the woods at the proscribed 10 mph speed limit, stopping to photograph a twisted Maritime juniper tree. After 20 minutes in the cold I retreated back to the parking lot. Hearing the vibration of blasting music coming from a car, I muttered curses under my breath. Then I saw two young women sitting in their car, watching the sunset, and they seemed to be having a great time. Suddenly I realized the music was from the Bach Cello Suites! My frown turned to a smile. What prompted them to choose Bach instead of a hit from this week’s Top 100? I don’t know, and maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised by their choice. I gave them a thumbs up and a big smile. What a nice send-off to that icy-cold day.

 

6. Looking up into the dead branches of a Maritime juniper tree. Imagine standing under this noble tree while listening to a Bach Cello Suite.

 

7. The svelte mid-section of another maritime juniper tree.

 

8. As the sun set that day it left an orange glow behind the Olympic Mountains, 60 miles away.

 

A few days later there was another round of snow, this time in the form of big, wet flakes falling softly overnight, leaving clumps of the cottony stuff everywhere. It was still snowing that morning but I set out for the coffee shop anyway, creeping along on clean white roads. Hardly anyone was out. After getting coffee I drove around March Point and tried to photograph the snow falling but there was little light to work with, and once again my fingers numbed in minutes. Back at home, I noticed our little creek was an important source of fresh water for puffy little Dark-eyed Junco’s that were endlessly flitting back and forth between feeder and stream.

 

9. This little creek is dry as a bone in summer.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

10. Cattails wore top hats of snow over their fluffy seed heads on March Point.

 

11. Leaning stakes probably mark old shipping lanes at March Point, where oil refineries share space with herds of cattle and a Great blue heron rookery.

 

12. The snow thickened over Fidalgo Bay, smudging the horizon.

 

Three days later, more snow fell….is this getting repetitive? You bet it is! I prowled around the yard again….

 

13. A Sword fern seems to shrivel and shiver in the cold. These hardy, evergreen ferns should be OK except for clumps damaged by the weight of wet snow. I believe those clumps will gradually recoup as new fronds emerge to replace the ones that broke under the snow.

 

14. How long before these petite clumps of snow fall to the ground?

 

After that  snowstorm, another bout of cabin fever hit me so I made my way to Deception Pass State Park at a snail’s pace. The parking lot hadn’t been plowed but since it’s on a busy inter-island thoroughfare (and maybe because there are restrooms there), vehicles had been driving into the lot, leaving deep tracks in the slushy snow. I steered my little car along the tracks, stopped, and got out. The staircase under the bridge had been trampled just enough – I could walk down the stairs while clutching the railing (and feeling thankful for waterproof boots). Under the bridge is a network of trails that traces the forested edges of Deception Pass. Only a dusting of snow had filtered down through the thick canopy of trees there. The path was easy to follow but it was dark and cold in the woods. Again, I didn’t last long but just being in the woods, gratefully breathing fresh air, was a treat. A tiny mouse raced past me, oblivious to my presence. He pawed at the snow, searching for food, and then ran off into the dark woods. I thought about my warm home….

 

15. The forest is dark on a perimeter trail at Deception Pass State Park.

 

16. Last year’s Ocean Spray flower (Holodiscus discolor) drips with melting ice and snow.

 

17. The water racing through the pass that day was a cheerful turquoise color, and the view through the tall trees across to Pass Island was delightful.

 

18. The leathery, evergreen leaves of Salal (Gaultheria shallon) cheer up the forest floor in winter. The orange leaves are dead Redcedar leaves from the drought we had last summer. All the snow we’re getting now will help prevent drought in the months ahead.

 

19. The mouse. I enlarged and lightened the photo as much as I could, and it’s still hard to see him…that mouse was tiny!

 

Steps away from the parking lot is the Deception Pass bridge, which has a pedestrian walkway. It’s usually a spectacular view from the bridge, high over the rushing water, but on that day the view was reduced by moisture still hanging in the air. Far out on the water I could barely make out some cormorants, gulls, a few seals, and one sea lion – all working hard for their living.

 

20. Snow on the rocks below the bridge at Deception Pass.

 

21. North Beach from the Deception Pass bridge. No one walks the beach on this snowy day.

 

22. A phone photo taken on the road home that day.

 

One day I ventured off the island to Mount Vernon, a small city with a good food cooperative where I like to shop. On the way I passed acres of fallow, snowy fields. The sun is bright out on Skagit Flats. The orderly rows of crops with their striped furrows converging on the horizon was pleasing to see.

 

23. A bus for migrant workers sits in the field, waiting for Spring. It looks like this is one of Skagit Valley’s famous tulip fields – you can see them coming up. The snow won’t bother them a bit.

 

24. Afternoon sun throws a maze of shadows on a farm building.

 

The snow has melted a little now, but it’s still below freezing at night and not much above freezing during the day. Friday I took a walk at Bowman Bay, part of Deception Pass State Park.  I lingered on the trail until sunset. The tide was out and a lone Great blue heron was busy foraging in the quietly lapping waves. The sun felt good.

 

25. A Great blue heron picks its way through the riches of low tide.

 

***