LOCAL WALKS: Low Tide

1. Driftwood. Bowman Bay, Deception Pass State Park.

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Tides are like the earth breathing in and out, in and out. On the in-breath, a myriad of living and once-living things are sucked away from the shore with the water. On the out-breath, everything is pulled back toward the shore and rearranged. In, out, over and over. Endless cycles reveal innumerable scenes for the visually curious, like new paintings created and framed, minute by minute.

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2. A Great blue heron (Ardea herodias) working the tideline at Bowman Bay in spring. Wrinkled and furrowed by the outgoing tide, the sand holds just enough water to reflect the sky.

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Gentle currents of water draw lines and patterns in the sand. Waves scoop and carve hollows around stranded objects. Pieces of seaweed detach, swish around, and come to rest, leaving calligraphic messages behind. Tangles of plant life, artfully arranged chunks of driftwood, rivulets, ripples – the tides yield a never-ending parade of forms on the beach. Delighting the eyes of toddlers and photographers, piquing the interest of gulls and herons, the shoreline is “ever-present, never twice the same.”*

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3. Stones at Rosario Beach are smooth and round enough for strong waves to toss them into the grooves of driftwood logs during high tides.

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Tides wash shorelines the world over but each place where salt water meets land is different. The weather is different, the ecology is different, the geology is different, and the tide cycles are different. Not only do some locations have stronger tides than others, but each high or low tide is different from the last. Many variables are responsible for uneven tides, like bulges in the earth, continents in the ocean, an uneven ocean floor, and an imperfect alignment of the sun, moon, and earth. The seasons and lunar cycles also affect tides.

Here in the Pacific Northwest, a wide strait (the Strait of Juan de Fuca) cuts 96 miles (155km) back into Washington, connecting Puget Sound to the Pacific ocean. That means people living 90 miles from the ocean, like I do, still experience daily tidal cycles. Most places have two low and two high tides per day. In the Pacific Northwest, the lows and highs are mixed, which means that each day’s high tides are at different heights. Each day’s low tides are different, too. Today (at Bowman Bay), shortly after midnight there was a high tide of about 7.9 feet (2.4m). Just before 8am there was a low tide at 1 foot (.3m). The next high tide, at 3:17pm, is almost 3 feet lower than the first one – just 5.1 feet (1.5m). The last low tide of the day is at 6:03pm. At 4.7 feet (1.4m), it will be much higher than the morning low tide. As you can see, sometimes a low tide is almost as high as the previous high tide.

Keeping an eye on tide charts is essential for boaters and I’ve learned it’s worthwhile for me to check tide charts, too. That’s how I know to be at a place like North Beach (below) during a very low tide. Normally only the dark rocks in the photo are visible but during very low tides you can see rocks that have been smoothed and shaped by numberless tides.

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6. Low tide reveals smooth rocks at North Beach. Deception Pass State Park.
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8. Ripple pattern in the sand. Bowman Bay.

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Tide heights can vary a lot, depending on many factors. North America’s Bay of Fundy has the world’s highest tides – as high as 53 feet (16m) – but far to the south, the Caribbean has almost no tides. The reasons for this disparity are too complex to go into here. Though we may not grasp the science, many of us have seen the damage a very high tide combined with strong onshore winds and low pressure does. Whether in person or on media, we’ve seen houses destroyed and shorelines changed by complex interactions between the tides and the weather.

You probably know that around the new and full moon the difference between low and high tide levels increases because the alignment of the sun, earth, and moon magnifies gravitational pull. There are seasonal variations in tide cycles, too – something I didn’t know until I moved to an island. In the Pacific Northwest, summer brings unusually low tides during the daytime and the winter’s lowest tides occur after dark. During the full moon this month, Puget Sound had an extremely low tide, the lowest in over a decade. Foragers and families converged on shorelines throughout the region to experience the extra-low tide, a phenomenon that’s becoming less common due to rising sea levels.

I went to Bowman Bay, my favorite place to walk the beach anytime. I’d hoped to find pretty patterns in the sand but nature had other ideas. What I did find were ribbons of kelp shining in the sunlight (#4 & #5), a bare-bottomed toddler having a blast in the sand, the fresh hoof prints of a running deer, and the same family of Canada geese that I photographed last month. For at least a month these goose parents have kept all six of their goslings safe. I always expect to see one or two fewer, but so far they are all OK.

A few days later the afternoon low tide was still unusually low, so I went to Washington Park. A rocky pocket beach there can be good for tide pooling (searching for creatures in basins of water left by the outgoing tide). The only seastar I found was dead but there were beautiful anemones waving translucent tentacles. Another anemone was the color of an overripe peach.

Something interesting always appears as a result of the tides. These photos are just one person’s observations from walking along Salish Sea shorelines. You’ll find something different.

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9. Tide lines on the rocks. Kukutali Preserve.

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11. Acorn barnacles (Balanus glandula) on a mussel shell (Mytilus trossulus) make a small sculpture gifted by the outgoing tide at Bowman Bay.
12. Anemone tentacles underwater. This might be a Brooding anemone (Epiactis prolifera).

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14. A tiny pyramid-shaped rock created its own moat when the tide went out. Bowman Bay.
15. This arrangement was pure happenstance. The triangular piece of driftwood is also in the first photo, which was made two weeks earlier. Bowman Bay.
16. Eelgrass (Zostera marina) wrapped around a log and tangled with broken reeds last winter at Kukutali Preserve.
17. Eelgrass is important as a habitat for small creatures like worms and crabs and as a stabilizer for the shoreline. Eelgrass is an important food for birds like Brant. Other birds, like herons, eat small fish and crustaceans that live there.

18. The tide’s coming in at Washington Park and the sun is setting. It’s time to go home. Next time, it will be different.

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*The words, “Ever present, never twice the same” are inscribed on a granite marker that was part of an installation done in 1987 by the artist Robert Irwin at Wave Hill, a New York City public garden where I worked then. That phrase, along with “Ever changing, never less than whole” is also inscribed on stones in the Central Garden, designed by Irwin for the Getty Center in Los Angeles.

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LOCAL WALKS: Boundless

Lest anyone think I’m completely tone-deaf or have my head in the sand, I recognize the pain and despair caused by the horrifying mass shootings in this country. I’d like my readers outside of the U.S. to know that I’m deeply embarrassed by my country’s wrong-headed attitude about guns. When I think about parents with young children – even my own unborn grandchildren – I lament the fear and anguish in the face of the unthinkable they live with. One thing we can do is to bring some shred, some little piece of positivity into the world and offer it within our own sphere of influence. Whether it’s art, political action, or simply a listening ear and a hug, we need to counteract the evil.

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There’s a quote from Chuang Tzu (also called Zhuang Zhou or Zhuangzi) that describes how I feel sometimes when I’m outside: “Leap into the boundless and make it your home!” How’s that possible? I think that connecting deliberately to the precise place on earth where I am with all five senses can turn almost any place into a true home and an open, curious mind makes possible a leap into the boundless, the unexpected, the limitless.

Of course, having an open mind isn’t always that simple when the concerns of the day linger in one’s mind. I’ve noticed that it’s easier to let go of petty worries and irrelevant expectations now that I’m retired. Being older probably helps, too. When I worked full time I longed to spend more time outside and I would wait all week for the chance to visit a garden or wander through a park. I worried about the weather, too, and by Saturday my brain was crammed with needs and expectations – not the best mindset for relaxation and creativity! If that sounds familiar I hope you’ll go easy on yourself. Maybe you can take a minute to let all the ideas about what you want to do fall away when you’ve finally gotten your chance to enjoy yourself. There’s no need to do anything more than just appreciate what’s in front of you: your own life on this beautiful planet.

Fifteen photographs made on recent walks in familiar places

with camera in hand

and as little as possible in my head,

eyes up,

eyes down,

eyes all around.

Looking. It’s what we do

in our boundless homes

on earth.

1. I stepped outside one morning when the sun was shining and the air was fresh. Our Sword ferns (Polystichum munitum) look great this year after a pretty wet spring. Watching the fronds unfurl day by day, week by week, is deeply satisfying.
2. Sword ferns have a peculiar growth habit you can see here, a downward droop and an upward push that happen at the same time. The plant in the first photo is further along. The first time I saw these oddly shaped fronds, I was taken aback. Ten years and thousands of plants later they still delight me. Sword ferns grow luxuriously here, carpeting the forest floor all year in bold, green fountains. (The colors aren’t realistic in this photo; I used an Adobe preset and made changes in processing).
3. Late one Saturday afternoon I took a walk on a little-used trail. I saw no one: perfect! The trail is short and doesn’t go anywhere interesting enough for most people. But the little hillside clearing at the end of the trail was magical that day. As many as a hundred nodding, brownish lilies were blooming with lush, green moss and bright yellow buttercups. Our chocolate lilies – Fritillaria affinis – don’t grow very tall and tend to disappear into the background because of their unusual coloration. I couldn’t make a good photo of the meadow but a single blade of grass from last year caught my eye.
4. Heart Lake Road cuts through a public forest near the middle of Fidalgo Island. There are two parking lots and several pull-outs for people planning to hike a trail or fish on the small lake. I chose a pull-out on the side of the road one day and stopped the car. As I got out and was locking the door I glanced across the road and saw this handsome male Wood duck (Aix sponsa) perched on a stump. Wow! These beautiful birds are here most of the year but are rarely seen. I didn’t have a very long lens and didn’t want to get closer for fear of scaring him so I photographed him from where I was and cropped later. Even with that stick in front of him, he was a pretty sight.
5. My favorite fern, Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum) is infrequent on Fidalgo Island because our summers are too dry, except in places like this shady cliff with cool trickles of water from winter to spring. It seems there’s always a breeze and never much light where these ferns grow. I decided to go with it, letting the leaf tips blur and the background stay dark.
6. In mid-April on a lovely spring day when the Salmonberries were beginning to bloom, I saw this little insect and managed to get a photo. iNaturalist tells me this insect is in the Leaf beetle family, Chrysomelidae.
7. Across from a ship repair yard in town there are stacks of beautifully rusted metal pieces being stored. I like composing the shapes into neat rectangles.
8. A closeup of a metal support, with apologies to Linda Grashoff** who has made an art out of photographing the surfaces of dumpsters (among other things) and who inspires me to pay more attention to things like this.
9. Here’s a tiny wildflower, the Western spotted coralroot, an orchid that depends on fungi in the soil for nourishment. Multiple small flowers grow on thin, reddish stems about a foot in height. Corallorhiza maculata is blooming now in our island forests. Robert Frost’s poem, On Going Unnoticed uses this plant to talk about being overlooked but if you take the time to investigate the flowers, you’ll be unlikely to ever overlook them again.
10. This little guy is called a Grainy hermit crab. I photographed it underwater in a tide pool at low tide. I check the tide tables so I can poke around certain places when the tide is exceptionally low, something that tends to occur at new and full moons.

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12. It was a sunny, windy day by the water, making photos difficult. I decided to show the wind by using a slow shutter speed (shutter priority, 1/6 second, F22). I focused in the middle distance to reveal some yellow flowers. The image was overexposed – I should have adjusted the exposure but it was getting late and I was ready to go home. I dragged the exposure down in Lightroom but kept the grass bright because that’s what I saw.
13. On another rainy day I went out just as the rain stopped. The Madrone leaves were kind enough to bead up the raindrops and hold them in place for me to see.
14. A single leaf of a Fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum) springs up from a bed of moss in a forest clearing.

15. A tangle of wild honeysuckle vines (Lonicera sp.) threads through the forest and catches the last rays of the setting sun.

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**You can find Linda Grashoff’s photos of dumpsters here.

The quote above is from The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu (ed. Columbia University Press, 1968) – ISBN: 9780231031479

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LOCAL WALKS: The Bliss of Transience

1. Small camas (Camassia quamash).

The idea that bliss and transience go together may seem counterintuitive since we humans tend to get attached to things and usually find change challenging. But deep pleasure can come from experiencing impermanence. If you guessed that I’m thinking about the here-today-gone-tomorrow nature of spring, you’re right. In spring evanescent clouds mist the trees while flowers grow buds, bloom, and fade in a vivid parade that passes quickly. It’s hard not to want to make these fleeting moments last longer but maybe knowing that every gem-like spring flower is followed by a new one can ease the regret. Maybe fully sensing the beauty of life’s fluctuating rhythms is a better bliss than grasping at frozen bits of time.

Spring arrives in early February here with subtle, barely perceptible whispers. Buds swell, willows sport fuzzy catkins, and a few non-migrant birds sing tentatively. The leaves of certain orchids that won’t bloom for months appear in mossy places at the edge of the woods. This slow, steady unfolding is due to moderate temperatures – most of the time the thermometer doesn’t fall very low or rise very high. Cold Salish Sea waters that flow around our island even out the weather, creating optimal conditions for lush growth. As the days lengthen the greens that pervade our landscape intensify bit by bit, leaf by leaf. February, March, April, May, and June can all make claims on spring in the cool maritime Pacific Northwest.

2. A miniaturist’s dream. This tiny landscape of moss, lichens, and one sprouting plant was flourishing atop a trailside rock well before the Spring equinox. Feb. 18th.
3. A tightly coiled Goldback fern (Pityrogramma triangularis) fiddlehead emerges among last year’s fronds. Feb. 25th.
4. A cool, rainy day in the forest. March 18th.

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7. At the end of March, just before we left for Utah, I checked a location where wild larkspurs grow and found little hairy fists buds. By the time I got home, the flowers were just beginning to bloom (#19). March 31st.

This spring I was away for two weeks in April, during the height of the time when roadsides display one of my favorite sights: the soft-edged, lime-green haze of budding deciduous trees. Acutely aware of the progression of flora and fauna during springtime, I was afraid I might miss something while I was away. But when I returned it seemed that the world had held its breath – the trees were still bright and fluffy and the wildflower show was just getting started.

With my head still spinning out visions of red rock dreams, I stepped into the moist glow of green fields and forests to search for wildflowers. I was eager to check out all the familiar places that I’d been the month before, where I knew wildflowers should be in bloom. But there was one catch: a Northern elephant seal pup, the first known to be born on the island, needed attention too. As a volunteer “seal sitter” for a network that protects marine mammals on the west coast, I felt an obligation to guard the young elephant seal pup and help educate the public. His mother made the inconvenient choice to give birth at a busy state park (the one that happens to be my favorite) on Jan 31st. She nursed him for 26 days and then swam away, leaving him all alone. It’s normal for this species to nurse for about a month and then leave pups to fend for themselves but most elephant seals are born in colonies where the pups have plenty of company. This guy only had humans!

For two busy weeks, I bounced between volunteering, dips into local parks, physical therapy appointments, yoga classes, and the usual chores everyone needs to tick off their to-do list. As the weather got warmer, the park got busier and the human/wildlife interface became harder to control, as one of the photos in the slideshow makes clear. Finally, it was decided that it would be best for all concerned to move young Emerson the elephant seal to an uninhabited island where he wouldn’t be surrounded by curious people all day long. To keep chaos to a minimum, the public wasn’t notified in advance and even volunteers didn’t get the news until the day after he was relocated. Suddenly I was free of my obligation, which was a bittersweet relief. I’d grown fond of this character with his big, dark eyes, sleepy afternoons, and a predilection for resting under the signs we used to inform the public to stay at least 50 yards away. I was glad Joe and I spent a few hours with him the day before the big move. True to form, that afternoon he rested for hours next to one of the signs, then suddenly (suddenly for an elephant seal looks nothing like suddenly for a chipmunk) decided to mosy down to the water, just to stick his nose in. Swimming is what seals are supposed to do but during his time at the park, Emerson mostly slept.

I learned a lot about Northern elephant seals over the last three months. I also came to see the park and its habitat differently. My sense of this park now encompassed an odd creature needing protection, a never-ending stream of curious humans with their dogs, and an assortment of signs and orange traffic cones that had to be moved every day because you never knew where Emerson would turn up in the morning. My cherished vision of this space as a sanctuary made way for a concept that sometimes seemed more like a zoo than a refuge. I wasn’t always happy about that but I learned a lot. It’s good to know this old brain can still be flexible.

But what about the wildflowers? I’ve been outside making the rounds, peering at the ground. The little gems won’t be here for long and that’s the beauty of it – they keep me fully awake in the present.

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8. The Dark-throated shooting star (Primlua pauciflora) is a star of the spring wildflower show in spite of its short stature. April 25th.

9. The same species, five days earlier, in bud.

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12. Rain rolls down the smooth bark of a Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) tree. Most of our rain falls gently; driving rainstorms are rare. If you go out in the rain there’s a good chance it will let up enough to use your camera. April 25th.
13. They’re not wildflowers but these cultivated apple blossoms promise delicious fruit later in the summer if we get there before the animals. May 1st.
14. This odd plant with succulent leaves is a Claytonia, probably C. exigua, a member of the purslane family (Portulacaceae). Known as Serpentine spring beauty, it’s one of several plants that grow comfortably in the serpentine soil at one of our parks. Serpentine soils lack many nutrients and tend to be shallow, which means roots can’t reach deep. This short, if not stunted plant has waxy leaves that help retain water later in the summer when the shallow soil gets very dry. Apr. 25th.

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18. A riot of deep blue graces a rocky bald called Sares Head, high over the Salish Sea. This is Small camas, the same flower seen in the first photo. The small bulbs were dug, stored, and pit-roasted by local tribes. May 3rd.
19. Another blue beauty is Menzies larkspur (Delphinium menziesii). It’s been a banner year for them. They looked pretty on this bald alongside a fallen Doug fir tree and mounds of Reindeer lichen (Cladonia sp.). These are the flowers seen in bud in #7. May 1st.
20. Here’s a flower that doesn’t have any chlorophyll. Dependent on other plants for nutrients, Oneflower broomrape (Aphyllon purpureum) grows near plants that it parasitizes, in this case probably stonecrops (Sedum). Apr. 21st.
21. The graceful Fawn lilies (Erythronium oregonum) have finished blooming. I was lucky to find this one still open on a rainy day. Apr. 25th.

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25. Checker lilies (Fritillaria lanceolata) are doing well this year. I’ve seen more than in other years. Local tribes steamed or boiled the bulbs, which are small and look a bit like fat rice grains. Apr. 30th.

26. An old Seaside juniper tree spreads out near the waters of Burrows Channel. Field chickweed (Cerastium arvense) blooms in the grass.

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Treading along in this dreamlike, illusory realm,
Without looking for the traces I may have left;
A cuckoo’s song beckons me to return home,
Hearing this, I tilt my head to see
Who has told me to turn back;
But do not ask me where I am going,
As I travel in this limitless world,
Where every step I take is my home.

~ Eihei Dogen

from Heine, Steven, translator. Zen Poetry of Dogen. by Eihei Dogen. Tuttle Publishing, 1997.

LOCAL WALKS: Goose Rock Impressions

1. March means storms and clouds over the Salish Sea.

In July of 2018, as we were settling into our cottage on Fidalgo Island I was also busy exploring the island’s parks. On a trail at Deception Pass one afternoon I met a couple from California who raved about two places – Lighthouse Point and Goose Rock. Their faces glowed with the pleasure of being outdoors. They had lived in Seattle years ago and came back to visit friends in the area. Eager to see their favorite places again, they set out on the Lighthouse Point trail, where we crossed paths. I’d never heard of Goose Rock so I googled it when I got home and added it to my list of places to explore.

I didn’t get there until two months later. It was a cloudy day so the view from the 484-foot (147m) promontory wasn’t ideal but what an interesting walk it was. After parking, I climbed down several flights of stairs to cross under the Deception Pass bridge, then began the walk on a pretty trail through the evergreens above the pass. The spectacle of rushing turquoise water funneling through the narrow pass below was impressive. Instant relaxation! A right fork took me uphill through a quiet forest of hemlock, Douglas fir, and Redcedar studded with gently arching Sword ferns. After climbing a while, I emerged onto a landscape of open balds formed by ancient, glacier-scraped rocks. I wandered over to the highest point, overlooking the San Juan Islands and the wide Salish Sea. A mix of pale green puffs of reindeer lichen, soft moss, and colorful stonecrop plants dotted the rocks. I was enchanted by the mosaic of finely differentiated textures and colors at my feet and the misty blend of blues and grays stretching out to the horizon. In the distance, I could see traffic but up there the atmosphere was quiet and spacious.

One of the defining characteristics of this walk is the transition from a moist, shady, enclosed forest to a broad, open hilltop. The hiker is first treated to a plethora of woodland details – evergreen ferns, luxurious mosses, towering trees with thousands of branches, little mushrooms – and then everything changes as the trail opens out onto an open space where you observe the world spread out below. I think both of these experiences, the near and distant views, are nourishing. We don’t have to be in the country to experience the relaxing rhythm of alternating near and distant views either. When I lived in the city I enjoyed finding details on the sidewalks as much as I loved to gaze out my apartment window at the bustling scene below. Near and far, back and forth. It’s healthy.

The meadows atop Goose Rock host a variety of wildflowers in spring and early summer but I knew nothing about them on that first day – in fact, interesting rocks, lichens, trees, and spacious views were quite enough. I went back again on a misty day in November when clouds flew across the sky. That December I climbed Goose Rock and delighted in the intense green of evergreens and ferns after autumn rains. In January I explored a longer trail that wraps around Goose Rock, passing through a dry hillside with different plants and quiet bay views as it spirals up the rock. And so it went, season after season, year after year. I’ve been up to Goose Rock thirty-three times in all since that first September day 3 1/2 years ago.

Here are photographs from my forays up to Goose Rock, spanning the years and seasons. First, let’s tuck under that bridge:

2. Under the Deception Pass bridge (as you can see, the sun was going down – this photo was actually taken on the way back).

THROUGH THE FOREST

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5. A fallen tree sprouts a thick bed of moss, the perfect place for tiny Western hemlock seedlings to get a head start.
6. Trees fall frequently. As you can from these old giants, the rangers only cut them when they block the trail.

7. A small piece of a fallen tree that was cut years ago is now home to a riot of mosses, liverworts, lichens, and plants, surrounded by a garden of evergreen Sword ferns.
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10. A slender summer-blooming plant of the woods, the graceful Foamflower (Tiarella trifoliata) begs a closer look on bent knees.

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12. The trail affords a view of hikers below.

EMERGING ONTO THE BALDS

13. Looking south from Goose Rock on a foggy November afternoon.
14. November is another stormy month in the Pacific Northwest. Unsettled skies are a photographer’s friend.
15. Among the rocks at the top of Goose Rock a whole world awaits the person who looks closely. The succulent leaves of Stonecrop (Sedum spathufolium) cozy up with various mosses and lichens.
16. At the edge of the woods sweet Broad-leaved starflowers (Trientalis latifolia) nestle beside a fallen branch with honeysuckle vines.

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18. It’s June and the meadow grasses are in flower.

WILDFLOWERS AT GOOSE ROCK: A SLIDESHOW

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22. The San Juan Islands and Canada’s Vancouver Island punctuate the horizon.

23. I’d better hurry back down – it’s going to be dark in the forest.

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LOCAL WALKS: Why Go Out?

“Because it’s what I do” claimed photojournalist Lynsey Addario in her riveting memoir about life as a photographer on the front line. Going out for walks is what I do. And although my walks don’t entail the risks that Addario’s outings do, like her, I always bring a camera. Why carry the little black box? Because with it I create new ways to relate to the ever-changing landscape that I live in.

1. This battered, old juniper tree has been carved with initials, climbed by countless people, and photographed innumerable times. It still commands the view with dignity.
2. Same tree, different view, black and white.
3. Another Seaside juniper tree (Juniperus maritima). This one was photographed with a vintage Super Takumar 50mm f1.4 lens.
4. Another Seaside juniper, also photographed with the vintage lens.

With all the talk about technique, gear, or artistic intent, one can forget the sheer fun of photography. That cool little black box with its buttons, levers, lenses, and dials enables us to preserve moments of aesthetic delight, which is reason enough to use it. Beyond that, composing, processing, and sharing images offer innumerable ways to exercise creativity. Black and white or color? Crop? Lighten? Smooth, dramatize? There are so many options to work with, both in the camera and later on. If you take it a step further and share your images then the photographs enter the arena of relationships, which has its hazards but certainly has countless rewards.

So going out with a camera is what I do. It’s very enjoyable – there’s the motivation. But where? Why one place and not another? The decision to head toward one particular place has many facets. There are practical considerations – it can’t be too far away, too crowded, too this, too that. But there’s something less easily articulated that guides me too, an atmosphere perhaps. The more time you spend in a place, the more you get inside its unique atmosphere, what I sometimes call the “placeness.” Having lived in this location for almost four years now, I’ve gleaned the flavor of each place. And they all offer possibilities, both expected and unexpected.

This post centers around a 220-acre bulge on the northwest corner of Fidalgo Island that was preserved as parkland long ago. Used for camping, walking, and boating, it’s popular with locals but I always manage to find a quiet spot where the slow rhythms of nature take over. Miles of rocky shoreline surround a forested center, traced by a maze of trails. The trails that cut through the forest and lead to open balds above the water are my favorites. They’re crowded with unusual plants like the rugged Seaside junipers and colorful Madrone trees that make fine subjects for any artist. Often there’s a hush on the trail, broken only by the croak of a raven or the whirr of a distant motorboat. My gaze switches back and forth from expanses of blue-green water dotted with islands to the tiny wildflowers, odd ferns, and tough lichens at my feet. Even the rocks draw my admiration.

5. Rocks sometimes steal the scene. That’s another Seaside juniper it.

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7. Is it possible to fall in love with the colors of a rock? The little black box whispers yes.
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10. This sensuous curve belongs to a Madrone tree (Arbutus menziesii).

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12. Bark peeling off a fire-damaged Madrone.
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14. Dead Madrone leaves, Madrone berries, and peels of Madrone bark litter the ground.

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16. Two lichen species, two mosses, and the new leaves of an unidentified wildflower mingle at ground level in late winter.
17. In early spring the buds of a shrub light up the edge of the woods.

18. Another photograph made with the vintage Takumar lens.
19. Now we’re looking into the water at low tide. This is a side view of an Aggregating anemone holding its bright pink tentacles close in.

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21. A snowy vista at the edge of the park.

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These photographs were all made at Washington Park in the cooler months. When it warms up there are wildflowers in the meadows and on the forest floor – a whole other subject. By mid-summer, the flowers are mostly finished. The grass dries out, the lichens are brittle, and I’m waiting for the fall rains. Then I’ll go back and explore again.

Previous posts about Washington Park are here and here.

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INKLING*

A month before the Spring equinox, this

here-now world

brightens, greens, expands.

Tentative birdsongs are more insistent. Scents elude me in

the cold morning air, save for woodsmoke wafting from

the neighbor’s chimney. Chores abandoned,

I poke along a narrow trail, alert

to the floods of tiny green shoots

that crowd the way. Wild honeysuckle vines sprout new leaves

and the sturdy stonecrop’s succulent leaves bulge

with winter rain. Wildflower, fern,

moss, lichen – they’re all jamming in

perfect harmony: a breathing, life-affirming

wildgarden.

Down below, blue-green seawater spreads

across the bay like a bright tablecloth set for no one

– except the Buffleheads, the Harbor seals, the

fish, and the insects threading erratic paths

above the water.

I sense the hush of a pregnant moment between winter and spring.

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The lichens, the budding trees, the awakened birds

go on with their lives. No need to think about pauses,

no need to roll words through their brains

in a doomed attempt

to describe the beauty that

they are.

***

1. Tall Douglas firs grace the shores of the pass. At their feet, lush gardens of ferns, moss, lichens, and wildflowers bask in the always-moist environment.
2. The new leaves of Licorice fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza) appeared last fall with the rain that arrived after our summer drought. All winter they’ve been green beacons of hope.
3. Ocean spray, or Ironwood (Holodiscus discolor) is unfolding its leaves now but the gracefully drooping, creamy white flower clusters won’t open until June.
4. Raindrops cling to a rootlet on the underside of a huge, downed Douglas fir tree.
5. Storm clouds break over Skagit Bay. The rain here falls as snow in the mountains, snow that will melt and nourish us here in the lowlands through the dry summer months.

*

6. Douglas firs cling precariously to rocks at Bowman Bay, last summer’s grasses continue their slow decline, and rushes are reflected in the calm water of Heart Lake.

*

7. Which plant is it? I’m not sure but the message is clear.
8. This is probably Pacific willow (Salix lucida ssp. lasiandra), a large, spreading shrub that likes wet areas like the lakeside where I photographed it.
9. Douglas firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii) cling to the rocks on the Lighthouse Point trail at Deception Pass State Park. A bright carpet of moss, grass, and wildflowers spreads underneath the trees.
10. A long-dead tree supports a colorful patchwork of lichens. They may not die back in winter like the wildflowers do, but their colors still convey the message of spring to my mind.

11. The diminutive Rattlesnake plantain’s leaves (Goodyera oblongifolia) have been hugging the ground for months. They look especially fresh these days. A tiny garden of golf tee-shaped lichens (Cladonia sp.), moss, a Douglas fir branch tip, and more lichens decorates a rock along a steep trail in a mature forest. Nearby, plump, green rosettes of Broadleaf stonecrop (Sedum spathulifolium) snuggle into the folds of a Peltigera lichen. More lichens and moss (maybe Common haircap moss – Polytrichum commune) surround them. The stonecrop will send up stalks of yellow flowers in May or June and the Rattlesnake plantain, (actually an orchid) will bloom in July.

*

12. Tightly curled leaves of Yellow pond lilies (Nuphar polysepala) will open soon in the shallow water of Little Cranberry Lake, where beavers are continually creating the kind of habitat this plant prefers.
13. Willows by the roadside, a glorious sight.
14. Here’s Little Cranberry Lake again. A single pair of wild Trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator) rest on a half-submerged log in deep shade. Soon they’ll head to Alaska or northwestern Canada to breed. They’ll be back late next year.

*

*inkling (n.)

c. 1400, apparently from the gerund of the Middle English verb inclen “utter in an undertone, hint at, hint” (mid-14c.), which is of unknown origin; perhaps it is related to Old English inca “doubt, suspicion, question, scruple.” However the earliest record of the word is as a nyngkiling; and The Middle English Compendium offers that this is not a misdivision of an inkling but rather suggests the word is a nasalized variant of nikking “a hint, slight indication,” gerundive of the Middle English verb nikken “to mark (a text) for correction” (mid-15c.), from nik (n.) “a notch, tally” (see nick (n.)).

From https://www.etymonline.com/word/inkling

WATERSIDE, WINTER

The weather has quieted.

A parade of typical winter days and nights

plods through the month,

not terribly cold, certainly not warm,

some sun, lots of clouds,

rain that comes and goes.

The weather doesn’t keep me indoors but

I have to push myself more than I would in spring

when wildflowers pique my curiosity, propelling me outside

day after miraculous day.

But in this dimmer season, devoid of birdsong,

I can’t complain.

There’s plenty to see –

small bits to stumble across,

wide views where the soul can rest,

modest miracles, startling finds,

refreshment

each time I venture outside.

*

1. Our life-giving sun is setting in the west over the Salish Sea, illuminating the Deception Pass bridge.

2. A broken blade of Bullwhip kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) lies on the beach where the outgoing tide left it (for me?). This giant seaweed is an alga that reproduces by way of spores, not flowers. From a tiny spore, it reaches 30 – 100 feet (10 – 30 m) in less than a year. Then it dies and pieces wash ashore all winter, like this one.
3. The prolific Bull kelp is found from central California to Alaska’s Aleutian Islands in cold, fairly deep water. A root-like holdfast anchors it to the seafloor. Near the water’s surface, the stipe (like a stem) widens into a hollow, bulb-like float that contains gas, allowing the blades (like leaves) to float near the surface and gather sunlight for photosynthesis.
.
4. Winter storms have left countless pieces of kelp on the beaches. This one nuzzles up to a fragment of Sea lettuce (Ulva lactuca).

*

*

6. A lone figure stands on the rocks (in the middle) enjoying a cloud-laden sunset view of the Olympic Mountain Range, 60 miles (96km) to the southwest.

7. A Bullwhip kelp stipe floats on the gentle waves of an outgoing tide.
8. A hieroglyphic kelp bed viewed from a rocky promontory called Rosario Head that juts out into the rich waters of the Salish Sea.
9. These Bullwhip kelp blades are still attached to the stipe. When the tide comes back in, where will the kelp go?
10.
11. King tides and winter storms have pushed heavy driftwood logs into an old Sitka spruce tree (Picea sitchensis). Every time I pass this tree I wonder how much longer until the tides undercut its shallow roots enough to make it lean and finally fall. Like Bullwhip kelp, Sitka spruce ranges along the American west coast from southern Alaska, through Washington and Oregon, to northern California. Bullwhip kelp is a very large alga; likewise, the Sitka spruce is a very large tree. One Sitka spruce, named the Queets spruce, lives on the other side of the mountains seen above in #6 and is around 250′ (76m) tall. In Canada, the Carmanah Giant is much taller, at over 314 ft (96m).
As Sitka spruce trees and Bullwhip kelp coexist in this bountiful region, pieces of kelp wash ashore to rest at the foot of this spruce tree, or even in its lower branches. And perhaps spruce needles blow across the water to land atop a bed of kelp. While Sitka spruce trees can live to 700 years, Bullwhip kelp completes its life cycle in less than a year, but both depend on the grand cycle of the rolling earth, soaking up the sun and resting in the dark of each new day.
12. Bits of shell, rock, wood, plants, and who knows what else: a pleasing puzzle found on a nearby beach.
13. The tide rolled two logs onto the old boat launch. They’ve been there for weeks. I like the formal simplicity of repeating parallel lines.
14.
15. The old pier in the distance also suffers the insults of storms and high tides. A few days ago workers began to dismantle it. The plan is to slowly allow this bay to return to the form it had before people built a fish hatchery here back in the 1940s. It is well on its way.
16.
17.

***

LOCAL WALKS: Watching the Weather

1. After sunset, tide running out, Deception Pass. Late December.

Looking back over the past six weeks it seems like we’ve come full circle: in early December the skies were gray and drizzly and temperatures were moderate. Then over the holidays, a long week of sub-freezing, snowy weather settled in. Now we’re back to the cool, damp, cloudy days that typify Pacific Northwest winter weather.

*

2. Sunset on a calm day, Little Cranberry Lake. Mid-January.

What a treat the bright, White Christmas was, at least for those of us who weren’t traveling. When icy temperatures continued all week I was reminded of my New York childhood. Everything changed – the air was sharp and fresh, the landscapes enchanting, and the roads – well, our road was hardly plowed. But we’re both cold-weather veterans who’ve driven in far worse conditions so the dicey roads didn’t stop us from going out.

*

3. Snowfall on Christmas Day, at home.
4. Our road, snapped with an iPhone between Christmas and the New Year.

But the cold! I’m not used to it anymore! Ten years in the Pacific Northwest has spoiled me. So I bought a pair of warmer gloves and packs of toe warmers that stick to the bottom of your socks and keep your feet warm for hours. That helped, but my fingers were just too stiff with cold to cooperate. The pervasive bright light that snow creates threw me off, too. Many of my photographs were disappointing. Still, I haven’t enjoyed the simple activity of looking out the windows so much in a long time. I would check the little stacks of snow on the deck railing to see if they had grown tall with a new layer or collapsed into pancaked shapes. I admired and worried about the Douglas fir trees laden with snow, their branches bent to the ground. The birds were ravenous, fluttering down from the trees and swarming like ants the minute I tossed seed onto the ground. In the morning there were fine little birds’ foot tracks and delicate wing imprints on the thin layer of snow that blew onto the concrete. The whole house filled with blue-white light, a boon to my mood. Winter is often very dark in this land of towering, dense stands of evergreens.

*

5. Ice in the wetland at Bowman Bay. Early January.
6. As above.
7. Looking down from the bridge at Deception Pass. Late December.
8. Grasses underwater, Little Cranberry Lake. Mid-January.
9. Surf scoters on choppy water, Washington Park. Early January.

News stories of atmospheric rivers bringing high winds and extra-high tides became routine but the storms’ effects were anything but routine. One day during a wind event I drove down to Rosario Beach, a rocky crescent of shoreline in Deception Pass State Park. Only one other car was in the lot. The noise of waves pounding the beach was deafening as I carefully made my way down the path to the beach. I could barely stand up, the wind was so fierce. Gulls sliced the air, wooden debris was smashed to bits at my feet, and walls of water tossed huge logs back and forth in a furious maelstrom. When white objects flew past me I thought, what little birds are those? None of our small birds are white. Then I realized the missiles were big chunks of foam the wind picked up from the wavetops and flung high across the trail into the bay on the other side. I didn’t stay long that day but I was glad I witnessed nature grabbing the upper hand with such unconditional determination.

*

10. Slideshow: A wind-driven king tide throws heavy logs around at Rosario Beach. Early January.

*

11. Logs and a tangle of Bullwhip kelp thrown onto Bowman Bay. Early January.
12. Blades of kelp floating on a calmer day, Bowman Bay. Mid-January.
13. Bullwhip kelp wrapped around a log by a rambunctious tide. Bowman Bay. Mid-January.
14. Red-tailed hawk, Campbell Lake. Mid-January.

*

Eventually, the snow was confined to a few speckled patches in shady spots and the lake ice shrank to a smooth necklace on the shoreline. Temperatures returned to normal and numb fingers became a memory. We’re back to drizzly rains giving way to clouds, occasional fog, and sunbreaks (the sun only shines all day in summer here so we enjoy our sun in small doses that we call sunbreaks). The days are getting longer, the holidays are over, and a new year has begun. The dark cloud of discouragement that overtook me toward the end of the year has lifted. In my gut, just as the birds and animals do, I sense the climb toward spring.

*

15. Calmer days. A hilltop path through the woods. Photo made with intentional camera movement. Mid-January.
16. Old road on Ginnett Hill. Photograph made with slight intentional camera movement. Mid-January.

17. Fog on Lottie Bay. Mid-January.
18. Fog at Lighthouse Point. Mid-January.
19. Fog, Deception Pass Bridge from Lighthouse Point. Mid-January.
20. Ice on Pass Lake. Late December.

***

LOCAL WALKS: Shifting Edges

1.

*

The idea that more action occurs along edges came up in a book of fiction I read about thirty years ago. I don’t remember the book’s title or author, or how the idea was developed. The story involved a man who kept noticing that there was more activity on the edges of things than in the middle. This idea really interested me. It made sense. I knew that ecologically, places where one habitat meets another – where a forest meets a field or where land meets water – are places where you can expect more activity, and often, more species diversity. That’s a generalization of course, but it fits my own experience. On a ship far out in the ocean, I saw few living beings – a few flying fish, a single gull – but on shorelines, I see many different life forms. Deep in the middle of a forest, it can get very quiet but on the edge of the woods, movement and variety predominate.

Edges are places where one thing turns into another, where states of being merge, mingle and mix. You could say edges are the primal dialectic. How about the trajectory of a person’s life? Transitions between life stages can be times of great turbulence; the middle periods may be less eventful. Certainly, in our imaginations edges are important – we fear dropping off the edge of the earth; we admire the edginess of current culture; we walk the razor-edge in dangerous times.

Photographer Brooks Jensen relates a conversation with another photographer who advised, “Watch out for the edges. Wherever there’s an edge, there’s energy. That’s what you want to be photographing.” Jensen expanded on the concept to include psychological edges, “where anger meets compassion, where compassion meets sorrow.” (Brooks Jensen; ‘Single Exposures’, 2008).

2.

My favorite ecological edge took a beating recently. What had been a fairly clear border between land and water was battered by strong winds associated with an “atmospheric river” – the same one that brought flooding, landslides, and destruction to our Canadian neighbors. Massive driftwood logs were tossed high up onto the beach, obliterating a trail and crushing vegetation. Tangled piles of Bullwhip kelp (a seaweed that can grow to 100′ long) were deposited at the bases of trees whose roots were exposed to the elements from erosion. Two small wetlands were breached: in one, a green haze lay on the surface of the water. Did it come from the bay or was it dredged from the wetland itself? I don’t know. In the other wetland, strands of Bullwhip kelp and driftwood logs floated where normally the water is clear.

This particular edge was muddled beyond belief.

*

*

It was hard to look at. Giant-stepping over logs and ducking under a tree that fell across a trail, I told myself, “This is nature. This is what happens. It’s not a carefully tended garden.” Despite my rational explanations, it hurt to see this precious place turned upside down and inside out. I took only a few photos that day.

But I went back – of course I went back! – and things were different. I can’t say exactly why – something shifted and I found the beauty again, even amidst the destruction. A little sunlight didn’t hurt.

*

4.
5. Strands of Bullwhip kelp and a driftwood log now litter the wetland. In the lower-left corner, you can see rocks from the beach that were pushed into the wetland.
6.
7.

8.
9.
10. The view from a hill between the two beaches and wetlands.
11. Piles of Bullwhip kelp and driftwood logs landed on the beach. The wetland in #5 can be glimpsed in the middle of the photo.
12. The wetland edge with Madrone trees leaning precariously over the water. The views in #1, #2 & #5 are to the right, beyond the frame.

13. A Douglas maple leaf (Acer glabrum var. douglasii) on the forest floor after a rainy morning.

*

More about the lichens seen above: The green leafy-looking structures are probably Peltigera brittanica. Lichens are composite organisms; P. brittanica includes a fungus, a green alga, and a cyanobacteria. The dark dots on the green surfaces are the cyanobacteria.

The darker leafy-looking structures are another Peltigera, probably P. neopolydactyla or P. membranacea. The red-orange tips on them are spore-bearing structures called apothecia. Unlike ferns, which also have spores, these lichens can reproduce vegetatively, by breakage or by producing propagules that contain fungal tissue and green algal cells. Talk about living on the edge – lichens appear to live on the edge of comprehension! Scientists are continually revising our understanding of lichens, so what I’ve written here could change at any time.

15.
16.

17.

***

A philosopher’s musings about edges:

“What I have called the edge-world is not only a world composed of intricate patterns and permutations of edges; it is also a world that is itself on edge. As a consequence, each of us is pitched on a thousand edges—edges on which we shake and tremble even as we pretend to go about our lives undisturbed. Our equanimity is only skin-deep; underneath it the abysses gape open, not just at the far edge of the known world or at the base of a precipice. We are denizens of a world on edge, and we are ourselves creatures of exposed edges. This is not just a matter of being accident-prone or vulnerable as individuals. We carry risk to others, endangering their lives as well as our own. Whole populations of human beings have been decimated by their fellow humans. Many animal and bird species have been rendered extinct because of human actions in the Anthropocene. Now we are on the verge of making ourselves extinct if humanly induced climate change takes its full vengeance. There is no way to exist on earth, no alternative path, other than to follow the edges that guide us even as they expose us to risk at every turn. We must take such exposure into account, learning how to identify those edges that are likely to lead us astray: each of us exists on a perpetual visual cliff. Some edges bring us to an unwelcome fate for which we are not adequately prepared: on these I have focused in this epilogue. Instead of trying to forget them or merely regret them, we must think on them, reflecting on what they portend. Becoming wary of certain edges, we can come to trust other edges that will configure our life-worlds in ways that are both more constructive and more creative. These more auspicious edges point the way for us, incisively even if not infallibly. Thoughtfully traversed, they are able to liberate us, indicating directions with the potential to save us from our own destructive and self-destructive ventures”

Edward S. Casey: The World on Edge. Indiana University Press, 2017.

from Phenomenological Reviews

***

LOCAL WALKS: Roaming ‘Round the Heart of the Island

The island I live on isn’t especially large or small; at 41 square miles (106.684 km²) there’s room for a small city of about 17,000 people, many residential neighborhoods, and a generous amount of protected public land. Hugging the edges of the island and sprawling across its middle, the preserves include two state parks, a county park, several city parks, and 2,950 acres (about 12 sq. km) of community forest lands, known as the Anacortes Community Forest Lands (ACFL). Because this land once supplied the city with its water, several lakes were protected from being developed. No industries ever polluted their shores. The forests around the lakes, however, were logged to generate extra revenue for the city. Eventually, that changed. Now, water is drawn from a river and piped onto the island and thankfully, income from the forest no longer factors into the annual city budget.

1.

2.

This post focuses on Heart Lake, part of the community forest lands. Nestled into the woods near the middle of the island, Heart Lake is fed by water draining from nearby Mt. Erie, the island’s highest point. At the lake’s southern shoreline there’s a treasure: a rare bit of lowland, old-growth forest. There, dignified Douglas firs and Western redcedars preside over a hodge-podge of downed trees, unruly understory plants, knee-high ferns, and thick moss. It’s messy. This is not an orderly lumber plantation, it’s a forest that has been largely left alone to follow its own wise way.

The elevation around the lake ranges from about 340 ft. to about 580 ft. (103m – 177m) at the top of a ridge. Mt. Erie, at 1273 ft. (388m), is just across a quiet, two-lane road. For this post, we’ll stay close to the lake, on well-trodden dirt trails that wind through the trees, skirt wetlands, cross small streams, and climb up easy hills. The scenery is quietly peaceful. Perhaps the drama lies in craning your neck to glimpse the tops of the oldest trees or stepping around a mossy, fallen giant. There are wildflowers scattered about and small openings in the forest support meadows of lilies in spring. The occasional boater plies the lake, a lone heron might be seen, and squadrons of ducks patrol the water in the colder months. You might hear an owl, startle a scolding squirrel, or spy a tiny wren hopping through the underbrush. Beavers are around, as you can see from a gnawed tree or a pile of branches, but they don’t come out until after dusk.

3. Old growth Douglas fir trees (Pseudotsuga menzieii) lean in toward the water.
4. Western hemlocks (Tsuga heterophylla) take root in a Western redcedar stump (Thuja plicata), probably from a tree that was logged out long ago. Evergreen fronds of Sword fern (Polystichum munitum) spill over the path in the background.
5. Even in November, when the forest is looking a bit ragged, there is still color because most of the trees and ferns are evergreen. Unlike the dry summer months, November is wet so the green machine thrums along in spite of the chill in the air.
6. Openings in the forest allow Bigleaf maples (Acer macrophyllum) to take root. In autumn their dinner-plate-sized leaves get caught as they fall to the forest floor. This one picked up a stray bit of light threading through the forest. The canopy above is dense so precious little light is available down here along the trails. That’s one reason why some trees begin their lives in stumps as in #4, above. Sprouting just a few feet above the forest floor gives seedlings a head start.
7.
8.

*

*

I can tell you about Heart Lake, its calm water and the deep green forest around it. I trust you’ll understand the words.

But I can’t really begin to convey the complexity of what’s happening here. I don’t know how to plot the intricate relationships that knit the landscape together into one, breathing whole.

When it comes down to it, it’s the simplest thing: you go out and you walk.

You let go of your tedious thoughts and pay attention to what’s around you.

You allow the false division between “you” and everything “else” to thin and fall away.

Your feet carry you along, the sun shines or it doesn’t, you look, listen, smell, feel. That’s it.

*

*

9.
10. Two types of Honeysuckle (Lonicera) – orange and pink – can be found twining around the branches of small trees in the forest.
11. Two species of wild rose are common in the woods: Baldhip and Nootka. Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana) prefers more sun; this one was growing close to the lake’s edge.

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*

13. Not only trees fall…a fragment of Douglas fir rests on an Oregon-grape (Berberis or Mahonia nervosa) plant.
14. This is probably a Red alder leaf (Alnus rubra). It rests on a piece of old wood from a fallen tree near the lake’s edge.
15. We’ve had a very rainy October this year. One day, feeling frustrated with the rain and wanting to be closer to nature, I drove to the parking lot at Heart Lake and took this photo from inside the car. A flock of ducks, perhaps recently arrived from the north, swam in the middle of the lake. Even with binoculars, I couldn’t make a positive identification through the curtain of rain.

*

*

17. Another photo from inside the car on that rainy day; focused on the leaves instead of the window glass. Sharp focus was impossible behind the rain-soaked window but I like the softness.
18. A soup of fallen willow leaves, a little Saskatoon leaf, and grasses that grow in the muck were all floating together at the edge of the lake on this November afternoon.
19. Midwinter on Heart Lake.

***

I live on and gratefully roam through the traditional, ancestral, land of two Coast Salish tribes, the Swinomish and Samish. I honor and respect their long tradition of stewardship of this beautiful land.