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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

1. Rosario Beach in the fog

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

A few words about the photo groupings above:

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Rambling Around L.A. with Flora

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Entering In

 

Ten minutes from home

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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The Photos:

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

 

Fresh Looks

What do these images have in common? They were all made in the last month or two, in the same part of the world, and there are obvious connections between some of them, but you might say it’s a motley crew overall. Some are in color, some are monochrome, some were taken with a phone, some with a camera. What I hope they do have in common is a sense of seeing the world with fresh curiosity and genuine appreciation.

 

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The Photos:

  1. This is Boot (BOOTIE! to me), an American pit bull terrier, a breed that strikes so much fear into the hearts of some people that it has been banned in entire cities. Boot is a sweetie, believe me. Here, I caught his rear end with my phone camera, as he relaxed on the grass at an Ultimate Frisbee Tournament where his master was playing. Boot has his own Instagram page if you want to see his front end.
  2. A rock formation at Larrabee State Park which is on the Salish Sea about 15 miles south of the US – Canada border. The softly eroded, curvy rock is sandstone that was deposited here around 50 million years ago. This type of weathering is called honeycomb weathering, and the round perforations often seen in honeycombed rocks are sometimes called tafoni. The original photo was in sharper focus. I chose to slightly blur it to bring out the graceful, curving form. More photos of Larrabee’s intricate geology are shown in previous posts here and here.
  3. Branches trailing in the water or hanging just above it draw complex, meandering reflections at Whistle Lake, on Fidalgo Island. By the time I took this photograph it was after 5pm and rather dark at the lake’s edge, so I boosted the brightness in Lightroom several different ways: by increasing the whites (basic panel), applying a slight “S” tone curve, and increasing the luminance of individual colors. Small increases in contrast, clarity, saturation and vibrancy also helped brighten and define the image.
  4. A piece of detritus on a pier in Anacortes. The photo was taken with my phone on the evening of an art opening at the historic Port of Anacortes transit shed, a huge 85-year-old wooden building once used to store goods in transit into and out of the region. It was possible on this evening to walk through a big show of quality painting, photography and sculpture, and then wander outside directly onto a pier, where we had an interesting conversation with the first mate of a tugboat tied up at port while waiting for orders. For solid working culture and the arts to share space like that – well, to me, it was heaven.
  5. More detritus, this time on a beach at Bowman Bay on Fidalgo Island. The shell may be a Bent-nosed clam, a small, edible clam. The seaweed is probably Eelgrass (Zostera marina), an important plant that provides nourishment and habitat for waterfowl, crabs, shrimp, fish, shellfish and probably more creatures I’m not aware of. Eelgrass is declining in some places in Puget Sound; the causes are complex.
  6. A friendly reminder seen on an old warehouse in Anacortes. The photo was processed in Color Efex pro and Lightroom.
  7. This appears to be an unfinished roof. It’s attached to a small building at the site of a weekly Farmer’s Market in Edison, Washington (population 133 in 2010). As I pulled over to photograph the dramatic sky through the beams, two black cats scurried down a dirt road, probably in pursuit of sparrows, and somewhere overhead, an eagle cried that distinctive, high-pitched whinny.
  8. I saw a sign advertising an art show one summer afternoon while driving through the Skagit Valley countryside. I drove over to the Samish Island Arts Festival to investigate. The art was almost all crafts – jewelry, hand knit clothes, etc. –  and it didn’t appeal to me. But there was an interesting group of ramshackle wooden buildings there, across from a small oyster business. There was no fence, not even a “Keep Out” sign, so I spent some time photographing abandoned odds and ends. It was clearly a place where work went on, but it was hard to tell what exactly happened there. Rope, wood, rust and tarps were plentiful. I told myself I’d come back to “work the scene” again.
  9. Barbed wire fence keeps the rabble away from three unmarked silos in Anacortes. The town has enough intriguing industrial sites to keep me busy for a while. This photo was taken with my phone.
  10. This photo was taken on a bluff overlooking the Salish Sea during a prolonged dry spell. We hadn’t had any rain for many weeks; the grass was bone dry. I used a vintage Super Takumar 50mm lens and made a few adjustments in Lightroom.
  11. My teapot is getting old and if you ask me, it’s more and more likeable. We found it years ago at a Catholic church bazaar on Staten Island, NYC, and paid 50 cents, if I remember correctly. I make strong Irish tea in it each morning. Over time, cracks in the pot have grown and darkened, and eventually it will leak, and we won’t be able to use it. For now though, it’s a perfect example of wabi-sabi, that wonderful Japanese aesthetic that encapsulates acceptance of imperfection as well as the impermanence of all things. The photo was taken with another vintage Super Takumar lens – a 28mm f3.5.
  12. Do you see that this is a corn stalk? It’s growing at the WSU Discovery Garden, a demonstration garden put together by the Washington State University Master Gardeners, who are trained volunteers. Lucky for me, the garden is just 15 minutes away, so if I ever tire of wild flora (unlikely!) I can go have my fill of cultivated plants. The original photo is in color and it was converted to black and white in Silver Efex Pro and finished in Lightroom.
  13. Why are these buildings just inches apart? I suppose it has to do with the lot sizes or building codes. Ever since I first visited Edison back in 2012, I’ve been intrigued by this little slice of strangeness a few doors down from my favorite bakery. There are always ferns growing in that dark little space! The photo was taken with my phone and processed in Lightroom.
  14. This photo was taken the same day as #3, at Whistle Lake, part of the Anacortes Community Forest Lands. A rocky, rooty trail along the lake swings down level with the water in places, allowing you close views of sinuous tree reflections in the placid waters. Photographing reflections in water always depends on a variety of conditions, and sometimes they come together perfectly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Drought Paradox

 

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As we transition from summer to fall, the wild grasses are bone dry. Dead cedar boughs litter the ground; maple leaves are splotched with yellow and brown. Berries are ripe, and seeds are ready to spring from their tight confines. It’s been a hot, dry summer, quickening the transition to fall. The paradox is this: as dry leaves crackle underfoot and trees are losing leaves earlier than usual, I am saddened and worried, but the color changes all around me are so very beautiful.

 

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According to the U.S. Drought Monitor every corner of our state (and neighboring Oregon and Idaho) has been touched by the drought. Conditions range from abnormally dry to extreme, so maybe I should be thankful that our corner is experiencing  “moderate drought.”

The drought seems to be putting an early halt to summer, resulting in color changes that are paradoxically sad and pretty at the same time. Burnished golds, rose-tinged rusts, and ghostly pale greens mingle harmoniously, like polite guests at a dinner party.

 

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Many plants along the forest trails are covered with dust, spider webs decorate nearly every tree and bush, and crisply curled leaves litter the woods. Some forest patches remain verdant, especially alongside lakes where moisture lingers in the air, but I can’t get away from the evidence: drought has taken hold.

Fall color tiptoes in early.

I walk, I look, and I wait for rain.

 

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The Photos:

  1. So-called Himalayan blackberries (Rubus armeniacus) were introduced from Europe for fruit production, but got way out of control. They form massive, impenetrable thickets with thousands of berries that just sit there uneaten, because there are so many of them. In this case, just a few canes are working their way into a tree nursery outside La Conner, Washington. I thought the bright leaves and berries were striking against the soft browns and grays of the trees and grasses.
  2. A feather as plain and gray as this one is hard to tie to a specific bird. But did you know there’s a Feather Atlas to help identify North American bird feathers? This one (which I still can’t identify!) fell next to a trail on a bald on the western edge of Fidalgo Island. A fire ripped through here, damaging some trees and felling others. Look closely and you can see charred rock and burned fir needles.
  3. Beside the same trail a lichen-covered rock and a host of dried grasses compose themselves beautifully, without help or interference from humans.
  4. Near the edge of Fidalgo Island where cool, northern waters often create misty conditions on the land above, reindeer lichen (Cladonia rangiferina) grows in cloud-like clumps. I’m careful not to touch it because it is brittle from the drought, and it grows very slowly.  I’m frustrated every time I see a broken clump but trails here usually avoid reindeer lichen growth to prevent damage from careless hikers. (I’ll admit I stepped off the trail to take the photograph, but I tiptoed across rocks and bare ground). This photo was taken with a vintage lens I just found at a local thrift store for half the price it sells for online. It’s a Super Takumar 28mm f3.5 from the early 70’s. I have another Takumar lens so I knew this one could be good, and the adapter to fit it onto my camera is easy to find. I’ve been out with it several times, and I’m enjoying it a lot.
  5. Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium or Epilobium augsutifolium) is a familiar sight in the Pacific Northwest. Called Rosebay willowherb in Britain, the tall wildflower’s magenta flowers produce distinctive, silky-haired seeds that float away on late summer breezes.
  6. The graceful shrub called Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor) often grows near water and bears sprays of creamy white flowers in late Spring. This specimen, on a hill at Cranberry Lake Park on Fidalgo Island, has a surfeit of pale green lichens growing on its branches. With leaves shifting from green to yellow to orange, dried, peachy-tan flowers and frosty green lichens, it was a striking sight.
  7. The cool blue-gray color of Stink currant berries (Ribes bracteosum) complements deep forest greens. I read that the whole plant is covered with glands that emit a skunky odor, but I didn’t notice it. I’ll have to check next time!
  8. At Mt. Erie, the highest point on Fidalgo Island, a species of Usnea lichen hangs from a tree whose leaves are losing their chlorophyll prematurely. Late day sunlight sets the leaves on fire, and fine web threads map a spider’s domain.
  9. A Bracken fern frond has turned dry and golden for lack of moisture at Sharpe Park, Montgomery-Duban Headlands.
  10. An attractive flower that hangs on well in a drought is Gumweed (Grindelia integrifolia). This patch, framed by two huge logs, is between a small bay and a beach, a fairly wet location. The photograph was taken with the “new” 28mm Takumar lens, late in the day.
  11. The forest floor is littered with fallen branches, leaves, wildflower seeds, fir cones, mosses, and lichens. Quiet colors create a neutral palette that emphasizes texture – one advantage of the drought.
  12. At Cranberry Lake a smattering of trees still cling to their defiantly bright green attire but in the distance, the rusty colors are from cedar trees that have died, probably from too many dry summers.
  13. An insect is resting on the back of this pretty leaf at Mt. Erie. I didn’t see it until I got home and looked closely at the photo. It’s not the first time that has happened!
  14. Another photo taken with the “new” vintage lens, in low light on the edge of the woods. These branches are mostly on Madrone trees. The leaves may be from a Madrone too, but I’m not sure. In any case, the funky curves of tree trunks, dead branches and leaves draw an intriguing picture together.
  15. Spider webs are abundant in the forests these days. These are on a cedar tree. There may be more on my clothes…
  16. The intensely colored, winged seeds of this ornamental maple beam with joy in the afternoon sunlight at a town park in Anacortes, Washington.

 

 

ROOTED

I’ve been thinking about trees –

what is it about trees?

It occurs to me that they’re the homo sapiens of the plant world,

upright, branches outstretched, each one different from

the next one.  Certain trees are planted deep in my memory,

yes, two maples, two tulip trees, and one big blue spruce

shade the back yard in Syracuse. A white-blossomed dogwood that I

look down upon from a bedroom window, cabbage palmettos

at my grandparents’ house with Easter eggs hidden in the old leaf bases. Dark-leaved

Japanese maples, twisted and sinewy, gracefully sprawl on the hill at Greyston. The tall

oak where the racoon family lived, the huge copper beech at Wave Hill.

Sidewalk ginkgos in New York, the fragrant linden walk at Columbia University,

the half-prostrate old willow at Juanita Bay.

I’d like to write you a poem about the trees I’ve loved, but I can only

recite their agreed-upon names, their remembered locations. I can only tell you

they are rooted in my brain, and waiting for companions which

just now, thread their way through my synapses, these

trees of my new home:

madrone, cedar, poplar, fir,

perhaps, even

saskatoon.

 

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With apologies to visitors whose primary language isn’t English,  here are excepts from two online sources about the origin of the English word, “tree.”

tree (n.)
Old English treo, treow “tree” (also “timber, wood, beam, log, stake”), from Proto-Germanic *trewam (source also of Old Frisian tre, Old Saxon trio, Old Norse tre, Gothic triu “tree”), from PIE *drew-o-, suffixed variant form of root *deru- “be firm, solid, steadfast,” with specialized senses “wood, tree” and derivatives referring to objects made of wood….The widespread use of words originally meaning “oak” in the sense “tree” probably reflects the importance of the oak to ancient Indo-Europeans.

 

And:

Etymology of tree:

The word tree derives from the the Greek word drys-drees (oak; δρυς) by changing D into T. During ancient times oak was the wood that was usually used.

From the same root:
Druid, duration, endure, durable

 

The Photos:

  1. A Madrone tree (Arbutus menziesii), also called arbutus or madrona. These striking trees have twisting branches and brightly colored, peeling bark. They’re native to the west coast, roughly from San Fransisco to Vancouver.  This one was injured long ago; it looks like a sapsucker tried his luck here. Bowman Bay, Deception Pass State Park, Fidalgo Island, Washington.
  2. More madrones lean into the light on the Lighthouse Point trail at Deception Pass State Park.
  3. Dead madrone branches can be as beautiful as live ones. Washington Park, Fidalgo Island, Washington.
  4. Even this downed giant, probably a Douglas fir, continues to support life on the beach at Bowman Bay.
  5. Along a trail at Whistle Lake, on Fidalgo Island, cedars and firs mix with a few moss-covered Bigleaf maple trees.
  6. A gracefully rooted Redcedar (Thuja plicata), its striated bark hosting a wash of pale green lichens, stands tall at Deception Pass State Park.
  7. At Bowman Bay, afternoon sunlight shines on several Saskatoon trees, creating complicated patterns of light and shade reminiscent of stained glass.
  8. A huge old Douglas fir at Heart Lake, on Fidalgo Island. The upturned, feathery branches of a Western hemlock growing directly behind it give the fir tree a celebratory air.
  9. A view through tall trees at Cranberry Lake, which, along with Heart lake and Whistle Lake, is part of the almost 2800 acres of forest lands preserved for recreational use on Fidalgo Island. Many of the trees seen here are Douglas firs. Some rusty orange leaves from Redcedar trees that are stressed because of drought can be seen on the left, along with bright green Bigleaf maple leaves and duller, pendant Douglas fir branches in the background.
  10. On a rocky, exposed bluff at Larrabee State Park, a Shore pine (Pinus contorta) holds a few green branches aloft. They may look fragile, but they must be very sturdy!
  11. Skagit Valley farms are punctuated by tall poplar trees that farmers have planted between fields. Some are very sizable specimens, like this one outside La Conner. In the background, more poplars are almost obscured by the haze of smoke from wildfires burning hundreds of miles away.
  12. Washed up into a rocky cove at Larrabee State Park, this log has been smoothed to a fine, regular pattern of tiny cracks. When you think about the long life of a tree, you may realize it goes through many, many stages, changing its appearance over and over again.
  13. An immense Douglas fir that somehow escaped logging graces the old road to Whistle lake, dwarfing the young woman running with her dog (note who carries the pack!).  As trees age, their bark develops deep furrows, not unlike our own wrinkles. The ancients are full of character.

 

 

 

Sunday in the Yard with Lensbaby

The transition from summer to fall is under way, with all its untidiness and subtle shifts of color. Looking around my new yard, which currently features brown grass, shriveling ferns and fallen leaves, I thought it was a good time for a session with the Lensbaby. I may regret the loss of early summer’s moist, bright greens, but there are other possibilities, right in front of me. I just need to think differently and work with the frizzle, not against it. Snapping on a lens that distorts the picture can be a good way to gently accept the changes.

 

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I hope you enjoy seeing through a different lens. I varied the amount of distortion and now I’m thinking that the most interesting images may be the ones with the least amount of “correct” focus. It was a good exercise. I should take the lens with me more often, when I go for walks in the woods.

If you’re not that familiar with Lensbaby, it’s a Portland, Oregon company that makes lenses which intentionally distort the scene. Typically, the lens has a “sweet spot” of clarity somewhere in the frame, and everything else is out of focus, to a greater or lesser degree.  The lenses have been around since 2004 and have gone through many iterations; these days you can buy one for your phone, too.

These lenses are not electronically connected to your camera. That means paying attention to exposure, aperture and focus, which must be set manually. For many photographers that’s nothing new, but for others it can be intimidating. Actually, it’s not a big deal after a few minutes of practice. Whatever time you may need to invest in learning a few new techniques, you will gain back in creative possibilities.

The Lensbaby I have, an older “Composer Pro with Sweet 35” is no longer made, and is a bit of an oddball. Bought on ebay, it’s made to fit a 4/3 DSLR camera, a system Olympus put out 15 years ago. That system faded away when micro 4/3 systems came into production. So my 4/3 mount lensbaby lens doesn’t fit my on camera (a micro 4/3 Olympus OM D1). Have I lost you yet?  An adapter solves the problem. They’re not too expensive, but they can make focusing a little harder if the fit isn’t perfect. The lensbaby look isn’t about super-accurate focus so I don’t lose sleep over the imperfections.

I find that because the lensbaby produces a distinct look, switching to that lens after not using it for a long time means I need to shift my perspective, i.e., see with lensbaby eyes. I might ask myself, “What subject doesn’t require tack-sharp focus and could look good with that smooth blur all around it?”  It’s about changing things up.

This little supergurrl lurking in a potted plant, she gets it.  🙂

 

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Water’s Edge: Whidbey Island

In my drafts folder there is an unfinished post with photographs taken in 2014, on Whidbey Island, Washington. I first visited Whidbey Island in October, 2011, on a fateful vacation that led to my relocating from New York City to the Pacific northwest. After moving to a suburb of Seattle in 2012, I began driving up to Whidbey and the surrounding area whenever I could, ultimately moving to neighboring Fidalgo island.

Now, on the heels of another trip to Whidbey last week, I’m going to move those photos out of the draft folder and into the light of day. I’ll include a few recent images, too.

That September day almost four years ago, a spectacular fog bank had settled in at my chosen destination, Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. The park, which preserves natural and historical points of interest, is named after an early settler, Colonel Isaac Neff Ebey, who claimed land here in the mid-nineteenth century and became the first white full-time resident. Of course, well before his arrival local tribes lived here; one of the tribes (the Swinomish) that inhabited the island is now based on a reservation a few minutes from my home on Fidalgo Island.

Almost exactly 161 years ago, Colonel Ebey was killed by people from the north (it is still disputed which tribe was responsible) whose leader, along with other tribe members, had been slayed by the US military. In an 1851 letter to his brother, Ebey had written that this beautiful place seemed,

“….almost a paradise of nature. Good land for cultivation is abundant on this island. I have taken a claim on it and am now living on the same in order to avail myself of the provisions of the Donation Law. If Rebecca, the children, and you all were here, I think I could live and die here content.”

 

 

 

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The five photos above were taken on that foggy September day at Perego’s lagoon, a shallow body of water just above the high tide mark on the shore at Ebey’s Landing. In the top photo we’re looking south, with the beach on the right and the lagoon on the left. The windy beach, littered with giant driftwood logs, abuts the Salish Sea; the ocean is about a hundred miles to the west. This lagoon dries out in summer and the edges crack into plates of hard mud. Driftwood is everywhere, as are waving grasses, wildflowers, lichens and the wild edible called pickleweed, or sea beans (Salicornia pacifica), seen at the left edge of the photo below.

 

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The two photos above of driftwood shelters were taken recently at Double Bluff State Park, about 23 miles south of Ebey’s Landing, on the same side of the island.  It was a rare (for summer) overcast day when we walked the beach at Double Bluff, making the trek easier for someone like me, who’s not a fan of full-on sun. After an hour or so a narrow crack appeared in the clouds far to the south, over Seattle. The changing light cast a soft glow on the sheet draped over one driftwood shelter. It seemed the epitome of casual elegance, and in my mind, it wouldn’t have been out of place in an architectural magazine.

 

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Cloudy skies didn’t deter this cozy trio perched high on a huge glacial erratic. The boulder has likely been here for 13,000 years, since the last ice sheet retreated and left it behind, like an afterthought. In the photo above that, driftwood lies in a shallow depression on the beach. The driftwood’s swirling form, the dark shadows of fir trees, the pearly reflection of an overcast sky, and ghostly pieces of submerged wood all came together in a brooding composition that I photographed as I left the beach – sometimes, parting shots are good.

Below, A gull glides through thick fog at Ebey’s Landing.  Watching fog banks coalesce and dissolve is a good way to feel the wisdom in the saying, “The only thing that is constant is change.” (Heraclitus).  Sure enough, the fog cleared, revealing the simple form of a softly rounded bluff as it met the razor-straight horizon.

 

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Note: Some of these photos appeared in an earlier post here.

 

 

High Contrast

Last week I talked about the contrast between my new home and the town where I used to live: life went from noisy and fairly stressful in Seattle’s growing metropolis, to the quiet and calm of a more rural setting. Looking at the photographs I’ve taken over the last two weeks, I see a lot of contrast too. Many of them are marked by the brilliant highlights and deep shadows of intense, midsummer sunlight. I hesitate to carry the high contrast metaphor too far – the shadows in my life are not terribly dark these days – but I can’t help wondering if the contrasts I’m seeing are purely a function of season and time of day. Maybe my general state of being is influencing what I photograph. Maybe I unconsciously gravitate towards high contrast scenes that reflect an inner state of being unsettled, which certainly makes sense for someone who has just moved.

In any case, here is a group of images I’ve made in the last few weeks, close to home. I’ve been taking walks in local parks and preserves and driving around the island to get the lay of the land. A few photos were taken with my phone when I didn’t take my camera or I didn’t have a wide lens. I hope you enjoy the views, whether close-up or distant. And I hope you might find your way up here, to America’s northwest corner. It’s quite a beautiful place.

 

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The photos:

  1. Looking east from March Point on Fidalgo Island, Mt. Baker’s snow-capped summit rises above the clouds. At 10,781 feet, this Cascade Mountain peak is visible from many places on Fidalgo Island, keeping me oriented as I drive around. Like most mountain peaks, its face constantly changes: sometimes obscured by a light fog of clouds, sometimes clear and sharp, other times lost altogether.
  2. A grain elevator on Rt. 20, the main road connecting the island with the mainland. Adjacent to the island, a fertile delta of agricultural land was created by diking the wetlands where the Skagit River, which begins high in the Cascades, empties into Skagit Bay. This land supports vast fields of tulips and other flower bulbs, potatoes, beets, berries, spinach and many other crops.
  3. An vintage pick-up truck at an abandoned farmstead on March Point, Fidalgo Island. March Point has two busy oil refineries, but cattle graze in the fields, and geese, herons and even pelicans are seen along the perimeter road.
  4. A typical Skagit County farm scene, with the foothills of the Cascades in the background.
  5. At Bowman Bay, part of Deception Pass State Park, a trail winds around the steep shoreline, and passes under a very old Douglas fir tree that’s slowly tipping down towards the water, far below.
  6. Red huckleberries (Vaccinium parvifolium) on the trail to Sares Head, a promontory on Fidalgo Island.
  7. Tiny Rattlesnake plantain orchids (Goodyera oblongifolia) rise from mossy woodlands at Kukatali Preserve, a pristine peninsula owned by the local Swinomish tribe, which opened the site up to the public in partnership with Washington State Parks. Another tiny orchid at Kukatali, the Alaska rein-orchid (Habenaria unalasencis or Piperia unalascensis), has gone through a number of name changes. You have to look hard to see both of these wildflowers, and unless they’re growing on a ridge above you, a photograph will require a deep bend too. These are the times I’m thankful for the camera’s articulating LCD screen!
  8. There’s a muddy, sheltered bay near home called Similk Bay. It’s full of beautiful driftwood logs that have washed ashore over the years.
  9. More driftwood, wildflowers and dry summer grasses at Similk.
  10. The burned bark is on a fir tree at Sares Head, where fires in 2003 and 1993 (?) scorched the beautiful madrone and Douglas fir trees. Reindeer moss (really a lichen) on the ground indicates a moist environment, but in the summer, even this lichen is brittle. The lower right photo shows two species of lichen clinging to the fine branches of a dead fir tree at Mount Erie Park.
  11. On Sares Head, a Douglas fir sculpted by wind and water looks out over Rosario Straight towards the scenic San Juan Islands, a popular destination reachable by boat or plane.
  12. A more southerly view from Sares Head, looking towards Northwest Island, Deception Island, and the shores of Deception Pass State park on Whidbey Island. I posted sunset views from Deception Pass last week. A huge blackened fir tree, probably felled during one of the fires, is off to the left.
  13. Fire-damaged firs make stark silhouettes at Sares Head, but the madrones put color back into the landscape with their orange bark and shiny, evergreen leaves.
  14. This tiny crab only caught my eye only because he moved. He put on a fierce show for a few seconds, then thought better of it and scuttled away into the seaweed in the wrack line (the edge of the debris left by the previous high tide). I think this is a Purple Shore crab (Hemigapsus nudus), a common denizen of the inter-tidal zone.
  15. Since I moved west, the madrone (Arbutus menziesii) with its striking bark, sinewy limbs and glossy leaves, has become one of my favorite trees. There are plenty of them on Fidalgo Island. These specimens at Sares Head have particularly beautiful, peeling bark.
  16. A local corner grocer has worms for sale. And beer, of course. All you need for an afternoon of fishing.
  17. A vintage Mercedes is parked along the main street in the very small town of Edison, about a half hour north of home. With its picturesque scattering of informal restaurants, galleries and shops, Edison has become a foodie pilgrimage site. I used to go there a few times a year – now I can make the trip any day of the week.
  18. Licorice fern often grows on trees, but it’s also happy taking root in the deep moss on the moist forest floor; here it glows in the late afternoon sunlight along the trail to Sares Head.
  19. The highest point on Fidalgo Island is Mt. Erie. At 1273 feet, it has a commanding view of the surrounding countryside and the waters beyond. You can drive all the way up to the top on a narrow, winding road, or hike up. The inhabited area towards the back of the photo is Whidbey Island, to the south. In the foreground is Lake Campbell, with Rodger Bluff holding the warmth of the evening sun. In the early 1940’s the painter Morris Graves built himself a primitive, secluded studio somewhere on that rock. He was driven out by the difficulties of getting supplies up to his aerie and the noise generated by a new naval base on Whidbey Island. He moved twice after that, ending up in northern California, close to Eureka. His story is as fascinating as his work is intriguing – I recommend reading at least the Wikipedia entry (highlighted above). The mystical overtones in his paintings connect powerfully to this area’s geography and atmosphere. Along with Mark Tobey, Guy Anderson, Kenneth Callahan and others, he was recognized as part of the Northwest School, an American art movement that took root here in Skagit County.
  20. At Kukatali Preserve a Bald eagle surveys the action. What a view he or she has, and how amazing it must be to take off and fly anywhere you want over this precious jewel of a landscape.

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Here’s a map I made to try to sort out the complicated ins and outs of the island’s topography. If you’re curious about the places I mentioned above, this might help…a little.

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And here’s a rough idea of the way Fidalgo fits into the larger scheme of things, at least geographically. It’s the yellow blob halfway between Seattle, Washington, US, and Vancouver, British Columbia, CA.

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Interlude

A summer interlude in an unexpected place…

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There’s nothing like wandering through a summer meadow filled with wildflowers, but where I live now, most open meadows are cultivated for crops. There are places nearby that still support an abundance of flowers though: abandoned railroad tracks. A short walk down a local railroad track can be delightful, and lately I’ve been taking a little time off from packing to wander down the tracks, picking wildflowers as I go. Some are old friends, others are new, and that makes it even better.

All of these images are of flowers I found along railway tracks. I photographed them indoors in combined natural and incandescent light, or just outside my apartment on a small deck, three stories up. I used two lenses – a 60mm macro and a 45mm prime (120mm & 90mm equivalent), with wide open apertures.  The photos were processed in Lightroom and sometimes added effects, like increasing the blur on the edges, were done in Color Efex Pro. You may notice differences in the color because of the indoor lighting in some images. I chose not to make any big changes to the colors, so the pink pea flower in #12 (shot outdoors) is more true to nature than in #5 and #6 (shot indoors).

Six images (#1, #5, #6, #9, #10, #12)  show a flower in the pea family, Everlasting pea (Lathyrus latifolius), which is native to Europe. There are several lush colonies of this vigorous perennial vine sprawling across the wild grasses and blackberries alongside a railroad bed not far from home; the hot pink blossoms are beautiful against cool summer greens. Not being native to the area, this plant is probably displacing native plants, so it is being monitored by Washington’s noxious weed control board.

The crown-shaped flower in the second photo is Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), another pea family plant that has expanded well beyond its original range. It is valued for forage in parts of Europe and Britain, or so I read. Here in North America it can be invasive, but I enjoy seeing the sunshine yellow flowers decorating our roadsides.  Is Bird’s-foot trefoil causing equally beautiful or important native plants to disappear? I honestly don’t know, but I at least feel no guilt when I pick them!

The buds in the third photo are from a Common centaury (Centaurium erythraea), yet another non-native wildflower. In one of my field guides non-native wildflowers are called “aliens.”  That’s something to think about, these days.  Alien species are abundant along railroad tracks, where seeds scattered by wildlife or the wind are less likely to be disturbed by human interference.  It’s not only wildlife and the wind that scatter seeds – trains and other vehicles are important players in the dispersal of non-native plant seeds. Oh, those clever stowaways that we inadvertently strew across the landscape! And just think how far “aliens” can go on a long railroad track!

The cheerful California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), California’s state flower, is well suited to a warm, dry climate. Here in the wet Pacific northwest, little groups of the cheerful posies grow with no help from gardeners, thanks to our bone-dry summers. Photos #4, #7, #8, #13 and #14 show the California poppy at various stages of growth. I picked a few from a cluster that thrives along the edges of yet another abandoned railroad, a place that’s physically close to the town’s center of commerce but seems far removed from it. Walk down the old track and as the street noise recedes you become aware of rabbits hopping about, bees buzzing from flower to flower, sparrows singing, tall grasses swaying in the breeze… and sure enough, your shoulders drop, that furrow between your eyes smooths out, and your breathing eases into a slower rhythm.

The last photo was taken at yet another deserted railroad track that I wander down from time to time. This one passes through a town that has become a winery destination. One of the tasting rooms has placed a table and two chairs in back, right by the tracks. I don’t think anyone uses it, but perhaps a waiter or a dishwasher takes a cigarette break there after the customers have left. Deer wander freely along the tracks – I’ve seen them a number of times. I can picture their dark eyes taking it all in: tasty young leaves, rabbits nosing through the grass, a hawk crying overhead, the scent of human food in the air, muffled traffic noise in the distance, and over there, a man sitting at a table. Hardly moving.