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.

***

ENCOUNTERING the SUBJECT

What’s the difference between a sculpture given pride of place in a museum and a tree trunk washed ashore after being sculpted by countless tides? One is human-made, one isn’t, the places where we see them are nothing alike, and we attach very different meanings to each object. You can probably think of other differences. But what if we untangle the threads that make up the answers and see what’s left? Perhaps finally, the object itself is all that remains, without any stories “about” it.

1. Amida Buddha; Japanese, circa 1130.
2. Driftwood log; 12/22/21.

***

What I’m talking about is the idea of removing layers of received wisdom from the experience of seeing, the encounter with the subject. A few weeks ago I photographed a handful of objects at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Essentially my approach to looking at art objects isn’t so different from my approach to looking at objects anywhere. That afternoon I didn’t ponder who made the work, why it was made, or how it fits into history. Those are good questions, no doubt. But I prefer to encounter art more directly. After all, the objects I was looking at were free from expectations or ideas about me. So, to the degree my mind was open, maybe I could approach them on the same terms, without distracting preconceptions.

***

3. Detail, Buddhist ceremonial banner.
4. Bullwhip kelp; 12/22/21.

***

Objects appear in my visual field as form, light, color, texture, structure, pattern, and perhaps other qualifiers that haven’t occurred to me. I enjoy taking them in on those terms. When I roam the landscape it’s the same: form, light, color, and texture present themselves in various guises. There’s no need to include extraneous thoughts (not that I don’t torture myself trying to remember the names of plants). Staying with the physicality of objects, leaving concepts and projections out of the relationship, one can embody a fresh appreciation of the world.

One thing that’s enjoyable about a museum experience is that the objects on display are presented with enough space around them to allow the viewer to rest in the encounter with the subject, to give oneself over to it. Focusing on objects individually, one after the other in conscious appreciation of their particularity, our attention is honed and heightened. I’ve noticed that after I walk out the museum door the experience doesn’t stop. I find I’m attending to the makeup of everyday objects in a deeper way. I’m more engaged with everything. In fact, even in the museum I often see chairs, shadows, and other “ordinary” objects as aesthetic subjects in their own right. That’s one of the pleasures of museum-going.

***

5. Near East ceramic vessel? (I didn’t check the label).
6. Valves and alarms on an industrial building; 12/24/21.

***

You probably already figured out what I’m doing with the images here. Each pair of photographs includes an art object and an object I photographed outside of the museum context. Maybe the pairings can help point toward a taken-for-granted fact: valuing one object over another is a choice we make or don’t make. I’m not suggesting that the log, the kelp strands, or the industrial valves I photographed should be in a museum. I’m suggesting that whether we’re in a museum or in a desert, at home or on an elevator, it’s possible to meet the world with fresh eyes and directly experience beauty without extra layers of mental activity.

Some of these pairs may be more obviously connected than others, which I think is fine. The point is to suggest a kind of universality of perception. There’s no need to see objects in museums differently than you see the objects you photograph. Conversely, everyday objects really benefit from the close, special attention that we give museum artifacts.

***

7. Calligraphy scroll, probably Japanese.
8. Angel-wing begonia flower buds; 10/08/21.

***

9. Water-moon Guanyin; Chinese, 10th to late-13th century.
10. Old Bigleaf maple tree; 12/01/21.

***

11. Detail, Chinese landscape painting, probably 18th century.
12. Detail, peeling bark on a Madrone tree; 01/18/21.

***

13. Thousand-armed, Eleven-headed Guanyin; Chinese, 16th century.
14. Spiraling stem and leaves on a tropical plant; 11/17/21.

***

2021 REFLECTIONS

Some photographers create “Best of” wrap-up posts at the end of each year and this year, I decided to join the tradition. It wasn’t a simple task – I couldn’t begin to decide which are the best photos I made this year. What’s more subjective than one’s own opinions about one’s work? Mired in indecision, I persevered and finally chose to post a collection of images from 2021 that 1) appeal to me and 2) represent the scope of the year. Many of these were posted earlier this year, a few were not.

1. Bowman Bay, Deception Pass State Park, Washington; May 12th. This year I spent lots of time studying the beach at low tide.

Reviewing the year’s work got me thinking about what I do here on WordPress. I don’t post individual images, though many photographers I admire do. There’s a lot to be said for posting single images; the viewer’s attention is fully centered on one photograph, with no distractions. But I like to create posts that can be experienced more like a short story or a film short focused on a particular theme. Often my subject is the observations I glean on a local walk but increasingly I’m drawn to concept pieces with images and text. The interplay of ideas and images intrigues me and the challenge of balancing text and photograph so neither detracts from the other keeps me engaged.

Because I spend a lot of time constructing these visual narratives, I tend to see and think about my photos in groups. How they relate can be more important than how they stand alone. Typically some photographs are like main characters, moving an idea forward, while others play supporting roles. I enjoy the flow that a series of images can create as the photographs “speak” to one another through qualities like color, tone, subject, scale, etc. Composing a “Best of 2021” series is challenging because there isn’t one idea or one place to represent – over the course of twelve months, there have been many ideas and (in a year of limited travel) at least several locations. Some cohesion is lent to the group by the fact that primarily, I photograph nature. Hopefully, a personal style also lends some consistency.

2. Deception Pass State Park; April 16th. In the spring I immersed myself in local wildflowers. It’s always my happiest time of year.
3. Snug Harbor Botanical Garden, Staten Island, NY; May 24th. During a trip to Massachusetts and New York, we visited several parks and gardens. Garden photography was my favorite thing to do when I lived in New York.

As I looked back over the year, I realized that it’s been a year of gear changes. During the first six weeks of 2021 I was using the camera and lenses that I had grown accustomed to for five years. Holding that camera was as familiar as holding a pencil – it even had nice wear marks on the grip. Then the unthinkable happened: the camera died. There was no fixing it. I could replace it but it was an older model so it made sense to research newer iterations of that camera. That led me to consider other cameras that take the same lenses. At least I didn’t allow myself to be tempted to switch to an entirely new system!

For about a month I wavered. I had a backup camera to use while I thought about which camera to buy. In March, I made a decision to buy an Olympus Pen-F, a slightly smaller, lighter camera than the one that broke, which was an EM-1. Smaller and lighter is a good thing and the elegant-looking Pen-F has a special way with black and white, which interests me. But I was constantly comparing it to my old camera. Small things like the feel of the on/off button bothered me; a bigger issue was that the camera is not weather resistant. Lovely as it is, the camera wasn’t quite right. In June, I ordered the newest version of the one that died, the EM-1 Mark III. (I am not made of money but I rationalized two camera purchases by the fact that I spent little money on travel for the last two years). The Mark III is weather-resistant, has excellent image stabilization, and offers a host of features that I haven’t even tried yet. The buttons and levers feel right. The ergonomics are good, too, and it’s smaller than most comparable cameras but it weighs more than I’d like. Nothing’s perfect.

After nine months, it still feels a little new to my hands and I’m a long way from being comfortably familiar with all its ins and outs. What I’ve realized this year is that a camera you’re used to is one you don’t think twice about, which allows you to concentrate on being creative with your little black box. Instead, I’ve spent a lot of time behind the camera thinking about technique. Of course, that isn’t all bad but I’m eager for this camera to be so familiar that I never pause to think about which button is where or how to quickly find a setting. I want it to be an extension of my hand in service of my vision and that’s going to take a while.

In the meantime I know I’m lucky to have a good camera that I can use anytime I want. What’s more, I’m grateful for the community of creative people with whom I share my work. Thank you for being here and thank you for all that you do – you keep me going more than you know.

4. Anacortes, Washington; February 13th. My favorite local bookstore and cafe put a positive pandemic message in their window: “We are in This Together.”
5. Bowman Bay; May 12th. Another low tide discovery.
6. Goose Rock, Deception Pass State Park; March 1st. Madrone tree bark study. I’ve been photographing these trees for almost ten years.
7. David Zwirner Gallery, New York City, New York; May 21st. Sculpture by Carol Bove. Her monumental steel sculptures were a delight to photograph.
8. Volunteer Park Conservatory, Seattle, Washington; November 17th. I was excited to find smudged, foggy windows at the conservatory. This is part of a series I call “Through” that I began over ten years ago.
9. Heart Lake, Anacortes, Washington; May 15th. I photographed Fawn lilies in bloom from mid-March through mid-May.
10. Little Cranberry Lake, Fidalgo Island, Washington; November 26th. This lake is often still and glassy, with nice reflections. The photo was made with an iPhone.
11. The San Juan Islands and Rosario Strait from Sugarloaf, Fidalgo Island; April 10th. Sugarloaf is a favorite destination for wildflowers in spring and views anytime.
12. Along March Point Road, Fidalgo Island; January 17th. Grasses, with their linearity and repeating shapes, are some of my favorite subjects. Home to two oil refineries, March point also has nesting eagles, a major Great Blue heron rookery with over 600 nests, and a flock of American white pelicans in the summer.
13. Heart Lake, Anacortes; July 14th. The diminutive, delicate Rein orchids (Platanthera sp.) have fascinated me ever since I began finding them tucked in out-of-the-way places all over the island.
14. Bridge Gardens, Bridgehampton, New York; May 25th. A high point of the trip to New York was meeting photographer John Todaro, who introduced me to this out-of-the-way garden on Long Island.
15. Washington Park, Fidalgo Island; February 5th. A dead juniper is hung up among Douglas fir trees but one day maybe it will fall into the water. Seaside junipers have become another favorite subject since I moved here in 2018.
16. Cornet Bay, Deception Pass State Park; July 11th. Massive logs are strewn about on many Pacific Northwest shorelines – at the ocean and all through Puget Sound. Often surrounded by detritus, they can be challenging to photograph.
17. Bowman Bay; December 3rd.
18. Ancient Lakes, Quincy, Washington; April 1st. We met friends here in the desert in eastern Washington. The scenery is strikingly different from western Washington, where I live.
19. Queens, New York; May 21st. A commuter wearing a mask waits for a train to Manhattan at the Long Island Railroad Jamaica station.
20. Bowman Bay again; November 3rd.

***

SOLSTICE

Snow falls

on the mountains,

paperwhites

at my window.

*

*

*

*

*

*

***

Abundant rainfall in the lowlands, deep snow in the mountains. Next year Mt. Baker will release its white coat as river water, nourishing all creatures and plants in the river delta before merging with the Salish Sea. The paperwhites (Narcissus papyraceous) will fade long before then. I will plant them outside. Maybe they will bloom again, maybe not. Cycles of life.

Happy Holidays to Everyone

***

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

***

BEYOND the POSTCARD VIEW

When I was first getting to know a sheltered bay near my house, I was enthralled by the scenery. The picture-perfect bay is hemmed in by rocky cliffs, making it a place apart, quiet and peaceful. The water there is fairly shallow but a deep, narrow channel just to the south brings a mix of nutrient-filled tidal waters into the bay. The ocean is almost a hundred miles away but the 15-mile wide Strait of Juan de Fuca funnels water from the Pacific all the way back to this bay. When the winds are right the waves are powerful enough to toss huge logs onto the shoreline. It’s a rich, complex habitat, much of which is hidden underwater.

On land there are crooked old Douglas firs, sinuous, orange-barked Madrone trees, and weathered, contorted logs. Herons, ducks, eagles, and kingfishers live here. There are wildflowers tucked into the cliffs and set along the trails, lichens hanging from trees and coloring the rocks, graceful drifts of dune grass, and murky wetlands hemmed with cattails. Four tides wash over the beaches each day – two high and two low – bringing countless changes: stinky blankets of sea lettuce one day, tangles of Bullwhip kelp another day, and countless stray shells and pebbles. Seals and otters make regular appearances, sticking their heads above water to look around and scope out the scene.

All this draws me back like a magnet and gradually, I’ve dug a little deeper than the postcard views that first attracted my attention. I learned that sometimes, the low tide is extra low and when that happens, two beaches that are normally separated by a rocky promontory become one as the water recedes past the base of the cliff. Among the rocks at the bottom of the cliff a careful observer can find odd, ancient creatures called chitons clinging to the dark undersides of still-damp rocks, waiting for the water to cover them up again. Low tides bring discoveries: in the height of summer, a large Lion’s mane jellyfish might wash up. And as if the beach isn’t enough, there are dramatic sunsets over the water. Even the spectacle of kayakers gently gliding away and out of sight is a treat for the eye.

As I return to this particular stretch of sand and rock, again and again, more treasures are revealed. I’ve been looking at patterns in the sand left by waves, animals, or bits of flotsam and jetsam. They’re like calligraphic messages from the world of water, traced on land for us to see, but not for long. Within hours, the tide will rise and wipe it all away. Some of these traces appear very abstract and are especially appealing. Walking here, I focus on the world at my feet, examining changes in texture and color, thinking about how this constant shifting of substances rearranges the world into new patterns, patterns that may or may not fit nicely into that familiar rectangle that my camera imposes on the world.

Then I look up and take in the wider view. Back and forth.

*

1. Here is one of those extra-low tides, called a minus tide. The rocks on the left form the cliff that you normally must climb over to reach the beach in the background. By checking tide tables, you can find windows of time when more beach is exposed, a good hunting ground for patterns.
2. Just visible in the upper right are marks left by the tide. At least one of those marks was made by this strand of eelgrass (Zostera marina), a U-shaped blessing of green against a solemn beige background of fine sand.
3. It’s easy to imagine a brush making these marks. Eelgrass as gesture.
4.
5. This view is from just past the rocks in #1, looking in the same direction. Successive lines of sea lettuce (Ulva fenestrata) washed up with the tide. Soon the tide will turn and the seaweed will be lifted up again, added back to the endless, living stew of bay water.
6.
7.

8.
9.
10. Always nearby, always watchful, the Great blue heron abides.
11.
12.
13.
14. Like the herons, Song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) are constant companions at the beach, flying about in the underbrush or flitting around the driftwood logs.
15.
16.
17. In the middle, a branch, to the left and right, pieces of Bullwhip kelp.
18. This is the opposite end of the bay from #5. There’s no sand here. Instead, a steep cliff abruptly meets the water in a tumbled tangle of rocks, driftwood, and detritus. Someday that leaning Douglas fir tree will fall.

***

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.

*

*

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.

LOCAL WALKS: BIG CEDAR

Here I am, having arrived at a place

deep enough

to lose myself

among exultant Sword fern bouquets

unfurling in the dim light as far as the

I can see.

There it is again,

that pesky “I”

but no problem, it will

get lost soon.

*

We breathe together, the “I” and

this verdant ravine where Redcedar soars,

roots, opens, and sits

as still and profound as two in the morning.

Just this, redcedar whispers.

Who hears?

*

A cool breeze scatters leaves. Was it from the ridge-top?

The jagged, black edge of the island? Or

did the wafting breath arise

fifty miles east,

in the center of the dark, cold Salish Sea?

Here, now, air manifests 

in gentle waves of cedar boughs,

flutters of tender huckleberry leaves,

prickly bumps on old arms.

Air and mind

focus and release in shuddering waves

like the darting squirrel

that was perfectly still a second ago.

Back and forth,

we’re eachall centered in herenow

in the bottom of the green ravine

where the I loosens and

dovetails into the forest.

*

Note: This poem appeared earlier this year in a slightly different version, with different photographs.

*

1,
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.

***

In Washington state’s Deception Pass State Park, a double loop of intersecting trails climbs in and out of a dry, coniferous forest and a deep, wet ravine. In the depths of the ravine, a massive Western redcedar tree (Thuja plicata) stands. This is the tree in the first photo and the photo below (with a person for scale). Well off the beaten path, the trail that winds down into the damp, fern-filled valley where the cedar grows is quiet. It feels remote from the built environment. Fallen trees coated with thick layers of moss from which younger trees sprout vie with ferns for the weak light that filters down through tall conifers. One can relax into the feeling of losing oneself in this forest, with only the sound of a distant raven and a nearby woodpecker punctuating the silence.

If you continue past the big cedar you’ll find more trails; go one direction and you climb out of the park, past the remains of an old mine and a decrepit log cabin, and back down to a quiet road. Walk another direction and you’ll emerge into a rough, cut-over area where blackberries thrive in the sun. I usually climb a steep, rocky trail leading out of the valley to a gentle ridge above Pass Lake, pictured above. The small lake’s cold water provides food for Great blue herons, Bufflehead ducks, River otters, and other beings who are intimate with the shoreline’s nooks and crannies. Humans must fish from non-motorized boats and throw the fish back to the water. We protect the lake, a breathing being itself that loves fog and holds it close on cool days before it floats away, nourishing the forest as it goes.

The old Western redcedar. Not a true cedar, this species belongs to the Cypress family. It was, and I assume still is, the most important plant to many Pacific northwest indigenous people, providing everything from clothing to canoes.

***

LOCAL WALKS: Pacific Northwest Mood

The darkening time –

after months of drought

the rain arrives, awakening licorice

fern tendrils,

greening up the ragged moss blankets

that wrap around rocks

where mushrooms smile.

*

Shadows thicken,

gloom pervades the forest,

opaque clouds loom

over the sea.

Threads of lace lichen soften,

gracefully fluttering

in the cool air by the bay

where I watch the last bees fret the aster’s

deep yellow discs.

The summer houses are empty.

*

Heron’s plans haven’t changed though –

peer, freeze, strike, swallow,

repeat

sometimes without the swallow.

In town

I see one flying

low over the roofs of busy stores,

crying hoarsely, fearless

and purposeful.

***

1. Wetland reflections.
2. Through a scrim of twigs and lichens.
3.
4.
5. Lace lichen (Ramalina menziesii), Douglas fir needles, and a Madrone leaf.
6. Rain.
7. Licorice fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza) dries up in summer and springs back to life with autumn rains. Last season’s shriveled leaves are at the base of the ferns growing on a moss-covered tree trunk.
8. More lace lichen.
9. Rain-slicked Madrone trees lean over the water.
10.
11.
12.
13. Great blue heron.
14.
15.
16.

***

FURTHER AFIELD: Into the Mountains

Last week we drove northeast to the Mt. Baker Snoqualmie National Forest, a vast tract of land on the western slopes of the Cascade Range. Our goal was a high meadow set with heather, wildflowers, blueberries, firs and hemlocks, about 10 miles south of the Canadian border as the crow flies. A glacier-fed creek winds through the meadow and widens into shallow lakes where American dippers (gray, fist-sized birds) plunge underwater in search of small fish and invertebrates. At 4200 feet (1280m) the subalpine meadow is far below nearby Mount Baker but it’s a big step up in altitude from life on an island at sea level.

Mount Baker, known as Koma Kulshan in the popularized (and probably incorrect) version of a local indigenous language, is our guardian mountain. Snow-capped all year long, it’s presence graces views to the northeast from different vantage points around our island. When it isn’t obscured by clouds we like to check its mood: sometimes the mountain looks gentle, other times it seems forbidding and fierce. It all depends on how the light hits it, whether it’s ringed with a puffy cloud necklace, how clear the sky is that day, or our own moods – we like to read things into the mountain. As we left Fidalgo Island on a bright September morning, Mt. Baker competed with electric wires that span the bridge, creating yet another scene. It wasn’t a picture postcard view but it was just as real as any other.

1. Mt. Baker/Koma Kulshan from the car as we drive off the island.
2. A distant North Cascade peak shows the scale of the mountain range relative to the lowlands.

It’s a two-hour drive on two-lane roads that pass through small rural communities. The final stretch penetrates thick forest as it climbs on up into the mountains. After a series of hairpin turns the road passes a ski resort before it ends above the timberline at a scenic hunk of rock called Artist’s Point. Fine views of mountain peaks can be seen in all directions up there. But you’re still well below Mt. Baker. For that, climbers need to execute a technical climb on the glacier-strewn peak, which is technically an active volcano. But no worries, it’s unlikely to erupt without warning while research and monitoring stations are keeping watch.

No gluttons for punishment, we just wanted an easy, scenic hike – and what a beautiful day it was for that. We pulled into a lot below Artist’s Point, parked, donned backpacks, hats, and sunscreen, checked our water and food supplies, and set off on the Bagley Lakes Trail.

3. Bagley Lakes.
4.

*

*

6. Blueberry bushes cast shadows on a well-worn boardwalk over a wet section of the trail.
7. A gold rush in the late 1890s brought settlers into this wilderness. Soon after that the idea of tourism took hold. Construction on a lodge began in 1925 and a road was constructed up to Heather Meadows, where we hiked the trail around Bagley Lakes. In 1931, the 58-mile-long Mt. Baker Highway was extended to its terminus at Artist Point; the lodge burned down the same year. Three years later Jack London’s Call of the Wild, starring Clark Gable and Loretta Young, was filmed nearby in the Mt. Baker National Forest.
8. Massive hemlocks tower over the meadows.

*

*

10. Bagley Creek’s bottom is littered with fallen trees. The red leaves in the lower left corner are blueberry bushes.

*

12. One impressive tree towered over the others, tilting toward the creek. Someday it will topple.
13.

*

I was surprised to find that last time we hiked here was exactly a year ago. The blueberries were more plentiful then and the skies were cloudier. It’s reassuring to return to a place you enjoy and take in the same views – but it’s always a little different. I find that reassuring, too. If you haven’t had your fill of mountain images, a post about last year’s hike can be seen here.

***