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.

 

1.

 

2.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

3.

 

4.

 

5.

 

6.

 

7.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

8.

 

9.

 

10.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

11.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

12.

 

13.

14.

 

***

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What There Is

In the spirit of working with what’s available, here is a group of photos I’ve tossed together from the road trip through Oregon and northern California that we took a few months ago. After days of being immersed in the randomness of my possessions – open a drawer, dig into a closet, unleash the chaos – my mind may be incapable of knitting together a coherent story or explanation for these images. Most were taken in small towns, and a few are from what used to be a small town. Perhaps there is a thread of nostalgia that connects them. Perhaps not. I’m OK either way. After all, like everything else, these images are part of the vast, beautiful, spacious world we live in where every thing is a world in itself, even as it plays a part in the greater mystery.

 

1.

 

2.

 

3.

 

4.

 

5.

 

6.

 

7.

 

8.

 

9.

 

10.

 

11.

 

12.

 

13.

 

14.

 

15.

 

16.

 

17.

 

18.

 

19.

 

20.

*

These photos were made at four locations in northern California: the picturesque agricultural town of Ferndale, the historic mountain mining town of Weaverville, the remote coastal hamlet of Shelter Cove, and a ghost town called Helena, near Weaverville. I made liberal use of effects when processing most of these images, primarily with Color Efex Pro.

Shelter Cove: #1

Helena: #2, #3, #14

Ferndale: #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #11, #12, #13, #15, #18, #19, #20

Weaverville: #10, #16, #17

 

 

 

 

WALK WITH ME

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

 

1.

 

Bees, wasps, ladybugs – insects are busy everywhere.

2.

 

 

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

4.

 

 

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

6.

 

7.

 

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

 

8.

 

9.

 

10.

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

 

 

12.

 

13.

 

 

14.

 

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

 

15.

 

16.

 

17.

 

18.

 

19.

 

20.

The Photos:

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

Winter Green

January in the Pacific northwest was wet, with over 8″ of rain; the average January precipitation is closer to 5 1/2″. That has made outdoor photography difficult, but I’ve been darting out between showers to a nearby park, hoping the rain doesn’t begin again before I reach my destination.

O.O. Denny Park isn’t far from home but it feels almost like another planet – a very green one, especially now. Local residents favor the park’s pleasant waterfront picnic and recreation area on Lake Washington, but across the street there is a deep, wet ravine dotted with tall, moss-covered trees and luxuriant undergrowth. The gurgling sound of  water from the park’s fast-moving creek stays within earshot as you walk a loop trail up the creek, across it, and back. There is a magical feeling here, a sense of stepping back into a place defined by trees, not cars.

1.

This month I’ve been inspired by the otherworldly quality of a landscape drenched in mist, mist that sometimes turned to rain as I walked, tempting me to run back to the car. If the rain is gentle the trees provide enough cover to wait it out; experiencing the changes adds to the pleasure. This week I was caught by a hailstorm. Ducking under an old cedar tree, I listened to the surprising clatter of tiny ice balls bouncing all about me. I emerged feeling frigid, with numb fingers and toes, but I’d been given a weather gift, and I was thankful.

Water is happy in the ravine; it stays and makes a home, decorating its domain with all manner of lichens, mosses and mushrooms, funneling its way up tree trunks and down them, too. Water speeds the rot and decomposition that smells so rich here, it makes tinkling stream music, it forces you to step carefully on slippery surfaces, it gives the Yellow Skunk cabbage all the oozy muck it wants, and sometimes – no, often –  it throws a hazy curtain of rain or hail over the lot, prompting you to squint, or maybe just close your eyes and breathe.

2.

 

3.

 

4.

 

When I first walked the paths at O.O. Denny Park, the landscape was so different from what I was used to seeing that I couldn’t take it in. I just gaped. As I walk the loop trail repeatedly, I see more.  I slowly prise the details apart and begin to see the patterns. The Big Leaf Maple thrusts moss-laden branches high into the sky for light, and each fall the maples drop a mother-lode of leaves. Because the leaves are huge and the forest is crowded with growth, many leaves are caught on the way down. There’s a pattern: caught leaves, decomposing in place.

5.

 

6.

 

7.

 

8.

 

9.

 

10.

 

11.

 

12.

 

13.

 

14.

 

15.

 

16.

 

17.

 

One day this week I tried to grab a window of time without rain, and made my way up the O.O. Denny ravine path, camera in hand. The clouds parted to reveal a rare glimpse of blue sky but it was a changeable day, and soon a cold drizzle began to fall. I paused and heard a ping, ping, ping. Soon tiny ice balls began bouncing all around me. I was transfixed. Bundled up in a down jacket and wool scarf but without gloves or a hat, I put my hood up and stepped backwards, taking shelter under a large cedar. The hail came clattering down. It coated the path in front of me white, it collected in furrows of leaves on the ground and in mossy crevices on trees, and it turned the ravine into a magical fantasy land.

Holding my camera under my scarf, I awkwardly reached for my phone in an inside pocket. With frozen fingers I composed a few pictures. Finally, the hail stopped and I set back out for my car, avoiding the muddy, icy puddles as well as I could. I was very cold and desperately wanted to feel that heater!

 

18.

 

19.

 

20.

 

21.

 

22.

 

More photos from O.O. Denny Park are here (Fall), here (Spring), and here (Spring).

The Photos:

  1. A section of the loop trail. Late one afternoon I noticed a tell-tale splotch of white on the path here. It was still wet so I looked up and sure enough, there was a Barred owl, staring me down from a perch just overhead. Not wanting to disturb the owl, I left the camera at my side, and enjoyed the opportunity for a brief, eye-to-eye connection across species lines.
  2. Bigleaf maples (Acer macrophyllum) form a tangle of green, enriched by abundant rain. The biggest maple in North America, Bigleaf has an affinity for mosses, ferns and lichens. Their lush growth on Bigleaf trunks and branches produces “canopy soil” full of nutrients. The trees can actually produce tiny canopy roots, taking advantage of the rich biomass, high above the forest floor.
  3. Flanking this Bigleaf maple are the gracefully swaying branches of Western Red cedar (Thuja plicata), a common northwestern evergreen. Given the right circumstances, these trees can live over 1,000 years and grow 230′ tall.
  4. The moss-covered tree is probably a young Bigleaf Maple; the orange leaves are Bigleaf Maple leaves.
  5. Somehow, a maple leaf was speared by this branch. It will probably hang here until it fully decomposes.
  6. Another maple leaf caught on a branch.
  7. And another – so precarious!
  8. A pause in the rain.
  9. A single Bigleaf maple can support several tons of “epiphytic material” – the mosses, lichens, ferns and associated bacterial and fungal species that live in the trees.
  10. Licorice ferns (Polypodium glycyrrhiza) take root in the moss on this branch. The trees in the background to the right are Western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla).
  11. The Sword fern (Polystichum munitum) is a large, tough evergreen fern found throughout our area, up into Alaska, and down along the coast to southern California.
  12. Licorice fern has a similar distribution, and favors the trunks and branches of Bigleaf maples but will grow elsewhere.  A nibble of the rootlet yields a sweet, faintly licorice taste; the plant is used medicinally and for food. “Polypodium” refers to its habit of having many feet – growing from different points along a creeping rhizome.
  13. I believe this pretty lichen is Oakmoss, or Evernia prunastri. It grows across the Northern hemisphere and is used in the perfume industry in Europe.
  14. This fragment is typical of broken branches seen on the forest floor. It’s covered with a complex mix of lichens and moss, and I can’t identify a single one!
  15. Elegant Western Red cedars and sturdy Douglas firs create a cathedral-like atmosphere on one of my favorite sections of trail.
  16. These little bright gold mushrooms are probably Hygrocybe flavescens. They grow across North America; Europe has a very similar species.
  17. The Indian plum, or Osoberry (Oemleria cerasiformis) is already budding! Soon their tiny, white dangling bells will punctuate the forest. They’re the first native shrubs to flower here, offering nectar to early foraging bees. Song sparrows and Pacific wrens are singing…it won’t be long.
  18. The hailstorm.
  19. Local forests shine bright green in January because of an abundance of evergreen trees, ferns, understory plants, and mosses.
  20. Hail pellets are gathered in a cup of maple leaves on the forest floor.
  21. The hail won’t damage these ground covers that are green all year.
  22. Along the path, the little ice pellets begin to melt and soak into the ground. In an hour there will be no trace of the hail, except for mud, puddles, and more water in the creek that makes its way down to Lake Washington, through the complex of bays, canals and waterways that divide Seattle in half, into Puget Sound, through the Straight of Juan de Fuca, and finally, into the Pacific Ocean.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The West is East of Here

 

Here are images from my recent trip east, where I roamed around the West.

P7131198-Edit

Confused? Well… Washington is geographically in the western United States, but only parts of the state look like our idea of the “West.”  The Cascade Mountain Range divides the state in two: western/coastal Washington and central/eastern Washington. The western side of the mountains, where I live, has a wet, temperate climate. Industry and technology drive the economy, especially in and around Seattle. On the eastern side the weather is much drier, the population more sparse, and agriculture takes precedence over technology or industry.  That’s where I expect to find remnants of America’s “Wild West”  – but I have to travel east to get there.

 

78090023-Edit

The Govan Schoolhouse. Photo taken with a film camera and processed in Silver Efex.

P7131208-Edit

The shingles are loose, the floor is rotten, and birds scatter and cry foul if you get too close.

P7131202-Edit-2

The schoolhouse roof has seen better days.

P7131232-Edit

More old buildings in Govan that seem to embody a life of hard work and practical values.

78090024-Edit

A deserted home welcomes plants more than people these days. Photo taken with a film camera, processed in Silver Efex.

P7100960-Edit-Edit-2

The town of Curlew still has a false-fronted saloon and a general store, but miners no longer come looking for moonshine.  Around the corner…

P7100949-Edit

An old Seagrave fire truck from about 1949 gathers dust and dirt. 

*

P7100962-Edit

The Curlew bridge. It hasn’t been altered since it was built in 1908, and still features a wooden roadbed. Center your wheels!

 

 

Sadly, Riverside’s Detro’s Western Store is going out of business after 71 years. Western boots are on sale, along with saddles, hats, and rodeo equipment.

P7100898-Edit-2

Down the street from Detro’s Western store, a weathered building has an aura of neglect.

P7100932-Edit

Another anonymous building in Riverside.

P7100941-Edit

The stretch of small town shadows and summer afternoons is mighty long.

 

P7100899

A bike in front of the store has been left out a little too long, but it sure adds to the charm.

P7100903-Edit

A cigar store  Indian stands guard at the grocery store in Riverside.

P7131176-Edit.jpg

A life-size, sculpted Indian on horseback gazes into the distance. He’s part of an extensive Wild West collection at the Black Bear Motel in Davenport.

P7111015-Edit

In Metaline Falls, architectural details recall a more prosperous past.

P7100942-Edit

There’s plenty of room to spread out, here among the rolling hills.

P7131257-Edit

It seems that everywhere I look, whether at an old storefront in town or a grassy field outside of town, colors are subtly weathered, from the harshness of the elements.

P7100881

An unidentified wildflower, past bloom but still beautiful, graces a vacant lot.

P7131253-Edit

A barbed wire fence, a bullet-ridden old can, and utter quiet in Lincoln County.

P7131189-Edit

This pretty Mariposa lily hosts an insect convention.

P7090863

One lone tree stands vigil amid grasses and wildflowers.

P7090877-Edit

Glacial erratics are scattered over the earth in Douglas County. A National Natural Landmark, the area was on the edge of an ice sheet several million years ago; these giants were left behind.

P7131292

The empty road reminds me of all the people who have come west, looking for freedom and a new life.

P7090870

 

***

Why do we take photographs when we travel? To remember. In the emotional rush that is the excitement of new places, there often isn’t much consideration given to the best angle, the best settings, or how to compose a picture that tells the story – we aren’t even sure what the story is sometimes. We just want to record, and sometimes that means less than optimal images. But each time we travel we get a little better at remembering to work the image, to make it more than a snapshot. There’s another factor that motivates me – I’m looking for patterns. Not just patterns within a particular frame, but patterns across time that are connections to other images from other places.

This post is presented as a visual narrative of a particular trip, but also carries forward ideas I have about beauty and loss, the intrigue of form and shadow, and maybe, an expression of the fullness of spirit that sometimes finds me, in the best moments of forgetting.

 

 

***

 

Other Roads

Our trip to the Kootenay region of British Columbia hit a snag, and roads led us

elsewhere.

I found the four elements arranged themselves nicely,

anyway.

Fire, earth, air, water – we felt them all, sometimes

painfully.

The heat was oppressive and we had a bad meal or two. But smile-inducing surprises

found us.

And visual delights?

I found them.

P7090879-Edit

Pastels soothe the eyes and in the distance, power giants loom, but delicately.

We were there, and

Yes, you’re here.

P7090787-Edit

*

Here is an arrangement of images, reflecting various arrangements of the four elements, as seen on my trip through central and eastern Washington State.

 

P7141350

*

P7141323-Edit

*

P7131272-Edit

 

*

P7131165-Edit

*

P7131193

*

P7131300-Edit-2

*

P7131211-Edit

*

P7100910

*

P7111054-Edit

*

P7141389-Edit

*

P7141349

*

P7090811-Edit

*

P7100976

*

P7141325

*

P7100973-Edit

*

P7100889-Edit

*

P7100964-Edit

*

P7131293-Edit

*

P7090871-Edit

*

First Photo:  A rural road in Douglas County, central Washington State. There were 849 farms in the county at last US Dept. of Agriculture census in 2012. The average age of the farms’ principle operators was 59, and farms produced $327,190,000 in wheat. (Earth)

Second: Trail marker at Ohme Gardens, Wenatchee.

Third: Rushing water at Deception Falls, Cascade Mountains, near Skykomish. (Water)

Fourth: Detail of the Tumwater Pipeline Bridge. In the 1890’s the bridge supported a wooden pipe carrying water to power the Great Northern Railroad as it climbed Stevens Pass. Now it is repurposed as part of the Tumwater Pipeline trail. (Earth)

Fifth: A field of Yarrow behind barbed wire outside the ghost town of Govan, Lincoln County. (Earth)

Sixth: “Amber waves of grain” – and green, Lincoln County. (Earth)

Seventh: More wheat fields outside Govan. (Earth)

Eighth: An old windmill in a wheat field, at 60 mph. (Air)

Ninth: Shingle siding on the old Govan Schoolhouse, built in 1905. The small town has slowly faded over the years and is now marked by a grain elevator and shipping terminal.  The steeple came down two years ago; there are many photos of the two room schoolhouse online, with the steeple intact.  (Earth)

Tenth: Plants press against an old window at a general store, Riverside. (Earth)

Eleventh: Lungwort lichen (Lobaria pulmonaria) on a tree at Sweet Creek Falls, between the old mining towns of Ione and Metalline, in Washington’s northeast corner. (Earth)

Twelfth: The Tye River eases over rock at Deception Falls, about 13 miles west of Stevens Pass. Nearby, on January 6, 1893 the last rail spike was set to connect Seattle to St. Paul, Minnesota, and through to the east coast.  Echoes of revolvers and the shouts of men on a winter night marked the achievement of over 1800 miles of track laid down across the West. Twenty-four years earlier the first transcontinental railroad had been completed in Utah; the privately financed GN was now the northernmost rail line in the states. Nearby Stevens Pass is named for its discoverer, John Frank Stevens, who engineered the Great Northern Railroad and later was chief engineer of the Panama Canal. (Water)

Thirteenth: Water roars through a narrow passage at Deception Falls. (Water)

Fourteenth: An old tree root, probably Western redcedar, at Ohme Gardens in Wenatchee. (Earth)

Fifteenth: Forest fire damage in the Colville National Forest, seen from Boulder Creek Road at 60 mph. The Stickpin Fire of 2015 originated with a lightning strike on August 11th. By early September the National Guard, helicopters, and crews from distant locations were on the scene working to contain the fire. It was just 36% contained on September 8th, almost a month after it began, The fire was one of many across the region that year. Three firefighters lost their lives on August 19th when fire enveloped their vehicle in a separate fire east of here. By that time, 600 square miles were burning across Washington. The road this photo was taken from was closed, people miles away wore face masks outdoors, and evacuation orders were issued for some areas.

–  From the Barreca Vineyard blog: “The valleys filled with smoke, the ghosts of dead forests from the mountains around us. We wore breathing masks outside. Ash rained down on buildings, cars, the garden… Fire camps sprung up in Colville and Kettle Falls. You would see helicopters and planes flying here and there to fight the fires.”

By the end of October the 73,392 acre conflagration was 82% contained.  The Incident Commander planned ongoing patrols and mop-up repair work. Today, fireweed blooms among blackened pine trees.  (Fire)

Sixteenth: The Tumwater Pipeline strut work casts shadows that would make an engineer happy, though now they fall on a flat trail bed instead of a rounded wooden pipeline. (Earth)

Seventeenth: Another view of forest fire damage in the Colville National Forest.  (Fire)

Eighteenth: An unidentified wildflower in a vacant lot by an auto parts store, Omak. If you have any idea what it is, let me know!  (Earth)

Nineteenth: Hay bales ready for pick up outside Curlew. (Earth)

Twentieth: Looking up into a wheat field planted hard by the road in Lincoln County. (Earth)

Twenty-first: Summertime on the road, eastern Washington. (Air)

** There is an admitted arbitrariness to these elemental assignments. And let’s not forget spirit, an element that may weave through it all.

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Songs

Green-edged road

broken robin’s egg

left in the grass.

*

 

Below are four groups of photographs, all taken in the last month, some near home and some a day’s trip away.

P6140946-Edit

*

P6140898-Edit

*

P6140854-Edit

*

P6141761-Edit

*

P6141770-Edit

*

The photos above were taken along Umtanum Road, a rural two lane winding through the hilly grasslands of Kittitas County, on the dry side of the Cascade Range.  We’d taken a quick overnight trip on a whim – I was hoping to see wildflowers. Our route climbed east over the Cascade Mountains, then south, with a stop near a mountain pass for a lovely walk through the forest (photos below).

We had dinner in Ellensburg that evening, and spent the night at a local airbnb, where our host regaled us with the inside scoop on the local agriculture business. She used to work for a hay exporter but was happy to leave the stressful job behind. We learned that the timothy hay grown in the area is a multi-million dollar business. Most of it is shipped to Japan and China – apparently Asian cows and racehorses are thriving on it.

The next day we explored Umtanum Road, seen above. The region was bursting with wildflowers, as temperatures were not yet in the 90’s, which is the summer norm for the area. The flowers took my breath away. I plan to post photos of them in the future. In addition to flowers, the occasional abandoned building and dozens of bluebird boxes, we noticed the piece of abandoned farm equipment pictured above – if anyone has an idea what it was used for, I’d love to know!

Below, photos from our walk along the Swauk Forest Discovery Trail, an easy two mile loop near Blewett Pass.  At about 4,000 feet we were high enough for nice views, though it was a cloudy day. Still, the quiet trail was inspiring. The forest ecosystem there is Ponderosa pine-Douglas fir, with widely spaced trees, various sages, grasses, and many flowers, including the beloved Tweedy’s lewisia, below.  We saw thick manes of wolf lichen on the trees, and learned first-hand the tantalizingly sweet, warm smell of Ponderosa pine bark.  A penstemon (P. fruticosus) decorates the path below:

P6130788

*

P6130780

*

P6130753

*

P6130772-Edit

*

P6130821-Edit

*

P6130823-Edit

*

On another day I drove north to Skagit County, where life revolves around agriculture. Fields are planted with potatoes, berries, daffodils, tulips and more; dairy cows and other livestock complete the picture.  Restaurants in some of the small towns feature food made with locally grown ingredients and a rustic atmosphere, drawing people from far afield. Local residents seem to have a penchant for slightly eccentric, artistic touches and colorful gardens.

20170602_165046

*

P6020359

*

P6020363-Edit-Edit-2

*

P6020407-Edit-Edit

*

P6020360-Edit

*

20170602_153238

*

Closer to home there’s a roadside spot I visit from time to time. Nothing elaborate, in fact, it’s the kind of space most people ignore, but I like places like that. My expectations are less defined than they are at established parks or trails, and I enjoy the thought that I have no idea what I’ll find.

There’s a retention pond to regulate water runoff, a grassy knoll, and a sliver of woods with a bit of wetland in a sink. The land has a rural feeling but it’s minutes away from the sprawling Redmond Microsoft corporate campus.  Birdsong is the high note, traffic is the low note.

P6071735-Edit

*

P6071700

*

P6071693

*

P6071708

*

P6071683-Edit

*

P6071681-Edit

*

Summer pleasures! It’s been a good season for them. On Sunday we’re off for a week-long road trip, this time heading east and north, into a quiet corner of British Columbia where the Kootenay River joins the mighty Columbia. Maybe we’ll stop at Grand Coulee Dam on the way up. Lots of maybes! Time to pack!

 

 

 

 

 

BIG. EMPTY.

Before I traveled to central Oregon last month, a friend commented, “So you’re going to the Big Empty.”  I didn’t know much about the area – only that it included a geological wonder called the Painted Hills, many fossils and a scattering of very small towns – but that seemed about right.

Google “Big Empty” and much more comes up – a 1994 song titled “Big Empty” by the Stone Temple Pilots, a 2003 movie called “The Big Empty”  starring Jon Favreau, and a PBS TV special, “The Sagebrush Sea” about the huge sagebrush plateau between mountain ranges.

It’s a catchy phrase.

The Big Empty isn’t the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls, and it’s certainly not thronged with people. It really IS pretty empty. Technically it’s the inter-mountain west. Specifically, I planned to travel around the Umatilla Plateau and the Blue Mountains’ John Day/Clarno Uplands.  A mouthful, these are U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ecoregion designations that delineate regions based on geography, solar radiation, and rainfall.

Here are two views of Blue Basin, part of the John Day/Clarno Uplands.

P5021202

P5021251-Edit

*

 

The uplands include semi-arid foothills of sagebrush and gentle mountains dotted with ponderosa pine. Highways here are two lane and relatively quiet. Rugged cattle country, this area is famous for Painted Hills beef.

P5011045-Edit.jpg

*

Truly vast, open landscapes aren’t to everyone’s liking. The agorophobe takes no comfort in endless horizons. Landscapes dominated by mountains, waterfalls or other grand features usually appeal to people more than dry desert steppe.

In central and eastern Oregon’s sagebrush and pine country, the landscape is drawn down to its essence.

Below are roadside views of the Umatilla Plateau, a treeless grassland farmed for winter wheat. Seen from the car passenger window, the plain rolls out to a horizon that always seems to push past the last sight line.  Where the plains curve into gently folded hills, they too carry the eyes out into the “wild blue yonder.”

P5031365-Edit

 

P5031375-Edit

 

P5011030-Edit

*

This arid land will shrink plants to the bone. Even buildings are squeezed dry.

P5021247

 

P5021200

 

P5021218-2

 

P5010970-Edit

 

*

P5031292

P5031293

P5031344-Edit

*

The open landscape captivates me. Seventeen years ago I had seen very little of the West, in fact my teenage son knew it better than I did. In the summer of 2000, while at a program in southern Utah, he needed a minor operation.  I flew out from New York to be there.

Driving south out of Salt Lake City in my rented car, I gaped as the city gave way to countryside.  Stretching out on either side of the road, wider and wider with each mile, the Utah landscape was infinitely more grand than any I’d seen before.  The colors appealed to me. Soft tawny golds, dark rusts and pale gray-greens offered countless subtle shades to focus on.

It pleased me to be in a place where I could focus on simple shapes – the triangle of a treeless mountain top, the sphere of a boulder. I finally understood the draw of the great American West.

P5021127-Edit

*

This is the Sheep Rock Unit of John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, in Oregon.  Whether in Utah or Oregon, being dwarfed by the western landscape puts everything in its proper place, and I am comforted.

The quiet ease of small western towns is deeply refreshing, too. We stayed in Mitchell (pop. 130 in 2010), which nestles into the hills of Wheeler County, the least populated county in a state with only 1.27% of America’s people. Around Mitchell are scenes like this:

P5021114

 

P5011040-Edit

 

P5011091

 

P5011071

 

*

The small, unpretentious towns that settle into the folds of the hills have a straightforward appeal. The mercantile should have what you need, as long as your needs are uncomplicated. Breakfast at the cafe comes with easy, friendly conversation, and maybe a little advice from a hand-lettered sign on the wall.

P5021097

 

20170501_120755-Edit

 

20170502_095029_optimized

 

20170502_095050_optimized-Edit

 

20170501_120657_optimized-Edit

 

P5021101-Edit

 

P5021173

P5031395-Edit

P5031284-Edit

 

P5031326-Edit

*

Having fewer choices, going at a slower pace, and the simple pleasures of clean air and attractive vistas made this Big Empty experience full enough, for me at least.

P5011026-Edit

 

 

 

FORAYS

Spring unfolds slowly in the Pacific Northwest. I’m as impatient for it as the next person, but I want to savor every bit of this season, so the measured advance suits me. This week cherry trees paint a delicate pink froth along the roadsides, the first Salmonberry flowers punctuate the woods, and birds riff and prance like it’s never been done before.

Skies are often wet and gray but between showers I make quick local forays: a few hours at the Arboretum in Seattle, a run to photograph the cherry trees that edge a parking lot near home, a late afternoon wander down an unused railroad track.

The resulting images are all over the map, metaphorically if not literally.

Here you go:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

20170323_144702

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

This unusual mix of images reflects what I’m seeing these days. Here are the details:

  1. Parking lot Cherry tree blossoms. Shot with an Olympus M. Zuiko 60mm macro lens at f 4.5, processed in Color Efex Pro (CEP) and Lightroom (LR).
  2. At the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, a bamboo fence protects the Camellia tree in #4 and #10. I used the macro lens again at f 6.3 and processed the image in LR with a preset and tweaking. I could probably get a nice result in Silver Efex, too, but I thought I’d try the LR presets.
  3. Parking lot cherry trees, towards sunset. Taken with a vintage lens (using an adapter). The Asahi Pentax Super-Takumar 50mm 1.4 is a well-built but heavy prime lens; mine was made between 1966 and 1971. It’s supposedly slightly radioactive due to a  coating on one or more of the elements. It produces lovely color and bokeh but it’s very difficult to focus. Of course, there’s no automatic focusing – we’re talking old school here. You’ve got to be able to squint and look hard to see if you’re in focus. I mostly miss, but it’s fun to take the lens out and see what happens. I need to do that more! Processed in LR & CEP.
  4. The Camellia trees are dropping their blossoms at Washington Park Arboretum. Taken with the 60mm macro lens. Processed in CEP a bit, then LR where I reduced the saturation of the greens, which can be overpowering this time of year, and added vignetting.
  5. Interesting things happen on the ground in gardens, especially when blossoms fall. I think this is a rhododendron flower. Olympus 14 – 150mm zoom lens, f 8, 67mm. Only a tiny bit of processing was done in LR. It’s satisfying when you don’t need to do anything to your photo but I really enjoy processing.  I don’t make perfection out of the camera a goal – if you do, I admire you!
  6. This old wagon falls apart more each year, too bad. It sits by the side of the road near a small town called Duvall. Duvall sits in an agricultural valley about 45 minutes east of Seattle. When I first photographed the wagon five years ago, it stood on all four wheels. Tempus fugit!  Shot with a Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5 prime lens at f 4.5. I could have used a smaller aperture for more detail but it was very cloudy. I needed extra light and wanted the background to blur out a bit. Processed in Silver Efex Pro.
  7. On the same day, I visited this old structure on Cherry Valley Road in Duvall. I love this building for the simple, almost Shaker-like lines and the soft patina of its peeling paint. There are “No Trespassing” signs around but the building is unused. Shot with an Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm, f 1.8 prime lens, at f 9. This is a new lens for me and it’s going to take a while before I’m comfortable with it but I’m sure it’s going to be very useful. Processed in CEP, where I applied a blur vignette. I also increased the luminosity of the yellows in LR, just a little.I find the luminosity sliders for individual colors to be invaluable.
  8. A window on the side of building, same lens, f 6.3, processed in LR.
  9. Forsythia at the Arboretum with an orange haze of Red twig dogwood behind it. This is in the Winter Garden, which is nicely planted with contrasting colors, textures (in peeling bark, for example) and patterns. Shot with a 14 – 150mm Olympus M. Zuiko zoom lens at f 5.5. Processed mostly in LR, where I softened it a little more by slightly decreasing the contrast and reducing clarity towards the edges.
  10. A pretty Camellia at the Arboretum. They have a collection of Camellias and this is my favorite, for the color, grace of form, and the way the flower is set off by the glossy, dark leaves. Shot with the 60mm macro (which works well for plenty besides macro) at f 6.3. Very little processing.
  11. Every year, insects feast on the Arboretum’s Magnolia tree leaves. I think it mostly happens after the leaves fall to the ground. What’s left after the bugs depart are thousands of intact leaves with no “flesh” and just a fine tracery of veins. Here a tree flower is seen behind a skeletonized Magnolia leaf. I held the leaf in front of the lens (14 – 150mm zoom lens at f 5.5) and focused on the leaf veins rather than the flower behind. I may go back and experiment more with this.
  12. The same leaves are seen here layered on the ground with other leaves, making an endless array of patterns. Shot with the 60mm macro lens at f 5, processed in CEP and LR.
  13. A similar shot to the one above, this one was taken with my phone, an older Samsung, and cropped and processed in LR.
  14. More parking lot cherry blossoms at sunset. 60mm macro lens at f 5, lightly processed in LR.
  15. The diminutive Cyclamen coum, native to Bulgaria and Turkey but happy across the globe, at the arboretum. Thanks to the camera’s flip screen, I didn’t have to lie on the ground to get this – just placed the camera there! 60mm macro lens at f 6.3, processed in LR with a bit more softening, and blur added to the edges done in CEP.

***

BTW – An inspirational TEDx talk can be found here, where Danielle Hark talks about the Broken Light Collective, an inspiring photography collective where people with mental illness show their work and often discuss how photography helps them cope with the everyday challenges of living with mental illness. Broken Light is also a WordPress blog.

 

A selection of my photographs is available for purchase at lynn-wohlers.pixels.com.

 

ORDINARY

Ordinary sights

seen on early winter walks, drives and ferry rides

in my neck of the woods.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 **

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

**

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

**

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 **

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 **

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

**

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

**

20161119_144940

**

20161203_135733_resized

**

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

**

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

**

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

*

It is December, and the light

fades.

Still, in the dim places, we know

beauty –

beauty enough

for spirit to expand.

________________________________________________________________

Photos:

Trumpeter swans arriving at winter feeding grounds, Sedro-Wooley

Old building on the Lyman-Hamilton Highway, Skagit County

Red Osier dogwood leaves, Skagit County

Shot-up mailbox, Carnation-Duvall Road, Duvall

Moss-covered vintage tanker truck, Carnation-Duvall Road, Duvall

Cattail reflections, Juanita Bay Park, Kirkland

Sunset on Lake Washington, Juanita Bay, Kirkland

Afternoon sun on Cottonwoods, Juanita Bay, Kirkland

Moss-covered Big leaf maple branches; roadside, from the car; Duvall

Old building on the Lyman-Hamilton Highway, Skagit County

Ferry window; ferry to Whidbey Island

Red alder trees, Juanita Bay Park, Kirkland

All locations in Washington State