LOCAL WALKS: Forest and Bluff

A network of forest trails threads through a state park near a small, freshwater lake frequented by fly fishers. I’ve been exploring these trails lately, in part because they’re less busy than the other trails here. Called Pass Lake, the lake has its own magic but is hard by a highway, so I don’t spend too much time there. Entering the woods, the traffic noise slowly drops away. Tall trees soar above a fern-covered forest floor. This alone might be enough, but by following a particular sequence of trails, I’ve found an interesting variety of habitats that invites scrutiny.

Around the lake the topography veers up and down verdant, steep slopes of evergreens. If you climb north on paths leading away from the water the forest thins, soon opening up onto a series of exposed bluffs. Interesting in their own right, some of these craggy spots have expansive views across the valley below. On the bluffs, also called balds* Madrona trees, grasses, lichens and wildflowers adapted to drier conditions displace the Sword ferns, Salal, Douglas firs, Redcedars and Western hemlocks of the forest below. The contrast between lush, green woodlands and sere, brown bluffs engages the curious mind: one minute you’re treading the quiet paths of a damp, dark forest lit by narrow beams of light, the next minute you’re in the open, with dry leaves crunching underfoot and the sun warming your face. All this can be experienced in just a mile or two of walking.

Below are photographs made at various times of the year of Pass Lake, the forest that surrounds it, and the balds above.

1. In the colder months when the trout have gone sluggish the empty lake is as serene as the sound of a temple bell. One foggy winter afternoon two years ago a few diving ducks plied the lake while I made dozens of photographs.

2. Intentional camera blur and Lightroom tweaks emphasize the vertical nature of the forest and the repeating forms of what is perhaps the understory’s most common plant, Sword fern.
3. On a foggy September day an old Bigleaf maple tree seems to levitate over a steep-sided ravine that stays green all year.
4. Leaving the Pass Lake Loop and taking the Ginnett Hill trail one day, I came across a huge, fern-bedecked rock. I imagine the rock and its cloak of mosses and ferns must have its own micro-climate, a damp and cool one.

5. Another impressionist view of the forest surrounding Pass Lake. You can just make out the woven pattern on the bark of a Western redcedar on the far left. This moisture-loving tree is extremely important to indigenous Pacific Northwest people; strips of the bark could be woven into clothing, mats, rope, roofing material and many other useful things. The wood is softer than most other trees so large logs could be scooped out with stone tools to make canoes. The rot-resistant wood is made into cedar shakes now.
6. As sinuous as a seated Guanyin** sculpture, this Western redcedar became one with its boulder support long ago.



8. By taking root here this Bigleaf maple tree gains height, which means more light, a critical commodity for plants and one that can be in short supply in Pacific Northwest confer forests.

9. Emerging from the forest after climbing a long uphill stretch, I came upon this bald on Ginnett Hill. You can see the bald’s typical thin, rocky soil. There’s evidence of a fire and new growth at the foot of the blackened Madrona tree. Madrona trees (Arbutus menziesii) grow well on this exposed, dry site. Their attractive, orange, peeling bark and crooked trunks stand out amidst the deep green, upright conifers. It’s fun to find the first Madrona as I climb the trail or the last one on the way back down.
10. Looking up into a grove of Madrona trees. This is a vertical landscape, hence many vertically oriented photographs.



12. Back at the lake a Great blue heron eyes me warily. You won’t find this bird on the bald!



14. Looking toward Rodger Bluff from an opening on the east face of Ginnett Hill. The majority of the trees seen here are Douglas fir. Maybe you can see the distinctive, rounded forms of Madronas on the rocks in the upper half of the photo. The yellow-green flowers in the bottom right are the blooming crown of a Madrona tree.
15. Reflections on the lake on an August afternoon. There are no Madronas down here.
16. Another look at winter fog reflections on Pass Lake.


“Trails are all about connections, connecting places and also connecting people to those places.” Jack Hartt, former Park Manager at Deception Pass State Park.


*Herbaceous balds–Variable-size patches of grasses and forbs on shallow soils over
bedrock, commonly fringed by forest or woodland.
From a US Customs & Border Protection publication detailing the variety of sites found near US borders which may be sensitive, priority habitats, because of their unique characteristics.

** Click Guanyin for a look at sculptures and paintings of this Buddhist bodhisattva.


ON and OFF the BOAT

Here is a collection of images made on ferries, on a pier in Anacortes, Washington, and a street near the pier.

1. Seen on Washington State’s Coupeville – Pt. Townsend ferry, 2021. We puzzled over this. Who gets to go? Where does it lead? I mean, “TANK RM NO. 2” isn’t going to hold us all!
2. A ferry safety net and shadow from the same trip.
3. Seen on the ferry to Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, Washington, 2018.

4. Seen on the Coupeville – Pt. Townsend ferry, 2019. It was a fog-filled crossing.

5. Seen on the Coupeville – Pt. Townsend ferry, 2021. Normally there are two ferries on this route; one holds 90 vehicles, the other holds 124 (but no more than 26 commercial vehicles). 1200 passengers can squeeze on but walk-on traffic is usually light. The ride takes about 35 minutes. The ferry may be canceled during extremely low tides and the fare will set you back from $3.60 to $245.00 and up depending on whether it’s just you, walking on and proving you’re over 65, or you driving a very large vehicle.

6. Seen on the historic Pier 1 in Anacortes, 2021. Anacortes is the only urban center on Fidalgo Island, Washington. The 15.53 square mile city (40.22 km) has about 18,000 residents, some of whom are Samish Indian Nation people, a Coast Salish tribe. Coast Salish have lived in the area for at least 14,000 years.
7. Seen on Pier 1 on the same day. Water from these hoses keeps the catch fresh during unloading.
8. Looking up from the deck of the ferry on the Coupeville – Pt. Townsend route, 2021.
9. Seen from the upper deck of the ferry to Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, 2018.

10. Seen at Pier 1, Anacortes, 2021. The 5,500 horsepower Crowley tugboat ‘Protector’ was built in 1996 as a ship assist and escort tug. This tugboat looked clean enough to eat a meal right on the deck.

11. Pier 1, Anacortes, 2021, the following day. ‘Protector’ is gone and a 1930s yacht, ‘Taconite’ has taken its place. The 125-foot yacht is tied up for two days. The ferry behind it is in drydock at Dakota Creek Industries, a large ship building and repair facility based in Anacortes.
12. Seen on the Coupeville – Pt. Townsend ferry, 2021.
13. Seen on the Coupeville – Pt. Townsend ferry, 2021. What a great-looking piece of machinery.
14. A warehouse near Pier 1 in Anacortes, 2021. The crane behind it is part of Dakota Creek’s operation. They are currently contracted to build six US Navy tugs. The tugs will tow and handle Navy carriers, surface ships, submarines and barges

15. One of Dakota Creek Industries’ buildings is graced by a telephone pole shadow, 2021.
16. The Anacortes Arts Festival juried art show, held inside the historic Transit Shed next to Pier 1. 2021.

17. A sculpture at the Anacortes Arts Festival juried art show frames a couple resting on the pier. The ferry in drydock is in the background. 2021.

18. Sunset seen from the Coupeville – Pt. Townsend ferry, 2021.



Inanimate things for a change. Enjoy!


1. Have a socially distanced seat outside Pelican Bay Used Bookstore and Cafe. Anacortes, Washington.

2. Have a seat and a cigarette break in an alley behind a restaurant. Maybe you can use those three red lines to center yourself. Kirkland, Washington.

3. Have a seat – or maybe not – in this overturned chair by a canal. Amsterdam, Netherlands.

4. Have a seat on a bench in a garden and take pictures with your Lensbaby. Bellevue Botanical Garden, Bellevue, Washington.

5. Have a seat if you dare, at the far end of a long, dark tunnel that was once used to store ammunition to protect New York harbors. Fort Totten, Queens, New York.

6. If you don’t mind getting your bottom wet, have a seat at Urban Coffee Lounge on a rainy winter afternoon. Kirkland, Washington.

7. Have a seat in Seattle’s Westlake Park alongside Steinunn Thorarinsdottir’s sculptures and various local characters. Seattle, Washington.

8. Have a seat and another cigarette break in an alley in Kirkland, Washington.

9. Have a fashionably quaint seat next to an abandoned railroad track behind Januik Winery. Woodinville, Washington.

10. Have a seat and reminisce at the Old Town Bar and Restaurant on East 18th St. New York, NY.


12. Have a seat on the street across from Watts Towers. Los Angeles, California.

13. Scale this restaurant facade and see if you can have a seat on the artwork. Hannover, Germany.

14. You’ll probably be grateful for this seat outdoors after visiting a patient at Banner – University Medical Center Hospital. Phoenix, Arizona.

15. Have a seat and commune with a Buddha statue at Ksitigarbha Temple. Lynnwood, Washington.

16. Have a seat in an old straight-back chair I found at an estate sale for $5.00. Kirkland, Washington.

17. Have a seat on the Edmonds – Kingston ferry and feel the breeze. Somewhere in Puget Sound, Washington.

18. Have a seat across from this busy commuter on the Staten Island Ferry. New York harbor, NY, NY.


20. Have a seat in the truck and deliver fresh eggs to the produce store. Malty Produce Market, Maltby, Washington.

21. Have a seat here and you’re in big trouble. ‘Under the Table’ by Robert Therrien, at the Broad Museum. Los Angeles, California.