I’ve been thinking about trees –

what is it about trees?

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

upright, branches outstretched, each one different from

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

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

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

look down upon from a bedroom window, cabbage palmettos

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

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

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

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

the half-prostrate old willow at Juanita Bay.

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

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

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

just now, thread their way through my synapses, these

trees of my new home:

madrone, cedar, poplar, fir,

perhaps, even































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

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



Etymology of tree:

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

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


The Photos:

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





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




Bees, wasps, ladybugs – insects are busy everywhere.




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.




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.





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







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.










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













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.


What does “scatter” bring to mind? An image of objects thrown about chaotically? Someone being called scatter-brained?

That’s never a good thing.

But look around. The world tends to fall out of order, scattering is everywhere.

And often, the disorder is beautiful.


Wildflowers and grasses scatter across summer fields.






Shadows and reflections scatter over the water’s surface.




Paint peels, leaving old things looking scattered and tattered.



Rocks are scattered over riverbeds, trees topple and scatter through forests and fields.




Petals scatter when they fall to the ground, reminding us how close we are to earth.


Clouds and shadows scatter among the mountain tops.


Maybe even mountains scatter when they’re thrust up over the earth’s crust.

The tumbling horizon that carries our thoughts away may seem orderly, but isn’t it a scattered path?

Unpredictable energy.


We try to contain the disorder, but our efforts are only temporarily successful.



Sometimes we invite chaos, we entertain disorder.


Above, a shelter at a public garden with a scattered pattern of colored glass panes, being overtaken by equally scattered vines.  Below, a pair of flower part “scatterings” I threw together from bouquet leavings.



No doubt there is satisfaction in ordering one’s world, but the act of scattering, whether it happens in nature, in the built environment or in our minds, brings unexpected relationships forward. That in turn, offers an opportunity to see the world (and maybe the self) differently.

The next time you’re compelled to put your environment in order, taking a minute to find something interesting in the scattered disarray might be worth your while.


From the Cambridge dictionary:


verb                                                                                                                                                                                             to move apart in many directions, or to throw something in different directions:
We grew up in a small town, but now we’re scattered all over the country.


adjective                                                                                                                                                                                    There will be scattered showers throughout the afternoon.







Eight days ago we were getting out of the car for a quick lunch in Phoenix before our flight home, following a relatively short but very interesting vacation far out in the desert in southeastern Arizona. 

The lunch never happened. Long story short, we are still in Phoenix – I’m at an airbnb and my best friend, my life partner, my traveling mate and – well, the description could continue all night – but the fact is, he’s in the neuro ICU at a local hospital following a serious stroke. 

I am coping with a life changing event far from home.  I miss WordPress and the connection and pleasure it gives me. I don’t know what the future holds. We never do but it is muddier than usual. 

I wish I had wonderful photos of the desert to show you but they are still on the card because we didn’t bring a computer – it was a pretty unplugged vacation. It’s been just me and my smart phone for twelve days – thank god for smart phones! 

 I felt I should check in with you all. I have not visited any blogs in almost two weeks. Priorities.

But I will get back to it,  and I will do my best to try to accept and work with what comes my way, in each moment. Please, no pity. Maybe a little advice or support or kindness. We all know the world needs more kindness! 

Enough. Time to get back to the hospital and see what’s up. 


When the worst happens – a cancer diagnosis, a Trump victory – I always take solace in the realization that outdoors the world goes on the same – the sun still rises, the air is sweet, birds fly and insects crawl, indifferent to our worries and drama.





But, you say – but what about this earth, rocking on a razor’s edge of man-made changes, the  effects reaching deep into hot Amazonian forests, frigid Arctic ice and everywhere in between? Will the choice America has made mean it all only gets worse now? And what of humans, because we’re a piece of the earth too, as much as we forget that. Will imbalance and suffering worsen, and what of that? You’re right to ask. I don’t know.



These images were made recently on short trips, some from the car.

The photos take a broad view, literally, and some also take a broader view than typical landscape photography does of what you can do with a camera.


Brooding skies over the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle, with the Olympic Mountains in the distance. This one uses an in-camera filter for dramatic effect.






Three roadside shots from the Cascade Mountains, near Index, Washington. The first two were taken from the car as we rounded bends on a narrow, two lane road. Coming out of the camera, the top two were very pale and didn’t look like much, but boost the contrast and increase the black tones, or pull the tone curve shadows and darks way down, and they get interesting. Desaturating the second one adds a bit of mystery, I think.

The third image is straight from the camera, but uses an in-camera filter to increase the drama (same filter as the first one of Seattle). It was one of those dreary gray days that don’t offer good light for photography, but there we were, in a spectacular setting. I was glad I could try different interpretations of the scene.


There’s lots of intentional blur in this one, where I panned the camera from left to right out the passenger window of a moving car. By panning while moving, the area in the middle stays more or less in focus while the rest is blurred. This is a technique I want to try more.

If shooting intentionally blurred shots intrigues you, there’s a very good book out by an Adobe trainer, Julieanne Kost. It’s called Passenger Seat (click for a look). The book includes her own gorgeous blurred photos with information on techniques. There’s lots of advice on workflow, processing, and presenting your work by sharing it online, publishing a book, etc.


Last, a phone shot taken at Marymoor Park in Bellevue, Washington. There’s very little processing on this one – the light created the magic, along with the little girls, who I trust are magicians themselves…



Having departed from Bainbridge Island a half hour earlier, the M/V Tacoma, a 460 foot ferry capable of carrying over 200 cars and 2000 passengers, is about to arrive in Seattle. I’m watching from the sidewalk next to the Four Seasons Hotel downtown, a few blocks from Pike Place Market.

It’s spitting rain out there. The sky is changeable today, morphing through rain and sun-break, and back to rain again. I don’t mind – it’s a nice departure from the blank, featureless grays that typify northwest winters. I’ve just been to the Seattle Art Museum and I’m headed to Pike Place for coffee at Le Panier, with a stop along the way to take in the view.


Looking at art can have the effect of making the most mundane objects around you look new. Museum and gallery walls expand to encompass the street, and everyday objects take on the guise of “art.”  Recognizing patterns, color and form in new ways, you interact differently with the world. Neurologists might say this phenomenon is an opening up of neural pathways that, once activated, start to repeat themselves in grooved loops of pleasure.  OK, that’s fuzzy science, but whatever the explanation, spending time with painting and sculpture can energize the way you look at the world.




No doubt many people would recognize the sculptural quality of this construction site near the waterfront, but after studying a beautiful steel and glass Christopher Wilmarth piece at the museum, I find the industrial duct work alive with formal possibilities.

Wilmarth, a minimalist sculptor who died in 1987, bent heavy sheets of roughly finished steel and thick slabs of plate glass like you might fold a piece of cardboard, juxtaposing their contrasting properties with apparent ease. His work caught my eye at a 1970 Whitney Museum sculpture exhibit – I still have the catalog. I’d forgotten about him, so it was exciting to see his sculpture commanding the floor in a museum show about Light and Space.



Another work that stayed with me the rest of the day was a large white painting by an artist I wasn’t familiar with, Mary Corse. Her minimalist work, especially the all white painting series, doesn’t reproduce well, but it’s very intriguing to be around. Corse uses the tiny glass beads that make road signs reflective to lend a changeable quality to the light that hits and emanates from her paintings. As I walked around her paintings the surface shifted, a pleasant, meditative experience.

One painting brought to mind a Puget Sound fog, though she would reject that characterization. For her, the paintings don’t reference landscapes or anything else in the outer world. Rather, they’re perceptual tools to make us understand reality in a new way, generating new meaning, or presence, or state of being.”


On to the market. The press of tourists is intense even in January, so we don’t dally too long. But yes, the espresso and baguette sandwich were great. Sorry you weren’t there!


One way to deal with the crowds is to go down an alley behind the buildings, across from the main market. It’s only slightly quieter, but at least I can admire the bulging brick walls and generous windows at the old buildings’ backs.





On the way home I take the camera out again when rain-slicked skies turn the street lights into compositions of intense, luscious color.







It’s been a departure for me today – no images of leaves or trees, buds or branches. A refreshing change of pace.



A certain quiet takes hold in January in northern latitudes.



Plants don’t necessarily announce themselves with gusto, but instead offer subtle pleasures. It’s a good time to study texture and form.







Seed structures, even after all the seeds have scattered, are a constant source of wonder.


But color can still catch the eye too.



And when you come across an early bud you’re smitten once more with the promise of Spring.

Photos taken at the Soest Garden, University of Washington Botanical Gardens, Seattle.

Olympus OMD E-M1; 60mm macro lens; f 2.8 – 5.6; ISO 200.

The Pleasures of a New Camera

Saturday was another gray, wet day, added to a month of near record-breaking rain. Indoors seemed like a good place to be, but I was eager to try out my new camera. I thought about Seattle’s Volunteer Park Conservatory – should be perfect – so I drove over.

I can’t resist a glass house.  This one is small, well kept and comfortable. Built in 1912 in a traditional Victorian design, it is centered around a central palm house, with a seasonal display house and a fern house on either side. At the ends of the broad, spreading building are a cacti/succulent house and a bromeliad house. For Christmas an old model train is set up in the seasonal house and surrounded by poinsettias – nothing new or novel, but it’s a sweet tradition.

I started in the cactus house.

The new camera is an Olympus, the first Olympus I’ve owned. It’s a micro four thirds, or ILC – interchangeable lens – camera. They’re smaller than DSLR’s but do just about all the same things. The market for ILC’s is growing as the technology improves. The DSLR market is dropping off, but of course the edge is owned by smartphones, Go Pro’s and drones. I’m not ready for a drone or a Go Pro and my smartphone isn’t versatile enough.  I like a smaller camera but compacts don’t cut it –  I want to use different lenses, be able to focus manually, have an articulating LCD screen and a viewfinder – just for starters.

My last camera was a Panasonic Lumix G3, also a micro four thirds. A few months ago the LCD screen died. So every photo I’ve taken for the last couple of months has been kind of blind – I can’t review shots on the screen, can’t use it to see settings – nada. Repairing the screen costs almost as much as replacing the camera (no surprise!). I started looking at alternatives – maybe it was a sign that it’s time for a different camera.

In a local camera store I held an Olympus OM-D EM-5. Very nice. The lenses I already have for my Lumix would fit it.  That’s huge. Then I tried the EM-1 – even nicer! It had a film camera feel, the buttons and grip were comfortable in my hands, it was solidly built, with WiFi and weatherproofing (I can be rough on things).  Though it’s not a new model, the salesman said a huge firmware update was due in November, with many performance enhancements, like focus stacking.  I thought it over, waited, thought some more…

Then Santa came – hurrah! (Santa’s an expert at finding the best deal).

It’s always a learning curve when you move to a different system and this one is a lot more complex than the Lumix. Things got prickly.

At times I felt like tearing my hair out.

I persevered and found a good video online that reviews the camera – that made a big difference. Who writes those manuals, anyway???

I took a few photos around the house, trying to figure out the focusing. Then I went out. It was Christmas afternoon, and I got to the good espresso place just in the nick of time – it was closing early.  (First things first!)

The rain stopped for a moment so I went to the lake, two minutes from the cafe, to try the camera outdoors.

This is straight out of the camera, nothing at all done to it. The camera did well with poor and difficult lighting.

It still felt alien though, and I felt like I had no idea what I was doing.  There are a million options on this camera – for example, you can see in the photo above that I was using the 16:9 image size option, for a long, skinny landscape shot. When you’re not familiar with your camera, finding the button or series of clicks or whatever to change options is torture! I really didn’t want every single photo to be in those proportions. You just have to spend some time figuring it out.

Back at home I started playing with a setting called Art Filter, which I think is unique to the Olympus cameras (other than the hundreds of special effect apps you can download onto your smartphone). There’s pop color, sepia, watercolor, vintage, pinhole, etc. One intrigued me  – soft focus.  I thought it would be good for plants and flowers.

It was. I was impressed with the smooth tones and retention of detail.

I wasn’t using a tripod. That’s impossible in a space like the conservatory. Besides, I’m an impulsive, walk-around kind of photographer. I brought three lenses with me. I quickly removed the 20mm in favor of a macro and used that one lens the rest of the afternoon.

The camera has five direction image stabilization built into the camera, and I think it made a difference. As the day wore on and the ambient light grew dimmer, I could still get sharp detail with very little noise.



On to the other houses –

A fallen Alamanda flower.

The palm house has orchid displays.


I framed a photo looking up through a giant Monstera deliciosa leaf.  This is the kind of high contrast shot a lot of cameras would have trouble with – not this one.

The mature leaves have these cool holes and are called fenestrate – the French word for window is fenetre, so there you go! This plant is a vine and an epiphyte. It has aerial roots, and produces tasty fruit, though I’ve never had it.

Went crazy with the soft focus here –

Spanish moss (Tilandsia useneoides) is plentiful in the Bromeliad house, and epiphytes of many types hang from supports everywhere.

I don’t know what this flower is; it was hanging at about face height. It looks like a confection dusted with sugar. The conservatory has many delights – a little waterfall set with ferns, a bog garden with carnivorous plants like the red-edged plant above, Nepenthes alata, other odd plants, and many repeating plants, which lend consistency as you walk through.

The photo below was taken with my phone, looking towards the bog area. You can see what a pleasure this place is on a December afternoon.

I love the way conservatory windows steam up.  Two views from inside are above (without filters or special effects), and below, a view from the outside. A Tilandsia of some kind presses hard against the glass.

And the train set-up – I didn’t realize until I got home how old the figures are. I should have taken more pictures of them. Last year, the train blew it’s horn AND blew smoke, but on this day, no smoke. Still nice! And it was the perfect shot for another art filter  – Diorama.

The conservatory from the outside:


I think this camera’s going to be fun.