Local Walks: Goose Rock

The place is called Goose Rock but it doesn’t seem to have any geese. It isn’t shaped like a goose as far as I can see either, so the name for this bald hill at the tip of Whidbey Island is a puzzle. The park surrounding it (Deception Pass) has a name that’s easier to track down. It was called Deception Pass by a British explorer after he realized that the peninsula he was navigating around was actually an island, separated from another island by a narrow and treacherous channel.

Up on Goose Rock, where a broad expanse of sky and water spreads out beneath me, the names of places don’t seem to matter, but bear with me – the story of Deception Pass is a good one.

1. Ice sheets scarred these rocks 11,000 years ago and rain left puddles on them just hours ago. The weathering of these gently rounded hulks of rock doesn’t ever stop. November 2018.

In June of 1792 British naval Captain George Vancouver was anchored at the southern end of what is now known as Whidbey Island. He had left England the year before, calling at Cape Town, Australia and Hawaii on his way to Nootka Sound on present-day Vancouver Island, Canada, where he was to take possession of land seized by the Spanish a few years before. Vancouver also carried orders to prepare the way for British settlement in certain key locations. Of course, the land in question had already been inhabited for thousands of years by non-Europeans. But that’s another story, perhaps one to consider as your gaze follows the lichen and moss-covered rocks down to the thick forest below, now sliced by a busy road that winds towards a U.S. Naval Air Force base.

2. Traffic on Route 20 can be seen in the distance but it’s mostly quiet up here, except when the Navy Growlers are flying. June 2018.

But back to how Deception Pass got its name. An important part of Vancouver’s mission was charting. To this end, on the June day in question the captain sent a few smaller boats out to explore a stretch of coves and bays north of the mother ship. The Pacific northwest coast was daunting to most of the men. Legions of dark evergreens edge intricately crooked shorelines that are often foggy and gloomy, even in June. The Coast Salish tribes-people were used to navigating these waters, but to Vancouver’s men each rocky promontory and every small cove was new, so we can forgive Joseph Whidbey and his crew for not going quite far enough that day. Whidbey didn’t realize that just a few more miles of exploring would have brought him to a narrow passageway. If the tides had been favorable he could have steered west between towering cliffs and emerged on the other side of the “peninsula.” That would have allowed the men to turn south and circumnavigate the island, joining the HMS Discovery back where it was anchored. But shallow water in an area just short of the pass convinced the men to call it a day, turn around and head back to the ship.

3. Racing currents explode through the pass when a large volume of water is sucked through the narrow channel by the tide. This is the pass Whidbey missed the first time. November 2018.

The mistake was corrected quickly enough when the ship made its way north a day or so later. Now they could see a “very narrow and intricate channel, which…abounded with rocks above and beneath the surface of the water.” Vancouver called the channel “Deception Pass” and the name stuck.

European settlers began arriving on Whidbey Island after 1850. They fished and logged and farmed, and the population grew, but it wasn’t until the summer of 1935 that a bridge was completed across the channel, finally connecting Whidbey to the mainland. You can see why that was not an easy task.

4. One span of the two-span bridge seen from Lighthouse Point on Fidalgo Island. It looks like the two islands are connected, but they’re not – the channel curves around the rocks and continues through to the other side. September 2018.

5. The other span seen from across the water at North Beach on Whidbey Island. Between the spans is rocky Pass Island, on the left here and on the right in #4. March 2019.

6. Under the bridge. June 2019.

The bridge that allows islanders easy access to the mainland also connects two sections of a popular park located on Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands (as well as a number of smaller islands nearby). Deception Pass State Park has been here since the 1920’s, expanding over the years to include 3,854 acres (1,560 ha) of varied terrain. You can watch the sunset from a beach with views of the Olympic Mountains, the San Juan Islands, and Canada. You can camp in the forest, kayak, scuba dive, paddleboard, boat, fish, or just wander miles of trails in quiet forests.

I like to follow the Goose Rock perimeter trail for about half a mile before turning away from the turquoise waters of the channel to climb through the forest on a less-traveled spur trail. A favorite sight along this path is a large Redcedar tree that toppled some time ago. I would have liked to have heard that!

7. Lush forest along the Goose Rock perimeter trail. December 2018.

8. Red huckleberry leaves persist on bushes scattered throughout the forest. November 2018.

9. Snow on the trail is unusual. February 2019.

10. Licorice fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza) is plentiful. December 2018.

11. The Fallen One. August 2019.
12. Another view. August 2019.

13. The bark of an old Douglas fir tree is adorned with lichens, spider webs, fallen needles and other bits of life. August 2019.

14. Leathery new leaves of Salal (Gaultheria shallon) emerge bright green in spring, later darkening to a deep forest green. June 2019.

Out of the woods and onto the rock. At about 494 feet the summit isn’t exactly vertiginous, but it’s the highest point on Whidbey Island and it offers a fine view. Sprawling glacier-scraped rocks are softened with lichens and moss, and criss-crossed by worn dirt paths. A smattering of well-weathered trees adds to the wild feeling. In spring, a parade of tiny wildflowers and intricate grasses springs to life, only to dry out and disappear by mid-summer. On any day the view of islands, water and sky pleases the soul.

15. On an autumn evening, sunlight shimmers through storm clouds over the Salish Sea. September 2018.

16. Reindeer lichen (Cladonia sp.) and various mosses decorate the rocks in shades of green all year long. November 2018.

17. Pale blue-green reindeer lichen settles like clouds in a bed of moss and Kinnikinnick, or Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). November 2018.

18. Windy days and nights on Goose Rock scatter twigs on the ground. November 2018.

19. Even before summer has officially begun the grasses are drying up on the exposed rocks. June 2019.

20. Low fencing steers visitors off of delicate wildflower meadows. June 2019.

21. – 25. Wildflowers: Naked Broomrape (Orobanche uniflora), Harvest brodiaea (Brodiaea coronaria), Pacific Rhododendron (R. macrophyllum), Common camas (Camas (Camassia quamash), Twinflower (Linnaea borealis).

26. – 30. More wildflowers and a berry: Chocolate lily (Fritillaria lanceolata), Nodding onion (Allium cernuum), Salmonberry (Rubus spectabilis), Fool’s onion (Brodiaea hyacintha) (two views).

31. Roots and moss make drawings on the rocks. February 2019.

32. Goose Rock gathers enough moisture for lichens to grow luxuriously on trees as well as rocks. June 2019.

33. A late afternoon view through the evergreens reveals the calm waters of a slack tide in the channel. December 2018.

34. The winter dance of the Red Huckleberry. February 2019.

35. Snow melts quickly, sending water drops down the fine twigs of bushes and trees, to nourish myriad life forms. February 2019.

I’ve been exploring the trails of Deception Pass for over a year now, and Goose Rock is a place I return to again and again. The views from the top have an immediate effect of extracting any tension you might still have after climbing through the quiet, lush forest. The trail is very accessible, beginning just under the Deception Pass bridge, so in summer and on nice weekends there’s company, but it rarely gets crowded. Maybe you …

Further Afield: In the Mountains

Yesterday I went hiking in the North Cascades with a friend who loves the mountains and is as curious about plants as I am. It’s time for berry picking now and most of the wildflowers are finished, but we hoped to find a few flowers hanging on. One of the flowers still blooming was a delicate, pure-white flower that looked familiar. I knew I’d seen it in the field guides but I couldn’t remember the name for it. I made a few quick photos to study when I got home. The pretty little wildflower was dropping snow-white petals onto the dark soil at the trail’s edge; it was a lovely, poignant sight signifying the end of summer.

After I got home I looked for the plant in my field guide and found it: it’s the Fringed Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia fimbriata). The odd name instantly brought up a memory of my mother saying “Grass of Parnassus” as she described a similar wildflower she found hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina, where she lived. In fact, Grass of Parnassus is probably one of the flowers we saw on our last drive up into the mountains back in 1999, when she was fighting pancreatic cancer. Late that summer I visited her to help out and we took a pleasant drive together to see the scenery. It was one of many visits I made that year before she finally drew her last breath in her own bed, on Christmas Eve.

My mother loved wildflowers and passed that along to me. Mountains, too – she hiked many miles in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her hiking buddies. We never hiked in the mountains when I was a child; we lived in places with rolling hills and we vacationed nearby, or at my grandparent’s home near the ocean. But I remember standing on a hillside outside of Syracuse, New York with my mother when I was a schoolgirl and gazing at a glorious view spread out below us. It was essentially the same feeling I get from mountains vistas, that peaceful relaxing into open space that assures you there are endless possibilities ahead.

1. Mount Baker, or Koma Kulshan, an active stratovolcano in northwestern Washington, seen from a meadow on Dock Butte.

2. Mount Shuksan from the trail to Dock Butte.

3. The Sauk Mountain trail with a view of the Skagit River Valley far below.

4. A pond by the trail to Dock Butte.

My parents retired to place where they could hike in the mountains, and without making the connection to what they did, I did the same thing, although I’m on a different side of the country. But it’s no surprise since they set the stage early on, conveying a deep and lasting appreciation for nature. I kept the passion alive, thanks to my own enthusiasm and to the people around me. Now I’m living in a beautiful part of the world, making forays out to places that nourish the most fundamental parts of my life.

I’ll keep going back up to the mountains as often as I can, which isn’t as often as I’d like. It usually involves a long drive on terrible roads, and a bit of planning. But oh, is it worth it!

5 – 7. Wildflowers and butterflies on Sauk Mountain.

8. Another butterfly on Sauk Mountain.

9. Blueberries on the trail to Dock Butte. This blueberry bush has lost its leaves but the berries were incredibly sweet and flavorful. Another connection with the past: my mother picked quantities of wild blueberries in the mountains every summer and froze them for pies.
10. Old evergreens on the trail to Dock Butte.

11. Towering firs have a commanding presence on the trail to Dock Butte.
12. Sauk Mountain meadows and wildflowers in late July.

13. Wildflowers and mountain views, Sauk Mountain trailhead, 4300 feet (1310 m).

Late in July I hiked Sauk Mountain, another North Cascade Range peak. I didn’t quite make it to the top that day but that did not diminish my pleasure. The wildflowers were riotous, the butterflies and bees happy, and the view seemed endless. I’m sure my mother would have enjoyed that day. My son would have too, if he’d been there. The passion for nature, especially for the mountains, is alive in him.

14. Going camping in the mountains.

There’s something exhilarating about being high up in the wilderness. I’m thankful that my parents instilled a keen appreciation for the outdoors in their kids, and thankful I have friends and family who share the passion. My wish for you is that even if the mountains aren’t accessible and the wilderness is out of reach you can still go outside, quiet down, and forget yourself. With a little luck, the energy around you will bring peace, and maybe even a tear to your eyes.

15. Fringed Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia fimbriata), losing its last petals in early September on the Dock Butte trail at about 4200 feet (1280 m).

One Morning

The sun works its way through the Doug firs across the road, then the apple tree, the Bitter cherries and the others,

angles into the window where the glass is obscured by a thousand small dun-colored circles

made by something that got between the panes, leaving a haze that softens the early morning light. It’s 6:50.

I’ve looked up from my reading, seen the sunglow.

I get up, pull the camera bag out of the backpack, lift the camera out of the bag, pinch the lens cap off the camera. I go back to the couch, sit where I was, turn to the light, forget to focus, click the shutter.

Focus, shoot again.

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The sun ascends at a steady not-fast, not-slow pace that reminds me

of watching the minute hand work its way around the clock face in grade school classrooms, the delicious game of perceiving

the almost imperceptible motion of the thin, black minute hand

forcing patience but rewarding it, too. Now the windows near me brighten, throwing slats of sun onto the painting of Bobwhite quails that belonged to my grandfather.

He liked to hunt birds.

The patterns are what interest me at 7:10 this morning, the patterns

and the empty spaces between them.

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And the reflections, the reflections that mix up here and there,

those interest me.

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4.

I go back to my reading – an article about Vija Celmins. I remember standing in front of one of her paintings years ago, eyebrows up, the world gone. The pleasure of entering a universe painstakingly created by a woman whose artwork facilitated

leaving the here, going there.

Worlds inside worlds, and outside of them.

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6.
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The article finished, I get up and follow the sun down the hall and into the back room where the computer is. There, the benevolent morning light shows me the beauty of ordinary grass and shrubbery just outside the window, but

I knew that.

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FURTHER AFIELD: Afternoon in Antwerp

You may expect to see nature photography here, but please bear with me as I detour to share a stimulating afternoon in Antwerp that I enjoyed earlier this year.

While staying in Gent, Belgium, last April we decided to visit Antwerp, which is only an hour away by train. It wouldn’t be a see-the-sights day – that’s not our style. I had read about an unusual museum there, the Museum Plantin-Moresus. It was the residence and workshop of a great printer-publisher of the Renaissance era, and we were both intrigued so we made that our goal for the day.

I was having one of those travel days when it takes all morning long to pull myself together. Checking the train schedule, we saw there was time for a leisurely late morning coffee at the cafe across the street from our airbnb apartment. Good, we needed it! Then it was a quick tram ride to Gent Sint-Pietersstation where we lined up for tickets, grabbed fresh sandwiches to eat on the train, and boarded.

The ticket taker looked a little worse for the wear but was keeping up appearances with his cap, tie and jacket. Verdant fields flowed past the window and before I knew it, we had arrived at Antwerpen Centraal, one of Europe’s most beautiful train stations. The bustle reminded me of New York’s Grand Central Station, which I used to commute through. Here though, everything was more ornate, ceilings were higher, the architecture grander. Throwing any semblance of not-a-tourist-coolness aside, I gaped, craned my neck, and clicked that shutter.

1. “Morning” coffee at 12:40pm; Illy Espresso Shop, Gent, Belgium
2. Ticket taker, Belgian Railways

3. Antwerpen Centraal. The high ceiling was designed with steam engine smoke in mind. It sustained heavy damage in WWII bombing raids, and was fully restored in 1986 using clear polycarbonate instead of glass for better stress tolerance.

5. Antwerpen Centraal

Consulting a Rome2rio app for directions, we headed for the museum. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the original workshop and residence of Christophe Plantin, an influential 16th century printer, publisher, and humanist. The museum is housed in a series of centuries-old buildings with a dizzying array of rooms (34 of them!) that ramble around a central courtyard. The quiet, softly lit rooms are packed with extraordinary early printed matter, old printing presses and family artifacts. Immersion in the world of early printing appealed to me; I have fond memories of a day spent at a small printing house helping fine-tune a run of brochures I designed for a specialty bakery business years ago.

6. Printing presses, Museum Plantin-Moretus
7. Stairs worn smooth from hundreds of years of footsteps.

Exploring room after room, occasionally getting lost in dim corridors as I stepped up and down stairs and across creaking floors, I perused hefty religious texts embellished with gold, precious illuminated prayer books, important botanical reference texts, an “early modern ode to women”, almanac illustrations, maps and more. I was deeply impressed not only by the workmanship, which is beautiful, but by the variety of subject matter. Seeing the breadth of topics that rolled off the presses here 450 years ago, I felt an inkling of how exciting it must have been to be alive during a time of such intellectual fervor. The era’s enthusiasm for knowledge was right there on those delicate pages, shining a light across the centuries.

9. Script flows across the page with grace and finesse.
11. The uses of almanacs, explained by a museum label.

Plantin was born in France about 500 years ago. He started a bookbinding business there but relocated with his wife to the commercially vibrant town of Antwerp in 1548. He set up shop and joined the Guild of Saint Luke, where painters, sculptors, engravers and printers apprenticed and connected with clients. He was industrious and produced impeccable work; before long he and his son-in-law Jan Moretus were running one of Europe’s top publishing houses. The Plantin-Moretus family continued the tradition another three hundred years, finally selling the building where it all began to the city of Antwerp in 1876. The museum opened the following year.

12. A painting portrays the prevailing enthusiasm for scientific inquiry.

The Low countries in Plantin’s era were the center of western culture; by 1560, Antwerp was the richest city in Europe. It was also the site of religious conflict. In 1523 two monks had been taken away and burned alive for refusing to recant their heretical Lutheran beliefs. The powerful King Phillip II of Spain put immense pressure on Lutherans and Calvinists, and the printed word played an important part in the struggle. Plantin published all sorts of things, including Calvinist pamphlets. He is described as a Protestant sympathizer, a very dangerous position to take. Savvy person that he was, he found his own middle ground in the creation and publication of a major work, the “Plantin Polyglot” (Biblia Polyglotta or Biblia Regia). This complex, impressive multi-lingual bible satisfied the needs of scholars – but it also pleased King Phillip II.

Times were turbulent enough that Plantin fled to the more liberal Leiden at one point, only to return soon afterward to Antwerp. He seemed to walk a line as fine as the ones he printed: by 1585, Plantin was considered the primary printer-publisher for the Counter-Reformation, while secretly helping Calvinists in Utrecht organize an anti-Spanish printing press. With all this, it amazes me that he managed to live into his late sixties.

14. Portrait of Cosimo de’Medici, by Peter Paul Rubens; Museum Plantin-Moretus


15. Taking the afternoon sun in the courtyard.

The museum has a world-class drawing collection, the oldest printing presses in the world, an extensive library, and more. Over 25,000 books and manuscripts can be searched on its website. If you are ever in Antwerp, it’s worth seeing.

If printing interests you, a well-written, illustrated history of printing from pre-history to 2017 can be found on this site.

The museum was closing but I could hardly tear myself away. We were kindly escorted out with our souvenirs – one was a 12″ x 16″ print of a grotesque face from the 16th century that children are invited to color. We will probably frame ours.

16. Grotesque face

We had time for a look at Antwerp’s Grote Markt, an historic gathering place dating back to the 13th century where Guild houses – ornate and dignified buildings designated for various trades – reflect Antwerp’s prominent position in the 15th and 16th centuries. I took a few pictures with my camera and phone as the sun began to set and museum overload began to take hold. Tired and hungry, we found our way to a Thai restaurant, a good choice for hungry folks on a budget who want food quickly. Later we took a wrong turn on the way to the train station, but that happens when you travel on your own in a country whose language you don’t read or speak. Eventually we got back to Gent and collapsed.

18. A pollarded tree bursting with spring buds has a fitting backdrop in an intricate metal rooftop, now a parking garage by the river Scheldt!

19. Local denizens
20. For Adrian and Harrie….maybe you should meet up here!

21. A last glimpse of Antwerp.

I would have liked more time in Antwerp, but I learned a lot just from seeing the Museum Pantin-Moretus. I could sense how thrilling the acquisition of knowledge must have been to people in 16th century Europe, and I got a better grip on the critical role played by people who printed and disseminated that knowledge. The variety of printed matter that Plantin and Moretus published and changes manifested by the printed word could be likened to the explosion of information we are undergoing by having the internet at our fingertips. Understanding the degree of danger present in the religious struggles Plantin was navigating, coupled with impressions I gathered from the American Pilgrim’s Museum in Leiden bring to mind my own ancestor’s migrations from Europe to the New World. Their arrival from various northern European countries spanned the 17th to the 19th centuries, which means their lives were shaped by the same history I had the pleasure of being immersed in, if only for a few hours.

It goes without saying that religious struggles continue. The same with migrations for a better life. I hope that the humanist ideals Plantin stood for aren’t entirely buried under today’s divisive rhetoric. Travel is all about being moved and changed by your experience, and that minor museum in Antwerp made a day that reverberates.

A Joyful Relation to What Is

A few weeks ago Sigrun Hodne, who writes at the blog Sub Rosa, posted a brief video about the photographer Jeff Wall. You may or may not find Wall’s photography appealing, but maybe you’ll be intrigued by what he says, as I was.

Towards the end of the clip Wall talks about art.

“I think all art is always an expression of the affection for there being a world…

1.

2.

“…that there’s something to see… that anything even exists.”

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“It’s already a kind of joyful relation to what is. And then everything else becomes a detail…”

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“I think all artists are pretty sympathetic people. They’re sympathetic to being.

And I think that’s why people like art.”

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The photographs were made on two afternoons in May, during a trip to the Methow Valley, in north central Washington. Creeks originating from glaciers on some of Washington’s highest peaks drain into the Methow River, which weaves and wends its way through spare, sage green highlands before emptying into the Columbia River, and thence to the Pacific Ocean. The valley is dotted with small towns, and one called Winthrop emphasizes an American West atmosphere enough to resemble a movie set. Along with opportunities to camp, fish, ski, ride horses, and raft the river, the classic western look of Winthrop brings tourists to the area.

Coming in spring, we expected quiet and weren’t disappointed. We stayed outside the town of Twisp at a small farm whose owners work in retail and real estate while caring for a handful of horses and chickens and running an airbnb side business. A patchwork economy works best in the valley, as in so many rural areas. From the riverside we drove high up into the lonely, sere hills, where fires have their way with dry forest land and the views leap across space, and free the soul. The cheerful golden Balsamroot flowers that sprinkle the hillsides with color every spring were fading but no matter – my affection for the world was still an unhesitatingly joyful relation to what is, right there, in that particular place, at that particular time.

The photos:

  • 1. Fire-ravaged juniper tree, Thompson Road, Methow Valley
  • 2. Fallen trees and Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) leaves, Gun Ranch Road, Methow Valley
  • 3. Shriveled Balsamroot flower, Thomson Ridge, Methow Valley
  • 4. Lichen on rock, Thompson Ridge, Methow Valley
  • 5. Single boulder in an Aspen grove, Thompson Ridge, Methow Valley
  • 6. Fire-ravaged junipers and dry grasses, Thompson Ridge, Methow Valley
  • 7. Lichen-splotched boulder, Thompson Ridge, Methow Valley
  • 8. Insect on fading Balsamroot flower, Thompson Ridge, Methow Valley

A few more photos from the Methow Valley are here.

Switching it Up: A Collaboration

1. Roof lines in Klein Reken: a tight crop, with Funke’s pigsty on the left.

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One of the highlights of my trip to the northern Europe last April was an all-too brief stay with my friend Ule Rolff. During the visit we strolled through the picturesque village in Munsterland where she lives, and Ule showed me an intriguing old half-timber building, originally a home but later used for housing pigs. I dove into photographing the aged building that day, just as Ule had done before me. I had no idea that while on my journey through Europe, a stop at a small village would lead to another journey, this time a creative one. After I got home Ule and I decided to collaborate on a post about the building. “Funke’s Pigsty: a Double Eye-catcher” features photos and written history and reflection in German and English.

While working on that post we noticed that some of the photos we took were very similar – we both gravitated to the peeling paint, the rough timbers, the off-center lines. We wondered what would happen if we exchanged unprocessed photos with each other, then processed the exchanged photos in our own style. Would one person’s ideas for processing be similar to the other person’s, or not?

We decided to collaborate again, and over the past few weeks we exchanged photos and used google docs to record a dialogue about the experience. Luckily for me Ule is comfortable enough with English to converse via the written word as well as in person. She told me it’s “just” a matter of letting go of her native tongue and thinking in English!

Working with someone else’s photos and writing about the process has been a unique experience. I haven’t seen Ule’s results and she has not seen mine. I’m looking forward to the big reveal, as they say. We plan to incorporate our reactions to what the other person did with our photos by meeting online after publishing, recording our dialogue, then adding that piece to the dialogue below. *

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2. An attempt to find a compromise between respecting the integrity of the building and giving it a different overall atmosphere.

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A written record of our dialogue follows. Above and below you’ll find two processed versions for each of the four of Ule’s photos that I used. The originals are at the end of the post.

CLICK HERE FOR ULE’S POST AND HER VERSIONS OF MY PHOTOS.

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L: When we first thought about working with one another’s pigsty photos, I only had a vague idea in mind. It had to do with the fact that some of our photos were quite similar, and I was thinking that if we take almost the same photograph, then what is it that we are each doing, that makes that photograph different? As I thought about it some more it seemed like any differences in processing would probably be minimal. As long as we were aiming for a straightforward representation of what we saw, if we processed each other’s photos the outcome was likely to be different in only very minor ways.  So then I started to think about what you have done in some recent posts, manipulating photos and taking an image to a very different place from where it started. I admire what you’ve done, and I wanted to try something along those lines. But I know you use Photoshop and I don’t. That would be a limitation. With all this in mind, I took two of your images and “messed with them” as much as I could in Lightroom, while still yielding a result that I liked. It was a struggle at first – it’s just not what I’m used to doing.

U: As we both tried to show more documentary photos of the pigsty, you are right: they would come out quite similarly. And this kind of work flow is more a thing I also prefer doing in Lightroom. 

But in this second posting, my idea was to go beyond documentary limitations, to show what isn’t to be seen at first glance in a picture. This is what I am especially interested in these days also in my other work, published or private. And this is where Photoshop comes in with its wider manipulation effects on image data. When I understood that PS is not your favorite tool to work with, I tried to mostly do what was possible with LR also, so our thoughts about processing wouldn’t go too much apart. Just when compositing photos or altering structures, I had to go further, and I’m really interested in talking about photos that are further from where they started by editing… so I hope you do not feel uneasy with what we thoughtlessly agreed upon…so I hope you do not feel uneasy with what we thoughtlessly agreed upon.

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3. Timber and bricks, leaning towards becoming waves and clouds.

4. Playing with color and texture.

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L: I like that idea – to show what isn’t seen at first glance in a picture. I’m going to think about that when I work on another photo. A LITTLE unease is a very good thing. Only when it gets extreme does it become negative, right? This pushes me into something I haven’t done before, and whether or not I continue in the same direction, what I learn will probably inform me going forward.

U: This is what I love about you (above many other things) that you are so open-minded to new experiences and new thoughts. In photography, I often find it so easy to open up to other people’s concepts by  viewing their photos. And I’m always afraid of losing my own way by these impressions – in your case also, I found myself afraid you might damage your poetical and emotional approach to photography by too much technical experimenting – but then again, I’m confident of your strong character and I think you have a feeling for what does you good.


L: 🙂 Please! Too many compliments! I will say that open-mindedness is an important value to me, I strive to keep an open mind and I try to be aware enough of myself to  know when I’m not being open-minded. 

I understand what you mean by the danger of being influenced too much by someone’s work. That’s something we have to live with and to be aware of. Hopefully, we are influenced positively and can maintain our own individuality in the process. Don’t you think that the older we get, the less that’s a problem? 

As for the emotional and poetical sensibility, that is something I struggle with. I think it’s because I’m also drawn to a more documentary scientific approach to what I see. Part of me is always happy to just make a good record of something interesting. But another part knows that to relate to other people, to communicate with and move someone, there needs to be more than that. I’m happiest when I think I’ve created something with some emotional power, and that doesn’t happen very often. Lately I’ve been in the documentary mode – traveling for three weeks certainly strengthened the desire to document and didn’t leave lots of time for emotional expression along the way. There were too many new things to see. Lately I’ve been wanting  to get back to pure feeling. 

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5. The pigsty roof with the village church steeple in the background.

6. A romanticized look at the pigsty rooftop and steeple, with a touch of fog.

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U: I agree: the older I get, the more I grow aware of my cultural roots and I’m thankful for influences that happened throughout my life. Nobody lives and develops a character without personal impressions. Maybe it is a question of organic integration and consciousness, as you describe, not to lose the individual core.

What you say about your different modes I can completely see in your latest publication about Leiden, but instead of one or the other, I see you integrating emotion in documentation, which often happens in your posts. But it is always a frail balance, I feel that for my work, I always need enough time to keep to myself to escape too much distraction. And traveling always throws me completely on new paths, mostly documentary ones.

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7. A straight black and white rendition of Ule’s color photo, to keep the viewer focused on the odd juxtapositions of materials and the variety of textures.

8. Carried away with color for the pure fun of it.

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L: I haven’t thought  that much about my cultural roots, but the trip to Europe prompted me to think more about that, more as a New World/Old World comparison.  Maybe I AM thinking about it, just not quite in those terms. Organic integration – that sounds good! If I’m integrating emotion and documentation, that’s wonderful. My inner critic says I need to emphasize real emotion a bit more. We’ll see how that evolves. 😉 

Yes, we need time to ourselves, and that’s the great thing about not having to spend 40 hours a week working for someone else. At least we don’t have that distraction now. I think traveling can be a kind of addiction, not in a medical sense of course, but thinking about my own desire to travel, I’ve been  aware lately of the benefits of not traveling, of being more rooted. But now I’m straying away from the topic at hand.

U: Not really. The question also at stake here is basic conditions we need for being content with our photography. So if it is traveling addiction with you, it is kind of an allergy with me …;-)

L: And to get back to what we need to be content, we are also interested in shaking things up a little, in this project, right?  Right now there is not much to be gained by restricting ourselves to trying to do the best job in accurate documentation.

U: We are not competing, but doing something together, it is no question of better or worse, but of finding out possibilities together. And I have to admit: sometimes I love taking a little shower of bad taste 😉

L: A little shower of bad taste – that’s funny…

U: Wait until you see what I have done to your photos! I sometimes like overdoing things a bit, out of joy about what is all possible in editing photos – beginner’s disease, I think.

L : Now I’m scared.  And it’s interesting how, along with the delight, there is always a  shadow of competition there – like, uh oh, how will my processing look compared to hers? But I think that is just something we can acknowledge, look at, and move on from.  I want to pick up on your phrase “beginner’s disease.” It immediately calls to mind the famous zen phrase, “beginner’s mind.”

U: Oh, I remember having read the phrase in David Ulrich’s book on Zen Photography. It sounded a bit friendlier than I used it above.

L: 🙂 A bit!!  

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*Here are our thoughts after posting:

L: : I just approved your pingback (do they call it the same thing in German?) I love your photos! Thank you!!

U: Yes, it is the same word. And I love yours! They are so completely “Lynn’s”! I must view and think a minute …

L: The captions you used help to carry me into the photo, because they show what you were thinking. I want to just say “I like…” but I’m searching for better words, because that really doesn’t say anything. Still, my initial reaction was a delighted: “I like what she did with my photos!” I appreciate that you tell the viewer which filters or effects you used. I confess I don’t remember what I did – it was more a matter of “try this, try that.” But there’s value in knowing how you get to a place! The systematic way you worked is satisfying to follow, and I can learn something from it.

U:  Your captions are not so technical as mine, but they show an important part of your motivation, your intention what to do with the images. For many readers, your information may be more “speaking” than the techniques.
But I’m really surprised how unfamiliar your alterations made my photos to me: you have added some of your character to them, your subtlety and refined taste.
There are groups in your choice I see: one are the three roof cuts which pleases me very much, it gives something abstract to the skyline which I didn’t see before. And then the cloudy, ocean like bricks, marvelous!
Isn’t it funny we both finish with kind of a joke?

L: The big “L” at the end of your post made me laugh, and I think that image and the first one are very powerful. I also chuckled at “green glow” – that is almost radioactive! It truly does glow, that little piece of metal. Combining all three photos was a serious challenge (Bildausschnitt, Schlösser einmontiert in PS). If you asked me to do it, I would not have known where to start. The result may be my favorite one – it sings. There is a fairytale quality to it, it seems that a narrative or a mystery lurks just beneath the surface. I also want to comment on your organization – the flow is easy to follow. Something else I can learn from. 😉  One more thing – your Photoshop skills! Kudos! I fully “believed” the last two photos. They don’t have the artificial look one sometimes sees when different images are combined, they’re very natural.

U: Thank you for the flowers (can I say so in English? – it is a plainly translated German proverb). I willingly admit that I have been working hard on my use of PS, and it gives me a bit of contentment that you perceive the compositions as natural. What seems quite “typically Lynn” are the tender colour and reduced “clearness” in ns. 2,3,4 and 6. All the more, I laughed about your very colourful finale, it must have hurt you to do it :-))!

L: On the contrary, I really loved making that one. It’s unfortunate that I couldn’t remember what I did, because I wanted to do more in that vein but when I tried to work that way again, I couldn’t figure out how I got there. My fault for not making notes!  I’m glad that this collaboration gave you a chance to move ahead in the direction you’re going, and I’m curious to see what else is going to appear down the road on your blog.

U: Me too :-)) I have no answer to the question behind your “curiosity”, we will see. And if you didn’t make notes on the making of …, trying again will lead you to new, other or similar  results, and give you new fun. I hope this project didn’t lead you too much astray or off your path.
And as you ask where this experiment will be leading us, I ask myself which were our intentions to give this kind of collaboration a try.

L: As for being led astray, that’s a good thing, it keeps us fresh to veer off our path once in a while. And as for intentions, I was wondering about intention, i.e. what was our intention in processing the photos? We talked about that before without calling it “intention” and maybe thinking specifically in terms of intent is helpful. There is an element of fun there, certainly, but it’s more than that. We are each letting go of our work, relinquishing it to the other person’s aesthetic, and – correct me if I’m wrong – I think we both find that idea more intriguing than scary. Some people would find the idea of another person working on their photo frightening. Another part of the intent, for me anyway, is to take the opportunity to push past some boundaries that I might normally stay within. My guess is that also is true for you. And then there is always the “payoff” of stretching yourself and learning or growing in the process.

U:    The thought of risk is interesting for readers, I’m sure, for me it would be anyway, but in this case, I didn’t feel a trace of it. As you say, it was almost completely and exclusively intriguing. Besides, more and more I come to think of my raw captures as material to become what I want to show by further actions, so it is not so dangerous for my inner self, if someone else is touching them.
Your question of intention is a bit more compelling for me: above all, it was a thing of fun and adventure and just doing anything together that is possible over the wide distance. But more seriously thinking, there is the hope of stepping out of self set boundaries when you have the opportunity to watch what somebody else (somebody you appreciate) does with your material – and what is even more valuable: someone I can talk to about what she is doing and what I am doing. There are so many people not unable, but unwilling to use language to reflect the great things they do.

But, to sum it up, I am very happy with the process and the outcome of our experiment – even this risky spontaneous chat felt completely comfortable all the way. Thank you so much for being the sagacious and lovable being you are.

L: I’m pleased with it too. You have struck a perfect balance (for me anyway) of open flexibility and calm organization during the course of the project. And the bottom line is (Americans love to talk about the bottom line!) that frankly, I really like your work!! Thank you very much. 

The original photos:

Technical note: Ule sent me PSD’s of the photos I requested, and vice versa. Then we each worked on the photos in Lightroom. I also used Color Efex Pro. We scheduled meeting times across the nine hour time difference and chatted using google docs, which we then copied and pasted into our posts.

Funke’s Pigsty / Funkes Schweinestall

A Double Eye-catcher / Doppelter Blickfang

photographed and written by two bloggers in two languages / fotografiert und geschrieben von zwei Bloggerinnen in zwei Sprachen

1. Pigsty Door, Klein Reken

While traveling in Germany this past April, I spent a day with my friend Ule in the little village of Klein Reken, in the rural province of Munsterland. Being born and raised in America where the built environment is not very old, I was captivated by Klein Reken’s traditional half-timbered architecture – especially one well-worn, deserted building I saw when we strolled through the village. As we walked around the structure, I took picture after picture, honing in on peeling paint, patched brick and rusty locks, wondering about the curtains in an upstairs window. Ule said she was drawn to the place too and had noticed it even before she moved to the town. She too had photographed the venerable building, delighting in the structure, the textures and the muted colors.

After I got home Ule and I talked about collaborating on a post about the old building. As we worked together more ideas surfaced and the post grew, so we decided to split it into two: this post includes old photos from the town archives, two of Ule’s photos, twelve of mine and a bit of local history. Next time we’ll show you the results of a photo exchange, where we each chose photos from the other person’s archive to process in our own way.

Our posts are different – you can see Ule’s post here.


Während meiner Deutschlandreise im vergangenen April verbrachte ich einen Tag mit meiner Freundin Ule in dem kleinen Dorf Klein Reken im ländlichen Münsterland. Ich bin in Amerika geboren und aufgewachsen, wo die Bebauung nicht sehr alt ist, und war fasziniert von traditioneller Fachwerkarchitektur in Klein Reken – besonders von einem baufälligen, verlassenen Gebäude, das ich beim Bummeln durch das Dorf gesehen habe. Als wir um das Gebäude herumgingen, machte ich ein Bild nach dem anderen, wobei ich mich in abblätternde Farbe, geflickte Ziegel und rostige Schlösser vertiefte und mich über die Vorhänge in einem Fenster im Obergeschoss wunderte. Ule sagte, sie sei ebenfalls von dem Ort fasziniert und habe es schon bemerkt, bevor sie in den Ort umgezogen sei. Auch sie hatte das Gebäude fotografiert und war begeistert von der Struktur, den Texturen und den verblichenen Farben.

Nachdem ich zu Hause angekommen war, sprachen wir über die Zusammenarbeit an einem Beitrag über das alte Gebäude. Während wir zusammenarbeiteten, tauchten weitere Ideen auf und der Beitrag wuchs, so beschlossen wir, ihn in zwei Teile aufzuteilen: Dieser Beitrag enthält alte Fotos aus dem Archiv des örtlichen Heimatvereins, zwei von Ules Fotos, zwölf von mir und ein bisschen Ortsgeschichte. Das nächste Mal zeigen wir euch die Ergebnisse eines Fotoaustauschs, bei dem wir jeweils Fotos der anderen Person ausgewählt haben, um sie auf unsere eigene Weise zu verarbeiten.

Unsere Beiträge sind unterschiedlich – ihr könnt den Beitrag von Ule hier sehen.

2. Funke’s Pigsty; photo by Ule
3. The pigsty and a neighboring house; photo by Ule

The worn brick and wood were mute reminders of the village’s farming past; indeed, Ule said villagers called the building “Funke’s pigsty” – for that’s what it had been. No one keeps pigs in the middle of the village anymore, but clearly someone was still providing minimal upkeep to the building. Doors were shuttered, a brick wall was roughly patched with concrete, and many coats of paint were evident. I wondered why the old half-timbered structure continued to settle into place essentially unchanged, while the village around it grew more prosperous. In my country a structure like this would have been torn down decades ago, or perhaps converted into a chic restaurant.

Der abgenutzte Ziegel und das Holz erinnerten stumm an die bäuerliche Vergangenheit des Dorfes. Tatsächlich, so Ule, nannten die Dorfbewohner das Gebäude “Funkes Schweinestall” – denn so war es gewesen. Niemand hält mehr Schweine in der Mitte des Dorfes, aber offensichtlich sorgte immer noch jemand für den minimalen Unterhalt des Gebäudes. Die Türen waren mit Fensterläden verschlossen, eine Mauer war grob mit Beton geflickt, und viele Anstriche waren zu erkennen. Ich fragte mich, warum sich das alte Fachwerkgebäude im Wesentlichen unverändert weiter festsetzte, während das Dorf um es herum florierte. In meinem Land wäre ein solches Gebäude vor Jahrzehnten abgerissen oder in ein schickes Restaurant umgewandelt worden.

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My friend Ule said she would find out more about the history of the place. She did, and the resulting glimpse into rural life is a real treasure! Here’s her friend Kurt, reminiscing about the building:

Meine Freundin Ule sagte, sie würde mehr über die Geschichte des Ortes erfahren. Sie tat es und der daraus resultierende Einblick in das ländliche Leben ist ein wahrer Schatz! Hier ist ihr Freund Kurt, der sich an das Gebäude erinnert:

“Even in my childhood this was an old house of poor construction, but it always looked well maintained. At that time a family lived there, whose children I often played with, in the yard behind the house when I was allowed to accompany my grandmother there for a visit. In the yard there were chickens, also cats, which were never allowed in the house, at the most, just outside on the windowsill.”
At that time there was no toilet, no water in the house, and they had no stable, because the father of the family did not work as a farmer, but earned his livelihood in mining in the Ruhr area, like many men after the completion of the railroad in 1877. In fact, the poor village came to a little modest prosperity through these jobs for the first time.
Kurt remembers well the year 1955, when the Mühlenweg (Mill Road) got its own water supply. He was able to watch the home owners at work digging the trenches for the pipes themselves, since he was home with the measles at that time. This event was just right for him as a remedy for boredom.
Thereafter, his family did not need to pump the water out of the well, which was especially a relief on the weekly bathing days when the zinc tub was filled, into which all the family members – one after the other in the same water – climbed for thorough cleaning.  Only later did Kurt’s family get the first proper bathroom on the Mühlenweg, tiled and with a bath stove – luxury! Such luxury had never been seen in the miner family’s house next door.

“Schon in meiner Kindheit war das ein altes Haus von ärmlichem Zuschnitt, das aber immer gepflegt wirkte. Damals wohnte dort eine Familie, mit deren Kindern ich im Hof hinter dem Haus oft gespielt habe, wenn ich meine Großmutter zu einem Besuch dorthin begleiten durfte. Im Hof gab es Hühner, auch Katzen, die niemals ins Haus durften, allenfalls draußen auf der Fensterbank liegen.” Im Haus gab es damals keine Toilette, kein Wasser, keinen Stall, da der Familienvater nicht als Bauer arbeitete, sondern im Bergbau im Ruhrgebiet seinen Lebensunterhalt verdiente, wie viele Männer nach der Fertigstellung der Eisenbahn 1877. Tatsächlich kam in das arme Dorf durch diese Arbeitsplätze zum ersten Mal ein wenig bescheidener Wohlstand. Kurt erinnert sich gut an das Jahr 1955, als der Mühlenweg eine eigene Wasserversorgung bekam, er konnte den Hauseigentümern, die selbst die Gräben für die Leitungen aushuben, bei den Arbeiten zuschauen, weil er zu der Zeit mit Masern zuhause bleiben musste. Da kam dieses Ereignis als Mittel gegen die Langeweile gerade recht. Danach musste seine Familie das Wasser nicht mehr aus dem Brunnen pumpen, das war besonders an den Waschtagen und den wöchentlichen Badetagen eine Erleichterung, wenn die Zinkwanne gefüllt wurde, in die alle Familienmitglieder – einer nach dem anderen in dasselbe Wasser – zur gründlichen Reinigung stiegen. Erst später bekam Kurts Familie das erste richtige Badezimmer am Mühlenweg, gefliest und mit Badeofen – Luxus! Solchen Luxus hat das Häuschen der Bergarbeiterfamilie nie gesehen.

Ule tells me that in the late 1950s, the miner’s family moved to a house in the new Antoniussiedlung on the outskirts of the village. The half-timbered house was sold and converted into a pigsty, henceforth it was called “Funke’s pigsty.”

Ule erzählt mir, dass die Bergmannsfamilie Ende der 1950er Jahre in ein Haus in der neuen Antoniussiedlung am Rande des Dorfes gezogen ist. Das Fachwerkhaus wurde verkauft und in einen Schweinestall umgewandelt, von nun an hieß es “Funkes Schweinestall”.††††

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Ule dug up more village lore, learning that in years past there were a number of farms in the village, some run as a sideline business, with only one cow.  The cows were driven in the morning over the mill path to the pastures behind a railway embankment. Since they left “traces” on the way, the mill path came to be known as the Kudrizkistraße (Cowshit Path). Kurt said that During World War II, a village resident addressed a field postcard to his family with “Kudrizkistraße” with no further location information – and it reached its destination. Once two children, Martin and Heinz, made a joke of throwing swine manure on the cows. And forty years later, Martin recalls being punished by the farm servant Alwis with a slap on the neck he handed them while he rode past on his bicycle. Martin added that otherwise, Alwis was very fond of children and never averse to a joke.

Ule grub weitere Überlieferungen aus dem Dorf aus und erfuhr, dass es in den vergangenen Jahren eine Reihe von Bauernhöfen im Dorf gab, von denen einige als Nebendienst betrieben wurden und nur eine Kuh hatte. Die Kühe wurden morgens über den Mühlenweg zu den Weiden hinter einem Bahndamm gefahren. Da sie unterwegs “Spuren” hinterließen, wurde der Mühlenweg als Kudrizkistraße bekannt. Kurt sagte, dass ein Dorfbewohner während des Zweiten Weltkriegs seiner Familie eine Feldpostkarte mit der Aufschrift “Kudrizkistraße” ohne weitere Ortsangaben zugesandt habe – und dass sie ihr Ziel erreicht habe. Einmal machten die beiden Kinder Martin und Heinz einen Scherz, indem sie Schweinegülle auf die Kühe warfen. Und vierzig Jahre später erinnert sich Martin, wie er von dem Hofdiener Alwis mit einem Schlag auf den Hals bestraft wurde, den er ihnen reichte, als er mit seinem Fahrrad vorbeifuhr. Martin fügte hinzu, dass Alwis ansonsten sehr kinderlieb und keinem Witz abgeneigt sei.

Ule hoped to find an old photo of the building in the Reken archives but there weren’t any because in those days, photography was reserved for more imposing buildings, like churches, inns and schools. As Ule says, “no house of poor people or pigsty was worthy of such attention and expense.” However, a set of evocative old photos was procured from the town archive. You can see some below.

Ule hoffte, ein altes Foto des Gebäudes in den Archiven von Reken finden zu können, aber es gab kein Foto, denn damals war die Fotografie für imposantere Gebäude wie Kirchen, Gasthäuser und Schulen reserviert. Wie Ule sagt, “war kein Haus von Armen oder Schweinestall einer solchen Aufmerksamkeit und Kosten würdig.” Aus dem Stadtarchiv wurde jedoch eine Reihe anregender alter Fotos beschafft. Sie können einige unten sehen.

The lack of photographic records of the pigsty was remedied once Ule moved to the village. She noticed the building right away, and watched it grow a little more crooked every year. It’s not surprising that she found it to be a compelling photography subject. I’m glad she made sure we wandered past it on our walk that day. I had to apologize for leaving everyone else waiting while I kept taking pictures – it was hard to stop.

Nein, es gab keine Fotos von unserem Schweinestall … bis Ule ins Dorf zog. Sie bemerkte das Gebäude sofort und sah zu, wie es jedes Jahr ein bisschen schief wurde. Es ist nicht verwunderlich, dass sie im alten Gebäude ein überzeugendes Fotomotiv gefunden hat. Ich bin froh, dass sie dafür gesorgt hat, dass wir an diesem Tag auf unserem Spaziergang daran vorbeigegangen sind. Ich musste mich entschuldigen, dass ich alle warten ließ, während ich weiter fotografierte – es war schwer aufzuhören.

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We are planning another post, this time with a few photos of each other’s that we will process our own way. Stay tuned!

Wir planen einen weiteren Beitrag, diesmal mit ein paar Fotos aus dem Archiv der jeweils anderen, die wir auf unsere eigene Weise bearbeiten werden. Bleib dran!


LOCAL WALKS: Wind in the Garden

Wind in the garden isn’t what a photographer wants, but there I was. The sky was pearly gray,

then

blue-and-white, and

gray again, and the flowers grinned

in a thousand bright colors.

Stillness came and went on rabbit’s feet,

the fickle sun flirted,

wobbly petals whipped

back and forth.

Gust, breeze

toss, scatter.

Stillness within.

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The photographs were taken on a windy afternoon at the Washington State University Discovery Garden, a public garden located in Mount Vernon, Washington, that is maintained by members of the Skagit County Extension Master Gardeners Program. June is glorious in the garden; I didn’t want to allow the wind to frustrate me so I went with it. When everything blew I put the camera on shutter priority, dialed back the exposure if I needed to, and set a long enough shutter speed to show the blur of movement (e.g. 1/4 sec.). When stillness prevailed I went back to aperture priority, shooting from f4.5 to f18. No tripod – I like to keep moving.

If you like the blurred photos, especially the more abstract ones, you might enjoy a recent post by Linda Grashoff at Romancing Reality. She has created some outstanding images using a different technique, Intentional Camera Movement.

LOCAL WALKS: MORNING FOG

1. Driftwood, Lottie Bay

A late May walk on a cool, foggy morning, a favorite place ten minutes from home…

If you fly over this corner of Fidalgo Island in a small plane and look down, you’ll see a bay shaped like the curved knife used for chopping vegetables, sometimes called a mezzluna.  The knife edge is the beach. A rocky cliff takes a bite out of the edge and a long, narrow pier draws a fine line across the blade and into the bay. (A map is below, for reference.)

A bit of lawn disappears into thick woods surrounding the bay; the quiet water is speckled with rocks. To the west are more islands. In the distance, the Strait of Juan de Fuca disappears into the mist. In the off season the pier is deserted, the waters empty but for an occasional kayaker or small boat, the paths lightly traveled.

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2. At anchor in the fog, Bowman Bay

On this foggy morning there was just one other vehicle in the lot. I was effectively alone. We think of fog as removal: it takes away our ability to see clearly, it muffles sounds and obscures things.

But fog brings not-knowing forward, and what does that do? It returns us to the Wonder.

I’m not sure what’s ahead. I slow down.

3. Flowering grass, Bowman Bay

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4. The path to Lighthouse Point, nearly overtaken by wildflowers and dune grass.

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5. The growth of past seasons mixes with the fresh blades of dune grass on a tangled mess of crumbling driftwood.

 

Wild Nootka roses (Rosa nutkana) sprinkle the path like fat, pink polka dots. The pretty magenta flowers of Common vetch (Vicia sativa) are plentiful too, but are almost lost in  the welcoming, cloud-like drifts of Cow parsnip (Heracleum lanatum).

Stillness hangs heavy. The air is cool.

At the south end of the beach is a tombolo, an Italian-derived word for a narrow strip of land connecting an island to the mainland. This tombolo, strung between two bays, connects Lighthouse Point to Fidalgo Island. It’s the kind of place where edges have no edge, dancing with the tides, creating and erasing boundaries with the unpredictability of a butterfly’s flight. One day, masses of seaweed wash up onto the beach in spongy, pungent mounds. Another day a windstorm spills bay water into the marshy wetland. Sands shift and reach into the dune grass that lines a path over the tombolo. Waves cut shallow scoops from the shoreline. Forty-foot logs are tossed about like toothpicks, eventually becoming rooted in place by wildflowers growing around them. The rubbery ropes of Bullwhip kelp scribe messages in the sand alongside dainty racoon tracks.

It’s always changing here.

7. A receding tide deposits layers of seaweed on the beach and bares barnacle-studded rocks at the base of the cliff.

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8. On top of the cliff the view through the smooth branches of a Madrone tree is fine. Even on a foggy day. Especially so.

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9. Splashes of ochre-colored lichens, chestnut-hued moss, wildflowers, grasses and stunted trees provide decor on a cliff to the north of Light House Point.

On the back side of the tombolo a damp wetland gives way to a sheltered cove called Lottie Bay. This bay is fed by the straight whose churning waters barrel through Deception Pass several times a day, carrying water from the Pacific, ninety miles to the west. With its muddy, shallow bottom, the little cove is a favorite spot of gulls, ducks and chattering Kingfishers. On this day Kildeer spew their high-pitched cries into the gray air, raising the alarm at the slightest perception of threat. One bird drags its wing in the classic “broken wing” feint, designed by some mysterious twist of genetic material to draw would-be predators towards the bird pretending to be injured and away from its vulnerable young.

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10. Cow parsnip (Heracleum lanatum) is beginning to go to seed. The young plant stems were peeled and eaten like celery by local tribes. Black bears forage on it too, which makes me wonder if the bear that swam ashore near here three weeks earlier might have snacked on this plant. That young bear swam to several other islands before being spotted back on the mainland, near a highway. It was finally darted, captured, and hauled off to the mountains. Life should be easier there, assuming this youngster didn’t get too used to dining on birdseed and trash during his island odyssey.

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11. A washed up, barnacle-studded branch is caught in a tangle of dune grass. Another still life to admire, until it all changes again with the next tide.

I return to this magical place at different hours, in fair and foul weather, through all the seasons. Because different habitats are jammed up against one another edge to edge, there are quick, dramatic changes to experience with all my senses. The chill in the air, the scent of low tides, the zippy flight of swallows and the echoing calls of Oystercatchers – it’s always a sensory banquet.

Woods, beaches, a wetland or two, rocky cliffs, a muddy bay, off-shore islands – all in the space of a half mile or so. That’s just what I see on foot, but if I were a seal or an otter, an eagle or a squirrel, then I would have parsed this place into different components. I’d have it memorized by sense instead of names: the place of fast water, the high tree where everything can be seen, the tangle of brush to hide in…

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12. A bouquet of wildflowers cascades off a cliff on Lighthouse Point. Delicate pink Streambank Spring beauty (Montia or Claytonia parvifolia) intermingles with the yellow flowers and succulent, blue-green leaves of Broad-leaved stonecrop (Sedum spathufolium).  Grasses, Licorice fern and Bedstraw (Galium triflorum) help anchor the mass to the rocks.

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13. Delicate Streambank Spring beauty.

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14. I believe this is Baltic rush, Juncus balticus. Rushes look like grass until you get closer.  They’re “walk right by” plants of cool, damp places that most people don’t notice. In Spring, the discerning eye can find a complex, beautiful architecture in their flowers.

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15. The evergreen Sword fern (Polystichum munitum) is ubiquitous in the northwest, thriving in many different habitats. The repeating patterns are irresistible.

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16. Seaweed caught on a branch shows just how high the tides can go. This may have happened last winter in a storm. It’s a rather desolate look, but I think it captures the wildness of this place.

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Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn
by Wu Men (Hui-k’ai)

English version by Stephen Mitchell

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

from Poetry Chaikhana Blog

(The poem is a verse from Ordinary Mind is the Way, Case 19 in the Gateless Gate (Mumonkon), a compilation of zen koans compiled over 700 years ago in China by Chinese Zen master Wu-men Hui-hai.)

 

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A rough map of the places mentioned in this post

ROCK, WOOD, WATER

As a threesome, they don’t fit into any existing system I can think of; they’re not the Western world’s four elements (fire, earth, air, water), nor the Aristotelian five elements (earth, water, air, fire ether). They’re not Taoism’s five elements either (wood, fire, earth, metal, water) and they won’t work for “Rock, paper scissors.”

These three elements, or let me call them beings, are speaking to me lately, making their presence known as I roam forest and coast. Maybe they’re my own cosmology, for now at least: Rock, Wood, Water.

 

1. The Fidalgo Island shoreline carves alternating rhythms of Rock, Wood and Water: sheer cliffs set with Madrone, Shore pine, and Douglas fir trees abut narrow beaches littered with driftwood and thick with intertidal life. Back and forth it goes, Water wearing down Rock, Wood nourished by Water and nestling into Rock, Rock giving structure to Water and Wood….

 

Language treats them as distinct, even abstracted things but they are tightly woven together, constantly interacting with one another and the other beings of the land –  including humans.

David Abram, in his book The Spell of the Sensuous, describes what can happen when we embed ourselves in a naming, separating language world: “….the character of linguistic discourse in the ‘developed’ or ‘civilized’ world, where language functions largely to deny reciprocity with nature–by defining the rest of nature as inert, mechanical and determinate—and where, in consequence, our sensorial participation with the land around us must remain mute, inchoate, and in most cases wholly unconscious.”

 

2. Wood in two guises (which we call “Western dogwood” and “Douglas fir”) invites us to touch, to experience smooth and rough with fingertips as well as eyes.

Having achieved the ability to converse about our world scientifically, which certainly has value, we have lost much of the directness of pure sensory experience, and the profound delight it can bring. This loss of direct experience of the wild alienates us from what we need to preserve, if we value life on earth. As Abram says later in the book, “For it is only at the scale of our direct, sensory interactions with the land around us that we can appropriately notice and respond to the immediate needs of the living world.”

 

3. Setting aside the nature photographer’s usual desire for sharp focus, I set a longer shutter speed (without using a tripod) to show the soft swoosh of the waves as the tide brought Water back to nourish vulnerable intertidal flora and fauna.

 

But the camera – that complicated little black box – isn’t that another intermediary, another barrier between me and the sensory world? It is, but I think when we use it as a tool to remind ourselves of the power and beauty of the natural world, it may serve to nudge us back out there, into the midst of it all. That’s my hope.

 

4. Water’s nourishing presence on beach grass invites us closer.

 

5. Water and Wood embrace. After Rain traces paths around a Madrone tree branch it falls to the ground, giving life from above and below.

 

6. Maybe repeated freezes and thaws – Water’s work – caused this rock to fracture. Wood is present too, in the scatter of pine needles.

 

This island where I live is alive with Water, Rock and Wood beings. Once covered with thick, wet forests of towering evergreens, Fidalgo still cradles a group of the Old Ones near its center and a myriad of younger trees fringe the hills. Driftwood giants litter the beaches between worn rock outcroppings. Rock protrudes from the trails and defines the highest point. Fog hazes over the mornings, waves lap at shorelines, lakes dot the island’s center.

 

7. Water, Rock and Wood play disappearing acts over Burrows Bay on Fidalgo’s west shore. One small boat plys an open patch of water as the San Juan Islands and Canada’s Vancouver Island fade into the mist beyond. The names are useful, but the pleasure of this moment didn’t require any names. It was just cool breeze, evergreen scent, quiet and cloud-soft.

 

8. Wood in the form of an old Maritime juniper tree digs its roots into the rocky soil.

 

9. We often have gentle rains here that stop and start, which makes going out with the camera easier – especially if the camera is weather-sealed. Transitory moments like this are alive with change.

 

Our words identify things, making it easier for us to talk about them. But don’t be fooled into thinking that the things we perceive and talk about are separate. They’re all tied together, engaged in a complex dance of energy. Even the beings that look the most solid and unmoving are changing all the time.

 

10. Rock, with a delicate splash of lichens, near Twisp, Washington.

 

11. Wood rising in a form we call Black cottonwood (Populus trichocarpa) sits happily by the wet ditch, where its branches are ruffled by an errant spring breeze.

 

 

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12. The Rockwater dance never ends. I noticed this detail on neighboring Whidbey Island’s North Beach.

 

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13. From a plane high over a mountain range, Water and Rock enchanted me.

 

14. Wood has a little human intervention, in the form of a driftwood sculpture on the beach. Someone has balanced Wood with a distant island and the shimmering blue Water.

 

15. The purity of Water can be mesmerizing. This photograph was taken while riding home from Europe in a plane. It might have been over Greenland, and I admit, I wanted to pinpoint the location. But in the end it was the wordless experience of melting into that horizonless horizon that mattered most.

 

***

These photos were all made recently, mostly close to home. #2 was at Rockport State Park, about 50 miles east, and the rocks in #6 and #10 were in the dry hills outside Twisp, Washington, about 150 miles east. I’ve been roaming as often as possible, mostly in familiar places. It’s been exciting to experience how spring behaves in this maritime climate – there have been new-to-me flowers to see in the forests and on the bluffs, wild herbs to taste, birdsong to enjoy and changes to observe along the beaches. The backlog of photos is getting fat! I may try to post more often. More from Europe will be coming too.

I hope your senses are alive with the season’s changes.