Tilting the Axis

1.

My axis tilted

by a trip. Nineteen days

swallowing

impressions

whole,

or did I pick at them? Bits

and pieces

maybe…

 

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2.

 

Or not.

In any case,

I looked up.

 

3.

 

Down.

 

4.

 

Out.

 

5.

 

Across.

 

6.

 

And through, yes, I looked through a lot: through trees, screens, fences, windows, doors, glass cases, and

my camera. That one. A lot.

 

7.

 

8.

 

9.

 

10.

 

11.

 

There were willow trees, and poems.

 

12.

 

13.

 

14.

 

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15.

 

There were many coins,

there was not enough water.

 

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16.

 

17.

 

Plenty of good espresso though…

 

18.

 

Planes, trains

trams, buses, cars,

boats and feet –

I used them all,

inscribing a ragged northern European circle:

Amsterdam,

Leiden, Rotterdam,

Ghent, Antwerp,

Lille,

Cologne, Frankfurt, Klein Reken, Hannover, Rahden, Lavelsloh,

Badhoevdorp, and Amsterdam again.

 

 

My brain

was chaos: too little

sleep, too many

sights, sounds, smells,

thoughts

and feelings swirling around in

a joyful stew.

 

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20.

 

How did I manage?

People. Friends,

relatives, and above all,

that one guy in

the center of it all, kept me

from blowing away.

 

21. Ben, Joe, Ule Rolff.

 

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22. Elke and Anette

 

23a. Almuth

 

23b. Jeanine

 

 

 

My axis tilted to the Old World,

nine hours ahead. A different time

and place,

layered with history,

awash in art, architecture,

fresh food, abundant conversation,

and in the lovely month of April,

flowers, buds, and birds.

(More of those later)

Then it was time to return to the New World.

 

24.

 

So here I am, slowly digesting

three weeks of impressions. More photos

will follow. Thank you

for being here.

***

 

A few notes on the photos:

  1. A White stork flies near its nest, in the German countryside. These huge, mythic creatures migrate between Africa and Europe, and forage in fields for all manner of meat: insects, mice, lizards, worms – whatever! They’re making a comeback now, after declining over the past several hundred years.
  2. Roof tiles on the street; old town, Leiden, Netherlands.
  3. Cologne (Koln), Germany.  Pollarded trees are much more common in Europe than in the US. Wikipedia says that pollarding, a method of pruning to keep trees to a manageable size and promote dense, leafy growth, is mentioned in an ancient Roman text.
  4. A floor mosaic at the MSK Museum (Museum Voor Schone Kunsten) in Ghent, Belgium.
  5. Somewhere over Greenland, strange land forms rose from the clouds.
  6. A neat row of trees in the German countryside. Long or short, rows of trees appear again and again in the countryside of the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.
  7. A textured glass door in a private home in Germany yields amorphous blobs of pure color.
  8. An old church in Hannover, Germany, viewed through a fine fuzz of new leaves.
  9. At the Wallraf-Richartz/Ludwig Museum in Cologne, excavation work being done next door is seen through a black, textured screen. A museum complex that will have a collection spanning two millennia and ruins of the Roman governor’s palace and a Jewish ritual bath, is underway.
  10. In Lille, France, an old brick building retains only its’ face; mute, empty windows frame the inner walls and the buildings beyond.
  11. Handsome doors in a century-old home in Leiden lead to a balcony overlooking over a canal.
  12. Also in Leiden, a willow tree hangs gracefully over one of many canals that meander through the city.
  13. The Wall Poems of Leiden project began in 1992. Written in a variety of languages, the poems number more than a hundred. It’s quite wonderful to come upon one unexpectedly…maybe this one especially. The photo shows a fragment of “The Hours Rise Up Putting Off Stars and It Is” by e.e.cummings.
  14. Another willow tree on a canal in Leiden.
  15. Strange story – this carved stone in Antwerp records a line from the old song, “There is a Tavern in the Town.” Why? Author Willem Elsschot (a pseudonym for Alphonsus Josephus de Ridder; 1882-1960) was a respected Belgian author whose last work incorporates the lyrics of the song. You can follow the story via quotes that are placed in various locations around the city. Called Het Dwaallicht, or Will-o’-the-wisp, the novella has been called, “A jewel in the treasure chest of Dutch language” (Kader Abdolah).
  16. A teacup and the previous day’s collection of Euro coins. That was early; by the end of the trip, they were weighing down our pockets.
  17. Detail from a still life at the Wallraf-Richartz/Ludwig Museum in Cologne. I like to have a bottle of water handy, and when it runs out, where do I fill it? Water fountains are rare. No one wants to give away water. If I want a glass of water in a restaurant, chances are I’ll pay for it, even if it comes from the tap. We became adept at filling our water bottles in restaurant the bathrooms (not so much the bathrooms of train stations, which cost a Euro to enter). It was disappointing when the sink was so tiny, the bottle couldn’t wedge under the faucet. Water may have been hard to come by, but great food was plentiful, even in the train stations.
  18. Espresso Perfetto in Cologne is a lively, popular cafe in the Italian tradition: your espresso is pulled, poured and served with great care; the little glass of sparkling water is there, the little chocolate too, and the people watching is very, very good. We observed one happy, rotund man come to the counter for tray after tray of delicious pastries to bring to his friends. There is a shiny array of high end espresso machines to peruse, and there are blankets for the outdoor seats, because Europeans aren’t going to let cold weather stop them from enjoying the freedom of a smoke. Or is it life parading by that’s the real draw?
  19. A collage of photos of transport arrangements, from feet to airplanes. In the Netherlands, our OV cards got us on trains, trams and buses, but they weren’t good in Belgium or Germany. No worry – navigating the systems wasn’t too difficult, especially with the help of English-speaking natives. In one train station, where student volunteers kept the line moving for the ticket and information desks, our volunteer was a Syrian native who spoke Arabic, Dutch, English, a bit of French and German. Put us to shame!
  20. A tangle of foliage at Hortus Botanicus, a botanical garden in Leiden. The oldest section dates back to 1590. The great Linnaeus spent time here!
  21. That special guy, flanked by dear friends in Germany. Click on Ule’s name to visit her website.
  22. Third cousins once removed? I’m not exactly sure, but Elke and Anette were great companions on a long afternoon spent delving into family history, by way of the beautifully kept old farmhouse and barn where my paternal grandmother grew up, a pretty village church that dates back to the 1600’s, family photos, stories, and – yum! – homemade plum kuchen and coffee.
  23. a. b. & c.  Three remarkable people. 23a is a blogging friend Almuth, who took us under her wing for a fabulous day in Hannover. Click on her name to visit her site. Jeanine hosted us in Leiden, with brilliant style. Click on Harrie’s name (23c) to visit his website – we enjoyed a great afternoon talking and walking with him. I also met Karl Ursus, and though the photo turned out very blurry, the conversation was clear as could be.
  24. A drawing by Walter Dahn at the Kestnergesellschaft, an art gallery in Hannover.

Just Before Spring

It was one of the coldest February’s on record here, but I still went out for walks as often as I could. Sometimes it was only for a half hour and more than once, my fingers went numb as I worked with my camera. Temperatures are warming ever so slowly. We’re still consistently below normal, but the light is noticeably brighter now, birds are singing, a few buds are opening…

There is so much to see.

 

1. Weathered trees high on a bald overlooking a sparkling sea.

 

2. The late afternoon sun warming the underside of an old bridge.

 

3. The same bridge on another day, seen from a log-crossed, rocky peninsula at low tide.

 

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4. Thousands of Snow geese being one with the air, the field, each other….all of it.

 

5. A singular rock wiped clean by retreating waves, deep in conversation with the sand, the pebbles, and me.

 

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6. Svelte rocks that dance and wiggle their way into my heart.

 

7. Or a lumpen rock, strewn with green streamers from an eel grass party, cavorting with smaller stones while lining up its fine white markings with the ten directions.

 

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8. Magisterial rocks letting their green top coats dry out while drawing sun-warmth deep into their centers.

 

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9. What else is there to see?  A plum-colored path through a fuzzy fairytale forest draped with ferns, and set with the dark, knotted rootballs of fallen giants.

 

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10. Patterns shimmering through the air, making their non-linear way into the fir tree boughs, down to the earth, and up into my brain cells. Now, the shimmering patterns are yours.

 

11. And what is there to hear? Plenty. Just listen. Wherever you are right now, stop. Listen.

 

12. Whether sound emerges from a Song sparrow or a fishing vessel it travels through the same air, without caring what it meets. Sound rides the wind.

 

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13. Dizzying patterns abound, absorbing me into the binary rhythm of light and dark.

 

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14. The little rosettes of sedum leaves, the soft mosses and dried out grasses – they’re all waiting. Waiting without complaint or expectation in the knowledge that spring follows winter.  They know what to do and they will not fail to express the season.

 

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15. Old Douglas fir, ancient one, thick-barked, heavy-limbed, ever green, reaches out and invites me to duck under the branches on my way downhill. Thank you. I’m blessed.

 

16. More rhythm. Four straight Douglas fir trees alternate with the sinuous curves of a Madrone tree. The cold water below carries the cries of gulls out to the Salish sea.

 

17. Countless logs roll in and out along the shores of an island. A band of fir trees sucks in the light, hiding it well.

 

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18. The tides do their patient work, smoothing edges, rounding corners, loosening bark, fading colors….

 

19. The dimpled bark of a Madrona tree absorbs another sunset, burrowing light into every pore.

 

20. How much longer? How many more storms before this Douglas fir topples onto the beach? Not yet.

 

21. Rain.

 

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22. A lock on the old bridge, with just enough rust. I think.

 

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23. Water, sky, and earth bounce back and forth endlessly on a cold February afternoon, telling the tale of this one place.

 

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24. A fallen one effortlessly melds water and light.

 

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25. The creators, fire and water, bring it all home to us.

 

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toss the Agenda, Just Be with the Trees

Chances are, most everyone who reads this has had a special relationship with a tree, or with a type of tree. My sacred groves have changed as I moved from place to place. Oak, beech, maple – those steadfast denizens of temperate North America were boon companions for decades, along with many others. Then seven years ago, the cast of characters changed when I moved to the Pacific northwest. Tall, raggedy lines of Douglas firs took over my horizons while elegant cedars and hemlocks called me deeper into the woods. Last July I moved again and the arboreal lineup shifted. Wandering the land, I saw the familiar silhouettes of Douglas fir, Western Redcedar, and Red alder, but subtle differences began to emerge. The island ecosystems here are different than the lowlands and foothills where I lived before. Colorful, wavy-branched Madrone trees are as plentiful here as Bigleaf maples were around Seattle. I don’t see as many willows now, but the scarce Maritime juniper is an endemic specialty here that’s worth seeking out.

Getting to know the quirks of local habitats is a slow process. Knowledge and understanding build organically as I ply forest trails, stroll beaches and tiptoe across mossy balds. What better way to absorb new information than to rest my gaze on a form, gather its essence at that moment, put the camera to my eye and make a photograph. At that moment, when things go well, I apprehend the whole that I’m situated in, without separation between me and my surroundings. You could say it’s a kind of adoration. The separateness we humans so often feel can quickly drop away when we’re immersed in an activity. Being in nature with all one’s senses alert is one of the more obvious ways to let go of all that makes us feel separate. But even the seemingly passive activity of looking at images can so immersive that we forget ourselves.

Separation can drop away at any time – that is an ever-present possibility. Approaching trees without an agenda about trees – or about anything – makes room for grounded, fresh experience. It’s my wish that you might approach these photographs with a spirit of no agenda. Skip the captions if that makes it easier – they’re here because I enjoy sharing ideas and information. Whatever works, I hope you can just be with the moment.

 

1. Western Redcedars (Thuja plicata), their lower branches thickly coated with moss, stand tall in the mist at Rockport State Park. Redcedars are undeniably graceful, with their sloping trunks that ease into the soil, and their billowing curtains of evergreen leaves.

 

2. This solid twist of driftwood could be from a Redcedar tree.

 

3. Curvy Pacific madrone trees (Arbutus menziesii) intertwine with upright Douglas firs along a path in Deception Pass State Park. The Madrone grows along the west coast of North America from California to British Columbia. In Puget Sound it seems to love steep slopes near water.

 

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4. Feathery evergreen leaves of a Redcedar waft in the breeze. This Pacific northwest species can live over a thousand years, attaining great height and girth. And dignity.

 

5. The green edges of our rocky islands are often set with Shore pines (Pinus contorta) along with Madrones and Douglas firs. On west-facing cliffs where the weather takes no prisoners, trees bend and eventually crumble into luxurious beds of Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) and Reindeer lichen (Cladonia sp.). This particular grouping makes me think of a dramatic dance: arms flailing, people collapsing on the floor….  This scene may appear static, but even as they decompose, trees lead a dynamic life interacting with the flora and fauna around them.

 

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6. These roots are probably Douglas fir or Shore pine. Research shows that in the same soil as the roots of trees there are vast mycorrhizal networks that pass critical information among trees, along with nutrients, carbon and water. There is a world of intelligent activity under our feet!

 

7. Fire happens. In August, 2016, it happened here, in a protected community forest.  The fire was put out, trails were closed for a time, and now the forest is healing. These Douglas firs were protected by thick bark.

 

8. A fallen Douglas fir has been sawed to make space for a trail. It’s sad to see the giants go, but before long new plants will take root on top of the log. A whole community of moss, ferns, mushrooms, lichens, shrubs and trees can establish itself on a prostrate tree. Not to mention spiders, beetles, squirrels, birds….

 

9. A mature tree that began life atop a nursery log slowly works its roots down into the ground.

 

10. Western hemlock boughs are nice places to lose yourself.

 

11. This species of juniper only grows on a handful of islands in Puget Sound and a few other nearby sites. Named the Maritime juniper (Juniperus maritima), it was differentiated from Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) in 2007, after research showed critical distinctions between the two species. The tree I photographed is next to an oft-traveled park road and is frequently photographed. Maybe all that attention buoys the tree in some mysterious way.

 

12. A tree that fell into a shallow lake provides support for native grasses as the wood gradually weathers into a maze of sinewy, sculptural shapes.

 

13. An old Shore pine lives up to its Latin name, Pinus contorta. This photo was taken in December, and all the green you see is evergreen – trees, mosses, ferns, grasses, and other plants. 

 

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14. In the forest, a neck-breaking upward gaze reveals wildly criss-crossing branches on a Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). I imagine the benefit of all those twists and turns is that each branch finds a little more light.

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15. This Douglas fir is said to be over 800 years old. Only part of it fits into the viewfinder! Step back, and neighboring trees complicate the picture so much that it’s hard to tell which tree is which. Stand underneath, and you feel the deep power of age and maturity, and a solidity of being that emanates beneficence through every crack and fissure.

 

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16. A close-up look at Douglas fir bark reveals congealed sap that cracked open, perhaps from temperature and humidity changes. There’s a whole world here on the skin of the tree, just as there is underneath the soil, high up in the canopy, and deep inside the heartwood.

 

17. The Madrone tree’s naturally peeling bark was used medicinally by indigenous peoples. Western researchers isolated Betulinic acid from the bark, an anti-inflamaotory and antimalarial substance that may also inhibit some cancers.

 

18. An immense Douglas fir spreads its roots like feet. The tree is probably hundreds of years old. Scattered old growth Douglas fir trees hang on in the forests here, and their noble girth does my ego good.  Being dwarfed by these great beings puts me in my places and settles my spirit.

 

19. The shallow, still waters of Little Cranberry Lake mirror a phantasmagoria of dead wood.

 

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20. Leaves of Redcedar flutter in the breeze after morning rain.

 

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21. This tree sings of long journeys by water and the constancy of the tides. It is as wild and raw as the winter wind.

 

***

Mary Oliver died last week. Here is a poem she wrote:

When I Am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

-Mary Oliver

 

 

 

Through the Gates

They aren’t snapshots;

they don’t happen quick as a snap

of the fingers, and unlike shots,

they’re not propelled outward

in search of a target. Rather they are

admissions.

Admissions of light and love.

Light that traveled 92 million miles

through vast emptiness

to filter down through clouds, bounce

around between objects, reflect off water

or rock, or the fine threads of lichens,

the fierce eyes of a hummingbird.

And with a shutter click

the light is absorbed,

admitted,

into my camera and mind. The gates.

The un-snapshots are

admissions

of light and love,

love for a world so exquisite

that we drink again

and again.

 

 

1. Short-eared owl stares me down; Farm to Market Road, Edison, Washington.

 

2. Licorice fern fronds on the Goose Rock Perimeter trail, Deception Pass State Park.

 

3. Window reflections and paint swatches on a warehouse in Edison.

 

4. Rain in December.

 

5. Dried Bracken fern; Heart Lake, Fidalgo Island, Washington

 

6. Sword fern decomposing at Sharpe Park, Fidalgo Island.

 

7. Cattails and tree trunks reflect in the still water of a shallow pond at Bowman Bay; Deception Pass State Park.

 

8. Rainy evening in January; Edison.

 

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9. Yellow lichens grow thickly on a damp cliff at North Beach; Deception Pass State Park.

 

10. Low tide at West Beach; Deception Pass State Park.

 

11. Driftwood on West Beach, with the San Juan Islands in the distance.

 

12. A resting branch frames a group of lichens, including a species of Parmelia slowly reaching across the bark like coral; West Beach.

 

13. Playing Santa at a small town Christmas parade; Anacortes, Washington.

 

14. Belgian draft horses at rest after the Christmas parade; Anacortes.

 

15. Roadside flooding and last summer’s Queen Anne’s Lace in the rain; Guemes Channel, March Point.

 

16. Dried Sword fern showing spore dots, or sori, at Sharpe Park.

 

17. The Granery; Edison.

 

18. The Granery lights; Edison.

 

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19. Old growth canopy of moss-covered trees at Rockport State Park.

 

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20. A tangle of trees, shrubs and ferns lit by January sun at Sharpe Park.

 

21. The view across Guemes Channel from March Point in the rain, from inside a car, with dried Queen Anne’s lace flowers swaying in the wind; Fidalgo Island.

 

22. Still life with toy ladder, clothespins and Japanese box.

 

23. Looking towards sunset, January 4th; North Beach.

 

***

 

Attributed to Hongzhi, a twelfth century Chinese Zen master:

“We all have the clear, wondrously bright field from the beginning. Many lifetimes of misunderstanding come only from distrust, hindrance, and screens of confusion that we create in a scenario of isolation.”

from Cultivating the Empty Field: The Silent Illumination of Zen Master Hongzhi, by Taigen Dan Leighton. Tuttle; 2000.

 

The Slow Curl Inward

In less than a month the shortest day of the year will mark another ending/beginning. Hanging low in the sky, the sun will begin climbing towards spring, however imperceptibly. As we approach the winter solstice the world seems to curve inward: leaf edges curl, hibernating animals wind into a ball, thoughts turn in on themselves.

Around here the beaches are strewn with pungent mounds of sloughed-off seaweed. The water is dotted with wintering ducks, diving for food, and pairs of eagles stand by their nests in a kind of pre-courtship bonding ritual. Pleasure boats are idle, and on most days the skies are washed with smudges of pewter and pearl. We may think in terms of endings – the end of summer, the end of good weather – but look closely and you’ll uncover ample evidence of the continuum of the seasons, folding one into the other. Here in the Pacific northwest, where temperatures are moderated by great bodies of water, the seasonal transitions are slow and subtle.

 

1. Strands of Bullwhip kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana) mingle gracefully with seaweed on a narrow strip of sandy beach at Bowman Bay, in Deception Pass State Park.

 

2. An idle sailboat floats on calm water at Bowman Bay.

 

On the other side of the island from my house, a small, bowl-shaped bay abuts a ragged, rocky headland jutting into the Salish Sea. A loop trail meanders through a verdant ever green forest there, and emerges at a series of bluffs, high above the swirling, tidal waters of Deception Pass. This has become one of my favorite places to walk.

 

Trail, Bowman Bay

3. The trail to Lighthouse Point skirts an old Douglas fir tree and curves up a cliff.

 

4. Most of the seeds have been released from this summer wildflower. It could be harmless Water parsnip (Sium suave) or poisonous Water hemlock (Cicuta douglasii); both are in the Apiaceae family (along with celery, parsley and carrots) and both are found here.

 

 

5. Dew drops crowd a blade of American dune grass (Leymus mollis) at Bowman Bay. My guess is that the cool temperatures here slow down the decomposition process, but a warmer climate will likely change the rate of decay, along with many other biological processes.

 

6. Two Douglas maple leaves (Acer glabrum var. douglasii) leaves are slowly dissolving onto a sword fern frond (Polystichum munitum) in the shady forest at Lighthouse Point.

 

7. Old Douglas fir trees, their bark craggy with age, stand straight and tall in a frothy sea of bright green Salal (Gaultheria shallon). The Doug fir, as it’s called locally, is actually not a fir; it’s in the pine family.

 

Twice in the last week or so, I’ve walked the trails at Lighthouse Point. My mind empties quickly there, and I’m a field of receptivity, alert to whatever presents itself, without agenda or plan. I spread my attention out over the landscape and let it lead me. I feel the cool air around my face, I smell pungent piles of seaweed and fragrant firs and cedars, and I hear the gentle lapping of waves. Countless scenes unfold around me as I walk. With the camera hanging at my side, there is the great pleasure of peering through its rectangular frame, exercising my aesthetic vision, and pressing that little silver button.

 

8. Piles of Bullwhip kelp twisted together and washed up on a sliver of beach, coming to rest in one big smelly, sensuous, sculptural heap.

 

9. A large rock, worn smooth by countless tides, contrasts with the granular texture of tiny broken shells and rocks in a little scoop of a cove facing Deception Pass.

 

10. Fallen Douglas fir trees (Pseudotsuga menziesii) lend an otherworldly air to a bluff on the little-visited north side of Lighthouse Point.

 
 
 

11. Away from the windy headlands Douglas firs grow straight and tall. A gold lichen on the tree trunks reflects the gold leaves of deciduous trees in the background. They may be Scouler’s willow (Salix scouleriana). John Scouler was a nineteenth century Scottish naturalist and doctor who made extensive plant collections in western North America and the Galapagos. Those were the days!


12. Mushrooms along a trail at Lighthouse Point. Identifying these is beyond my pay grade.



13. More old Douglas fir trees lean over a narrow trail on the north side of Lighthouse Point. Their thick bark is protective, helping them survive fires that occur during the dry summers.



Beach Sliver

14. Gentle waves lap at a sliver of beach on Bowman Bay. This photograph was taken while I peered through trees growing from a rocky cliff above the beach. I used spot metering to emphasize the low November sunlight on the water and sand.

 

15. The San Juan Islands rise up across the Salish Sea, less than 13 miles away. The disturbance in the water is a bed of Bullwhip kelp. Harbor porpoises have just been feeding here (my camera only caught the tiniest crescent of fin). The Oxford dictionary says you can call a group of porpoises a pod, a herd, a school or a turmoil. I’ll go for turmoil – that perfectly describes the water when porpoises are actively feeding. The sun had set when I took this photo, and I had to hurry back on dim trails. I now have a flashlight in my pack.

 

The colors are muted, the light is scant, but the glory remains as autumn sheds its skin into winter’s bones. You have only to shed assumptions and look attentively.

 

Inspiration’s Residue

In October I went to southern California for a week to explore the Los Angeles area, and also, to see some art. I chose three places to look at art: The Broad (a contemporary art museum), the Watts Towers, and the Noah Purifoy Foundation’s Joshua Tree Outdoor Museum. The Broad appealed because it’s a new museum, full of contemporary art. Watts Towers had been on my mind because I’ve known about this artistic landmark for decades, and I wanted to see it in person. I’d been to the Joshua Tree Outdoor Art Museum four years ago and was very impressed; this time I would have the pleasure of sharing it with my partner.

All three experiences were inspiring. This word “inspire” in English, derives from the Latin “in” – into – and “spirare” – breathe. When we’re inspired, we receive a breath from the world. For me, seeing art is one of the best ways to be inspired.

To illustrate that idea, here is a group of photos from The Broad, the Watts Towers, and the Joshua Tree Outdoor Museum, along with a handful of photos I made on the trip that reflect the inspiration I reaped from the paintings, sculpture and architecture I saw.

 

1. The escalator at The Broad allows visitors to make a slow but powerful transition from the first floor entry to the upper level galleries.

 

Before I go any further, there is something that happened recently that for me, is related to the act of being with art. Last week Bernie Glassman died. He was my zen teacher. My experience at the Zen Community of New York, where I lived for five years in the early 1980’s, was transformative. What I learned during those years cannot be summed up easily, if at all, but it influenced the rest of my life.

In a 2001 interview during which he discussed his social action and interfaith work, Glassman said, “The goal is an infinite circle in which everything is included.” Impossible goals are conundrums to wrestle with, and to live by. He lived his, however imperfectly, and I’m sad to see him transition to another plane. But like any important inspiration or influence, once the spark is lit, the flames burn on.

The aesthetic impulse, spiritual grounding, and a deep love of nature are braided through my life: they’re intertwined tightly sometimes, loosely or not at all at other times, but they always continue. For you the threads are probably different, but in any case, I believe that impulses and inspirations from different parts of life strengthen one another when brought together. I think there is value in being aware of the braids of inspirations in our lives, and value in expressing them through art.

 

 

2. A sculpture made from baking pans, by Noah Purifoy. Purifoy moved from Los Angeles to a desert property in Joshua Tree in 1989, and created art there until his death in 2004, at age 82. He was an exuberantly inventive artist who primarily used discarded materials in his work.

 

3. The door on a large corrugated steel building created by Purifoy in the desert. His work is at the Smithsonian, the National Gallery of Art, the Whitney and other museums. A solo show at the Tilton Gallery in New York just closed last week.

 

4. A detail from the interior of a room-sized work by Purifoy, called Carousel. Purifoy’s story is a moving one: born poor and black in the deep south, in 1917, he eventually earned three college degrees, and was a respected political activist, deeply influenced by the infamous 1965 Watts riots. He worked with the physical and emotional residue from the riots, and ultimately filled ten acres of desert with a series of brilliant assemblages and installations.

 

 

 

 

 

Turning the Wheel

6. A discarded CD glinted in the dry grass on a roadside in the Malibu Hills. We had pulled over to take in the view, but the discs caught my eye. Investigating, I found more CD’s scattered on the ground. I turned away from the view of distant hills, and photographed CD’s in the grass instead.

 

7. Another CD on the roadside. Morning dew glistens on the underside of the disc. As I write this, fire rages here. Two people have died, hundreds have lost their houses, the ground is blackened, and I’m sure these plastic discs have been obliterated.

 

8. I didn’t disturb the CD’s, I just tried to photograph them where they fell. Why were they thrown on the side of the road? Some of them bore handwritten titles. Maybe they were someone failed Hollywood wannabe’s videos. The photos or the CD’s themselves could be the beginning of a story, or maybe the end of one….

 

9. Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles was completed in 2003. Its gleaming stainless steel skin, stretching over the curved, sail-like forms, is a delight to photograph.

 

10. In the Broad museum’s galleries a model poses in front of a painting by Mark Tansey. She may be beautiful, but the audacity to stand in the way of visitors who were there to look at the art, not her, amazed me. It was not a professional photo shoot, it was just another couple of L.A. folks working hard to put an image across. The painting is called Achilles and the Tortoise.

 

 

 

 

 

12. A guard turned a chair to face the wall in a gallery at the Broad, and the shadows instantly morphed it into another (very temporary) artwork.

 

13. Safety fencing has fascinated me for years – I like the way the fence plays against its shadow: material and immaterial, both/and. Neither the fence nor the shadow is more important; they have equal weight.

 

14. More safety fencing, photographed while waiting for a take-out meal in Los Angeles.

 

15. The fence and shadow are given a solarized effect in Color Efex pro.

 

16. The Watts Towers were going through an extensive renovation when we visited, so we weren’t able to get as close as I would have liked. This street view gives an idea of the ordinary surroundings; the sculptural towers and mosaics, built by Simon Rodia from 1921 – 1954, are located in the working class Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.

 

 

 

 

 

18. Sunlight illuminates the tropical colors of a lounge chair on a Los Angeles deck, echoed by shadow patterns.

 

Last but not least, a bit of commentary from Noah Purifoy.

 

Additional Notes:

I’ve mixed the art and installations I saw with my own photographs in this post. I don’t mean to imply that what I made comes anywhere near what artists who worked years to achieve their visions – people like Ellsworth Kelly, Simon Rodia or Noah Purifoy –  have produced. Rather the idea here is about how seeing art inspires one to turn around and make art. Being present with good works of art awakens something inside us that can broaden our perspective, enable us to see the world differently, and open us to different points of view. We are inspired, and Bernie Glassman’s infinite circle expands. Taking the next step and translating that wider perspective into your own artwork is, well, a good thing.

ROOTED

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

saskatoon.

 

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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.

 

And:

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.

 

 

 

A Closer Look

We filter out a lot of information, visual and otherwise. Much of our immediate environment isn’t really seen. Simple shadows on a wall, matted grass on the ground,  the landscape as it zips past the car window, the flooring at your feet – all are worth studying.

Maybe the ceiling is holding the light in a particular way that you’ve never seen before, right now.

I may be preaching to the choir here, because I know that many people who look at this blog already pay close attention to things that others miss. Well, here’s to widening the pool of folks who care to attend to the world a bit more keenly, and here’s to questioning received wisdom and nurturing a different view. Let’s leave our preoccupations and preconceptions at the door, and simply attend to the world.

 

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The photos:

  1. These nets protect fruit trees from hungry deer and birds at the Washington State University Discovery Garden, an agricultural research center and display garden. The flowers in the display garden are eye-catching, but the nets, yes the nets, they’re interesting in and of themselves, if you really look.
  2. Behind this net are apple trees grown in the espalier style, which conserves space, can increase exposure to sun and can make picking easier. They are also at the local research center gardens.
  3. I went to a small art fair on a nearby island. Sorry to say, the art wasn’t very good, but the matted grass and old rusty bits of equipment next to the road caught my eye.
  4. The view from Mt. Erie is spectacular, taking in a lake, forests, water, and islands. (A photo of the view is towards the end of the post before this one). If you take your eyes away from the view and look around, you may find trees casting strong shadows on the rough wall of a steep rock face. You may find a lot more.
  5. Sometimes a blurred phone shot of the scenery rushing by conveys the essence of a place as nicely as a carefully composed camera image.
  6. I’m not sure why a steel plate was put down on this old wooden floor, maybe the floorboards wore through. The worn and scuffed surfaces made a satisfying composition in subdued tones.
  7. Tied up like a big present, another apple tree at the research center has turned into outdoor sculpture, in my eyes anyway.
  8. Wood fragments that might be useful someday were stacked in a corner of the artist’s yard, a perfect foil for deep summer shadows.
  9. The door to the artist’s studio was open so I strolled in. People were pulling prints, laughing, and having a great time. My eyes closed as I inhaled the nostalgic fragrance of printing ink. The glass door pane concealed, revealed and reflected, in a complex dance of what is and what might be.
  10. Barns and farm buildings race by as you drive on the flat valley roads here in Skagit County. Switch the camera to shutter priority, choose a slow speed, and with a little luck, you have an image that carries back the sense of the land floating past you.
  11. The nets again. Do we automatically want to focus on the net, or on the tree behind it? I like the idea of foregrounding the barrier that gets between us and the subject. It’s another view.
  12. The same idea again, this time at home. Focus on the window screen grid and let the tree trunks meld into the landscape. Let go of the names of things, the “shoulds” in your head. Feel the color.

 

 

HERE

Six and a half years ago I packed up my New York life and sent it west. I’d fallen for the Pacific northwest, a region of impeccable natural beauty and a relaxed lifestyle New York City can’t even imagine.  In the short time I’ve been here though, something big happened: Seattle took off. One reason for the awkward growth spurt is Amazon (our largest employer) and the “prosperity bomb” it set off in Seattle. Homelessness and multi-millionaire lifestyles clog the city with uncomfortable discrepancies, leaving less and less room for the middle way. Traffic is backed up, tempers are flaring, the skyline is littered with construction cranes – and the blast zone extends well beyond city limits.

Though I didn’t live in Seattle, I worked there, and my apartment was close enough to feel the heat. Then last year, I retired. So, time for egress. Time to leave the landscape that delighted me initially but is fast losing its charm.

In recent months we intensified our efforts to find a place to live that would be quieter, calmer and maybe – hopefully! – less expensive than Seattle and its tony suburbs. We succeeded in locating a two-bedroom cottage with a porch, and woods on two sides. It’s on Fidalgo Island, halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, Canada.

 

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Now we are here, on this pretty island, separated from the mainland by a modest channel and surrounded by more islands – mound after mound of deep green woods fringed by clean, cold water.  We are here after weeks of backbreaking, all-consuming labor. Last Thursday the movers (three hard-working Mexican-American men, thank you!) worked quickly and efficiently, carefully loading a van with furniture and books as we loaded our cars with potted plants, clothes on hangers and boxes marked “Fragile.”  By Thursday evening we were securely inside, furniture in place, boxes piled along the walls…and two days later we’d created a space presentable enough to invite my family over. They’re from the east coast and happened to be vacationing in the region. What a rush it was, pulling everything together that quickly, and what a pleasure to inhabit and share the new space.

 

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So far, mornings have been delightfully cool and bright, with sweet-smelling breezes wafting through windows on all four sides of the cottage. A mother doe and fawn visit sporadically over the course of the day, robins are gorging on ripening Serviceberry fruit, squirrels chatter in the trees. I just walked outside on bare feet, something I haven’t been able to do in years. Traffic noise is intermittent, not the constant highway roar punctuated by sirens that we’d grown used to in the last few years. The island is far enough away from Seattle to have a different flavor altogether, but still close enough for the occasional city trip. All good.

Over the coming months – and years – we’ll be exploring back roads near home, making day trips to the North Cascade Mountains, the San Juan Islands, and Vancouver – all within striking distance. In the meantime, I’m content to wander indoors and out with camera in hand, enjoying the ordinary treasures this life offers to anyone able and willing to attend to what is right here.

 

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*

Not far from home, a ten minute drive on a winding, tree-lined road takes us to Deception Pass State Park. Not every sunset is dramatic, but Saturday’s had a sweet subtlety, a balm to eyes weary from unpacking boxes.

 

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A crescent moon and Venus graced the color-shifting sky, signs of pleasures to come….

 

 

 

Upheaval

You must have moved before, you’ve been there too, right? Chaos, disorder, and turmoil are constant. Tempers are short, routines are disrupted. If I dare to look, I find fear simmers just under the surface. What am I getting into?

 

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As I pack, odd bits of the past bubble up. In a bookcase I find my mother’s High School yearbook, dated 1941, with inscriptions to “Petey.”  But, her name was Helen. I didn’t know they called her Petey, and it strikes me as bizarre because Pete was the name of her adored older brother. He would have graduated a few years before, her friends would have known him, and maybe he was so important to her that her friends jokingly called her by his name. And no wonder I didn’t know about that nickname, because in my memory Uncle Pete’s name was hardly ever spoken. He died way too young, from brain cancer. He left a wife, three small kids and a grief-stricken sister who would bury her sadness deep, the way relics from the past are buried around my house.

 

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But that’s a distraction, and there are so many distractions these days, as we sort through the piles. A random photo of a temple in Japan surfaces, my grandmother’s distinctive handwriting scrawled across the back. It’s from a trip my grandparents took all the way around the world, in 1959.  A tattered composition book appears and crumbles in my hands. Opening it slowly, I find dozens of newspaper recipes pasted across its brittle pages or pinned to them with straight pins. A recipe for fish cakes is penciled on a torn calendar page dated June 11, 1929. What a distraction this book could be: my grandmother’s recipe file from the middle of the Great Depression. I resist diving into the old book. There’s clothing that doesn’t fit to sort through and bag for the thrift store, and too many books are accumulating in stacks on the floor.

Then, inside a basket that was untouched for years, I find Pablo’s cat toys. My old orange tabby cat died six years ago, just after we moved here. Finding this bag of his toys puts a temporary halt to packing progress as sure as a red light stops traffic. But I will move on.

 

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So many histories vie for my attention. Like stray hairs, they keep me unfocused: I go out to do an errand and forget my keys. Sleep is interrupted by mental bedlam as my brain scrambles to cope with all the details. Dust has made itself at home, settling into the air we breathe. The living room is crowded with flattened boxes collected from Starbucks and anywhere else we can find them. Soon they will be filled, taped shut, labeled, loaded into a moving van and transported 71 miles north, to a new life.

 

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So many questions – what will life feel like in the new town? Will the house be as quiet as we hope it will be? How will we fit our lives and routines into the new space? Will the birds come when we put feeders up? Where will I get my afternoon double espresso? Will we be happy in this new place? What difficulties lie ahead that I can’t even imagine?

 

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In spite of the doubts and fears, I do have faith that it will work out, but right now we are living in barely controlled chaos, and let’s face it, it’s not comfortable. I know it’s counterproductive to push the discomfort away. I just have to live it – not live WITH it, but simply live it, as best I can. So here is my offering to the gods of disruption: five images expressing the current state of affairs, chaos and all.

 

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These photos – well, what can I say? All except one were taken recently. Some were mistakes that I kept, others were experiments. I played with them until they seemed to reflect how I feel. I live with an art therapist so I know that’s a good thing to do! 🙂