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.

***

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.)

 

***

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.

 

 

 

Tilting the Axis

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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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Or not.

In any case,

I looked up.

 

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Down.

 

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Out.

 

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Across.

 

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

my camera. That one. A lot.

 

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There were willow trees, and poems.

 

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There were many coins,

there was not enough water.

 

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Plenty of good espresso though…

 

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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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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.

 

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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.