LOCAL WALKS: (Wild)Flower Show, Part 1

Part 1 of a series celebrating Spring wildflowers on Fidalgo Island, Washington.


1. The Satin-flower (Olsynium douglasii).


The flower show that I look forward to every winter

isn’t at a convention center in a major city. It’s entirely local –

not quite in my backyard but close to it.

Our winter is chilly, damp, and rather dark. We don’t contend with deep freezes

like other regions – in fact, the winter landscape is almost verdant with evergreens –

trees, shrubs, even hardy ferns are green all year. But trust me,

dragging through week after week of gray, 40-degree days

wears people down.

One almost wishes for a blizzard to break the tedium.

A flower show would do…

But I console myself by bundling up and taking walks. I suss out interesting

compositions involving a slice or two of light amidst the prevailing dark.

I dig deep into it and begin to appreciate the Northwest gloom

even as I long for spring and wonder when

I’ll see the first subtle signs that say

the parade is just around the corner.

Then, late in January, signs begin to appear –

buds swell, licorice ferns spring to life, and

the earliest leaves surface amidst winter’s detritus.



I grow more impatient.

Two weeks later the miracle materializes:

on the tenth of February the first tender wildflowers

grace an island meadow.

A perfect raised cup of celebratory, satin-purple petals.

I feast.

Unarmored against frigid winds or late snowstorms,

the delicate Satinflower sparks cold meadows alive.

It almost breaks my heart –

such joy after the long, dark winter.


3. February 10th: the first Satinflowers.


My eyes light up

like the light gathering outside.

Days are lengthening, temperatures are rising, and soon, down at the beach

tough leaves are bursting through gray piles of winter’s storm-tossed driftwood.

In the forested wetland, Swamp lanterns poke their yellow dunce-capped heads through the fertile muck.

I know it in my bones now: life is moving inexorably forward.

The (Wild)flower show is getting underway.


4. March 2nd: the first Red-flowering currant bud debuts.


March began with a thrilling frisson of intense color: the Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum).

Show me one bud on a currant bush

and I’m pumped! The same day I saw the first Red currant bud, there were

clusters of fat yellow Oregon grape buds (Berberis aquifolium)

and tiny Soopolallie (Shepherdia canadensis) flowers, a boon for early insects.

After a cool start to the year, the wildflower parade was slow to begin but

that suits me fine: more time to enjoy it!

On the 14th, just before the Ides of March, I saw a surprising observation on iNaturalist:

someone identified a patch of Satin-flowers in Washington Park. I know that park pretty well

and I never saw Satin-flowers there. I had to see them for myself!

The coordinates that were given weren’t very accurate. Plugging the latitude and longitude

into my phone, I found myself in the approximate location but the habitat was all wrong –

I was deep in a wooded ravine, not an agreeable spot for a grassy meadow denizen.

Looking around, I thought a patch of meadow should be just above me and to the east. After a little bushwacking

and a leg-stretching climb up a rock ledge, I emerged into the perfect environment

and there they were,

a little enclave of purple beauties, nodding their heads in the updraft

emanating from the tidal channel below. On that chilly spring afternoon

I was in heaven.

I sat in the grass and communed.



Toward the end of March, the pace picked up. Red currant bushes flowered exuberantly –

one twig snagged a tangle of Lace lichen and waved it around like ragged laundry.

Golden Swamp lanterns (Lysichiton americanus) lit up the forested wetland and in the rocky bluffs

overlooking the water, tiny, violet-blue flowers huddled together against the air’s chill.

The Small-flowered Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia parviflora), dwarfed by its own name,

has a sweet face almost no one sees – the flowers are only a few millimeters across.

A thousand feet above sea level, more Satin flowers dotted another meadow, this one featuring

views of distant mountain ranges. Sugarloaf’s vistas are exhilarating but

I was content to lie down on the earth and photograph flowers

inches away from my nose.

At about half that elevation, another meadow bore the red-orange revelation of a shaggy flower

called Harsh paintbrush (Castilleja hispida). Bitter cherry trees flowered gently, softening the roadsides.

Cheerful yellow Spring-gold (Lomatium utriculatum) hugged the ground

and willow trees went fuzzy-crazy. Up on Goose Rock, the dangling pink bells of Kinnickinnnick

glowed pink against the native ground cover’s glossy, deep green foliage.

The show was on but it required a little effort – a hike here,

a deep knee bend there, and always, open eyes.



All month, colors could be found in the details

but the landscape overall remained subdued. Low temperatures lingered,

clouds persisted, and it rained.

And rained again.

Weather forecasters bemoaned the cool, damp conditions

but I was happy. Cool and wet means

the (Wild)flower show lasts longer.

Below is a slideshow of my March Madness. Hover over the arrow and click to start.



If you’re curious about any of the flowers in the slideshow, just ask in the comments section.

Next up will be April, a (Wild)flower show to delight the senses.


FARTHER AFIELD: A Dusty Lake Interlude

Last week I was part of a group of seven friends – photographers, botanists, a lichenologist, a ceramicist, a filmmaker, psychologists, and social workers (some categories apply to several people) who journeyed east to explore the dramatic landscape east of the Cascade Range, in central Washington. The Columbia River runs north to south there, grown wide from a series of dams that provide power to customers throughout the northwest. Bluffs line one side of the river; the other side, where we hiked, is cut with canyons of basalt and graced by scattered lakes of all sizes and shapes. One is named Dusty Lake, perhaps for the dun-colored land it rests on.

On the way over the mountain pass, we fended off rain showers, snow squalls, and finally graupel, a kind of snow pellet. In between, glimpses of blue reassured us that it really is spring. As we lost elevation the precipitation cleared out and wind took over, pummelling the landscape. Skies remained overcast for most of our short trip. It could have been a boon to us photographers who dislike midday desert sun, but threatening rainclouds turned the light leaden and flat.

The weather wasn’t a photographer’s dream but we made do. The sculpted landscape thrills you with a power that derives from the liberating, whole-body sense that you are surrounded by limitless space. Grand, crenelated cliffs, here called coulees, rise high overhead, the domain of ravens easefully gliding on the updrafts. A gravel road turns a corner to reveal the surprise of a dark lake where white pelicans preen in the distance like a lost posse of ghosts. Swallows swoop, stitching air and water together. Along the lake margins, Red-winged blackbirds’ rusty cries rise from last year’s crackling-dry cattails. On dusty trails, tangles of weathered grass hide tiny gold and pink wildflower gems. The scent of sagebrush clears the mind as precious oils are released into the atmosphere. Little of the softness one associates with spring can be seen here; rough textures and subdued colors dominate.


2. Lakes are rimmed with evaporative deposits.
3. Dusty Lake.


Angled rock, sharp scents, and the rude, cold wind on our cheeks – Eastern Washington isn’t a comforting place but for those of us living on the wet, lush, western side of the state, it offers the novelty of open vistas set with a child’s geometry of huge, smooth, blocks of basalt. It’s a good recipe to awaken eyes accustomed to thick, green landscapes ringed with water. Needless to say, plant life on the other side of the Cascade Range is very different. On the first day of our trip, the botanists lucked out when we ran into a rare plant specialist collecting data for a population viability study of an endangered wildflower. (The “BOTANST” license plate was a giveaway). Looking for a place near the river so we wouldn’t have to drive too far, we had inadvertently chosen a special place to hike. The botanist was as excited to show a group of fellow plant lovers around as his friendly Burmese Mountain dog was eager to greet us. Mark pointed out more plants than we could remember – including the fuzzy-leaved rare wildflower, a member of the Borage family which, as Mark informed us, is a “sandy soil obligate.” Almost all the flowers we saw had yet to reach peak bloom or to even open a bud. Spring has been slow and cool in Washington and the flowers are late. No matter – we enjoyed the impromptu private tour of a piece of land that conceals rare secrets from casual visitors.


4. Last year’s dried, curled grasses swayed in the breeze – but this photo was made using intentional camera movement.
5. Spring brings a rush of water to the streams.
6. The white bits are not flower buds, they’re feathers and down from a large bird that met its end here.
7. I can’t resist a tangle of tumbleweeds. This is close to the river, where moisture is more available.
8. Venturing into the tangle.


The following day, after five campers struggled through a night of screaming winds (Joe and I are softies and stayed in town) we crossed the Columbia River and headed inland to hike at Dusty Lake. The landscape there is a schizoid salad of lakes, wetlands, and rocky, sage-dotted desert. The unusual scenery derives from cataclysmic events like the Missoula floods of 18,000 years ago when glacial floods made their marks on a landscape that had been sculpted by lava flows millions of years before. The geological wallops left imposing views and a dry, spare habitat that shelters interesting wildflowers, lichens, and lizards, among others. I think we all enjoyed switching back and forth between the expansive views and small curiosities. One early blooming wildflower delighted everyone with its incongruous beauty: the hot pink Darkthroat Shooting star (Primula pauciflora). Taking shelter under craggy old sage bushes, the flowers nodded their delicate heads in the breeze as if to agree with our praise. Lichens were another source of color, adorning the rocks, sagebrush, and soil with fiery orange, deep gold, and slate blue. The pops of color cut through the barren landscape like a warbler’s song ringing out across a hushed forest.

Eventually, we had our fill of hiking, photographing, and botanizing. We stopped for coffee and then had dinner at a local burger joint that had been in the same family for generations. Grandmother’s recipe for potato salad is still followed, to our delight. Three of our group departed for Seattle, braving snow over the pass in the dark. The rest of us met the next morning in Vantage for a walk along the river. As we discussed where to walk, we spotted a wild herd of Bighorn sheep grazing on a distant hill. We tried to get closer but couldn’t so there are no photos – but the memory is sweet. After a low-key river walk, we began exploring a side road that heads west, the direction home. A construction roadblock halted our progress so Joe and I decided to head back to the highway for the long trip home. I enjoyed watching the scenery evolve from clear, open skies to snow and mist on the pass, then back to springtime green. All the while I knew the computer was calling me – there were plenty of photographs to sort.

Richard and Sharon continued wandering slowly west, finally picking up the highway to cross the mountains. The trip was short but packed with outdoor discoveries and the pleasure of spending time with friends. When I went through the photos, I puzzled over unidentified plants and grew frustrated at the overall palette, which was very subdued. But that fits a high desert landscape under thick clouds. For this post, I decided to emphasize the quiet color range and leave out the pops of color. Bright flowers will show up in a later post. I promise.


9. The lovely Darkthroat Shooting star (color versions coming soon).
12. Big sagebrush (Artemesia tridentata) slowly breaks apart on the sandy desert floor.
13. To the right you can see Richard inspecting the rocks for lichens.
14. I believe this is Crater lichen, Diploschistes scruposus, a lichen found all over the world. We nicknamed this one the Blob. Somehow, Richard tolerates this kind of nonsense from the rest of us.
15. A massive basalt cliff with unlikely patterns formed long ago.
16. Rachel returns from a wander.
17. Dusty Lake from above.

18. Barb raises a hand for hiking with friends.


STATES of BEING: Entering


These photographs are about entering. Some are more literal, like the photo above and some are more metaphorical. Some may not make sense to you but they might to someone else. When I photograph, if all goes well I enter into a relationship with what’s around me, a relationship that unzips the strictures of thought and lets the moment bloom. This is what keeps me coming back to the camera – this entering into the particulars of place, this being absorbed into all that my senses perceive. Later on, the pleasures of looking at, reworking, and sharing the images I make are an extra happy byproduct of those times when it all goes well.


Entering, we embrace the particulars

of the timeplace –

(call it the placetime if you prefer).

We attend to a play of light, a certain hue

or shade of green, the fading trill of a bird –

not any bird, but this bird. We notice

the precise angle of the torn edge

on a vandalized billboard, the oddly sharp scent

of the air passing under our nose.

This entering into the wherewhen

(call it whenwhere if you prefer)

is tied to attention,

rapt attention.


It springs and spreads into awareness

from a liminal space

between eye, ear, nose, tongue, skin, and brain matter.

Senseorgans, brainmatter, attention, and entering –

yoked together

like tide and shore.

There is no apartness wherewhen

we dissolve the tangles

of self

that tend

to obscure

this particular






It was a morning in early summer. A silver haze shimmered and trembled over the lime trees. The air was laden with their fragrance. The temperature was like a caress. I remember – I need not recall – that I climbed up a tree stump and felt suddenly immersed in Itness. I did not call it by that name. I had no need for words. It and I were one.

Bernard Berenson


Additional posts in my “States of Being” series can be found here, here, here, here, here, and here.

LOCAL WALKS: Preserve Pleasure


A play on words:

I find pleasure at a nature preserve.

Thankful the land was preserved,

I return repeatedly,

my pleasure thus preserved.

Treading lightly, respectfully,

I help preserve the preserve

for the pleasure of all beings

who live and visit here.


2. Western redcedar and vernal pool.

Certain places become touchstones: we discover an appealing place, explore it, find pleasure there, and return many times. The site gains prominence in our personal lexicon of landscapes. A placid lake surrounded by a conifer forest became such a place for me shortly after I moved to Fidalgo Island. I hadn’t known that decades ago, a group of far-sighted people protected about 2800 acres (1132 ha) of forest land in the center of the island, preserving the area for passive recreation. Once I learned about the Anacortes Community Forest Lands, I began exploring them. Soon I found a touchstone at a place called Little Cranberry Lake. The forest around the lake abuts residential streets packed with one-family homes but it still feels blissfully serene, thanks to thousands of trees that march across the hilly terrain, right up to the edge of the lake.

Just what is the pleasure that I find at the preserve?

It’s the surprise of a water snake swimming in gently swaying S curves, the drama of dozens of blackened trees recovering from a fire, and the white hush of an unexpected snow shower in March.

It’s the slow motion of wavy reflections in calm water and the delight of orchids pushing through soft layers of moss and lichens.

It’s the solid feeling of my own two legs striding down a forest trail or jumping from rock to rock.

It’s the muffled buzz of a Chestnut-backed chickadee and the knowledge that I’m free to go where I choose, at my own pace in this sheltered, serene place.

4. Pond lily leaves emerge from the wetland.
5. One afternoon in 2019, an early spring snowfall took me by surprise. As a whitened sky passed its bounty to the earth all became quiet – the only sound was the light tap of snowflakes landing on leaves.

For a few years, I was in the habit of going to Little Cranberry Lake in the afternoon for a walk along the lake and up into the hills. I had a favorite circuit: cross the tip of the lake, follow a trail around a finger of downed, half-submerged trees, and fork left to climb a hill studded with massive rocks. At a small opening near the top of the hill, I would pause to admire a few old Madrone trees and photograph wildflowers set against pale, gray-green pillows of reindeer lichen. Then I would head back down and return to my starting point by tracing a rock-strewn trail along the lake’s edge. I would gaze at dozens of tall, dead tree trunks dotting the shallow lake and wonder what plants grow on the boggy island in the middle of the lake. Stepping from rock to rock, studying reflections of tree branches, and looking for wildlife, I often entered a blissful, meditative state. On summer days I wouldn’t get back to the parking lot until close to dusk. Sometimes I varied the route and explored the other side of the lake. Always, the preserve offered pleasure and peace.

Then I began seeing broken glass in the parking lot. People were taking advantage of the isolated location and breaking into locked cars to steal anything they thought they could sell. With regret, I stopped using the north lot and switched my Little Cranberry Lake walks to the forested wetlands and beaver ponds south of the lake. Access to that section is from a parking lot on a busy road, where break-ins are less likely. It’s been interesting to explore a different part of the preserve but I’ve missed my lakeside walk. Until a few days ago I thought I would have to walk an extra mile each way to get to the trails I used to enjoy. But I found out there are places on residential streets where you can park safely and enter the woods near the lake. I tried it last week. It was good to walk in those woods again, and good to know I can revisit the lake easily. There are many other trails in the Anacortes Community Forest Lands to explore, and another 2000 acres (809 ha) of state, county, and city parkland on the island so there’s no reason to complain! But I grew very fond of Little Cranberry Lake over the course of those first years living here. You can see why in these photographs, all made during the time when late winter transitions to early spring, from 2019 to 2023.


7. Lake reflections and intentional camera movement; reflections of cedar boughs, and reflected sedges.


9. Puddle abstract.
10. A view across Little Cranberry Lake.


On this Spring Equinox day of new beginnings, it might make sense to formulate an intention to support the preservation of nature in any small way we can. I’ve been reading an excellent book called “On Time and Water” by Icelandic writer Andri Snær Magnason. He asserts that although earth’s problems have reached a scale we find extremely difficult to comprehend, “…it’s possible to nudge the world. That the world is not just an out-of-control and meaningless flood, always in flux; it can be influenced, can be steered in the right direction. Our purpose is to be useful, to make a difference, to increase knowledge, to point the world in the right direction if it’s off course.”


11. Swamp lanterns (Lysichiton americanus) brighten the wetland for a few weeks.
12. The city once logged this land for income but now it is protected.
13. Stumps serve many purposes. Beginning life on a nursery stump gives trees more light, an advantage in a dim, conifer-dominated forest. Eventually, the stump will completely disappear under the growing tree. Western hemlocks (Tsuga heterophylla) often begin life this way.
14. Deer are plentiful on the island but I don’t often see handsome bucks like this one.


16. Plentiful moss (left), evergreen plants like Sword fern and Dwarf Oregon grape (middle), and some aquatic plants (right) add green to the landscape all year long.


17. The modest Osoberry (Oemleria cerasiformis) blooms very early in spring.
18. Moss spore capsules, wet from the rain.
19. This iPhone photo from a few days ago was made while I sat on a rock and gazed across the silent lake. A lone merganser and two cormorants were the only birds to be seen.
20. The subdued, mid-January sun sets behind the clouds at Little Cranberry Lake.




Among the definitions of the quotidian, which I think of as meaning commonplace or ordinary, is this: “something that returns or is expected every day.” Things that return or repeat become almost invisible – we see them so many times we stop paying attention. But if you choose to look, the quotidian has a beauty of its own.

What makes ordinary things so appealing? It must be in part because familiarity creates comfort. We feel secure knowing something will be the same the next time we encounter it. That idea reminds me of Bowlby and Ainsworth’s work on attachment theory, which laid the groundwork for new concepts in developmental psychology. You may remember that through observing mothers and infants, Mary Ainsworth theorized that having a reliable, secure person to return to after exploring the world is critical for a person’s ability to regulate their emotions. Collaborating with Ainsworth, John Bowlby published a now classic book, ‘Attachment and Loss’ in 1969, and decades later, attachment theory entered the mainstream. Maybe you’ve seen a quiz that determines your “attachment style” and what it means for your love life pop up on your social media.

As important as security is, I tend to enjoy things that break up routines. Exploring new places and ideas is exhilarating. Still, routines and familiar things have their place. Everyday objects evoke a particular kind of humble beauty, especially if we pay close attention. In the arts, painting has a long tradition of elevating the commonplace. Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s paintings of peasants, Morandi’s still lifes and Edward Hopper’s corner drugstores are familiar examples. Photographers have explored the aesthetics of the quotidian, too. Dorothea Lange, William Eggleston, Jan Groover, and many others focused on everyday scenes and objects.

But the funny thing about photographing the quotidian is that photographers have a tendency to look for the unexpected rather than the ordinary. Even when we photograph ordinary subjects (or perhaps especially then) we often emphasize something that looks slightly off, a quirk that will hold the viewer’s attention. An ordinary street corner is seen suffused with an eerie light, a chain link fence is blurred except for one link, or the quotidian ingredients of a typical diner breakfast are arranged to fit together like a puzzle.

It’s ordinary until it isn’t.



When we were in Vancouver last month, a friend took us on a neighborhood tour that included a vast construction site. At the edge of the work area, we stumbled across a chaotic pile of discarded materials and equipment. It was the essence of the quotidian. There were coils of rebar, a length of cable, rusty auger parts, a dumpster…do your eyes light up just imagining those objects? Ours did. To us, those prosaic objects told stories about real work, work that we rely on every day but seldom think about. Just the scale of construction can be very impressive. Building materials and tools often have dynamic shapes and intriguing patterns or textures. The rough world of construction can seem exciting to folks like us who spend a fair amount of time at computers or in offices.

So what did we do when we saw that jumble of discarded construction materials? We photographed it.




After we finished admiring the rust goldmine we walked back uphill and came to a street graced with “H-frames.” H-frames are power pole constructions that have been in place in Vancouver for up to 80 years – what I might call Vancouver Vernacular. They’re the kind of quotidian sights that locals usually take for granted but to me, they were an opportunity to see lines and negative space dance an intricate tango over my head. Maybe a square dance is a better metaphor! Even the lamposts and construction cranes got into the act, marking out precise spatial alignments against an opaque sky and twirling pirouettes in the glassy reflections of an office building.




Another recent quotidian find is a building I chanced upon in my own backyard. I was walking down a residential street near the shoreline. I’d never been on that street before. Below street level, jutting out over the water was an old wooden building and pier. I figured it had been a fish processing plant – fishing and crabbing have always been important industries here. It looked deserted and was clearly rundown. There was no way to climb down to it but using my phone, I followed a series of right and left turns that took me to a rough, dirt road that terminated at the building’s side. A truck parked nearby gave the impression that the structure was still in use. In declining light, I made a few photos and promised myself I’d be back.

When I got home I googled the address. It turns out that an enterprising diver named Chris Sparks is using part of the old cannery for his business, Wildcatch Seafood Products. He and other divers collect sea urchins and sea cucumbers around the San Juan Islands at depths of 20-80 feet underwater (6-24m). The delicacies are sold to the Japanese market overseas and sushi restaurants in Seattle. He also sells fresh-caught Dungeness crab when it’s in season. He operates out of the 98-year-old “red cannery” and hopes to renovate it and expand the business. It’s one of only two canneries left standing on the island so I hope he can make a go of it.

That kind of quotidian makes me happy.





I think about my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents

and those who went before –

all of them gone to the cool earth – yet

I feel their support. The subtle threads of connection reach

the other way too, shimmering in the blood of my son, his infant twins,

maybe beyond.

When I was a little girl I watched my mother and her mother intently,

as children do. They discussed ordinary tasks: the making of gravy,

the way to set the dinner table. I sensed a deep bond

between us: three generations of women connected by

genes and blood, place and time. They taught me what beauty is –

a perfect white camelia, a tender biscuit,

a sparkling emerald, a warm smile.

The lessons buoyed me in dark times

long after their deaths

sweet tokens

of the past.


I visited my son and his new family: twin boys,

my grandchildren. I watched as they were

held and fed,

bounced and tickled. I gazed as intensely as

I did those long years ago when I watched my mother and grandmother.

I am still learning

where beauty is

in this hard world.


The boys fell asleep and we talked about the value of art,

about being a new therapist and being new to therapy. We talked about Ukraine,

where the twins’ mother was born. She had offered to help old friends from her

school days but they spurned the idea, wanting only

money for the troops.

Revenge over comfort.

The talk turned lighter then, to family resemblances. I said I could see

my grandfather in the twins’ faces, their high foreheads, their curious, solemn eyes.

My son carries his name, a tribute to his forge-ahead energy,

endearing quirks, his confident way of moving

through life. A stubborn, self-made man, he framed out

a secure place in life for himself and his family. Now my son,

easily a foot taller than his great-grandfather and inhabiting

a different world,

dreams the same dreams,

makes them real again.


The day after the visit I waded through a box of old photos

and papers looking for pictures of “The Colonel”

(as my grandfather was called) to send to J. She was curious

about my grandfather, wanted to know more about the

mythical man whose blood runs in her children’s veins. Head bent,

I rummaged through the box and pulled out a sixty-year-old letter

typed on onionskin and dictated by my grandfather

in reply to a researcher inquiring about his background.

He said he didn’t know

what his own grandfather did for a living. Maybe

they were too preoccupied with survival in the coal mine hollows

of West Virginia to remember their forebears’ lives. But

the Colonel got out.

He did well.


In the box, a scrawled list of Paris restaurants proves it.

Penciled on hotel stationery by my grandmother

in her energetic, round script, the list tells

who you can call if you can’t find good Scotch

(their favorite drink) and which restaurant has a good view

of l’Arc de Triumph. Halfway into the box I pulled out

a glossy, black-and-white, 8×10 of the two of them

enjoying drinks with friends at a crowded Manhattan restaurant.

Smiles all around.

Leafing through the fragile papers and photographs

I sensed a subtle vapor-like energy,

an ethereal column of mist wafting through my core

ribbon-like, down to the past generations and on

to my child and grandchildren. Warm feelings

washed over me –

like the oxytocin rush I get when I hold the babies, a

visceral connection to my

peopled past

and future.


And in the box there was a cherished missive from the past, a poem

my mother transcribed before she died. I’d wondered

where I put it,

worried that I’d lost it but there it was, folded in thirds just like

the first time I found it, weeks after she died.

Fifteen months of fitful struggles with pancreatic cancer

finally over.

I had taken time off from work and flown down to her house

to wade through the contents, exhausting work

in the best of circumstances made harder

by the sheer number of objects. Room to room, I sorted, never expecting

to find a carefully penned poem on yellow legal paper,

folded and tucked into a dresser drawer with

my mother’s socks and stockings.

I stopped to read (she knew that would happen).

I was glad to be alone as I listened to her voice

reciting the words, threading through time,

pulling the bond tight.

A heartstab of love

from the cool, rich earth

of the grave.


To Those I Love

If I should ever leave you whom I love
To go along the silent way,
Grieve not,
Nor speak of me with tears,
But laugh and talk of me as if I were beside you there.

(I’d come – I’d come, could I but find a way!
But would not tears and grief be barriers?)
And when you hear a song
Or see a bird I loved,
Please do not let the thought of me be sad
For I am loving you just as I always have
You were so good to me!

There are so many things I wanted still to do

So many things to say to you
Remember that I did not fear
It was just leaving you that was so hard to face
We cannot see beyond

But this I know;
I love you so
‘twas heaven here with you!

Isla Paschal Richardson



About the photographs:

All except the rock (#3) and the photo below were made using intentional camera movement (ICM). Most are one-second exposures at f22. Sometimes I moved my whole body, not just the camera, mimicking the waves coming ashore or the arcing outline of a rock. It was the day after I went through the box of papers, a day of rain and strong tides. I didn’t intend to do anything other than get outdoors between rain showers but I always have a camera with me and I wanted to do something different with it. Camera movement sprang to mind. The images seem to reflect the mood I was in – why wouldn’t they?



2022 WRAP-UP

Summarizing a year of photography is a daunting task and choosing the best photos of the year seems impossible. If you do choose your favorites and decide to post them, then I wonder if it’s mainly an exercise in self-congratulation. Will the photographer benefit more from the process than the reader? Having said that, I’ll admit that I only wavered for a few minutes before deciding to take a stab at it. I hope you’ll enjoy looking.

So here are some favorites from 2022. Most appeared in the blog this year, some did not. I like posting series of images that tell a story and obviously, this series can’t do that. What I’ve done instead is order the photographs so there’s a flow from one to the next. Below the photographs, you’ll see a summary of the experiences that made this year especially memorable. A slideshow accompanies the story – look for the arrow on the right.

1. Dark-throated Shooting star (Primula pauciflora); Washington Park, Fidalgo Island, Washington.
2. Bull-whip kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana); Deception Pass State Park, Fidalgo Island.
3. Bull-whip kelp; Deception Pass State Park, Fidalgo Island.
4. Lace lichen (Ramalina menziesii) in Spring; Washington Park.
5. Giant white fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum) photographed with intentional camera movement; Washington Park.
6. The Deception Pass bridge in fog, from the Fidalgo Island side.
7. A lichen, probably Eyed Beard (Usnea quasirigida); Anacortes Community Forest Lands, Fidalgo Island.
8. Sunset; Deception Pass State Park.
9. Water vapor obscures walkers and a Canada goose family; Deception Pass State Park.
10. Looking down on a garden of Bull-whip kelp; Deception Pass State Park.
11. A forest path photographed with intentional camera movement; Ginnett Road, Fidalgo Island.
12. Grasses and wildflower seeds photographed with intentional camera movement; Deception Pass State Park, Whidbey Island side.
13. Fog at Mattole Beach; Ferndale, California.
14. A rock at Centerville Beach; Ferndale, CA.
15. Desert detritus; Old Irontown, Utah.
16. A roadside view; Torrey, UT.
17. A view from a trail at Snow Canyon State Park; St. George, UT.
18. Grass seedhead at Kukutali Preserve; Swinomish Indian Reservation, Fidalgo Island.
19. Sunset over the Olympic Mountain Range; Deception Pass State Park.

20. A barely visible bridge in heavy fog; Deception Pass State Park.
21. Wet feather on a rocky shoreline at Washington Park; Fidalgo Island.


Photographically, 2022 was a year of honing skills. I focused more on using wide-angle lenses for landscape views than I had in the past and continued experimenting with intentional camera movement. New Lightroom updates made it easy to select subjects, skies, and backgrounds or to lift the atmosphere of an image with colored highlights and shadows. I began using those edits regularly. I became more selective about what to keep and thought about how photography enables us to record scenes so easily that we often forget to consider the potential emotional impact of an image.

Trips always inspire me photographically and this year was no exception, with a memorable spring trip to the Southwest that included visits to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and best of all, Capitol Reef National Park. In October we returned to Humboldt County in northern California. It was good to see that the excellent Airbnb where we’ve stayed before, the local coffee shop, and the Mexican restaurant we like all weathered the pandemic. We explored Redwood forests, drove into the backcountry, and spent peaceful hours on spectacularly lonely beaches.

The biggest events of the year were not the trips though. They centered around the emergence of new life. At the tail end of January, a Northern elephant seal came ashore at my favorite beach and gave birth to her first pup. The area was closed off for months as Elsie Mae (born 4 years ago on a neighboring island) fed her pup, Emerson. In February I saw them and met the people who protect them, working as volunteers with the Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network. I decided to join the volunteers in protecting the seals and educating the public about the first-ever Northern elephant seal born on Fidalgo Island. It was intensely busy and very rewarding. In June, Elsie Mae returned to the area to molt, requiring more hours of volunteering. Then in October, she came ashore for a rest and we wondered if she was pregnant again. Only time will tell.

In April I had a surprise from my son and his girlfriend who announced they were pregnant – with twins! Late in August, two tiny boys came into this world: my first grandchildren. It’s hard to describe how having a grandchild transforms your relationship with your own child. It gives you a very different perspective on your life, their life, and life itself. Holding the babies brought all my parental instincts back in play. Words cannot do it justice!

Sandwiched between the birth of the elephant seal pup and the momentous arrival of my own grandsons, I had an unusual experience in the forest. I was searching for orchids at one of my favorite places here on Fidalgo Island. Alone in the quiet forest, I suddenly heard a loud hissing sound and saw something jump in front of me. Startled, I realized it was a medium-sized bird, wings fully outstretched, and she – it had to be a female – was furious! She was not going to let me go any farther in that direction. I stopped, looked around, and saw two balls of fluff in the moss on the ground! I could see they were Nighthawks but I hadn’t seen a Nighthawk in many years. It was deeply moving to go eye-to-eye with this wild creature in such an unexpected encounter in the heart of the forest. I apologized to her and quickly made several photos while carefully backing away. It was a privilege to see them – this species is declining here and is not normally seen on the island. And here was a healthy Nighthawk and two chicks!

As if to make sure I understood the theme of new life, one day a doe with twin fawns walked through our yard. Then I found something unexpected in a photograph I uploaded. It was August and I had been photographing Bull-whip kelp in the park. Almost hidden in the giant kelp strands was a small, pure white Harbor seal pup! Later I learned that some Harbor seal pups are born prematurely with their lanugo, a white coat they normally lose before birth. I hope the little pup survived! My own grandchildren were also born prematurely and I see their parents devoting themselves to their care. The babies, the elephant seal pup I watched over for months, the tiny Nighthawk chicks, the baby Harbor seal – it’s been a year to take heart in new life.

Slideshow: click the arrow on the right.


A Universe of Gardens

A few weeks ago I bought a book by photographer Sam Abell from the used book store in town. I probably spend too much time there, browsing and drinking espresso, but I like an afternoon pick-me-up and the book selection is excellent. In Seeing Gardens, Sam Abell reflects on gardens all over the world, expanding the definition of a garden to include photographs of Arctic landscapes and scenes as mundane as a woman wearing a flowered scarf.

Abell’s inclusive vision got me thinking. Having worked in many gardens over the years and cultivated a few as well, there’s no question that gardens have played a major role in my life. So have wild places, from the woods behind the house where I grew up to the preserves and parks that I frequent now. Cultivated gardens are a cornerstone of civilization – the Garden of Eden, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and ancient Daoist parks in China are just a few examples. But the idea of a garden can encompass more than intentionally cultivated spaces. Seeing gardens in places where the human hand hasn’t been at work is a just matter of opening up one’s perspective. For me, gardens are just about everywhere.



Cultivated gardens took center stage in my life during certain periods; wild gardens were important at other times. As a chubby toddler, I went barefoot in the grass in a yard that bloomed with tulips and roses. Flowers were always a part of life at home. I remember black ants on white peonies, the scent of lilacs in spring, and the excitement of digging up wildflowers in the woods and bringing them home to plant by the back door. If it sounds idyllic, yes, it was.

College and work in New York City changed that. For more than ten years, gardens were something I experienced incidentally against a backdrop of stimulating, busy city life. I searched out nature when I could and that was enough. Then when I was in my 30s, I got a job at a historic New York City public garden called Wave Hill. Set on rolling hills above the Hudson River, it’s a peaceful, verdant refuge from urban life. I didn’t work in the gardens but they were never out of sight and over time, the elegant landscape informed and enlarged my relationship with nature. I still paid attention to wild places – even the smallest patch of stubborn green plants in the crack of a sidewalk won my appreciation.

A few years later I landed a temporary position at an imposing Victorian-era conservatory, the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory at the New York Botanical Garden. It was basically grunt work like pushing wheelbarrows piled with cuttings through the glass houses. But being in the presence of exotic plants from all over the world was exciting and a random cactus spine in my rear end was a small price to pay for it.



My Fine Arts degree didn’t open doors to high-paying jobs but money wasn’t my primary focus. Work wasn’t a calling, it was a way to help pay the bills. In my forties, I didn’t want to be away from home all day because I had a son at home so when the conservatory job ended, I began gardening for a respected children’s book author and editor who’d sustained an injury that prevented her from working in her garden. The quiet, restorative work in small-scale flower beds around her suburban home kept me sane during troubled times. When Charlotte got better I took another gardening job, one that gave me a far more thorough education in gardening than I could have imagined. I was tasked with managing the grounds and maintaining the gardens at the country home of two top-of-the-line New York interior designers. A Cy Twombly painting graced their living room, finicky delphiniums bloomed in the gardens, and the boxwood hedges had to be wrapped in burlap every winter to prevent freezing and burnt foliage. The topiary trees required precision cuts while standing on a ladder and the greenhouse had to be checked after snowstorms to be sure the power was on and precious specimens were intact. Perfection was the expectation. I was in way over my head.

Once I was asked to find out how a striking fountain the owners saw at a neighboring estate was installed because they wanted one like it. That neighbor was the controversial philanthropist George Soros so discretion was critical. Armed with a little New York chutzpah, I drove straight onto the estate and located the property manager. Carefully approaching him with genuine humility, I found he was surprisingly generous with information and advice. Before too long, I found myself running a major dredging operation in one corner of the estate. The pond where the fountain was to be located had to be excavated to keep the motor underwater. The project put my love of nature in conflict with my job because dredging the pond meant changing its wild nature forever. Once I saw a Great blue heron beside that pond but after the fountain was installed I doubt the heron ever came back.

Whether weeding a bed on my hands and knees or ordering thousands of dollars of full-grown trees from a nursery, I learned as I went. The inspirational year-round beauty of the gardens at High-Low gave back.


3. Old snapshots of the houses and gardens.
4. The fountain in the distance, an assortment of Artemesia plants, your faithful gardener, and a perennial bed.

I enjoyed the challenges of the job until the owners began to behave erratically. The pressure of maintaining their social position, working for clients like Tina Turner, and having their own home featured on the cover of a major interior design magazine did not make them easy to work with. Seeing them treat loyal suppliers and employees with contempt was the final straw. It was a relief to quit but I was grateful for the education I received there.

A job at a local Starbucks offered good benefits for part-time work (and as many espresso drinks as I wanted!) so I took it. One year, the district manager asked me to design and install three small garden areas at different Starbucks stores. Serving espresso in the morning and digging in the dirt in the afternoon suited me better than the unpredictable demands and stress of my previous job. Expanding on the garden side jobs, I created The Garden Steward, my own garden maintenance business. It didn’t bring in much money but it kept me outdoors, surrounded by beauty (after I finished weeding!).

A different kind of immersion into gardens came with a two-year course in botanical illustration I enrolled in at the New York Botanical Garden. Botanical illustration requires careful observation, which I enjoyed. The slow, engrossing work deepened my understanding and appreciation for plant life.


6. Ink drawing of a Common blue violet.

In 2001 I was fortunate enough to be able to buy a home. The previous owner of the modest house in upstate New York gardened intensively and I picked up where she left off. Around that time a friend hired me to join the gardening crew he directed for a billionaire hedge fund manager and philanthropist who kept a sprawling estate in bucolic Dutchess County. It seemed to me that the owner was hardly ever there. That didn’t stop him from hiring the influential British garden designer and author John Brookes to fly over and make his mark on the landscape. As we snipped dead blossoms from enormous potted plants and planted hundreds of flower bulbs for drifts of spring color, we were a friendly little cadre of workers. Between microgreens sprouting in the greenhouse, a horse stable, and the perfectly manicured garden rooms behind the house, it was an elaborate setup made to please someone who was rarely present. I appreciated the beauty but not the waste.

In any case, it was time for a change in direction: I decided to go back to school for a Master’s degree in social work. The busy schedule of classes and internships pushed gardens to the periphery of my life. After graduating, I worked at an organization that supports people with severe mental illness, then found a better position with the state health department. I was back in the urban setting of my late teens and twenties, soaking in what nature I could after work and on weekends. But gardens were never forgotten. I continued to cultivate them in my mind.


7. Autumn garden in the city.
8. Flowers behind a curtain at home.

A confluence of unexpected events caused my partner and me to change course. We’d lost our jobs at about the same time and we thought it might be the perfect time to leave city life behind. So we took a leap of faith and moved across the country, to the west coast. Suddenly I was immersed in a world of mountains, forests, and water. It didn’t matter that we lived in a small apartment because nature loomed large everywhere, even out the windows. When finding a job took longer than expected I volunteered at a public garden. We pinpointed plant locations in the garden using a GIS (geographic information system) data system. Ultimately, detailed plant information would be accessible to visitors and employees. The work put me right back in the garden. It felt good to be there.

Soon I was working full-time in Seattle and had little time to think about gardens. Driving from one appointment to the next I took note of my surroundings: the softly drooping tips of hemlock trees and the majesty of Mount Rainier in the distance made me glad to be living in the Pacific Northwest. If I felt the need to spend time in a garden, there was one close enough for a brief stroll on slow days.

On vacations, we explored the desert southwest, now just a few hours away by plane. It was all new to my eastern-bred eyes: the whole west was an immense garden. The weathered granite landscape of Joshua Tree National Park, the extraordinary Chiricahua Mountains, and the spare beauty of Death Valley astounded and delighted me. I had a better camera and became serious about photography, focusing on the wild gardens of the West and the cultivated gardens near home. And I began this blog.

Then we retired and left the city and suburbs behind to move to an island halfway between Seattle and Vancouver, Canada. I have all the time I want to appreciate gardens of any kind now. That’s what I do.


9. Death Valley.
10. Bamboo in the garden where I volunteered.
11. An inadvertent garden. Los Angeles County.
12. Bringing the desert home.
13. The wild gardens of Mount Rainier.
14. Japanese architecture at Bellevue Botanical Garden; Bellevue, Washington.
15. A Trillium in a public garden south of Seattle.
16. Down the garden path with a Lensbaby.

17. A wetland wildgarden after flooding; Fidalgo Island, Washington.
18. The calcified remains of Coralline algae entangled in a tiny seaweed garden; Fidalgo Island.
19. A roadside memorial near Ajo, Arizona.
20. An urban park on Long Island, New York.


The Play of Light in a Darker Times

My medium of choice, the camera, doesn’t pick and choose. It has no opinions, no favorite colors or times of day. With complete dispassion, it accepts and reflects the breadth of what is in front of the lens, excluding nothing. You may argue that this isn’t quite true – cameras do have limitations – but bear with me. The point is that in this season of abundant darkness when shorter days bookend the winter solstice, the camera’s all-seeing lens may not see as much as it does in brighter seasons. Unless you’re photographing a snowfield, it’s likely that a fair amount of the frame will fall into the shadows. That makes it easier to concentrate on a few elements of the scene. Darkness can be a wall where light enters through a door.


When I first moved to the Pacific Northwest from the east coast I bemoaned the lack of light. I missed the dazzle that accompanies blankets of snow, the delicate light of spring, the pop of bright autumn leaves. At a photo conference, I asked Art Wolfe, a respected Seattle photographer who travels widely, about what I thought was the problem of the paucity of light in the region. He surprised me by disagreeing and expressing warm enthusiasm for the local landscape, just the way it is. I respect him and his work so I thought long and hard about what he said. I tried to flex my mind and open myself to other possibilities. Over the next five years, while I grappled with camera noise and somber tones, I gradually developed a feeling for the moody Pacific Northwest. That meant accepting the challenges of dim, overcast days alongside the picture-postcard beauty of snow-topped mountains and craggy, forested islands. Now, my least favorite time of year for photography is the summer, when the sun rides high and bright in clear skies.


In a few weeks, the shortest day of the year will mark the turn toward an increase in light that culminates in June with deliciously long, sunlit days. I value the rebirth and growth that comes with spring, my favorite season. But by midsummer, I’m tired of sunny days whose harsh, flat light illuminates every nook and cranny in the landscape. It gets to be too much.

The crepuscular hours of winter’s short days are just the remedy – and it begins well before the official start of winter. Shadowed landscapes offer magical openings that leave more to the imagination. When a sliver of golden light picks out a few twigs in the forest and hides everything else in the murky half-light, a drive awakens in me. Like an animal focused on its prey, I become intent on finding interesting plays of light during the last hours of the afternoon. The cold is forgotten as I study details and analyze the pros and cons of each mentally framed scene. Working quickly before twilight turns into night, I appreciate every patch of light as a treasure in a half-dark world. And of course, it’s the darkness that makes those treasures valuable.

A few days ago a light snowfall coated the ground overnight. In the morning the snow was marked with neat circles where icy rain fell onto it. In search of whatever beauty I might find, I tried driving up Mt. Erie, the highest place on the island. Within minutes, the car began to skid. The road up the mountain isn’t a priority and isn’t well-plowed. Congratulating myself on a well-executed three-point turn on the narrow, icy road, I retreated in low gear and parked at the bottom. A trail across the road that leads up a gentler hill would have to be good enough.

And it was. In a forest opening, I found scraps of ice hanging like baubles from clumps of gray-green Usnea lichen that dangle from the branches (#2, 3, 4). Delicate twigs festooned with waterdrops glowed faintly in the low light (#5). Like an interloper, a beam of light sliced through the forest and illuminated a patch of drooping flower clusters that were dull brown with age. For a few seconds, they sparkled like gold. With fingers going numb, I photographed straight into the weak, distant sun before the light shifted again (#1).


The forest was losing what little light was left as the sun dipped behind the hill. Only the tallest treetops gleamed saffron; everything else was obscured in the dusky shadows. My toes and fingers were cold. Alone in the woods, I followed the trail back down to the road. The birds were quiet, probably busy gleaning the last seeds and tiny insects from the woods before huddling close to a tree trunk and fluffing their feathers for the night. Somewhere behind me, the high-pitched chatter of a Douglas squirrel broke through the shadows.

It felt good to get back in the car but there was still a little daylight left so I decided to check out Heart Lake. Just up the road, the small lake is a pretty splash of blue set in a deep green border of conifers. I knew the afternoon light would be raking across the lake in chiaroscuro patches. As I pulled into the parking lot mergansers dove in the shallows and a man threw a stick into the water for his happy Labradoodle. I got out and exchanged friendly words with the man but I was more interested in what was behind him on the edge of the lake. A great tangle of brush, grass, reeds, and trees glowed like copper in the lowering sun. Each twig and leaf was picked out in sharp definition. All I had to do was to stand as close as possible to the shoreline without getting wet feet, check settings, compose, and click (#6).

To the left, gracefully bent reeds were mirrored by the cold, still water (#8). On the north end of the lake, a group of ducks worried the surface. Noticing the pattern of sunlit reeds, barely visible trees on the opposite shore, distant ducks in a line, and striped reflections on the water, an idea came to mind: the varied bands of light and dark would make a nice composition. Later, I realized that the color was distracting and made the image black and white (#10). With the sun finally gone behind another hill, I saw one last subject: a loose fountain of tall grass sticking up through the ice. The ice was mushy and pock-marked from waterdrops that must have fallen from a nearby tree. I liked the graceful droop of the grass and muted colors. It was a natural conclusion to the afternoon (9).




This post is one in a series I call “States of Being.” Other posts in the series include “Curved” and “Absorbed.”

I like seeing what comes to rest on the beach when the tide goes out. It’s a tenuous kind of rest – soon the water will climb back up and rearrange everything. But at least for a few hours, the serendipity of random arrangements can be enjoyed by anyone with a curious eye. I’m going to call these arrangements natural still lifes. (Spellcheck doesn’t like ‘lifes’ but it’s correct in this case!)

Below, strands of eelgrass loop around smooth pieces of driftwood, like festive presents. Sometimes stalks of kelp look like hastily penned notes, legible to those familiar with asemic writing. Or torn bits of sea lettuce are scattered across the sand like confetti. Speaking of sand, sharp eyes will notice ghost-pale, wavy patterns of sand grains on the smoothest parts of the beach. They’re a record of each pause between the slow breaths of gently receding waves. Or are they abstract drawings? In #4 below, a group of thick kelp stalks curved together in a surprisingly orderly fashion. The tide must have been strong enough to push them together but not so strong that they were tangled up. Just so.

States of rest on tidal shores seem especially precious to me because of their ephemeral nature.





After the wind has whipped the water and its contents into great, tortured piles and dumped them on the beach, odd things can be found. Tiny treasures resting in the jumbled tangles of marine life might be revealed to the curious beachgoer. In #5 you can see the holdfast of a kelp plant that grew over a barnacle instead of a rock, which is what kelp plants are normally anchored to. A storm ripped the barnacle off something and sent it for a wild ride on tossing waves. There it was, in a mass of soggy kelp and seaweeds unceremoniously dumped ashore. In #6 there’s another oddity I found: a small marine invertebrate called a Bristly tunicate or a Hairy sea squirt. It was still clinging to an odd lump of orange substance that I can’t identify.

And buried deep in another knot of kelp and seaweed, a tiny white starfish, or sea star, glowed like a star that had lost its way and tumbled down into Neptune’s dark realm.

These bits of marine life might be back in the waters of the Salish Sea by now, riding the waves until they come to rest again.


Torn from maple trees during a storm, wet leaves came to rest on the leathery salal bushes that grow along the trail. The nature-made leaf collage was topped by a single rust-colored Douglas fir needle, released from a tree branch after the summer drought. I wonder how long the needle and leaves remained at rest like this?

For a long time, I’ve been intrigued by the way leaves fall and land on one another or are caught somewhere before reaching the ground. In a California Redwood forest, I noticed a Redwood leaf stalk woven into a Maidenhair fern frond. Just think: it had to fall at precisely the right angle and rate to have landed like that. Maybe a gentle breeze helped. A small wonder.

An odder sight was a stray chunk of Northern elephant seal fur shed by a seal during her annual molt. How it got up into the wildflowers, I don’t know, but the beach where the seal rests while renewing her coat is often windy.


Inanimate objects can come to rest for a very long time. Take the old truck seen below. It’s been in the patch of wet woods for so many years that it’s grown a coat of thick moss. Maybe a tree will sprout there.

Heaps of plastic or fabric that have been abandoned always interest me. Sometimes a pile of material is unintentionally draped as gracefully as the folds of fabric in an Old Master painting. That was the case with the nets below that were used to protect apple trees from insects. I saw them in a garden, where they probably had been left for a short time before being stored somewhere safe from the ravages of winter.

Once I found a mannequin that was used on a photo shoot resting in a random heap with other props. The props were probably put away soon after I came across them. Finding the mannequin was pure serendipity. He seems to be contemplating his future – an interesting one, I would think.


What about people at rest? Rest allows the parasympathetic nervous system to come on board and do what it’s made to do: slow down the stress response that’s activated so often by modern life. When we rest, the immune system is strengthened, blood pressure comes down, the heart rate slows, food is digested, and the mind relaxes. That’s good stuff! But rest isn’t always easy to find.

Big museums never seem to have enough places to sit down. The single available seat on the bench below was probably taken within minutes. A street musician in Ghent, Belgium, caught my eye as he took a cigarette break. He seemed to own his resting spot! One evening as I walked around lower Manhattan after work, a fisherman stepped away from his pole to contemplate the view. Just watching him watch the water eased my mind.

Rest is a relative term – how still is anything really? We know that motion is constant but rest balances motion.

It’s a grace period in this twirling, whirring life.