Sunday in the Yard with Lensbaby

The transition from summer to fall is under way, with all its untidiness and subtle shifts of color. Looking around my new yard, which currently features brown grass, shriveling ferns and fallen leaves, I thought it was a good time for a session with the Lensbaby. I may regret the loss of early summer’s moist, bright greens, but there are other possibilities, right in front of me. I just need to think differently and work with the frizzle, not against it. Snapping on a lens that distorts the picture can be a good way to gently accept the changes.

 

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I hope you enjoy seeing through a different lens. I varied the amount of distortion and now I’m thinking that the most interesting images may be the ones with the least amount of “correct” focus. It was a good exercise. I should take the lens with me more often, when I go for walks in the woods.

If you’re not that familiar with Lensbaby, it’s a Portland, Oregon company that makes lenses which intentionally distort the scene. Typically, the lens has a “sweet spot” of clarity somewhere in the frame, and everything else is out of focus, to a greater or lesser degree.  The lenses have been around since 2004 and have gone through many iterations; these days you can buy one for your phone, too.

These lenses are not electronically connected to your camera. That means paying attention to exposure, aperture and focus, which must be set manually. For many photographers that’s nothing new, but for others it can be intimidating. Actually, it’s not a big deal after a few minutes of practice. Whatever time you may need to invest in learning a few new techniques, you will gain back in creative possibilities.

The Lensbaby I have, an older “Composer Pro with Sweet 35” is no longer made, and is a bit of an oddball. Bought on ebay, it’s made to fit a 4/3 DSLR camera, a system Olympus put out 15 years ago. That system faded away when micro 4/3 systems came into production. So my 4/3 mount lensbaby lens doesn’t fit my on camera (a micro 4/3 Olympus OM D1). Have I lost you yet?  An adapter solves the problem. They’re not too expensive, but they can make focusing a little harder if the fit isn’t perfect. The lensbaby look isn’t about super-accurate focus so I don’t lose sleep over the imperfections.

I find that because the lensbaby produces a distinct look, switching to that lens after not using it for a long time means I need to shift my perspective, i.e., see with lensbaby eyes. I might ask myself, “What subject doesn’t require tack-sharp focus and could look good with that smooth blur all around it?”  It’s about changing things up.

This little supergurrl lurking in a potted plant, she gets it.  🙂

 

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Water’s Edge: Whidbey Island

In my drafts folder there is an unfinished post with photographs taken in 2014, on Whidbey Island, Washington. I first visited Whidbey Island in October, 2011, on a fateful vacation that led to my relocating from New York City to the Pacific northwest. After moving to a suburb of Seattle in 2012, I began driving up to Whidbey and the surrounding area whenever I could, ultimately moving to neighboring Fidalgo island.

Now, on the heels of another trip to Whidbey last week, I’m going to move those photos out of the draft folder and into the light of day. I’ll include a few recent images, too.

That September day almost four years ago, a spectacular fog bank had settled in at my chosen destination, Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. The park, which preserves natural and historical points of interest, is named after an early settler, Colonel Isaac Neff Ebey, who claimed land here in the mid-nineteenth century and became the first white full-time resident. Of course, well before his arrival local tribes lived here; one of the tribes (the Swinomish) that inhabited the island is now based on a reservation a few minutes from my home on Fidalgo Island.

Almost exactly 161 years ago, Colonel Ebey was killed by people from the north (it is still disputed which tribe was responsible) whose leader, along with other tribe members, had been slayed by the US military. In an 1851 letter to his brother, Ebey had written that this beautiful place seemed,

“….almost a paradise of nature. Good land for cultivation is abundant on this island. I have taken a claim on it and am now living on the same in order to avail myself of the provisions of the Donation Law. If Rebecca, the children, and you all were here, I think I could live and die here content.”

 

 

 

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The five photos above were taken on that foggy September day at Perego’s lagoon, a shallow body of water just above the high tide mark on the shore at Ebey’s Landing. In the top photo we’re looking south, with the beach on the right and the lagoon on the left. The windy beach, littered with giant driftwood logs, abuts the Salish Sea; the ocean is about a hundred miles to the west. This lagoon dries out in summer and the edges crack into plates of hard mud. Driftwood is everywhere, as are waving grasses, wildflowers, lichens and the wild edible called pickleweed, or sea beans (Salicornia pacifica), seen at the left edge of the photo below.

 

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The two photos above of driftwood shelters were taken recently at Double Bluff State Park, about 23 miles south of Ebey’s Landing, on the same side of the island.  It was a rare (for summer) overcast day when we walked the beach at Double Bluff, making the trek easier for someone like me, who’s not a fan of full-on sun. After an hour or so a narrow crack appeared in the clouds far to the south, over Seattle. The changing light cast a soft glow on the sheet draped over one driftwood shelter. It seemed the epitome of casual elegance, and in my mind, it wouldn’t have been out of place in an architectural magazine.

 

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Cloudy skies didn’t deter this cozy trio perched high on a huge glacial erratic. The boulder has likely been here for 13,000 years, since the last ice sheet retreated and left it behind, like an afterthought. In the photo above that, driftwood lies in a shallow depression on the beach. The driftwood’s swirling form, the dark shadows of fir trees, the pearly reflection of an overcast sky, and ghostly pieces of submerged wood all came together in a brooding composition that I photographed as I left the beach – sometimes, parting shots are good.

Below, A gull glides through thick fog at Ebey’s Landing.  Watching fog banks coalesce and dissolve is a good way to feel the wisdom in the saying, “The only thing that is constant is change.” (Heraclitus).  Sure enough, the fog cleared, revealing the simple form of a softly rounded bluff as it met the razor-straight horizon.

 

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Note: Some of these photos appeared in an earlier post here.

 

 

A Closer Look

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

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

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

 

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The photos:

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

 

 

High Contrast

Last week I talked about the contrast between my new home and the town where I used to live: life went from noisy and fairly stressful in Seattle’s growing metropolis, to the quiet and calm of a more rural setting. Looking at the photographs I’ve taken over the last two weeks, I see a lot of contrast too. Many of them are marked by the brilliant highlights and deep shadows of intense, midsummer sunlight. I hesitate to carry the high contrast metaphor too far – the shadows in my life are not terribly dark these days – but I can’t help wondering if the contrasts I’m seeing are purely a function of season and time of day. Maybe my general state of being is influencing what I photograph. Maybe I unconsciously gravitate towards high contrast scenes that reflect an inner state of being unsettled, which certainly makes sense for someone who has just moved.

In any case, here is a group of images I’ve made in the last few weeks, close to home. I’ve been taking walks in local parks and preserves and driving around the island to get the lay of the land. A few photos were taken with my phone when I didn’t take my camera or I didn’t have a wide lens. I hope you enjoy the views, whether close-up or distant. And I hope you might find your way up here, to America’s northwest corner. It’s quite a beautiful place.

 

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The photos:

  1. Looking east from March Point on Fidalgo Island, Mt. Baker’s snow-capped summit rises above the clouds. At 10,781 feet, this Cascade Mountain peak is visible from many places on Fidalgo Island, keeping me oriented as I drive around. Like most mountain peaks, its face constantly changes: sometimes obscured by a light fog of clouds, sometimes clear and sharp, other times lost altogether.
  2. A grain elevator on Rt. 20, the main road connecting the island with the mainland. Adjacent to the island, a fertile delta of agricultural land was created by diking the wetlands where the Skagit River, which begins high in the Cascades, empties into Skagit Bay. This land supports vast fields of tulips and other flower bulbs, potatoes, beets, berries, spinach and many other crops.
  3. An vintage pick-up truck at an abandoned farmstead on March Point, Fidalgo Island. March Point has two busy oil refineries, but cattle graze in the fields, and geese, herons and even pelicans are seen along the perimeter road.
  4. A typical Skagit County farm scene, with the foothills of the Cascades in the background.
  5. At Bowman Bay, part of Deception Pass State Park, a trail winds around the steep shoreline, and passes under a very old Douglas fir tree that’s slowly tipping down towards the water, far below.
  6. Red huckleberries (Vaccinium parvifolium) on the trail to Sares Head, a promontory on Fidalgo Island.
  7. Tiny Rattlesnake plantain orchids (Goodyera oblongifolia) rise from mossy woodlands at Kukatali Preserve, a pristine peninsula owned by the local Swinomish tribe, which opened the site up to the public in partnership with Washington State Parks. Another tiny orchid at Kukatali, the Alaska rein-orchid (Habenaria unalasencis or Piperia unalascensis), has gone through a number of name changes. You have to look hard to see both of these wildflowers, and unless they’re growing on a ridge above you, a photograph will require a deep bend too. These are the times I’m thankful for the camera’s articulating LCD screen!
  8. There’s a muddy, sheltered bay near home called Similk Bay. It’s full of beautiful driftwood logs that have washed ashore over the years.
  9. More driftwood, wildflowers and dry summer grasses at Similk.
  10. The burned bark is on a fir tree at Sares Head, where fires in 2003 and 1993 (?) scorched the beautiful madrone and Douglas fir trees. Reindeer moss (really a lichen) on the ground indicates a moist environment, but in the summer, even this lichen is brittle. The lower right photo shows two species of lichen clinging to the fine branches of a dead fir tree at Mount Erie Park.
  11. On Sares Head, a Douglas fir sculpted by wind and water looks out over Rosario Straight towards the scenic San Juan Islands, a popular destination reachable by boat or plane.
  12. A more southerly view from Sares Head, looking towards Northwest Island, Deception Island, and the shores of Deception Pass State park on Whidbey Island. I posted sunset views from Deception Pass last week. A huge blackened fir tree, probably felled during one of the fires, is off to the left.
  13. Fire-damaged firs make stark silhouettes at Sares Head, but the madrones put color back into the landscape with their orange bark and shiny, evergreen leaves.
  14. This tiny crab only caught my eye only because he moved. He put on a fierce show for a few seconds, then thought better of it and scuttled away into the seaweed in the wrack line (the edge of the debris left by the previous high tide). I think this is a Purple Shore crab (Hemigapsus nudus), a common denizen of the inter-tidal zone.
  15. Since I moved west, the madrone (Arbutus menziesii) with its striking bark, sinewy limbs and glossy leaves, has become one of my favorite trees. There are plenty of them on Fidalgo Island. These specimens at Sares Head have particularly beautiful, peeling bark.
  16. A local corner grocer has worms for sale. And beer, of course. All you need for an afternoon of fishing.
  17. A vintage Mercedes is parked along the main street in the very small town of Edison, about a half hour north of home. With its picturesque scattering of informal restaurants, galleries and shops, Edison has become a foodie pilgrimage site. I used to go there a few times a year – now I can make the trip any day of the week.
  18. Licorice fern often grows on trees, but it’s also happy taking root in the deep moss on the moist forest floor; here it glows in the late afternoon sunlight along the trail to Sares Head.
  19. The highest point on Fidalgo Island is Mt. Erie. At 1273 feet, it has a commanding view of the surrounding countryside and the waters beyond. You can drive all the way up to the top on a narrow, winding road, or hike up. The inhabited area towards the back of the photo is Whidbey Island, to the south. In the foreground is Lake Campbell, with Rodger Bluff holding the warmth of the evening sun. In the early 1940’s the painter Morris Graves built himself a primitive, secluded studio somewhere on that rock. He was driven out by the difficulties of getting supplies up to his aerie and the noise generated by a new naval base on Whidbey Island. He moved twice after that, ending up in northern California, close to Eureka. His story is as fascinating as his work is intriguing – I recommend reading at least the Wikipedia entry (highlighted above). The mystical overtones in his paintings connect powerfully to this area’s geography and atmosphere. Along with Mark Tobey, Guy Anderson, Kenneth Callahan and others, he was recognized as part of the Northwest School, an American art movement that took root here in Skagit County.
  20. At Kukatali Preserve a Bald eagle surveys the action. What a view he or she has, and how amazing it must be to take off and fly anywhere you want over this precious jewel of a landscape.

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Here’s a map I made to try to sort out the complicated ins and outs of the island’s topography. If you’re curious about the places I mentioned above, this might help…a little.

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And here’s a rough idea of the way Fidalgo fits into the larger scheme of things, at least geographically. It’s the yellow blob halfway between Seattle, Washington, US, and Vancouver, British Columbia, CA.

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HERE

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

Interlude

A summer interlude in an unexpected place…

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There’s nothing like wandering through a summer meadow filled with wildflowers, but where I live now, most open meadows are cultivated for crops. There are places nearby that still support an abundance of flowers though: abandoned railroad tracks. A short walk down a local railroad track can be delightful, and lately I’ve been taking a little time off from packing to wander down the tracks, picking wildflowers as I go. Some are old friends, others are new, and that makes it even better.

All of these images are of flowers I found along railway tracks. I photographed them indoors in combined natural and incandescent light, or just outside my apartment on a small deck, three stories up. I used two lenses – a 60mm macro and a 45mm prime (120mm & 90mm equivalent), with wide open apertures.  The photos were processed in Lightroom and sometimes added effects, like increasing the blur on the edges, were done in Color Efex Pro. You may notice differences in the color because of the indoor lighting in some images. I chose not to make any big changes to the colors, so the pink pea flower in #12 (shot outdoors) is more true to nature than in #5 and #6 (shot indoors).

Six images (#1, #5, #6, #9, #10, #12)  show a flower in the pea family, Everlasting pea (Lathyrus latifolius), which is native to Europe. There are several lush colonies of this vigorous perennial vine sprawling across the wild grasses and blackberries alongside a railroad bed not far from home; the hot pink blossoms are beautiful against cool summer greens. Not being native to the area, this plant is probably displacing native plants, so it is being monitored by Washington’s noxious weed control board.

The crown-shaped flower in the second photo is Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), another pea family plant that has expanded well beyond its original range. It is valued for forage in parts of Europe and Britain, or so I read. Here in North America it can be invasive, but I enjoy seeing the sunshine yellow flowers decorating our roadsides.  Is Bird’s-foot trefoil causing equally beautiful or important native plants to disappear? I honestly don’t know, but I at least feel no guilt when I pick them!

The buds in the third photo are from a Common centaury (Centaurium erythraea), yet another non-native wildflower. In one of my field guides non-native wildflowers are called “aliens.”  That’s something to think about, these days.  Alien species are abundant along railroad tracks, where seeds scattered by wildlife or the wind are less likely to be disturbed by human interference.  It’s not only wildlife and the wind that scatter seeds – trains and other vehicles are important players in the dispersal of non-native plant seeds. Oh, those clever stowaways that we inadvertently strew across the landscape! And just think how far “aliens” can go on a long railroad track!

The cheerful California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), California’s state flower, is well suited to a warm, dry climate. Here in the wet Pacific northwest, little groups of the cheerful posies grow with no help from gardeners, thanks to our bone-dry summers. Photos #4, #7, #8, #13 and #14 show the California poppy at various stages of growth. I picked a few from a cluster that thrives along the edges of yet another abandoned railroad, a place that’s physically close to the town’s center of commerce but seems far removed from it. Walk down the old track and as the street noise recedes you become aware of rabbits hopping about, bees buzzing from flower to flower, sparrows singing, tall grasses swaying in the breeze… and sure enough, your shoulders drop, that furrow between your eyes smooths out, and your breathing eases into a slower rhythm.

The last photo was taken at yet another deserted railroad track that I wander down from time to time. This one passes through a town that has become a winery destination. One of the tasting rooms has placed a table and two chairs in back, right by the tracks. I don’t think anyone uses it, but perhaps a waiter or a dishwasher takes a cigarette break there after the customers have left. Deer wander freely along the tracks – I’ve seen them a number of times. I can picture their dark eyes taking it all in: tasty young leaves, rabbits nosing through the grass, a hawk crying overhead, the scent of human food in the air, muffled traffic noise in the distance, and over there, a man sitting at a table. Hardly moving.

What There Is

In the spirit of working with what’s available, here is a group of photos I’ve tossed together from the road trip through Oregon and northern California that we took a few months ago. After days of being immersed in the randomness of my possessions – open a drawer, dig into a closet, unleash the chaos – my mind may be incapable of knitting together a coherent story or explanation for these images. Most were taken in small towns, and a few are from what used to be a small town. Perhaps there is a thread of nostalgia that connects them. Perhaps not. I’m OK either way. After all, like everything else, these images are part of the vast, beautiful, spacious world we live in where every thing is a world in itself, even as it plays a part in the greater mystery.

 

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These photos were made at four locations in northern California: the picturesque agricultural town of Ferndale, the historic mountain mining town of Weaverville, the remote coastal hamlet of Shelter Cove, and a ghost town called Helena, near Weaverville. I made liberal use of effects when processing most of these images, primarily with Color Efex Pro.

Shelter Cove: #1

Helena: #2, #3, #14

Ferndale: #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #11, #12, #13, #15, #18, #19, #20

Weaverville: #10, #16, #17

 

 

 

 

Upheaval

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

WALK WITH ME

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

 

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Bees, wasps, ladybugs – insects are busy everywhere.

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Grasses are laden with flowers that few people see, but look closely – there’s another world there. Above us, the Cottonwood trees have gone to seed, launching a heavenly mist of cottonwood snow that collects in everywhere nook and cranny.

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The late afternoon sun shines on foxglove flower spikes, and makes shadow play from the stamens and pistils inside each flower – amazing!  Horsetails have grown as tall as we are and these primitive plants are radiant in the bright light of a late spring day.

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

 

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Animal life is everywhere – rabbits bound into the bushes, mother ducks herd their ducklings (fewer every day, as the eagles take their share), young, curious deer wander about, turtles bask in the sun, and look, there’s even a river otter – or is it a beaver? –  munching on marsh plants.  Speaking of beavers, that lodge is getting bigger again.

 

 

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

 

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The Photos:

  1. Moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria) flowers grow tall and straight along the railroad tracks in Woodinville, Washington.
  2. This close-up may be a little out of focus, but it captures the spirit as a fat bumblebee heads towards another drink at the foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) fountain.
  3. a.) A wasp (?) on a daisy   b.) Two Pacific forktail (Ischnura cervula) damselflies on Himalayan blackberry.. The Pacific forktail is a common, widespread species here, found from early March through November. The Himalayan blackberry was brought here for fruit years ago and isn’t from the Himalaya, it’s from Armenia and northern Iran – and now it’s a ubiquitous, difficult to control weed in the Pacific northwest.  c.) Here’s some “foam” from Spittlebugs, probably the Meadow spittlebug, which overwinters as eggs that hatch into nymphs the spring. Nymphs exude the foam to protect them from predators while they feed. In most cases, not too much damage is done to the plants.  d.) Nothing like a ladybug to brighten the day! This one’s an Asian multicolored ladybeetle (Harmonia axyridis), yet another introduction, brought over to control aphids. So far these little guys have not become invasive, as far as I know.
  4. An unidentified grass in full flower. If you get a chance to peer closely at a blooming grass, do it and you may be amazed!
  5. a.) Cottonwood seeds have fallen onto a fern frond. Female Cottonwood trees bear the seed catkins. An individual seed, little more than a ball of fluff with a tiny dark center, can travel for miles. I’ve watched young ducklings nibble them off the water’s surface, too.  b.) Cottonwood fluff collects in the grass on a city street.
  6. Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is another common plant here that isn’t native. The beautiful flowers are from Europe. but have naturalized here and are often seen along roadsides and railroad tracks.
  7. Field horsetails (Equisetum arvense) can be noxious weeds, but their radial symmetry is quite beautiful, and en masse they make pleasing patterns for the photographer – not the gardener though! They are found all over the Northern Hemisphere and have been put to many uses, from polishing tool to medicine and food.
  8. On the road in the Snoqualmie Valley, an agricultural area just east of Seattle.
  9. Look up!
  10. A well-tended horse farm – excuse me, private dressage facility – in the Snoqualmie Valley.  Called River Run Ranch, it was on the market for $9.9 million a few years ago. The view here includes snow-capped peaks and rounded blue foothills of the Central Cascade Range, and it’s only about 20 miles from Seattle.
  11. a.) Two young deer, a doe and a buck, are curious about me, but at the last minute they decide to circle around, leaving about twelve feet between us.  b.) River otter or beaver – I’m not sure which. Both live in Lake Washington, where this poor photo was taken by an over-exited person – me.  c.) A prosperous looking beaver lodge in the Sammamish River at Marymoor Park.
  12. There she is, sweet thing, keeping a wary eye out. Heading towards the winery.
  13. A Great Blue heron watches for morsels at a shallow bay of Lake Washington.
  14. Nymphaea odorata, the American pond lily, will soon send up flower stems, but I think the leaves are beautiful too. What a striking composition they make with the tall, slender stems of cattails.
  15. The pretty little Herb-Robert (Geranium robertianum) is a common sight around here. Apparently this flower is native to Europe AND North America, at least eastern North America. Taken with the Takumar 50mm lens (see #20).
  16. This fun plant is called Manroot (Marah oreganus). It’s a sprawling, fast-growing, large-leaved wild vine that often bears delicate white flowers and these “cucumbers” (which are not edible) at the same time. A native plant, it has been pout to many medicinal uses.
  17. The California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) needs no introduction to west coast gardeners. The California state flower, this drought-tolerant poppy isn’t what you would expect to see in the rain-soaked Pacific northwest, but we are dry all summer, so the poppy manages pretty well.  Taken using an Olympus 60mm f2.8 macro lens.
  18. This lovely wild shrub rose, the Nootka rose (Rosa nutkana ) grows throughout the west. Bees, butterflies, birds, mammals – many wild beings depend on it as a food and shelter source. For me, the beauty is enough.
  19. Again, look up! Unless it’s pouring rain, it’s almost always a good thing to do.
  20. Another native plant, this is probably the Meadow lupine, Lupinus polyphyllus. There are many lupines in the American west, and they’re hard to tell apart, but they’re all wonderful to see in flower. The photo was taken with a vintage lens, the Pentax Super Takumar 50mm f1.4, which requires an adapter to fit my camera. The inexpensive lens has a soft, warm and sometimes ethereal look. A nice way to end a delightful June day of wandering through the unkempt edges of the county, here in the Pacific northwest.

FRAMED and BOOKED

…and photographed.

 

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The story:

This is an ongoing project that I return to every now and then. It started about 14 years ago, when I had a garden and wanted to do something different with flower photography. One day I took a picture frame with a piece of white board inside it, and placed it behind a low-growing clump of flowers. I don’t remember how I propped the frame up but I did, and I made some photographs.  I also placed a blank book behind flowers and photographed the flowers against, or “in” the open blank book.  I liked the play of different levels of reality – a “real” flower, a photograph of a flower as if it was a picture in a book, and the overarching idea of removing a piece of nature from its environment to “capture” it, as one does in a flower painting, or an herbarium specimen. Is one really any more real than the other?

Six years ago I played with the idea again, placing a bouquet of wildflowers I picked in front of a picture frame that contained a white mat and glass. I photographed it outdoors, where the natural light threw shadows of the flowers onto the frame (#6).  Then I placed the bouquet next to the frame so that the flowers’ shadows and reflections fell onto the frame. I photographed that, and included some of the flowers and stems in the composition (#7). This increased the complexity of the image, which now included the “real” flowers and leaves, their shadows, and their reflections. Slivers of reflected sky added blue to the colors on the glass. The photograph itself is a form of representation, a trace we perceive from the original object, a step removed from looking at the flowers themselves. I am often just as delighted, or more delighted, to look at the traces things leave – a shadow, a reflection – as I am to look at the thing itself.

This goes back to Kant’s Ding an sich, or the thing in itself. From Wikipedia:

Kant argued the sum of all objects, the empirical world, is a complex of appearances whose existence and connection occur only in our representations.[2] Kant introduces the thing-in-itself as follows:

And we indeed, rightly considering objects of sense as mere appearances, confess thereby that they are based upon a thing in itself, though we know not this thing as it is in itself, but only know its appearances, viz., the way in which our senses are affected by this unknown something.

— Prolegomena, § 32

 

It’s a good reminder that it’s all about what and how our senses perceive the world; we can’t say that we know anything outside our sensory experiences of it. On a certain level, it’s all representation.

This spring I returned again to the idea of photographing natural objects on blank books, or in empty frames. I draped a few vines growing in pots across a piece of heavy paper, put a frame on top, and photographed it, making sure the composition included leaves outside the picture frame as well as inside it. The urge to frame something is akin to the urge to put things into words, in a way.  We want to preserve and identify and remember a piece of nature, so we remove it, name it, describe it, photograph it, etc. We take these processes for granted, but they’re worth thinking about. Allowing plants to trail outside the frame is a reminder that we can’t really define or capture anything that’s alive, let alone capture any given moment. And that’s no reason to stop trying. There are people who would say that experiencing the flower or the vine directly is superior to viewing its photograph or shadow or reflection. Maybe not. Maybe each way can be valued equally.

 

The photos:

1. – 5. were taken recently, outdoors on a deck. The first has stems of vines that are growing in pots, pulled down across a piece of heavy paper, with an old empty frame placed on top.  The second is a dead Angelica leaf; the next three are dried parrot tulip flower petals.  In #5 the wire on the back of the frame is included. I like both versions – with and without the wire – without the wire it is a more logical picture, but maybe the version with the wire prompts you to think more.

6. & 7. were taken several years ago and are described above. Sadly, the place where I picked that bouquet is no longer graced by wildflowers. It’s a deserted railway bed. Someone got rid of all the butterfly bushes and most of the other wildflowers that were growing happily there – why, I don’t know.

8. (described above) was taken with my first digital camera, a Sony Mavica, which I bought used from someone on ebay, around 2001. It used floppy disks! You could put ten images on each disk, then just pop the disk into your computer, and you had your 3 megapixel images to work with. What an amazing change it was from taking a rolls of film from the point and shoot camera to the drugstore for developing.

9. & 10. were taken recently. I have many small collections of shells and other objects from nature. I have a number of blank books, too. Years ago at an estate sale in a wealthy little Connecticut town, I stumbled across a pile of high quality blank books and bought most of them, for a song. Maybe the home owner had been a book printer – were these the samples?

11. & 12. are different views of a dried Angelica leaf on an old blank book.  13. shows a Queen Anne’s lace flower on a spiral-bound blank book that has black pages.

14. shows a collection of things I picked up on beaches in Oregon and California on a recent trip, arranged on the cover of a large blank book bound in black cloth. The mushroom was found on the beach, too!  The black rocks are from a remote beach on northern California’s Lost Coast called Shelter Cove. You get there by foot, plane, or boat, or by carefully driving 45 minutes down a rough, steeply winding road that’s nearly washed out at one point. One way in, one way out – just hope you don’t get sick when you’re out there. They call the beach black sand but it’s really made of smooth black pebbles, and the shell fragments were hiding among them. But I digress….