ANTICIPATION

Spring will be here soon…just a little longer…

Unless you’re on the other side of the equator, of course, in which case you may be anticipating fall. Here in the mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere, spring teases us in March. We know it’s coming; the days are noticeably longer, the light brighter. But spring comes in fits and starts as winter lingers on.

Maybe a full immersion in April flowers would suit us now, as March gets underway. I’ve gathered a virtual bouquet of photographs taken in April, ranging from 2004 through 2020. There’s a shot of New York City rooftops from 2008, pictures from gardens in and around Seattle, and scenes from the streets of Amsterdam. There are daffodils and tulips as well as mosses and grasses. Should I arrange them in chronological order or mix them up? I’ll figure that out as I go along.

That was fast. Mix them up.

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1. Ethereal pinks and greens, as delicate as a gentle April shower. Kruckeberg Botanic Garden, Shoreline, WA. 2017. (Erythronium revolutum)

2. Pink dogwood always brings a smile. Snug Harbor Botanical Garden, Staten Island, NY. 2011.

3. Built to entice, this Cypripedium orchid blooms in late April at Heronswood Garden, Kingston, WA. 2017.

4. Don’t forget to look down. Cherry blossoms and a dandelion on a residential street. Amsterdam. 2019.

5. In a shop window I see a joyful collage of fresh flowers, whimsical clothes, and a tree reflection. Amsterdam, 2019.

6. What is April without tulips? Leiden, Netherlands. 2019.

7. A native Foam flower provides sustenance to an early insect. Deception Pass State Park, WA. 2019. (Tiarella trifoliata)

8. Hostas are looking energetic at Snug Harbor Botanical Garden. Staten Island, NY. 2011.

9. The fields are greening up, the poplar trees are beginning to leaf out and April storms are keeping everything going. Duvall, WA. 2013.

10. A Checkerboard lily nods demurely at the Center for Urban Horticulture. Seattle, WA. (Fritillaria meleagris)

11. At another botanical garden just outside Seattle, a Chocolate vine blooms. Bellevue Botanic Garden. Bellevue, WA. 2017. (Akebia quinata)

12. April in the city means rainy days and cherry blossoms. Staten Island, NY. 2008.

13. Layers of native lilies at the Center for Urban Horticulture. Seattle, WA. 2017. (Erythronium oregonum)

14. Maple trees have flowers, too, and they often bloom in April. Snug Harbor Botanical Garden. Staten Island, NY. 2011.

17. Tiny Shooting stars, as elegant as one could imagine. Fidalgo Island, 2018. (Dodecatheon jeffreyi)

18. Getting ready for the annual Spring Flower Sale at Snug Harbor Botanical Garden. Staten Island, NY. 2011.

19. Violets, violets, violets. Snug Harbor Botanical Garden. Staten Island, NY. 2011.

20. Tightly coiled and ready to unfurl, a Sword fern follows the rules of Spring. O.O. Denny Park. Kirkland, WA. 2016. (Polystichum munitum)

21. An unidentified grass blooms in a wildflower meadow. Fidalgo Island. 2020.

22. Someone is hiding on a Trillium petal at PowellsWood Garden. Federal Way, WA. 2017. (Trillium grandiflorum)

23. White daffodils in a garden. Fidalgo Island, WA. 2020.

24. A sea of daffodils borders a canal. Leiden, Netherlands. 2019.

25. Skunk cabbage, or Swamp lantern, in black and white. Mercer Slough. Bellevue, WA. 2012.

26. A bold Magnolia bud basks in the sunshine. Washington Park Arboretum. Seattle, WA. 2016.

27. More magnolias – I can’t get enough of them. Bellevue Botanic Garden. Bellevue, WA. 2017.

28. Apple blossoms at Washington Park Arboretum. Seattle, WA. 2016.

30. A woodland path bursting with lime-green leaves and pretty wildflowers. Fidalgo
Island. 2020.

31. Bracken ferns make amusing, tight-fisted fiddleheads. Snoqualmie Valley Trail. Duvall, WA. 2014. (Pteridium aquilinum)

32. A Chionodoxa plant comes inside to keep me company. Brewster, NY. 2004.

33. This delicate Grass widow blossom will be gone in a few days. Such ephemeral beauty is worth looking for, even if it grows only a few inches tall. When the time comes, I’ll be looking for it! Fidalgo Island, WA. 2020. (Olsynium douglasii)

I hope you enjoyed this visual immersion into one person’s love affair with the month of April. There’s no question that every month has plenty to offer – I’m just partial to this one and I’m looking forward to greeting it again.

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JUST LOOKING

I was just looking

as always.

later, I found connections between the photos.

the connections may not be obvious – the

images were made

with different cameras

at different times and places.

you could say they were all

made with the same mind,

same hands, but

I don’t think so.

not exactly.

a thread connects the pictures

but

in spite of some inchoate commonality,

each image was made with a new

batch of molecules, a rearrangement of

electrons, a fresh tumble of light and brain

cells. it’s different every time

but the images connect with each other.

just looking. always

looking.

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1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

11.

12.

13.

14.

15.

16.

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The photos were made between 2008 & 2021, by keeping my eyes open. 🙂

If you’re curious:

  1. Looking up at peoples’ feet on a staircase at the Whitney Museum of American Art, NY, NY.
  2. View through a curtained window, somewhere north of New York City.
  3. Corner of 33 Rd. & 10th St., Long Island City, NY.
  4. Bamboo and curtained window at the Center for Urban Horticulture; Seattle, WA.
  5. Watercolor paints and photos on a table seen with a jiggled camera.
  6. Close-up of package mailed multiple times between Britain & USA.
  7. Isamu Noguchi sculpture & shadows; Noguchi Museum, NYC.
  8. Orchid and roots at the University of Washington Botany Greenhouse, Seattle, WA.
  9. Old keys from the William E. Dodge House (built 1863 in Riverdale, NY) on an antique desk.
  10. A rust-ridden hoop found on a beach in Staten Island, NY, then hung on a wall shaded by window blinds.
  11. A rock at Kubota Garden; Seattle, WA.
  12. Part of a dock at Deception Pass State Park, WA.
  13. Hanging sculpture made from shells at an airbnb; Leiden, Netherlands.
  14. Snow and porch railing; Fidalgo Island, WA.
  15. Metal sculpture on a wall at an airbnb; Phoenix, AZ.
  16. A display involving hanging, translucent printed fabric and a photograph; ABC Carpet & Home, NY, NY.

LOCAL WALKS: A Lake and a Forest in the Quiet Season

The lake is Heart Lake, a small, roughly heart-shaped lake on Fidalgo Island. The forest surrounds it. For a time the trees there were logged – but not all of them. Somehow a handful of giants missed the cut. The area was designated a state park but even so, a proposal to build condos around the lake was brought forward. That idea frightened the right people and finally, the lake and surrounding land received protection from the city of Anacortes. Now, this lush, precious green dot on the globe is preserved as community forest land.

That’s the story of what European-American culture has done here, but in no way is that the whole story. I invite you to enter into this landscape and recognize that part of you, a part that isn’t identified with any particular culture, knows this place. The plants and animals of Heart Lake breathe air and utilize water that travels ’round the earth. So do you. This isn’t a strange, exotic place. It isn’t “other” than you.

Give it a little time and this place will tell you a story beyond culture and words.

1. Feathery Western hemlock tree branches (Tsuga heterophylla) drift above a tangle of Sword fern (Polystichum munitum). February.

I delved into Heart Lake last year in a Local Walks post. This time I’m looking at the lake and forest between October and February, the quiet season.

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2. A subtle winter sunset over the lake. February.

3. Evening on the edge of the lake. February.

4. Ring-necked ducks (Aythya collaris). November.

5. Dried Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilimum). January.

6. A lichen-covered branch tip. January.

7. Picking my way through old-growth Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) trees near the lake. The biggest trees were growing here long before Europeans arrived. February.

8. Towering Western Redcedars (Thuja plicata). December.

9. It’s impossible to convey the size of some of these tress in a photograph. This redcedar has a hole big enough to crawl into, but its branches are green, growing high in the canopy. I can barely see them. February.

10. The tip of a Western Redcedar branch on the forest floor. How did that twig weave through it? February.

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12. Tiny lichens colonize the bark of a tree that fell long ago. February.

13. Old growth Douglas fir has thick, deeply furrowed bark with its own community of lichens, fungi, insects, spiders and other beings. February.

14. A lush undergrowth of Sword fern carpets the ground under a moss-covered Bigleaf Maple (Acer macrophyllum) tree. The forest here is damp and remains green all year. February.

15. Berries cling to an Orange honeysuckle vine (Lonicera ciliosa). November.

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17. Snow on a Redcedar branch. February.

18. Snow shrinks from the margins of Salal leaves, flecks the hemlock branches, and weighs heavily on little arcs of spiderwebs in the tree bark. February.

19. Red huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium) loses its leaves gradually. November.

20. Young trees, old trees, and heaps of old wood on the ground create a healthy forest. February.

21. By November there’s very little left of the Yellow pond-lily (Nuphor lutea). The dark stem holds a chewed-up leaf.

22. Pond lily leaves and Douglas fir reflections at dusk. November.

23. Douglas firs stitch fine black lace edges across water and sky. February.

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“More powerful than any industrial plant, communities of photosynthetic creatures rearrange the elements on a planetary scale. They know how to compose liveable, breathable, nourishing worlds. As they exhale, they compose the atmosphere; as they decompose, they matter the compost and feed the soil. Holding the earth down and the sky up, they sing in nearly audible ultrasonic frequencies as they transpire, moving massive volumes of water from the depths of the earth up to the highest clouds. They cleanse the waters and nourish all other life…

To say that forests and marine microbes form the “lungs of the earth” is an understatement. They literally breathe us into being. All cultures turn around plants’ metabolic rhythms. Plants are the substance, substrate, scaffolding, symbol, sign and sustenance…”

Natasha Myers: How to grow livable worlds: Ten (not so easy) steps for life in the Planthroposcene. From ABC Religion and Ethics, an Australian website for religious and ethics journalism and discussion.

WE ARE FALLING

Fallen objects tend to have negative associations, but is that necessary? A tree falls and begins a new life as a support for moss, fungi, insects and other life forms. Fruit falls from the tree and you pick it up; maybe you take a bite. A ship falls to the bottom of the sea and becomes a coral reef, sugar falls to the bottom of your cup, you stir it, and sip.

And what is this notion of a fall from grace? How about a graceful fall and a new beginning?

1. My scarf falls at my feet at an art gallery. I photograph it. Manhattan; October, 2017.

2. A Camel cigarette pack fell to the ground (intentionally or not?) and was crushed by a passing truck. I photograph it. I have come to this obscure corner of a busy city to explore an old railroad trestle but I’m distracted by the artifact at my feet – the fading colors, the roughened texture, the surprise of printed matter on the ground. Bellevue, Washington; September, 2017.

3. Leaves fell, it rained, and the tannins leached out of them, staining the new concrete. Now leaf shadows ghost the sidewalk. I photograph it. Kirkland, Washington; October, 2016.

4. A pear falls to the ground. I photograph it. In the mid-1980s I worked sporadically for a New York catering company, The Perfect Pear. The owner, Stuart, made memorable sesame chicken. I wonder if this pear gradually decomposed, like my memories from the 80s are doing, or if someone took it home and made it into preserves. Washington State University Research Center, Mt. Vernon, Washington; September, 2018.

5. Trees fall into the lake and drift into a cove. Snow falls. I photograph it. Fidalgo Island, Washington; March, 2019.

6. A 64-year-old ship fell to the bottom of a channel and is being recovered. I photograph it. After a violent, mid-January windstorm tore the boat from its mooring at Lovric’s Shipyard, it drifted along the bottom of the channel for a half mile and came to rest near a busy dock. The state officials who monitor safety hazards of derelict vessels contracted with a diving and reclamation crew to raise the ship. The 197-ton MV Chilkat was the first car ferry in the Alaska Marine Highway System, built in 1957, when Alaska was still a US territory. It was a rough ride (people called it the “Vomit Comet”) but it could load and unload vehicles straight onto a beach, using its bow ramp like landing craft from WWII. After serving the Alaska ferry system for many years, the ship found other lives: there were years of scallop farming, tuna trawling and Christmas tree deliveries. Recently the MV Chilcat was in storage at Lovric’s. A local family was trying to raise money to get it seaworthy again, but now it may finally be scrapped. Anacortes, Washington; January, 2021.

7. Rain falls. A man celebrates the sudden deluge with a handstand. I photograph it. My son is in the background, giving two thumbs up. He’s just returned from fighting the Taliban in Marjah, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, as part of the 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines. His friend, Sergeant Sean T. Callahan, was killed in combat three months before their unit was to return home. My son was thrilled to be back in New York, but struggled with guilt. West side, New York, New York; July, 2011.

8. A dead goose has fallen to the ground. Overnight, a delicate layer of frost coated the bird. I photograph it. Chances are good that it fell out of the sky after being shot because in this particular field, people hunt ducks and geese. The bird won’t make a meal for a human, but beings of one kind or another will soon take the goose to its next stage of life. Duvall, Washington; January, 2013.

9. The groom falls to the ground during a raucous wedding shoot. I photograph it. This fall from three graces will be remembered with smiles. Battery Park, New York, New York; October, 2017.

10. My shoes look happy amongst discarded bits and pieces that fell onto the brick road by the flower market. I photograph them. Most of the market’s flower sellers are first and second generation Hmong immigrants from Laos. The older Hmong once were farmers in the Laotian hills. During the Vietnam war they aided the American CIA against the Communists. Afterward, to escape retaliation, many of them fled into the jungle or entered Thai refugee camps. Eventually some made their way to the Pacific Northwest. They have adapted to different ways and different weather, growing flowers instead of food in the green fields outside Seattle. The growers drive their flowers to Pike Place Market, where city residents and tourists are happy to buy pretty bouquets of seasonal flowers wrapped in big white paper cones. The pandemic has changed business practices but the farmers have adapted (or should I say pivoted?) and have found alternative marketplaces. Seattle, Washington; April, 2016.

11. Cherry blossoms fall to the sidewalk. I photograph them. When I bring the image to life half a world away and months later, the detail in the dandelion leaves makes me think of Albrecht Durer’s “The Large Piece of Turf.” Durer included a dandelion in the painting that he completed in Germany in 1503. Apparently, the dandelion (der Löwenzahn) flourished in Nuremberg in the sixteenth century just as it was flourishing the day I took this picture, 500-odd years later. Dandelions flourish in my own yard too, 5000 miles from that sidewalk. Amsterdam, Netherlands; April 2019.

12. A yellow work glove has fallen onto the concrete in an alley. I photograph it. I have stumbled across it while exploring downtown Seattle one summer day and I’m drawn to the unexpected pop of color. This fallen object was probably forgotten by its owner long ago, but it lives on in my archives. Maybe it will linger a while in your mind, too. Seattle, Washington; August, 2013.

13. Fallen fruit, barely bruised, litters the ground at a botanical garden. I photograph it. People may be hungry a few miles from here, but this fruit will remain where it fell – as if arranged by an artist – until a gardener scoops it up. I suppose it will become compost. Chinese Scholar’s Garden, Staten Island, New York; July, 2011.

14. Broken glass from an old greenhouse has fallen onto the concrete floor. I photograph it. I stumbled on this abandoned greenhouse in the early 1980s while picking flowers in a nearby field for the altar at the Zen Community of New York, where I lived. A year or so later I found out that my father’s first real job was right here, at the Boyce Thompson Institute. He had skipped two grades in school and was too young to go to college so he worked for a year at the institute, a 15 mile commute from his family’s modest Brooklyn apartment. He made $75/month doing research on plant hormones. The abandoned field where I picked flowers 50 years later may have held descendants of that work. When I saw it, the institute’s facility was in ruins but later, the historic building was restored, spiffed up and turned into a business/retail complex. Someone must have cleaned up all the broken glass. The field is gone. Yonkers, New York; April, 2010.

15. Glitter has fallen onto the boardwalk at a nature preserve. I photograph it. Why is there glitter at a nature preserve? Because photographers use the boardwalk as a location for shooting wedding and family photos. It may be pretty but it won’t do the environment any favors. Kirkland, Washington; May, 2018.

16. A tree appears to have fallen half-way down an embankment, then secured a foothold by rooting into the ground even as it dangles precariously. I photograph it. The tree is an integral part of its environment, surely supporting life even as it appears to be dead. Cape Perpetua, Oregon; September, 2019.

17. Apples and leaves have fallen under a tree wrapped in a net, part of a research project to determine best practices for growing fruit trees. I photograph it. My neighbor asked if I knew how to prune the young fruit trees that grow between our houses. I said that I didn’t know the exact technique and he should check with the people at the research center. I don’t think he ever did. He fell one night, harder than the apples, onto the pavement beside his car in the dead of night. It was cold. When we found him the next morning the car door was still open, his keys were in his hand, his mouth barely open. He did not come back to life, though we tried. He did not get back up. Like everything else in life falling is temporary, a transition between states of being, some of which we mourn, some of which we celebrate. Mount Vernon,Washington; September, 2018.

18. A sign has fallen down at a nature park. I photograph it. I walk past it. Will entering here be a new beginning? Mercer Slough, Bellevue, Washington; June, 2017.

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LOCAL WALKS: A TWO-FER

We’ll look at two places for this installment of “Local Walks” – March Point, a peninsula flanked by shallow bays a few miles north of my home, and Rosario Beach, a complex of coves and headland on the rocky southwest shore of the island. As usual, this selection of images doesn’t claim to offer an exhaustive overview of these locations. Instead, it’s a glimpse of scenes that caught my attention at a particular time, in a particular place on this earth.

First, March Point, a head-spinning mix of industry and nature. Industry dominates in the form of two large crude oil refineries that sprawl across the bulk of the land mass. A handful of small private properties, some with pastures of sheep or cattle, coexist with the refineries; a two-lane road traces the perimeter of the peninsula. To the west is Fidalgo Bay, most of which is an aquatic reserve known for spawning surf smelt and beds of eelgrass (Zostera marina), an important aquatic ecosystem plant. On the east side of March Point, Padilla Bay supports hundreds of Great blue herons, a summertime flock of American white pelicans, loons and sea ducks in winter, and many other species. Gaze out across either bay and you’ll relax into calm, expansive views; turn toward the land and you’ll be confronted with a busy industrial complex of tanks, towers, pipes, buildings, and fences. Heading away from the refinery you’ll pass modest homes or rough fields dotted with cattle and edged with wild roses. March Point is an anomaly.

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1. Low tide reveals the muddy, furrowed beauty of Fidalgo Bay. This view looks away from March Point, toward Anacortes.

2. Across the road from the bay, neglected land supports a thicket of grasses and thorny wild roses.

3. I enjoyed the rhythmic flow of winter beauty in these grasses as oil tankers barreled down the road behind my back. The Shell refinery processes 5.7 million gallons of crude oil each day on March Point. Tankers from Alaskan oilfields line up at the north end of the peninsula; trucks exit the south end to access Highway 20. Nearby, what is probably the largest Great blue heron rookery on the west coast of North America contains over 700 nests. This is a place of intense contradictions.

4. A length of plastic trapped in a tangle of roadside vegetation. Trash is inevitable along the busy roads, but not as prevalent as one might expect. And sometimes there’s beauty in it.

5.

6. Refinery stacks, native trees, non-native grasses: another odd mix typical of March Point.
7. Fidalgo Bay at low tide.

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On to Rosario Beach, at the opposite end of the island. The topography is very different here. Industry is absent and in fact, only a few houses can be seen from the shoreline. Traffic from a highway hidden behind the trees does intrude, but it’s usually no more than a quiet, intermittent hum. The area is part of a state park that encompasses the land and water surrounding Deception Pass, a channel between Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands. Inhabited by coast Salish tribes before Europeans arrived, the land was set aside for public recreation in 1922, almost a hundred years ago. The human imprint is faint here. Two simple, well-constructed log buildings made by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, nestle into a landscape of tall trees and rocky headlands. A small parking lot, bathroom and pier make up the basic amenities. Two beaches, one sandy and sheltered, the other rocky and open, converge to join Rosario Head, a promontory with fine views to the south and west. This is a small and special place where wildlife is at home and people are cautioned to tread gently. It suffers from crowds on weekends but during the week, especially when the weather isn’t great or the hour is late, a walk here can feel refreshingly meditative. It is nothing like March Point – but beauty abounds in both places if you’re open to discovering it.

More of my photos of Rosario Beach and environs are here.

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8. Rosario Head supports a few wildflowers and trees on its thin soil. Views open up to sky and water over Rosario Strait and the Salish Sea.

9. Driftwood logs on Rosario Beach fill with water from rain and high tides. The huge logs may look like they’ve been in place forever, but come back after a big storm and you’ll find everything has been rearranged.

10. Recent windstorms have toppled trees and pushed driftwood and cobbles past the old high tide lines. Winter color in this thicket bordering Rosario Beach comes from the maroon of Nootka rose bushes, the bright red of rose hips, and the pale green of lichens flourishing on the branches of small trees.

11. Bright and low, the January sun bounced off the water and lit up the rock-strewn path between Rosario Beach and Bowman Bay a few days ago. Glossy evergreen leaves of Madrona trees and bright green needles of fir trees created the illusion of a warmer season but wildflowers won’t begin to bloom here for another three or four months.

12.

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14. The view from the pier, seen by a camera sweeping left to right.

15. Urchin rocks, where Oystercatchers cry and Harlequin ducks swim, is barely discernible behind the lacy Douglas firs at dusk at Rosario Beach.

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To be in relationship with this world is to give praise to the trees for allowing us to breathe, to give thanks to the microbes for making the soil, and on, and on, and on. It is to listen, touch and be with all beings, sentient and other. It is to be gracious and humble, to offer gifts of action and care and words of gratitude and respect. It is not hard. In fact, it’s pure joy.” Georgina Reid, Breathing Fire, an essay in The Planthunter

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16. A photo from 2018 showing one of the refineries, seen from across Fidalgo Bay.

17. The Olympic Mountains rise out of the clouds, seen from Rosario beach last December.

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Note: The March Point photos were made on January 17th, using an Olympus M. Zuiko 12mm f2.0 lens (on an OM-D EM-1 camera). Most of the Rosario photos were made later that week, using a vintage SMC Super Takumar 50mm f1.7 lens with an adapter for the OM-D EM-1. #12 was made with an iPhone SE; #13 (father & son photos), #16, and #17 were made with an Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm f1.8 lens.

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Burrowing into the Depths

It feels like we’re going to have an unrelentingly rain-soaked winter here in the Pacific Northwest. One storm after another has barreled in, blowing trees down and dumping precipitation across an already waterlogged region. Between fronts the air stays damp and cool. There are breaks in the clouds but it is seldom more than a brief reprieve, as the sun breaks out then quickly hides again under opaque, gray skies. Uninspiring? Yes. But the challenges of the season bring opportunities to look harder, work a little more, and find the beauty that is right here.

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1. Pelican Bay Books & Coffeehouse keeps me going no matter what the weather. This was the view from the curb on a rain-soaked December afternoon before I jumped out to get a perfect pour of espresso macchiato, a freshly baked treat, and a mystery for late-night reading.

2. A cloudy Christmas Eve offers the gift of calm water.

3. Supposedly birds sit on power lines not to keep their feet warm, but to keep predators in view and be ready for a quick take-off. Whatever the reason, I enjoy the way flocks of Starlings and blackbirds animate the wires.

4. In winter, fog-watching replaces wildflower hunting.

5. Pond lily leaves hold water even as they float on it.

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“…here in these misty forests those edges seem to blur with rain so fine and constant as to be indistinguishable from air and cedars wrapped with cloud so dense that only their outlines emerge.” Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

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6. Heart Lake, 3:56 PM, December 31st.

7. Standing in the damp, cold air by the lake at dusk and listening to the soft murmur of a barely visible flock of ducks – this is burrowing into the gifts of the season.

8. A raindrop elegy for the passing of the year.

9. On a forested hill between two lakes, the clouds allow a sliver of sunlight to warm a lichen-bedecked branch.

10. A thread of moss reaches toward the little light that can seep into the forest on a December afternoon.

11. A wetland tangle of twigs reflects on itself. Bowman Bay, January 3rd, 4:33 PM

12. On the opposite side of the trail, simplicity reigns where Bullwhip kelp drifts with the tide.

13. A close look at driftwood may be reward enough on a gray day.

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“When you have all the time in the world you can spend it, not on going somewhere, but on being where you are.” Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass.

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14. The rich colors of water-woven grasses and leaves widen my eyes.

15. Water everywhere.

16. Tide-tossed pebbles offer delight on a gray day.

17. Cap Sante Marina, December 26th, 4:09 PM.

18. A gibbous moon appears from behind the clouds.

19. No matter how many sunsets I am witness to, each one brings a measure of magic to the day.

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A day or so after I began writing this post, the weather changed. Back-to-back days of cheerful (if partial) sunshine brightened my spirits. I watched a pair of Bald eagles cavorting against a deep blue sky, and far below them, nestled in the damp moss, I found the first leaves of a Rein orchid (Platanthera trransversa). For five or more months the leaves will make food for the tuber, hidden from sight. In the warm days of summer a delicate stalk of tiny orchids will emerge, if all goes well. Maybe that pair of little leaves will be trampled or will shrivel up or be eaten – who knows? Life is fragile. But no matter what, winter will be followed by spring, rain by sun, night by day. This we can count on.

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SILVER LININGS

Year-end reviews are useful but I’ve resisted doing one, perhaps out of laziness or avoidance, or because I prefer to look ahead and not analyze too much. But after reading a post by Alex Kunz, I began to think differently about reviewing my photographic year. I realized there is something to be learned from asking, “Where did I go with my camera in 2020, if not literally, then metaphorically?”

Last January I was busy planning a trip to Vietnam that was scheduled for three weeks in March. Then came the news of a dangerous new virus and the realization that travel plans had to be reconsidered. The first US case of the COVID-19 corona virus appeared on January 21 at a skilled nursing facility just 75 miles south of my home. We conferred with doctors and friends and decided to cancel the trip. It was a big disappointment but it cleared the decks for other things.

Soon, hospitalizations and deaths were making news. Then there was the daily litany of school closings, lost jobs and opportunities, and cancelled events. By March the governor of Washington had issued a stay-at-home order, the border with Canada was closed and in Seattle, a woman volunteered to be the very first person to receive Kaiser-Permanente’s experimental coronavirus vaccine.

Meanwhile, we were enjoying a lush, rainy spring. The green machine was in gear! Abundant flowers, insects, birds and even heavy crops of seed cones, all contributed to a breathtaking spring. I felt grateful to be retired and free of the concerns that so many people were dealing with – kids at home, lost income, sickness. In fact, the biggest impact for me at the time was the closing of my favorite destination, Deception Pass State Park. I felt that loss acutely but most county and city parks remained open, leaving me with plenty of choices. I became obsessed with searching for wildflowers in all the green places near home. Frequent forays led to discoveries of species I’d never seen before and a better understanding of familiar flowers. The previous year I was in Europe in April and took a road trip in May, which meant that I missed the parade of spring wildflowers. Before that I lived in a different habitat without many of the specialized plants that grow here on Fidalgo Island. I didn’t really know my own back yard. The cancellation of our trip and subsequent pandemic restrictions held a silver lining: the opportunity to study and take pleasure in the progression of the seasons right at home. I made the best of it!

Besides fully immersing myself in the local flora, two other photographic projects occupied my time last year: a series of photographs of a square pane of glass placed in various locations outdoors and a series of abstractions, made primarily in Lightroom. Working on the abstractions honed my ability to condense images down to simpler shapes, colors and textures. Concentrating on the forms within the rectangle, playing freely with exposure values, compositions and colors – all of that sharpened my ability to recognize what I’m looking for when I’m outdoors with the camera. I believe the process of abstracting images improved my photography. I’ll be returning to that project, as well as the glass pane project. Another project that involved writing more than photography was a memoir I began posting in March, ‘”An Unstill Life with Flowers.” More installments are in the works.

I added a few new tools to the Olympus kit this year: a smaller camera body for the Vietnam trip and two lenses: a 12mm f2 prime and a 12-42mm f3.5-5.6 ultra-compact zoom. The second camera body (an OM-D EM-5) is somewhat different from my normal camera and certain things drive me crazy, like the awkward placement of the on-off button. I’ll never be one of those people with two cameras hanging from their neck and a weighty backpack full of extra gear – but it’s good to have a second camera body that accepts the lenses I already have.

The wide zoom lens was meant for travel and I haven’t used it much yet. I’m excited about the 12mm prime lens (a 24mm equivalent). The one lens I own with an equally wide view is very heavy so it doesn’t get much use. For years now, I’ve tended to favor one particular lens, a 60mm f2.8 prime, over the others. Shooting with that lens so often has affected the way I see the landscape. Exchanging the 60mm field of view for a 12mm angle makes a big difference and forces me to stop and reconsider what I can do. That’s a good thing!

My aesthetic horizons expand each year from traveling and visiting museums and galleries. This year, with travel out of the question and museums closed, I found inspiration online, on your blogs, in email conversations, and from online workshops. This community has a lot to give! Over the course of last year, feeling inspired and free to roam the immediate environment, I went out with my camera well over 200 times. Like I said, the pandemic brought opportunities. Here are some of the results.

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1. One of the earliest wildflowers is the Swamp lantern (Lysichiton americanus).

2. White fawn lilies (Erythronium oregonum) were plentiful last year in the biggest and wildest of our city parks.

3. Three months later, beautiful little Western tiger lilies (Lilium columbianum) graced the same park.

4. The simple curves and parallel veins of a Clasping twisted stalk (Streptopus amplexifolius) captivated me.
5. When the state parks reopened I went to Larrabee State Park to photograph the sandstone rock formations.

6. One day on neighboring Whidbey Island we came across this driftwood shelter on a beach.

7. Fog at Lighthouse Point, Deception Pass State Park.
8. A Great blue heron (Ardea herodias) balances on Bullwhip kelp at Lighthouse Point.

9. The square pane of glass.

10. Another take on the square of glass.

11. An abstract that began as a photo of leaves on the ground.

12. Leaves afloat.

13. Bagley Lakes view, Mount Baker.

14. Picture Show Falls, Boulder Creek.

15. Five Trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator) on Cranberry lake, Deception Pass State Park.

16. Fog on Heart Lake.
17. Fog again, this time at Washington Park.

18. An abstraction that began as reflections on water.

19. Your photographer, reflecting on life.

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AT HOME

It’s easy to pass by mundane sights you see hundreds of times around the house without thinking twice about them. When weather and a pandemic conspire to keep you at home, familiar sights are seen again, and again.

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I don’t mean to say that these sketches are mundane – they’re not. Two weeks ago, thanks to Jean MacKay and a local art center, I sketched wild rose hips while watching Jean on Zoom. With over a hundred other people I watched as Jean drew plants found around her home in New York while giving tips for making quick sketches from nature outdoors (even on cold days!) and finishing them up indoors. It felt surprisingly comfortable to work on my drawing while listening to her relaxed, confident instruction. Drawing entails a different way of seeing and working. It slows you down, which is a nice counterbalance to digital life. In my experience, the eye that photographs is primed for drawing, just as the eye that draws is ready to make photographs. You may think the skills needed to make a drawing or operate a camera are potentially the biggest barriers to creating good work, but learning to see is more important, in my opinion. That skill can be practiced anywhere and anytime, with or without tools. Even around the house!

2. Looking out a window on a stormy afternoon.

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4. While the bell waits for me to pass by and give it a nudge, it makes its own music with light and shadow.

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It’s been rainy for weeks and weeks. The light is soft and diffuse, a quality I longed for in July but grow tired of now. Whenever the weather clears my eyes are greedy for the sunrise hues that grace the sky behind the black lace limbs of the Douglas fir trees. I find myself looking out windows a lot, as I’ve done all these years. There’s something satisfying about placing my gaze over there, not here, beyond.

6. Two tall Doug firs on a dry morning, seen through a window.

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8. A leaf caught under glass in the yard.

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10. Looking out the window in December on a rainy day.

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Best Wishes to you, and to all living beings on this planet, for 2021. Let it be a year in which getting out of the house is less fraught with danger. Let it be a creative year, a year in which we expand our minds to entertain more possibilities. And a deeply felt Thank You to all the readers who have come here this past year bearing gifts that lift me up and broaden my world.

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LOCAL WALKS: Mount Erie

1. Swaddled in a warm blanket, someone settles in to enjoy the view.

On this darkest day of the year, let’s stay with the theme of extremes and go up to the highest place on the Fidalgo Island, Mount Erie. At 1273 feet (388 m) high, this hunk of Jurassic era volcanic rock wouldn’t even be noticed in most places on the mainland but relative to sea level, Mt. Erie is a prominent point of reference. Locals like driving up the narrow, winding road to the top to take in breathtaking views of the landscape around the mountain and beyond, where islands dot the horizon and two distant mountain ranges rivet one’s attention. Even on a chilly, late November day like the day when this photo was made, a quick trip up the mountain is rewarding.

Here’s a topo map of the mountain if that’s your thing. Personally, I love the way topographic maps translate on-the-ground reality into simple, graphic patterns.

Before we look around the mountain itself, let’s take a step back and see how it looks from a distance. When I’m out on the flats (Skagit Valley agricultural land) and I see Mt. Erie’s distinctive, bumpy shape and twin cell towers, I always feel reassured. I know that home is nearby. Before there were cars and roads, the mountain would have been an important navigation tool.

2. On a snowy February afternoon the bulge of Mt. Erie, with light from the open waters of the Salish Sea glowing beyond it, is a very pleasing sight.

3. Exactly six months ago, on the summer solstice, we were exploring Cornet Bay on neighboring Whidbey Island during a super-low tide. Looking northwest, we were happy to see our mountain.

4. There it is in the fog, looking east from Washington Park on Fidalgo Island.

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6. This view at the base of the mountain shows a pretty little waterfall on a trail that traverses the wooded west face. The waterfall runs all year and nourishes one of the island’s few colonies of Maidenhair fern, growing in moist, rocky crevices.

But enough, let’s go up!

7. Erie Mountain Drive in November…

8. …and on another foggy day in June.

9. One rainy day in December I drive up and park at the top. No one else is here.

10. It’s peaceful.

11. A view through the branches of a Shore pine on a September afternoon.

Mount Erie lies within the Anacortes Community Forest Lands, comprising almost 3,000 acres of protected forests, wetlands and lakes on Fidalgo Island. A network of trails climbs up and down the mountain. If you choose to hike from the parking lot at the bottom to the summit, you’ll gain about a thousand feet in 3.5 rocky, rooty, twisted, scenic miles. The most I’ve done is to climb Sugarloaf, Mt. Erie’s shorter neighbor (on the right in photo #2). That left me feeling beat. I prefer to hike along trails near the bottom or drive to the top and wander through the forest just below the summit.

12. Ravaged trees and lavender-gray mist on eerie Mt. Erie.

13. Some of the older Douglas fir trees are gnarled and twisted from years of exposure to the elements.

14. The mountain catches moisture and holds it close, which these lichens find very agreeable. This tree is almost buried in them!

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18. Douglas firs grow tall and straight just below the summit.

19. Looking northwest toward the San Juan Islands during the Pacific Northwest’s “June Gloom,” a weather phenomenon we suffer through each year while we wait for the sunny days of July and August. Beauty can be found in that June Gloom!

20. On a bright summer day a pastoral view includes hay fields, freshwater lakes and a tall, rugged cliff called Rodger Bluff. Pacific Northwest painter Morris Graves lived a hermit’s life up there in the 1940s. He bought 20 acres on “The Rock” for $80, using money he made selling paintings to the Museum of Modern Art. You can find more about Graves’ sojourn on Fidalgo and see his work in this article by local blogger Julee Rudolf.

21. Joyous Young Pine, 1944. Morris Graves.

22. The North Cascades from Mt. Erie.

23. Mount Rainier is over a hundred miles away and doesn’t exactly loom on the horizon but the sight of it always quickens my heart.

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Maybe one day when we’re all free to roam again you’ll visit Fidalgo Island and see the views from Mt. Erie for yourself. Maybe you’ve already been here, or perhaps your only glimpses will be virtual ones. In any case, I hope you’ve enjoyed one person’s very subjective visual diary of this old hunk of rock.

A previous post about Mount Erie can be found here.

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CAUGHT

It’s caught,

held for a moment on its way somewhere –

where?

Its movement arrested, it seems

comfortable (and what is comfort anyway, but

the false security

that nothing will change?)

It’s stalled, or maybe

paused

in this in-between place.

Not my idea of home.

But still, it settles in

until the next shift

nudges it along.

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1. The next breeze might blow this seed onto the ground – or maybe not. Hollywood Heights, Los Angeles, California.

2. A Ginkgo leaf is temporarily trapped in the clutches of pine needles. Lu Shan Garden, Portland, Oregon.

3. On a quiet residential street, a spring blossom has fallen into a bed of leaves. Amsterdam, Netherlands.

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The word “caught” can indicate a number of different states of being – caught in a maelstrom, caught lying, caught a break. These particular images came together because one day when I was out with my camera I noticed a leaf caught on a twig, suspended in mid-fall. Soon I began to see this phenomenon of things caught on other things frequently. I photographed leaves and other bits of flotsam caught on fences, speared by twigs, and resting on bigger leaves. There’s something poignant about these suspended moments, something that speaks to the ultimately temporary nature of all things, the “just-passing-through” sense of life that we humans find hard to accept.

I started adding the keyword “caught” to photographs in Lightroom so I could gather them together. Here’s a selection that spans eleven years and two continents.

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4. It was a poignant sight – dozens of little dead moths, covered with dew and caught on branches along a trail on a cold October morning. Baker River Trail, Concrete, Washington.

5. A feather caught on a blackberry branch. Snoqualmie Valley Trail, Duvall, Washington.

6. Fluff from Cottonwood tree seeds is caught in a corner of a roadside parking lot. Near Edison, Washington.

7. Even in January, the fallen leaves of Bigleaf maples trees remain snagged in branches high above the ground. O.O. Denny Park, Kirkland, Washington.

8. This lichen-covered twig fell right into the “arms” of a Madrone tree and stayed there. Sharpe Park, Fidalgo Island, Washington.

9. A length of cloth was tied to a rusty barbed wire fence, and then came the wind. Duvall, Washington.

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11. A length of plastic, whipped and wound by the wind on a cold day. Somewhere in upstate New York.

12. A tangle of tiny, curly leaves held by a depression in a wavy Hosta leaf. Bellevue Botanical Garden, Bellevue, Washington.

13. Bigleaf maples, with their deeply indented lobes, are always getting caught on branches and fences. Duvall, Washington.

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14. Fireweed seeds caught in a spider web. Juanita Bay, Kirkland, Washington.

15. This barbed wire fence has been catching hanks of sheep wool – do they rub up against it or are they just passing by? Klein Reken, Germany.

16. High tides and winds wrap strands of eel grass around the branches of trees that grow close to the water. Deception Pass State Park, Washington.

17. Leaves scrunched in the cracked mud of a dry creek bed. Somewhere in southeastern Arizona.

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19. Leaves from a Japanese maple tree fell into this Japanese lantern. Lu Shan Garden, Portland, Oregon.

20. The viscid caps of these mushrooms capture tiny treasures – Douglas fir needles, bits of leaves, a blade of grass and a tiny Redcedar cone. Deception Pass State Park, Washington.

21. A Bigleaf maple leaf hung up on a barbed wire fence. Snoqualmie Valley, Washington.

22. A wild Rhododendron blossom stopped by a Salal leaf. It will probably disintegrate right here, with the help of gentle spring rains. Deception Pass State Park, Washington.

23. Nature never ceases to amaze. This skeletonized leaf must have been caught on the tip of the horsetail plant when it was just beginning to grow. Mercer Slough, Bellevue, Washington.

24. A beautiful tropical leaf with an artful sprinkling of pollen. Hortus Botanicus, Leiden, Netherlands.

25. A year and a week later I observed the same phenomenon closer to home. Tree pollen was abundant, coating this Salal leaf. I wonder why the tiny pollen grains stayed in the veins – maybe because a day of heavy fog was followed by a still, dry day. The moisture from the fog may have coalesced, carrying the pollen grains into the veins of the leaf, where the grains settled and formed the pattern you see. (This is called making it up as you go along!) Mt. Erie, Fidalgo Island, Washington.

26. Where would we be if bees didn’t catch pollen? This one carries a load of precious Trillium pollen. Somewhere in King County, Washington.

27. The shredded leaf of this tropical plant is caught between the stems, looking like it might get up and dance if the right music is played. Fort Myers, Florida.

28. And more.

29. Snow often does brief balancing acts when it piles up precariously on twigs and branches. Kirkland, Washington.

30. A leaf is caught on my windshield on a rainy December evening. Kirkland, Washington.

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