Autumn’s Quiet Radiance

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Continuing the autumn woods theme from last week, I returned to Moss Lake and O.O. Denny Park for more photographs. In some of these photos I steered towards a more impressionistic look, either when shooting or in processing. Maybe that forest magic is getting into my brain.

  1. Dead leaves on a Western Redcedar (Thuja plicata) glow like pewter in the late afternoon light. The two cedars of the Pacific northwest, Western Redcedar and Yellow Cedar, were tremendously important to early people in this area, supplying materials for transportation, shelter, tools and clothing. The Western Redcedar (not a true cedar) can attain a huge size and live for hundreds of years before falling and returning its nutrients back to the forest, where it will continue taking part in the long, winding thread of life.
  2. Layers of leaves: rust colored Big Leaf Maple leaves (Acer macrophyllum) and little Red Huckleberry leaves (Vaccinium parvifolium) mingle on the forest floor.
  3. Big Leaf Maple leaves can grow to 10 inches across. When they fall they often are trapped in tree branches before they can reach the ground. Clumps of moss can fall in storms and be caught in branches too, which is probably how this healthy clump came to rest in such a small tree. Mosses like this specimen, probably Douglas’ Neckera (Neckera Douglasii) can get all the nutrients they need from the air and rain.
  4. Another maple leaf is caught in a Red Huckleberry tree that still holds on a few leaves itself. I gave this image a flat, graphic look to accentuate the shapes and colors.
  5. Another leaf – you know what kind now – caught again.
  6. A maple leaf has fallen onto a clump of Sword fern (Polystichum munitum). Sword fern is a large, tough evergreen fern that grows prolifically in the Pacific northwest.
  7. A slowly decomposing stump, probably a Western Redcedar. It may have been burned long ago and bears evidence of woodpecker excavation. For how long will it continue to nourish the community of plants and animals around it? Research shows that this species has lower rates of nitrogen release than other trees in the same area, such as Douglas fir. But I have no doubt that every cell is valuable in some way – in fact, the tree stump may be nourishing you, if you enjoy the photo. It’s all part of the big dance.
  8. This log has a relatively thin covering of cedar leaves and mosses – maybe it fell only a few years ago. Many plants will take root on its surface as time passes.
  9. If you look very closely (slightly right of center), maybe you can see little lichens under the bits of moss on these branches. One lichen looks like Forking Bone (Hypogymnia inactiva). I read that the “inactiva” doesn’t mean this lichen is lazy, rather it means it doesn’t have the chemical reactivity of some of its relatives. And “Hypogymnia” refers to a naked underside. Make what you will of it!
  10. A tree that fell across a path was cut up and left to decompose. Sections of the wood bear pieces of Lungwort lichen (Lobaria pulmonaria). Three kingdoms of organisms symbiotically unite in this lichen: an algae, a fungus and a bacteria. Lungwort lichen is widespread, ranging across parts of Asia, North America and Africa. In Europe this lichen is declining. In our area it is associated with humid, old-growth forests. Sensitive to air pollution, the Lungwort lichen typically reproduces asexually, but after 10 – 25 years it may also reproduce sexually. Who knew lichens could live so long, and be so versatile?
  11. The flip side of our long-lived Lungwort lichen. People have used this plant for dye, in tanning, and for medicine. Moose and goats are known to dine on it and wild sheep probably eat it, too. The lungwort name arose, like many plant names, from an observation that the plant resembled something else – in this case, human lungs. It followed that lungwort lichen was used for lung ailments (as was the spotted-leaved perennial plant named Lungwort). Recent research has shown that L. pulmonaria has anti-inflammatory and gastroprotective properties.
  12. Bright yellow leaves fall into a roadside stream. I can’t identify this plant but it was striking. The green leaves are the invasive Himalayan blackberry (Rubus discolor), an Indian introduction by way of England that is abundant here.
  13. Specimens of Big Leaf Maple covered with mosses and Licorice fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza). Moss growth in the Pacific Northwest is luxuriant thanks to our wet, relatively mild climate. The spongy mats seen on these trees have taken decades to grow. An average mature Big Leaf Maple holds 87 lbs (35.5 kilos) of epiphyte biomass – moss, lichens, ferns, etc. That’s almost four times the biomass of the leaves! All those epiphytes are hard at work, gathering nutrients from the air and rain (and the occasional bird dropping), keeping everything in circulation.
  14. A Big Leaf Maple is the setting for two of our common evergreen forest ferns, Sword fern and Licorice fern. The seem to rejoice in the misty weather, holding their fronds aloft. Licorice fern’s rhizome – the root-like appendage connecting the plant to the tree trunk – really does taste like licorice; I’ve tried it. The plant was used medicinally for colds and sore throats by First Nations people in British Columbia.
  15. The rain has stopped but the humidity remains. Our rains tend to be the off-and-on, light, drizzly kind, not downpours. So far this year we’ve had about 42″ of rain, almost 10″ above normal. Rain down here means snow in the mountains, so Seattle skiers and snowboarders don’t mind all the precipitation. The plants like it, too. As for me, I’m ready for a string of dry days, but I’m doing my best to appreciate wet weather!
  16. Raindrops sprinkled across dead twigs, probably a Western hemlock.
  17. 18. & 19.  Red Huckleberry leaves are among the last to drop. They make a pretty, glowing haze in the woods.

THE SUBTLE COLORS OF JANUARY

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Photos taken at Markworth State Forest, Carnation, Washington, and on Cherry Valley Road, Duvall, Washington, on two frosty, early January afternoons.

Three Forks Natural Area in Snoqualmie, Washington

We were supposed to have a little sun yesterday. Well, the sun barely showed,  but at least it wasn’t raining so I took a drive south and found a spot along the Snoqualmie River to take a few pictures. I love the texture of a mountain with just a little snow on it, and the subtle drifts of clouds along the peaks.

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Up the road people were casting for steelhead trout, but here it was quiet.

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Until a paraglider caught my eye – the camera lens can only take in so much, so you have to look hard. But that’s what it looked like – a vast sky, a forbiddingly steep, rocky mountain face, and a tiny paraglider drifting down into the trees.

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Somewhere over there, hopefully, a good landing was made.

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The Big Leaf Maples along the river edge were thick with moss and licorice fern. They say the rootstock of this pretty little fern that stays green all winter tastes like licorice, but I keep forgetting to try it.

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As for climbing Mount Si, I’m not in shape for that climb (thousands of people do though, every year) but I’m glad I can photograph it.