A Joyful Relation to What Is

A few weeks ago Sigrun Hodne, who writes at the blog Sub Rosa, posted a brief video about the photographer Jeff Wall. You may or may not find Wall’s photography appealing, but maybe you’ll be intrigued by what he says, as I was.

Towards the end of the clip Wall talks about art.

“I think all art is always an expression of the affection for there being a world…



“…that there’s something to see… that anything even exists.”


“It’s already a kind of joyful relation to what is. And then everything else becomes a detail…”


“I think all artists are pretty sympathetic people. They’re sympathetic to being.

And I think that’s why people like art.”



The photographs were made on two afternoons in May, during a trip to the Methow Valley, in north central Washington. Creeks originating from glaciers on some of Washington’s highest peaks drain into the Methow River, which weaves and wends its way through spare, sage green highlands before emptying into the Columbia River, and thence to the Pacific Ocean. The valley is dotted with small towns, and one called Winthrop emphasizes an American West atmosphere enough to resemble a movie set. Along with opportunities to camp, fish, ski, ride horses, and raft the river, the classic western look of Winthrop brings tourists to the area.

Coming in spring, we expected quiet and weren’t disappointed. We stayed outside the town of Twisp at a small farm whose owners work in retail and real estate while caring for a handful of horses and chickens and running an airbnb side business. A patchwork economy works best in the valley, as in so many rural areas. From the riverside we drove high up into the lonely, sere hills, where fires have their way with dry forest land and the views leap across space, and free the soul. The cheerful golden Balsamroot flowers that sprinkle the hillsides with color every spring were fading but no matter – my affection for the world was still an unhesitatingly joyful relation to what is, right there, in that particular place, at that particular time.

The photos:

  • 1. Fire-ravaged juniper tree, Thompson Road, Methow Valley
  • 2. Fallen trees and Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) leaves, Gun Ranch Road, Methow Valley
  • 3. Shriveled Balsamroot flower, Thomson Ridge, Methow Valley
  • 4. Lichen on rock, Thompson Ridge, Methow Valley
  • 5. Single boulder in an Aspen grove, Thompson Ridge, Methow Valley
  • 6. Fire-ravaged junipers and dry grasses, Thompson Ridge, Methow Valley
  • 7. Lichen-splotched boulder, Thompson Ridge, Methow Valley
  • 8. Insect on fading Balsamroot flower, Thompson Ridge, Methow Valley

A few more photos from the Methow Valley are here.

Spring in Black and White

Spring is all about growth and the return of color: fresh greens, sparkling blues, deep purples, cheerful yellows. But black and white can also convey the message of renewal.

These photographs were taken in various gardens and parks in the last month or so, all in the Pacific northwest. It’s been an exceptionally wet, cool Spring, conditions that suit our plants just fine, but we humans tire of the endless days of mist and rain and long for the warmth of the sun.

Still, if you dash out between the heavier showers, the wet conditions can be rewarding for outdoor photography. Overcast skies do not create harsh, distracting shadows. The even light enables you to see shape and form. And if the sun does break through, maybe you’ll catch a ray of light in the forest or a sparkle on the raindrops.

It’s challenging to look over my photographs with an eye towards which ones might work well without color, and we know challenges bring rewards. Sometimes color is the story, and sometimes color can distract from the story.  This selection is a reminder to look for more than color, and enjoy.
































  1. A Trillium (probably T. ovatum, the Western Trillum) at Heronswood, a botanical garden and nursery in Kingston, WA.
  2. A pair of Trillium buds at Heronswood. Heronswood grows many different trillium species, so I hesitate to guess which it is when the flower is still in bud.
  3. A beetle on a woodland wildflower that hasn’t bloomed yet, at PowellsWood Garden in Federal Way. This plant, probably False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum) or Star-flowered False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum stellatum), has name problems! Why false? I get that people named another plant (Solomon’s Seal) first but really, honor the plant with its own name next time. It’s not false anything, it is completely itself. And the Latin names for those two plants vary. The genus used to be Smilacina but is now Maianthemum, and not everyone has caught up. And don’t doubt for a second that there aren’t a myriad of common names for both plants –  Solomon’s Plume, Starry Solomon’s Plume, Feathery False Lily-of-the-Valley, Starry Lily-of-the-Valley, etc. Well, there’s work to keep botanists busy.
  4. A fern fiddlehead, possibly a Lady fern (Athyrium Filix-feminia), at Rhododendron Species Garden, Federal Way, WA.
  5. Peering through the fronds of an Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) at the Rhododendron Species Garden. The species name, struthiopteris, comes from the Greek: struthis means ostrich, pterion means wing (says Wikipedia). Obviously the scientific name was given because the fronds rightly reminded someone of ostrich plumes (see the photograph below). That means ostrich plumes had to be pretty well known in Europe back when the plant was given its Latin name. Indeed, Linneaus published his Systema Naturae, the groundbreaking book whose binomial Latin name system for plants and animals enables speakers of all languages to communicate clearly about the natural world, in the mid 1700’s. By then the distinctive flora and fauna of Africa was familiar to Europeans. In fact, Pliny wrote about Ostriches almost two thousand years ago, and sultans are said to have made gifts of them to European rulers. The Ostrich fern grows in northern locations in Europe, North America and Asia.
  6. A large planting of graceful Ostrich ferns at Rhododendron Species Garden.
  7. New Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) tree leaves at Bellevue Botanical Garden. Many readers probably know that Ginkgo trees are the oldest living “fossil trees” in the world, having survived on earth for many millions of years. Rarely if ever found in the wild, they were cultivated at monasteries and temples in China, where they once did grow wild. Now they are planted in many cities as street trees – they survive pollution and rough conditions admirably. Was it all the good training they received in Buddhist monasteries? Here is a terrific Ginkgo website. And here, a scientist argues against continuing to plant Ginkgos for a number of sound reasons – though I am very fond of them!
  8. A Sword fern (Polystichum munitum) fiddlehead at Paradise Valley Conservation Area, Woodinville, WA. Why do Sword fern fiddleheads take that odd turn south on their journey of unfolding? I love it!
  9. Fawn lilies (Erythronium oregonum) at Kruckeberg Botanical Garden, just outside Seattle. This native beauty blooms in the woods here in April or May.
  10. Bleeding Heart flowers and foliage at O.O. Denny Park in Kirkland, WA.
  11. Unidentified plants grow out of the shallow water of a retention pond in Redmond, WA.
  12. An old Douglas fir tree that split into two trunks early on, at Paradise Valley Conservation Area. The tree’s Latin name is Pseudotsuga menziesii – another “false,”  this time false hemlock – psuedo, and tsuga (Japanese for hemlock). Classified and named in the 1800’s, it is not a fir, a pine or a hemlock, but another kind of conifer. Of course, native peoples had their own names for this grand tree, which can grow to well over 300 feet and live to perhaps a thousand years.
  13. Another Sword fern fiddlehead takes a turn on the dance floor, at Meerkerk Gardens on Whidbey Island, WA.
  14. Tulips at Bellevue Botanical Garden.
  15. A fading tulip at Bellevue Botanical Garden.



In the Feeling

InSpring: that feeling.

And how do I

express, convey, record, or transmute it?

Because it pervades, it’s the air, it’s

heavy lilac scent and a

rabbit disappearing

under a hedge, it is birdsong, breeze-on-cheek

and buttercups,

wild-seeded on the margins.

We feel it underneath the

blessing of leafed-out branches,


suffusing through the veins,

and neurons…


I can try.





























Photographed at Bellevue Botanical Garden, 04/22/2016

Five Day Black and While Challenge: Day 5

And so it ends:



Lunatia heros, The Moon Shell

I found this moon snail shell somewhere on the east coast, long ago.

It is big and weighty, and its rough spots

and worn edges give it a solid presence.

The other day someone said a face without freckles is like a night sky without stars.

Smoothly perfect surfaces have their place;

but rough spots tell deep stories.


It’s been a good exercise to create five black and white images good enough to post. Thank you, Sherri, for inviting me to the party. Now it’s time to get back to color – spring pinks and fresh greens are brightening the Pacific Northwest, thanks to unusually warm weather. I’ll post photos of white-flowered cherry trees from a stroll through a botanical garden soon. And then there are the softly subtle desert colors of southeastern Arizona. I have to work on those photos too.  The natural world provides an embarrassment of riches.

Photo: Indoor natural light, on watercolor paper backdrop. Panasonic Lumix G3 camera and 20mm Lumix prime lens, f 2.5, 1/60. Processed using Lightroom and On1 Perfect Effects.

Five Day Black and White Challenge: Day Four

August downpour

under the Highline.

New York.

Take cover?


take advantage?

Just a month earlier my son had returned from Afghanistan, safe and – well maybe not entirely sound, but certainly safe. It was time to celebrate. “Let’s take a walk on the Highline!” Then, a sudden summer downpour. We scrambled for shelter… perfect! Under the Highline we found a beer garden and a food truck selling dumplings. Most of us took cover, but not this man – I didn’t know who he was, but he sure made everyone smile, and does to this day, thanks to a lucky break with the camera. That’s my son in the background (3rd Battalion, 9th Marines; safe and sound today).

For day Four of the Five Day Black and White Challenge I thought something light would make a nice break in the routine – hence the handstand-in-the-rain photo – enough seriousness! 🙂

I invite Brandon Brasseaux to join the challenge today. I just found his blog, When This Becomes There, via FATman Photos, another great blog. Brandon, if you want to do it, just post five black and white photos, and each time you post, invite someone else (this could go on, and on…).  If you can’t do five days running, well, neither could I.  I’m just doing them as often as I can. If you hate blog challenges, I understand!

One more day to go for me, with the black and whites – after that, I’m eager to post photos of the incredible pinks I’m seeing here, as spring blossoms early.



Five Day Black and White Challenge: Day Three


America’s southwest is studded with impressive rock formations; on a huge scale there’s the Grand Canyon, and then there are lesser known places like this, Texas Canyon in southeastern Arizona.

This sensual playground of sculptural rocks with the expansive desert landscape in the distance, is as aesthetically satisfying to me as a great minimalist installation at an art gallery. (But here you get to smell and touch!) I came to Texas Canyon to see the Amerind Foundation, which draws visitors to this remote location because of its comprehensive, yet intimate collection of the archeology and art of America’s first peoples. Inside, the museum is a feast of art and artifacts by people of varied traditions who lived in the Americas before Europeans arrived. Outside on the grounds, the weathered granite boulders of Texas Canyon are perhaps as powerful an experience as the visions inside.

Time was too short that afternoon. I walked through the rocks, clambered on them for better views, peered at bits of stubborn vegetation, and of course, took photographs. I’ll post more of them soon.

I’d like to invite Alan of Pixtera to join the Five Day Black and White Challenge today. He does beautiful work – clean, strong and often surprising. I understand if he decides not to do the challenge, but to keep going his own way. Do take a look at his site.



“Let the beauty we love be what we do.”


I gazed up and up through the palm fronds to the conservatory dome above. It was a cold February day in New York and my job was in jeopardy. I worked for the state Department of Health in a program created to help people with brain injuries maintain life at home in their communities, but deep budget cuts had torn the program apart, leaving me in a bureaucratic limbo.

There was no work that day because I (and many others) had been “sort of fired” and we were waiting to hear what was next. Would funding be restored? Was this really the end? So camera in hand, I took a trip to the botanical garden and lost myself in the restorative beauty of the conservatory.  And yes, it was very beautiful. The greens and pinks and yellows, the shapes and scents, they all worked their way under my skin, until I felt a calm certainly that everything would work out. Then my cell phone rang. Our jobs had been restored.

But here’s the thing: my mind didn’t stretch far enough (as surely my eyes did) to grasp the bigger truth. That call was just the first of a series of calls that would ping pong me in and out work for the better part of the year, until finally my job was truly gone. The positive feeling I had, and the photos I took that day that reflected a beautiful certainty? They did not reflect just the fact that I had my job back – that confident intuition reflected something much bigger.

I lost the job later that year, but with the loss came the decision to leave New York for good. I moved west, and for many long, unemployed months when I had little or no income, I joyfully explored my new home. And with camera in hand, as I explored, I created this blog. That was the bigger picture, of which I had no inkling that day among the palms – I only knew that things would work out. Since then, more and more, I’ve been able to let the beauty I love be what I do.

At the Palm House in the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory, New York Botanical Garden, NYC, NY.

Today I invite Johnnycrabcakes  to join the 5 Day Black and White Challenge. He’s a bit ornery sometimes, so he I suspect will hate me for asking him to join a challenge. So be it. Take a look at a recent black and white photo of his that’s full of mystery.

If he’s up for it –

  1. For 5 days, create a post using any past or present photo in black and white.
  2. Each day, invite a new photographer to join the fun.

If he’s not up for it, go see him anyway – he writes really well, and takes terrific photos. And I’ll be back for the third day soon.