GLASS HOUSE GLEANINGS

A New Year’s Day visit to Seattle’s Volunteer Park Conservatory was a pleasant diversion on a cold, damp first day of the year. The century-old glass house shelters a good variety of meticulously tended plants nestled happily in a palm house, a cactus and succulent house, a fern house, a bromeliad house, AND a seasonal house. Plenty to keep me occupied.

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Conservatories are wonderful places to renew your senses but they’re challenging places to photograph, with the riot of shapes, colors and textures all layered on top of one another.

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I look for simpler scenes and abstractions. Zeroing in on a plant detail is one way to make visual sense of the rich experience – so the cactus house is a natural starting point.

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Spanish moss (Tilandsia) drapes around an iron support in the Bromeliad house.

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The palm house boasts an elegant orchid display, but the flowers resist being photographed, at least by me. The angle is wrong, someone is in the way, the background is too busy, too many flowers are crowded together. Looking up soothes my frustration.

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Another place I look for images is windows, when they fog up from humidity or dirt.  You can get very painterly abstracts, looking through the clouded windows – from outside (first and fourth) or from inside (second and third). The resulting images aren’t for everyone but they’re some of my favorites.

 

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EXTRA:

At the end of the year the conservatory sets up an elaborate old Lionel train in the seasonal house, complete with old figurines waiting at the station. The whistle blows and sometimes smokes – it’s charming.

 

And the flowers! I didn’t ignore them altogether. Though I concentrated on leaves and on  finding abstract images, a few flowers cooperated too:

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I needed those sweet splashes of color!  We stayed until closing – 3:00 pm on this holiday – and saw many disappointed people peering in as we left.

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In a week I’m off to a desolate spot in the Arizona desert where I expect to be fascinated by the landscape and plants. I hope to see new birds and deeply moving night skies – there are very few towns where we’re going. Most of all I expect to be surprised – can’t wait for that!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What a Difference a Year Can Make

This week I will celebrate my first 365 days in the Pacific Northwest. These images, photographs of places I frequented in my old home town and places I’m been exploring here on my new home ground, bookend the year.

Last week I drove up Cougar Mountain, outside Seattle, to the so-called “Million Dollar View”.  We had been stuck in a weather inversion that produced nothing but thick fog day and night. It’s easy to rise above it though – a thousand or so feet up and I was out of the mist. Foggy cloud banks rested gracefully across the valleys and Douglas firs cast soft lavender blue reflections on the lake below. Over a hundred miles north of where I stood, sunlight graced the flanks of Mount Baker, one of the snowiest places in the world and the site of extensive volcanic research.

Exactly a year before that day I met old friends for coffee at Think Coffee near New York University. Walking past an alley in Soho later that afternoon I came across this softly lit and surprisingly quiet scene:

A few days later I took a break from packing to spend an hour in one of my favorite places – the Conservatory at Snug Harbor Botanical Garden. A Bird of Paradise flower provided all the scrumptious candy color I craved on that cold, dark New York winter afternoon.

Exactly a year later I was looking for a diversion from winter’s dreariness again. This time a  handsome horse named Diamond trotted over to see what I was up to as I walked beside a fenced field where she boards. Realizing I had no treats for her, she turned and broke into a wild gallop in the mud with another horse. She’s clearly well cared for, and what nice digs she has in the foothills of the Cascades. (How do I know her name? Because a guy on a four wheeler zoomed over to tell me I shouldn’t be trespassing. Before walking back to the road I asked about the horse, who he said was Diamond,  “a real show-off.”)

The next day, I was watching the sun set along a back road that follows a meandering river ten miles east of my house.  I had spotted a Great Blue Heron in a wet field a mile down the road, but here the only sign of life was a lone, out of season frog calling from its hiding spot in the tangle of grass. I wondered how old that barn is, and what they grow here, and I was glad for the small farms that somehow manage to survive so close to my new home.

Just a year ago I was on the water in New York Harbor, taking this photograph of the MOL Endurance, a container ship making its way towards port. The Verrazano Narrows Bridge, connecting the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Staten Island, spanned sparkling blue harbor waters that morning. On a good day the light and spaciousness of New York Harbor trigger ideas and possibilities in my mind – where did that ship come from, what’s in those containers, and what adventure awaits me in a few minutes, when I walk off the ferry to Manhattan?

Two late January sunsets complete my coastal seesaw – one taken a year ago from my old apartment above New York Harbor, looking over snowy rooftops to the soft glow of lights at a container terminal in Bayonne, New Jersey. The other sunset is over the Snoqualmie River, just outside the little town of Duvall, Washington:

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Themes seem to repeat on both sides of the country: landscapes seen through the filigree of tangled grasses or branches, colors and textures that make me want to reach out and touch, and foregrounds giving way to distant views. A lot has changed in a year, but my central concerns in photography – the love of nature and of ordinary, everyday life – have just shifted their expression a few thousand miles to the west.

ILLUMINATING AURAS and PINPRICKS of LIGHT: WEEKLY PHOTO CHALLENGE

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This week, The Daily Post at WordPress challenged readers to post photographs on the subject of illumination. Here are  illuminations of scenes that brightened my day: subtle auras surrounding hothouse orchids, a crescent moon rising over New York harbor and twinkling lights screening a landmark building in the making.

The first two pictures were taken at Volunteer Park Conservatory in Seattle. It’s warm, humid conditions contrasted sharply with dry, frosty January air, and it felt good being surrounded by orchids and tropical plants, basking in radiant sunlight that’s in scarce supply during the Northwest winter. Our winter color palette plays the deep greens of Douglas firs and sword ferns off soft grays and browns, but inside the greenhouse, hot colors soaked up the sunlight, casting tropical candy auras around the voluptuous flowers.

At Battery Park in Lower Manhattan, a November sunset created an unusually quiet moment at the edge of the city that never sleeps.  The street lamps, reproductions of posts dating back about a hundred years, seem to tilt because of the wide angle lens, leaning in towards the distant Statue of Liberty. Smudgy gray clouds almost conceal a crescent moon and a plane heading up the Hudson River.

On a cool fall evening in Lower Manhattan, tiny lights threaded through the trees of Zuccotti Park cast pinpricks of light against the still incomplete One World Trade Center.  Over ten years ago this park and surrounding blocks were severely damaged by the 9/11 attacks. New York politics has prevented timely completion of the Twin Towers replacement – you can see a construction crew elevator ascending the corner of the building –  but it is almost finished.  Zuccotti Park also was the site of the recent Occupy Wall Street Movement; on this night, the delicate filigree of honey locust tree leaves against a soft blue sky belied the unrest of the past.

Illumination, along with those light bulbs constantly popping with ideas behind my eyes, allows me to create photographs that I can share with you. Thanks for visiting!

The challenge:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/01/11/lights/