They Rise and Fall

On a chilly, gray day last week, I ventured out to Cranberry Lake, a community forest preserve on Fidalgo Island. My favorite path there combines pieces of two trails – one hugs a curve of the lake and then ascends a steep hill through a fire-scarred forest; the other traces the long eastern edge of the namesake lake.

The trail that ascends the hill winds through Douglas fir and Western redcedars before meandering through forest openings where Madrone trees and Ocean Spray shrubs flourish, at its highest point. It descends through more Douglas fir and Salal thickets to the south end of the lake, where I like to turn and head back along the water’s edge. The lake is shallow there, and tall, thin tree skeletons standing in the water show that it was once forest. In the 1930’s a dam built at the other end grew the lake back into the woods, killing the trees. Later, beavers moved in and did their work; now a “garden” of stumps and trees draws wavering reflections in the calm water. It’s a fine spot for the visually preoccupied!

Just when I was farthest from the car that day, high on the hilltop, it began to snow. Sparse flakes drifted down through the trees to settle silently on the lake far below me. I’d left my gloves in the car but I continued on anyway, compelled by the poetry of unexpected weather. When I reached the shallow end of the lake, I was surprised to find it covered with ice, like a pale field spread out before me. The dead trees stood mute, locked in the ice, like ancient Greek columns witnessing the history of the seasons.

I carefully picked my way along the narrow, rocky path as the snow thickened. The weather-resistant camera would be OK, but there would be no changing lenses now.  I kept on shooting as one mesmerizing scene unfolded after another. A few steps, a choice, a click. A few more steps, another choice, a turn of a dial, a click. Trees standing, trees scarred from fire, trees fallen across the trail and into the water. Reflections blurring, then clearing, as the air carried more or fewer flakes. Cormorants watching snow sail over the lake from their stump and log perches. A lone Common merganser quietly floating towards the middle of the lake.

The prevailing hush transfixed me. I worked that little black box to frame the layered changes in the landscape, and though wildlife sightings always capture my attention, what stuck with me that day were the trees in all their guises and stages, their varied forms partially obscured by the pointillist haze of snow.

The trees rise and soar, they burn, fall over, die and slowly decompose. And they persist.

 

1. Lakefall

 

2. Sidelined

 

3. Dialogue

 

4. Snowhaze

 

5. Flake Flutter

 

6. Twig Scoops

 

7. Lean

 

8. Fade

 

9. After Fire, Green Returns

 

10. Scarred Trio

 

11. Fallen

 

12. Perched

 

13. Cut

 

14. Tumble

 

15. Honeysuckle Twist

 

16. Towards Whiteout (now my fingers are numb)

 

17. Cormorant Quartet

 

18. Light Gatherer

 

19. Stand, Reflect, Fall, Reflect

 

20. Horizon Log

 

21. Lone Merganser

***

 

 

Just Before Spring

It was one of the coldest February’s on record here, but I still went out for walks as often as I could. Sometimes it was only for a half hour and more than once, my fingers went numb as I worked with my camera. Temperatures are warming ever so slowly. We’re still consistently below normal, but the light is noticeably brighter now, birds are singing, a few buds are opening…

There is so much to see.

 

1. Weathered trees high on a bald overlooking a sparkling sea.

 

2. The late afternoon sun warming the underside of an old bridge.

 

3. The same bridge on another day, seen from a log-crossed, rocky peninsula at low tide.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

4. Thousands of Snow geese being one with the air, the field, each other….all of it.

 

5. A singular rock wiped clean by retreating waves, deep in conversation with the sand, the pebbles, and me.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

6. Svelte rocks that dance and wiggle their way into my heart.

 

7. Or a lumpen rock, strewn with green streamers from an eel grass party, cavorting with smaller stones while lining up its fine white markings with the ten directions.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

8. Magisterial rocks letting their green top coats dry out while drawing sun-warmth deep into their centers.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

9. What else is there to see?  A plum-colored path through a fuzzy fairytale forest draped with ferns, and set with the dark, knotted rootballs of fallen giants.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

10. Patterns shimmering through the air, making their non-linear way into the fir tree boughs, down to the earth, and up into my brain cells. Now, the shimmering patterns are yours.

 

11. And what is there to hear? Plenty. Just listen. Wherever you are right now, stop. Listen.

 

12. Whether sound emerges from a Song sparrow or a fishing vessel it travels through the same air, without caring what it meets. Sound rides the wind.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

13. Dizzying patterns abound, absorbing me into the binary rhythm of light and dark.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

14. The little rosettes of sedum leaves, the soft mosses and dried out grasses – they’re all waiting. Waiting without complaint or expectation in the knowledge that spring follows winter.  They know what to do and they will not fail to express the season.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

15. Old Douglas fir, ancient one, thick-barked, heavy-limbed, ever green, reaches out and invites me to duck under the branches on my way downhill. Thank you. I’m blessed.

 

16. More rhythm. Four straight Douglas fir trees alternate with the sinuous curves of a Madrone tree. The cold water below carries the cries of gulls out to the Salish sea.

 

17. Countless logs roll in and out along the shores of an island. A band of fir trees sucks in the light, hiding it well.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

18. The tides do their patient work, smoothing edges, rounding corners, loosening bark, fading colors….

 

19. The dimpled bark of a Madrona tree absorbs another sunset, burrowing light into every pore.

 

20. How much longer? How many more storms before this Douglas fir topples onto the beach? Not yet.

 

21. Rain.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

22. A lock on the old bridge, with just enough rust. I think.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

23. Water, sky, and earth bounce back and forth endlessly on a cold February afternoon, telling the tale of this one place.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

24. A fallen one effortlessly melds water and light.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

25. The creators, fire and water, bring it all home to us.

 

***

 

 

 

 

 

 

Toss the Agenda, Just Be with the Trees

Chances are, most everyone who reads this has had a special relationship with a tree, or with a type of tree. My sacred groves have changed as I moved from place to place. Oak, beech, maple – those steadfast denizens of temperate North America were boon companions for decades, along with many others. Then seven years ago, the cast of characters changed when I moved to the Pacific northwest. Tall, raggedy lines of Douglas firs took over my horizons while elegant cedars and hemlocks called me deeper into the woods. Last July I moved again and the arboreal lineup shifted. Wandering the land, I saw the familiar silhouettes of Douglas fir, Western Redcedar, and Red alder, but subtle differences began to emerge. The island ecosystems here are different than the lowlands and foothills where I lived before. Colorful, wavy-branched Madrone trees are as plentiful here as Bigleaf maples were around Seattle. I don’t see as many willows now, but the scarce Maritime juniper is an endemic specialty here that’s worth seeking out.

Getting to know the quirks of local habitats is a slow process. Knowledge and understanding build organically as I ply forest trails, stroll beaches and tiptoe across mossy balds. What better way to absorb new information than to rest my gaze on a form, gather its essence at that moment, put the camera to my eye and make a photograph. At that moment, when things go well, I apprehend the whole that I’m situated in, without separation between me and my surroundings. You could say it’s a kind of adoration. The separateness we humans so often feel can quickly drop away when we’re immersed in an activity. Being in nature with all one’s senses alert is one of the more obvious ways to let go of all that makes us feel separate. But even the seemingly passive activity of looking at images can so immersive that we forget ourselves.

Separation can drop away at any time – that is an ever-present possibility. Approaching trees without an agenda about trees – or about anything – makes room for grounded, fresh experience. It’s my wish that you might approach these photographs with a spirit of no agenda. Skip the captions if that makes it easier – they’re here because I enjoy sharing ideas and information. Whatever works, I hope you can just be with the moment.

 

1. Western Redcedars (Thuja plicata), their lower branches thickly coated with moss, stand tall in the mist at Rockport State Park. Redcedars are undeniably graceful, with their sloping trunks that ease into the soil, and their billowing curtains of evergreen leaves.

 

2. This solid twist of driftwood could be from a Redcedar tree.

 

3. Curvy Pacific madrone trees (Arbutus menziesii) intertwine with upright Douglas firs along a path in Deception Pass State Park. The Madrone grows along the west coast of North America from California to British Columbia. In Puget Sound it seems to love steep slopes near water.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

4. Feathery evergreen leaves of a Redcedar waft in the breeze. This Pacific northwest species can live over a thousand years, attaining great height and girth. And dignity.

 

5. The green edges of our rocky islands are often set with Shore pines (Pinus contorta) along with Madrones and Douglas firs. On west-facing cliffs where the weather takes no prisoners, trees bend and eventually crumble into luxurious beds of Kinnikinnick (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) and Reindeer lichen (Cladonia sp.). This particular grouping makes me think of a dramatic dance: arms flailing, people collapsing on the floor….  This scene may appear static, but even as they decompose, trees lead a dynamic life interacting with the flora and fauna around them.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

6. These roots are probably Douglas fir or Shore pine. Research shows that in the same soil as the roots of trees there are vast mycorrhizal networks that pass critical information among trees, along with nutrients, carbon and water. There is a world of intelligent activity under our feet!

 

7. Fire happens. In August, 2016, it happened here, in a protected community forest.  The fire was put out, trails were closed for a time, and now the forest is healing. These Douglas firs were protected by thick bark.

 

8. A fallen Douglas fir has been sawed to make space for a trail. It’s sad to see the giants go, but before long new plants will take root on top of the log. A whole community of moss, ferns, mushrooms, lichens, shrubs and trees can establish itself on a prostrate tree. Not to mention spiders, beetles, squirrels, birds….

 

9. A mature tree that began life atop a nursery log slowly works its roots down into the ground.

 

10. Western hemlock boughs are nice places to lose yourself.

 

11. This species of juniper only grows on a handful of islands in Puget Sound and a few other nearby sites. Named the Maritime juniper (Juniperus maritima), it was differentiated from Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum) in 2007, after research showed critical distinctions between the two species. The tree I photographed is next to an oft-traveled park road and is frequently photographed. Maybe all that attention buoys the tree in some mysterious way.

 

12. A tree that fell into a shallow lake provides support for native grasses as the wood gradually weathers into a maze of sinewy, sculptural shapes.

 

13. An old Shore pine lives up to its Latin name, Pinus contorta. This photo was taken in December, and all the green you see is evergreen – trees, mosses, ferns, grasses, and other plants. 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

14. In the forest, a neck-breaking upward gaze reveals wildly criss-crossing branches on a Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii). I imagine the benefit of all those twists and turns is that each branch finds a little more light.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

15. This Douglas fir is said to be over 800 years old. Only part of it fits into the viewfinder! Step back, and neighboring trees complicate the picture so much that it’s hard to tell which tree is which. Stand underneath, and you feel the deep power of age and maturity, and a solidity of being that emanates beneficence through every crack and fissure.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

16. A close-up look at Douglas fir bark reveals congealed sap that cracked open, perhaps from temperature and humidity changes. There’s a whole world here on the skin of the tree, just as there is underneath the soil, high up in the canopy, and deep inside the heartwood.

 

17. The Madrone tree’s naturally peeling bark was used medicinally by indigenous peoples. Western researchers isolated Betulinic acid from the bark, an anti-inflamaotory and antimalarial substance that may also inhibit some cancers.

 

18. An immense Douglas fir spreads its roots like feet. The tree is probably hundreds of years old. Scattered old growth Douglas fir trees hang on in the forests here, and their noble girth does my ego good.  Being dwarfed by these great beings puts me in my places and settles my spirit.

 

19. The shallow, still waters of Little Cranberry Lake mirror a phantasmagoria of dead wood.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

20. Leaves of Redcedar flutter in the breeze after morning rain.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

21. This tree sings of long journeys by water and the constancy of the tides. It is as wild and raw as the winter wind.

 

***

Mary Oliver died last week. Here is a poem she wrote:

When I Am Among the Trees

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

-Mary Oliver

 

 

 

ROOTED

I’ve been thinking about trees –

what is it about trees?

It occurs to me that they’re the homo sapiens of the plant world,

upright, branches outstretched, each one different from

the next one.  Certain trees are planted deep in my memory,

yes, two maples, two tulip trees, and one big blue spruce

shade the back yard in Syracuse. A white-blossomed dogwood that I

look down upon from a bedroom window, cabbage palmettos

at my grandparents’ house with Easter eggs hidden in the old leaf bases. Dark-leaved

Japanese maples, twisted and sinewy, gracefully sprawl on the hill at Greyston. The tall

oak where the racoon family lived, the huge copper beech at Wave Hill.

Sidewalk ginkgos in New York, the fragrant linden walk at Columbia University,

the half-prostrate old willow at Juanita Bay.

I’d like to write you a poem about the trees I’ve loved, but I can only

recite their agreed-upon names, their remembered locations. I can only tell you

they are rooted in my brain, and waiting for companions which

just now, thread their way through my synapses, these

trees of my new home:

madrone, cedar, poplar, fir,

perhaps, even

saskatoon.

 

1.

 

2.

 

3.

 

4.

 

5.

 

6.

 

7.

 

8.

 

9.

 

10.

 

11.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

12.

 

13.

 

***

With apologies to visitors whose primary language isn’t English,  here are excepts from two online sources about the origin of the English word, “tree.”

tree (n.)
Old English treo, treow “tree” (also “timber, wood, beam, log, stake”), from Proto-Germanic *trewam (source also of Old Frisian tre, Old Saxon trio, Old Norse tre, Gothic triu “tree”), from PIE *drew-o-, suffixed variant form of root *deru- “be firm, solid, steadfast,” with specialized senses “wood, tree” and derivatives referring to objects made of wood….The widespread use of words originally meaning “oak” in the sense “tree” probably reflects the importance of the oak to ancient Indo-Europeans.

 

And:

Etymology of tree:

The word tree derives from the the Greek word drys-drees (oak; δρυς) by changing D into T. During ancient times oak was the wood that was usually used.

From the same root:
Druid, duration, endure, durable

 

The Photos:

  1. A Madrone tree (Arbutus menziesii), also called arbutus or madrona. These striking trees have twisting branches and brightly colored, peeling bark. They’re native to the west coast, roughly from San Fransisco to Vancouver.  This one was injured long ago; it looks like a sapsucker tried his luck here. Bowman Bay, Deception Pass State Park, Fidalgo Island, Washington.
  2. More madrones lean into the light on the Lighthouse Point trail at Deception Pass State Park.
  3. Dead madrone branches can be as beautiful as live ones. Washington Park, Fidalgo Island, Washington.
  4. Even this downed giant, probably a Douglas fir, continues to support life on the beach at Bowman Bay.
  5. Along a trail at Whistle Lake, on Fidalgo Island, cedars and firs mix with a few moss-covered Bigleaf maple trees.
  6. A gracefully rooted Redcedar (Thuja plicata), its striated bark hosting a wash of pale green lichens, stands tall at Deception Pass State Park.
  7. At Bowman Bay, afternoon sunlight shines on several Saskatoon trees, creating complicated patterns of light and shade reminiscent of stained glass.
  8. A huge old Douglas fir at Heart Lake, on Fidalgo Island. The upturned, feathery branches of a Western hemlock growing directly behind it give the fir tree a celebratory air.
  9. A view through tall trees at Cranberry Lake, which, along with Heart lake and Whistle Lake, is part of the almost 2800 acres of forest lands preserved for recreational use on Fidalgo Island. Many of the trees seen here are Douglas firs. Some rusty orange leaves from Redcedar trees that are stressed because of drought can be seen on the left, along with bright green Bigleaf maple leaves and duller, pendant Douglas fir branches in the background.
  10. On a rocky, exposed bluff at Larrabee State Park, a Shore pine (Pinus contorta) holds a few green branches aloft. They may look fragile, but they must be very sturdy!
  11. Skagit Valley farms are punctuated by tall poplar trees that farmers have planted between fields. Some are very sizable specimens, like this one outside La Conner. In the background, more poplars are almost obscured by the haze of smoke from wildfires burning hundreds of miles away.
  12. Washed up into a rocky cove at Larrabee State Park, this log has been smoothed to a fine, regular pattern of tiny cracks. When you think about the long life of a tree, you may realize it goes through many, many stages, changing its appearance over and over again.
  13. An immense Douglas fir that somehow escaped logging graces the old road to Whistle lake, dwarfing the young woman running with her dog (note who carries the pack!).  As trees age, their bark develops deep furrows, not unlike our own wrinkles. The ancients are full of character.

 

 

 

MORNING FOG, HOME

*

*

*

After months of warm, dry, sunny days, we have had rain this week. On the other side of the mountains there is great relief, as people coping with Washington’s worst wildfire season ever get a break. As I took these photos a fine mist was falling, moistening leaves that are beginning to fade into the subtle tones of early fall.

The tall, straight trees are Douglas firs, a signature tree of the Pacific Northwest. In our area nearly every road is lined with Doug fir, producing a treeline of zigs and zags. Like roughly torn paper, their irregular branches create a distinctive silhouette.

In the second and last photos, Big Leaf Maples reach across the frame. Their leaves can be the size of dinner plates.  Behind the Doug fir tree trunk in the third photo, a Western redcedar’s graceful branches absorb the light.  Dense, symmetrical trees, the cedar branch tips have a way of reaching towards and relaxing with the light.  Another Western redcedar is in the background of the last photo.

The photos were taken from a deck three stories up, which is about half the height of this little patch of woods. Increasing the contrast and saturation in these photos might produce a more conventionally attractive image, but I held them back to reveal the subtleties of the moisture-laden air.

West

1)

I’m glad I moved west.  Open space

suits me.

I’m closer

to a land of many shapes,

closer

to a sky whose blue-domed clarity and

mysterious talent for manifesting

a grand mountain,

only to shut it away

for weeks,

enchants me.

*

2)

In this western land

I’m learning to think differently

about trees.

They are holy.

They are a resource.

And sometimes, they impede

“progress”

and become like

fallen

gods.

3)

Nails in fences,

knots of barbed wire.

Wood, metal,

water and sky –

sing songs of working

the land.

*

*

4)

Old soul-face

presides.

1)

Mount Rainier floats serenely in the distance at a sod farm in the Sammamish Valley, 15 miles east of Seattle and a stone’s throw from the Cascade foothills.  The rail line that ran up the east side of the valley is defunct. Rusted irrigation lines sit gracefully at the edge of the fields, unused. There is great beauty here.

2)

Douglas fir, the ubiquitous evergreen that draws its jagged silhouette across so many Pacific northwest horizons, is being cleared from a Botanic Garden outside Seattle to make room for “a new visitor center, expansion of the current parking lot, and landscape improvements.”  It’s hard to wrap my head around that load of logs, but I’m trying.

3)

Ambling down a path built on an old rail bed in the Snoqualmie Valley, I feel grounded and refreshed. The way cuts a straight path alongside wet fields dotted with sagging barns, tall trees, cattle, and swallows. Old fences hem quiet pastures where wild ducks hide in the puddles and mountain vistas command the horizon.  The marks we leave on the land out here seem lighter, more reasonable.  I cruise a narrow farm road that dead-ends in wide fields. It’s quiet on a weekday afternoon, touched with lambent light and sweet, earthy odors.

4)

A garden Buddha smiles at a local nursery, where most of the thousands of flowers, trees and vegetables are grown on site. It’s good to live in a place where all I have to do is take short drive to see some of the products on view in city markets growing in the ground.

Local Color, Quietly Evolving

“When you paint Spring, do not paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots, but just paint Spring. To paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots is to paint willows, plums, peaches, or apricots – it is not yet painting Spring.”

Dogen, Plum Blossoms; Baika.

Dogen, Moon in a Dewdrop, Writings of Zen Master Dogen. Edited by Kazuaki Tanashi. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1985.

Rosy pink buds on a Red Huckleberry bush (Vaccinium parvifolium) grace its smooth green twigs.

In the forest, Sword fern (Polystichum munitum), Salal (Gaultheria shallon) and moss, though evergreen, are looking more verdant these days.

The bark of a noble old Western Red Cedar glows with color.

Under a sunlit Fir and Hemlock canopy, a fern lined mountain stream tumbles quickly over mossy rocks.

Away from the forest, a slough behind the tiny town of Edison reflects a promising cerulean sky.

In town, blue sky bounces off a window as green grass pushes through last year’s dry stalks.

On a high spot in a field, an old Big Leaf Maple festooned with mosses and Licorice fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza), shines greener each day.

Delicate lichens adorning the branches of smaller trees reach toward increasing light.

Along Puget Sound the rocks have their own colors.

And as the sun sets beyond Samish Island, the clouds seem a little pinker as the waves softly roll in.

**************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

I enjoy sharing images. But please take Dogen’s advice and feel-see-smell-hear

this subtle, in-between season for yourself, before it passes.

Information about Dogen, a thirteenth century Japanese Zen teacher, can be found here.

The photographs were taken within the last week or so at these locations near Seattle, Washington: on Samish Island, in the Snoqualmie Wildlife Area in Carnation, in Edison, and at Wallace Falls State Park.

The Edison photos were taken with a phone (Android); the others with a Sony Nex 3.