2022 WRAP-UP

Summarizing a year of photography is a daunting task and choosing the best photos of the year seems impossible. If you do choose your favorites and decide to post them, then I wonder if it’s mainly an exercise in self-congratulation. Will the photographer benefit more from the process than the reader? Having said that, I’ll admit that I only wavered for a few minutes before deciding to take a stab at it. I hope you’ll enjoy looking.

So here are some favorites from 2022. Most appeared in the blog this year, some did not. I like posting series of images that tell a story and obviously, this series can’t do that. What I’ve done instead is order the photographs so there’s a flow from one to the next. Below the photographs, you’ll see a summary of the experiences that made this year especially memorable. A slideshow accompanies the story – look for the arrow on the right.

1. Dark-throated Shooting star (Primula pauciflora); Washington Park, Fidalgo Island, Washington.
2. Bull-whip kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana); Deception Pass State Park, Fidalgo Island.
3. Bull-whip kelp; Deception Pass State Park, Fidalgo Island.
4. Lace lichen (Ramalina menziesii) in Spring; Washington Park.
5. Giant white fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum) photographed with intentional camera movement; Washington Park.
6. The Deception Pass bridge in fog, from the Fidalgo Island side.
7. A lichen, probably Eyed Beard (Usnea quasirigida); Anacortes Community Forest Lands, Fidalgo Island.
8. Sunset; Deception Pass State Park.
9. Water vapor obscures walkers and a Canada goose family; Deception Pass State Park.
10. Looking down on a garden of Bull-whip kelp; Deception Pass State Park.
11. A forest path photographed with intentional camera movement; Ginnett Road, Fidalgo Island.
12. Grasses and wildflower seeds photographed with intentional camera movement; Deception Pass State Park, Whidbey Island side.
13. Fog at Mattole Beach; Ferndale, California.
14. A rock at Centerville Beach; Ferndale, CA.
15. Desert detritus; Old Irontown, Utah.
16. A roadside view; Torrey, UT.
17. A view from a trail at Snow Canyon State Park; St. George, UT.
18. Grass seedhead at Kukutali Preserve; Swinomish Indian Reservation, Fidalgo Island.
19. Sunset over the Olympic Mountain Range; Deception Pass State Park.

20. A barely visible bridge in heavy fog; Deception Pass State Park.
21. Wet feather on a rocky shoreline at Washington Park; Fidalgo Island.

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Photographically, 2022 was a year of honing skills. I focused more on using wide-angle lenses for landscape views than I had in the past and continued experimenting with intentional camera movement. New Lightroom updates made it easy to select subjects, skies, and backgrounds or to lift the atmosphere of an image with colored highlights and shadows. I began using those edits regularly. I became more selective about what to keep and thought about how photography enables us to record scenes so easily that we often forget to consider the potential emotional impact of an image.

Trips always inspire me photographically and this year was no exception, with a memorable spring trip to the Southwest that included visits to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and best of all, Capitol Reef National Park. In October we returned to Humboldt County in northern California. It was good to see that the excellent Airbnb where we’ve stayed before, the local coffee shop, and the Mexican restaurant we like all weathered the pandemic. We explored Redwood forests, drove into the backcountry, and spent peaceful hours on spectacularly lonely beaches.

The biggest events of the year were not the trips though. They centered around the emergence of new life. At the tail end of January, a Northern elephant seal came ashore at my favorite beach and gave birth to her first pup. The area was closed off for months as Elsie Mae (born 4 years ago on a neighboring island) fed her pup, Emerson. In February I saw them and met the people who protect them, working as volunteers with the Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network. I decided to join the volunteers in protecting the seals and educating the public about the first-ever Northern elephant seal born on Fidalgo Island. It was intensely busy and very rewarding. In June, Elsie Mae returned to the area to molt, requiring more hours of volunteering. Then in October, she came ashore for a rest and we wondered if she was pregnant again. Only time will tell.

In April I had a surprise from my son and his girlfriend who announced they were pregnant – with twins! Late in August, two tiny boys came into this world: my first grandchildren. It’s hard to describe how having a grandchild transforms your relationship with your own child. It gives you a very different perspective on your life, their life, and life itself. Holding the babies brought all my parental instincts back in play. Words cannot do it justice!

Sandwiched between the birth of the elephant seal pup and the momentous arrival of my own grandsons, I had an unusual experience in the forest. I was searching for orchids at one of my favorite places here on Fidalgo Island. Alone in the quiet forest, I suddenly heard a loud hissing sound and saw something jump in front of me. Startled, I realized it was a medium-sized bird, wings fully outstretched, and she – it had to be a female – was furious! She was not going to let me go any farther in that direction. I stopped, looked around, and saw two balls of fluff in the moss on the ground! I could see they were Nighthawks but I hadn’t seen a Nighthawk in many years. It was deeply moving to go eye-to-eye with this wild creature in such an unexpected encounter in the heart of the forest. I apologized to her and quickly made several photos while carefully backing away. It was a privilege to see them – this species is declining here and is not normally seen on the island. And here was a healthy Nighthawk and two chicks!

As if to make sure I understood the theme of new life, one day a doe with twin fawns walked through our yard. Then I found something unexpected in a photograph I uploaded. It was August and I had been photographing Bull-whip kelp in the park. Almost hidden in the giant kelp strands was a small, pure white Harbor seal pup! Later I learned that some Harbor seal pups are born prematurely with their lanugo, a white coat they normally lose before birth. I hope the little pup survived! My own grandchildren were also born prematurely and I see their parents devoting themselves to their care. The babies, the elephant seal pup I watched over for months, the tiny Nighthawk chicks, the baby Harbor seal – it’s been a year to take heart in new life.

Slideshow: click the arrow on the right.

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LOCAL WALKS: Watching the Weather

1. After sunset, tide running out, Deception Pass. Late December.

Looking back over the past six weeks it seems like we’ve come full circle: in early December the skies were gray and drizzly and temperatures were moderate. Then over the holidays, a long week of sub-freezing, snowy weather settled in. Now we’re back to the cool, damp, cloudy days that typify Pacific Northwest winter weather.

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2. Sunset on a calm day, Little Cranberry Lake. Mid-January.

What a treat the bright, White Christmas was, at least for those of us who weren’t traveling. When icy temperatures continued all week I was reminded of my New York childhood. Everything changed – the air was sharp and fresh, the landscapes enchanting, and the roads – well, our road was hardly plowed. But we’re both cold-weather veterans who’ve driven in far worse conditions so the dicey roads didn’t stop us from going out.

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3. Snowfall on Christmas Day, at home.
4. Our road, snapped with an iPhone between Christmas and the New Year.

But the cold! I’m not used to it anymore! Ten years in the Pacific Northwest has spoiled me. So I bought a pair of warmer gloves and packs of toe warmers that stick to the bottom of your socks and keep your feet warm for hours. That helped, but my fingers were just too stiff with cold to cooperate. The pervasive bright light that snow creates threw me off, too. Many of my photographs were disappointing. Still, I haven’t enjoyed the simple activity of looking out the windows so much in a long time. I would check the little stacks of snow on the deck railing to see if they had grown tall with a new layer or collapsed into pancaked shapes. I admired and worried about the Douglas fir trees laden with snow, their branches bent to the ground. The birds were ravenous, fluttering down from the trees and swarming like ants the minute I tossed seed onto the ground. In the morning there were fine little birds’ foot tracks and delicate wing imprints on the thin layer of snow that blew onto the concrete. The whole house filled with blue-white light, a boon to my mood. Winter is often very dark in this land of towering, dense stands of evergreens.

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5. Ice in the wetland at Bowman Bay. Early January.
6. As above.
7. Looking down from the bridge at Deception Pass. Late December.
8. Grasses underwater, Little Cranberry Lake. Mid-January.
9. Surf scoters on choppy water, Washington Park. Early January.

News stories of atmospheric rivers bringing high winds and extra-high tides became routine but the storms’ effects were anything but routine. One day during a wind event I drove down to Rosario Beach, a rocky crescent of shoreline in Deception Pass State Park. Only one other car was in the lot. The noise of waves pounding the beach was deafening as I carefully made my way down the path to the beach. I could barely stand up, the wind was so fierce. Gulls sliced the air, wooden debris was smashed to bits at my feet, and walls of water tossed huge logs back and forth in a furious maelstrom. When white objects flew past me I thought, what little birds are those? None of our small birds are white. Then I realized the missiles were big chunks of foam the wind picked up from the wavetops and flung high across the trail into the bay on the other side. I didn’t stay long that day but I was glad I witnessed nature grabbing the upper hand with such unconditional determination.

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10. Slideshow: A wind-driven king tide throws heavy logs around at Rosario Beach. Early January.

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11. Logs and a tangle of Bullwhip kelp thrown onto Bowman Bay. Early January.
12. Blades of kelp floating on a calmer day, Bowman Bay. Mid-January.
13. Bullwhip kelp wrapped around a log by a rambunctious tide. Bowman Bay. Mid-January.
14. Red-tailed hawk, Campbell Lake. Mid-January.

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Eventually, the snow was confined to a few speckled patches in shady spots and the lake ice shrank to a smooth necklace on the shoreline. Temperatures returned to normal and numb fingers became a memory. We’re back to drizzly rains giving way to clouds, occasional fog, and sunbreaks (the sun only shines all day in summer here so we enjoy our sun in small doses that we call sunbreaks). The days are getting longer, the holidays are over, and a new year has begun. The dark cloud of discouragement that overtook me toward the end of the year has lifted. In my gut, just as the birds and animals do, I sense the climb toward spring.

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15. Calmer days. A hilltop path through the woods. Photo made with intentional camera movement. Mid-January.
16. Old road on Ginnett Hill. Photograph made with slight intentional camera movement. Mid-January.

17. Fog on Lottie Bay. Mid-January.
18. Fog at Lighthouse Point. Mid-January.
19. Fog, Deception Pass Bridge from Lighthouse Point. Mid-January.
20. Ice on Pass Lake. Late December.

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JUST LOOKING 2

The photos may seem random but, not quite. It’s hard to put into words what connects them, but in my mind, it’s more than color, texture, or tone. It has to do with a sensibility that tries to find beauty everywhere.

Just Looking 1, from February 2021, is here.

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  1. A drainage ditch connecting Fidalgo and Similk Bays. Fidalgo Island, Washington.
  2. Sidewalk shadows. Anacortes, Washington.
  3. Five looks at my old teapot.
  4. South March Point Road railroad crossing. Fidalgo Island.
  5. Bigleaf maple leaves (Acer macrophylla) on a frosty morning.
  6. Closeup of fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) leaves.
  7. Reflections on the door of a cabinet with an antique blown-glass vessel inside.
  8. Detail of a drawing by Grace Knowlton (1932-2020) seen in 2008 at a show in Garrison, New York. Looking at drawing, painting and sculpture informs my work and life.
  9. A plastic bag found on the side of the road, with Bigleaf maple leaves.
  10. A foggy afternoon on March Point, Fidalgo Island.
  11. Cattle in the fog on March Point.
  12. After a dispute among four Bald eagles, the victor flies off with the spoils: a freshly-killed rabbit. March Point.
  13. Weathered boards on a shack that was torn down. Fidalgo Island.
  14. A mixed media ceramic sculpture at San Juan Islands Art Museum. Friday Harbor, Washington.
  15. Low tide on a foggy day at Similk Bay, Fidalgo Island.
  16. Flooded fields on Bayview-Edison Road, Bow, Washington.

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“Is it possible to celebrate the innate wild beauty of the indifferent universe while acknowledging one’s inevitable disappearance?”

John Yau. From a review in The Democracy of Abstraction

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LOCAL WALKS: Summer Medley

From lush early June to parched late July….

1. A June afternoon view from Fidalgo Island’s highest point, Mt. Erie, celebrates peaceful Campbell Lake and the dramatic cliff called Roger Bluff. Toward the middle of the frame is the blue sliver of Deception, beyond it is Whidbey Island. The Salish Sea is to the right (west) and Similk and Skagit Bays lie to the east, in the upper left of the frame.
2. Speaking of a celebration, let’s celebrate the last rainfall that I can remember – on June 6th.
3. This orchid flower, one of about a dozen on the stalk, is about the size of your fingernail. Spotted coralroot (Coralrhizza maculata) lacks chlorophyll – you’ll search in vain for a green leaf on this plant. Happiest in moderately moist woodlands, the odd flower depends on fungi mycellium (mushroom “roots”) for energy. A pure white lip like the one here is unusual; normally they have maroon spots. The flowers tend to hide in plain sight with their dark red color and preference for dappled shade; Robert Frost used that feature in the poem, “On Going Unnoticed.”
4. Wild roses were already shedding petals in early June.
5. Incoming tide at West Beach, Deception Pass State Park. Travel straight out over that water for a hundred miles and you’ll be in the Pacific Ocean. You can taste the salt here, too, and the water is perennially cold.
7. On the 19th I took a walk at Little Cranberry Lake, a favorite place to unwind. One of two or three patches of Maidenhair fern that I know of on our island grows there on a cliff by the water. Just as satisfying as revisiting the little Maidenhair fern colony was seeing this alder tree bend to caress the lake.
8. Weedy little Wall lettuce (Mycelis muralis), an officially noxious weed in Washington State, actually looked pretty that day, with all the blooms closed except one. Especially with spot metering.
9. It’s the Fourth of July weekend and I’m back at the beach, foolishly. Yes, it’s crowded but at least I came in the morning. The dunes beckoned and hardly anyone was back there. This portly pear of a rock and its friendly neighbors were probably tossed up here long ago. They were arranged as harmoniously as a chamber quartet, waiting to be discovered by a passing human, photographed, and now seen by you.
10. You can see them in the distance, the dog walkers, the compulsive driftwood shelter-builders, the beachcombers and stone skippers. Who am I to covet a lonely shoreline?
11. A week later we took a long, low-tide walk at Cornet Bay, on the bay side of the park. Fishing boats and tour boats plied the water and later we found out that orcas were seen right there, that afternoon. How I long to see them! But we were happy with the hulking, twisted driftwood logs, the strands of eelgrass that decorated driftwood branches like bizarre giant’s party hats, the clear views of snow-covered Mt. Baker, and the warm sun on our backs.

12. July is the month my beloved Rein orchids begin to bloom. This one was on a bald in the forest near Heart Lake, on protected land that the city of Anacortes (the only city on Fidalgo island) set aside long ago for community recreational use. This is probably Flat-spurred piperia, Platanthera transversa. These delicate orchids are often overlooked by trail-walkers.
13. On one of my walks that week I ran into a botanist looking for unusual plants with his dog at his side. He told me about a bald near a dead-end road, so the next day I pulled my car over to the side of the raod near the end, away from the “No Parking” signs, hoping I wouldn’t anger the homeowners. The bald wasn’t hard to find – just a short walk down an old dirt road behind a gate. I found a few beautiful Rein orchid specimens there, a lovely view, and this fortuitous arrangement of fallen Madrone (Arbutus menziesii) leaves and Reindeer lichen (Claytonia sp.).
14. The road to the bald is set with Bigleaf maples (Acer macrophyllum).
15. Last Sunday the clouds were busy.
16. Clear skies have been the rule this month and Monday was no exception. With a group of five friends, we hired a boat to take us to Cypress Island, a large, mostly state-owned island that is only reachable by boat. What a day it was! Here, two members of our group look across the Salish Sea at Orcas Island and beyond to Canadian waters. This is Eagle Cliff, a 1.3 mile hike through the woods from Pelican bay, where we were dropped off. We climbed 752 feet in that 1.3 miles and I was panting. There is no water on the island so you have to carry all you’ll need for the day. Oh, and the food, too! Having lunch up here was beyond relaxing.
17. We arrived at our pick-up spot in plenty of time. Two of us took of our shoes and socks and stood in the cold water – brr! But refreshing! – while one wandered the beach and the rest of the party sat on the driftwood and talked as the sun sank behind us.
18. The ride back to Fidalgo was delightful, with warm sun, spectacular views of Mt. Baker, the wake curving behind us, and thoughts of dinner in town…

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The Pacific Northwest is known for rain and beautiful scenery but the rain has been scarce the last few months. We are normally dry in summer but not this dry, not this early (there was precious little rain in June and May wasn’t as wet as it should have been). Most of our state, as well as the rest of the American West, is in a state of drought. For me, it means adjusting my expectations and finding beauty in a different world. I can do that. And we’ll get through this.

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RETRACING MY STEPS

As much as I like novelty, there is something deeply satisfying about the act of retracing my steps through familiar landscapes. Walking the same trails repeatedly can slowly turn a place into a sanctuary. I may say to myself that I’m going out to see what has changed since the last walk but in fact, I’m nourished as much by following my usual pathways as I am by discovering a new flower. Every path has a rhythm: ups and downs, bends and straightaways, enclosed and open spaces. These rhythms sink into the grooves of my soul, digging pathway echos that support me in some obscure way.

Walking the trails, I pick my way over rough rocks and twisted roots, my feet turning just so to fit the dirt-filled pockets where countless feet went before me. I sniff the air, inhaling the warm scent of sun-baked fir needles or wrinkling my nose at the pungent odor of rotting piles of sea lettuce left by the tide. Casting my eyes from side to side as I walk, I listen as Song sparrows throw bright melodies across fields and eagles pierce the air with sharp, quickly tumbling whistles. My knee twinges as I climb a steep section, trying to keep my weight centered. My eyes alight on visual anomalies: “Hmm, is that interesting? No, not really. Yes – there!” I try to keep my intentions loose and inchoate so I can welcome everything. There’s no reason to narrow my experience by adhering to an agenda. It’s enough to simply be here. Again.

Here’s a collection of photos from a few familiar places that I frequent.

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4. March storm clouds brew up some drama over the Salish Sea.

5. The bark of the Madrona or Arbutus tree makes sunset colors.

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7. Winter is a good time to focus on mosses and lichens. The ropy moss at the top is probably a Seliginella, the black-spotted lichen is a Peltigera and the pale, branched lichens are Reindeer lichen, a kind of Cladonia.

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10. Someone is lucky to live there, on the edge of the Park. What a view!

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13. The picnic tables are bare on a Tuesday afternoon in June.
14. Another Madrona tree.
15. Quiet skies over Bowman Bay on an early May morning.

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17. Straight reality – nothing augmented or artificial about it. Good stuff.

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It’s the Fourth of July in America, a day to mark the independent thinking and action of a group of idealistic people that led to this country’s freedom. As we celebrate, let’s not forget our interdependence with one another and with earth.

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A Pleasure Garden

That’s our earth. I never tire of it, especially at this time of year, when life is burgeoning with bright energy. Well, if I’m honest I do tire of my surroundings in winter but not for long, and any lingering weariness evaporates come spring.

What is this activity of going outside and making photographs all about? Part compulsion, part joyful play, part intellectually demanding work, it’s what I center my life around. I doubt that the motivating factors are the same for those of us who go out and make pictures, but that zing of energy we feel when the black box is cradled in our hands and our eyes are engaging with the landscape – that must be a fundamental feeling we have in common.

Two other parts of the process are vital to me: the act of reviewing, then processing images and the act of sharing the results. These three activities – exploring the world with a camera, nudging the photos one way or another to my liking, and placing them where others can see them, keep me going. I’m guessing I’m not alone.

In the spirit of earth as pleasure garden, here is a slew of recent images, or maybe it’s a stew – yes, a delectable, earthy stew of greens and oranges and tasty morsels and deep, dark delicious things.

The photographs below were made within 10 minutes of home, except the first two and one other, which are from a forest park about an hour’s drive away, closer to the mountains.

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Each of us possesses five fundamental, enthralling maps to the natural world: sight, touch, taste, hearing, smell. As we unravel the threads that bind us to nature, as denizens of data and artifice, amid crowds and clutter, we become miserly with these loyal and exquisite guides, we numb our sensory intelligence. This failure of attention will make orphans of us all.”

Ellen Meloy; The Anthropology of Turquoise: Reflections on Desert, Sea, Stone and Sky, 2003. As seen in Brain Pickings weekly newsletter.

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The possibility of numbering each photo strangely disappeared when I was putting this post together. Here’s a list.

1) Rockport State Park, with the Skagit River in the background. This photo and #2 were made with an iPhone.

2) Stately Douglas fir trees.

3) A bark study of an old Madrone tree (Arbutus menziesii).

4) Overlapping and interweaving Bracken fern fronds (Pteridium aquilinum).

5) A somber look at low tide on an April evening. Bowman Bay, Deception Pass State Park.

6) Afternoon sunbeams light up a tiny, exquisite Calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa). It was absolutely worth sitting in the forest duff to make the photo.

7) A young Coralroot flower stalk (Corallorhiza maculatum). These flowers are parasitic orchids that lack chlorophyll and get nourishment from decaying matter and soil fungi. This species of Coralroot normally has spots on the labellum (the lower lip of the flower) but these had no spots. (The photo shows only a sliver of pure white inside). These were probably a rare variant called Ozette coralroot.

8) Looking toward the San Juan Islands from Goose Rock, Deception Pass State Park. A winter wind storm toppled several Douglas firs here. They will continue to support plenty of life on the ground. iPhone photo.

9) A tangle of Chickweed (Cerastium arvense) and Sea blush (Plectritis congesta) framed by grasses. Most of the pretty spring flowers on Fidalgo Island are small. They tend to grow up through tangles of fallen branches, dry grass, fir cones, and other wind-blown detritus. It can make flowers challenging to photograph but the effect can be artful, too.

10) Grasses on a breezy June day at Sugarloaf, Fidalgo’s second-highest summit.

11) Mallard ducks swim away from the shoreline of Little Cranberry Lake after spotting me on shore.

12) Bowman Bay beach detritus includes a dead Purple shore crab (Hemigrapsus nudus) and various seaweeds.

13) A comically unfurling Sword fern (Polystichum munitum).

14) Another Sword fern fiddlehead, this one still tightly coiled.

15) A different kind of fern unfurling; probably Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina). The photo was taken using a vintage 50mm f 1.4 Super Takumar lens.

16) The graceful bud of a Chocolate or Checker lily (Fritillaria affinis) a western North American native plant whose bulbs were harvested by indigenous tribes. The photo was made with an Olympus 60mm F 2.8 macro lens and processed in Lightroom with a split tone preset and additional tweaks.

17) Madrona bark always delights me.

18) New leaves on a Vine maple (Acer circinatum). Circinatum means round, as in the rounded shape of the leaf, in spite of the many pointed lobes. Common west of the Cascades, for some reason these beautiful, small trees do not grow wild here or on the San Juan Islands. The photo was taken at Rockport State Park, about an hour from Fidalgo Island.

19) A tiny hummingbird, probably Anna’s (Calypte anna) surveys its territory from the tip of a Douglas fir on Goose Rock.

20) A three-year-old, female elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) named Elsie Mae lounges on a Fidalgo Island beach. Almost extinct by the late 1800s from hunting pressure, Northern elephant seals are now protected and doing well. They’re deep divers; most of them live off the North American coast. Recently a small number of these large seals began spending several months each year on Whidbey Island, just to our south. A female gave birth there a few years ago and returned twice to give birth again. Elsie Mae (named by members of a marine mammal organization) is one of her progeny. For some reason, Elsie Mae chose to come ashore on Fidalgo instead of Whidbey Island to molt the last two years.

Every year, elephant seals endure what’s called a “catastrophic molt’ which takes about a month. As new skin and hair replace the old coat, the seals stay on land and can’t feed. Elsie Mae finished her molt at a marina on Fidalgo Island while I was in New York but I knew nothing about that. It was a huge surprise when I went to Bowman Bay for a walk a few days after I got home and saw her on the beach. Apparently, she decided to swim over to Bowman Bay the previous evening. Someone saw her and contacted the park ranger and/or our local marine mammal stranding network. She wasn’t stranded but the network volunteers are very good at keeping visitors a safe distance away and answering lots of questions. They were there that day with traffic cones set at a respectful distance from the huge elephant seal.

She looked so comfortable! Though I didn’t have a very long lens with me, I was grateful for the rare opportunity to observe and photograph one of these seals. She opened her eyes, snorted like a dog, and rolled over a few times. The afternoon wore on and the volunteers didn’t want to leave her alone on a public beach, where people might get closer than they should. Seals may look placid but they move faster than you think and the heavyweights can do real damage if threatened. So they gently coaxed and shooed her back into the water. She was reluctant but into the water she went, with what I couldn’t help feeling was a baleful, accusatory backward look at the volunteers. Ahh, her sunny day on the beach had been good!

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LOCAL WALKS: Nothing Exotic

No exploding volcanoes here, no thundering waterfalls, no calving icebergs, no wild elephants or glimmering Northern lights. Just a potpourri of “scenes seen” around the island in the last few weeks, mostly around town, with a brief nature break in the middle.

1. What’s more quotidian than a sidewalk? But oh, what beauty here!
2. One day in April, a No Parking zone received a blessing from cherry blossom petals.
3. Rusty building supplies seen across from a ship-building and repair business in town. Ever since it arrived here last summer, we enjoyed seeing the RV Atlantis, a Woods Hole Research ship that was in for a major overhaul at Dakota Industries.
Woods Hole, which is based in Massachusetts, is “the world’s leading, independent non-profit organization dedicated to ocean research, exploration, and education.” The RV Atlantis is a global class research vessel that carries a human-occupied submersible on board for exploring the world’s oceans. The submersible, called ‘Alvin’ has accomplished amazing things.
Work on the Atlantis was finally completed this spring; the ship left Anacortes in early April. Video of the departure can be seen here. As I write, the ship has left the Strait of Juan de Fuca and is transiting over the deep underwater canyons off the northwest tip of Washington State. Here’s the tracker.
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7. Just a short stroll from the shipyard, Pelican Bay Books has an extensive maritime book section, excellent coffee, and always-freshly-baked pastries. I like a town where industry and culture get close to each other.

8. I wonder if this tree’s injury was caused by something human-made.
9. I found this noble Bigleaf maple tree one rainy day while driving down a dead-end road.
10. Standing on a dock in the rain, I watched the clouds descend on Mt. Erie.
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17. “B” Dock at Cap Sante Marina was full up with fishing and crabbing vessels the other day. A walk down the length of the dock offered glimpses into a world I know very little about.

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20. Under a moody Pacific northwest sky, I pointed the camera west one evening, toward the San Juan Islands. The knoIl where I stood wraps its rocky arm around Cap Sante Marina, making it a favorite haunt for locals to catch their breath and enjoy the view.

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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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WITHIN THE BOUNDS

…of a five-mile radius. That is where the shutter button clicked for the images below.

Real travel still seems risky but we are so weary of the restrictions we’ve had to adapt to this year! A release, a reprieve, a relief – that’s what we need. Getting outside works for me. Sometimes I don’t feel inspired but I make myself walk and in the end, there is much to be found that keeps me going, even close to home. So I continue my local forays with a curious mind and a grateful heart.

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Here on Fidalgo Island seasonal changes are drawn out and subtle; summer into fall is no exception. Instead of brilliant Sugar maple fire there is a quiet, golden glow in the grasses and leaves; in place of crisp, blue-sky days there is moody morning fog. The delights of freshly-opened flowers are gone but there is pleasure to be had in the following the sinuous curves of drying leaves. The slow permutations of autumn in the Pacific northwest unfold without hindrance, like a meandering waltz spreading limbs through time and space.

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These images were made between mid-September and mid October on Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands. The terroir, as the French say, is strongly influenced by water, mild in temperature, thin of soil, and resplendent with natural beauty.

I “beat the bounds” of my own small place on this planet, walking a ragged perimeter of well-worn paths, absorbing the lessons I’m open to, exploring the limits of “my” territory. In England, Scotland and Wales, before maps were readily available, boundary memories were periodically refreshed by walking along and defining them. Beating the bounds and practices like it have probably been around for thousands of years and may be rooted in a similar Roman custom which Wikipedia says honored Terminus, the god of landmarks. But why is it called “beating” the bounds? Because willow or birch branches were slapped on the ground and on the old stone boundary markers, helping to fix parish borders in residents’ minds. Children were brought along to learn the boundaries by whatever means suited those in charge – maybe a firm knock on the child’s head when they arrived at a stone marker could cement the memory. And afterwards the bonds of the community were strengthened by celebrating with food and drink. According to Wikipedia, the custom still exists in some locations, including sites in Germany, France, and even the U.S. Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire have statutes requiring that certain boundaries are periodically reaffirmed. However, apparently some contemporary versions of beating the bounds don’t include actual walking. Too bad.

Though I’m not necessarily a fan of practices that strengthen the idea of ownership over land, I find much to like in the idea of beating the bounds. It seems to be a way to recognize and celebrate one’s connection to the earth, specifically to one’s locality. We are rooted in the local, nourished by the soil under our feet and the air about us. It’s good to remember that.

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3. Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) in repose.

4. My bounds include shorelines; on this beach golden leaves were scattered on the sand and tiny shell fragments piled up behind when the tide went out.

5. Madrone trees play a prominent role in my environment. As summer wanes and windy rainstorms appear they fling berries onto the ground. Douglas fir needles make a nice backdrop.

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7. A Douglas fir skeleton at the feet of thriving relatives looks mysterious in the morning fog.

8. Twined Douglas fir trees. They’re the most common tree species within the bounds of my island.

9. A fragile piece of Madrone bark hangs from a twig encircled by a honeysuckle vine. The slow collapse of autumn is indeed a beautiful thing, even in its most mundane details

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12. The single, ruined train car that shares a field with half a dozen cattle looked straight out of an old movie when the smoke settled around it. This is one of the stranger sights seen in my travels.

13. On this October morning my world was smudged by fog instead of smoke.

14. With a little help from the camera, golden Bracken ferns wave in the wind, saying goodbye to chlorophyll-green summer days and hello to the somber tones of decomposition.

15. I thought these were gooseberries but found out they’re Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) berries. This Pacific northwest native is grown in temperate gardens world-wide for it’s beautiful spring flowers.

16. Back at the beach the receding tide left a message written in eelgrass.

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18. Horsetails (Equisetum arvense) are leaning closer to the earth now.

19. I found fall color on a small scale in the forest – Western starflower (Trientalis latifolia) in a bed of moss.

20. Another Western starflower plant rides out autumn in a soft sea of reindeer lichen (Cladonia sp.).

21. Fog, not smoke. Bliss.

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Celebrating Two Years

Two years ago this week we traveled 70 miles north, leaving a booming Seattle suburb for a quiet, 41-square-mile island of about 20,000 people. We have witnessed all four seasons here twice now. We have zeroed in on an assortment of favorite places – bluffs and beaches for sunset views, shorelines to meander along, coffee shops to linger in, forests to immerse ourselves in. Our lives feel very different than they did before we moved. It’s a good time to celebrate the pleasures of this place.

1. Mt. Erie, the island’s highest point, wrapped in fog. June, 2020.

2. Mt. Erie from the south, with Pass Lake. December, 2019.

3. A trail through old Douglas firs. January, 2019.

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5. Lichen-encrusted branch, Bowman Bay. March 2019.

6. Cap Sante Marina. December 2018.

7. Abandoned building. Anacortes. September, 2018.

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9. Mt. Baker from Cap Sante. October, 2018.
10. Rain over Deception Island; Fidalgo Island is to the right. December, 2019.

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12. Driftwood, grasses and wild roses; Rosario Beach. February 2020.

13. Floating burr-reed (Sparganium angustifolium) (?) and reflections, Little Cranberry Lake. September, 2018.

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15. Evening reflections, Little Cranberry Lake. October 2019.

16. Rain shower, Little Cranberry Lake. February, 2019.

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18. The creek at home. February, 2019.

19. Heart Lake trail. August, 2018.

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21. A fishing boat tied up at Trident Seafoods in Anacortes. November, 2018.

22. Fog on Mt. Erie. December, 2019.

24. Heart Lake. February, 2020.

25. Looking west from Lighthouse Point. December 2018.

26. Bell, shadows and reflections at home. February, 2019.

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