Burrowing into the Depths

It feels like we’re going to have an unrelentingly rain-soaked winter here in the Pacific Northwest. One storm after another has barreled in, blowing trees down and dumping precipitation across an already waterlogged region. Between fronts the air stays damp and cool. There are breaks in the clouds but it is seldom more than a brief reprieve, as the sun breaks out then quickly hides again under opaque, gray skies. Uninspiring? Yes. But the challenges of the season bring opportunities to look harder, work a little more, and find the beauty that is right here.

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1. Pelican Bay Books & Coffeehouse keeps me going no matter what the weather. This was the view from the curb on a rain-soaked December afternoon before I jumped out to get a perfect pour of espresso macchiato, a freshly baked treat, and a mystery for late-night reading.

2. A cloudy Christmas Eve offers the gift of calm water.

3. Supposedly birds sit on power lines not to keep their feet warm, but to keep predators in view and be ready for a quick take-off. Whatever the reason, I enjoy the way flocks of Starlings and blackbirds animate the wires.

4. In winter, fog-watching replaces wildflower hunting.

5. Pond lily leaves hold water even as they float on it.

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“…here in these misty forests those edges seem to blur with rain so fine and constant as to be indistinguishable from air and cedars wrapped with cloud so dense that only their outlines emerge.” Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

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6. Heart Lake, 3:56 PM, December 31st.

7. Standing in the damp, cold air by the lake at dusk and listening to the soft murmur of a barely visible flock of ducks – this is burrowing into the gifts of the season.

8. A raindrop elegy for the passing of the year.

9. On a forested hill between two lakes, the clouds allow a sliver of sunlight to warm a lichen-bedecked branch.

10. A thread of moss reaches toward the little light that can seep into the forest on a December afternoon.

11. A wetland tangle of twigs reflects on itself. Bowman Bay, January 3rd, 4:33 PM

12. On the opposite side of the trail, simplicity reigns where Bullwhip kelp drifts with the tide.

13. A close look at driftwood may be reward enough on a gray day.

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“When you have all the time in the world you can spend it, not on going somewhere, but on being where you are.” Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass.

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14. The rich colors of water-woven grasses and leaves widen my eyes.

15. Water everywhere.

16. Tide-tossed pebbles offer delight on a gray day.

17. Cap Sante Marina, December 26th, 4:09 PM.

18. A gibbous moon appears from behind the clouds.

19. No matter how many sunsets I am witness to, each one brings a measure of magic to the day.

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A day or so after I began writing this post, the weather changed. Back-to-back days of cheerful (if partial) sunshine brightened my spirits. I watched a pair of Bald eagles cavorting against a deep blue sky, and far below them, nestled in the damp moss, I found the first leaves of a Rein orchid (Platanthera trransversa). For five or more months the leaves will make food for the tuber, hidden from sight. In the warm days of summer a delicate stalk of tiny orchids will emerge, if all goes well. Maybe that pair of little leaves will be trampled or will shrivel up or be eaten – who knows? Life is fragile. But no matter what, winter will be followed by spring, rain by sun, night by day. This we can count on.

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morning meander, home edition

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These photos were all made early in the morning in my yard, on the last day of March. A nice fog had settled in. When the sun broke through the mist, tiny dew drops sparkled on spider webs, and lit up like diamonds in the grass. I wouldn’t have known those spider webs were there, had I not gone out and paid attention, and if I waited an hour, it would have been over. It can be difficult to let go of what you’re doing and switch gears, but it is so worth it sometimes. 

I used an Olympus 45mm f1.8 lens, at f1.8 for most of the twig photos, at f2, f3.2 & f5.6 for the others, and f9 for the telephone pole. (That would be like a 90mm lens on most digital SLR’s, since I use a micro four thirds camera – an Olympus OM D EM-1, a model that’s now six years old, and eternity in technological terms.)

STALKING the WINTER FOG

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This is the eastern edge of the Stillwater Unit of the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.  It’s about 450 acres of river valley habitat, bordered by farms, woods and a small town or two. Thirty miles from Seattle, this pretty lowland area is often flooded by the Snoqualmie River, which runs through it. The morning fog may not burn off until after noon.

Decades ago the Fish and Wildlife folks planted fields here, maintaining the land to attract wildlife. Pheasants bred on game farms are released every fall for a two month hunting season. Other wild birds and animals are hunted too, so I don’t venture too far from the road this time of year – hunting season could still be on for one bird or another. This week when I took these photos, I heard a pheasant in the field – a survivor! A flock of ducks rose from a pond out in the field and a kinglet flitted through the branches under mossy trees.

I appreciate the preservation of habitat that happens as a consequence of hunting but personally, I wouldn’t hunt unless I needed the food. The day job keeps enough money coming is so that I can buy all my food at stores. Once a vegetarian, these days I do eat meat, so you can call me a hypocrite, since I pay others to kill for me. In the “wisdom” that inheres in our times and keeps us separate from the land and our food sources, there is hunger for a stronger connection to the life force. So I go out stalking the wild photograph…

 

“THROUGH A FINE VEIL…”

“Always even-tempered, he spent most of his time out of doors, going on long expeditions

even in the worst of weather, or when it was fine sitting on a camp stool

somewhere near the house in his white smock, a straw hat on this head

painting watercolors. When he was thus engaged

he generally wore glasses with gray silk tissue in the lenses in the frames

so that the landscape appeared through a fine veil that muted its colours,

and the weight of the world dissolved before your eyes.”

From Austerlitz by W.G. Sebold

 

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Hovering between polarities, I am attracted to both the highly detailed, intimate close-up and the blurred, indistinct image with no focal point.

The quote seems to dwell at the fog-drenched end of the spectrum, but maybe not – those tissue-covered lenses may allow a few details to be picked out of the veil.

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Foggy Island Saturday

On a recent Saturday – a blue, high-ceiling day –

I rode the ferry to Whidbey Island, where

the main road traces a curvy spine –

climbing and dropping,

climbing and dropping.

With no views

of malls.

It’s a world apart.

On the island’s west shore, a narrow strip of land fronts Admiralty Bay

(a bay that connects Puget Sound and Seattle to the Salish Sea and the great Pacific Ocean beyond).

It drew me in for a look.

Where the rock-strewn beach hooks westward,

a ferry idled in the fog. Fishermen gazed into dark waters.

Behind the driftwood-littered shore,

a marshy lake: its wet, salty earth stained red with Glasswort (Salicornia).

Known as Pickleweed and Samphire, the odd little vegetable is harvested

and eaten

around the world.

 

Grasses criss-crossed in the field, like a finely etched engraver’s plate.

 

 

On the road to Ebey’s Landing, fog,

thick as cotton, smudged a hillock of Douglas fir

behind an old farmhouse.

Bicyclists stopped for pictures.

Round the curve, down the hill…

park the car, step onto the beach…

Breathe.

I walked alone up the beach.

I found another wetland there, shrouded

in fog rolling in

from the Salish sea,

softening the colors

so subtly.

 

 

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On the beach side, driftwood giants

rose up –

sky, land, sea,

wood, grass, rock –

all one.

Water is the common denominator –

mighty bull whip kelp sloshed

back and forth,

back and forth,

slowly washing up onto land.

Fog silvered the water.

 

It all left me

finally,

speechless.

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THE POETRY OF PLACE: FOG

I went for a walk

in the forest – it doesn’t matter

how I got there.

It was deep enough into January to sense

stillness

settled deep into the landscape – yet

a readiness was evident,

a quiet preparation for the green noise

that will soon fill the air.

I wandered down old paths,

camera in hand, drawn

to a wet poetry I sensed.

So:

photographs were taken – an appreciation

of stately cedar, still pond waters, lichen and fern,

the rusting, moss covered hulk of an old car

full of bullet holes.

And I returned with a picture poem of

place and time, filtered

through fog,

through water.

And

through the lenses of my

mind

eyes

and camera.

Dew

remembers Spider’s path…

water permeates

everywhere.

Photos taken on 1/19/14,  in Marckworth State Forest, near Duvall, Washington, with a Panasonic Lumix G3 camera, kit lens (14 – 42mm, f 3.5), processed in Lightroom and OnOne Perfect Effects 4.

The Light That Struggles to be Seen…

…can be a metaphor for difficult times. On Thanksgiving Day I needed some air so I went down to Kirkland’s waterfront. The fog was so heavy it laid on the water like a great dollop of heavy cream. Seattle’s skyline, just across the lake – nowhere to be seen. A cormorant fishing twenty yards off – barely visible. Foghorns – dimly heard.  And the figures at the end of the pier  – vague shadows…

As I began to walk back to the car the sun burned a hole through the fog, lighting up a child throwing rocks into the lake. I hadn’t brought a filter so I held my sunglasses in front of the camera for a final, strangely lit shot:

The Word Press Weekly Photo Challenge is to show light by featuring a light source, so I thought it appropriate that the light source, in these darkening days, was barely visible. Here are other interpretations of the challenge.

RIALTO BEACH

The goal was a wild, fog-smudged shoreline over 150 miles from Seattle…

We drove, ferried, and drove again, finally arriving in Forks, the small town made famous by the Twilight books & movie. It was a two day blitz – on the first day, the Olympic Mountains and Second Beach; on the second day, the Hoh Rainforest and Rialto Beach. (Even with all the water around Seattle and Puget Sound we are starved for the beach!)

Rialto Beach is an easy half hour drive from Forks, but first we wanted to explore the Hoh Rainforest.  Often mist-filled and rainy, the Hoh area was sunny that day, but even in sunny conditions it was dark inside the forest. Most of my photos of the rainforest didn’t turn out well – patience and a tripod would have worked better than our determined pace. Next time.

As we headed to the coast the fog returned and hovered just at the edge of the land. We parked and made our way through a patch of forest towards the pounding crash and boom of high tide. The powerful sound overtook me well before I saw the beach. Within the woods, even at water’s edge, dim light concealed details, and where thick forest confronted heavy surf, spindly fir tree skeletons stood tall, their future a tangled wreck at their feet.

It was all wet grays and diffuse light.

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The smooth, round rocks clattered as they rolled and tumbled under receding waves.

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A miscellany of sea life was scattered about the beach. It all made me wish we had a handy marine biologist along to grill with questions: What’s this? And that? Why this color? Who eats this stuff? And what does the other forest, the one that lies beneath the waves look like?

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A few enormous logs – the trademark of Pacific Northwest beaches – rolled around freely in the tide. We actually recognized one giant log from the first time we came here, two years ago.

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The softest, most subtle colors could be seen through the mist, whether you looked out to sea or back into the woods.

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The sun would hide behind thick clouds, then a vague, barely blue patch would form up the beach revealing tantalizing glimpses of rugged outcroppings and sea stacks. There’s a natural arch not far from here, but that would have to wait.  It was getting late. I wished I could stay another night – there are birds here, (last time we saw pelicans), killer whales, seals, and a whole other world out there at low tide.  Today all that was invisible to us, but we were well satisfied.

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Drift with me

along sea-sprayed shores…

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I discovered a gem – please take a second to listen to this recording of the rocks and surf at Rialto, and sounds inside a hollow log on the beach.  The recording was made by acoustic ecologist (acoustic ecologist – that idea alone makes me shiver with pleasure!) Gordon Hempton. He was interviewed by Krista Tippet, who produces a very good NPR show called “On Being.”

MORNING,

sometimes,

will allow

you

a few moments of no-you:

moments when the self is

almost

silent…

Saturday, 10/05/13, 8:59 AM. Aboard the Fauntleroy/ Vashon Island ferry.

Fog on the Sound:

erasing

enough.

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The Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge is “Good Morning.”