Subtle Rapture

Last week I took a walk at Kukatali Preserve, a narrow, forested peninsula that’s owned and managed jointly by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and Washington State Parks. The preserve reaches a long arm into a quiet bay where seals, cormorants and ducks ply waters alive with clams, crabs, oysters and more. A walk at Kukatali is always interesting, offering treasures from the forest, shoreline and bay. The photo below shows the view from the end of the peninsula on that overcast day. The bird you can barely see is a cormorant, likely the Double-crested.

1. Deception Pass bridge seen from Kukatali Preserve.

We are at 48 degrees 44 minutes North so you might not expect Spring to be in evidence here, but the Salish Sea moderates temperatures and our winters are mild. Spring doesn’t have to wait for the snow to melt here at sea level. So far this year, rainfall has been abundant; the moss is green and luxurious and buds on the trees are plump. The first blossoms of the year have already opened: Indian plum’s little white bell flowers dangle from spindly branches and a few Red-flowering currant flowers are unfurling deep pink petals.

In recent weeks I’ve seen eagles sitting on their nests or hanging out next to them, apparently thinking things over. The Varied thrushes are looking handsome in their breeding outfits; Song sparrows are singing everywhere I go. Tiny insects can be seen buzzing the air too, but the landscape is still rather bare, as if the earth was holding its breath for a moment before a burst of energy. I know that’s not true though – the dance always continues on many levels, whether we see it or not.

Against this background of subtle colors and charged possibility I walked the length of Kukatali Preserve, curious to see what would present itself. I was not disappointed. Towards the end of the trail, a grassy field marks the spot where a home once stood; along the edge of the field, a haze of creamy white beckoned behind a maze of bare winter branches. It was a lovely wild Bitter cherry tree (Prunus emarginata) in full bloom, all by itself in the somber brown woods. Bitter cherry doesn’t boast the sweet pink of cultivated cherry trees – this tree’s flowers are a soft, creamy white. For a brief time in early Spring their subtle beauty graces forest edges and moist woodlands of the Pacific northwest. When they grow in the middle of the woods the puzzle of branches all around them allows only tantalizing glimpses of the delicate little flowers. It’s not easy to describe the phenomenon of walking through the winter forest and finding a blooming cherry tree, but you can bet my breath was taken away by the sight of this modest beauty, glimmering in the woods.

2. Normally each flower has five petals but the flower on the left has almost double the normal number, and two styles instead of one. If you think about how many flowers must be on one tree, no wonder some of them aren’t “normal.”


3. This phone capture conveys some of the complexity of the forest and the haze of cherry blossoms on an overcast afternoon.

4.

5. This blossom landed on a Sword fern that was half under water. Shadows complicated the picture. I could have picked out the Doug fir needles and lichens that distract the eye but I prefer not to make too many changes. Besides, finding firm ground to stand on in this wet spot was challenging.

6. Sometimes I treasure the fallen petals more than the blossoms still on the tree.

7. Moisture from the morning rain kept this single petal stuck on an old, lichen-covered log.


8.

9.

10.

11.

12. New leaves

13.

14. In a certain light the creamy haze of flowers had a pink hue.

The Bitter cherry displays its bounty modestly, often behind a scrim of bare tree branches. Unlike that low-contrast scenario, the disparity between the nourishing beauty of my surroundings and the barrage of bad news about our earth, politics, epidemics and violence is intense enough to induce mental whiplash. This sentence from the newsletter of a local non-profit organization speaks about the painful discrepancy between the beauty we witness and the news we hear:

One of the tasks of these times, it seems, is to learn how to live in the space between unimaginable beauty and unbearable sorrow. To live without losing heart.

From The Pathfinder, the newsletter of Transition Fidalgo and Friends, a local non-profit.

15. A Madrone tree enjoys extra light by the water. Kukatali Preserve, south end.

***

High Contrast

Last week I talked about the contrast between my new home and the town where I used to live: life went from noisy and fairly stressful in Seattle’s growing metropolis, to the quiet and calm of a more rural setting. Looking at the photographs I’ve taken over the last two weeks, I see a lot of contrast too. Many of them are marked by the brilliant highlights and deep shadows of intense, midsummer sunlight. I hesitate to carry the high contrast metaphor too far – the shadows in my life are not terribly dark these days – but I can’t help wondering if the contrasts I’m seeing are purely a function of season and time of day. Maybe my general state of being is influencing what I photograph. Maybe I unconsciously gravitate towards high contrast scenes that reflect an inner state of being unsettled, which certainly makes sense for someone who has just moved.

In any case, here is a group of images I’ve made in the last few weeks, close to home. I’ve been taking walks in local parks and preserves and driving around the island to get the lay of the land. A few photos were taken with my phone when I didn’t take my camera or I didn’t have a wide lens. I hope you enjoy the views, whether close-up or distant. And I hope you might find your way up here, to America’s northwest corner. It’s quite a beautiful place.

 

1.

 

2.

 

3.

 

4.

 

5.

 

6.

 

 

 

8.

 

9.

 

 

 

11.

 

12.

 

13.

 

14.

 

 

 

 

16.

 

17.

17.

 

18.

 

19.

 

20.

 

The photos:

  1. Looking east from March Point on Fidalgo Island, Mt. Baker’s snow-capped summit rises above the clouds. At 10,781 feet, this Cascade Mountain peak is visible from many places on Fidalgo Island, keeping me oriented as I drive around. Like most mountain peaks, its face constantly changes: sometimes obscured by a light fog of clouds, sometimes clear and sharp, other times lost altogether.
  2. A grain elevator on Rt. 20, the main road connecting the island with the mainland. Adjacent to the island, a fertile delta of agricultural land was created by diking the wetlands where the Skagit River, which begins high in the Cascades, empties into Skagit Bay. This land supports vast fields of tulips and other flower bulbs, potatoes, beets, berries, spinach and many other crops.
  3. An vintage pick-up truck at an abandoned farmstead on March Point, Fidalgo Island. March Point has two busy oil refineries, but cattle graze in the fields, and geese, herons and even pelicans are seen along the perimeter road.
  4. A typical Skagit County farm scene, with the foothills of the Cascades in the background.
  5. At Bowman Bay, part of Deception Pass State Park, a trail winds around the steep shoreline, and passes under a very old Douglas fir tree that’s slowly tipping down towards the water, far below.
  6. Red huckleberries (Vaccinium parvifolium) on the trail to Sares Head, a promontory on Fidalgo Island.
  7. Tiny Rattlesnake plantain orchids (Goodyera oblongifolia) rise from mossy woodlands at Kukatali Preserve, a pristine peninsula owned by the local Swinomish tribe, which opened the site up to the public in partnership with Washington State Parks. Another tiny orchid at Kukatali, the Alaska rein-orchid (Habenaria unalasencis or Piperia unalascensis), has gone through a number of name changes. You have to look hard to see both of these wildflowers, and unless they’re growing on a ridge above you, a photograph will require a deep bend too. These are the times I’m thankful for the camera’s articulating LCD screen!
  8. There’s a muddy, sheltered bay near home called Similk Bay. It’s full of beautiful driftwood logs that have washed ashore over the years.
  9. More driftwood, wildflowers and dry summer grasses at Similk.
  10. The burned bark is on a fir tree at Sares Head, where fires in 2003 and 1993 (?) scorched the beautiful madrone and Douglas fir trees. Reindeer moss (really a lichen) on the ground indicates a moist environment, but in the summer, even this lichen is brittle. The lower right photo shows two species of lichen clinging to the fine branches of a dead fir tree at Mount Erie Park.
  11. On Sares Head, a Douglas fir sculpted by wind and water looks out over Rosario Straight towards the scenic San Juan Islands, a popular destination reachable by boat or plane.
  12. A more southerly view from Sares Head, looking towards Northwest Island, Deception Island, and the shores of Deception Pass State park on Whidbey Island. I posted sunset views from Deception Pass last week. A huge blackened fir tree, probably felled during one of the fires, is off to the left.
  13. Fire-damaged firs make stark silhouettes at Sares Head, but the madrones put color back into the landscape with their orange bark and shiny, evergreen leaves.
  14. This tiny crab only caught my eye only because he moved. He put on a fierce show for a few seconds, then thought better of it and scuttled away into the seaweed in the wrack line (the edge of the debris left by the previous high tide). I think this is a Purple Shore crab (Hemigapsus nudus), a common denizen of the inter-tidal zone.
  15. Since I moved west, the madrone (Arbutus menziesii) with its striking bark, sinewy limbs and glossy leaves, has become one of my favorite trees. There are plenty of them on Fidalgo Island. These specimens at Sares Head have particularly beautiful, peeling bark.
  16. A local corner grocer has worms for sale. And beer, of course. All you need for an afternoon of fishing.
  17. A vintage Mercedes is parked along the main street in the very small town of Edison, about a half hour north of home. With its picturesque scattering of informal restaurants, galleries and shops, Edison has become a foodie pilgrimage site. I used to go there a few times a year – now I can make the trip any day of the week.
  18. Licorice fern often grows on trees, but it’s also happy taking root in the deep moss on the moist forest floor; here it glows in the late afternoon sunlight along the trail to Sares Head.
  19. The highest point on Fidalgo Island is Mt. Erie. At 1273 feet, it has a commanding view of the surrounding countryside and the waters beyond. You can drive all the way up to the top on a narrow, winding road, or hike up. The inhabited area towards the back of the photo is Whidbey Island, to the south. In the foreground is Lake Campbell, with Rodger Bluff holding the warmth of the evening sun. In the early 1940’s the painter Morris Graves built himself a primitive, secluded studio somewhere on that rock. He was driven out by the difficulties of getting supplies up to his aerie and the noise generated by a new naval base on Whidbey Island. He moved twice after that, ending up in northern California, close to Eureka. His story is as fascinating as his work is intriguing – I recommend reading at least the Wikipedia entry (highlighted above). The mystical overtones in his paintings connect powerfully to this area’s geography and atmosphere. Along with Mark Tobey, Guy Anderson, Kenneth Callahan and others, he was recognized as part of the Northwest School, an American art movement that took root here in Skagit County.
  20. At Kukatali Preserve a Bald eagle surveys the action. What a view he or she has, and how amazing it must be to take off and fly anywhere you want over this precious jewel of a landscape.

*

Here’s a map I made to try to sort out the complicated ins and outs of the island’s topography. If you’re curious about the places I mentioned above, this might help…a little.

IMG_20180726_110550306

 

And here’s a rough idea of the way Fidalgo fits into the larger scheme of things, at least geographically. It’s the yellow blob halfway between Seattle, Washington, US, and Vancouver, British Columbia, CA.

IMG_20180726_112356617