Entering In


Ten minutes from home

the mind











Mt. Erie is only 1,273 feet (388 meters) high, but it rises steeply from the surrounding land and is the highest point on Fidalgo Island. From miles away, on land or water, you can see Mt. Erie’s uneven bulge, topped by two cell antenna towers. At the top with the spindly cell towers there are a few small parking lots, some benches and viewing platforms, a toilet, a sculpture, and informational signs; one plaque honors a boy who died in a fall.

People enjoy driving up the twisting, two-lane road to the summit for the breath-taking view across the island and out to the Salish Sea. Most visitors leave it at that. But walk just a short distance into the woods below the peak and you’re in another world, enveloped in the hush of a forest layered in a hundred different greens.











Coyote maybe. A chunk of moss nearby had been torn from its roots; the evidence suggested a struggle. Here was a vivid slice of wildness just steps from the road, a road most people use only to access the summit for a quick postcard view of the islands below.

If a visitor could contort like a bendable toy and lean way out over the rocks, they might see a climber or two. Mt. Erie has enough rocky outcroppings to make it the scene of intense rock climbing efforts. On the Mt. Erie Climbing facebook page you’ll find route names like Street Fighter, PTSD, and Beard on Fire, and photos of climbers in action with expansive views of tree-mounded islands and deep blue water behind them. 

I don’t have photos of climbers; I’d have to be under them, or beside them. I’ve taken my share of view pictures though – who can resist?








Each time I go to Mt. Erie I admire those views, but these days I spend most of my time on the narrow, winding trails just below the top, where a different kind of magic invites closer looks.












The Photos:

  1. This almost-prostrate Douglas fir hosts a thick collection of lichens. Underneath it a spongy layer of chartreuse moss supports Oregon-grape (Berberis nervosa) plants that are steadily turning red as autumn arrives.
  2. A closer view of lichens dangling from a fir tree on Mt. Erie. Lichens are tough to identify, and the Pacific northwest has a host of them, so I won’t venture further than saying this lichen is probably a species of Usnea.
  3. A closer look. Lichens are actually a complex marriage of an algae and a fungi. If that isn’t confusing enough, they also include a yeast. Lichens grow very slowly, so its important to try not to disturb them.
  4. I think this tree festooned with multiple lichen species is a Western Service berry (Amelanchier alnifolia).  I was drawn to the way the lichens’ cool gray-green coloring complements the warm gold of autumn leaves.
  5. A Douglas fir cone is nestled into a bed of moss. The rust-colored fir needles  probably dropped off the trees because of the drought we had this summer. Rain has returned and you can tell the moss is moist here, not shriveled and dried like it was last month. It’s soft to the touch too, which pleases me. Identifying moss is difficult, but I’ll guess this is urn haircap (Pogonatum urnigerum). (I cheated by locating a plant list for Mt. Erie and comparing photos and descriptions of mosses on the list with my photo).
  6. No one picks up fallen branches here to make things neat; it’s not a garden. The forest floor is crowded with moss, rocks, lichens, branches, ferns, and countless bits of flora and fauna that we’d need a hand lens to see. Step off the trail and you’re bound to be crushing some kind of intricate life form.
  7. The summer drought has even begun to affect the tough, evergreen Sword fern (Polystichum munitum). In the background, last year’s shriveled fronds are a cascading mass of crisp, brown curls. Even this year’s leaf is browning at the edges.
  8. Another tree limb draped with lichens. I’ve read that it may look like the lichen is killing the trees, but lichens are more likely to grow abundantly on trees that are already dying; leafless branches provide better space for the lichen to hold on.
  9. This bit of fur was just off the path, along with a disturbance in the moss. I picked up a piece of fur and smelled it – it had a rank, slightly sour scent, the smell of a wild animal. It went back where it was, to decompose in place.
  10. Trees at the top of Mt. Erie are exposed to the elements; some are mere skeletons. In the distance are Whidbey Island and the Salish Sea. As Wikipedia says, “The Salish Sea is the intricate network of coastal waterways that includes the southwestern portion of the Canadian province of British Columbia and the northwestern portion of the U.S. state of Washington.” Not exactly a sea, this body of water was named the Salish Sea only 30 years ago, by a local marine biologist attempting to raise awareness of the importance of the ecosystem. The “Salish” part recognizes the indigenous people who inhabited coastal areas here before Europeans arrived.
  11. A Douglas fir tree leans out over the spacious landscape at the top of Mt. Erie. Trees up here exist in every stage of growth, from sprouting seed to decaying stump, affording habitat for countless organisms.
  12. This photo was taken in July on a dry, sunny day. The prominent rock, called Rodger Bluff, barely fits within Deception Pass State Park boundaries. To see it closeup requires a longer hike than I’ve been up to so far, but maybe one day I’ll get there.
  13. Steep, moss-covered rocks and tall trees draped with lichens make magic at Mt. Erie. Sounds are muffled by all the soft plant matter, but chances are good that you’ll hear the hoarse call of a raven at least once if you spend an hour up here.
  14. These lichens have grown so long that the wind tangled them up.
  15. This Douglas fir is devoid of living branches and now hosts several kinds of lichens, forming an aesthetically pleasing screen of pointillist simplicity.
  16. Towards the end of the day the forest gets quite dark, but the bright mosses glisten with reflected light.
  17. Serviceberry leaves applaud the last light of the day.



It’s been rainy and dreary here, and from what I’ve heard the gray, wet weather is bothering a lot of people.   The weekend forecast showed a brightening trend last Saturday so I took advantage of it. Chores and errands be damned – I was desperate to get out.

We drove east across the valley and up through the Cascade foothills to Moss Lake Natural Area, a beautiful spruce and hemlock forest set around a small lake.

As the county’s description reads, it is “372 acres of high-quality wetland and forested upland habitats” with “an extensive 150-acre wetland complex” including a sphagnum bog, where peat was extracted in the past. Recently preserved, the land is surrounded by vast tracts of corporately owned forest, most of it regularly logged.

That may not sound good, but it’s better than the land being sectioned off bit by bit and offered up for sale to the highest bidder, as the suburbs push their way into the mountains. Just down the road another small lake is surrounded by houses. Here, the only dwellings are non-human. Most are hidden from view.

Raindrops clung to every branch and leaf on the shore of the shallow lake.  A squadron of Bufflehead ducks dove and swam in the distance.

The lake shore, with it’s grasses and line of tall evergreens, was reflected upside down in each drop:

It was broody weather, but it held! We spent almost three hours wandering around up there, with only occasional sprinkles to worry us. Lucky.

A well-maintained path winds through Western hemlock, Sitka spruce, Red alder and Big Leaf Maple woods – except when a giant falls and blocks the way.

Many trees in the wet Pacific northwest are covered with mosses and lichens. When winds are strong, the trees fling samples down to your feet for a close view.

Here’s a small branch covered with Usnea and Hypnogymnia lichens, mosses, and who knows what else. I love the lichens’ soft, cool green color and varied textures.



A torn Vine maple leaf slowly disintegrates on a bed of Hylocomnium splendens, or Stairstep moss. One of my favorite Pacific Northwest mosses, it grows abundantly, forming soft, leafy mats on stumps or logs or any shady spot with decaying wood.

In certain places the woods present an incredibly complex scene in which patterns are hard to discern. I photograph it anyway. I know this isn’t a proper landscape with a clear focal point, but it does convey the chaos of patches of this forest.

In other places with little undergrowth and fewer species, patterns are clear: tree trunk, branch, moss, repeat. Just sprinkle generously with sword fern and voila! A less chaotic scene.

From time to time the sun shone through cloud windows, creating a neon effect on the moss clinging to the tree trunks.

A stand of hemlocks rose higher than we could see, their broken lower limbs pure sculpture.

This Big Leaf maple’s trunk arcs and bends to carve a light-filled space in the woods. Springing from the moss are graceful flourishes of Licorice fern.


Time to play. I set the camera to shutter priority and swung it around with the shutter open for one full second. It was refreshing not to hold on tightly to keep from blurring my shots. Blurring can be good…

I switch back and forth between the overall “forest” view and the closer “trees” view. The old expression, “You can’t see the forest for the trees” may apply to me a bit, but I try to step back and get both views.

I like the way these turned out. It would be fun to print them up huge, but I suspect it would take plenty of tries before it looked right. Seeing images on a computer screen is so different than seeing them printed on paper.

On the way home we passed through Snoqualmie Valley again, taking the smaller roads. We stopped at an oxbow lake that must have once been part of the loopy Snoqualmie River. The snowy Cascade foothills shown blue in the distance, partly – and poetically – hidden by clouds. Mallards laughed heartily on the lake as the sun disappeared.


I went for a walk

in the forest – it doesn’t matter

how I got there.

It was deep enough into January to sense


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.


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.


through the lenses of my



and camera.


remembers Spider’s path…

water permeates


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.




Curling inward…


Winter solstice…pulling










Taken on Christmas Day, 2013, at Juanita Bay Park in Kirkland, WA.  The Olympic Mountains are just visible above the trees in the last shot.