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.

1.
2.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.
10.
11.
12.
13.
14.
15.

16.

*

  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.

*

“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

***

LOCAL WALKS: A TWO-FER

We’ll look at two places for this installment of “Local Walks” – March Point, a peninsula flanked by shallow bays a few miles north of my home, and Rosario Beach, a complex of coves and headland on the rocky southwest shore of the island. As usual, this selection of images doesn’t claim to offer an exhaustive overview of these locations. Instead, it’s a glimpse of scenes that caught my attention at a particular time, in a particular place on this earth.

First, March Point, a head-spinning mix of industry and nature. Industry dominates in the form of two large crude oil refineries that sprawl across the bulk of the land mass. A handful of small private properties, some with pastures of sheep or cattle, coexist with the refineries; a two-lane road traces the perimeter of the peninsula. To the west is Fidalgo Bay, most of which is an aquatic reserve known for spawning surf smelt and beds of eelgrass (Zostera marina), an important aquatic ecosystem plant. On the east side of March Point, Padilla Bay supports hundreds of Great blue herons, a summertime flock of American white pelicans, loons and sea ducks in winter, and many other species. Gaze out across either bay and you’ll relax into calm, expansive views; turn toward the land and you’ll be confronted with a busy industrial complex of tanks, towers, pipes, buildings, and fences. Heading away from the refinery you’ll pass modest homes or rough fields dotted with cattle and edged with wild roses. March Point is an anomaly.

*

1. Low tide reveals the muddy, furrowed beauty of Fidalgo Bay. This view looks away from March Point, toward Anacortes.

2. Across the road from the bay, neglected land supports a thicket of grasses and thorny wild roses.

3. I enjoyed the rhythmic flow of winter beauty in these grasses as oil tankers barreled down the road behind my back. The Shell refinery processes 5.7 million gallons of crude oil each day on March Point. Tankers from Alaskan oilfields line up at the north end of the peninsula; trucks exit the south end to access Highway 20. Nearby, what is probably the largest Great blue heron rookery on the west coast of North America contains over 700 nests. This is a place of intense contradictions.

4. A length of plastic trapped in a tangle of roadside vegetation. Trash is inevitable along the busy roads, but not as prevalent as one might expect. And sometimes there’s beauty in it.

5.

6. Refinery stacks, native trees, non-native grasses: another odd mix typical of March Point.
7. Fidalgo Bay at low tide.

*

On to Rosario Beach, at the opposite end of the island. The topography is very different here. Industry is absent and in fact, only a few houses can be seen from the shoreline. Traffic from a highway hidden behind the trees does intrude, but it’s usually no more than a quiet, intermittent hum. The area is part of a state park that encompasses the land and water surrounding Deception Pass, a channel between Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands. Inhabited by coast Salish tribes before Europeans arrived, the land was set aside for public recreation in 1922, almost a hundred years ago. The human imprint is faint here. Two simple, well-constructed log buildings made by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, nestle into a landscape of tall trees and rocky headlands. A small parking lot, bathroom and pier make up the basic amenities. Two beaches, one sandy and sheltered, the other rocky and open, converge to join Rosario Head, a promontory with fine views to the south and west. This is a small and special place where wildlife is at home and people are cautioned to tread gently. It suffers from crowds on weekends but during the week, especially when the weather isn’t great or the hour is late, a walk here can feel refreshingly meditative. It is nothing like March Point – but beauty abounds in both places if you’re open to discovering it.

More of my photos of Rosario Beach and environs are here.

*

8. Rosario Head supports a few wildflowers and trees on its thin soil. Views open up to sky and water over Rosario Strait and the Salish Sea.

9. Driftwood logs on Rosario Beach fill with water from rain and high tides. The huge logs may look like they’ve been in place forever, but come back after a big storm and you’ll find everything has been rearranged.

10. Recent windstorms have toppled trees and pushed driftwood and cobbles past the old high tide lines. Winter color in this thicket bordering Rosario Beach comes from the maroon of Nootka rose bushes, the bright red of rose hips, and the pale green of lichens flourishing on the branches of small trees.

11. Bright and low, the January sun bounced off the water and lit up the rock-strewn path between Rosario Beach and Bowman Bay a few days ago. Glossy evergreen leaves of Madrona trees and bright green needles of fir trees created the illusion of a warmer season but wildflowers won’t begin to bloom here for another three or four months.

12.

*

*

14. The view from the pier, seen by a camera sweeping left to right.

15. Urchin rocks, where Oystercatchers cry and Harlequin ducks swim, is barely discernible behind the lacy Douglas firs at dusk at Rosario Beach.

*

To be in relationship with this world is to give praise to the trees for allowing us to breathe, to give thanks to the microbes for making the soil, and on, and on, and on. It is to listen, touch and be with all beings, sentient and other. It is to be gracious and humble, to offer gifts of action and care and words of gratitude and respect. It is not hard. In fact, it’s pure joy.” Georgina Reid, Breathing Fire, an essay in The Planthunter

*

16. A photo from 2018 showing one of the refineries, seen from across Fidalgo Bay.

17. The Olympic Mountains rise out of the clouds, seen from Rosario beach last December.

*

Note: The March Point photos were made on January 17th, using an Olympus M. Zuiko 12mm f2.0 lens (on an OM-D EM-1 camera). Most of the Rosario photos were made later that week, using a vintage SMC Super Takumar 50mm f1.7 lens with an adapter for the OM-D EM-1. #12 was made with an iPhone SE; #13 (father & son photos), #16, and #17 were made with an Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm f1.8 lens.

***

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