Changing it Up

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It wasn’t the usual walk in the park. I was fidgety and uncomfortable in my skin, nothing was right. I knew getting out would be better than staying in, but just getting outdoors wasn’t enough. As I walked down the path it became clear to me that proceeding in the usual way wouldn’t work – I needed to change my approach.

It was summer solstice in the northern hemisphere: plants were at the height of their growth, forming deep, complicated layers of vegetation. (Or did the layers look complex because my own emotional state was fraught?) Each plant struggled to adapt to a niche, to attract the appropriate pollinator, to spread its spores or seeds – in short, to reproduce. The plants grew so thick in their dance for light that I could see only a few inches into the wetlands.

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I’d walked this path and seen these trees and ferns so many times – how could I see it all differently? I wanted a new angle on a familiar story.

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I needed to attend to my surroundings differently in order to photograph what I saw differently.

A different attitude, another kind of looking might help dispel the restless, uncomfortable feelings.

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The little bell flowers on the blueberry bushes were slowly morphing into fruit. Willow catkins hung limp and spent, grass tops bloomed with sprays of delicate flowers, horsetails and ferns unfurled an infinite array of needles, leaflets and spores. The endless layers activity seemed impenetrable, unknowable. Maybe I needed to simply reflect that.

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That afternoon, I was walking through a wet place called Mercer Slough. At 47 degrees 37′ N, 122 degrees 13′ W, it’s a stone’s throw from the busy office complexes and commuter highways spawned by Seattle’s growth.  The slough (pronounced “sloo”) is a slow moving channel of water, shallow but wet all year.  A typical complement of northwest wetland plants gathers there – duckweeds and pond lilies lie on the slough’s surface; willows, horsetails, salmon berries, steeplebush, and many others thickly embroider its edges.

They all have stories to tell.

Some of these stories are easy to see, some are easy to miss, some are so familiar we hardly recognize the story any more.

 

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Looking up, looking down:

other stories.

No reason to ignore them.

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Looking close, another story (but no – I didn’t find this until I got home and enlarged the image on the screen!).  The tiny Barnacle lichen is at home on the bark of a birch tree.

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Ferns and fences repeated their patterns. I took it all in.

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I didn’t have an earth-shattering revelation that day but by looking a little harder, holding the camera differently from time to time and taking pictures of a few things I might have otherwise ignored, I slithered my way to a clearer emotional state.

When I got home I continued changing it up, processing the pictures differently – darker or blurrier, brighter or softer. Messing with the colors, looking for more stories.

Here are some suggestions to facilitate changing it up:

  1. Accept what isn’t “pretty.”  Be open to more.  Photograph something you’d normally pass up, like a pile of mulch.
  2. Try different camera angles – askew, pointed down at the ground, whatever. Hold the camera over your head and shoot, maybe blindly.
  3. With a zoom lens and control over shutter speed, set the shutter speed for a second, or a half second, and zoom the lens in or out while the shutter is open: intentional blur. Or slow the shutter speed and pan the camera while shooting.
  4. Try different effects in post processing.  Try sepia, analog looks, black and white. Which image would lend itself to going very flat and highly detailed, or super soft and blurry?  There is more than one way to create a desired effect.  For example, you can soften an image by decreasing the clarity, decreasing the contrast, increasing noise reduction, increasing haze, playing with color relationships, etc.
  5. Take things in a different direction than you would normally. Darken a daytime image until it looks like night, crop like crazy, lighten beyond what seems reasonable, switch out the colors.
  6. Go back to an image again and again, with curiosity: what else can it say?
  7. Walk away. Take a break and come back refreshed.

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Last Glimpses of Spring

It already looks more like summer than spring around here…so before they’re completely outdated, here is a group of images of spring in the Pacific Northwest. Lean back, put up your feet, and immerse yourself in fleeting beauty.

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Dead my old fine hopes

and dry my dreaming

but still…

iris, blue each spring

Haiku by Shushiri

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Spring in the Pacific Northwest is a drawn out process. It begins early, since we have little frost and no lasting snow at lower elevations. The season extends well into late May because we stay fairly cool and moist. (In fact, the received wisdom here is that summer doesn’t start until after July 4th).

This year spring was particularly cool and wet. Then a spate of warm, dry air arrived and stalled, bringing pleasant weather the last few weeks. I like the way a long spring slows the pace of growth, it gives me time to enjoy it all. The question is, do lingering springs make up for our long, dreary, gray winters? Well, possibly.

These photographs record spring scenes in wild and tame places, from a neglected field and pond on the side of a road, to well-manicured public gardens. In between is the Federation Forest, a slice of old growth woods that feels untamed, even primordial. It wouldn’t be here though, without the foresight of the Washington branch of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. Back in the 1920’s, when logging threatened the last vestiges of old growth in our beautiful forests, local GFWC women fulfilled their mission of community improvement by working with the state legislature to set aside a tract of timber land for public enjoyment. Unfortunately, wind, fire, nearby logging and roadwork all took a heavy toll on the tall trees, and by the late 1930’s the land was no longer the peaceful forest it had been.  The women were undeterred. They located another, larger tract of forest with old growth trees that was better protected. Today Federation Forest is 600 acres of magical, mossy woods with miles of trails meandering alongside the White River, at the foot of Mount Rainier.

The 5th photo (a path and logs), the forest floor photo after it, the 12th photo (False Solomon’s Seal leaves) and the final two were taken on a mid-May walk in Federation Forest.

That duckling is a Wood duck, a denizen of wooded swamps. We’re privileged to have these extraordinarily beautiful ducks living year-round at a park in our town. Their prefer nesting sites are in holes in trees or nesting boxes elevated above the water. When the time comes, the young get pushed out, landing with what can only be a traumatic splash. This little guy appears to be none the worse for the experience. I’m sorry to see spring disappear, but like the Wood duck, I must move on!

 

 

 

ROUNDUP

2016…

A roundup of images from the year for you to enjoy. I gather these together at the tail end of 2016, here in the far end of earth’s time zones. Some of you have already struck the midnight gong and won’t see this until the first of January. No matter – the roundup is a bridge to the new year as much as a summation. In the coming months ideas will be refined, techniques tried again, subjects explored anew, discoveries made. I expect there will be something new under that future sun, too. We’ll see.

 

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I leave you with this little wren, tousled and mussed from the rain but sharp-eyed as ever.

I’ve grown this year, no doubt, and there’s more of that to do. The give and take among bloggers keeps me motivated, and scrolling through Flickr often helps inspire me to loosen up.

Thank you for supporting these wanderings – here’s to endless interestingness – and to the discovery of beauty in unexpected places.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting Away

That too-quick trip I took up north –

the slow climb to the high peaks, the road’s

twists, slopes and curves, revealing ever-prettier views –

a zippy swoosh

down the east side of the mountain, then

dry, rolling hills,

burnt timber scattered over the valley.

So many discoveries – it was all over

too soon.

I saw this – and more:

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Most of the photos above are from Newhalem, a tiny company town built for hydroelectric projects that supply about a quarter of Seattle’s electricity. Three dams were built here on the fast-running Skagit River.  One hundred and fifty miles long, the Skagit tumbles down from British Columbia, twenty-four miles to the north, through the mountains, past small towns and lowland farms and out to Puget Sound, where the river forms a rich, life-sustaining delta. Seattle is about 116 miles south and west of Newhalem; the road didn’t cut all the way through the North Cascades until 1972, when Washington’s most  northerly route to the “east side” was finally created, tracing a path used for thousands of years for trade by indigenous people.

Newhalem is a clean, orderly little dot on the map, a stopping-off place where tourists traveling over the North Cascades Highway learn about the hydroelectric project and stroll the beautiful Trail of the Cedars. Last year fires raged in the area, as seen in the fifth photo above, but this year’s fire season has been better…so far.

Skies were glaring the morning we passed through so I selected the “Dramatic tone” filter in the camera, and a sepia one. In the end, no matter what you do, pictures don’t convey the bulk and size and benevolent majesty of the old cedars, without question, my favorite Pacific northwest tree.

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Here’s the old Gorge powerhouse plant –

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…where you can learn about the history of this extraordinary project, which involved some nervy railroading feats. In the photo below you can see two local women on the car with an assortment of men in charge and project laborers.

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Back on the road, you’re soon in the heart of the scenic view territory, as one by one, shimmering turquoise blue lakes created by the three dams begin to distract you from the road.   The only question is which overlook to stop at.

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Waterfalls at the road’s edge are irresistible.

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Imagine the flow of these waterfalls and the river in Spring! The highway opens in April or May each year, then closes in November or early December. It takes the crew four to six weeks to clear snow and get the road open each year, and… Every spring, Tootsie Clark, the matriarch of Clark’s Skagit River Resort  (near Marblemount), drives her Cadillac up to the west-side closure gate near Diablo, opens the trunk and serves cinnamon (Tootsie!) rolls and coffee to those waiting in line for the gate to open. It’s a tradition she has been carrying on since the 1970s.” (from the Washington State Dept of Transportation website. I think she is still around but I doubt she’s still driving!)

Forty-two miles down the road is Washington Pass, after which we would descend the mountains along the eastern slope to the Methow Valley. The Pass was our last stop in the mountains, and a fitting one. There is a profound charge to the atmosphere there. Walk away from the parking lot, wander over rocky, moss-strewn ledges, inhale the sweet air and look across to the high peaks. You’re rooted and lighter than air at the same time. Your whole being quiets.

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By the time we dragged ourselves away from the pass it was 6 pm. Our destination, the little town of Winthrop down in the Methow Valley, was only a half hour away. Set in the beautiful, dry hills of central Washington, Winthrop is a Western town offering a main street with old, false-fronted wooden buildings and a sprinkling of lively restaurants with good food.  The day satisfied!

(But sometimes WordPress does not. I have fixed the alignment over and over, and nothing I do will make the photos all align left or centered, so please forgive that some are on the left margin and others aren’t. Likewise with the uneven spaces between the photos).

 

 

 

Fiddling with Focus

This week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge is to tinker with focus.

Is the focus just how sharp and clear an image is, or is it about more than that? Focusing manually on part of an object to separate it from the background and emphasize it is a technique I go back to again and again. I was thrilled when I first got my hands on a camera with manual focus control.  And digital processing adds another dimension to what can be done with focus. You can sharpen or blur certain areas but not others, or with Lightroom’s clarity tool you can intensify contrast, giving the appearance of sharper focus, or decrease the clarity for a hazy, soft effect – again, either over the entire image or on part of it.

And of course you can draw the viewer’s eye to what interested you – get them to focus on it – in many more ways, using composition or color for example.  So focus is a big topic, but here are a few images I fiddled with this weekend, during (and after) a trip to the local botanical garden.

Smoke trees seem to beg to have their soft, airy panicles contrasted with the details of  the tiny, subtly colored filaments. Manually focusing in does that, and a relatively wide aperture helps keep the background soft. Later, adding a pale halo (a vignette) around the edges of the image further emphasizes the soft-focus aspect of the plant and draws attention towards the details.

It seemed a good idea to do something similar with Angelica plants that are coming into full flower and driving the bees mad these days, so I focused on just a portion of the flower head and used a fairly wide aperture when I took the picture. But I decided to play with it some more in Lightroom, using the clarity tool selectively to increase blur towards the back of the flower and increase contrast just a little in the foreground.

Just for fun I thought I’d capture some of the color and form of the garden by using the manual focus again, but winding it completely out of focus (sometimes I feel like I’ve done that to myself!).  I find photos like this hard to look at and unsatisfying somehow  – I want to settle my eye somewhere.  But I like trying to abstract my surroundings, and I think if I keep playing with this I may get an image I really like.

And that’s what the Photo Challenge asked of us – to play around, to tinker, to fiddle with focus.

Hundreds of other responses to the challenge can be found right here.

THE FIRST YEAR

August 18, 2012 was the date of my first WordPress post.  There was just one comment on it, so it’s a safe bet that almost no one reading this also saw that first post. 

It was short and simple, and it established a theme I return to again and again: a particular view of the natural world.  I’ve posted images on this blog of the built world too, and people and things.  But the outdoors is for me the ground on which everything else depends, the field I return to, to cultivate again and again.

Here’s a reprise of that first post:

MID-AUGUST

Earth holds its breath for a few days – everything is still, heavy with light and summer dreams, waiting to move forward into autumn.

A late afternoon elegy of sunlight breaks through the tree line along the Snoqualmie Valley Trail, speaking of summer’s impending dispersion into fall.

This photo was taken (but sometimes I think they’re given to me) at a preserve near Woodinville, WA. I felt uninspired – glum, even. But I forced myself into the car and went searching  for a little deliverance. It came gradually:  a field of flowers, a jay, a wren, a creek, leaves, seeds…and color and light.

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That post was followed by 100 more.   Putting together image and word, and then sending the finished product out into cyberspace, has become an important means of expression in my life.  Knowledgeable people may decry the overuse of the internet and its tendency to erode human relationships, but I have been enriched by my work here and the work and thoughts of all the people who visit.  New relationships spring forth out of this virtual world all the time, and yes, they may not have the thick texture of flesh and blood relationships, but they do enrich us.

So thank you for being here, whether it’s your first or 50th visit.  And please permit me the indulgence of reprising some of my favorite images from posts past…

Bluebrightly will wander here and there, but the blog will always return to dwell on the gifts of the natural world, and the blogger will always be thankful for you, the reader.

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All images are mine except the soldier with poppies and the Afghan boy with the helmet.  Those two are courtesy of my son.

I MISS THIS PLACE!

What place?  Here!

Life has kept me too busy to post lately. This blog is an important creative outlet for me, and I really miss it.

Feeling desperate, I’m stealing a few minutes from my other life (quote unquote!) and posting a few recent photos:

Big Four Ice Caves,  Cascade Mountain Range, 20 miles east of Granite Falls, WA. The ice caves were behind me. It was mid June, and there was still plenty of deep snow up there.

Oak fern, Gymnocarpium dryopteris;  Big Four Ice Caves Trail.

Small unidentified grass. Here I tried free lensing – taking the lens off the camera and holding it backwards against the camera to get an unusual focus effect. Thanks to Leah, the fantastic photographer at Uprooted Magnolia, for the idea.

A grass at the Center for Urban Horticulture, in Seattle (shot normally).

Rather a theatrical daisy portrait – placed against watercolor paper, in sunlight.

And finally, a self portrait taken into and through a window on top of the Smith Tower in Seattle, with reflections and a view of the Space Needle in the distance.

I hope you’re enjoying summer! More soon….I hope!

A PARTICULAR POINT OF VIEW

This week’s Daily Post Weekly Photography Challenge is to present photographs that show the world through your eyes, thinking carefully about the subject of your image in order to convey just what you saw/thought/felt at the moment you pushed that shutter.

I love to photograph flowers, and I’m most happy with them when they express a particular point of view – the way I see the world –  instead of being  just another pretty flower picture.

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These studies were done at Seattle’s Pike Place Market, where food and flowers overflow and tourists contentedly wander the ramshackle wooden buildings and stroll along the old brick street. From inside the market flower stalls present a stunning array of color and form that changes with the seasons, as local farmers bring in new varieties. It’s an irresistible scene to photograph and I’m sure it’s been done thousands of times.

Out on the street, the long row of flower stalls is open to the air. Most people don’t pay attention to that view because cars crowd the curb, and it’s the working end of the business: the buckets, scissors and florist paper, the workers assembling bouquets.  In chilly weather the vendors hang clear plastic tarps at the back of their stalls to keep out the cold.

One early spring afternoon I noticed that buckets of flowers were pushed back hard against the tarps, making interesting flattened images; it was a whole different view of the flowers. Pressed against the dirty translucent plastic, they took on new, compressed shapes and softer colors. Flecks of dirt and scratches in the tarps conveyed the feeling of Old European still life paintings.

I squeezed between the cars, nodded to a shabbily dressed man having a cigarette, and photographed the small masterpieces head on. Bright lights shining through the tarps and the ambient light reflecting off the plastic made it challenging. But it was worth the effort. It was the world through my eyes. It was right there for all to see, and it could have gone unnoticed but it caught my eye. Now, with a few clicks, I send it along to you.

More Weekly Photo Challenge entries can be seen here.

CURVALICIOUS

This week’s Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge theme is “Curve.”

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                                                                                                                                       I love curves!

Be they subtle curves,

or strong ones,

Tight curves,

Or loose and flowing ones…

Be they sculptural,

Rhythmic,

Joyous,

Or a little loopy.

Curves piled upon themselves,

Begging to be handled,

Or elegantly arrayed in orderly rows,

They all please me, so much so that I feel them as big, gestural curves in my limbs, arcing through space…

but then,

there are also curves

that emerge

fresh

from the oven –

Those ones are just CURVALICIOUS!!

Curves of every imaginable type, from photographers all over the world can be found with a simple click, right here!

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The spiral sculpture is “Salmon Waves,” by Paul Sorey, 2001. It’s located at the Hiram M. Chittenden Memorial Locks in Seattle.

The stone work is on a building in Philadelphia – I didn’t get the name or address.

The Chinese rooftop is at the Chinese Scholar’s Garden at Snug Harbor in Staten Island, New York.

The white wildflower is a White campion, or Silene latifolia.

Those wonderfully smooth, round stones can be found on the beaches along Washington’s coastline. These were at Rialto Beach.

The pleated leaves are False or Indian Hellebore (Veratrum viride), a very poisonous North American wildflower.

The sticky buns?  Wish I could say I made them. They’re from a small, home style restaurant in the little town of Edison, WA.