MID-AUGUST

Something about the middle of August always inclines me to take a small step back and ponder the passing of summer with a sigh. The onward unfolding of seasonal changes never hesitates, always moving forward. The transitions are incremental; some obvious, some almost invisible. Here in the Northern hemisphere, by the middle of August the green machine is winding down. Leaves drop onto the ground. Dry grasses sparkle in the sunlight and berries ripen. Gardens are lush with tall, joyful blooms that have grown up together into fine, tangled bouquets. Young birds fending for themselves still beg from their parents now and then, fluttering their wings and peeping. Who can blame them? Fawns follow does to the best munching spots, which are too often on the wrong side of the road when I’m driving. Along the waterways shorebird migration is ramping up but lakes are placid and calm, perfect for canoes and paddleboards. Mid-August is also the time when hurricanes form and wildfires flare up with a vengeance, just as people disperse for a final summer sojourn.

You may be thinking about sights, sounds and smells that signify late summer in your neighborhood, or the news of California wildfire evacuations and floods in China. Looking out the window, I notice the light is a shade gentler and Bigleaf maple leaves have traded the fresh brilliance of spring for softer, warmer hues. We’re losing light as the days shorten. Summer’s riotous colors are just beginning to fade, another sign of the transition toward fall. The signs are subtle now. Next month will be another story.

So, in honor of fading light and quieter colors, here is a series of photographs from the past month. The images speak in tints and tinges instead of strong colors. I’ll throw in a few outliers to keep you from drifting off.

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1. Pearly everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea).

2. Driftwood shelters get more elaborate every year. This one was encountered one cloudy afternoon on Whidbey Island.

3. Grasses, Queen Anne’s Lace and Curly dock (Rumex crispus) brighten a roadside field.

4. This thin-soiled area near the shoreline always dries out early and the Madrone leaves are already thick on the ground. On the trail they’re crushed to bits but here they make a lovely tumble.

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My first post here was published in the middle of August, in 2012. I uploaded two photos and wrote, “Earth holds its breath for a few days – everything is still, heavy with light and summer dreams, waiting to move forward into autumn.” Noticing the nuances of seasonal change has always kept me grounded and recognizing summer’s impending dispersion into fall seemed like an appropriate way to begin this ecocentric blog.

You could make a case for eight seasons if you include the transitions from spring to summer, summer to fall, fall to winter and winter to spring. Each shift from one season to the next has its own sensory perceptions: the slightly earlier dawns and swelling buds in February, the decomposing leaves and chill in the air in November – the more you think about it, the more signs you’ll find. Some transitions may be more remarkable than others – for example, as we anticipate spring we search for every little sign that it’s on the way. For me, summer-into-fall stands out as a time when, as I said above, I step back and observe what’s happening in nature with a sigh. Why is that?

The social worker in me suspects that it’s because of a series of events that took place at this time of year. An unexpected, violent attack on a mid-August day, the year I graduated from high school, left a legacy of mute terror that effectively froze the feelings of a moment in time to the sensations of the season when it occurred. After that, every time the middle of August rolled around I would remember that difficult time, first as a vague discomfort, then more consciously. Then fifteen years later on another mid-August afternoon a drowning accident in which I tried, but could not save a friend’s life darkened the season again. I couldn’t bear to see autumn approaching that year – every falling leaf meant I was farther from the time when my friend was alive. I just wanted time to stand still. Four years after that my father died suddenly, in mid-August. The month filled me with foreboding – what next?

But time undercuts the fear, softens the jagged edges and lends perspective. I may still be acutely sensitive to the hallmarks of late summer – the slight damping-down of light, the first scatter of leaves on the grass, the torpor of stillness on hot afternoons, the absence of birdsong. But it doesn’t put me on edge as much. In fact, the tiptoe beginnings of autumn’s inward turn can feel like a respite after the wild ebullience of spring and early summer. After all, better light for photography is on the way! Vague feelings of unease may surface from time to time but on balance, I know it’s not good or bad, this time of year. It is what it is, as the saying goes. Well, maybe it’s good. Yes, if anything, it’s good.

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5. The Sauk River: slow and shallow in late summer.

6. Madrone trees (Arbutus menziesii) shed their bark.

7. Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum), the word’s most widespread fern (according to my ‘Plants of Coastal British Columbia’ book) is changing color.

8. Layers of Madrone leaves: this year’s on top of last year’s.

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10. A Great blue heron (Ardea herodias) fishes from a Bullwhip kelp bed (Nereocystis luetkeana).

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13. Driftwood.

14. Eelgrass catches on the trees on the shoreline during extra-high tides and then remains there slowly being bleached by the sun.

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17. This tiny crab was not happy with me.

18. The calm waters of Little Cranberry Lake.

19. A Common (or Fringed) willowherb (Epilobium ciliatum) going to seed.

20. The beginnings of fall color on a Bigleaf maple (Acer macrophyllum) leaf.

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A Drought Paradox

 

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As we transition from summer to fall, the wild grasses are bone dry. Dead cedar boughs litter the ground; maple leaves are splotched with yellow and brown. Berries are ripe, and seeds are ready to spring from their tight confines. It’s been a hot, dry summer, quickening the transition to fall. The paradox is this: as dry leaves crackle underfoot and trees are losing leaves earlier than usual, I am saddened and worried, but the color changes all around me are so very beautiful.

 

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According to the U.S. Drought Monitor every corner of our state (and neighboring Oregon and Idaho) has been touched by the drought. Conditions range from abnormally dry to extreme, so maybe I should be thankful that our corner is experiencing  “moderate drought.”

The drought seems to be putting an early halt to summer, resulting in color changes that are paradoxically sad and pretty at the same time. Burnished golds, rose-tinged rusts, and ghostly pale greens mingle harmoniously, like polite guests at a dinner party.

 

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Many plants along the forest trails are covered with dust, spider webs decorate nearly every tree and bush, and crisply curled leaves litter the woods. Some forest patches remain verdant, especially alongside lakes where moisture lingers in the air, but I can’t get away from the evidence: drought has taken hold.

Fall color tiptoes in early.

I walk, I look, and I wait for rain.

 

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The Photos:

  1. So-called Himalayan blackberries (Rubus armeniacus) were introduced from Europe for fruit production, but got way out of control. They form massive, impenetrable thickets with thousands of berries that just sit there uneaten, because there are so many of them. In this case, just a few canes are working their way into a tree nursery outside La Conner, Washington. I thought the bright leaves and berries were striking against the soft browns and grays of the trees and grasses.
  2. A feather as plain and gray as this one is hard to tie to a specific bird. But did you know there’s a Feather Atlas to help identify North American bird feathers? This one (which I still can’t identify!) fell next to a trail on a bald on the western edge of Fidalgo Island. A fire ripped through here, damaging some trees and felling others. Look closely and you can see charred rock and burned fir needles.
  3. Beside the same trail a lichen-covered rock and a host of dried grasses compose themselves beautifully, without help or interference from humans.
  4. Near the edge of Fidalgo Island where cool, northern waters often create misty conditions on the land above, reindeer lichen (Cladonia rangiferina) grows in cloud-like clumps. I’m careful not to touch it because it is brittle from the drought, and it grows very slowly.  I’m frustrated every time I see a broken clump but trails here usually avoid reindeer lichen growth to prevent damage from careless hikers. (I’ll admit I stepped off the trail to take the photograph, but I tiptoed across rocks and bare ground). This photo was taken with a vintage lens I just found at a local thrift store for half the price it sells for online. It’s a Super Takumar 28mm f3.5 from the early 70’s. I have another Takumar lens so I knew this one could be good, and the adapter to fit it onto my camera is easy to find. I’ve been out with it several times, and I’m enjoying it a lot.
  5. Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium or Epilobium augsutifolium) is a familiar sight in the Pacific Northwest. Called Rosebay willowherb in Britain, the tall wildflower’s magenta flowers produce distinctive, silky-haired seeds that float away on late summer breezes.
  6. The graceful shrub called Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor) often grows near water and bears sprays of creamy white flowers in late Spring. This specimen, on a hill at Cranberry Lake Park on Fidalgo Island, has a surfeit of pale green lichens growing on its branches. With leaves shifting from green to yellow to orange, dried, peachy-tan flowers and frosty green lichens, it was a striking sight.
  7. The cool blue-gray color of Stink currant berries (Ribes bracteosum) complements deep forest greens. I read that the whole plant is covered with glands that emit a skunky odor, but I didn’t notice it. I’ll have to check next time!
  8. At Mt. Erie, the highest point on Fidalgo Island, a species of Usnea lichen hangs from a tree whose leaves are losing their chlorophyll prematurely. Late day sunlight sets the leaves on fire, and fine web threads map a spider’s domain.
  9. A Bracken fern frond has turned dry and golden for lack of moisture at Sharpe Park, Montgomery-Duban Headlands.
  10. An attractive flower that hangs on well in a drought is Gumweed (Grindelia integrifolia). This patch, framed by two huge logs, is between a small bay and a beach, a fairly wet location. The photograph was taken with the “new” 28mm Takumar lens, late in the day.
  11. The forest floor is littered with fallen branches, leaves, wildflower seeds, fir cones, mosses, and lichens. Quiet colors create a neutral palette that emphasizes texture – one advantage of the drought.
  12. At Cranberry Lake a smattering of trees still cling to their defiantly bright green attire but in the distance, the rusty colors are from cedar trees that have died, probably from too many dry summers.
  13. An insect is resting on the back of this pretty leaf at Mt. Erie. I didn’t see it until I got home and looked closely at the photo. It’s not the first time that has happened!
  14. Another photo taken with the “new” vintage lens, in low light on the edge of the woods. These branches are mostly on Madrone trees. The leaves may be from a Madrone too, but I’m not sure. In any case, the funky curves of tree trunks, dead branches and leaves draw an intriguing picture together.
  15. Spider webs are abundant in the forests these days. These are on a cedar tree. There may be more on my clothes…
  16. The intensely colored, winged seeds of this ornamental maple beam with joy in the afternoon sunlight at a town park in Anacortes, Washington.

 

 

Between Seasons

The slow morph already evident

now as

leaves curl,

fall,

tear and crumple.

 

 

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All but one of these photos were taken in Juanita Bay Park in Kirkland, Washington, in early August. In this lush wetland preserve, six different kinds of willow grow, and though native species outnumber non-natives, the majestic willow in the fourth photograph is one that must have been planted long ago. The old weeping willow vies for space with bracken fern and Creeping buttercup, cattails, cleavers and Cooley’s hedge nettle, bindweed, horsetails, blackberries and many other plants, native and non-native. This time of year the crisp definition of spring gives way to a tangled mass of leaves, stems, seeds, flowers, spores, sepals, twigs…all falling over each other as they begin to disintegrate.

Centuries ago a band of the Duwamish tribe made their winter home nearby. Salmon were plentiful in Lake Washington, and in season, berries could be gathered, roots pulled, bark peeled. Then whites came along, and smallpox silenced the stories of a people we know little of.  White people prospered here, and a hundred years ago the rich wetland was filled for a golf course. The golfers are gone now though, and the wetland slowly reasserts itself, encouraged by the good stewardship of area residents.

Locals make good use of the park’s trials and boardwalks. The gentleman pictured above was making his way to the end of the boardwalk, a platform on the bay. The bay is an inlet on Lake Washington, a long, glacier-formed ribbon of fresh, clean water surrounded by cities and towns; one of them is Seattle. On the quiet little inlet called Juanita Bay, turtles sun themselves amidst ducks and herons, lily pads and dragonflies.

It was hot that day. I exchanged a few words about the weather with the man as he pushed his walker over the rough wooden planks. I don’t know what he saw, because I know we see differently. I trust that we both felt refreshed by our time in the park. My photography that day was an act of love, a way to remember and share one view of a particular space/time configuration here on earth. So, what I saw: the jumbling tumble of plants as they begin their decline, the busy ant, the old man walking.

Seasonal Blend

The blend is uneven, barely mixed

as winter cedes to spring in

fits and starts:

trumpeting geese over barren

fields

dangling buds

of red-flowered currant,

willow’s thin yellow curtains, last year’s

dry curls of dead grass among

discarded leaves.

Fits and starts of lime-green

moss inviting

touch

on a fresh morning, chill rain

slicking the boardwalk,

fallen

camellias and collapsed cattails,

their tough green shoots stabbing

at the sodden air. It is an uneven blend

of dark

mixing with light moving

slowly, the

doe settling into wood’s edge for its

evening chew.

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Spring is moving slowly here, with colder and wetter weather than normal. I dart out between rainfalls – it’s often just hours before the drizzle begins again.  I took these photos on forays to a local botanical garden, a park, and at the side of the road. They are a mix of wild and cultivated – the camellia tree was planted, the red-flowered currant, and many of the grasses and trees were not. Wild Cackling geese (relatives of Canada geese) fly high above power lines and the doe forages at the botanical garden. It all draws my eye, whether wild or not.

It’s between seasons and I’m feeling in-between myself, unsure where to go next, literally and figuratively. Patience.

Patience too, during this just-before-Spring time. Gardens and fields are still mostly under last year’s detritus but cherry blossoms are about to pop, narcissus and forsythia are out, birds are singing and the grass is greening up. My favorite season is a breath away…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Changing Seasons

IN THIS PART OF THE WORLD, at 47.6 degrees latitude, the change of the seasons means short days in December. Walking around Seattle in mid afternoon, I see alleys are already dim…

…but shop windows shine with objects to buy.

Bypassing the shops, I continue on to the waterfront.

It’s a little after 4pm on December 7th and the stark beauty of the sunset draws me to this construction site. A crane looms and seed heads of butterfly bushes, gone wild along the edge of a parking lot, bend with the wind. In the distance across Puget Sound I can see the wild, snow-topped Olympic Mountains.

The shortest day of the year is a few weeks away. Gray skies will rule for several more months, but soon the days will slowly grow longer as winter pushes towards spring.

Bloggers from around the world are sharing photos of changing seasons – in all sorts of latitudes and longitudes:  http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/12/07/weekly-photo-challenge-changing-seasons/