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/