FLOOD STAGE (and PARIS)

Flowing slow and shallow in summer but regularly obliterating its borders in other seasons, the Snoqualmie River loops a curly path through rich farmland east of Seattle, not far from where I live.  Two weeks ago abundant rain caused its banks to overflow again and closed roads in the valley.  I went out to see what might be interesting to photograph that first weekend of November. It was the season of last leaves clinging to branches for one more day, fallen apples rotting in the grass, and damp, chill winds.

At a bend in the road where I could stand near the ever-expanding river’s edge, I saw a beautiful, tangled scene of leafy chaos.

(What beauty was there in the chaos of that theater in Paris yesterday? None.)

I tried to make an image that would convey the scene, but the scope was so much bigger than what I could get on a webpage.

(And how overwhelming does the flood of terrorism feel to Parisians today?)

 

The year has been dry here, sparse snowfall in the mountains last winter reducing some waterways down to trickles over the summer. So the heavy rain two weeks ago wasn’t a bad thing. As I type, another storm system floods the river again, but the valley will absorb this storm, as it has taken on countless storms for longer than we’ve known.

(And how many more storms of terrorism can we, must we, absorb?)

November – such a stunning ruin of a month. There is razor-sharp, dark beauty as nature takes its course, pruning and destroying.

(And what of the famous beauty of Paris today?)

Following the river south to Fall City, I turn back north on Fall City-Redmond Road, making a wide loop around the valley.  I spot a narrow lane heading down into a sea of lichen-covered branches and stop to investigate. The rain spits and falters as I wander down the road.

There’s nothing dramatic here. No mountain vista or wide sea impresses the eye. A sign indicates that this bit of wetland has been preserved for salmon, the soul animal of Puget Sound. These tough fish continue to live out their life-rhythm, tracking between fresh and salt water and back again, thanks to people who took note of this modest little piece of land and kept it safe.

(Does the future hold that for us? Sould we narrow our beloved cities and wildlands down into safe preserves for people to live without terrorism?)

Rain soaks the scene into a sweet blur.

I can’t stay out in this too much longer – it’s chilly and my camera’s getting wet.

On a rise an old apple tree holds memories of fruitful summers. That could be the last shot of the day.

(And when will we hear the last shot of terrorism?)

What a Difference a Year Can Make

This week I will celebrate my first 365 days in the Pacific Northwest. These images, photographs of places I frequented in my old home town and places I’m been exploring here on my new home ground, bookend the year.

Last week I drove up Cougar Mountain, outside Seattle, to the so-called “Million Dollar View”.  We had been stuck in a weather inversion that produced nothing but thick fog day and night. It’s easy to rise above it though – a thousand or so feet up and I was out of the mist. Foggy cloud banks rested gracefully across the valleys and Douglas firs cast soft lavender blue reflections on the lake below. Over a hundred miles north of where I stood, sunlight graced the flanks of Mount Baker, one of the snowiest places in the world and the site of extensive volcanic research.

Exactly a year before that day I met old friends for coffee at Think Coffee near New York University. Walking past an alley in Soho later that afternoon I came across this softly lit and surprisingly quiet scene:

A few days later I took a break from packing to spend an hour in one of my favorite places – the Conservatory at Snug Harbor Botanical Garden. A Bird of Paradise flower provided all the scrumptious candy color I craved on that cold, dark New York winter afternoon.

Exactly a year later I was looking for a diversion from winter’s dreariness again. This time a  handsome horse named Diamond trotted over to see what I was up to as I walked beside a fenced field where she boards. Realizing I had no treats for her, she turned and broke into a wild gallop in the mud with another horse. She’s clearly well cared for, and what nice digs she has in the foothills of the Cascades. (How do I know her name? Because a guy on a four wheeler zoomed over to tell me I shouldn’t be trespassing. Before walking back to the road I asked about the horse, who he said was Diamond,  “a real show-off.”)

The next day, I was watching the sun set along a back road that follows a meandering river ten miles east of my house.  I had spotted a Great Blue Heron in a wet field a mile down the road, but here the only sign of life was a lone, out of season frog calling from its hiding spot in the tangle of grass. I wondered how old that barn is, and what they grow here, and I was glad for the small farms that somehow manage to survive so close to my new home.

Just a year ago I was on the water in New York Harbor, taking this photograph of the MOL Endurance, a container ship making its way towards port. The Verrazano Narrows Bridge, connecting the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Staten Island, spanned sparkling blue harbor waters that morning. On a good day the light and spaciousness of New York Harbor trigger ideas and possibilities in my mind – where did that ship come from, what’s in those containers, and what adventure awaits me in a few minutes, when I walk off the ferry to Manhattan?

Two late January sunsets complete my coastal seesaw – one taken a year ago from my old apartment above New York Harbor, looking over snowy rooftops to the soft glow of lights at a container terminal in Bayonne, New Jersey. The other sunset is over the Snoqualmie River, just outside the little town of Duvall, Washington:

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Themes seem to repeat on both sides of the country: landscapes seen through the filigree of tangled grasses or branches, colors and textures that make me want to reach out and touch, and foregrounds giving way to distant views. A lot has changed in a year, but my central concerns in photography – the love of nature and of ordinary, everyday life – have just shifted their expression a few thousand miles to the west.

Time to Play

I’ve been playing with a free photo effects program put out by Onone, called Perfect Effects 4. There are textures, borders and vintage effects, HDR effects, what I call “quick and dirty” brushes you can use to highlight an area, make it warmer, change its contrast…and it goes on. The program works with Lightroom and/or Photoshop and they say that soon they’ll have a stand alone version.

The fabulous old truck pictured above is parked in an industrial area of Staten Island. There’s a wholesale food market I used to go to, and one day when we had to park way in the back we discovered this treasure. So cool! It said “E.H. Scroogy” on the side and had a 1956 N.J. inspection sticker, but it’s obviously much older. I only had my phone but I still got some good pics. But I digress.

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I tend to use most effects with a light touch, but sometimes a heavier hand makes an interesting picture.

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The yellow flowers and this road to a farm are in the Snoqualmie River Valley, not far from home. I took the pictures a few weeks ago. There were horses in the field, and those are the Cascade Mountains you see in the background. You can bet those are the last flowers blooming wild around here this year.

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I used some selective blurring, highlighting,and darkening, and played with the colors of this photo of Japanese Hakone grass at Snug Harbor Botanical Garden in NYC. I think its curves are pure grace.

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I ran into this wonderfully cool man in a parking lot in North Carolina. I’m guessing he carved his own crutch. His beard is braided & tied. Look at his sunglasses – so nonchalant! Such warm and lively eyes. What stories he must have.

You can find Onone software at their website – and no, I’m not advertising. You may be able to get a free program through an online magazine called BehindtheShutter.com. They offered the program free for signing up for the (also free) magazine. It’s a self-promotional world…but I digress….