SEEING THE FOREST – AND THE TREES

It’s been rainy and dreary here, and from what I’ve heard the gray, wet weather is bothering a lot of people.   The weekend forecast showed a brightening trend last Saturday so I took advantage of it. Chores and errands be damned – I was desperate to get out.

We drove east across the valley and up through the Cascade foothills to Moss Lake Natural Area, a beautiful spruce and hemlock forest set around a small lake.

As the county’s description reads, it is “372 acres of high-quality wetland and forested upland habitats” with “an extensive 150-acre wetland complex” including a sphagnum bog, where peat was extracted in the past. Recently preserved, the land is surrounded by vast tracts of corporately owned forest, most of it regularly logged.

That may not sound good, but it’s better than the land being sectioned off bit by bit and offered up for sale to the highest bidder, as the suburbs push their way into the mountains. Just down the road another small lake is surrounded by houses. Here, the only dwellings are non-human. Most are hidden from view.

Raindrops clung to every branch and leaf on the shore of the shallow lake.  A squadron of Bufflehead ducks dove and swam in the distance.

The lake shore, with it’s grasses and line of tall evergreens, was reflected upside down in each drop:

It was broody weather, but it held! We spent almost three hours wandering around up there, with only occasional sprinkles to worry us. Lucky.

A well-maintained path winds through Western hemlock, Sitka spruce, Red alder and Big Leaf Maple woods – except when a giant falls and blocks the way.

Many trees in the wet Pacific northwest are covered with mosses and lichens. When winds are strong, the trees fling samples down to your feet for a close view.

Here’s a small branch covered with Usnea and Hypnogymnia lichens, mosses, and who knows what else. I love the lichens’ soft, cool green color and varied textures.

 

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A torn Vine maple leaf slowly disintegrates on a bed of Hylocomnium splendens, or Stairstep moss. One of my favorite Pacific Northwest mosses, it grows abundantly, forming soft, leafy mats on stumps or logs or any shady spot with decaying wood.

In certain places the woods present an incredibly complex scene in which patterns are hard to discern. I photograph it anyway. I know this isn’t a proper landscape with a clear focal point, but it does convey the chaos of patches of this forest.

In other places with little undergrowth and fewer species, patterns are clear: tree trunk, branch, moss, repeat. Just sprinkle generously with sword fern and voila! A less chaotic scene.

From time to time the sun shone through cloud windows, creating a neon effect on the moss clinging to the tree trunks.

A stand of hemlocks rose higher than we could see, their broken lower limbs pure sculpture.

This Big Leaf maple’s trunk arcs and bends to carve a light-filled space in the woods. Springing from the moss are graceful flourishes of Licorice fern.

 

Time to play. I set the camera to shutter priority and swung it around with the shutter open for one full second. It was refreshing not to hold on tightly to keep from blurring my shots. Blurring can be good…

I switch back and forth between the overall “forest” view and the closer “trees” view. The old expression, “You can’t see the forest for the trees” may apply to me a bit, but I try to step back and get both views.

I like the way these turned out. It would be fun to print them up huge, but I suspect it would take plenty of tries before it looked right. Seeing images on a computer screen is so different than seeing them printed on paper.

On the way home we passed through Snoqualmie Valley again, taking the smaller roads. We stopped at an oxbow lake that must have once been part of the loopy Snoqualmie River. The snowy Cascade foothills shown blue in the distance, partly – and poetically – hidden by clouds. Mallards laughed heartily on the lake as the sun disappeared.