They Rise and Fall

On a chilly, gray day last week, I ventured out to Cranberry Lake, a community forest preserve on Fidalgo Island. My favorite path there combines pieces of two trails – one hugs a curve of the lake and then ascends a steep hill through a fire-scarred forest; the other traces the long eastern edge of the namesake lake.

The trail that ascends the hill winds through Douglas fir and Western redcedars before meandering through forest openings where Madrone trees and Ocean Spray shrubs flourish, at its highest point. It descends through more Douglas fir and Salal thickets to the south end of the lake, where I like to turn and head back along the water’s edge. The lake is shallow there, and tall, thin tree skeletons standing in the water show that it was once forest. In the 1930’s a dam built at the other end grew the lake back into the woods, killing the trees. Later, beavers moved in and did their work; now a “garden” of stumps and trees draws wavering reflections in the calm water. It’s a fine spot for the visually preoccupied!

Just when I was farthest from the car that day, high on the hilltop, it began to snow. Sparse flakes drifted down through the trees to settle silently on the lake far below me. I’d left my gloves in the car but I continued on anyway, compelled by the poetry of unexpected weather. When I reached the shallow end of the lake, I was surprised to find it covered with ice, like a pale field spread out before me. The dead trees stood mute, locked in the ice, like ancient Greek columns witnessing the history of the seasons.

I carefully picked my way along the narrow, rocky path as the snow thickened. The weather-resistant camera would be OK, but there would be no changing lenses now.  I kept on shooting as one mesmerizing scene unfolded after another. A few steps, a choice, a click. A few more steps, another choice, a turn of a dial, a click. Trees standing, trees scarred from fire, trees fallen across the trail and into the water. Reflections blurring, then clearing, as the air carried more or fewer flakes. Cormorants watching snow sail over the lake from their stump and log perches. A lone Common merganser quietly floating towards the middle of the lake.

The prevailing hush transfixed me. I worked that little black box to frame the layered changes in the landscape, and though wildlife sightings always capture my attention, what stuck with me that day were the trees in all their guises and stages, their varied forms partially obscured by the pointillist haze of snow.

The trees rise and soar, they burn, fall over, die and slowly decompose. And they persist.

 

1. Lakefall

 

2. Sidelined

 

3. Dialogue

 

4. Snowhaze

 

5. Flake Flutter

 

6. Twig Scoops

 

7. Lean

 

8. Fade

 

9. After Fire, Green Returns

 

10. Scarred Trio

 

11. Fallen

 

12. Perched

 

13. Cut

 

14. Tumble

 

15. Honeysuckle Twist

 

16. Towards Whiteout (now my fingers are numb)

 

17. Cormorant Quartet

 

18. Light Gatherer

 

19. Stand, Reflect, Fall, Reflect

 

20. Horizon Log

 

21. Lone Merganser

***

 

 

Unseasonable and Unreasonable

Yes, it’s word play, but seriously, the unseasonably cold weather here in the Pacific northwest seems thoroughly unreasonable, to me at least. (We could talk about the futility of pairing reason with weather, but that would be another conversation). Seattle’s airport, Sea-Tac, marked its snowiest February on record before we were even half way through the month. The airport might get its coldest February on record, too. We’ve been locked into a nasty pattern of snow and cold for most of the month now, with more snow possible this week.

Winter weather in this part of the world normally consists of a tedious parade of gray days with plenty of drizzly rain and temperatures hovering around the mid 40’s F (7 C). We don’t have a lot of below-freezing days, and when it snows, it usually melts away in a day or two. Usually. But “usually” is just a memory, now that we’re stuck in this unreasonably unseasonable February.

Combine at least six inches of snow on barely plowed roads, temperatures consistently at or below freezing, and a declared state of emergency and you’ve got the perfect storm of difficult winter weather for our area. Then there were the cancelled flights, schools closed for days, impassable highways…we just don’t do snow that well. In these conditions a lovely walk outdoors has become a rare treat. I hadn’t realized until now that I’ve become spoiled by the region’s normally mild weather and the easy access to extraordinary natural habitats.

Of course, what we’re experiencing is nothing compared to many places in the US, Canada, and other places where snow is serious business and cold lasts all winter long.  When I lived in New York I was used to shoveling out my car and slipping and sliding down the sidewalks. Since moving here though, I’ve acclimated to a different reality and I’m just not used to real winter anymore. Imagine my distress when for a week, my go-to coffee shop either didn’t open at all or closed early. During the worst of it, when Seattle suffered through its “Snopocalypse” I had my own crisis, i.e. “OMG where am I going to get my espresso?”

Lest I sound unreasonable, I don’t expect any sympathy, especially from my hardy friends in colder places. This is actually more about a sense of wonder that our blue, spinning earth continues to bring us so many surprises. May it always be so, and may nature always have the upper hand.

***

It all began innocently enough with a light, rather picturesque coating of snow on the third of February.  At home, perfect little bird tracks in the snow and tiny ice balls in the nets protecting the fruit trees were a delightful novelty. The roads weren’t bad that day. Even the dirt road to Cranberry Lake was navigable, so I set out on a cold, careful walk in the woods. The forest was enchanting that afternoon, but my fingers got numb very quickly. I was grateful I had a warm home to return to.

 

1. A dusting of snow at Cranberry Lake.

 

2. Sword fern plants bowed down under coats of mealy-looking, icy snow in a dark corner of the woods.

 

3. The birds were busy, leaving a maze of tracks in the thin layer of snow under the feeders. I singled out one little hop for a black and white.

 

4. An enclosure to protect young fruit trees against deer was dotted with balls of ice.

 

The next day it was bitter cold and the roads were icy. I took pictures indoors, photographed a deer through the window, and caught up on things at home.

 

 

 

Soon the roads improved and the sun came out, but it was still very cold. I drove to a local park one day, hoping the road around it was passable. The boat dock sustained storm damage but – Yes! – the road was open. I drove happily through the woods at the proscribed 10 mph speed limit, stopping to photograph a twisted Maritime juniper tree. After 20 minutes in the cold I retreated back to the parking lot. Hearing the vibration of blasting music coming from a car, I muttered curses under my breath. Then I saw two young women sitting in their car, watching the sunset, and they seemed to be having a great time. Suddenly I realized the music was from the Bach Cello Suites! My frown turned to a smile. What prompted them to choose Bach instead of a hit from this week’s Top 100? I don’t know, and maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised by their choice. I gave them a thumbs up and a big smile. What a nice send-off to that icy-cold day.

 

6. Looking up into the dead branches of a Maritime juniper tree. Imagine standing under this noble tree while listening to a Bach Cello Suite.

 

7. The svelte mid-section of another maritime juniper tree.

 

8. As the sun set that day it left an orange glow behind the Olympic Mountains, 60 miles away.

 

A few days later there was another round of snow, this time in the form of big, wet flakes falling softly overnight, leaving clumps of the cottony stuff everywhere. It was still snowing that morning but I set out for the coffee shop anyway, creeping along on clean white roads. Hardly anyone was out. After getting coffee I drove around March Point and tried to photograph the snow falling but there was little light to work with, and once again my fingers numbed in minutes. Back at home, I noticed our little creek was an important source of fresh water for puffy little Dark-eyed Junco’s that were endlessly flitting back and forth between feeder and stream.

 

9. This little creek is dry as a bone in summer.

 

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10. Cattails wore top hats of snow over their fluffy seed heads on March Point.

 

11. Leaning stakes probably mark old shipping lanes at March Point, where oil refineries share space with herds of cattle and a Great blue heron rookery.

 

12. The snow thickened over Fidalgo Bay, smudging the horizon.

 

Three days later, more snow fell….is this getting repetitive? You bet it is! I prowled around the yard again….

 

13. A Sword fern seems to shrivel and shiver in the cold. These hardy, evergreen ferns should be OK except for clumps damaged by the weight of wet snow. I believe those clumps will gradually recoup as new fronds emerge to replace the ones that broke under the snow.

 

14. How long before these petite clumps of snow fall to the ground?

 

After that  snowstorm, another bout of cabin fever hit me so I made my way to Deception Pass State Park at a snail’s pace. The parking lot hadn’t been plowed but since it’s on a busy inter-island thoroughfare (and maybe because there are restrooms there), vehicles had been driving into the lot, leaving deep tracks in the slushy snow. I steered my little car along the tracks, stopped, and got out. The staircase under the bridge had been trampled just enough – I could walk down the stairs while clutching the railing (and feeling thankful for waterproof boots). Under the bridge is a network of trails that traces the forested edges of Deception Pass. Only a dusting of snow had filtered down through the thick canopy of trees there. The path was easy to follow but it was dark and cold in the woods. Again, I didn’t last long but just being in the woods, gratefully breathing fresh air, was a treat. A tiny mouse raced past me, oblivious to my presence. He pawed at the snow, searching for food, and then ran off into the dark woods. I thought about my warm home….

 

15. The forest is dark on a perimeter trail at Deception Pass State Park.

 

16. Last year’s Ocean Spray flower (Holodiscus discolor) drips with melting ice and snow.

 

17. The water racing through the pass that day was a cheerful turquoise color, and the view through the tall trees across to Pass Island was delightful.

 

18. The leathery, evergreen leaves of Salal (Gaultheria shallon) cheer up the forest floor in winter. The orange leaves are dead Redcedar leaves from the drought we had last summer. All the snow we’re getting now will help prevent drought in the months ahead.

 

19. The mouse. I enlarged and lightened the photo as much as I could, and it’s still hard to see him…that mouse was tiny!

 

Steps away from the parking lot is the Deception Pass bridge, which has a pedestrian walkway. It’s usually a spectacular view from the bridge, high over the rushing water, but on that day the view was reduced by moisture still hanging in the air. Far out on the water I could barely make out some cormorants, gulls, a few seals, and one sea lion – all working hard for their living.

 

20. Snow on the rocks below the bridge at Deception Pass.

 

21. North Beach from the Deception Pass bridge. No one walks the beach on this snowy day.

 

22. A phone photo taken on the road home that day.

 

One day I ventured off the island to Mount Vernon, a small city with a good food cooperative where I like to shop. On the way I passed acres of fallow, snowy fields. The sun is bright out on Skagit Flats. The orderly rows of crops with their striped furrows converging on the horizon was pleasing to see.

 

23. A bus for migrant workers sits in the field, waiting for Spring. It looks like this is one of Skagit Valley’s famous tulip fields – you can see them coming up. The snow won’t bother them a bit.

 

24. Afternoon sun throws a maze of shadows on a farm building.

 

The snow has melted a little now, but it’s still below freezing at night and not much above freezing during the day. Friday I took a walk at Bowman Bay, part of Deception Pass State Park.  I lingered on the trail until sunset. The tide was out and a lone Great blue heron was busy foraging in the quietly lapping waves. The sun felt good.

 

25. A Great blue heron picks its way through the riches of low tide.

 

***

Snowy Interlude

Snow comes and goes quickly in the Pacific Northwest, and here in the lowlands, it is more likely a delightful distraction than a dreadful inconvenience. We had a bit of snow last month, so before Spring is upon us, I thought I would post some photos of it. They were all taken at home.

Winter Retreat

All the colors snow lends

the landscape: palest gray, soft violet, smudged

dull green, luminous

buff….they comprise the dustings,

the coatings, the thought coverings, to

bloom in the

quieted

mind.

 

1.

 

2.

 

3.

 

4.

 

5.

 

6.

 

7.

 

8.

 

9.

 

***

The photos:

  1. Footprints on the sidewalk, from the window upstairs. This is not snow, it is graupel, an unusual (for us anyway) weather phenomenon that looks like granular snow, halfway between snow and hail. My German readers will be pleased to know I have learned the German word graupel, since we don’t seem to have an English one. Danke, Deutsch Sprache! The photo was taken with a Samsung phone, and processed in Lightroom, beginning with a Lightroom B&W preset.
  2. The ravine behind our building from my third floor deck, taken after a snowy night, at 7:25am. Olympus OMD EM1 camera with Olympus 45mm f1.8 lens. Processed in Silver Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  3. Three tree trunks in the graupel! Taken in the parking lot with a Samsung phone, processed in Silver Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  4. The sun lights up the woods after a snowfall. Taken from the third floor deck with with the OMD EM1 and 45mm f1.8 lens (at f4.5). Processed in Lightroom. The tree in the right foreground is an English holly (Ilex aquifolium), a species that has become invasive in Pacific northwest forests. Under these hollies, shade is dense and few native plants thrive.
  5. Another view of the woods taken from the third floor deck with the OMD EM1 and 45mm f1.8 lens (at f4.5). Processed in Color Efex Pro and Lightroom.
  6. Sun lights up the woods. Taken from inside, through a window. Camera and processing same as above.
  7. Two of our native Douglas fir trees (Pseudotsuga menziesii) with an understory of invasive Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) and the native, graceful Sword fern (Polystichum munitum). Taken from the third floor deck with the OMD EM1 &  45mm f1.8 lens (at f4.5). Processed in Color Efex Pro and Lightroom. 
  8. and 9. A potted Jasmine plant on the deck with spots of snow on its leaves. Both photos taken with the OMD EM1 and 45mm f1.8 lens, at f2.8. Photo #7 was processed in Color Efex & Lightroom, #8 in Lightroom only.

Speaking of snow, best wishes to my east coast USA friends, who are dealing with a gnarly nor-easter this weekend. Thousands of flights cancelled, power outages – all the usual fun!  And my friends in Europe had it worse, as a wickedly cold Siberian system caused deaths in at least ten different European countries, as well as the UK (Oh, the UK is part of Europe? I forgot, my brain was Brexited!) Maybe photos of snow and graupel aren’t what you want to see right now….I guess Spring can’t come soon enough!

Blowing & caught; wafting & swirling; ever present, never twice the same.

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Apologies to Robert Irwin, an artist whose granite marker, inscribed with the phrase,

EVER PRESENT

NEVER TWICE

THE SAME

was part of an installation on the grounds of Wave Hill, a New York City public garden where I worked in 1987.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Irwin_(artist)

My 2012 in Images

I’m ambivalent about reviewing a whole year. I can’t possibly pare it down to a few images.

But I’ll do my best with the latest Weekly Photo Challenge. You can see what others are doing here:

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2012/12/28/weekly-photo-challenge-my-2012-in-pictures/

(I can’t help thinking about what’s left out: how would a summary of the year look just from the vantage point of sound, or touch, or taste or smell? What about a summary of my feelings? They are all entirely relevant).

This is the first picture I took in 2011. It’s simplicity belies my state of mind at the time – absolute anxiety, frantic activity. In a month we would move across the country to a place we had been to only once, where we had no friends and just a handful of acquaintances. We would have no jobs waiting for us, and no family within thousands of miles. So many unknowns! No matter the worries and preoccupations – these shadows and shapes drew me in.

A quick overnight to Philadelphia in early January allowed me to say goodbye to some wonderful friends who had maintained my sanity while my son was deployed in Afghanistan the previous year. Was this statue telling me something about my future?

It was tough to say goodbye to these good people.

Soon after getting back home, I was on a plane to Seattle to find a place to live.  A generous acquaintance offered to put me up – I had a week to figure out where to live, but I had done the research and had good leads.  I secured an apartment within days, so I began exploring the area before the flight back home. One evening there was a spectacular sunset – maybe it was a portent, because the next day Seattle was hit with a big snowstorm – and in this part of the world, which doesn’t see a whole lot of snow, that meant everything stopped.

It sure was gorgeous though…

But planes were grounded and I waited nervously as flights were cancelled, and cancelled again. Finally I was good to go so I navigated the icy roads to the airport, turned my car in, and learned that once again, my flight was cancelled. I secured what appeared to be the last hotel room within miles, and the next morning the de-icers were out in force.

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I did manage to get home. There wasn’t much time left for goodbyes to favorite places – and people. A close friend from upstate came down and we had a great day hanging out in coffee shops and scouring a tag sale for finds (yes, a tag sale in Manhattan!) I walked the High Line in January cold and photographed my favorite Gehry building through a scrim of morning glory vines.

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And I was glad for sunny days. Oh, that skyline from the ferry. I didn’t know how I would live without it.

Two days before our lease was up, we muddled through a long day of watching and negotiating as movers packed our belongings and hit us with huge extra charges. We slept one last night on a couch we left for the landlord, and then turned our keys in and painstakingly wound our way through city traffic and out to JFK with our sedated sixteen-year-old cat and all the luggage we could carry. We climbed on board the plane and before long we were crossing the Rockies!

After one night in a hotel we took possession of our new apartment. I hung my beads at the window and we waited for our furniture, our clothes, our – everything – to arrive. For about ten days we slept on an air mattress and dined on an upturned box. Our netbooks became our lifelines at the local cafe. We slowly stocked the fridge and explored our neighborhood in a rental car while waiting for our own cars to make their way across the country. Yes! – we found a Trader Joe’s and plenty of good espresso joints nearby.

Eventually our furniture arrived – hardly anything broke!  Then one car, and eventually the other. The planning really paid off. One thing we could not control though, was our aging cat’s health. We found a good vet and they tried their best, but it was all too much, and we had to say goodbye to Pablo towards the end of the month.  It was a terrible blow, and we were dealing with it alone, in a strange place. The vet said his ashes would be spread at an apple orchard on the road into the mountains.  We were heartened by the thought of his body nourishing apples that might someday nourish us.  RIP Pabs.

We set about exploring the Pacific Northwest with a vengeance – rarely going more than two hours away – there were islands and mountains, a new city, interesting small towns, miles of shoreline and acres of farms.

Whether a distant view or a close-up, it was all looking good to me. And so different!

What are those weird things on the beach?

Bull whip kelp!  That’s like seaweed!  They grow everything so damn big out here!

When we weren’t exploring the countryside we poked around Seattle. Yes, there’s culture and yes, there’s art.

And MOSS. Moss everywhere! Even in the cold winter months it was brilliant green, coating branches like fur.

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And what a refreshing change the open space was. I discovered Duvall, a nearby town founded in 1913 (like that was a long time ago?) with a great sense of style.

 I found a conservatory that I could escape to on the endless gray days, as I waited for spring.

Eventually spring did start to peek around the corner, but it took forever to warm up.

I volunteered at a botanical garden to get closer to the plants I love.

In the woods there were wildflowers I hadn’t seen in years – trilliums seemed almost commonplace. Back east they’re picked clean, at least around metropolitan New York.

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I went up to see the fields of tulips and daffodils that are grown north of here. It was, of course, another gray day, but everyone promised that summer would be endlessly sunny.

I was getting tired of waiting for the sun.

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So I amused myself by joining a photography group and working harder on my photography.

Overcast days can make for lovely, even light, so I tried to understand how to take better advantage of the weather.

When we had time we drove into the mountains and hiked among the old growth – the giants – and I was humbled and full of love for them.

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Back in Seattle we discovered Georgetown, a photogenic neighborhood with an appealing funk quotient.

I volunteered for a court program that advocates for children. It was hard work but rewarding.

I read about a project that involves local people in making prints for the families of people killed on 9/11, and so I volunteered for that, too, and carved a block for a print.

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Summer finally came, and it was simply gorgeous – dry every day for months, never hot.

Up on the mountain passes there was beautiful fog to wander through, and plentiful berries in the fields.

Wherever I live I make it a point to find scraps of land with wildflowers that become my florists. Ten minutes from home I found an abandoned railroad track with butterfly bush, California poppies, fireweed, tansy, St. Johnswort…heaven!

We explored the working docks and shipyards of Seattle. Back in New York we used to watch tugs and container ships from our window, but here we can get close up to small crew fishing boats.

In August I began this blog with a brief post about a mid-summer day when I felt glum and uninspired, but after walking through fields and recording the amazing light on seed, flower, leaf and fruit, I was renewed. It was a good beginning to the blog that has become a rewarding way to express myself and be inspired by others all over the world who are doing the same thing.

In the fall we took a day trip back to Mount Rainier. When we visited the Pacific Northwest for the first time in 2011, our day at Mount Rainier was one of the most powerful experiences we had.  This time I felt sick all say but I didn’t let it stop me – there were plentiful wildflowers, and we saw bears!

A few weeks later we took an overnight trip to the Olympic Peninsula and caught a drizzly late afternoon chill on Hurricane Ridge. The infamous, quickly changing Pacific Northwest weather was demanding that we pay attention.

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In November we returned to New York for a wedding, a week after Sandy had devastated the region. We stayed with family on Long Island who had been out of power for a week already.  We tried to help untangle wires from the broken trees and huddled in front of a gas fire.

But oh, the food! And the pizza! The Pacific Northwest has great fresh food, but nowhere else, as far as we know, can you get anything like this slice, from an ordinary pizza place in Manhattan.

The wedding went off without a hitch. We had a day or so to see more family and revisit old haunts like the Rubin Museum, Battery Park and Financier Patisserie, and then suddenly the trip was over.

Back home, I talked myself into appreciating the drizzly gray days.

On  Thanksgiving Day those overcast skies cast a gorgeous silvery light on the sound.

I still scream “SUN!” when it peaks out from behind the clouds, but I’m more reconciled to the weather than I was the first few months. There is so much to enjoy here, and somehow, spending a week back in New York helped me feel more like this is my home.  We’re sure that the spirit of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest will engage our curiosity for a long time.

Whether expressed in something fashioned by human hands or embodied in a roadside field, I find a great respect for the land and nature here.

The other day we saw this:

a stretch of hundred-year-old brick road and

a lovely, eccentric woman

taking a walk with her miniature horse, named

“Surprise”.

We expect to enjoy many years of pleasant surprises in this corner of the country. We wish our families were closer, but we’ll try to rack up frequent flier miles for visits – New York and the east coast are great places to visit, aren’t they?

Weekly Travel Theme: White!

Beached…Gulf Coast, Florida

Toppled…Rainforest, Pacific Northwest

Hung…PS 1, Long Island, New York

Blown…Somewhere in Upstate New York

Exalted…Everglades City, Florida

Wrapped…Pike Place Market, Seattle

Washed Up…Your humble Photographer, reflected in a beach bubble on Topsail Island, North Carolina