LOCAL WALKS: Signs of Spring in the Pacific Northwest

Because we need it….

1. Skunk cabbage, also known as Swamp lantern, lights up a wetland on Fidalgo Island. Lysichiton americanum was considered famine food by Pacific Northwest tribes so it wasn’t eaten often. The leaves were used for lining baskets and steaming pits.
2. Look closely at catkins and you’ll see they’re composed of dozens of tiny flowers that release pollen into the Spring air. These catkins are probably Red alder (Alnus rubra), an abundant tree on moist sites in our area.
3. More catkins. These don’t dangle but are upright. It’s a willow (Salix sp.) of some kind. We have many willow species and so far, I haven’t learned to tell them apart.


4. One of our most delightful signs of Spring is the Red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum). Its luscious pink flowers grace drab, late winter woodlands with just the pop of color we need. Seeds from this plant were sent back to Europe by explorer David Douglas (1799-1834) and after a few years, they flowered. The introduction of the attractive shrub into the nursery trade was so successful that it covered Douglas’ expedition costs. Thanks to Douglas, a blogging friend living in Brussels has been enjoying the same flowering shrub on her deck that I’ve been photographing along wooded trails near home.

5. A pink haze of Red-flowering currant. This photo and the one above it were made with a vintage Takumar 50mm f1.4 lens.
6. In a dim tangle of fallen trees and branches, Red-flowering currant provides a bright spot.
7. Look carefully and you can see a Red-flowering currant bush blooming high up on this rock wall, its roots buried deep in a crevice. Lichens, Licorice fern, mosses, and other plants adorn this cliff at Lighthouse Point, in Deception Pass State Park.

8. I can’t resist!

9. I literally jumped up and down when I saw this tiny gem, the first of the little Spring wildflowers that grace the bluffs and small meadows on our island. In the iris family, this diminutive beauty is called a Satin flower, or Douglas’ grass-widow (Olsynium douglasii). The pair of flowers was just a few inches tall, growing near the edge of a sheer cliff. As the turbulent waters of Deception Pass rushed past below me, I crept up to the flowers on hands and knees, trying to photograph them despite stiff joints and a chilly breeze. You can bet I was smiling.

10. An early bee. It was a few minutes past 5pm when I saw this motionless bee on a Soapberry (Shepherdia canadensis) plant. It’s also called Soopolallie, “soop” like soap and olallie, a native tribal word for berry. The berries foam up when beaten to make a native dish. The tiny flowers must be providing nectar for early bees at a time when few flowers are available.

11. This distinctively marked Blacktail deer, a subspecies of the Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) has been munching its way through our yard off and on since we arrived in July, 2018. In this photo, taken March 8th, we think she looks pregnant. Recently she seems slimmer, so we’re hoping to see a fawn with her soon. Taken with a vintage Takumar 50mm f1.4 lens.

12. Mount Baker is about 40 miles as the crow flies from this field near Skagit Bay. Up on the snow-covered mountain, the Mt. Baker Ski Area has closed temporarily to allow its ski patrol medical professionals to assist people elsewhere. Skiers and boarders will have to wait and see if the lifts run again this season. Back in the winter of 1998-1999, Mt. Baker achieved the world record for seasonal snowfall: 1,140 inches, or 95 feet (28.9m).
13. The upright leaves and dangling flowers of Indian plum (Oemleria cerasiformis) are a welcome sight in the forest. Indian plum (also called Osoberry) blooms early, in late winter. It’s an important nectar source for early bees and hummingbirds. I have photos of buds dated as early as January 30th. This photo was made March 10th, with a vintage Takumar 50mm f1.4 lens.
14. Indian plum leaves on a bush growing along a seasonal stream next to our house. Photo made with a vintage Takumar 50mm f1.4 lens.

15. The fine, green twigs and buds of the Red huckleberry bush (Vaccinium parviflorum) are a common sight in forests on Fidalgo Island. Later there will be little juicy, red berries. Supposedly a great pie can be made (using plenty of sugar, I bet) but I’ve never seen more than a few berries on a bush.
16. Kayakers are out again, plying the calm waters of Rosario Bay at Deception Pass. On a quieter bay behind the rock on the left, we watched a Harbor seal cavorting last week. Tail slaps, leaps out of the water and bubble blowing made up the above-water repertoire that seemed to impress a nearby female. Who knows what else was happening below the water! We can’t be 100% sure of the seals’ sex, but the display, which went on for over 20 minutes, sure had that “Check me out!” look.

17. Common mergansers (Mergus merganser) were gathering at Padilla Bay on this blustery March day. Soon they’ll migrate north to nest. Mergansers are diving ducks. I’ve seen them hunt in packs by herding minnows into tight schools so the fishing is easier. In the background, the whiter areas are sections that have been logged more recently than the darker areas.
18. This dark scene appeals to me for its muddy, early Spring atmosphere.

19. Mud at my feet, cherry blossoms overhead: Spring.

20. Thousands of Trumpeter swans (Cygnus buccinator) overwinter in agricultural fields just east of Fidalgo Island. The Trumpeter swan is the heaviest bird in North America and has the longest wingspan – up to 8 feet, or 2.4 meters. Every fall our county’s farmers leave some potatoes and corn in their fields for the swans to forage all winter long. Soon they’ll be off to Alaska to breed.
21. Shooting into bright sunlight drained the color out of this photo, an effect I think adds a nice atmosphere to this roadside scene of Trumpeter swans drinking from a flooded field with a farmer on his tractor in the distance.
22. Skagit County farmers grow acres of daffodils and tulips. This field was planted by RoozenGaarde, a family company that grows flowers from bulbs. It’s largest tulip bulb grower in North America, with 1000 acres of flower fields and 16 acres of greenhouses here in the Skagit Valley. The “daffs” are at peak bloom now; tulips will bloom in about a month.

23. Back in the forest, Swamp lanterns bloom along a seep at the edge of the wetland.
Spring! I love it.

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FURTHER AFIELD: In Munsterland

Munsterland is in Germany, part of the North Rhine-Westphalia region which is famous for its castles and manors. Last April we stopped here to visit friends as we drove across Germany, from Cologne to Hannover. We didn’t cycle from castle to castle (a popular regional pastime) but our friends’ home is a castle in its own right, a haven where we felt secure, well cared for and enveloped in hygge. The small town we stayed in is probably like many others in the region, but wandering through the village and past the edges of farms around it was a magical experience for us. Meeting up with someone you know who lives in the place you are passing through brings a refreshing dose of reality to a journey. For a few hours you feel less like someone tasting bits and pieces, and more like someone who is connected to the culture and nourished by the landscape.*

Now, almost a year later, the brief time spent with friends in a far-away place already feels nostalgic. You’ll see that in these photos.

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1. On the outskirts of the village.

2. The lambs and the ewe ran away from us; Easter was less than a week away.

3. One way to sheer sheep.

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4. Little Kusebach flows south, passing near the center of town. This small section of of the stream looked blissfully unmanicured to my eyes.

5. A copse rises in the distance.

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6. This is a Kleiner Kohlweißling butterfly, native to Europe and introduced inadvertently to North American back in the 1850’s. We call them Cabbage white butterflies. The flower seems to be a willow (Salix) of some kind. Whatever their names may be, butterflies and flowers are happy things to see in the Spring.

7. It looks like a cherry or apple tree. In my mind it’s a tree deity, guarding the fields for another season.

8. Friends

9. These old buildings in the heart of the village once housed tools and machinery for a local farm.

10. Walking through the village.

11. Magnolia trees scattered missives at our feet.

12. St. Antonius Church.

13. Streets and steps throughout the town were immaculate.

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14. Birch catkins dangled over the pond.

15. The tender unfolding of Copper beech leaves was another reason to smile.

16. It’s Buche Kupfer in German.

17. Ben, Ule, Joe

18. Kusebach again, a darker version.

19. Trees leafing out and their reflections.

20. Clematis buds
21. More reflections in a pond behind a restaurant.

22. Later, the woods whizzed by in a haze of Spring green and deep umber.

23. After leaving our friends we spent a long afternoon driving past fields of mustard, tall, bare-branched trees and signs we didn’t quite understand. Eventually we reached Hannover, where we spent the next day with another good friend. Photos from that day are here.

*Another view of Munsterland from someone who lives there can be found here, at Ule’s blog: Ule Rolff, Texte und Fotografie. She is, of course, the person we visited. We’re indebted to her and Ben for making us feel so welcome.

If you need a translation, try this site – you just select your original and target languages, then cut and paste the url into the navigation bar and click “translate.”

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morning meander, home edition

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These photos were all made early in the morning in my yard, on the last day of March. A nice fog had settled in. When the sun broke through the mist, tiny dew drops sparkled on spider webs, and lit up like diamonds in the grass. I wouldn’t have known those spider webs were there, had I not gone out and paid attention, and if I waited an hour, it would have been over. It can be difficult to let go of what you’re doing and switch gears, but it is so worth it sometimes. 

I used an Olympus 45mm f1.8 lens, at f1.8 for most of the twig photos, at f2, f3.2 & f5.6 for the others, and f9 for the telephone pole. (That would be like a 90mm lens on most digital SLR’s, since I use a micro four thirds camera – an Olympus OM D EM-1, a model that’s now six years old, and eternity in technological terms.)

April to May

For pure, unbridled joy nothing beats the transition from April to May, for me. Deciduous trees are covered with tiny pinpricks of intense yellow-green, washing the landscape with pointillist light and color. Birds are vocal, the skies are changeable, and everything is new.

 

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This article arrived in my inbox while I was putting this post together. It’s great news about chocolate! The next time I feel a need to boost my eyesight while processing photos, I’ll grab a few squares.

The photos (with some notes on processing and on the plants):

  1. There are many willow species where I live. I think these are Pacific willows (Salix lucida) with big, bright yellow catkins, thriving in the wetlands at Juanita Bay Park east of Seattle. You can see a few of last year’s cattails in the foreground. The willow trees are way ahead of the cattails, which were just beginning to push their leaves up out of the ground when the photo was made, April 30th.
  2. This gorgeous old Weeping willow is a subject I return to again and again – you’ve seen it here before. The tree was probably planted here decades ago, when the area was a golf course. Now the venerable tree blends into wetlands allowed to go wild and is covered with native Licorice ferns, lichens and moss. I processed the photo to emphasize the mystical, romantic quality of the tree in its present setting.
  3. The ravine behind my apartment rejoices in Spring. Bigleaf maples are hung with chunky, dangling yellow flower clusters, and evergreens provide a cool blue-green backdrop for the maples’ intense celebration of color. The middle tree is an older Douglas fir with branches high up on its straight, solid trunk.
  4. A small and attractive native tree, this Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) grows near the Weeping willow in photo #2, which almost forms a curtain around it. The Red elderberry sports graceful cream-colored flower clusters that become brilliant red berries in Fall, making the tree pop out along roadsides. In this photo the willow branches are all around the elderberry, but I focused the lens only on the elderberry, using a wide, f2.5 aperture.
  5. This time I focused on the nearest willow branches and let the elderberry go out of focus, using the same aperture. Using Lightroom’s radial filter, I reduced the contrast and clarity of the elderberry branch a bit more.
  6. I’m not sure what species this is – possibly a Dryopteris fern, growing at Bellevue Botanical Garden. The interweaving of the two fronds as they grow intrigued me. Ferns are excellent photography subjects and lend themselves perfectly to black and white; remove distracting color and the repeating patterns and uniform structure of the plant become more obvious.
  7. How much longer before these two turtles slip back into the water? The sun is gone! They are Red-eared sliders, native to the US south, not the Pacific northwest. They’ve been popular pets for decades – I remember having them as a child – and sometimes, people release their pets into the wild and they reproduce.  There is a similar native turtle, the Western painted turtle. The other Washington state turtle, the Western pond turtle, is almost extirpated here, thanks to habitat loss and the ingestion of eggs and hatchlings by bullfrogs, which (surprise!) humans also introduced.
  8. Another human introduction, but not an invasive one, is the beautiful Magnolia tree. This one may have been planted at Juanita Bay Park when it was a golf course.
  9. Pacific bleeding-heart (Dicentra formosa) is already forming seed pods by the end of April; the blooms are gone by mid May in lowland locations. Pacific bleeding heart is a native understory flower of woodlands, and a beauty it is, with abundant, fern-like foliage and pale pink flowers set on gracefully arcing stems. When the pea-like pods release the seeds, ants carry them home to eat a nutritious little appendage on the seed, leaving the rest…and Bleeding hearts are spread around. This photo was taken at a local park where the delicate plants thrive along a trail frequented by people and dogs. Somehow it all works out.
  10. The stunningly beautiful little Jeffrey’s shooting star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi) is another native flower. This individual however, was planted – at Bellevue Botanical Garden. I remember finding a group of Shooting stars along a wet, rocky trail in the mountains – what a thrill! I saw them again last year on Mt. Rainer on June 30th – a full two months later then they bloom down here. Altitude changes everything.
  11. Talk about tiny! The Piggyback plant’s flowers (Tolmiea menziesii) require patience to see well. The plant is named for the odd way its leaves sprout stems and new leaves. The flowers are tiny, finely detailed, subtly colored gems perched along the stem inches from the ground. I used a macro lens and luck for this photo, and I cropped it. The flowers grow at O.O. Denny Park in a busy, suburban town. Photographed on April 29th.
  12. Peer under a Vine maple tree’s leaves in spring, and you’ll find clusters of small, deep red and cream-colored flowers.
  13. At Juanita Bay Park, a nice marriage of native and non-native flowers: a decidedly hybrid Rhododendron grows amidst the delicate foliage of the native Pacific bleeding heart, whose flower is pictured above (#9).
  14. Looking up at O.O. Denny Park, I saw a maze of Bigleaf maple and Red alder branches with fresh leaves spread out to gather the sun.
  15. The leaves of Maidenhair fern make a frothy ground cover and are an attractive foil for larger, sturdier flowers that grow up through the foliage, at Bellevue Botanical Garden. I used a solarization effect in Color efex, sepia toner in Silver efex, and careful vignetting in Lightroom for this photo.
  16. The Star-flowered Solomon’s seal (Maianthemum stellatum, formerly Smilacina stellata) is another good subject for black and white photography, with its formally arranged, elegantly shaped leaves and clean white star-shaped flowers. This wildflower is native to much of North America; it’s leaves often interweave like those seen here, creating a dense, elegant carpet of deep green under the trees.
  17. A plum tree, perhaps. I don’t know – I didn’t check when I photographed this pretty blossoming tree at Bellevue Botanical Garden, on April 30th.
  18. Japanese maples (Acer palmatum) are beautiful all year long, not least when their foliage is brand new. This was taken looking up and through the foliage, from under the tree. After shooting with a wide aperture, I made a tiny tweak to the tone curve, a few subtle color adjustments, and a little cropping and sharpening.
  19. A close-up of the same tree’s delicate, pendulous flower.
  20. I love the tightly coiled, intense energy of fern fiddleheads. This is the well-known Pacific northwest native, Sword fern (Polystichum munitum). It is evergreen, hardy and tough, growing in all sorts of difficult conditions – almost the antithesis of what one thinks of when one envisions a fern. But nature is full of surprises. And spring has many faces. I touched on just a few here and chose to use a variety of processing styles for the photos. After the dreary uniformity of our Pacific northwest winter, Spring’s multiplicity of form and color is a tonic I’m happy to drink.

 

More than a Glimmer

Soon after I returned from my mid-January trip to the Nevada desert I began noticing small glimmers of Spring. First, it was the tentative strains of Song sparrows warming up their territorial melodies in the woods behind my home. At the botanical garden witch hazel scented the air with an intoxicating fragrance, and the same week, sturdy daffodil shoots pierced the dull brown earth, powering up like legions of little green soldiers.

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Under last year’s leaf detritus the warmed earth has been incubating new growth; even as I type, reed canarygrass (Phalaris arundinacea) motors briskly through the decaying leaf matter and into the sunlight. Speaking of sunlight, there may not be a lot of it around here, but daylight is no longer scarce after 4:00 pm. What a pleasure!

 

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This is the time of year that our native Indian plum leafs out and thrusts cascades of tiny white flowers into the woods, providing nectar for early bees, moths, butterflies and hummingbirds.

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Willows curtain the marsh with beads of lime green on softly waving stems. Way out on Lake Washington one day, just after sunset, I watch four river otters cavorting. Rafts of coots, wigeons and grebes gather near the shore and a pair of Mallards hauls up on a log to rest.

 

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All the crisp brown leaves that were caught on branches and ferns are disintegrating into fine lace. I admire the map-like tracery of veins across the skeletonized leaves.  Pleasing little rows of bumps on Sword fern leaflets are evidence of plentiful spore dots (sori), located on the underside of the leaf. It’s rewarding to peer closely but sometimes I let my eyes and camera go out of focus, to better feel the wild energy of the cold air moving through the forest.

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Bloodtwig dogwood stems (Cornus sanguinea) are showy with color now, and display a handsome, architectural simplicity of form. A few small blossoms on a shrub I can’t identify nod shyly along the wood’s edge.

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At an arboretum in Seattle the earliest varieties of azaleas and cherry trees are blooming, and at their feet, snowdrops and crocuses punctuate thickly mulched beds. A few precocious daffodils are already out. Birdsong rings through the woodlands. We watch an Anna’s hummingbird flit impatiently from blossom to blossom in the azalea, his iridescent green back glinting brilliantly in the sunlight against clear pink flowers.

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For over a month I have noticed trees laden with long, elegant catkins. I couldn’t figure out what they were and it was driving me crazy. At the arboretum I came across one of these trees while on foot and took a close look at it. The catkins, which hold male flowers, each with four stamens, were fully out. Between clumps of them I found the tiniest red starburst flowers perched on vase-shaped buds: the female flowers. Last year’s leaves were still under the tree, so I photographed them, too. The clues made identification easier: the mystery tree is our native Beaked hazelnut (Corylus cornuta). This tree’s nuts are smaller than the European hazelnut so the species is not grown commercially, but it makes a nice specimen tree just the same, with its abundance of golden catkins.

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Hellebores have been blooming for a month now at the botanical garden, while fat buds on trees reach out into the delicately hued forest, and the Crepe myrtle tree’s patchwork bark seems to glow a little brighter than before.

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It’s happening. And it’s more than a glimmer.

 

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Some of these photos were made using a vintage super Takumar 50mm f1.4 prime lens, with an adapter to fit my camera. This film era lens is somewhat heavy (it has an all-metal construction) and it can be difficult to focus. It doesn’t produce the same kind of all-over tack sharpness that modern lenses have, but there’s a particular beauty to the way it renders colors and tones. I’ve mentioned it in previous posts. Here’s a quick video about the lens.

Number 2, #3 (except the daffodil shoots), #6, #9, #10, #11, #12, #20 and #21 were made with the old Takumar 50mm. All the others were made with an Olympus 60mm f2.8 macro lens.

For gardeners, the Witch hazels are Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Pallida’ and Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Arnold’s Promise’.

One more thing – since beginning this post another mass shooting has occurred in the U.S.  I stand in sympathy for the victims and their families, and this includes all the kids who are traumatized by this event. I heard an interview with a 23-year-old newspaper reporter who has already covered three mass shootings. How does she deal with that? The National Association of Social Workers put out this statement, which notes that our country leads the world in mass shootings and recommends treating gun violence as a public health crisis. Mass shootings are complex problems, not reducible to one cause or one solution, but people in power need to begin the hard work of fixing this problem.

 

 

Last Glimpses of Spring

It already looks more like summer than spring around here…so before they’re completely outdated, here is a group of images of spring in the Pacific Northwest. Lean back, put up your feet, and immerse yourself in fleeting beauty.

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Dead my old fine hopes

and dry my dreaming

but still…

iris, blue each spring

Haiku by Shushiri

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Spring in the Pacific Northwest is a drawn out process. It begins early, since we have little frost and no lasting snow at lower elevations. The season extends well into late May because we stay fairly cool and moist. (In fact, the received wisdom here is that summer doesn’t start until after July 4th).

This year spring was particularly cool and wet. Then a spate of warm, dry air arrived and stalled, bringing pleasant weather the last few weeks. I like the way a long spring slows the pace of growth, it gives me time to enjoy it all. The question is, do lingering springs make up for our long, dreary, gray winters? Well, possibly.

These photographs record spring scenes in wild and tame places, from a neglected field and pond on the side of a road, to well-manicured public gardens. In between is the Federation Forest, a slice of old growth woods that feels untamed, even primordial. It wouldn’t be here though, without the foresight of the Washington branch of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs. Back in the 1920’s, when logging threatened the last vestiges of old growth in our beautiful forests, local GFWC women fulfilled their mission of community improvement by working with the state legislature to set aside a tract of timber land for public enjoyment. Unfortunately, wind, fire, nearby logging and roadwork all took a heavy toll on the tall trees, and by the late 1930’s the land was no longer the peaceful forest it had been.  The women were undeterred. They located another, larger tract of forest with old growth trees that was better protected. Today Federation Forest is 600 acres of magical, mossy woods with miles of trails meandering alongside the White River, at the foot of Mount Rainier.

The 5th photo (a path and logs), the forest floor photo after it, the 12th photo (False Solomon’s Seal leaves) and the final two were taken on a mid-May walk in Federation Forest.

That duckling is a Wood duck, a denizen of wooded swamps. We’re privileged to have these extraordinarily beautiful ducks living year-round at a park in our town. Their prefer nesting sites are in holes in trees or nesting boxes elevated above the water. When the time comes, the young get pushed out, landing with what can only be a traumatic splash. This little guy appears to be none the worse for the experience. I’m sorry to see spring disappear, but like the Wood duck, I must move on!

 

 

 

Spring in Black and White

Spring is all about growth and the return of color: fresh greens, sparkling blues, deep purples, cheerful yellows. But black and white can also convey the message of renewal.

These photographs were taken in various gardens and parks in the last month or so, all in the Pacific northwest. It’s been an exceptionally wet, cool Spring, conditions that suit our plants just fine, but we humans tire of the endless days of mist and rain and long for the warmth of the sun.

Still, if you dash out between the heavier showers, the wet conditions can be rewarding for outdoor photography. Overcast skies do not create harsh, distracting shadows. The even light enables you to see shape and form. And if the sun does break through, maybe you’ll catch a ray of light in the forest or a sparkle on the raindrops.

It’s challenging to look over my photographs with an eye towards which ones might work well without color, and we know challenges bring rewards. Sometimes color is the story, and sometimes color can distract from the story.  This selection is a reminder to look for more than color, and enjoy.

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  1. A Trillium (probably T. ovatum, the Western Trillum) at Heronswood, a botanical garden and nursery in Kingston, WA.
  2. A pair of Trillium buds at Heronswood. Heronswood grows many different trillium species, so I hesitate to guess which it is when the flower is still in bud.
  3. A beetle on a woodland wildflower that hasn’t bloomed yet, at PowellsWood Garden in Federal Way. This plant, probably False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum racemosum) or Star-flowered False Solomon’s Seal (Maianthemum stellatum), has name problems! Why false? I get that people named another plant (Solomon’s Seal) first but really, honor the plant with its own name next time. It’s not false anything, it is completely itself. And the Latin names for those two plants vary. The genus used to be Smilacina but is now Maianthemum, and not everyone has caught up. And don’t doubt for a second that there aren’t a myriad of common names for both plants –  Solomon’s Plume, Starry Solomon’s Plume, Feathery False Lily-of-the-Valley, Starry Lily-of-the-Valley, etc. Well, there’s work to keep botanists busy.
  4. A fern fiddlehead, possibly a Lady fern (Athyrium Filix-feminia), at Rhododendron Species Garden, Federal Way, WA.
  5. Peering through the fronds of an Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) at the Rhododendron Species Garden. The species name, struthiopteris, comes from the Greek: struthis means ostrich, pterion means wing (says Wikipedia). Obviously the scientific name was given because the fronds rightly reminded someone of ostrich plumes (see the photograph below). That means ostrich plumes had to be pretty well known in Europe back when the plant was given its Latin name. Indeed, Linneaus published his Systema Naturae, the groundbreaking book whose binomial Latin name system for plants and animals enables speakers of all languages to communicate clearly about the natural world, in the mid 1700’s. By then the distinctive flora and fauna of Africa was familiar to Europeans. In fact, Pliny wrote about Ostriches almost two thousand years ago, and sultans are said to have made gifts of them to European rulers. The Ostrich fern grows in northern locations in Europe, North America and Asia.
  6. A large planting of graceful Ostrich ferns at Rhododendron Species Garden.
  7. New Ginkgo (Ginkgo biloba) tree leaves at Bellevue Botanical Garden. Many readers probably know that Ginkgo trees are the oldest living “fossil trees” in the world, having survived on earth for many millions of years. Rarely if ever found in the wild, they were cultivated at monasteries and temples in China, where they once did grow wild. Now they are planted in many cities as street trees – they survive pollution and rough conditions admirably. Was it all the good training they received in Buddhist monasteries? Here is a terrific Ginkgo website. And here, a scientist argues against continuing to plant Ginkgos for a number of sound reasons – though I am very fond of them!
  8. A Sword fern (Polystichum munitum) fiddlehead at Paradise Valley Conservation Area, Woodinville, WA. Why do Sword fern fiddleheads take that odd turn south on their journey of unfolding? I love it!
  9. Fawn lilies (Erythronium oregonum) at Kruckeberg Botanical Garden, just outside Seattle. This native beauty blooms in the woods here in April or May.
  10. Bleeding Heart flowers and foliage at O.O. Denny Park in Kirkland, WA.
  11. Unidentified plants grow out of the shallow water of a retention pond in Redmond, WA.
  12. An old Douglas fir tree that split into two trunks early on, at Paradise Valley Conservation Area. The tree’s Latin name is Pseudotsuga menziesii – another “false,”  this time false hemlock – psuedo, and tsuga (Japanese for hemlock). Classified and named in the 1800’s, it is not a fir, a pine or a hemlock, but another kind of conifer. Of course, native peoples had their own names for this grand tree, which can grow to well over 300 feet and live to perhaps a thousand years.
  13. Another Sword fern fiddlehead takes a turn on the dance floor, at Meerkerk Gardens on Whidbey Island, WA.
  14. Tulips at Bellevue Botanical Garden.
  15. A fading tulip at Bellevue Botanical Garden.

 

 

SEEING SPRING

The wild cherries and and the plum trees are in full bloom this week. White, cream and party-pink delights are sprinkled along the roadsides near home.  On the forest floor, last season’s leaves feed the soil.

I practice different ways of seeing Spring.  The camera is part of that – when it surprises me, that too becomes part of seeing with new eyes.

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Last week I went to a new-to-me public garden and found more Magnolia leaves that were skeletonized by insects; they make wonderful subjects. The one above must not have been tasty. It will disintegrate slowly and elegantly on a bed of dried ferns.

Pattern on pattern.

 

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Purpleleaf Plum trees line streets with a haze of frothy pink flowers, held aloft by rough, angled branches.

The skin of the blossom, smooth and delicate as a baby’s; the skin of the trunk, gnarled and coarse like a grandmother.

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Plum blossoms are an important symbol in Asian culture, and in particular, in the Zen tradition. The plum tree blooms very early, directly after experiencing harsh, cold conditions. Its simple five-petaled flowers give off a subtle, lovely fragrance. The plum tree has a powerful presence, at once rough, strong, fragile, intimate. Unstoppable.

Standing quietly under the tree

Gnarled, bruised bark,

Uncountable branches laden with pale, delicate flowers.

Fallen petals underfoot,

it’s enough.

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Viewed from three stories up, the early Spring woods is a complex web of intersecting lines.

Tens of thousands of buds

pepper every branch and twig,

moss clings wet and thick.

The forest is softening.

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  1. At the Rhododendron Species Garden (about 30 minutes south of Seattle), an Asian species rhododendron leaf lies on a bed of ferns. From the garden’s website:  “The Rhododendron Species Foundation & Botanical Garden is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to the conservation, public display, and distribution of Rhododendron species. Home to one of the largest collections of species rhododendrons in the world, the garden displays over 700 of the more than 1,000 species found in the wilds of North America, Europe, and Asia, as well as the tropical regions of southeast Asia and northern Australia. Conservation has come to be of primary importance in recent years with the destruction of Rhododendron habitat in many areas of the world.”
  2. At the garden, a Magnolia leaf eaten by insects slowly disintegrates on a bed of moss.
  3. Magnolia leaf and moss.
  4. Magnolia leaves and moss.
  5. A Purpleleaf plum tree (Prunus cerasifera) near home. The Purpleleaf plum is common in and around Seattle. I thought they were Cherry trees but I just learned that they are a species of plum (in the same genus as cherries, apricots and almonds). This species was introduced to France from Persia well over a hundred years ago, and many different cultivars exist.
  6. A row of Purpleleaf plum trees glows like pink and white fizz.
  7. Purpleleaf plum blossoms.
  8. Purpleleaf plum flower with stamens full of pollen.
  9. The trees have grown into their own forms after years of neglect. Theirs is an untrammeled beauty.
  10. A softened and desaturated close-up of the woods – another way to see Spring.

 

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A selection of my photographs is available for purchase at lynn-wohlers.pixels.com.

FORAYS

Spring unfolds slowly in the Pacific Northwest. I’m as impatient for it as the next person, but I want to savor every bit of this season, so the measured advance suits me. This week cherry trees paint a delicate pink froth along the roadsides, the first Salmonberry flowers punctuate the woods, and birds riff and prance like it’s never been done before.

Skies are often wet and gray but between showers I make quick local forays: a few hours at the Arboretum in Seattle, a run to photograph the cherry trees that edge a parking lot near home, a late afternoon wander down an unused railroad track.

The resulting images are all over the map, metaphorically if not literally.

Here you go:

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This unusual mix of images reflects what I’m seeing these days. Here are the details:

  1. Parking lot Cherry tree blossoms. Shot with an Olympus M. Zuiko 60mm macro lens at f 4.5, processed in Color Efex Pro (CEP) and Lightroom (LR).
  2. At the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle, a bamboo fence protects the Camellia tree in #4 and #10. I used the macro lens again at f 6.3 and processed the image in LR with a preset and tweaking. I could probably get a nice result in Silver Efex, too, but I thought I’d try the LR presets.
  3. Parking lot cherry trees, towards sunset. Taken with a vintage lens (using an adapter). The Asahi Pentax Super-Takumar 50mm 1.4 is a well-built but heavy prime lens; mine was made between 1966 and 1971. It’s supposedly slightly radioactive due to a  coating on one or more of the elements. It produces lovely color and bokeh but it’s very difficult to focus. Of course, there’s no automatic focusing – we’re talking old school here. You’ve got to be able to squint and look hard to see if you’re in focus. I mostly miss, but it’s fun to take the lens out and see what happens. I need to do that more! Processed in LR & CEP.
  4. The Camellia trees are dropping their blossoms at Washington Park Arboretum. Taken with the 60mm macro lens. Processed in CEP a bit, then LR where I reduced the saturation of the greens, which can be overpowering this time of year, and added vignetting.
  5. Interesting things happen on the ground in gardens, especially when blossoms fall. I think this is a rhododendron flower. Olympus 14 – 150mm zoom lens, f 8, 67mm. Only a tiny bit of processing was done in LR. It’s satisfying when you don’t need to do anything to your photo but I really enjoy processing.  I don’t make perfection out of the camera a goal – if you do, I admire you!
  6. This old wagon falls apart more each year, too bad. It sits by the side of the road near a small town called Duvall. Duvall sits in an agricultural valley about 45 minutes east of Seattle. When I first photographed the wagon five years ago, it stood on all four wheels. Tempus fugit!  Shot with a Panasonic Lumix 14mm f2.5 prime lens at f 4.5. I could have used a smaller aperture for more detail but it was very cloudy. I needed extra light and wanted the background to blur out a bit. Processed in Silver Efex Pro.
  7. On the same day, I visited this old structure on Cherry Valley Road in Duvall. I love this building for the simple, almost Shaker-like lines and the soft patina of its peeling paint. There are “No Trespassing” signs around but the building is unused. Shot with an Olympus M. Zuiko 45mm, f 1.8 prime lens, at f 9. This is a new lens for me and it’s going to take a while before I’m comfortable with it but I’m sure it’s going to be very useful. Processed in CEP, where I applied a blur vignette. I also increased the luminosity of the yellows in LR, just a little.I find the luminosity sliders for individual colors to be invaluable.
  8. A window on the side of building, same lens, f 6.3, processed in LR.
  9. Forsythia at the Arboretum with an orange haze of Red twig dogwood behind it. This is in the Winter Garden, which is nicely planted with contrasting colors, textures (in peeling bark, for example) and patterns. Shot with a 14 – 150mm Olympus M. Zuiko zoom lens at f 5.5. Processed mostly in LR, where I softened it a little more by slightly decreasing the contrast and reducing clarity towards the edges.
  10. A pretty Camellia at the Arboretum. They have a collection of Camellias and this is my favorite, for the color, grace of form, and the way the flower is set off by the glossy, dark leaves. Shot with the 60mm macro (which works well for plenty besides macro) at f 6.3. Very little processing.
  11. Every year, insects feast on the Arboretum’s Magnolia tree leaves. I think it mostly happens after the leaves fall to the ground. What’s left after the bugs depart are thousands of intact leaves with no “flesh” and just a fine tracery of veins. Here a tree flower is seen behind a skeletonized Magnolia leaf. I held the leaf in front of the lens (14 – 150mm zoom lens at f 5.5) and focused on the leaf veins rather than the flower behind. I may go back and experiment more with this.
  12. The same leaves are seen here layered on the ground with other leaves, making an endless array of patterns. Shot with the 60mm macro lens at f 5, processed in CEP and LR.
  13. A similar shot to the one above, this one was taken with my phone, an older Samsung, and cropped and processed in LR.
  14. More parking lot cherry blossoms at sunset. 60mm macro lens at f 5, lightly processed in LR.
  15. The diminutive Cyclamen coum, native to Bulgaria and Turkey but happy across the globe, at the arboretum. Thanks to the camera’s flip screen, I didn’t have to lie on the ground to get this – just placed the camera there! 60mm macro lens at f 6.3, processed in LR with a bit more softening, and blur added to the edges done in CEP.

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BTW – An inspirational TEDx talk can be found here, where Danielle Hark talks about the Broken Light Collective, an inspiring photography collective where people with mental illness show their work and often discuss how photography helps them cope with the everyday challenges of living with mental illness. Broken Light is also a WordPress blog.

 

A selection of my photographs is available for purchase at lynn-wohlers.pixels.com.

 

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…