Fresh Looks

What do these images have in common? They were all made in the last month or two, in the same part of the world, and there are obvious connections between some of them, but you might say it’s a motley crew overall. Some are in color, some are monochrome, some were taken with a phone, some with a camera. What I hope they do have in common is a sense of seeing the world with fresh curiosity and genuine appreciation.


































The Photos:

  1. This is Boot (BOOTIE! to me), an American pit bull terrier, a breed that strikes so much fear into the hearts of some people that it has been banned in entire cities. Boot is a sweetie, believe me. Here, I caught his rear end with my phone camera, as he relaxed on the grass at an Ultimate Frisbee Tournament where his master was playing. Boot has his own Instagram page if you want to see his front end.
  2. A rock formation at Larrabee State Park which is on the Salish Sea about 15 miles south of the US – Canada border. The softly eroded, curvy rock is sandstone that was deposited here around 50 million years ago. This type of weathering is called honeycomb weathering, and the round perforations often seen in honeycombed rocks are sometimes called tafoni. The original photo was in sharper focus. I chose to slightly blur it to bring out the graceful, curving form. More photos of Larrabee’s intricate geology are shown in previous posts here and here.
  3. Branches trailing in the water or hanging just above it draw complex, meandering reflections at Whistle Lake, on Fidalgo Island. By the time I took this photograph it was after 5pm and rather dark at the lake’s edge, so I boosted the brightness in Lightroom several different ways: by increasing the whites (basic panel), applying a slight “S” tone curve, and increasing the luminance of individual colors. Small increases in contrast, clarity, saturation and vibrancy also helped brighten and define the image.
  4. A piece of detritus on a pier in Anacortes. The photo was taken with my phone on the evening of an art opening at the historic Port of Anacortes transit shed, a huge 85-year-old wooden building once used to store goods in transit into and out of the region. It was possible on this evening to walk through a big show of quality painting, photography and sculpture, and then wander outside directly onto a pier, where we had an interesting conversation with the first mate of a tugboat tied up at port while waiting for orders. For solid working culture and the arts to share space like that – well, to me, it was heaven.
  5. More detritus, this time on a beach at Bowman Bay on Fidalgo Island. The shell may be a Bent-nosed clam, a small, edible clam. The seaweed is probably Eelgrass (Zostera marina), an important plant that provides nourishment and habitat for waterfowl, crabs, shrimp, fish, shellfish and probably more creatures I’m not aware of. Eelgrass is declining in some places in Puget Sound; the causes are complex.
  6. A friendly reminder seen on an old warehouse in Anacortes. The photo was processed in Color Efex pro and Lightroom.
  7. This appears to be an unfinished roof. It’s attached to a small building at the site of a weekly Farmer’s Market in Edison, Washington (population 133 in 2010). As I pulled over to photograph the dramatic sky through the beams, two black cats scurried down a dirt road, probably in pursuit of sparrows, and somewhere overhead, an eagle cried that distinctive, high-pitched whinny.
  8. I saw a sign advertising an art show one summer afternoon while driving through the Skagit Valley countryside. I drove over to the Samish Island Arts Festival to investigate. The art was almost all crafts – jewelry, hand knit clothes, etc. –  and it didn’t appeal to me. But there was an interesting group of ramshackle wooden buildings there, across from a small oyster business. There was no fence, not even a “Keep Out” sign, so I spent some time photographing abandoned odds and ends. It was clearly a place where work went on, but it was hard to tell what exactly happened there. Rope, wood, rust and tarps were plentiful. I told myself I’d come back to “work the scene” again.
  9. Barbed wire fence keeps the rabble away from three unmarked silos in Anacortes. The town has enough intriguing industrial sites to keep me busy for a while. This photo was taken with my phone.
  10. This photo was taken on a bluff overlooking the Salish Sea during a prolonged dry spell. We hadn’t had any rain for many weeks; the grass was bone dry. I used a vintage Super Takumar 50mm lens and made a few adjustments in Lightroom.
  11. My teapot is getting old and if you ask me, it’s more and more likeable. We found it years ago at a Catholic church bazaar on Staten Island, NYC, and paid 50 cents, if I remember correctly. I make strong Irish tea in it each morning. Over time, cracks in the pot have grown and darkened, and eventually it will leak, and we won’t be able to use it. For now though, it’s a perfect example of wabi-sabi, that wonderful Japanese aesthetic that encapsulates acceptance of imperfection as well as the impermanence of all things. The photo was taken with another vintage Super Takumar lens – a 28mm f3.5.
  12. Do you see that this is a corn stalk? It’s growing at the WSU Discovery Garden, a demonstration garden put together by the Washington State University Master Gardeners, who are trained volunteers. Lucky for me, the garden is just 15 minutes away, so if I ever tire of wild flora (unlikely!) I can go have my fill of cultivated plants. The original photo is in color and it was converted to black and white in Silver Efex Pro and finished in Lightroom.
  13. Why are these buildings just inches apart? I suppose it has to do with the lot sizes or building codes. Ever since I first visited Edison back in 2012, I’ve been intrigued by this little slice of strangeness a few doors down from my favorite bakery. There are always ferns growing in that dark little space! The photo was taken with my phone and processed in Lightroom.
  14. This photo was taken the same day as #3, at Whistle Lake, part of the Anacortes Community Forest Lands. A rocky, rooty trail along the lake swings down level with the water in places, allowing you close views of sinuous tree reflections in the placid waters. Photographing reflections in water always depends on a variety of conditions, and sometimes they come together perfectly.










On the campus of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, is the Nitobe Memorial Garden, considered by some to be one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside Japan.  The garden is named in honor of Nitobe Inazo, a Japanese educator and diplomat (author of “Bushido: The Soul of Japan”) who worked to create bridges of international understanding and cooperation.

A quote attributed to Nitobe Inazo (from Wikipedia):  “If there is anything to do, there is certainly a best way to do it, and the best way is both the most economical and the most graceful.”

The garden, gracefully set on an economical 2.5 acres, was designed over 50 years ago by Professor Kannosuke Mori of Japan, who also oversaw construction. The mix of northwest and east Asian native plants easily harmonizes throughout the landscape; Pacific north west native sword ferns, Oregon grape and mosses intermingle with Japanese maples, cherries and iris. A traditional Tea House was constructed in Japan, taken apart, and rebuilt by Japanese craftsman on site. Careful attention was paid to symbolism and the placement of rocks at strategic points around the garden – a turtle-shaped  island represents longevity and a particular lantern is lit by the sun each year on the day Nitobe died.  Goldfish and carp were brought in from Japan, too, but birds dined on the goldfish. The carp survived though, and I caught only a brief a glimpse of them – big, lumbering shapes swimming in a pack near the lake’s edge.

I arrived between rain showers on an overcast day that lent softness to a landscape where the traditional features of a Japanese garden are set under a towering canopy of fir and cedar, native trees retained from the forest already on the site.



The character below is actually from a Chinese calligraphic scroll inside the university’s Asian Centre, just across from the Nitobe Memorial Garden. The scroll is a poem, “Gazing at Taishen”, by Chinese poet Tu Fu.

The stunning calligraphy, which caught me up short, is by Fan Zeng, a brilliant painter, calligrapher and poet. The poem’s first lines read:

“How is one to describe this king of mountains?

Throughout the whole of Chi and Lu, one never loses sight of its greenness.

In it, the creator has concentrated all that is numinous and beautiful…”

It was a fitting prelude to a stroll through the garden – as if I’d been transported far west, beyond Japan, into the heart of the oriental soul, to soak in its essence. From there I would make the small hop across the waters from China to Japan, immersing myself in a living, breathing landscape – an embodiment of Japanese culture.





No riot of colorful flowers, but instead, a harmonious composition of elements that gently works its magic on your consciousness, drawing your attention to shape, form, texture, and all the lovely details you might miss in a more riotous garden design.



Traditional stone lanterns, some very old, were brought from Japan, as well as an old Chinese stone pagoda sculpture, above. The tall Nitobe lantern, below, includes oriental zodiac symbols – you can see the horse, sheep, monkey and rooster here. This is the lantern that reportedly lights up when the sun hits it at 4 PM on the day Nitobe died, but I wonder about clouds and trees getting in the way. You can see the size of this latern in the 4th image above – it’s behind two trees to the left of the path.



The garden is meant to be appreciated slowly;

vistas open up and disappear as you trace winding paths, round corners, ascend gentle bridges and pause to reflect, as this man did.


Bamboo poles and with graceful hoop stays serve as gentle reminders to keep to the paths.


The Tea House was closed but a seat outside the building afforded a resting place.

More bamboo, artfully tied together with weathered rope, enclosed the seating area. All very wabi-sabi!


The Asian Centre next door includes elements of Japanese architecture that complement the Nitobe Memorial Garden.


“I am in Japan,” the Crown Prince (now Emperor) of Japan is said to have remarked as he toured the garden.

No doubt the Nitobe is an authentic Japanese tea and stroll garden. For me, a more fitting description of this graceful landscape might be that it nestles one Pacific Ocean coastal culture into the landscape of another, with nary a leaf or symbol  – or soul, out of place.

Above, delicate branches of Japanese maple waft across a sturdy old northwestern Douglas fir.