LOCAL WALKS: WILDFLOWER JOY

Or should I say the joy of wildflowers, or

is it the joy of early spring?

Or maybe it’s the joy of full vaccination…

In any case, here’s a collection that reflects my deep appreciation for “Spring ephemerals,” the fleeting wildflowers of spring that appear and depart all too quickly. These photographs were made within fifteen minutes of home, over the past five weeks.

This is a long, immersive post that you may want to linger over.

ENJOY!

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1. Like spirits from another world, pure white Fawn lilies (Erythronium oregonum) rise up from the dusky litter of broken sticks and dried leaves left by last winter’s storms.
2. Sitting under the dappled shade of fir trees with my legs tucked under me, I search, focus and click. Waves of enchantment wash over me. There’s nowhere I’d rather be at this moment.
3. I get up to go but I can’t resist another photograph, this time looking down at the perfect symmetry of the flower and its richly colored, mottled leaves. Fawn lilies are perfect from every angle.

4. A single-lane loop road traces a two-mile circuit through a local park that is sprinkled with tiny wildflowers, most of them never seen by people circling the park on the road. I walk away from the road on soft, dirt trails winding through evergreen woods and emerging onto quiet meadows. I see few people on the trails.
5. Here’s one of the park’s wild inhabitants: the diminutive Calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa), just beginning to open. See how small it is in relation to the grass, leaves and sticks around it – no wonder people don’t see it!
6. Once again I sit on the forest floor – how else can I see their faces? Like twins, these two bloomed close together on separate stems. Also called Venus’ slipper or Fairy slipper, this orchid of dry, coniferous and mixed forests does not tolerate disruption. The plant sends up a single leaf from a small corm (like a bulb), then a flower stalk that will soon disappear. Calypso orchids have close relationships with certain soil fungi in order to access nutrients they can’t produce on their own. If that partnership is disturbed the plant may die. Bees typically visit the intricate flowers a few times before they realize there is no nectar at all in that enticing opening. By then, pollination has occurred – by deception.
7. The Small-flowered woodland star (or prairie star) (Lithophragma parviflora) is opening five, deeply-cut, pale pink petals. “Litho” refers to stone and this little western American native loves the open, rocky bluffs on the edge of the park.
8. In early April, a thin-soiled bluff sports a lovely smattering of wildflowers, among them the Small-flowered woodland star.
9. This year’s plentiful winter rain was kind to the moss, which in turn seems to be kind to Small-flowered blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia parviflora) and Grassland saxifrage (Micranthes integrifolia).
10. On the second Saturday in April I went up to Sugarloaf, a promontory on Fidalgo Island, and sat on a rock. Changeable weather discouraged other hikers that day; it was just me and a spectacular view of storm clouds pouring rain over the San Juan Islands. I barely made it home in time for dinner that day!
11. As I wound my way down the trail to my car that afternoon, I gazed out toward the water through an understory of budding Red huckleberry bushes and paused to take a photo while there was still light in the sky. It wasn’t quite as dark as it looks here – spot metering and choosing where to meter and focus dimmed the scene to match the moody atmosphere I felt in my bones.

12. Fiddleheads no bigger than your fingertip were uncurling among the rocks just below the top of Sugarloaf. I’m pretty sure this is Goldback fern (Pentagramma triangularis), a small Western native fern that favors rocky outcrops and tolerates summer drought.
13. The clouds I watched over the San Juan’s unloaded a surprise on Fidalgo Island on that afternoon – hail. Pockets of the little ice balls still decorated the ground when I hiked up the hill.
14. One the earliest harbingers of spring is the photogenic Skunk cabbage, or Yellow lantern (Lysichiton americanus). These bold beauties rise up from the muck of low-lying wetlands in March. To me, the odor is not bad but I’ve read that the plant’s scent can change with the temperature. Maybe I’ve been lucky to be near them at their “best.” These energetic clumps grow in a wetland inhabited by beavers, near the middle of the island.
15. These fetching fellows favor wet places around bluffs on the fringes of Washington Park. They’re called Seep monkey flowers (Eryanthe guttata). The little charmers grow in a variety of habitats including alpine slopes, desert washes and serpentine balds on Fidalgo, where heavy metals in the soil discourage many plants from taking root. Along with Larkspurs (#18-20), Stonecrops (#28), and Checker lilies (below), Monkey flowers have been hybridized for gardens and exist in many forms, both in the wild and in cultivation.

16. The nodding, oddly colored bells of Chocolate lily, also called Checker lily (Fritillaria affinis) tend to disappear when they grow in grassy areas. You have to look hard to spot them! I found this nice specimen fairly well hidden near a trail in Deception Pass State Park; the one below was at the top of Goose Rock, in the same park.
17. The Fritillarias are a genus of lily with well over a hundred species growing in temperate regions of the Northern hemisphere. In China certain Fritillarias are used medicinally for lung conditions. The flower bulbs of our species have smaller bulbs that look like plump grains of rice stuck to them. Coast Salish tribes used to dig and eat the bulbs; the plant is also called “Rice root.”
18. Perched on the narrow edge of a cliff overlooking tidal waters, this attractive larkspur (Delphineum menziesii) is an ephemeral delight. The deep, blue-violet color mixes well with yellow Lomatium flowers, white chickweed, and the multi-colored leaves of native Stonecrop plants that grow around it at this location. Honestly, I get nervous looking at these Larkspurs because they grow just a step away from a popular trail in a state park. So far though, they are unmolested.
19. Larkspur buds sport warm, fuzzy coats and a jaunty attitude.
20. I can’t resist adding another photo of Menzies’ larkspur. It was taken this week when the sun was sinking down over the waters of the Salish Sea, lending a warm glow to everything. The Latin species name ‘menziesii” is after Archibald Menzies, a surgeon and naturalist on Captain George Vancouver’s H.M.S. Discovery. He was one of the first Europeans to preserve and describe many plants of the Pacific Northwest, over two hundred years ago.

21. Time out to gaze at a Canada goose (Branta canadensiss) swimming across a small lake, not far from the Skunk cabbage wetland in #14, above. Back in New York, Canada geese gathering in large numbers fouled campus lawns with excrement. I never see more than a dozen at a time here and I never have to tiptoe carefully through the you-know-what.

22. That day at the lake, after looking down at the goose I looked up into a wild, Red-flowering currant bush (Ribes sanguineum). What a pleasure to see this beauty reaching toward the light at the edge of the woods.
23. One of my favorite spring wildflowers is the petite Satin flower, or Grass widow (Olsynium douglasii). I’ve only seen them in two or three places.
24. Viewed from above, this patch of Satin flowers shows different stages of growth. The color, simple shape and scarcity of Satin flowers make them special to me. Like many of the native plants that grow here, they are found from southern British Columbia to northern California; they also grow in the interior, as far east as Utah. They favor wet springs and dry summers, like many native plants here on Fidalgo Island.
25. Here’s one place I found Satin flowers: along the edge of this path on Sugarloaf. It was a typically cloudy March day but we could still make out the Olympic Mountains, far off to the southwest, rising over a cloud bank. Since childhood I’ve been prone to switch back and forth between the close, small scale view and the expansive long view.
26. A fern unwinds after a long winter sleep. This is the (very!) common Bracken fern, aka Brake fern (Pteridium aquilinum). The tall, coarse fern thrives from Mexico to Alaska and is also native to Europe and Eastern Asia. Young shoots like this are relished in Korea and Japan. The plant contains a carcinogenic chemical that is probably safe in small quantities but cooks usually soak the shoots in water prior to steaming, which probably eliminates any risk. To me, Bracken ferns are fond friends (or should I say “frond friends?) whose shoots amuse me in spring and whose dried leaves add texture and color to the winter woods.
27. Isn’t the cool, violet-blue of Common camas (Camassia quamash), irresistible? A member of the lily family, this plant grows from a bulb that local tribes used to dig, then steam in large pits for many hours before eating. Before prairies were cleared for agriculture they grew abundantly enough to be one of the most important foods of Pacific Northwest tribes. The pretty flowers are fairly common here on the island, if you know where and when to look.
28. Nature composes pleasing rock gardens all over the island. This one is on Sugarloaf, where Broadleaf stonecrop (Sedum spathufolium) mixes with shaggy mosses and crusty lichens. After the spring ephemerals have faded. Stonecrop plants will take their turn, sending up cheerful yellow flowers in early summer.
29. Standing up like soldiers, Prairie saxifrage (Micranthes integrifolia) has grown fast after being nourished by spring rain. Along with the rain, they’ll be gone by summer. Once again, it’s worth it to get down on the ground to see them at their own level. (Also pictured above, #9, at an earlier stage of growth).
30. How else would I see this, if I didn’t sit in the grass?

31. A cooperative Barred owl (Strix varia) allowed me to point the camera straight at it from a close range one day. I was walking back from a long hike and had a 60mm macro lens on my Olympus Pen-F (about a 120mm equivalent on a DSLR). That’s not really enough reach for birds, but I managed some acceptable shots anyway. Getting out frequently to look for wildflowers brings many gifts.

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HAPPY EARTH DAY!

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FURTHER AFIELD: Venturing Out Again

After over a year of refraining from overnight travel* we made a brief foray with friends to the other side of the mountains, what I like to call The Dry Side. The western and eastern halves of Washington State are separated by a formidable barrier: the North Cascade Mountain Range, a vast, wild, land of evergreen forests and rocky summits. When prevailing winds roll across the Pacific Ocean and onto land, the Cascades exert a powerful effect on the weather. Clouds mass and stall on the western side of the mountains, releasing rain and snow in a process that creates lush, temperate rainforests and gives Seattle its Emerald City nickname. After dumping all that moisture on one side of the mountains, the other side gets very little, a phenomenon called the rain shadow effect. For Washingtonians, that means all you have to do is travel over a pass to the other side of the mountains and you’re in a different world.

Our friends proposed that we meet in Vantage, a small town situated roughly in the middle of the state. After leaving home at a reasonable hour we drove south, then east on the interstate. We cleared snowy Snoqualmie Pass by 11 am and drifted down the other side of the Cascades, losing 2,000 feet of elevation as forests of Lodgepole pine yielded to open, rolling, foothills as far as we could see. Finally, we reached the mighty Columbia River, where we turned north and then back west for a few miles to meet our friends. Our rendezvous spot was at the base of a series of wide, grassy hills, the site of a network of interpretive trails for Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park. You heard me right – ginkgo – and no, ginkgo trees haven’t grown here for millions of years, but petrified ginkgo logs were discovered near Vantage by chance, almost 100 years ago.

2. Gentle hills, gentle colors.

3. Looking across the Columbia River at a spare landscape of rock, grass, sage, and water.

4. Petrified wood

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6. Muted desert colors in the leaf litter.

It was something very American – highway construction – that led to the discovery of the rare, petrified wood pieces now on display at Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park. A local college professor recognized a rock someone was carrying for what it was when crews began moving earth for a new highway in the late 1920s. Professor Beck rounded up a group of students to get to work and see what else was hiding under the dry hills. The mix of petrified trees they found was strange – Douglas fir (still abundant in many parts of Washington), magnolia, and ginkgoes shared space with species from a variety of habitats. Long ago, water from floods or lava from volcanic eruptions probably transported trees from different places to this spot, and over time, mud buried the trees and kept them from disintegrating. When lava from a major volcanic fissure crept across the area and quickly cooled, basalt was formed, causing the submerged wood to slowly morph into mineral and rock.

One of us, a keen lichenologist, pointed out extensive communities of lichens growing on the petrified wood. Who would have thought that stone could host all that life? But look closely and a whole new biological world opens up in front of your eyes. It was the same thing on the hillside where we hiked – what looked like a sere expanse of dry grass from afar yielded a bountiful crop of wildflowers in shades of gold, purple, pink, and white. All you have to do is walk slowly and examine your surroundings, which is exactly what we did. And frankly, we walked very slowly.

The ecosystem is called sagebrush-steppe and indeed, sage was everywhere, lending a soft, gray-green cast to the landscape. Only 8 or 9 inches of rain falls in the region annually, so plants have adapted to the aridity with low, mounding shapes, fuzzy leaves, pale colors, summer dormancy, and other tricks. The soil is coated with something called a cryptogamic crust, a slow-growing, delicate layer of lichens, mosses, algae, and cyanobacteria that stabilizes and protects the soil. These biological soil crusts are very susceptible to disturbance by grazing animals, invasive grasses, and human traffic of all kinds. We tried to stay on the trail but temptations to gently step off for photographs were hard to resist. Spring is when the rains come and the flowers sprang up like gems in the rough, each one presenting pure color to the dome of blue above. The liquid, warbling song of Meadowlarks drifting over the hills was a treat for our ears. Squeezing a few leaves of sage between my fingers and inhaling the pungent scent, I remembered desert trips from the past. The Dry Side was yielding a feast of sensations.

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7. Investigating plants and rocks.

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9. Petroglyphs that would have been lost underwater when the Columbia River was dammed were moved a mile downriver to reside at the interpretive center. The display sparked a conversation among us about the universality of symbols.
10. Spring green in the form of little “paws” on Big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata).

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The next day we crossed the river to hike at Ancient Lakes, a landscape of towering basalt cliffs, canyons, and mesas scoured out by Ice Age floods that left basins of water behind like scattered pearls dropped from a broken necklace. This complex environment has more interesting features than we had time to investigate that day; our eyes, ears, and noses were well stimulated.

We met at a civilized hour (three of us camped and two didn’t – guess which two didn’t!), crossed the Columbia River and headed to the Quincy Lakes Wildlife Area, part of a million acres of land managed by Washington’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. We were still in sagebrush-steppe habitat, a hot-in-summer, cold-in-winter land of poor soil that was once occupied seasonally by Native Americans. Much of the surrounding land is now irrigated for wheat, potatoes, apples, wine grapes, livestock, and other crops. Thankfully, the unusual landscape at Quincy Lakes is relatively intact and available to anyone who has the time and wherewithal to look.

Speaking of looking, the first thing that caught our eyes when we stopped at a parking area was four White pelicans soaring high overhead in the cloud-paled sky. As we watched them circle round and fly off to another lake I thought about the squadron of White pelicans that spends five months each year on Padilla Bay, just minutes from home. They still seem exotic to me and hopefully, they always will. After looking around a bit we decided to continue on to a place down the road that two of us remembered from previous trips. By the time we settled on the right spot to explore, it was lunchtime. We perched on rocks overlooking a spectacular array of waterfalls, wetlands, ponds, and distant mesas as we ate hard-boiled eggs, sandwiches, and snacks. The ticks, rattlesnakes, and unrelenting sun of warmer months were absent. We set off down a trail across a dramatic tableau of canyons, cliffs, and ridges, and soon lost ourselves in wildflower and lichen discoveries. One of the best surprises for me was finding tiny Shooting stars (see the photo below) hidden in the grass beside the trail. I associate this plant with wetter conditions close to home. I was amazed to see it in this harsh environment but when I thought about it, the place where I’ve seen Shooting stars before is rocky with thin soil and dry summers, like Quincy Lakes. Still, it was a sheer wonder to see this beautiful little flower wafting in the dry desert breezes.

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12. The results of volcanic eruptions that occurred millions of years ago delight the eyes today.

13. Sage is everywhere, dead and alive.

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16. I jumped with excitement when I saw little frog’s eggs in a shallow stream, like perfect, pink pearls, and so vulnerable. Sights like this make my day.

17. Power-lines on the horizon are a reminder that civilization isn’t far away.
18. This year’s blossoms rise from last year’s faded, crinkled leaves. Like #8 above, this is a Balsamroot, probably Arrow-leaf.
19. Down was easier than up.
20. Hats, walking sticks, sturdy boots, water, and curiosity….we’re prepared.

21. The last scene was the kind that makes you promise yourself that you’ll return.

We had to turn around for the long trip home sooner than we wanted to that day. We had filled our souls with the unaccustomed sensations of The Dry Side: Meadowlarks, Magpies, Balsamroot, sage, and burnt orange vistas, both gentle and rough. Maybe best of all was the pleasure of stretching one’s mind out over wide expanses of open space in the company of good friends. Here’s to more venturing out!

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*It had been well over a year since we traveled: the last trip we took before the pandemic stopped us in our tracks was to Vancouver, Canada, in November 2019. That year we took three other trips: a three-week foray through northern Europe in April, a road trip in eastern Washington in May, and another road trip through Oregon and northern California in September. The year before that (2018) we flew to Las Vegas to see Death Valley in January, took an Oregon/California road trip in April, and spent a week in Los Angeles in October – in addition to moving house in July! In 2017 we traveled to New York, central Oregon, and southwest Arizona and made numerous day trips around the state. We took the freedom to go where we wanted when we wanted for granted.

The pandemic changed everything. The enforced absence of travel, the radical limitations of our social lives, and the general tone of the world had a profound effect on me throughout 2020, more than I realized until we ventured out for a brief jaunt over the mountains. Suddenly the reality of 2020 was set in relief against the possibilities of seeing other places, being with friends, and feeling the freedom of the open road. The hectic pace of travel we maintained previously had ground to a halt in 2020. We entertained thoughts about a possible trip now and then but in the end, we decided to be safe and stay put for fifteen, long, quiet, months. I became so accustomed to life at home and its circumscribed rituals (most of which I appreciate) that I found myself missing my own bed, my routines, and my home after being away for only two days! Missing home is definitely NOT my typical response to travel.

But we’re getting back on the horse and already planning a trip to Boston and New York next month. After that? It’s hard to tell, isn’t it? We don’t know what the next year will bring.

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LOCAL WALKS: Back to Washington Park

In January I wrote a “Local Walks” post about Washington Park, a 220-acre, wooded park about 20 minutes from home. I found out about this captivating place in 2017 but I lived far away then, near Seattle. After moving to Fidalgo Island in 2018, I could visit the park more often. Then, when COVID-19 restrictions closed another favorite park in March, I became a regular as Washington Park remained open for walkers, bikers and to a limited extent, auto traffic. Almost all of the Fawn lily photos from my last post were taken here, as well as the Calypso orchid photos in the previous post. Needless to say, this little dot on the globe is playing a big part in my life. I’m so very thankful it exists.

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The park has too many stories for me to begin sorting them out: the history includes a one-dollar-a-pie Lemon pie sale that local women organized in 1922 to raise funds to expand the park; the geology includes an unusual mid-Jurassic period rock ledge which was once part of the earth’s mantle; the park’s flora includes leafless, rootless orchids that spring out of the ground only to hide in plain sight and an odd little fern that looks like parsley and thrives in infertile serpentine soils. Let’s not forget the stories of the people who use the park every day, walking their dogs on the 2-mile loop road, camping under the tall trees, boating, picnicking, exploring tide pools at low tide, hand-feeding Chickadees and chipmunks, or even grabbing a 25-cent shower in one of several clean restrooms (I’m always pleasantly surprised to find a clean restroom in a park).

Some stories with personal meaning include the times I’ve spotted seals and porpoises from the shore, days spent exploring trails that wind through the woods and up and down the grassy balds, the surprise of mating Oystercatchers, and the peaceful times I’ve spent gazing across the water at vibrant sunsets. You can see why I don’t know where to begin, so I’ll let the pictures tell the story. Enjoy!

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3. The park abounds with fallen trees and branches. As they decompose, they become shelter and nourishment for the soil and for a variety of creatures.

4. Blue berries of Seaside juniper (Juniperus maritima) – actually modified cones – litter the ground in winter. The flavor of gin comes from juniper berries but gin makers use another species, Common juniper. The endemic Seaside juniper is limited to coastal bluffs here and in southwestern British Columbia, and a few spots across the strait in the Olympic Mountains. It thrives on Washington Park’s dry, rocky, southwestern-facing balds.

5. An aggregating anemone (Anthopleura elegantissima) spreads its tentacles in a tide pool. These sea creatures have a mutually beneficial relationship with photosynthetic algae that live in their body tissues. The algae photosynthesize in a complex, symbiotic association that includes the manufacture of amino acids which act as sunscreen for both partners. Nature always amazes me – the more you delve, the more wonders you find.
6. This little Townsend’s chipmunk (Tamais townsendii) has an injured ear but that doesn’t seem to slow him (or her?) down.
7. Madrone trees (Arbutus menziesii) are well adapted to the open, drier forest edges that ring the park. Their bark peels to a striking orange color and their deep green leaves persist year-round.
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10. A ferry makes its way to the San Juan Islands.
11. A Great Blue heron seems to be contemplating the sky.
12. Fog

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14. Small-flowered Blue-eyed Mary – what a big name for a diminutive flower. Here it’s growing in a bed of moss. (Collinsia parviflora).
16. In Spring small wildflower meadows can be found in a few spots around the park. This one features blue-violet Small Camas (Camassia quamash), creamy white Meadow Deathcamas (Toxicoscordion venenosum) and pink Shortspur Seablush (Plectritis congesta). As you’d guess, Meadow deathcamas is very toxic. Its bulbs look like those of Small Camas, which was once an important tribal food source. After the flowers fall, there’s no way to tell the two bulbs apart. People used to mark the locations of the safe bulbs, to be dug later when they were bigger. The sweet bulbs were steamed in large pits for a day or more to make them digestible.

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17. January winds slam waves of Salish Sea water into the ancient rocks. Incoming tides draw ocean water from many miles away to this area, where it mixes vigorously with fresh river water in the tight channels. The mix of ocean and fresh water contributes to an ecosystem that is rich in biological activity.

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19. Typical for the southwest side of the park is this cozy group of Seaside junipers and Madrones nestled in a bed of Reindeer moss (Cladonia sp.). The junipers and Madrones knit together Douglas fir-dominant forest (glimpsed behind them) with the rocky, grassy bluffs that overlook the water. Both tree species enjoy the sharp drainage and abundant light here on the edge of the peninsula.
20. The soil starts with rock and moss.

21. In the forest, Western hemlocks (Tsuga heterophylla) often take root on old, logged stumps. Eventually the hemlocks may envelope the stump completely.
22. Black-tailed deer are plentiful in the park – and all around the island.
23. A Madrone tree leans over the one-way Loop Road.
24. Another foggy day on Fidalgo.
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Where do all those Latin names come from? Because common names vary from place to place, they can be confusing, imprecise and misleading. Latin names are a universal language. I try to include them often so that readers from other countries or other parts of North America can understand what plant I’m referring to.

The sources I use regularly include the internet (e.g. Wikipedia and iNaturalist), Daniel Mathews’ excellent reference book, Cascade-Olympic Natural History, Pojar & Mackinnon’s Plants of Coastal British Columbia, the Peterson Field Guide to Pacific States Wildflowers and Lyons’ Wildflowers of Washington. I actually enjoy searching through these books and online resources to figure out what I’ve seen, and then learning about it – it’s like detective work.

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JUST ONE: Fawn lily

Spring proceeds on its own schedule, without effort or hindrance. It may be wetter or slower or colder than we think it should be, but those notions are just concepts that we layer onto our experience. Spring doesn’t listen to that. Without considering our opinions or preferences, buds open, birds sing, frogs lay eggs, insects buzz…

…and the flowers, the flowers. Lately one in particular enchants me: the Fawn lily, Erythronium oregonum.

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Clean and delicate, the elegant, six-petaled lilies appear in early to mid-spring, in moist woodlands or prairies from northwest California to British Columbia. About two dozen other species of Erythronium occur in the United States, Japan, China, Russia, Iran and the Caucasus. Like tulips, they are members of the Lily family. Generally, lilies have flower parts arranged in threes, grow from bulbs and flourish in temperate regions. Their simplicity of form is very appealing.

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The Fawn lilies here on Fidalgo Island have been beautiful. Last April I was away almost all month and the April before that, I didn’t live here, so this is my first April on Fidalgo Island. It’s been a month of discoveries and finding dozens of graceful Fawn lilies in parks and preserves near home has been thrilling.

The flowers I admire today have taken years to come into bloom; they’re nothing like the sprouts you might grow at home or grass seed that greens up a lawn in a matter of days. I could begin the cycle anywhere but I’ll start with January, when the winds of winter have their way with branches, leaves, bark chunks, needles, cones and lichen scraps, sending them all raining down onto the forest floor where they slowly decompose. In March the ground is still a chaotic tangle of broken fragments holding little promise. But deep under the soil, Fawn lily seeds are busy growing. The first visible effort isn’t very dramatic – just one small leaf will emerge, probably during the wet weather of autumn. But the leaf will grow, and so will the bulb.

The next year another leaf will emerge, this time a little bigger. Below the leaf, the seed will have fattened into a small corm or bulb, which gradually pushes downward to a deeper, safer place where it’s less likely to be dug up and eaten or dry out in the summer. That downward motion is accomplished with specialized contractile roots that pull the bulb down into the soil instead of taking up water and minerals. As this cycle repeats the result is a bigger leaf, a bigger bulb, and a stronger plant each year.

Finally, the plant gathers sufficient energy to produce a flower. If the flower survives it may be pollinated, most likely by a bee. Successful pollination will lead to seed formation and dispersal and with their work done, the leaves will wither in the summer heat, releasing their nutrients back into the soil. Some of the seeds will land in just the right places to begin the cycle anew.

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6. The name “Fawn lily” supposedly derives from the resemblance of the leaf patterns to a fawn’s coat. An intriguing theory about why the leaves are mottled brown and green states that the darker (brown) areas may help absorb more heat from low, late-winter sunlight.

7. The leaves are lovely but the prize is the flower and eventually, it appears.



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Spending time among the Fawn lilies, photographing them and working out different ways to process the images deepens my appreciation for them. They won’t be in flower much longer. Like many Spring ephemerals, they take advantage of the light on the forest floor that is present before many plants leaf out. They flower before the light is reduced, fading away over the summer and coming alive again in the cool, wet, early months of the year. Late next winter I’ll search for those distinctively mottled leaves in anticipation of enjoying the delicate white stars of the forest again.

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In saying that spring follows its own schedule and pays no attention to what we might be thinking, I don’t mean to imply that our actions have no impact on the climate, the environment, and thus on spring itself. What we do and how we are involved with life on earth matters.

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LOCAL WALKS: Sugarloaf

Sugarloaf – the name is used a lot for peaks and promontories, but why it was given to this hill on Fidalgo Island I don’t know. At 1275 feet (389m) it’s a bit lower than the island’s highest point, Mount Erie. Neither place gets snow very often. As it happened though, the first time I hiked to Sugarloaf there were a few patches of snow on the ground. That was mid-February of this year.

1. Looking southwest towards Whidbey Island from Sugarloaf.

The sun was shining through the trees and ferns but clouds obscured the horizon. I had taken an easier route than the one most people use. Instead of beginning the hike at the bottom I drove up the winding, two-lane road that leads to the top of Mount Erie. Part-way up the drive there’s a trailhead for Sugarloaf and room for a car or two on the side of the road. I parked there and set out, keeping a map close at hand because of the confusing maze of trails through these woods. Trail 215 is part of the Anacortes Community Forest Lands and is rated technically difficult because of numerous rocks, roots and a few steep pitches, but it’s short. I was at the top after about a half mile of winding through the forest.

2. A large old Douglas fir reaches out as if to embrace the trail.

3. The snow won’t last long.
4. Sword fern brightens the way with emerald green.

The view of Whidbey Island and the San Juans was a nice reward and behind some trees, a slice of the Cascade Range was visible in the other direction. Tall, fire-blackened Douglas fir trees stood in the clearing alongside the fresh green of young Madrones. I wondered how long ago the fire came through here. How was it extinguished, so far from a water source?

5. Some were spared, some weren’t.
6. Madrone trees grow among fire-blackened logs.

7. Rocks at Sugarloaf tell stories I can’t decipher.

I enjoyed the hike but it wasn’t until May that I got back there again, this time with a group of native plant enthusiasts. Learning about Fidalgo Island’s wildflowers was exciting. Gripped by a fever of wildflower identification, I came back three times that month, introducing friends to favorite new figures in my personal forest lexicon.

I worked at identifying flowers that were new to me, recording what I saw with the camera. When I could, I got down close for the challenging task of making photographs that were more than documents, often failing, sometimes succeeding. This kept me busy for weeks.

All of the flowers here were seen on Sugarloaf in May.

8. Setting up to photograph wildflowers in a meadow on Mount Erie.

12. A tiny moth was disturbed when I sat on a rock to have lunch.

13. Sugarloaf trail in spring.

15. Close-up of a Heuchera leaf.
16. Fog settles among the islands of the Salish Sea.

After the spring wildflower frenzy I didn’t get back up to Sugarloaf all summer. Then a few weeks ago I returned for a quiet woodland walk. I saw no one. One last flower bloomed in an opening, mushrooms lined the trail, and raindrops glistened in the bushes in the low, angled light. I amused myself with photographing tiny twigs and mushrooms.

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23. Two Douglas firs in the last sunlight of the day.

A raven soared by and was quickly gone, riding the mountainside updrafts. I lingered to watch the sunset over the mountains, far off in the distance. By the time I was heading back down the trail, the sun had gone under and it was getting dark. Dozens of small white mushrooms growing in the fir needle duff lit up the forest gloom, like little stars showing me the way.

I’ll be back.

24. A raven tilts its tail to catch an updraft and glide away.
25. Sunset at Sugarloaf.

26. Mushrooms in the forest.

***

Further Afield: In the Mountains

Yesterday I went hiking in the North Cascades with a friend who loves the mountains and is as curious about plants as I am. It’s time for berry picking now and most of the wildflowers are finished, but we hoped to find a few flowers hanging on. One of the flowers still blooming was a delicate, pure-white flower that looked familiar. I knew I’d seen it in the field guides but I couldn’t remember the name for it. I made a few quick photos to study when I got home. The pretty little wildflower was dropping snow-white petals onto the dark soil at the trail’s edge; it was a lovely, poignant sight signifying the end of summer.

After I got home I looked for the plant in my field guide and found it: it’s the Fringed Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia fimbriata). The odd name instantly brought up a memory of my mother saying “Grass of Parnassus” as she described a similar wildflower she found hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina, where she lived. In fact, Grass of Parnassus is probably one of the flowers we saw on our last drive up into the mountains back in 1999, when she was fighting pancreatic cancer. Late that summer I visited her to help out and we took a pleasant drive together to see the scenery. It was one of many visits I made that year before she finally drew her last breath in her own bed, on Christmas Eve.

My mother loved wildflowers and passed that along to me. Mountains, too – she hiked many miles in the Blue Ridge Mountains with her hiking buddies. We never hiked in the mountains when I was a child; we lived in places with rolling hills and we vacationed nearby, or at my grandparent’s home near the ocean. But I remember standing on a hillside outside of Syracuse, New York with my mother when I was a schoolgirl and gazing at a glorious view spread out below us. It was essentially the same feeling I get from mountains vistas, that peaceful relaxing into open space that assures you there are endless possibilities ahead.

1. Mount Baker, or Koma Kulshan, an active stratovolcano in northwestern Washington, seen from a meadow on Dock Butte.

2. Mount Shuksan from the trail to Dock Butte.

3. The Sauk Mountain trail with a view of the Skagit River Valley far below.

4. A pond by the trail to Dock Butte.

My parents retired to place where they could hike in the mountains, and without making the connection to what they did, I did the same thing, although I’m on a different side of the country. But it’s no surprise since they set the stage early on, conveying a deep and lasting appreciation for nature. I kept the passion alive, thanks to my own enthusiasm and to the people around me. Now I’m living in a beautiful part of the world, making forays out to places that nourish the most fundamental parts of my life.

I’ll keep going back up to the mountains as often as I can, which isn’t as often as I’d like. It usually involves a long drive on terrible roads, and a bit of planning. But oh, is it worth it!

5 – 7. Wildflowers and butterflies on Sauk Mountain.

8. Another butterfly on Sauk Mountain.

9. Blueberries on the trail to Dock Butte. This blueberry bush has lost its leaves but the berries were incredibly sweet and flavorful. Another connection with the past: my mother picked quantities of wild blueberries in the mountains every summer and froze them for pies.
10. Old evergreens on the trail to Dock Butte.

11. Towering firs have a commanding presence on the trail to Dock Butte.
12. Sauk Mountain meadows and wildflowers in late July.

13. Wildflowers and mountain views, Sauk Mountain trailhead, 4300 feet (1310 m).

Late in July I hiked Sauk Mountain, another North Cascade Range peak. I didn’t quite make it to the top that day but that did not diminish my pleasure. The wildflowers were riotous, the butterflies and bees happy, and the view seemed endless. I’m sure my mother would have enjoyed that day. My son would have too, if he’d been there. The passion for nature, especially for the mountains, is alive in him.

14. Going camping in the mountains.

There’s something exhilarating about being high up in the wilderness. I’m thankful that my parents instilled a keen appreciation for the outdoors in their kids, and thankful I have friends and family who share the passion. My wish for you is that even if the mountains aren’t accessible and the wilderness is out of reach you can still go outside, quiet down, and forget yourself. With a little luck, the energy around you will bring peace, and maybe even a tear to your eyes.

15. Fringed Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia fimbriata), losing its last petals in early September on the Dock Butte trail at about 4200 feet (1280 m).

ROAD TRIP: Over the Pass

A few weeks ago we took a three day road trip to the Methow Valley, a popular weekend hiking, biking and skiing destination in north-central Washington State. I read that Methow is an Okanagan word for sunflower (seeds). I don’t know why “seeds” is in parentheses, but I suppose that the sunflower is Arrowleaf balsmaroot, a locally abundant flower that brightens the valley’s hills in Spring.

Arrowleaf balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) flowers backed by Bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) at peak bloom.

To get to the Methow Valley we had to drive over the North Cascade Mountains, following the two-lane North Cascade Highway east for over 100 miles. By the time we reached the pass, our elevation had increased by about 5,450 feet (1661m). It’s an exhilarating drive, once you get into the mountains. We stopped at Newhalem, a tiny company town built around the hydroelectric plant that has powered Seattle for almost a hundred years. Here, we took a short walk on the Trail of Cedars to enjoy the view of the Skagit River and the beauty of the mature forest around it.

Skagit River at Newhalem, with mares’ tails clouds
Northern Starflower (Trientalis arctica) on the forest floor.
Mid-day shadows are well defined, and black and white brings them out.

We stopped a second time at an overlook to gaze at the blue-green waters of Diablo Lake, a reservoir created by one of three successive dams on the Skagit River.

Diablo Lake with Davis Peak in the background

As we approached the pass the clouds thickened and patches of snow appeared on the sides of the road. The North Cascade Highway is very avalanche-prone during the winter and closes from October until sometime in May, depending on weather. For a good six months you have to drive further south to another pass if you want to get from one side of the state to the other.

North Cascade Highway (Route 20) heading towards Washington Pass

Up at the pass there’s an overlook with an impressive mountain view where I hoped to stop for a look. The short road to the overlook was closed and still snowy, but we were able to park the car outside the gate and walk up. Taking care on the snow, we sucked in the fresh mountain air and enjoyed the silence.

Ravaged trees covered with lichens stand tall at Washington Pass.

A North Cascade mountain view at Washington Pass


The lichen-splotched rocks are an elegant complement to the plant life at the rugged pass.

Willow catkins

Liberty Bell mountain from Washington Pass

As we walked back to the car, a pair of Gray jays flew into view. It was clear that they were checking us out, and I knew what that meant – they wanted food! These birds are called Camp robbers, a well-deserved reputation. We happened to have a bag of nuts with us so we doled out a few peanuts, and could barely contain our joy the two jays swooped down onto our hands and grabbed the treats. I’ve fed birds by hand before, but not jays. I was struck by the satisfying plunk of their strong feet on my hand – these birds actually have a little weight to them, unlike the tiny chickadees I’m used to.

Hitting the Jackpot


Over the pass, down the mountain and into the valley we drove, from the wet west side of the Cascades to the dry east side. Before checking into our bnb we made one more stop, at Lewis Butte, where we dawdled amidst fragrant bitterbrush, lovely lupines, and sparkling aspens.

Aspen grove off Gunn Ranch Road, Winthrop

A pond reflects the Cascade foothills
A tree skeleton amidst the wildflowers near Lewis Butte

Homes with views

It’s such a pleasure to be able to experience a completely different environment after just a few hours’ drive. The small towns of Methow Valley have their charms too, with their “Wild West” atmosphere. They can get overrun with tourists at times, but it wasn’t a problem on this trip. We had a great time exploring back roads, and I plan to post photos from the rest of the trip later.

LOCAL WALKS: MORNING FOG

1. Driftwood, Lottie Bay

A late May walk on a cool, foggy morning, a favorite place ten minutes from home…

If you fly over this corner of Fidalgo Island in a small plane and look down, you’ll see a bay shaped like the curved knife used for chopping vegetables, sometimes called a mezzluna.  The knife edge is the beach. A rocky cliff takes a bite out of the edge and a long, narrow pier draws a fine line across the blade and into the bay. (A map is below, for reference.)

A bit of lawn disappears into thick woods surrounding the bay; the quiet water is speckled with rocks. To the west are more islands. In the distance, the Strait of Juan de Fuca disappears into the mist. In the off season the pier is deserted, the waters empty but for an occasional kayaker or small boat, the paths lightly traveled.

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2. At anchor in the fog, Bowman Bay

On this foggy morning there was just one other vehicle in the lot. I was effectively alone. We think of fog as removal: it takes away our ability to see clearly, it muffles sounds and obscures things.

But fog brings not-knowing forward, and what does that do? It returns us to the Wonder.

I’m not sure what’s ahead. I slow down.

3. Flowering grass, Bowman Bay

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4. The path to Lighthouse Point, nearly overtaken by wildflowers and dune grass.

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5. The growth of past seasons mixes with the fresh blades of dune grass on a tangled mess of crumbling driftwood.

 

Wild Nootka roses (Rosa nutkana) sprinkle the path like fat, pink polka dots. The pretty magenta flowers of Common vetch (Vicia sativa) are plentiful too, but are almost lost in  the welcoming, cloud-like drifts of Cow parsnip (Heracleum lanatum).

Stillness hangs heavy. The air is cool.

At the south end of the beach is a tombolo, an Italian-derived word for a narrow strip of land connecting an island to the mainland. This tombolo, strung between two bays, connects Lighthouse Point to Fidalgo Island. It’s the kind of place where edges have no edge, dancing with the tides, creating and erasing boundaries with the unpredictability of a butterfly’s flight. One day, masses of seaweed wash up onto the beach in spongy, pungent mounds. Another day a windstorm spills bay water into the marshy wetland. Sands shift and reach into the dune grass that lines a path over the tombolo. Waves cut shallow scoops from the shoreline. Forty-foot logs are tossed about like toothpicks, eventually becoming rooted in place by wildflowers growing around them. The rubbery ropes of Bullwhip kelp scribe messages in the sand alongside dainty racoon tracks.

It’s always changing here.

7. A receding tide deposits layers of seaweed on the beach and bares barnacle-studded rocks at the base of the cliff.

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8. On top of the cliff the view through the smooth branches of a Madrone tree is fine. Even on a foggy day. Especially so.

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9. Splashes of ochre-colored lichens, chestnut-hued moss, wildflowers, grasses and stunted trees provide decor on a cliff to the north of Light House Point.

On the back side of the tombolo a damp wetland gives way to a sheltered cove called Lottie Bay. This bay is fed by the straight whose churning waters barrel through Deception Pass several times a day, carrying water from the Pacific, ninety miles to the west. With its muddy, shallow bottom, the little cove is a favorite spot of gulls, ducks and chattering Kingfishers. On this day Kildeer spew their high-pitched cries into the gray air, raising the alarm at the slightest perception of threat. One bird drags its wing in the classic “broken wing” feint, designed by some mysterious twist of genetic material to draw would-be predators towards the bird pretending to be injured and away from its vulnerable young.

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10. Cow parsnip (Heracleum lanatum) is beginning to go to seed. The young plant stems were peeled and eaten like celery by local tribes. Black bears forage on it too, which makes me wonder if the bear that swam ashore near here three weeks earlier might have snacked on this plant. That young bear swam to several other islands before being spotted back on the mainland, near a highway. It was finally darted, captured, and hauled off to the mountains. Life should be easier there, assuming this youngster didn’t get too used to dining on birdseed and trash during his island odyssey.

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11. A washed up, barnacle-studded branch is caught in a tangle of dune grass. Another still life to admire, until it all changes again with the next tide.

I return to this magical place at different hours, in fair and foul weather, through all the seasons. Because different habitats are jammed up against one another edge to edge, there are quick, dramatic changes to experience with all my senses. The chill in the air, the scent of low tides, the zippy flight of swallows and the echoing calls of Oystercatchers – it’s always a sensory banquet.

Woods, beaches, a wetland or two, rocky cliffs, a muddy bay, off-shore islands – all in the space of a half mile or so. That’s just what I see on foot, but if I were a seal or an otter, an eagle or a squirrel, then I would have parsed this place into different components. I’d have it memorized by sense instead of names: the place of fast water, the high tree where everything can be seen, the tangle of brush to hide in…

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12. A bouquet of wildflowers cascades off a cliff on Lighthouse Point. Delicate pink Streambank Spring beauty (Montia or Claytonia parvifolia) intermingles with the yellow flowers and succulent, blue-green leaves of Broad-leaved stonecrop (Sedum spathufolium).  Grasses, Licorice fern and Bedstraw (Galium triflorum) help anchor the mass to the rocks.

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13. Delicate Streambank Spring beauty.

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14. I believe this is Baltic rush, Juncus balticus. Rushes look like grass until you get closer.  They’re “walk right by” plants of cool, damp places that most people don’t notice. In Spring, the discerning eye can find a complex, beautiful architecture in their flowers.

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15. The evergreen Sword fern (Polystichum munitum) is ubiquitous in the northwest, thriving in many different habitats. The repeating patterns are irresistible.

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16. Seaweed caught on a branch shows just how high the tides can go. This may have happened last winter in a storm. It’s a rather desolate look, but I think it captures the wildness of this place.

***

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn
by Wu Men (Hui-k’ai)

English version by Stephen Mitchell

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

from Poetry Chaikhana Blog

(The poem is a verse from Ordinary Mind is the Way, Case 19 in the Gateless Gate (Mumonkon), a compilation of zen koans compiled over 700 years ago in China by Chinese Zen master Wu-men Hui-hai.)

 

***

A rough map of the places mentioned in this post

KEEPING UP…

…with seasonal changes is a motivating force. I missed three weeks of spring while I was away. That worried me, because after observing summer, fall and winter here on Fidalgo Island, I didn’t want to miss seeing the changes spring would bring.

But it was fine – when I returned from Europe 12 days ago, tender, green growth was visible everywhere. The spring ephemerals – wildflowers that take advantage of extra light on the forest floor before the trees leaf out – were blooming. These flowers benefit from spring rain too, and it’s been unusually dry. But at least for now the morning dew, and some moisture remaining in the soil, keep the green machine chugging along.

I’ve taken a walk outside most every day, not wanting to miss a minute of this fleeting season. I’m curious to see how spring here differs from spring 70 miles south, where I used to live. Many of the major players in this ecosystem are the same – the dominant evergreen trees, the understory of salal and sword fern, the basic weather patterns – but there are striking differences. Sussing out the disparities, season by season, is fascinating.

I’ve taken walks at a community forest around a lake, at my favorite places in Deception Pass State Park, and at a local park on a peninsula. Those locations are close to home but one day we drove an hour inland to Rockport State Park, where the ecosystem is a little different. In each place wildflowers were blooming, ferns were unfurling, birds were singing, insects were buzzing, and the cool, fresh air gave me a little shiver until I warmed up from trudging up and down hills.

I brought along a favorite macro lens, a wider-angled prime lens, and once, the old Super Takumar 50mm vintage lens, which can be a challenge to use, but produces some unique images. The sun has been bright lately, which isn’t ideal for photographing tiny, delicate wildflowers. I did what I could with the conditions I found. It was fun getting back to Lightroom. I really enjoy pushing those sliders around and manipulating images, but I’m rusty after three solid weeks away from it. In any case, I think you’ll enjoy the fruits of my walks – I hope so. I’ll get back to the Europe trip later – this feels like it can’t wait!

 

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1. Bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) like all ferns, is interesting to peer at up close. I love those tightly coiled little fists. Some people harvest and eat the fiddleheads, but the safety of ingesting this fern is controversial.

 

2. Bracken again. Slightly different species of this fern grow in North, Central and South America, in Europe, in Africa, in China and Southeast Asia, and in Australia. In other words, it’s everywhere! Cattle farmers don’t like it because it can poison livestock.

 

3. A Twisted stalk, probably Clasping Twisted-stalk, aka Watermelon berry (Streptopus amplexifolius), unfolding in the shady understory of the old growth forest at Rockport State Park. The small flowers hide under the stalk – you have to get down really low to see them. A very elegant plant!

 

4. I think this is a close relative, Rose Twisted-stalk (Streptopus lanceolatus, v. roseus). It’s easier to identify after the flowers open, but what a beauty it is at this stage. Rockport State Park.

 

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4. Another elegant plant, though many people may not realize it, is our native Vine maple (Acer circinatum). This small forest tree is found, like many of our native plants, from southwest British Columbia to northern California. Close relatives are the familiar Japanese and Korean maples of Asia.

 

5. The little Calypso orchid (Calypso bulbosa) is found in cool forests in the US, Japan, China, Korea, Mongolia, Russia, Sweden, Finland and the Baltics. The plant depends on particular soil fungi and does not transplant well.

 

6. Calypso orchid petals seen from above. The flower does not produce nectar, but the fancy digs (seen in #5) are quite attractive to insects. Though a bee may leave disappointed, just one more futile try for nectar at another flower may be enough for pollination. Orchids often use this strategy of pollination by deception.

 

7. Looking up in the deep shade of the forest at Goose Rock, Deception Pass State Park. The cheerful oval leaves are the Red Huckleberry (Vaccinium parvifolium), a common understory plant of our woods. Indigenous people made good use of the small berries. Whenever I see them there are only a few left; the birds and animals always seem to beat me to the berry.

 

8. Pacific Bleeding heart (Dicentra formosa), with its ferny foliage, creates a soft, pleasing picture wherever it grows. It’s a popular garden plant; the nursery trade has hybridized these flowers to produce much bigger, more deeply colored pink blooms, and pure white flowers as well. Rockport State Park.

 

9. Black and white? Color? I chose a highly desaturated look for this sweet fiddlehead unfurling it’s fronds at Cranberry Lake, on Fidalgo Island.

 

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10. The little Chocolate lily, (Fritillaria affinis) is a western lily of well-drained sites. Locally, it’s often found on bluffs and balds, the open spaces scraped clean by glaciers long ago. The small, brown and gold flowers can be hard to spot.  I had to sit down on the ground to get this angle; this plant was just a few inches tall. Taken with the vintage Super Takumar 50mm lens at f2 or f2.8.

 

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11. Another take on the Chocolate lily, seen from above and processed in sepia tones. This plant is similar to (but much smaller than) the garden plant Fritillaria meleagris, or Checkered lily, which is now rare in its native Eurasian range.

 

12. Death camas (Toxicoscordian venenosus), at Washington Park, where I saw hundreds of the pretty little plants, which are poisonous from head to toe, to both humans and livestock.

 

13. In bud here are two Common camas flowers (Cammasia quamash). Camas was an important food plant for indigenous people here in the northwest. It often grows near Death camas (above). The flowers are different, but when the flowers are gone it’s hard to tell the bulbs apart, and the bulbs are what people ate. Supposedly, tribes weeded out the Death camas plants to protect themselves against accidental poisoning. Taken with the Super Takumar 50mm lens.

 

14. Here’s an open Common camas flower, in a shadier place, where you can appreciate the delicate lavender color. Also taken with the Super Takumar.

 

15. Spring color is reflected in a fast-moving stream at Rockport State Park.

 

16. Is this a small bee? I don’t know. I was trying to photograph the impossibly tiny flowers of what’s known around here as Sugar-scoop, or Three-leaf foamflower (Tiarella trifoliata). The tiny flowers are scattered along a stem held high over three-part leaves. A delicate beauty, it rewards you if you can get close; in this case the reward doubled.

 

17. A stump of rotting wood is left in place at Rockport State Park. Downed trees are full of possibilities for many life forms, from tough lichens and luxurious mosses to the Douglas squirrels that use them as a picnic table and the Pileated woodpeckers that excavate meals from them.

 

18. Western starflower (Trientalis latifolia) sends up one or two flower stalks on delicate stems, leaving the flowers dangling over the whorl of leaves. It’s a beautiful sight when the pale stars are scattered above deep green leaves on the forest floor. Deception Pass.

 

19. The humble Starflower may have supplied indigenous people with food from its tubers. It’s slightly different from the Northern and Arctic starflower (Trientalis borealis and T. arctica), which grow in eastern North America, and Europe and Asia.

 

20. Stink currant – that’s a fine name! It describes the smell of crushed leaves, not the fruit, which is reported to be unpleasant to delicious, depending on the bush. Ribes bracteosum is the Latin name for this gooseberry relative that grows from Canada down to northern California. I found this one at Rockport State Park,

 

20. A woodland trail at Cranberry Lake, part of the Anacortes Community Forest Lands. Taken with the Super Takumar lens.

 

21. This buttercup (Ranunculas sp.) has lost its petals, but the stamens and developing achenes (the tiny fruits that hold a seed) are the same joyful yellow. Goose Rock, Deception Pass.

 

22. I couldn’t resist including this burgeoning specimen of dandelion (Taraxacum officinale). It was along a roadside at Rockport State Park but of course, they are everywhere!

 

23. Meadow, or Field chickweed (Cerastium arvense) and pink Sea Blush, aka Short-spurred Pletritis (Plectritis congesta) bloom happily in a meadow. Washington Park, Fidalgo Island.

 

24. A Red huckleberry bush gathers a shaft of light angling through the thick canopy of Douglas firs, Western hemlocks, and Redcedars. Deception Pass.

 

25. Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) has come into flower recently. The mid-size bush or small tree graces our roadsides with pretty, cream-colored panicles of flowers. The compound leaves are handsome too, with their elegant tips and finely-toothed edges.

 

26. Fringecup (Tellima grandiflora) is easy to overlook but a close-up view is rewarding. This is another Spring wildflower that is available as a garden plant, with bigger, more colorful flowers. Indigenous people used the plant medicinally. According to Wikipedia, T. grandiflora contains a compound with antiviral properties. Deception Pass. 

 

27. Two Vanilla leaf (Achlys triphylla) plants rise above Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) fronds, which in turn hover over the flattened evergreen fronds of Sword fern (Polystichum munitum). Snow crushed the Sword fern plants while the others slept underground – but Sword fern is putting out new fronds. Vanilla leaf sometimes makes a delicate ground cover in the forest. The vanilla-scented leaves were used to repel insects and perfume living quarters.

 

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28. A Western trillium (Trillium ovatum) past its prime is still beautiful. As the flower slowly turns deep pink, the petals will shrivel and fall away. See the holes in the leaves? I suspect a slug or other creature chewed a big bite in the plant a while ago, when the leaves were tightly folded to the center. The unfurled leaves now reveal three holes. Rockport State Park.

***

Abundance! That’s Spring for you! This is longer than my usual posts, but the flowers just keep coming! Soon the flora parade will fizzle to a frizz, as our dry summer weather takes hold.

Interlude

A summer interlude in an unexpected place…

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There’s nothing like wandering through a summer meadow filled with wildflowers, but where I live now, most open meadows are cultivated for crops. There are places nearby that still support an abundance of flowers though: abandoned railroad tracks. A short walk down a local railroad track can be delightful, and lately I’ve been taking a little time off from packing to wander down the tracks, picking wildflowers as I go. Some are old friends, others are new, and that makes it even better.

All of these images are of flowers I found along railway tracks. I photographed them indoors in combined natural and incandescent light, or just outside my apartment on a small deck, three stories up. I used two lenses – a 60mm macro and a 45mm prime (120mm & 90mm equivalent), with wide open apertures.  The photos were processed in Lightroom and sometimes added effects, like increasing the blur on the edges, were done in Color Efex Pro. You may notice differences in the color because of the indoor lighting in some images. I chose not to make any big changes to the colors, so the pink pea flower in #12 (shot outdoors) is more true to nature than in #5 and #6 (shot indoors).

Six images (#1, #5, #6, #9, #10, #12)  show a flower in the pea family, Everlasting pea (Lathyrus latifolius), which is native to Europe. There are several lush colonies of this vigorous perennial vine sprawling across the wild grasses and blackberries alongside a railroad bed not far from home; the hot pink blossoms are beautiful against cool summer greens. Not being native to the area, this plant is probably displacing native plants, so it is being monitored by Washington’s noxious weed control board.

The crown-shaped flower in the second photo is Bird’s-foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), another pea family plant that has expanded well beyond its original range. It is valued for forage in parts of Europe and Britain, or so I read. Here in North America it can be invasive, but I enjoy seeing the sunshine yellow flowers decorating our roadsides.  Is Bird’s-foot trefoil causing equally beautiful or important native plants to disappear? I honestly don’t know, but I at least feel no guilt when I pick them!

The buds in the third photo are from a Common centaury (Centaurium erythraea), yet another non-native wildflower. In one of my field guides non-native wildflowers are called “aliens.”  That’s something to think about, these days.  Alien species are abundant along railroad tracks, where seeds scattered by wildlife or the wind are less likely to be disturbed by human interference.  It’s not only wildlife and the wind that scatter seeds – trains and other vehicles are important players in the dispersal of non-native plant seeds. Oh, those clever stowaways that we inadvertently strew across the landscape! And just think how far “aliens” can go on a long railroad track!

The cheerful California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), California’s state flower, is well suited to a warm, dry climate. Here in the wet Pacific northwest, little groups of the cheerful posies grow with no help from gardeners, thanks to our bone-dry summers. Photos #4, #7, #8, #13 and #14 show the California poppy at various stages of growth. I picked a few from a cluster that thrives along the edges of yet another abandoned railroad, a place that’s physically close to the town’s center of commerce but seems far removed from it. Walk down the old track and as the street noise recedes you become aware of rabbits hopping about, bees buzzing from flower to flower, sparrows singing, tall grasses swaying in the breeze… and sure enough, your shoulders drop, that furrow between your eyes smooths out, and your breathing eases into a slower rhythm.

The last photo was taken at yet another deserted railroad track that I wander down from time to time. This one passes through a town that has become a winery destination. One of the tasting rooms has placed a table and two chairs in back, right by the tracks. I don’t think anyone uses it, but perhaps a waiter or a dishwasher takes a cigarette break there after the customers have left. Deer wander freely along the tracks – I’ve seen them a number of times. I can picture their dark eyes taking it all in: tasty young leaves, rabbits nosing through the grass, a hawk crying overhead, the scent of human food in the air, muffled traffic noise in the distance, and over there, a man sitting at a table. Hardly moving.