How a Phone is Changing Me

The phone camera provides a very different experience than a digital camera does. It has far fewer opportunities for control – no aperture or ISO setting, no special lenses to choose – just that oddly flat rectangle to hold up to a scene, turn this way and that, and lightly touch.

It’s less calculated. I find I’m more spontaneous when I use it. This adaptation to the technology at hand – it’s almost Darwinian!

Here we are, in the car-wash again, floating in a colorworld…

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A few days later, during a brief respite between appointments. Downtown Seattle:

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I’m not going to switch from digital to a phone camera, but I’m glad I have the phone with me all the time. It opens up other paths.

Life is busy lately so I’m looking forward to getting away next weekend for a road trip I’ve been wanting to do ever since I moved here: a big loop east on Washington Rt. 20 (north of Seattle) through and over the Cascades. This very scenic road is closed much of the year because of the snow and avalanches. We’ll turn south at the little town of Twisp on the dry, eastern Cascade slope. Finally, we’ll head back west on Rt. 2 or I 90, depending on our energy levels come Sunday. There will be two overnights, one at a countryside airbnb north of here, the other at a rather pedestrian hotel in Winthrop – one of the last rooms available in the area when I booked the other day. Hopefully I won’t forget the SD card or the battery charger!

 

RESPITE

Outside a major hospital in Seattle, a cop corrals a disorderly, screaming man wearing a backpack away from the busy front doors. The men catch my attention and I slow to a stop as I exit the building – how dangerous is this? Will the angry man turn and come back? Is the policeman radioing for help or is he confident that he has this?

They disappear down Broadway and I beeline for the curb. There, beds of oddly mixed perennials, banana trees, cabbage palms and annuals draw me in. In these days of hyper-vigilance to violent encounters and the stark polarities of class division, there is respite in nature.

I’m here for a day-long training on suicide prevention; maybe that’s another reason that plants look especially good today. I spend breaks outdoors examining juxtapositions of leaf and branch, color and pattern. I’m glad I can freeze these arrangements with my phone. It’s very satisfying work and the rest is left behind.

 

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Even the ground under the banana trees offers up interesting compositions in the textured twists and curls of dried plant leavings.

It was centering to lose myself in the intricacies of the foliage after the endless statistics and probabilities, what if’s and worries, advice and reminders about tough conversations. It’s been a decade since I sat in the hospital at the bedside of a client after an attempt, but when/if I’m confronted with another person who might be suicidal, I hope I remember to ask that simple question: “Have you thought about killing yourself?” No? Good (move on). Maybe? Yes? Let’s talk (deep breath).

 

Oh that “dull light!”

No

sunlight, it’s overcast, I

don’t

see interesting

shadows, or

highlights, it all looks

so

muddy.

*

How

to work

with what

you have?

 

***

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Shake things up.

 

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***

 

Remember

you’re not

separate.

 

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***

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***

Find your way.

 

Photos taken with two second exposures and intentional blur, i.e. jiggling and shaking of the camera. Processed to add contrast and depth in LR, and Color Efex.

 

ORDER AND CHAOS

Gardeners may create order briefly out of chaos, but nature always gets the last word, and what it says is usually untidy by human standards. But I find all states of nature beautiful, and because I want to delight in my garden, not rule it, I just accept my yen to tame the chaos on one day and let the Japanese beetles run riot on the next.       Diane Ackerman

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An early Spring spell of very warm weather followed by weeks of cool, overcast skies and misty rains has encouraged riotous growth here. I’ve never seen so many wildflowers, and gardens brim over with joyful color.

The vine-covered old willow above graces a public park nearby that is really more nature reserve than park. Bald eagles, herons, hummingbirds, rabbits, turtles and many others find homes within its bounds. This year’s weather resulted in extra lush growth of ferns, vines, and all manner of greenery.

For years volunteers have been at work slowly eradicating the non-natives here, bringing the land closer to what it might have been before white people imposed their own chaos. I wonder if they’re working overtime?

Taming the overgrowth is best left for the iron-willed and long-suffering among us. I used to spend hours taming my garden – on warm summer evenings I would plop down and painstakingly pull bits of grass out of a huge moss garden I had. It was great after-work therapy. I’d be out there pulling weeds now if I had a garden, but these days I’m limited to a little deck. That does allow a certain freedom to marvel and gawk in wonder at this lush, bountiful season.

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Drive back up in the Cascades and it’s the same thing – layer upon layer of green among the old forest giants.

Spring was good to the flower growers out in the valley, too. These photos were taken during our long string of overcast days in May. Rows and rows of delphiniums, ready for the picking, stretch comfortably back towards misty hills.

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When you stop and look closely, there is pleasing structure amidst the growing chaos.

The Large-leaved lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus), is a Pacific northwest native. Lupines are very familiar to gardeners – this species, taken to England almost two hundred years ago, formed the foundation of the hybrid garden lupines you see today, in multiple shades of purples, blues and pinks.

What happens when a flower becomes popular with gardeners and is grown all over the world? It escapes. Now this lupine is considered invasive in countries as far apart as New Zealand and Finland. But not here.

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Here’s another northwest native (Tolmiea menziesii, or Piggyback plant) sometimes sold as a house plant for its foliage. The tiny flowers warrant bending down for a close look:

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Another bonus of prime growing conditions is watching all the wildlife, which can also be rewarding close up. A Goldenrod Crab spider is stashing the catch of the day in the flower cluster of an Oceanspray (Holodiscus discolor) shrub, another native plant sold in nurseries.

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A Tiger Swallowtail works the mud for minerals at a Seattle wetland. The need must have been keen because it let me inch the camera quite close. I was happy I could hold the camera with one hand with the LCD screen tilted up so I could see what I was doing (sort of). Not perfect, but getting down at the butterfly’s level provides a feeling of immediacy that’s lacking in shots from above.

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Below, a lovely Spring azure – those are the sweet little blue butterflies that flit among the grasses at your feet, whether you live in the east or west (or Britain and elsewhere, I believe).

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In a public garden a sea of irises floats across a low-lying wetland.

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Not only are there abundant subjects to choose from these days, but there are many choices that can be made for processing.  Color, sepia, black and white? Vintage maybe?

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Back to the first photo – the overgrown willow at the park. I like it in color, I like in black and white.

Abundance. Order. Chaos. I’ll take them all.

 

 

UNRAVELED

Solstice time –

unravel your gray self

yes,

hang it

out

in the sun.

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These were taken Saturday, 6/19/16 at the Center for Urban Horticulture’s Soest Garden in Seattle. The lovely white flowers are tall (over my head) Matilija poppies (Romneya coulteri). They’re being blown about in the sun after last night’s downpours.

Three years ago I saw these beauties for the first time, and photographed fresher specimens, here.

The ground was littered with petals today.

The grass is a tall ornamental whose name I don’t know. It sparkles and twinkles with every passing breeze.

Olympus OM D-1 with Oly Zuiko 60mm macro lens. The grass photos are mostly f 3.5, 1/2500s. The flowers are mostly f3.5 – f.5, 1/500 –  1/2500s. Some are processed in Lightroom, some with Color Efex or Silver Efex.

HAPPY SOLSTICE TO YOU!

TAKE TWO: NY/LA

A miscellany of things that caught my eye in New York and LA.

 

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Ah, New York pizza, how we missed it!  And the streets.

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At the Whitney, an employee replaces wicks in a huge wax sculpture, telling the onlookers, “You know, this is not a performance.” Right, just a gal doin’ her job…

The 8 foot sculpture of Julian Schnabel is by Urs Fischer, who often works with materials that decay and change with time. I wonder how much of the cast wax sculpture has melted since I was there a month ago.

Fischer says, “You could see an artwork as an offering. If you are ready to take something out of it, or if you reject it, it’s up to you. It’s there anyway. That’s what I like about art.” 

 

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Puzzling it out inside a Serra sculpture at the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea. The exhibit is up until July 29th. Go see it, and maybe you’ll be fortunate enough to have your assumptions about space and physicality skewed, or at least, enriched.

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From the notebooks of June Leaf, at an exhibition titled “Thought is Infinite” at the Whitney through July 17th.

Born in 1929, Leaf has worked and shown in New York for many decades. If it wasn’t for this exhibition of her work at the Whitney I’d still be ignorant of her. She said in an interview: “You can make something and you see it. But then you have to spend your life to get the world to see it.”

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A table top -sized sculpture by Leaf, above, and part of another sculpture, below.

When asked if she thinks of herself as a painter or sculptor, Leaf said she thinks she’s an inventor.

When asked when she knows a piece is finished: “The image has to hit you back, for all of your gesticulating and fighting and stabbing and jabbing, being courageous or weak, or soft or hard. Something tells you when you’ve told the truth. It is a little like falling in love, not that it is equal to that. But, it is a similar moment, where you can’t argue with it; you can’t fake being in love. “

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A companion show at Thorp Gallery in Chelsea closed a few days ago, but Thorp regularly shows her work. Highly recommended.

Another show I enjoyed was Sigmar Polke at David Zwirner in Chelsea. Here is one painting from it, poorly shot with my phone:

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Coffee break under the Highline.

On the other coast, my eye was caught by this palm growing next to a fence. The dizzying angle was surely a reflection of my state of mind.

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At LACMA – the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.  An installation of antique lamp posts by Chris Burden contrasts new and old and repeats the verticality of a nearby high rise and the ever present palms.

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Detail from the kitchen of a private home in Hollywood Hills.

Below, an extraordinary tree at the Huntington Botanical Garden in LA. The silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa), called palo borracho (drunken stick) in Spanish, grows in South American tropics and sub-tropics. Covered with sharp little spears to keep animals away, its pods produce fluff used like kapok, which it’s related to. Who could resist that figure?

 

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Beside a bonsai exhibit at the Huntington Botanical Garden, a guard began to quietly balance rocks on sculpture pedestals. He had an intense presence. He was heavyset with long, dark hair, and he wore Southwest Native American jewelry. Three young women watched him work, fascinated. It seemed to be something he would just do from time to time. One of women talked briefly and quietly to the guard. He was a man of few words. We heard snatches of the conversation: she was struggling with grief over a family member’s cancer, he offered to help her balance rocks; it would help her heal.

He showed her how, with almost no words – just 100 % concentration. After balancing a heavy rock on its narrow end herself, the woman broke into a smile and tears of joy.

It was one of those serendipitous moments that leave you breathless and without words.

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Framed in LA, above; frames in LA, below.

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More from the Melrose Flea market, a favorite LA Sunday shopping destination.

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Parting LA shot: a spindly cactus reaches for a better view at LACMA.

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Back home, the ubiquitous Doug firs, shot this time through a small pane of blue glass in a frame, balanced on a window. Sometimes the view from home is enough. Sometimes you need to fly somewhere, switch it up.  I’m thankful that I have both options.

 

 

 

 

 

CROSS POLLINATION

Cross pollination – that seems like an appropriately seasonal term for what happened when I met Patti Kuche, a fellow blogger, in New York last month.

I’ve always loved Patti’s blog, and I had a hunch that meeting with her would be fortuitous. With basically no planning, we got in touch and agreed to meet up at the Rubin Museum cafe, a good place to relax, talk, and get a bite to eat without feeling pressured to move on. (Was our meeting subtly influenced by the Himalayan Buddhist art only steps away? Maybe).

I liked Patti instantly – there was none of that dissonance that sometimes happens when you “know” someone in the digital world and then meet them in person. We had a terrific time talking…and talking. But what was special that day was that I came away inspired. Really inspired. When she picked up my camera, turned it over in her hands, flipped a switch and started shooting, it was like some bubble burst and grew inside me – it’s hard to describe, but something about her approach and ease with the camera revealed the potential for other ways into my relationship with that tricky black box.

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Patti was curious about the Art filters in the camera, so she dialed around through a few of them and shot what we saw from our table. The shots above and below haven’t been processed at all.

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We covered cameras, processing, blogging, tumblr, flickr and the rest. It’s too bad we couldn’t spend more time together – I would love to roam the streets with her. But no reason to complain. It was good just as it was (yes, the Rubin Buddhism influence is seeping in).

I started using the art filters again. I had tried them out when I first got the camera, but then reverted back to aperture priority.

It was one of those days when the light was all wrong and few interesting scenes presented themselves. I walked with an off-center kind of feeling, questioning of my own approach. Here and there, I found a few opportunities.  The green tables ready to be set up for an event under the green foliage of Union Square, and the snaking fence with its yellow caution tape were nice. Three stools in a coffee shop begged to be shot with the Dramatic Tone filter, and Sycamore tree shadows reaching around the corner of a building seemed right for the sepia filter.

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Sometimes you get lucky! In the subway I pressed the shutter just as the train left the 14th Street station, resulting in a layered double exposure look that I couldn’t have planned.

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If you like speeding trains, take a look at Patti’s latest shot of one – it’s fantastic.

***
After I got back home, we emailed. I sent Patti the photos she took and asked her which were her favorites.
“Great fun playing with your camera.  My preferences are 555 and 556 as whole shots – the setting seems to suit the filters and while I like the 558 & 559 filters I want to move the chair from the bottom R corner. Plus they have hands in funny places.
One question, are you able to change filters in-camera post shooting?”
You can’t change filters once you’ve taken the shot, but no need! I like what she did.

 

Here’s another one:

 

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There’s that intrusive chair!

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Let’s do something about it:

 

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Not quite successful, but it’s all about experimenting, and learning.

And learn I did.

In the cafe, Patti shot what she saw – people. It’s something I rarely do because it makes me uncomfortable. Patti has a knack for disarming people. She can walk up to people and get the most wonderful expressions.  She has a way of seeing – and revealing – the humanity in any given moment.

We all have our strengths as artists and we want to develop them, which includes trying out new things, however uncomfortable. But taking photos of strangers? That’s tough for me.

Yesterday we drove up into the mountains to a tiny town called Index. It’s a center for whitewater rafting and rock climbing. The Outdoor Adventure Center there operates a cafe where they serve up bratwurst hot off the grill alongside a slew of local beers. We stopped for a bite. As we sat down, I noticed two tired-looking men at a table with taped-up hands. The dirty, worn tape across their knuckles spoke volumes. Before they could start cutting it off, I bravely walked over and asked if I could photograph their hands.

I thought of Patti. (“Patti would have no trouble with this. Just do it!”).

They obliged.

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So here’s to meeting new friends and being inspired. Many of you have gotten together with other bloggers when traveling. It’s just one aspect of the cross pollination that is happening all the time. Cheers to that!

 

 

 

 

 

THE DRY SIDE

Dry side, wet side:

Washington’s two faces.

Lush, spare, dim, bright.

In two hours you can change sides, be

transformed.

The wet side:

Seattle techies huddle over their devices,

abundant rain permanently greens the land

and skies are often moody.

The dry side:

cattle and crops settle

into a spacious landscape of pale-hued,

open-skied desert.

*

Last weekend we sped up through Snoqualmie Pass to the dry side,

alert with anticipation:

new places, open spaces.

 

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The Columbia River:

big hunk of water

set down among towering basalt cliffs.

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Roadside rock:

at sixty miles an hour.

 

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Wanapum Lake.

A dam on the Columbia River created it. Setting disagreements with damming practices aside,

it is

breathtaking.

Even the details of odd patterns in the rocks fascinate us:

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Only an hour off the Pass, and

we’re already transformed.

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Looking back north, the Vantage Bridge begins to fade.

Onward!

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The Columbia Plateau.

Sprinkled with thousands of lakes, the land

attracts water birds, the

birds attract birders,

and I am not exempt.

Great egrets, check. A pelican, too. But where are my wished for

American Avocet and Black-necked Stilt? Oh well.

The landscape is its own reward.

Late spring wildflowers

and wide open vistas:

enough.

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A delicate beauty, the Sagebrush Mariposa lily

consorts with big sage among

dry grasses.

Sun lover, it beams.

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In harsh desert light

lilies almost hide.

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Showy milkweed.

Like so many wildflowers, it’s bloom is early this year.

Ants rejoice.

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Along Lower Crab Creek, just above the Saddle Mountains.

Old fence

slowly bows

to the ground.

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Lower Crab Creek spills into wetlands, painting the dry land with new colors.

Jubilant Spring growth is softened by somber, gray-green pillows of

fragrant big sage,

with side-notes of deep orange and gold grasses

already gone to seed.

*

Big sage sleeps.

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Salsify.

Yellow dandelion-like flower yesterday,

fuzzed ball of feathered parachutes today.

Fresh breeze makes quick work of the seeds.

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When the wind is too strong for photography, and the light is too harsh

(as it was last weekend in the desert),

take your pictures anyway.

Go with it.

Let the grasses blur and shimmer as they will,

press the shutter,

and breathe deeply.

 

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Saddle Mountains.

Their furrowed slope eases down into sage and grass,

through ancient lands shaped by fire and flood.

Look hard  –

see the lilies dotting the field;

they’re blooming in the middle of the old sage, too.

*

If you come back, it will still be good here.

This sparse place minds its business,

sucks down what rain it can,

bakes in the sunlight. It sings

the old, high-pitched,

buzz song

of desert silence.

 

 

 

 

 

IN NY: HIGH LINE

Last week I was back in New York, the city I fell in love with at the age of five, moved to at age seventeen, then left and returned to several times before moving west in 2012.

When I was in my early twenties I kept a bike in my apartment. I would ride around lower Manhattan on the weekends before my shift at an uptown restaurant, where I waited tables. For a few summers wildflowers grew in profusion on the empty lots that were the future site of the World Trade Center, then just in the planning stages. I could pick flowers for free and bring them back to my apartment. I was always trying to meld city and country. Sometimes I got up onto the High Line, too. The High Line was an old elevated railway on the West side that had been abandoned years before. Wildflowers grew there, and small trees sprouted up through the rubble, totally untended and mostly unseen. It was magic.

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This photo was taken just last week but it evokes the feeling of the old High Line, minus the broken glass and trash. The elevated rail line was used to haul in basic foods like cream, butter and meat back in the 1940’s and 50’s. For a time, it was safer than running trains down on the busy streets. When the trucking industry expanded, the rail line fell into disuse. Instead of tearing down what many people considered an eyesore, the city did the right thing and turned it into a park. It opened in 2009 and became an instant hit with New Yorkers and tourists.

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Above, the park seen from the Whitney Museum. Last year the Whitney moved into a new building designed by Renzo Piano. The building’s hulking, muscular form visually anchors the south end of the High Line. Piano’s design allows visitors to descend from floor to floor outside the building, offering expansive views of the Hudson River waterfront, Manhattan’s West Side, and the High Line. There are nice people-watching opportunities too, if you’re in a sociable mood. I was happy for the crowds that day. I enjoyed the huge portrait show at the Whitney – Seattle doesn’t come close to what New York offers in terms of art. I also liked a Whitney show of work by June Leaf, an older artist who’s not very well known. A gallery nearby had a concurrent show of her sculpture and drawing so we headed over. We passed shows of Sigmar Polke’s painting at David Zwirner Gallery and Richard Serra’s sculpture at Gagosian. We took long drinks at the deep well that is art in New York City. It was a day of serendipity, as one thing led to the next.

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Back on the street next to Whitney, looking up towards the High Line. As you walk north or south through the park, essentially a narrow strip of real estate set with tasteful benches and beautifully landscaped with (mostly) native flowers and trees, you can pass under buildings, peer into windows and gaze down onto streets that cross underneath. You’re just above the fray. It’s enough to gain a different perspective, but not so far above that it isn’t still real, and close.

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If you’re interested, that’s Baptisia in the right corner and Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon) sprouting up through concrete strips that echo the railroad tracks. The pink and blue flowers above are Salvia pratensis (Meadow sage). The metal hoops between the rails are a sculpture called “Steel Rings” that references the Trans-Arabian pipeline, by Rayyane Tabet.

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Tony Matelli’s painted bronze sculpture “Sleepwalker” draws crowds.

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Someone has written “FELIX” on these construction plates. Why, I don’t know. It’s just another manifestation of identity in a city that always strives upwards.

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Frank Gehry’s IAC Building, his first in New York, and one of my favorite sites along the High Line. I love viewing it through these honeysuckle vines winding up a fence, but I understand that may not appeal to everyone.

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DID YOU KNOW that the elevated railroad was built because trains on tracks running down Tenth Avenue caused the deaths of many pedestrians? DID YOU KNOW that “West Side Cowboys” ran ahead of the trains on their horses, carrying red flags to warn passers by of the oncoming train? Eventually the city decided enough was enough and built the elevated line. It fell out of favor when trucking got big. It was considered an eyesore for years, but now lives anew, as one of New York’s big attractions.

The links are excellent – worth a few minutes!

Lynn Purse, of the blog Composerinthegarden, sent a great video link about the making of the High Line:

I made liberal use of some of the so-called art filters on my Olympus camera the day we went to the Whitney and High Line. It was overcast and dull out. The filters added a little punch. I go back and forth about using them, sometimes believing I should stick with images straight from the camera without in-camera modifications that I might later regret (but it’s always good to question one’s “shoulds”).

Two days earlier, I met up with another blogger, Patti Kuche. We sat down in the Rubin Museum and talked a blue streak about photography and blogging. Patti picked up my camera and casually took a few photos from where we sat, using the filters – she knew about them because she had once considered getting the camera.  I liked what she did, and that was all I needed to go back to trying them again. Coming soon: Patti’s photos and thoughts about bloggers’ meetings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Images of Spring

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WHERE TO START? How about this closeup of a Camas blossom in a park outside of Seattle? The park used to be a golf club, and efforts are being made to slowly return the landscape to native habitat. Hence the recently planted Camassia quamash, a local meadow flower that grew in such profusion centuries ago, that Lewis and Clark are said to have remarked that the flowers gave the appearance of a lake in the distance. An important food source, the bulbs were gathered and eaten by indigenous people, and like many native plants it has suffered from habitat destruction. Now it’s often seen in perennial gardens.

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At the other end of the flowers-that-gain-our-respect spectrum are dandelions. The first crop has gone to seed, presenting macro photography opportunities. This one wore a glittering skirt of morning dew:

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This pretty little bud is another native that’s been planted here and there in the park, the Western Columbine, or Aquilegia formosa. You may have seen it in gardens:

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Squatting down in the wet grass and peering through it, as if you were a mouse, brings rewards. So does looking up.

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This is our native Vine maple, Acer circinatum, a slight tree with delicate branches and many-lobed leaves. Maples have tiny flowers in Spring – here, they make shadow play on the new leaves. Huge old willows in the park have taken a beating over the years, but the dead branches are left for the wildlife.

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Time to stroll along the willow-draped boardwalk to the water –

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On lake Washington, which hooks around to form a sheltered bay here at Juanita Bay Park, the water lily leaves have grown large enough to provide a resting spot for a weary frog, but aren’t quite big enough yet for the little Pied-billed Grebes, which will soon build nests on and among the lily pads.

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A pair of Wood Ducks, which nest in trees, scoots across the water. By this time the sun is glaring on the water and without a long lens, I can barely get a usable image. But you get the idea – they are eye-popping birds!

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As a pair of Bald eagles looks on from their post atop an empty osprey nest platform, a Mallard mother shepherds her little entourage of ten ducklings across the bay. She passes directly underneath them, but they’re uninterested in the foraging family.

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The abundant Western Painted turtles are safe from most predators and have reappeared on logs across the bay after spending winter in the mud. It’s very amusing when a heavier fellow climbs on board and the whole crew has to grab tight as the log starts to roll. Plop, plop, splash, as they fall in…

(Google log-rolling turtles and you’ll see some funny videos).

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After the walking and bending and all, it felt good to flop down on a bench and, legs splayed, lean back into the sun…

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In a few days I’m off to New York. It’s been over three years since I’ve been back and I feel out of touch. I’m looking forward to being around familiar places, sounds, smells (?), and people. But I’m kicking myself just a bit for leaving at the height of Spring.