CURVES AND LINES

A handful of recent photos display themes that recur over and over in my work – soft curves and fine lines.

                                                                                                                                                           f 4.2    1/200    50mm

Above, Hosta leaves at a botanical garden (Bellevue Botanical Garden).

                                                                                                                                                              f 5    1/160    75mm

Iris ensata, at the same botanical garden. The mauve-y color is not my favorite, but what gorgeous veining this iris has, and such a graceful, full shape.

                                                                                                                                                               f 5   1/160   20mm

A local wildflower, Piggyback plant (Tolmeia menzeisii) has a softly curving stem, and tiny flowers with swooping petals (the threadlike appendages – the wider “flaps” are sepals).

                                                                                                                                                      f 1.8,  1/3200   20mm

Ornamental grass seeds in motion, from another botanical garden.

                                                                                                                                                          f 1.8   1/4000   20mm

This botanical garden (Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle) is often a little windy. The tall grass catches every breeze. So instead of waiting…and waiting…I went with it, setting a wide open aperture and focusing manually back and forth, letting the focus land where it might. When I got home, I experimented with silvery tones, above, and heightened contrast below.

                                                                                                                                                           f 1.8   1/4000   20mm

I’m experimenting with a different WordPress theme here, one with a clean, white background.

I also have a new lens, which I used for the top two photos. It’s messing with my mind! A power zoom telephoto, it zooms from 45mm to 175mm.  I’m used to a prime 20mm lens, which means I’m used to seeing wide angle shots that include everything, or getting really close to my subject. The 20 mm is a great lens for both situations. But the telephoto is a different animal and I’m not yet comfortable with the narrower field you have with a telephoto. So, another challenge!

Any photographers out there who are used to switching back and forth between very different lenses like these, please let me in on your secrets!

A QUICK TRIP TO OREGON

Traveling back and forth between the Columbia Gorge and the Oregon coast in perfect spring weather was intoxicating. In three days, we barely scratched the surface of Oregon’s varied landscape, but we came home satiated.

Heading south on I 5 Friday morning with our cameras, binoculars, and lots of snacks, we tried to sort out where to go.  I didn’t have time to plan the trip, but we had vague ideas about wildflowers at the Columbia Gorge and birds migrating up the Oregon coast. I had reserved a hotel room south of downtown Portland.  I thought we would explore the city at some point, too.

As we approached Portland, reports of an accident and enormous traffic jam steered us east into the Gorge. We stopped at the Bonneville Dam to get oriented and stretch our legs. The dam is kind of a guy thing, you know? So I ran into the bookstore for a little research. Opening maps and quick-searching guidebooks, I memorized a few names to google later.  And I picked up a Columbia Gorge wildflower brochure for a dollar.

The major wildflower displays seemed to be too far east to drive in the time we had left, but we had noticed trail signs at the dam exit so we went back across the road.

The Columbia Gorge gets very busy on weekends, but on this pleasant Friday we had our pick of parking spots.  We started up the trail to Wahclella Falls through a softly fern and moss-laden canyon.

It was a short hike – we figured we would make it to the falls. But no.  I was so distracted by the abundance of wildflowers, the rushing creek and the glory of spring light falling through the canyon that a slug would have beat me, hands down.  Seriously? Only a mile to the falls and after an hour we’d hardly gone half a mile – every inch was too stunningly beautiful.

I do NOT understand people who race down beautiful trails.

Early on we came to a gushing waterfall, which is a teaser because the main waterfall lies ahead. But we lingered, soaking in that whole body rush you get standing by a waterfall – all that energy and noise, it was mesmerizing.

I brake – and halt – for wildflowers. They were blooming everywhere and I was having a field day – literally.  The intensely blue larkspurs (Delphinium menziesii) made me crazy. They were perched up on the rocks, which was tricky, because with my 20 mm lens I have to go to the flowers, they don’t come to me.

So many delicate plants grew among the moss and rocks on the steep cliffs. This graceful flower, Heuchera micrantha, is bred as a perennial in the nursery trade (Coral bells, or alum root) – but here it is in the wild, lifting tiny branches to the light.

This little beauty is called Scouler’s corydalis. It occurs only in the Pacific northwest. Below, Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra formosa) gracefully intermingle with other wildflowers.

My favorite fern, Maidenhair (Adiantum pedatum) flourished in the moist environment.

It got late and we decided to turn back – we agreed to consider returning to see the waterfall on Sunday.  Heading back on Rt. 101 to Portland, we detoured on the Historic Columbia River Highway, built a hundred years ago for commercial and recreational use. Within minutes I was clamoring to get out of the car to see a gorgeous waterfall. Horsetail Falls is a beauty but we were also impressed by the sturdy simplicity of an old reinforced concrete bridge, a lovely study of repeating shapes.

A colleague recommended a good neighborhood in Portland for restaurants, so we headed to Hawthorne and I googled area restaurants on my phone.  I couldn’t come up with anything so we drove down the main drag and took pot luck. Gold Dust Meridian was very “Portlandia-esque” in decor, ambiance and clientele.  And very busy, mostly for drinks and craft brews. We ordered dinner and waited for water, eventually realizing we were supposed to fetch our own water from a table near the busy bar. Interesting. I suppose that relives the wait staff and conserves water, too…

After dinner we made our way to the hotel, where I reviewed maps, googled bird watching sites, and checked with the concierge for the intel on weekend traffic to the coast. He looked at me dolefully and said, “This isn’t L.A., honey.”

We decided to head southwest on Rt. 18 towards the central coast in the morning. The route leaves you at the un-picturesque coastal town of Lincoln City; from there we could meander down the coast, stopping wherever scenic opportunities presented themselves.

Rt. 18 was relaxing as it wound across the northern end of the Willamette Valley with its rolling farmland. Many of the farms grow Hazelnut trees – who knew! I couldn’t resist snapping photos from the car.

The road snakes over the coast range before terminating at the coast. Along the way I saw a sign for a covered bridge; we followed it and enjoyed a delightfully pastoral scene, complete with pastured horses, a softly gurgling stream, forget-me-nots, and an old tack barn to poke around in. The covered bridge had been moved and rebuilt, and was not as pretty as some I’ve seen back east, but the overall scene was enchanting.

As we drove down Oregon’s central coast we found beautiful wide beaches, and equally beautiful and dramatic cliffs plunging into the noisy Pacific seas.  Gunta’s work instantly came to mind – she lives near the Oregon coast and takes beautiful photographs in the area. Everywhere we went that day, flocks of shorebirds streamed north. Too far out to identify with binoculars, they were still an inspiring sight when you think of the immense numbers birds, the long journeys, and the reliability of this seasonal event that may stretch back into times before we humans were there to watch and wonder.

At a roadside pull-off we found Pelagic cormorants nesting precariously on the cliffs, three Black oystercatchers poking among the rocks, and a bird that was new to me – the Surfbird. There they were, doing exactly what they’re supposed to do in exactly the right habitat – perfect. There are no photos because I still have not purchased the long lens I would need. But trust me, it was cool.

On the beaches I noticed thousands of odd blue and white creatures were washing up. I made a note to myself to identify them.

It turns out they’re a little jellyfish relative called Purple sails (Velella velella). They float far out on the ocean surface, catching plankton with their tentacles.  During certain strong wind patterns thousands can be stranded on shore because they rely on their stiff little sail to move and are at the mercy of the winds. The link takes you to a CNN story about the recent beaching of likely millions of them.

The day’s prize beach spot was spied from a roadside overlook. It’s the horseshoe-shaped beach towards the top of the photo below. We could see no way to get down to it, even with binoculars, but there were people down there so I knew a path must exist.

I saw a little restaurant on an overlook. I ran in and asked the waitress if she knew how to get to the beach far below. She did – it was just a few blocks away. We didn’t see any sign, so I thought maybe the tourists get the overlook and the locals get the beach!  We parked and followed a gentle path to the beach, where a fierce winds blew sand in our faces with vengeful fury.

Down the beach was a large, colorful rock formation with a gash opening the way to the sea. Actually a sea cave whose ceiling had collapsed long ago, Devil’s Punchbowl was an exciting place to explore.

At the very back of the cave, Bullwhip kelp in a huge tangle made a quite a stink. But pretty rocks worn smooth by millions of waves seemed to have been arranged by a mysterious aesthetic force.

I found Giant Green sea anemones in sheltered spots among the rocks.

The setting sun made shooting the sea stacks nearly impossible, but I had to try anyway – sometimes you just want a record. I’ve noticed that my travel photos are a mix of pictures that record the sights I want to remember and images that follow certain recurring themes I look for – abstract patterns in grasses or window reflections, for example. Both have a place. Later I hope to post a series of photos of calligraphy that blown grasses and their shadows made on the beach at Devil’s Punchbowl.

Tired from the beach and overwhelmed with sensory stimulation, we looked for a place to eat. Our dinner was good at a little beach town Mexican place. As we headed back to Portland an almost full moon rose over the fields and I snapped one last picture from the car.

The next day we decided to complete the walk to Wahclella Falls in the Columbia Gorge. It was Sunday and the weather was spectacular so the parking lot was full. We pulled up on the roadside. We didn’t have the peace and quiet we had Friday but it was still a delight to gaze at the abundant wildflowers, the verdant cliff sides dripping with mini waterfalls and seeps, and finally the waterfall itself – a double falls cutting through narrow notches high up in the basalt cliffs.

As we approached the falls the air was damp and the moss grew thicker and thicker.

With the falls way back in the canyon, there was little light, and the misty air was another challenge. It was difficult to get a decent photo of the falls themselves without a tripod.

More Maidenhair ferns grew down from the roof of a moist cave near the falls. Last year’s dried fronds provided a stark contrast to the fresh growth.

High above, a mist of water sprayed over the cliff and caught beams of sunlight. For me, it was perhaps even prettier than the Wahclella Falls. We sat at the base of the cliff and chewed on protein bars. Spring azure butterflies flitted about. I saw more flowers and climbed up to get a closer look. There were quite a few people at the falls by then, but I didn’t mind – the children’s laughter only made it nicer.

Reluctantly, we wound back through the brilliant green canyon to our car. The hike was a satisfying end to three days of immersion in beauty. We crossed a over the Columbia River and worked our way west on the Washington side. I spied more blue larkspurs along the roadside, but you can’t stop for everything, can you?  There will be another time…

HAIL

It was intense, and it was quick. A spring hailstorm dumped loads of pea-sized hail the other day. Some of the potted plants on the deck were almost buried in it. It stuck to the ground, too, like snow in May, and it ripped holes in the maple leaves. I was lucky enough to be home so I grabbed the camera and shot quickly.

Last weekend I took an extra day for a quick trip to Oregon, where we explored waterfalls in the Columbia Gorge and a beach cave on the coast. It was amazing, and photos will be posted soon!

I apologize for not having time to look at blog posts for the last two or three weeks  – work has been intense, as intense as that hail. But I will make time soon, one way or another!

SPRING STORM

A Spring storm gathers over the Snoqualmie River, about a half hour from Seattle.  Clouds obscure looming Mount Si, even as the sunshine brightens the trees. The first bloom of dandelions has already gone to seed.

At my feet, the graceful curves of a freshly unfurled Lady fern echo the relaxed bow of rain-soaked grasses.

Up the river, lily pads interrupt the shimmering reflections of tall cottonwoods.

 

P1090905-Edit

Finally the clouds break and Mount Si appears, but whispers of cloud still cling delicately to its flanks.

With all the intense acid greens of new foliage clamoring for attention, I thought it would be interesting to try processing these images in black and white.

Photos taken around Three Forks Natural Area in Washington State.

SLOW FADE

Anemones! These beauties were an unexpected gift when a delivery was wrongly made to our door. I have enjoyed watching them bloom and fade over the course of several weeks. They have always been a favorite flower (but then, I have so many favorite flowers!) for their color and balletic form, and especially for their graceful slow fade.

 

From Wikipedia:

Anemone coronaria is widely grown for its decorative flowers. Numerous cultivars have been selected and named, the most popular including the De Caen and St Brigid groups of cultivars.[2] The De Caen group are hybrids cultivated in the districts of Caen and Bayeux in France in the 18th century.  Anemone coronaria means crown anemone, evoking regal associations.

In Hebrew, the anemone is calanit metzouya. “Calanit” comes from the Hebrew word “cala כלה” which means “bride“, “metzouya” means “common.” The calanit earned its name because of its beauty and majesty, evoking a bride on her wedding day.[6] In 2013 Anemone coronaria was elected as the national flower of the State of Israel, in a poll arranged by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (החברה להגנת הטבע) and Ynet.[7]    Anemone coronaria grows wild all over Israel, Palestine and Jordan.

 

Lumix G3 with 20 mm Lumix prime lens at f 2.2 and 2.8; natural light; processed in Lightroom

A Spring Miscellany and a few regrets

A haze of fresh greens in the woods behind the house…

Fallen blossoms, stream-side at a Japanese garden…

The tight curl of last season’s fern frond in the sunlight…

The elegant spears of a tiny blue flower at a native plant nursery…

Morning dew on the grasses at water’s edge…

A Lady fern unfurling across a weathered fence…

Willow and Cottonwood springing to life in a wetland park…

The softness of a willow catkin…

And the final petal of a Magnolia blossom, ready to fall…

Spring evolves so quickly – birds silent all winter already are singing incessantly, the cherry blossoms are almost gone now, the lilacs are in bud, and soon peonies and irises will startle us with their beauty. One aspect of the Pacific northwest climate I’ve come to appreciate is the long, cool Spring. On the east coast the weather warms up fast and steals Spring right out from under you. 

But even with cool temperatures extending the bloom time here, it still rushes by too quickly. I get neurotic about not taking it all in, not “having time” (as if time was something I could have!) to experience it with all my senses.  I roam ceaselessly – a Japanese garden, a native plant nursery, a nearby island, local parks – and take photos along the way. I rush too much. The photos disappoint.

But… what matters is that Spring carries itself forward with no help from me, it takes me along, and I do so love it.  

LOCAL DIGRESSIONS

Join me for a Spring woodland stroll, followed by a stop at an unusual market on the way home…

Trilliums are lighting up the woods. This elegant wildflower was rare where I grew up, in upstate New York. When I found one it would be a thrill, and I’d run home to tell my mother. Later, when I lived in and around New York City, I had to travel far afield to find any at all. Here in the Pacific Northwest, they are quite common in the woodlands. On a Sunday walk at a nearby preserve, we were struck by the way the trilliums were scattered through the forest – sometimes along the path, other times back behind the evergreens, always adding grace to the surroundings.

The Western white trillium, Trillium ovatum, is related to similar flowers in Japan, China and the Himalayas. The trillium I sought as a child is Trillium grandiflorum, an eastern North American species that’s a little bigger. It’s a desirable garden plant, providing a striking accent to woodland gardens in Spring. It is difficult to propagate though, with a low seed germination rate and years until its first flowering. Apparently, many trillium plants sold in nurseries are collected from the wild instead of grown from seed.  Herbalists collect the plants too (it’s also called bethroot, or birthroot). There’s no clinical evidence as yet that it works, but indigenous peoples in this area also had uses for trilliums.

 

P

We were struck by the size of this tree in a stand of Western Hemlock.  When I looked closer I realized it wasn’t one of the typical evergreens we see around here – the Douglas firs, the hemlocks, the cedars. With binoculars, we peered way, way up to the top to find a growing branch.  I saw long needles and realized it was a pine. Pines are unusual in our area but plentiful just over the Cascade Mountains, on the drier side of Washington.

The ground was littered with pine cones and needles – I could have put two and two together, but the mind is stubborn, isn’t it? I just didn’t expect a pine in this forest.

It’s a Western White Pine. I found out later that there would be more of them if a fungus that arrived in Vancouver, Canada, a century ago hadn’t gotten loose and killed most of them. But this one survived, and it was impressive.

Across the path, two Vine maple leaves from last year adhered to a felled log. The land once belonged to a local family that homesteaded here in 1898. The family periodically logged the woods, and you see the evidence of their labors here and there. Luckily that giant pine went uncut.

The property was appraised at well over 4 million dollars a decade ago, when government and conservation groups joined to purchase and protect it. It includes important salmon streams. So much land is parceled out and sold in pieces over the years, but this area stayed in the family, and the family did the right thing by selling it for preservation. Their old log cabin may still be there, but we’ll have to go back another day to see.

Light streamed through a curtain of Western Hemlock branches  –

The Red Huckleberry was budding. It has green stems and branches, and a delicate, slightly zigzag growth habit.

Punctuating the wild experience with a more domestic one, we stopped at a market which is attached to a nursery. The market sells locally grown veggies, and eggs from their own chickens. They also keep a few sheep, goats, ducks and peacocks, so families often stop by for a free mini zoo experience. It’s a lot of fun. The peacocks were in splendid form, doing their thing for the females, who of course ignored them.  Their feathers vibrate as they display, making an interesting sound, and even from behind they are amazing. I was thinking how wonderful it is that this crazy, spectacular bird can live well in captivity, allowing so many people the pleasure of being moved by its beauty.

While we were admiring the peacocks an employee drove by in a beat up pick-up truck to gather the eggs. The truck bed was filled with wide bowls holding dozens of pastel colored eggs. I think this coop was his last stop – where could he fit any more? The truck bed was full and the passenger seat was, too.

And yes, the chickens were mad.

Flowers were set out in front of the market. I was struck by the similarities and differences between the white tulips and the trilliums I’d admired earlier.

Two Spring flowers – both elegant, white, in threes and sixes (leaves, petals, stamens) – one long domesticated, the other will probably never be tamed.

There is something comforting about a walk in a wild woodland, followed by another walk in a managed outdoor space. Both were vibrant with the colors, sounds and smells of nature in Spring.

DESERT TRAJECTORIES

Scrolling through photographs from last month’s trip to the southeastern corner of Arizona, I noticed that many of them feature strong diagonals. Normally I’m not looking for diagonal lines when taking pictures, but I’m often drawn to them. They lend a dynamic feeling to compositions and they keep the eyes moving.

Speaking of composition, there’s a tool in Lightroom I like to use called a crop overlay. It places lines in the shape of triangles – diagonals – over your image. When you crop or move your image around relative to the fine lines and place a focal point where the lines intersect, the composition often falls magically into place. Your eyes are led naturally around the image. I don’t always get it right but the tool is a big help.  You can see it in action here, on Rikk Flohr’s WordPress site devoted to cropping images.

 ***

I love a window seat!  Here, snowy mountains and farm fields trace diagonals high above the line my flight followed (another diagonal) between Seattle and Phoenix:

Southeast of Tucson, along the sandy shores of the San Pedro River, there was evidence of the water’s power in the mangled grasses and leaves left high and dry after the last flood:

In the Chiricahua Mountains weathered wood melded with the rocky soil, creating a pale bas relief effect. These brances trace beautifully flowing diagonals.

On the Echo Canyon Trail at the Chiricahua National Monument, enormous boulders balance on one another in a daring elemental dance.  A twisted dead tree contributes more diagonals:

A crooked hole in two “Standing up Rocks” in the Chiricahua Mountains affords a dramatic view. The angled, weathered rocks speak of great geological disturbances, but the clouds describe restful horizontals:

Cracked mud, animal footprints, and caught leaves create an interesting pattern on the banks of the San Pedro River:

Fallen leaves, weathered wood, and a pink rock lay tangled on the ground at Ramsey Canyon:

The Dragoon Mountains tumble diagonally across the land, catching afternoon light and beckoning exploration:

Sunlight creeps along angled boulders at Texas Canyon in the Dragoon Mountains:

Desert flowers hold fast to a bit of soil lodged in a diagonal cut in the rock, and a weathered branch lends stability:

Seen from the right angle, even round cactus leaves can trace diagonals:

Slender weathered branches trace a relaxed trajectory among cactus spines, creating a contrasting mass of diagonals – a still, dry dance of graceful and spiky forms:

And the beautiful, open road that is Highway 186 carves enticing diagonals across a golden desert grassland: