FLYING ON THE FOURTH

A random group of photos from over the years:

Sky Valley Stock and Antique Tractor Club Annual Fair, Monroe, WA

SONY DSCA happy tourist in New York City

SONY DSCA backyard project in New York City’s Staten Island

Flag flying traditional style, Martha’s Vineyard, MA

SAMSUNGOCCUPY WALL STREET – another kind of flag flying

SONY DSCIraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America, in NYC

At Arlington National Cemetery:  R.I.P. Sean Callahan

International flag flying at Horseshoe Bay near Vancouver, Canada

High Drama at Rockefeller Square, NYC

HAPPY FOURTH!

The Blur of a Summer Morning, Up in the Trees

Adrian Lewis at FATman Photos recently posted a beautiful, purposely out of focus photo.

That inspired me to go ahead and click the shutter as I peered through an out of focus lens into the leafy abyss that is our woods, one morning this week.  The limey, saturated greens, glinting yellows, bits of pale blue, cool air and cawing crows, all conspire to create a kind of super wide screen experience. An abstraction might convey the experience better than a straight representation of the scene.

I like the way the world looks when it’s out of focus, but usually I don’t press the shutter to record it. So thanks to Adrian for reminding me.

BUYING LOCAL

I volunteered to find 15 bouquets of flowers for a big event last week. Rather than order them from a florist or buy them at Pike Place Market, I located a grower. That gave me the opportunity wind my way east over wooded hills and across fertile farmland, to the little town of Carnation. There I met a Mr. B., who grows acres of flowers out in the valley. His wife sells the bouquets they fashion from their flowers at Pike Place Market in Seattle. They are Hmong people, from Laos.

Mr. B. and his family were forced from their mountain homeland when he was only ten. You may remember that Americans played a leading part in the tragic fallout from the Vietnamese war as it spread into neighboring countries. The Hmong people were caught between opposing forces. Many had to leave the area, or risk death. With his parents and seven siblings, Mr. B. survived six long  years in a refugee camp across the border in Thailand. He told me it was a “good camp” camp, quite “flexible” as he put it, because his family was able to get out, through the sponsorship of a church in nearby Monroe. They arrived in America when he was sixteen. The first years were tough, and certainly cold, I imagine in many ways. But he persevered at school, he worked hard, grew his business, and now he has a good business and nice house, big enough for his own family, including his 91-year-old mother.

 

As she warmly clasped my hands in hers, her cane momentarily set aside, Mr. B’s mother smiled broadly and declared, “I am mother, I am happy.”  When I asked after her health her son told me that though her physical body isn’t what it was, she is clear-minded and remembers well.

The stories she could tell…  I wondered aloud about that. Mr. B. said he’s writing them all down. Her razor-sharp memories (“all the way back to China”) will help preserve their culture for the next generations. We talked about the trade-offs one makes when moving from an agrarian economy to a market-based one.  His nephew suffers from too much stress and Mr. B. worries about him. He has a deep understanding the benefits of a multi-generational family (“Older people were always around me”) but he knows that tradition isn’t likely to survive much longer. You take the good with the bad, we agreed. He expressed a deep appreciation for the diversity here in America.

Mr. B. and I filled my little car with big bouquets of peonies, lilies, delphinium, pinks, phlox, daisies and Bachelor’s buttons. A heavy, sweet and intoxicating scent built slowly around me as I wound my way back through field and forest to Seattle.

The flowers were beautiful but the real gift was those minutes with Mr. B. and his mother. It was a privilege to meet them. I bow to them both.

Spring flowers at Pike Place Market and a flower seller, probably Hmong (taken in April, 2013).

***

MAY…until next time…

June is lovely, and…

I’ll enjoy the sunshine and warmth, but…

May is my fav month.

Before the month disappears I’ll post photos from May.  Above, moss-covered rocks line Tanner Creek. Wahclella Falls, at the Columbia Gorge, Oregon.

A tiny wildlfower, Vanilla leaf (Achlys triphylla).  With it’s candle-like inflorescence and boldly cut-out leaf margins, it always stops me in my tracks. The leaves smell lightly of vanilla when dried and have been used to repel insects and scent rooms, and for tea.

Another early spring flower, the Salmonberry, has the interesting habit of producing flowers and berries at the same time – that is, it keeps on making flowers for a while, so on any given branch you may find buds, flowers, and ripe and unripe berries. This stylized image is mostly out of focus but you can still see a berry behind the characteristically nodding flower.

Last year’s dried fronds intermingle with this years’ fresh green ones. The maidenhair fern’s ladder-like pattern is retained even as the leaves shrivel.  Wahclella Falls trail in Oregon.

This photo of a creek in a local park was out of focus. Instead of tossing it, I emphasized the softness and added more glow to it – I think it conveys a lush, springtime-in-the-woods feeling.

We’re a long drive from the coast, but islands and water abound in Puget Sound. When you have a yen for a beach, just take a ferry to an island. Above, Foulweather Bluff near Port Gamble, Washington. We had a wonderful day there but got caught on the return trip in a terrible ferry traffic jam. We had to wait for two ferries before we could board. Smart people don’t let that happen! :-(

Speaking of wonderful days, here is another photo of the beautiful, painterly atmosphere of Wahclella Falls in Oregon.

Near home, a native iris in bloom and bud at a wetland park.

A domesticated flower this time, at the Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle. I don’t have the patience to figure out what it is. So sweet though.

On a roadside people trample the unseen beauty of cottonwood seeds collecting into a thick carpet.  A tiny wildflower struggles through. Our native cottonwood trees make an abundance of lovely cotton – May snow – and I enjoy the spectacle of it, mounding and drifting along curbs and unnoticed places.

Three black and whites. This is maidenhair fern – again! I can’t get enough of it.

Beach grass blowing across a fence in Oregon.

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Sword fern reaches towards the light among red cedar trees at Foulweather Bluff, in the woods along the trail to the beach.

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.

 

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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.