RUGGED MANIACS

 

The RUGGED MANIAC RACE isn’t one I’m likely to find myself doing anytime soon, but my son – that’s a different story. We were summoned to photograph him and his girlfriend as they competed in the three plus mile obstacle race, made crazier by lots of mud.

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There were guys in tutus, guys with odd beard treatments, you name it…

But my favorite guy was this one, cooling off after the race.

He’s my guy – and here he is with his girlfriend, who probably could have beat him if she tried!

A little mugging for the camera?

Gotta do the chivalrous thing at the finish line…

It was great fun, and everyone was glad for the overcast skies. Me, I was glad I had the camera on “Burst mode”!

GARDEN INTERLUDE

The Soest Garden, part of the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture in Seattle, is small, but well planted and pretty enough for many return visits. July blooms are beautiful, as they are in most gardens, but lush ornamental grasses take the stage too, and if you look closely fascinating details abound.

Below, stamens have dropped off the flower of a Magnolia tree and fallen onto one of the flower petals.

 

Astrantia major, or Pink masterwort, is in the same family as carrots and Queen Ann’s Lace.  Astrantia illustrates a common and interesting plant structure – what looks like one flower is actually a wheel of bracts supporting many tiny flowers. Bracts provide protection for flower buds and later, as you can see, they help pollinators zero in on the target. Poinsettias are another example of prominent bracts we mistake for flowers. Their flowers are actually small and green, in the middle of the red bract cluster.

In this photo the flowers haven’t opened all the way – the five white curving structures will extend later to support the stamens, which hold the pollen.  Click here to see some really beautiful extreme close-ups of Astrantia major.

A bee explores a Globe thistle – Echinops ritro.  Echinops means looks like a hedgehog – a pretty good name! This plant’s family, Asteraceae or the Aster famliy (also called the composite family), has tightly packed flowers, which you can see below.   We call the whole ball of blue a flower, but it’s really a cluster of many small flowers. These plants are tough, as you’d imagine, and are fun to see in the garden. They provide a visual foil to more graceful flowers – I mean plants!

 

The well known Echinacea purpurea, or Coneflower,  is in the same family as the Echinops. The pinkish petals are ray florets and the center is made of disk florets. The disk florets have male and female parts but the ray florets do not. The head of disk florets in the center opens gradually, in concentric circles, from the outside in.

I didn’t mean this to be a botany lesson! But the variety in plants is fascinating – and the more you investigate, the more you peer closely, the more amazing it seems.

Below, a Balloon flower, or Platycodon gradiflorus, nods gracefully amidst delicate ornamental grasses. In bud this flower looks just like a little balloon. Now that it’s open you can see how the petals are fused.

The attractively colored style in the middle has caught pollen from the stamens, mostly hidden behind the style. Soon the style will split open and curl back in five parts – it’s all fives with this flower.  Strangely enough, pollen from other Balloon flowers will adhere to the female part, but this flower’s own pollen is designed to be transported by an insect to a neighboring Balloon flower. Parts mature at slightly different times to avoid self-pollination, keeping the gene pool diverse – at least I think that’s how it works!

I do know that I love the colors here…

Simplicity itself, the Hosta leaf pleases the eye.

Taking a step back, the garden is framed by a small tree with multiple trunks. Like many trees in our area, it’s covered with lichens, giving the bark a beautiful color and texture.

I desaturated the colors here to bring out the textures. We’ve had an unusually warm, dry year and some leaves are falling already.  This one didn’t make it to the ground yet. I like seeing leaves or petals caught by other leaves, or flowers.  There’s something very poetic about it.

Just outside the Soest Garden are fields of wilder grasses and flowers. Here, Queen Anne’s Lace sways in the breeze among ripe, golden grasses.

I love summer!

NOT WHAT I PLANNED

Last weekend I drove north to Deception Pass, a spectacular (and popular) state park with steep cliffs, rushing tides, islands…lots of dramatic scenery. But crowds were thick and the tide wasn’t allowing me to get around a cliff and past all the people enjoying the beach. I strolled the woods high above the narrow waterway, collecting myself and thinking about where else to go. Along the path were stands of the tiny, daintily nodding Twinflower (Linnaea borealis), a special find, with it’s interesting connection to Carl Linnaeus. Such a little beauty, I almost missed it.

I decided to drive to the quaint but touristy town of La Conner; someone recommended a museum there. I got out a map – for me, a paper map is the best way to get the overview, then GPS gets me there.  There were two good routes: a scenic route through beautiful Skagit County agricultural land, or a shorter route, cutting through the Swinomish Indian Reservation.

I knew the reservation might be depressing but I decided to take the shorter route anyway. And I was rewarded, yes I was. Gas was cheaper than off the reservation. Maybe my money was better spent there, too. Driving down Reservation Road near La Conner I noticed a gravel side road running downhill towards the Swinomish Channel. The channel, an active waterway, divides tribal land from La Conner and the mainland. Something about the road looked promising, so I pulled over and looked around. It opened out to a logging business, apparently where logs are floated down the channel, loaded onto trucks and transported elsewhere, probably for pulp or lumber (I have to learn more about the logging business).

Piles of logs were scattered around, and more were corralled in the shallow water just off shore. A Great Blue Heron’s squawk broke the silence. It floated down from the trees high overhead and slowly glided across the channel. Another followed, and another. Maybe there’s a heron rookery here, I thought.  Mount Baker rose like a white marble pyramid in the distance, behind mounds of blue foothills. Blackberries, daisies and thistles flourished, slowly overtaking an old orange logging truck and piles of gigantic tires.  It was a quietly forlorn site, and beautiful, too.

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I decided to skip La Conner. I was getting hungry and thought I could do better in the nearby town of Mt. Vernon, with its huge Skagit Valley Food Co op, chock full of local produce and meals cooked on site. The way to Mt. Vernon passed though glorious fields of ripe wheat. The stalks were golden and full, and bent with seed. I had to pull over!

 

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Just down the road was a weathered gray barn, one of many that can be seen along country roads in Washington. Always picturesque, they are hard to resist, and I find the No Trespassing signs easy to ignore. This is what’s best about traveling alone – you can stop over and over again, as the muse whispers.  Don’t get me wrong – I love sharing the road, but I get frustrated when we speed past sites that beg exploration.

As you can imagine, by the time I finished taking pictures of the barn, I was starved. I headed to the co op for a sandwich and iced espresso. I couldn’t resist bringing a few slices of German Chocolate cake home, too. It was a good day after all, despite missing the possibility of photographing Deception Pass. It’s all about keeping options open, not to mention the eyes!

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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).

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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!