In the Corner

The northwestern-most corner of the continental United States may sound like an obscure place, but it’s a sharply delineated, dynamic little piece of the planet. I traveled to the area a few weeks ago. Cape Flattery, at the tip of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, is the farthest you can go north and west in the continental U.S. It is a rough, steep pile of rocks overlooking churning Pacific waters, sucking in and out of the San Juan de Fuca Strait, a broad body of water separating America and Canada.

As you might guess, a rock outcrop on the west coast is a good place to catch a sunset. That was the plan.

From Seattle, a ferry ride and a few hours of driving takes you to Neah Bay, the nearest town to the cape.  Neah Bay and Cape Flattery are on the Makah Indian reservation. The Makah people inhabited a good, broad chunk of land here before Europeans came and took over.  Many Makah people still center life around fishing, as they have for thousands of years. Salmon were running when we arrived, boats were out, and gulls cried and squabbled for scraps in the marinas.

The small town was full of friendly people and worn looking homes, many with yards full of odds and ends.

After a perfect wood-fired pizza in one of two or three places to eat in Neah Bay, we “plotzed” on a sliver of beach at the edge of town. I climbed onto a rock in the water to get the image of a boulder perched like a stone sailboat, dead center in the foreground, with a tree-covered island in the distance.

The peaceful bayside spot was marred by trash, as was much of the area. Ignoring the beer cans, I peered into the water around my rock.  Small, translucent, urn-like shapes floated and morphed just below the surface. I’d never seen anything quite like the fragile-looking, delicate drifters. Mesmerized, I watched as they whirled over the rocks, never colliding and continually pulsing and waving their appendages.  I learned later that they’re moon jellyfish, found all over the world. At only an inch or so across, these were the young ephyra stage.

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I wanted to photograph them, but it had been a long day of traveling and my wits were somewhere else.  I forgot to use manual focus to focus on the jellyfish. With the camera on auto, of course it focused on the water surface, which I didn’t notice, being travel weary and immersed in the whole different-place-ness of everything.  The images aren’t in focus but with extra processing I think they begin to convey the delicate other worldliness of the moon jellyfish.

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A perfect contrast to the tiny water creatures sat nearby beside the dirt road. Almost invisible in dusk light, a weathered partial whale skeleton reposed in the weeds. Ancient, worn, and encrusted with lichens, the beached bones held onto the mysteries of the Salish Sea, which supports so many life forms.  (The next evening, thanks to Pacific waters, we dined on just caught salmon, and the following day saw our first gray whale breaching in a cove on the strait).

The light was dimming – it was time to journey out to the Cape for sunset.

Following a map we got at the general store after paying our ten dollars recreation permit (most Makah lands are not open to the public), we looped around the reservation, south, then north, then west, finally arriving at the Cape Flattery trail head.

It’s about a half mile woodland walk to a series of wooden viewing platforms perched high over the sea. The Makah have fashioned a beautiful boardwalk from old cedar boards for the wet places. Slices of cedar trunks delineate the path here and there. The woods were thick with that enchanted feeling that often pervades Pacific northwest forests, enhanced by the prospect of the goal ahead, glinting sunlight shards, and the faint sound of waves.

From the first platform, we looked far below to moss-strewn rocks and bull whip kelp swirling in the foamy tide. It was exhilarating. A dozen or so people were there, speaking in soft tones, respectful of each others’ experience.

A few folks managed to clamber out on the cliffs to the south – I don’t know how.

Forbidding, darkening cliffs set with tall spruce and fir curved out of sight to the north. Vancouver Island was somewhere out there, across the strait. Only the waves below distant gulls’ cries pierced the quiet.

In 1778 James Cook captained a ship charged with looking for a water passage through North America. Here, he saw a promising opening but what seemed to be a harbor was not, so he called it Cape Flattery. Somehow he missed the strait, but it wouldn’t have led him through to the Atlantic anyway! Fifty-odd years later a Japanese ship ran aground nearby. It had gone off course and drifted for over a year across the Pacific ocean. The Makah took the last three men alive on board, later selling them to the Hudson’s Bay Company. The Makah were intimate with these lands and waters in ways no one else could be and may have saved these men’s lives. In any case, one cannot say how well or poorly they were treated, by the Makah or by the English, who later “released” them. They were sent to London, and finally back to Japan.

It wasn’t a fabulously dramatic sunset, but we weren’t  disappointed – the old Cape Flattery lighthouse on Tatoosh Island (above, first photo) silhouetted against a softly setting sun was pretty enough, and the view to the northwest, with barely visible mountains of Vancouver Island peaking through the clouds, was the subtle stuff of poetry.

Clouds over water was a constant theme,

the next day at Shi Shi Beach,

…and the next.

Clouds over water, distant hills.

ON AN EDGE

it happens on

the edge: transition,

change, movement.

Definition.

At the edge, I see what’s

what. I think I

know what’s what, but

appearances, well,

you know – they’re

deceiving.

Still, I’m drawn to

an edge, if

only to keep

the comforting rhythm of

returning

to center.

Photos of Begonia leaves; Lumix G3, 60 mm, f 2.8, 1/40-1/80 sec, ISO 800.

 

 

 

ESCAPE!

We escaped to the Olympic peninsula for three days this week. Here are a few glimpses – more later –

 

Top: A map of the northwest tip of the continental US, posted on the wall of a restaurant on the Makah Reservation in Neah Bay, WA. With helpful tips!

Next: Curley’s, a fisherman’s hotel, and the marina, in Sekiu, WA.

Next: Morning fog lifting off the marina in Sekiu.

Next: A Glaucous-winged gull, like a Herring gull, but without the black wingtips, these are common on the west coast.

Next: Sea stacks at Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park. Reached by walking two miles through Makah reservation land, then descending a steep cliff to the shore with the aid of a rope. Worth it!

Next: Beach detritus, always fascinating. And trash is rare here.

Bottom: Olympic Peninsula hills receding into the mist at Pillar Point.

DRAWING NEAR

Moving in closer,

there are intricate other

worlds

waiting.  How strange,

the way the tiny

fragments morph

through the lens.

And again

on the screen.

Again,

as I make small adjustments – a little less clarity

here,

more detail

there.

Pull down the saturation,

draw the focus in with

a vignette…

the possibilities are endless,

whether you have a lens and

computer,

or not.

Just

look.

 

Consider.

(It’s a kind of worship, isn’t it?)

 

Photos taken at the Bellevue Botanical Garden in Bellevue, Washington.

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!

***

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.