Step back.

There’s our pretty, blue and white marbleworld, spinning and wobbling in the dark vastness.


We’re hovering just above it. More colors play across the surface.


Zero in on a small piece of land in the place called northeastern America, and

now zoom backwards in time, and here is a place called home.

A girl plays next to a big birch tree shaped like a willow.  The tree is Betula pendula, the European silver birch, or weeping birch.

It is known to the girl and her brothers as forbidden-to-climb.

She leans in to the pale bark with its crisp black markings, and reads them like a book page, a calligraphy of fissures and dashes.


She drinks in the bark and the thick old trunk that stretches up into an endless web of slender branches hung with papery, heart-shaped leaves that flit in response to every breeze.

The home place, and it’s sounds, smells and sights permeate the girl’s consciousness. As she grows up the big birch tree fades in memory, but when she sees birch trees her heart understands them. There is a congruence.

She thinks about a birch grove in a park near the new place where she lives now. The feeling of these trees is an old one. It calls her.

She drives to the park.

If again, you hover just above the land and look down, you see her scattered meanderings through the birch grove.

She has a black box in her hands.

Click. Step.

Click. Step.



This birch is native to Europe, where it has a long history, culturally and economically. It’s been used for everything from lumber to bread (Wiki says Scandinavians made emergency bread from the bark).  It is Finland’s national tree; whisks made of birch twigs are used there to awaken the skin during saunas.

Bundles of birch branches were used to push out the old year in Celtic lands, where mythology associates birch with renewal.  The yule log is birch, and bundles of twigs were used for beating the bounds – ceremoniously walking the parish boundaries – in old England.

It is said that many sacred texts were written on birch bark in India – perhaps a different species, but still birch.  In Russia there is a tradition of carving extraordinarily tiny, detailed scenes and designs in birch bark, which is fashioned into small boxes.

The girl’s ancestors lived in places where birch grew, places where it was perhaps revered. Europeans brought the trees, purposely or inadvertently, to the place called America when they immigrated. Gradually, birch trees took hold in new northern lands. When the girl’s parents bought a house for their family, a large and beautiful weeping birch dominated the front yard.

That was long ago. Now she lives in another place far away, and here too, Betula pendula finds a comfortable home. 

The girl with the black box watches as shreds of birch bark sway and dance in the cool September breeze.



She looks up into the places where branch meets sky.


The haze of green hearts, wiggling in the wind.

Leaves turn yellow and drift down onto the moss. They will decompose over the wet winter months, nourishing the soil. Their substance will change and evolve, providing energy to push life back out of the soil next spring.

Whether the girl returns to the birch grove or not, she will see white birch bark and weeping, sinewy branches in her dreams.




Nutrient-rich, productive waters are the draw at Sekiu (see’ kew), a fishing village on the bountiful Strait of Juan de Fuca.  In August we enjoyed a few days in the area, staying at Curley’s Resort, a very laid back, somewhat ramshackle hotel that caters to sport fishermen. The modest rooms and lack of pretension suited us – it didn’t feel like anyone was out to impress us. After all, the view speaks for itself.

The activity in Sekiu appeared to be about 99% devoted to fishing. We were the other one percent, hanging out, watching the scene, striking up conversations, and taking photos.

Each morning fog obscured the small boats as they motored out to the strait for a day of fishing. As fishermen returned with their plentiful catch, gulls, crows and eagles swirled and swam around the marina, loudly negotiating easy deals on fresh salmon. It was amazing to see how much fish the men threw out to the birds. Miles away an ocean canyon off the coast funnels nutrient-rich water that surges upwards and flows into the strait. The mixing of currents is thought to result in the unusually productive waters, full of phytoplankton and krill, which are key species in this environment.

Tangles of kelp and seaweed are evidence of the wealth of food in these waters. We watched as a young man received wisdom from an expert on filleting techniques.

On another pier, a disabled vet was slowly restoring himself by repairing large wood sculptures that he created years ago. He patiently worked the wood, plugging holes made by rough weather, an obvious metaphor for healing wounds from long ago in Vietnam.

The “resorts” here sell lures and flashers and whatever gear you might need, including rags at a nickel each. Our room came stocked with a plastic bag full of clean, torn toweling and signs encouraging us to use the rags, not the bath towels. We didn’t have the problem of having to clean fish – we left it to others, and had a fantastic meal one night of freshly caught salmon. We did lose a pair of shoes though, after walking through the muck at low tide at a nearby bay. The fun in this part of the world isn’t always clean.

On the store walls, old photos of the area hang askew. Outside, wildflower vines climb the deck and the scale hangs ready.

Sekiu (pronounced seek-yew) is a very good place to be a gull!

And that morning in August, it was just a great place to be.


Yesterday was cloudy with a spit of rain here and there, hardly enough to run the windshield wipers. It seemed a good day to head up to Skagit County, a place of open vistas, farms, plentiful water, and small towns.

Under moody skies Lummi Island hid its top across the estuary’s dark waters. Hidden among lapping waves, three loons dove and disappeared, their sleek heads reemerging closer, then farther out, in a mesmerizing rhythm older than we could imagine.

Fishing is good now on the Samish River, for catching salmon as well as quiet camaraderie.  The endless fields and marshes, distant blue hills, wet smells and gulls’ cries forge an atmosphere that can soak peace right into the bones.

Herons were busy yesterday, too. This one strutted his stuff to ward off an interloper from the perfect spot on the slough.

Salt-tolerant Douglas asters highlight the marsh with lavender splashes. September asters are flowers to be grateful for – soon there will be nothing in bloom out here.

Spiders are busy among the ripening rose hips, and colors are more vivid for the moisture in the air.

What is it about overcast skies that suits this land so well?

A farmer drew a line of sunflowers along the edge of a field.  It’s a horizontal landscape here: one long edge after another, piled up in subtle stripes, variations on a restful theme.

In the small town of Edison, hard by a slough-edged farm, a handful of laid back restaurants beckon. We chose an old favorite and tucked in to grits with curried sausage and shrimp, eggs with a big country biscuit, roasted tomatoes, arugula and orange slices. Our water was steeped with mint and lemon. The owner chatted with friends at the next table, tattooed cooks brought plate after plate heaped with local food out, and the blues drifted over, completing the picture.

Photos taken with a Lumix G3; 20mm prime and 80 mm macro lenses. The last two were taken with a Samsung phone.


To me, anyway.

The first time I spotted this old chicken barn outside Duvall, Washington (a rural town 25 miles east of Seattle), I was drawn to the severe lines and faded, mustard-colored siding. It backs into its site nicely. It hasn’t changed in the three years I’ve watched it – the grass is mowed every now and then and the barn remains unused. Ignoring the No Parking signs, I park on the side, step back, and compose shots around that sweet trapezoidal shape. I creep up close to shoot rusty nails in the siding, or a stray wildflower hidden among the grass in front.

This is the kind of prosaic building that might come down any minute. My breath probably settles the tiniest bit each time I round the corner and see it’s still there.

Lumix G3 with Panasonic 20 mm f/1.7 lens; f/4.5 1600 sec. ISO 160





After months of warm, dry, sunny days, we have had rain this week. On the other side of the mountains there is great relief, as people coping with Washington’s worst wildfire season ever get a break. As I took these photos a fine mist was falling, moistening leaves that are beginning to fade into the subtle tones of early fall.

The tall, straight trees are Douglas firs, a signature tree of the Pacific Northwest. In our area nearly every road is lined with Doug fir, producing a treeline of zigs and zags. Like roughly torn paper, their irregular branches create a distinctive silhouette.

In the second and last photos, Big Leaf Maples reach across the frame. Their leaves can be the size of dinner plates.  Behind the Doug fir tree trunk in the third photo, a Western redcedar’s graceful branches absorb the light.  Dense, symmetrical trees, the cedar branch tips have a way of reaching towards and relaxing with the light.  Another Western redcedar is in the background of the last photo.

The photos were taken from a deck three stories up, which is about half the height of this little patch of woods. Increasing the contrast and saturation in these photos might produce a more conventionally attractive image, but I held them back to reveal the subtleties of the moisture-laden air.

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.


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.




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.


it happens on

the edge: transition,

change, movement.


At the edge, I see what’s

what. I think I

know what’s what, but

appearances, well,

you know – they’re


Still, I’m drawn to

an edge, if

only to keep

the comforting rhythm of


to center.

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





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.


Moving in closer,

there are intricate other


waiting.  How strange,

the way the tiny

fragments morph

through the lens.

And again

on the screen.


as I make small adjustments – a little less clarity


more detail


Pull down the saturation,

draw the focus in with

a vignette…

the possibilities are endless,

whether you have a lens and


or not.





(It’s a kind of worship, isn’t it?)


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