Sunday, December 21, 2008

Flakes to Inches to Feet

Happy Holiday Greetings from our home to yours!

Our first snowfall of the season was late arriving. We all expected it last Wednesday so I called my hair dresser to change my appointment to Tuesday hoping to avoid a snowy traffic jam. Cars slide up and down hills near our home. Puget Sound is hilly like San Francisco. We live atop a small mountain so getting to and from home can become an issue when snow joins the scene. We had no snowfall last Tuesday night or Wednesday. I should have been picking up the last of my Christmas gifts instead of watching the sky like a meteorologist. I was too afraid to leave, afraid the snow would grab me like it did one evening last year when it had us sliding along Lake Sammamish Parkway, unable to follow any tracks because the snowfall was so heavy . Instead of doing my Christmas shopping I stayed home in front of the fire, keeping the pipes warm in the 20 degree temps we were having.

Thursday we awoke to a sprinkling of snow, perhaps 2 inches . Hubby can work from home so he set himself up in our office and began his day. I pulled open all the shades and watched the flakes fall, big hunks of snow swirling in circles and floating toward the earth. The branches of our giant Sequoia and its companion evergreens were draped in white sheets; the Autumn Joy sedum and the rock garden flora wearing white hats on their stems and flowerheads. Hubby purchased hand warmers to tape to the bottom of the hummingbird feeder to keep the nectar in liquid form. Hummers were waiting for their nectar in the icy weather, a deadly situation for them which threatened their survival. They moved straight to the feeder each morning to suck the nectar, one balancing on the perch around the feeding holes, likely too weak to flutter his wings and eat. We placed a heater in one of the bird baths, suet cakes in the suet cages, peanuts in the squirrel box, and plenty of nuts and seeds in the feeders. The wildlife was doing fine, and we enjoyed watching them feast from the warmth of our inside retreat.

By Friday we had several inches of snow on the ground, a pristine landscape which we watched from the windows and the covered entryway porch. Soon the postman would break the perfect white veil across the courtyard leaving his footprints as he delivered Christmas goodies from Swiss Colony. We decided to make a stockpot of chicken vegetable soup. Based on the weather forecast this may be our Christmas dinner, too! More snow fell over the weekend, and now more than a foot of snow hides the gardens from sight. Pathways and gardens disappear under wide white ribbons of snow while evergreens hold their lacy white branches a little closer to the ground. The landscape resembles a Christmas card; it is surreal - too quiet, too white, too perfect as snowfall once again covers the intrusion of any visitor.

It is all serene. There are no noises to interfere with the stillness accompanying these snowfalls except perhaps the sound of snow falling from a branch and crashing into a shrub below. Birds and squirrels scatter seeds, but there is a tranquility which hovers over the landscape and the wildlife. Serenity, always appreciated in the busy hustle of Christmas, lays across our land and feeds our own quiet, contemplative moods. We are looking forward to getting out again and doing some Christmasing, eager to see the magic of the city lights, ready to welcome the Christmas ships as they sail to ports on Lake Washington, anticipating the carolers singing to us on Seattle's streets. We hear we will be getting more snow each day until Christmas, but on Christmas Day the temps will rise above freezing and the skies will shower us with rain. It is winter in Seattle, after all, and if it is Seattle in winter, baby, the rain must fall!

Friday, November 07, 2008

"...One is Silver and the Other Gold."

In summer the purple leaves of our smoke tree are highlighted by puffs of pink flowers. As fall approaches the purple fades to pinks and apricots when autumn takes up residence along her beautiful limbs.

Is there any tree more glorious in fall than a maple? Splashing oranges and reds throughout the landscape, maples hold me captive until the winds blow these boldly colored leaves through chilled air, sending them off to feed the earth.

An old barn in the Cascades has a story to tell about days long past as she stands among the aspens which tremble in the breeze. Until I saw my first aspen I had no idea what the word trembling really meant!

Off in the distance a bridge crosses the Skykomish River in the Cascades.

Aspens shimmer along Highway 2 where the road travels along several waterways as it winds toward Leavenworth, Washington.

The Cascade range seems to be striped in yellow, orange, green, and red as colors move vertically down the mountainsides where logging has removed evergreens.

This two lane highway tunnels through the rock of the Cascades on one side while the Skykomish River flows rapidly across river rocks and boulders on the other.

"...One is silver and the other gold." Actually the golden aspen gives the illusion of silver when its limbs are bare. The contrast here of silver and gold is pure magic.

All photography is from our private collection and may not be copied or used in any manner without our written permission.
Click on each photograph to enlarge it.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

November 4th...It's My Choice

Considered by some as harsh, this new ad speaks for itself.
In fact, it's totally honest.
Words quoted, choices confirmed - it is there for the reading.
Sometimes decisions we make bite. McCain's was a gamble.
It may backfire.

We all have the opportunity to change the direction of our country on November 4th.

Vote for Your Choice

Obama/Biden 2008

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

And...This One Knows Who's Best

Image from Andrew Sullivan
The Daily Dish, The Atlantic Online

Sometimes words denote respect. Sometimes they don't.

As for this one - yes, I know who is best suited to lead this country. I like a candidate who is even tempered, not impulsive, able to look others in the eye and shake hands. I like a candidate who is more interested in discussing policy than throwing dirt, but who is not going to be bullied by a desperate man. I like a candidate who is concerned about the middle class, who knows from his own beginnings what it is like to struggle, a candidate whose belief in the truth of the American dream changed his life. I like a candidate who has worked hard to become the citizen he is, who has not expected others to pave the way, a candidate who is dependable and whose insight and vision are clear and deep. I like a candidate who is intelligent and articulate, whose words move me, who makes thoughtful choices and decisions which are in the best interest of the country. This is the candidate I will feel most comfortable knowing my country is being governed by, the person I think is best suited to international diplomacy, and in whose hands my life and the lives of those I love will rest.

Barack Obama in 2008

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September's Song

Hummer drinking from
the honeysuckle on the arbor

It is that time of year when the gardens begin to change, when perennials begin to slowly prepare themselves for winter's rest. Sunlight is now angled low across the woodland gardens. It is romantic light which illuminates the gardens in warm hues and throws shadows which camouflage imperfections like airbrushing the landscape.

I like to sit on my favorite garden bench in the late afternoon and study the light while the squirrels and birds play among the cedars, some looking for bulbs and peanuts they have long ago hidden. I am sure the squirrels are anticipating their next treasure hunt. Soon we will plant more groupings of hardy dwarf tulips, muscari, and crocuses. They view crocuses much like my husband views molten chocolate cake!

Last year we found ourselves deluged in early winter rains before we had finished planting the fall bulbs. Bags of tulips and daffodils were placed in the garage inside their darkened bags until late February when we remembered them. Sure that we still had 6 weeks of cold weather ahead we pulled them out and planted hundreds of bulbs in several huge garden pots instead of digging the cold winter earth. April brought masses of color and a valuable lesson - we will do the same thing this year. Using pots for tulips keeps the gardens from looking so messy when the blooms are spent. Pots are easy to remove to a secluded area in back where no visitors go. We still have daffodil bulbs in the gardens which have naturalized and return each year so the springtime landscape will continue to be sprinkled in gold and the spattering of red from the few tulips which also remain.

Soon we will be making an annual trip in search of fall color. Sometimes we drive along the Skykomish and Wenatchee Rivers in the Cascades where one of the rivers is only a few feet from our car; other times we travel along Puget Sound from Skagit County to Bellingham through a variety of elevations overhanging the water. One of our favorite drives is south to the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon where shades of yellow and gold seed the shoreline in shimmering threads of light. Along the winding fjords color mixes with the emerald fir trees as the river rolls across its rocky path between the craggy cliffs.

Until autumn splashes vivid colors throughout the landscapes of our city, I will spend a few more weeks enjoying the summer gardens, looking through the photographs of our summer bounty and recalling the moments when we welcomed every bloom with open hands and hearts. The rewards of hard work and our intense love of nature's mysteries keep us busy in spring and summer. In September we rest a bit, smell the burning wood, bake apples, enjoy the purple asters, take evening naps under warm throws, and remember...

"The winds will blow their own freshness into you,
and the storms their energy,
while cares will drop away from you
like the leaves of Autumn."
John Muir

Click on each photograph below to enlarge the image.

The Steller's Jay below, the cobalt blue bird with the black crested head,
has been summering here for 5 years. He was born on the property.
When he was young he rode around the gardens on our shoulders and heads and ate peanuts from our hands.He even knocked on the glass door to come inside, once slipping in and stealing something white which I could never identify!
Here is a photograph of his most recent offspring, not quite fully feathered.
We are always eager to see our Steller's Jay each spring!
While he is less tame now, he still follows us around the gardens,
sits with us when we are planting, glides low to get our attention,
and responds to our voices.

All photographs are from our personal collection and may not be used without explicit and written permission.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Just the Goldfinches and Us

When I gaze upon the ocean and find the blending of color as water meets sky I often feel suspended in time and space. No other thoughts distract me when the ocean speaks her rhythmic language. I am completely still in that moment, content with the way my body responds to the soothing sensations moving through me. And so it is that we are compelled each July to make one of usually 2 annual trips to the Pacific Ocean. We need this retreat where we live only in the present, where life becomes simple again, filled with sensual pleasures. It is not often that we are guided so perfectly by sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.

The central Oregon coast with her alcoves of natural wonder always delivers the ultimate visual pleasures. Driving south we explored old, familiar sights. Boiler Bay reminded me of our first trip to this central coast when my husband sat on a fence overhanging the Pacific while I photographed him. As we headed to Depoe Bay we noticed harbor seals lounging on the shore at Otter Rock. Sometimes they look as if they are smiling at us; other times a face will remind me of a shocked Casper, the ghost, the cute cartoon character from my childhood! We chuckled at these adorable faces seeming to express emotion. They lolled on this cloudy day, sprawled in all directions, each taking rest from the work of swimming and avoiding natural predators.

We crossed paths with our first Muscovy duck in a pond near the beached seals. Quite unattractive with his bright red wattle and large nasal opening in his beak this duck with black, blue, and white mottled feathers was nonetheless fascinating with his strangely textured red beak and head . We called him a turkey-duck for lack of knowing what he truly was. We hurried along. We had heard that Newport's Nye Beach planned a clambake, and we hoped to find clams covered in seaweed and baking in a deeply dug pit on the beach. Upon our arrival we decided to find a good seafood restaurant instead - the clams were being replaced by hot dogs! It seems in our lazy state of mind we were rather late for lunch! Sitting in a restaurant overlooking the sea I drank a frozen Margarita as we waited on our lunch and watched the fog dance across the elevated crags of the nearby shoreline. The deep mossy green of vegetation was easily contrasted by the orange raw edges of earth eaten away by wind and sea. Vaporous fog swirling across the tops of the headlands lent a mystical atmosphere to this scene and kept our attention until lunch was served. At that moment nothing competed with the grilled salmon covered in champagne butter over bay shrimp risotto (mine) and wild mushroom ravioli with a tomato cream sauce, reggiano cheese, and threads of basil (his). Freshly baked bread and butter and grilled broccoli with cheese sauce completed our meals.

Drizzly rain began to fall just in time for the 4th of July firework display, but we were happily ensconced inside a fancy restaurant on Siletz Bay, the area from where the display would begin. Dinner was delicious in this restaurant which offers a full view of the bay through its wide glass windows moving along the semi-circular wall. Residents whose homes also line the bay joined in the celebration and shot their own fireworks from locations all around us. Flaming colors lit the sky in every direction! Even the servers were mesmerized. When we returned to our room we found a few guests at the hotel busy shooting their fireworks across the Pacific Ocean from bunkers they had dug in the sand. This is a favorite beach activity every July 4th and never seems to draw attention or penalty from the local police even though it is against the law. Since tourists heavily feed the local economy we assume they ignore the infractions. I was glad the rain had come late in the evening. The smoke from the fires built along the beach were noticeable from our balcony before we left for dinner. By the time we returned everyone had gone inside but the firework enthusiasts.

Driving north the following day we followed the scenic drive of the 3 Capes leading us to Cape Kiwanda, Cape Lookout, and Cape Meares. We have driven north before but had only been along part of this coastal route once when we followed Hwy 101 from Tillamook to the northern beaches in 2004. This time we picked up the route much earlier and saw jet skiers splitting waves in the heavy white foam of an active sea at Cape Kiwanda and Tierra del Mar. Headlands of tightly packed orange, sandy earth jutted out into the surf, and beachcombers gathered for picnics, wind sailing, shelling, and dog walking. There was an empty beach volleyball court beside the ocean front pub at Cape Kiwanda. Further north we found Oceanside, a small beach town with no city activity, but there was a beautiful home overlooking the Pacific which I would love to own!

Cape Meares with its lighthouse and 2 vista overlooks catered to some serious bird watchers who eagerly shared their knowledge of the birds inhabiting the area and roosting on boulders in the sea. The true GOLDEN egg of this trip, however, was Cape Lookout at Oswald West State Park. We had not seen it since 2004 when I stood at the same overlook so stunned by the view I could not speak. In high elevation along a curved Cape jutting out into the surf, the vista overlooks seem to place the viewers behind the waves which move in foamy curls to the shoreline. A backdrop of mountains rise behind this coast, and Tillamook Bay can be seen off in the distance. This is one of two of the most beautiful seascapes on the Oregon coast. The other is just south of this place, a short distance from Cape Kiwanda where an overlook offers views north to Cape Lookout. (See photograph in header above.) Both of these magnificent scenes touch the senses in such a deep place that words become unimportant.

Seascapes were not our only entertainment. We did some bird watching on the Siletz River where American Goldfinches played along the banks. They are the state bird of Washington, but we always see more of them in Oregon than here at home! Often seals are seen swimming along these banks, but in the quiet of this early evening it was just the goldfinches and us. The morning skies were filled with colorful kites each day, kites which are difficult to fly. What happened to the ones of my youth, the paper ones shaped like baseball diamonds on light weight cross-bowed frames which were connected to twine we wrapped around a stick? Those flew with beautiful rag-tails sailing below them! They no longer exist! Now kites are high tech and require two hands and much steering! We had crashed ours into the sand more times than I could count during another coastal adventure so we are now kite-flying spectators. The beach always held surprises. In the stillness of a very early morning, long before the beach became alive with shell seekers and dog walkers, an artist sculpted a huge sea turtle from sand just outside our balcony. Creativity, nature's gifts, and playful strangers always kept our attention and brought joy.

Seafood became the delicacy of each day. In restaurants both old and new we ate salmon, halibut, petrale sole, razor clams, Dungeness crab, prawns, and Ling Cod, all prepared in a variety of delectable ways and served with grilled veggies. Never having eaten razor clams before we were surprised to find them the size of our palms! They were freshly dug in Tillamook Bay and our first taste insured we would eat them again! While in the Willamette Valley we stopped at the Tillamook Cheese Factory to buy several large blocks of cheese and to satisfy my husband's addiction to the freshly made ice cream they serve each day. My ice cream junkie made a 2nd trip to the area for a few more scoops before leaving Oregon!

As we drove toward Astoria where the great Columbia River spills into the Pacific I wondered about Lewis and Clark's trip, how they felt when they reached the mouth of this river and saw the ocean before them. Jetties divide these 2 bodies of water. They extend from the ocean's shore almost as far as the eye can see since the river is hugely swollen at its mouth. There is another place outside of Portland, the Columbia River Gorge, where I once wondered what Lewis and Clark thought as they paddled through the fjords. Mountains rise on both sides of the Columbia River creating a narrow, curving passage of extraordinary beauty as the river winds through the Cascades. I learned later that this 90 mile run of the Columbia was the most dangerous part of their NW trip and was filled with deadly rapids and wild water unlike anything they had ever encountered! There was little time to appreciate natural beauty with survival the central focus.

After we had delicious, grilled salmon (his blackened) in Astoria we crossed the Columbia River en route to Washington via the Astoria-Megler bridge, the longest continual truss bridge in North America (and perhaps the world). There was a break in Hwy 101 until it was built, so it completes the highway system traveling the coast from Canada to Mexico. Our drive along the river on the Washington side was lovely. It would have been even lovelier had we not gotten a speeding ticket (hubby) and a no-click seatbelt ticket (me) shortly after crossing! I had unbuckled to get some meds from my purse and had settled back in with my bottle of water, still unbuckled when suddenly we were hit by the laser. Guilty and caught in the act, a big, fat "two for one" for the nice, young state patrolman! We have applied for deferment, an option in Washington that allows you to pay the ticket but have the violation remain unreported to the insurance company as long as you have no other violation within the next 12 months. Fortunately, we let it go as we drove home watching a beautiful sun setting on the horizon where water joined the sky. Even a $240 fine was not going to ruin our glorious day.

All photography is from our private collection and may not be used or displayed in any manner without our explicit and written consent.

The last 3 images above in order from left to right:

Siletz River Snags, July, 2008

Sunset at Lincoln City, Oregon, July, 2008

Cape Meares Shoreline, July, 2008

Thursday, June 12, 2008

That Yellow Balm Called Sunshine

Ocelot Bearded Iris

It was the coldest spring of my life. Well, except for that Saturday in May when it shot up to 95 degrees and burned the buds of our bearded irises after it burned my face. Spring flowers do not thrive in temperatures that high. We were all stunned here in western Washington. After that day it was cold enough for shawls and sweaters, and if you are especially cold-natured like my husband you wore your winter jacket most days and nights. The positive side of a cool spring is that the flowers stay on the stems longer and the colors are more vibrant. The negative side is that the plants don't grow quite as large and everything blooms more slowly. If you add in the heavy rains we had in early June you can expect some plant and stem damage. The weight of the rain falling on large flower heads often bends the stems to the ground. As a result, our bearded irises quite often fell flat. I rescued several stems which still bring golden yellows and purples inside the house in a bouquet mixed with canary yarrow. I missed seeing all the irises open together this year in their expansive wash of color in different corners of the gardens. There was no spectacular show of tall stems bursting into color along the walkway. We have waited a full year to see the various colors of the new irises we bought in Oregon last summer. We are still waiting for many to open.

I had wondered if the tuberous begonias we planted would rot before they could rise above the soil line. These are lovely in shady areas as an understory to ferns. They were impossible for me to grow in the hot, humid weather of Atlanta, so it is a treat to live in an environment well suited to these beautiful flowers. In the woodland gardens the mauve California mallow has opened her petals and is thriving in her new home. We found her near Schoolhouse Beach along the northern California coast and decided to bring her back to the Pacific NW where she lives happily among new friends: ligularia, hydrangeas, and hardy amaryllis and orchids.

Having worked in the chilled spring air for several weekends puzzle-piecing flagstone into a pathway through the woodland gardens, we recently decided to take a summer's day break on a sunny June afternoon. We traveled by ferry along Puget Sound to a couple of islands dotting the waterway. The sun warmed our shoulders as we traveled southwest down narrow, rural lanes exploring unfamiliar territory. We revisited Seabeck Harbor along Hood Canal, a beautiful old milling village which was once a vibrant seaport. Little is left but a conference center and a couple of community stores. Homes, many in the several million dollar range, are now perched above the shoreline overlooking the Olympic Mountains, the majestic backdrop to the salty, lapping water of the Sound. This place is one of my favorites of the western Washington shoreline. Scattered sunlight formed a haze across the horizon where mountains meet sky, draping the Olympics in a film that forbade sharp, clear photography. The truth of this astounding beauty would have to be told another day. As we ferried out to yet another island we saw seals, sunning lazily on bright red buoys, reminding us that sunshine, in correct proportion, can be a healing balm for most living things. We turned our faces to the warm air and headed into our next discovery.

The Spring Garden

Click on each photograph to enlarge.
All photographs are from our personal collection
and may not be displayed or used in any manner without our written permission.
Collage above from left to right on each row:
Blue Sky Columbine, Lavender Rhododendron,
Black Barlow Columbine, Sappho Rododendron,
Key Largo Rose, Purple Sensation Alliums,
Darcy's Choice Bearded Iris, Midas Touch Rose