The American Southwest has its share of hardy plants that evolved to survive punishingly dry and hot conditions. The ocotillo is as spiny as any cactus, although it isn’t one itself. They sort of look like tall dead sticks splaying out from the ground, but they produce beautiful red blossoms after a rain. Look closely at the base and you’ll see a tangle of spiky stems that dare you to stick your hand inside. The photo above was taken at Joshua Tree National Park.
This is the time of year in the Pacific Northwest when irises bloom. There is a nice assortment of bearded irises in my daughter’s neighborhood in Seattle. While they’re gorgeous to look at, I never bothered to look inside the flower. This takes a little effort because the upright petals (called standards) need to be peeled back to reveal the interior. Photography is even more of a challenge because of the ‘obstruction’ and the casting of a shadow when the camera gets close. But, when I took these pictures, it was bright and sunny outside, and I had my camera phone handy. It was worth the trouble.
There are terms we use about which we don’t give much thought. On the face of it, their origin seems obvious enough, it’s just that we have no personal experience to give the expressions much tangible significance; they’re part of the common vernacular.
‘Eagle eyes’ is one of them. I was on a boat tour in George Inlet near Ketchikan. To demonstrate the power of bald eagle vision, the guide tossed a herring into the water. We were surrounded by nothing but trees onshore, part of the massive Tongass National Forest that covers most of southeast Alaska (Panhandle, as it’s commonly called). We waited. And waited. The guide thought it might be hunting elsewhere. Then, out of the forest it came, an eagle from easily a mile away. It circled for a bit, then came swooping down and plucked the fish out of the water. It was an incredible demonstration. Now I’ve seen eagle eyes with my own.
It seems the common murre, also known as a guillemot, needs a good head start to fly. With a relatively hefty body compared to its wings, departure takes a bit of effort and once aloft, it can’t maneuver very well. If you were to suddenly stand up in its flight path, there’s a good chance you and the bird will get knocked unconscious (well, you get my point). But in the water, the murre is in its element and can dive very deep. I captured these images at Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska. The murre is a very common seabird in the Northern Hemisphere.
The Cascade Lake Loop on Orcas Island in Washington is a pleasant way to explore part of Moran State Park. Its most interesting feature is a twisted Douglas fir that seems out of place. The other evergreens all around it are straight and tall, making you wonder what traumas it withstood during its lifetime. Its shape mimics old junipers I saw in the Southwest.
Spring is my favorite season. Winter chill gives way to a time of regrowth, awakening, rejuvenation and hope. Naturally, this is the time I like to visit local gardens.
Seattle has a little treasure, not nearly as well known (if at all) as University of Washington’s Arboretum, Kubota Garden or the Bellevue Botanical Garden. At the northern end of South Seattle College is its own arboretum, entirely designed, built and maintained by students. Within its six acres, surprises are at every turn. I saw signs of spring all around: azaleas and rhododendrons, flowering ground cover, bulb plants, new growth on evergreens, fully leafed Japanese maples. Admission is free. Spring is here at last!
South Seattle College Arboretum
6000 16th Ave SW
Seattle, WA 98106
This is as close as I’ve ever gotten to a great blue heron. I also had a little help from a telephoto lens. The snapshot was taken at the estuarine reserve called the Skagit Wildlife Area north of Seattle where on luckier days I might’ve seen thousands of snow geese resting or flying overhead.
My 9-year-old grandson loves reptiles. He’s fascinated so much he takes pictures of all of them at the Los Angeles Zoo, every single time he visits, to the exasperation of his younger sister. It’s no surprise then that he wanted to go through the reptile (and amphibian) exhibit when my wife and I took both our grandkids to the San Diego Zoo recently. I find frogs more interesting if for no other reason than their extraterrestrial appearance. I saw this pair that look straight out of a sci-fi movie. I failed to note what they were called.
Update: the San Diego Zoo was kind enough to answer by email inquiry. This frog is commonly known as White’s Tree Frog, otherwise known as Litoria caerulea.
My wife and I have never driven I-5 through the Northwest in October. This year we did, en route to Southern California. The autumn leaves were gorgeous all along the interstate, mostly yellow with occasional spots of orange and red. They helped break up the monotony of having gone this route many times before.
When I was in Southern California it dawned on me that we’d be passing through Portland later in the month on the way home. I tried to keep a close tab on the fall colors as they were developing in the Japanese Garden.
Trying to find out the current status of the maples wasn’t easy. The website japanesegarden.org didn’t do frequent enough updates to be helpful. So fortune would have to shine on us and it wouldn’t be too late by the time we got to Rose City. As it turned out this year, for best color, the third week was probably best. Yet when we arrived the following week, fortunately there was plenty to admire, in particular the stunning lace leaf maple whose glory I was able to capture on camera. Here is a view from a slightly different angle.
Portland’s Japanese garden is recognized as being the finest outside Japan. I’ve seen it grow and mature over the years, infrequent though my visits have been, and become the breathtaking ambassador it is today. My last time here was in early October 2013, a bit early for best fall color. So it was with great anticipation and fingers crossed that my wife and I arrived on Sunday (October 28). Because it was two hours before closing, we had to keep up a faster pace than we wanted, but we were still rewarded with splendor. The forecasts for thundershowers didn’t materialize; there was only an occasional sprinkle.
After leaving, we headed straight to Ataula, one of our favorite restaurants in Portland. Not wishing to get stuck in Portland’s awful rush hour traffic on Monday morning, we got a room for the night in Vancouver, Washington, just across the Columbia River.
If there is one outstanding beauty in Portland, Oregon, my vote goes to this laceleaf maple that shines the brightest in late fall at the Japanese Garden. I was fortunate to see it in its full glory when I passed through the city last Sunday on my way home to Seattle. Five years ago, I visited too early in October to enjoy the best color.