Autumn Theme

Get a theme, they say. Pretty pictures are not enough, they say. Well, some of us like pretty pictures. I do have a theme–Latvian stuff. But I’m not a one-trick pony so I like to write about other things, too.

Here in western Washington, we’re getting a reprise of summer. Nights have not been cold enough to make many trees turn color just yet. This morning was foggy and more than a bit chilly. In the afternoon we’re supposed to get short-sleeve weather. We’ll see. Forecasts around here are often wrong. I have to photos from other autumns to get touches of seasonal colors.

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold

Sonnet 73, Shakespeare

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel

“To Autumn” John Keats

“Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day
Nothing gold can stay.”

Robert Frost

Stone wall by the parking lot at a library branch

I like the way the vines seem to embrace this rock and the moss that seems to be trying to soften the rock’s cold, hard nature. I like letting my imagination take over and go a little wild. Something I need to rein in when doing my posts about Latvia, even the ones about myths and legends.

To Autumn

John Keats, English Poet, 1795 – 1821

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
   And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
      To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
   With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
      For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
   Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
   Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
   Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
      Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
   Steady thy laden head across a brook;
   Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
      Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
   Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
   And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
   Among the river sallows, borne aloft
      Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
   Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
   The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
      And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Autumn’s bounty
Keats doesn’t specify what’s on the vines that grow around the thatched eaves, but the first things that comes to my mind when I think of vines is grape vines.
Late flowers add to autumn’s vivid color-scape.
The other day I saw a skein of birds flying southwest. In Scotland this V-formation of birds is called a skein. Just like a skein of yarn. The reason for the name remains a mystery.

Writing Outdoors

The last day of summer. Cold weather will be setting in sometime soon, but not yet. Today it was in the low seventies and sunny with a gusty breeze. I sat at the little tray table on my balcony and wrote in my journal. I love to write outdoors. Except when the weather was too crummy–too hot one stifling day in Jun, too wet a couple of days in September I wrote outdoors every single day all summer. I also wrote outdoors almost every day during spring and plan to continue writing on my balcony all through fall and even in winter, weather permitting.

View from my balcony, but only if I’m standing. Days like this can be very mild.

My balcony is on the second floor of my apartment building, it has two walls and a third-floor balcony for a ceiling, so I’m protected from the weather unless it’s raining hard or if there’s a too-stiff breeze.

I have pleasant company on my veranda–fifteen plants in their containers. That would be an awful lot for a small balcony if it weren’t for a spiral wrought iron stand that holds three pots, two railing containers, and a small table that hold four fuchsia cuttings in four-inch pots.

Two of my favorite balcony companions. The lawn where they coyote roams.

Besides my botanical friends, I have views of sky, clouds, trees, and Mt. Rainier. Down below is a swath of lawn, bordered on the far side with a blackberry patch and plants I can’t identify.

I have visitors. Bunnies play on the lawn. A coyote sometimes tiptoes by in broad daylight. Butterflies flit around the blackberry patch. The “Blue Flash,” a.k.a. Steller’s jay flies front tree to tree. A snobbish little hummingbird adores my hosta’s blossoms, tolerates my petunias, and snubs my million bells. One time a white cabbage butterfly flew into my balcony space and sat on a hosta leaf long enough for me to take its picture.

Cabbage butterfly on a hosta leaf.

Human neighbors also turn up on the lawn from time to time. My favorites are a guy named Bailey and his yellow dog. Sometimes the family cat follows along. Bailey runs a little robocar for his dog to chase.

I recond all these antics.

My balcony isn’t the only place I write outdoors. I’ve written at sidewalk tables at Starbucks. On the terrace of the Student Union Building at my old university. The campus is are like a park. My purse always contains a little notebook, just in case I’m somewhere interesting, or boring (bus stop) where I can pass the time while writing. When I had a car it contained a car notebook. I used to sit and write and listen to music during my lunch break at work.

Gig Harbor, Washington, USA. Another setting for my outdoor writing.

Other than it being a pleasant way to spend time, why do I do it? I’ve never written anything sensible while outdoors. I’m too busy describing what I see–trees, sky, mountains, birds, bugs, passersby. My feelings of bliss at being out in the fresh air go in my notebook. Sometimes I fantasize about writing a From My Balcony version of Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek, but I’m not sure my observations are acute enough, detailed enough, interesting enough for anyone to want to publish them. Most of the things I watch I can’t identify except as, “tree,” “bird,” “bug.” Once I look them up, they could add color to my fiction. Thus far, the only idea I’ve had during my outdoor writing sessions is for a flash fiction story about a woman on her balcony. Started, but not finished. Maybe soon. Maybe never. I do have a market in mind for it when, not if, I finish it.

“They,” whoever they are, say that a daily writing habit is important for writers. It doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you write. Most days I have that habit, but none of it has translated to either of my novels. Oh, well, you never know when it might. 

The last few weeks I’ve been might laggard about writing little essays for my blog. Feeling wonky in both mind and body. Not wanting to whine in public about my wonky sensations. At last! Results from writing outdoors–this blog post. Bonus, I feel a lot less wonky.

On my balcony, with a hot beverage, on a chilly day. I knit myself a pair of fingerless gloves so I can keep on writing on my balcony even when the weather’s a bit on the cool side.

Photo of a Photo

How Photography Has Evolved in Recent Years

I was wary to trespassing so didn’t try to get closer of a different angle

The original picture above is one I took many years ago in Okanogan County, Washington, using a twin-lens reflex camera. It was big and bulky, required roll film, and hung from my neck on a broad strap. At the time, it wasn’t a pain in the neck, but no doubt would be now.  For a while, I was in love with that camera. Took it everywhere. I was also in love with black and white film.

This photo is from the Pixabay stock agency. I don’t remember the brand of my twin-lens reflex.

For a while, I toyed with the idea of a career in photography. I could spend hours in the darkroom, developing and processing the film and making prints. Watching prints in a developer bath as an image appeared on what had once been white paper was like magic. 

The warm brown color is a result, not of the aging of the photograph, but from a sepia toner bath. Sepia ink comes from cuttlefish. Centuries ago the ink was used for writing and for drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, and other Old Masters.

Sadly, the twin-lens reflex camera was stolen during a break-and-enter at my old house.

My little Canon digital camera took the photo of my original print. I love this camera, too. It’s great not to have to buy roll film or try to figure out “F” stops and exposure time. The camera does it all. But that can also create problems, such as over or underexposure. No pain in the neck if I wear the camera around my neck on a slender strap, instead of carrying it in my pocket or purse. I love that I can upload photos in mere seconds. That’s like magic, too.

It’s easy to spend hours messing with the uploaded photos, too–improving sharpness and color, cropping, and rotating. Adding sepia, and other tones can be done with my photo program filters instead of in a messy bath. If I don’t like the results, I can remove the color tones. Instead of bending over a print and using a tiny brush making eensy dots to fill unwanted spots, I can do it in a second with the click of a mouse.

Although I love taking and sharing pictures, making a living as a photographer was never practical for me. My original intent in enrolling in a photography classes was to illustrate articles I wrote, maybe even published a book of photographs and essays or poetry. That, too, fell by the wayside. I’m primarily a fiction writer. Now I provide pictures for my blog, my social media platforms, and for the enjoyment of the hobby, recording magnificent beauty and also the loveliness of small, ordinary things that people tend to pay little attention to. With my camera I can say, look at this–see how remarkable it is?

Just a dandelion? I couldn’t resist taking its picture, one of the little, overlooked marvels I like to highlight with my camera. What a sunny little face! It’s an intricate little flower with many parts: ray florets, with bilobed stigma, anthers, and individuals bracts. They’re an edible plant, rich in vitamin C. They originated in Europe and brought to the New World by early settlers so they’d have a winter source of greens to prevent scurvy.

April Dawn

Early morning is a wonderful time of day. The air is fresh and brisk. Dew is on the grass. The colors in the sky can be dazzling. I seldom experience any of this beauty. I sleep through that magical time of day. Most of the time. If I happen to be up at that hour, it’s usually involuntary, having to get up for some reason, no noisy neighbors this time. Maybe it was a dream which I’ve forgotten that woke me. Usually, I sleep through dawn. If I happen to be up, and circumstances permit, I go back to bed.

This morning I happened to be up just as the sun was rising. I may have been half asleep, but I was awake enough to grab my camera when I saw the sun peeking over the top of the Cascade Mountains. I always keep the blinds to my slider open for that very reason. Sometimes the moon peeks in; sometimes the sun peeks in. I keep my camera handy for just such moments.

The last time I photographed a magnificent sunrise, the day turned drab. Today lived up to the promise of dawn.

This is the scene that caught my eye as I shuffled into the living area.
A few seconds later.
These photos were taken within the space of a minute or so.

I hadn’t put a robe on when I crawled out of bed. I hardly noticed the chill morning air as I concentrated on taking photos, but I had to open the slider to get some decent exposures. It was around 40F (4.4 C) so I didn’t linger very long.

Sometimes you get so busy taking pictures that you don’t even notice what your camera is seeing. I didn’t see the halo effect around the tree until I uploaded my photos.

After I photographed the rising sun, I turned southeast and made a couple of exposures of Rainier.

Our magnificent, eternally snow-covered monarch.

Some people feel closed in by mountains. I feel protected, even though I know this is a volcano that could erupt. Life if full of perils wherever you happen to live. There’s no point in worrying about what may happen in the hundred years. Just enjoy the splendor.

Fading Tulip: Portraits

Today I felt as faded as the tulip in my vase.

Creativity can be a real pain. Editing my manuscript was going pretty well, until I discovered that Google Drive saves documents not just to the docs file, but also to the Drive file. Something I’d never known before. I only found out when I was editing my story and came across a sentence that I’d already deleted. What’s going on? Two copies of the same document, one with edits, one without. That wouldn’t have been so bad, if I hadn’t been editing the wrong document. Searching Drive by the title of the document apparently resulted in the wrong document popping up at random. Since I didn’t know about the two copies, I wasn’t paying attention to what it said at the top of the toolbar, which would have told me which copy I was editing. Curses on Google!

That’s why it’s good to have more than one creative outlet. When one fails you, you can turn to the other. When I got fed up with editing, I picked up my camera. Justifiably, or not, I’m sometimes in love with my own photography.

When we take a picture, what we’re photographing is light. Not just the light reflected by the subject, but also the ambient light.
This is the same tulip photographed in a different room with different light. The wall is actually white, but the ambient light comes from electric bulbs, so the camera captures that golden light and turns the wall yellow. If I’d waiting until daytime, my camera would have captured bluish daylight. think this tulip is beautiful even as it fades away. The petals look like silk, a woman’s skirt blowing in the wind.
The artificial light makes the tulip look more golden than it actually is, but I like the way it looks against the wall.
Since I haven’t learned to paint yet, I have to pretend I’m Georgia O’Keeffe with a camera.
By the light of fluorescent lamps seeping in from the kitchen. I tired a flash, but all I got was a white blob.

Windows 10 is also a pain. It stores my stuff in three different places. All too often, I can’t find what I’m looking for and have to go through a bunch of files to find the one I want. I have to admit, I’m not a terribly organized person, so that doesn’t help.

Did I mention Word Press? Yet another pain. Lately it hasn’t been able to fine the preview page, so I have to publish my posts without previewing them.

Despite all the hassles. taking these photos, editing, and posting them, writing the essay have been enjoyable. Mostly.

Ghosts & Ghost Towns of Washington

Photos by Robert Ruth (used with permission)

Washington state may be as far west as you can go in the continental United States, but as far as I can tell, most people don’t associate it with the Far West, also known as the Wild West. Probably because when many people think of Washington, they think of urban Seattle. In fact, may people think that Seattle is all there is to Washington. Not true, there is much more to our state than the mostly urbanized west side. However, the Old West can still be encountered in Eastern Washington.

This isn’t a blog dedicated to tourism, but there are some places in my state that I’m particularly fond of and want to write about. It’s been a long time since I visited Okanogan County, but I still have fond memories of it and immediately recognize much of its landscape and many of its buildings in photographs, even though it’s been years since I last saw them.

All these photos were taken in Okanogan County, which is Washington’s largest county and is located in the north central regions of the state. It adjoins the Canadian border.

You can no longer stay at the Nighthawk Hotel, unless you’re a ghost. Nighthawk is supposedly the quintessential ghost town. I love the name. I was there for a Ghost Towns of Washington photography workshop. We were warned that we wouldn’t be welcomed by whatever human presence remained. Nevertheless, I did a bit of wandering around and photographing. Nobody drove me off with a shotgun. I also love this old hotel. It’s just the sort of thing you’d see in a Western movie or TV series.

Before European settlers arrived this area was home to various indigenous peoples. The name of the county derives from the name of an indigenous nation.

Mining, forestry, and fur trade fueled the county’s economy in its early days. Agriculture and tourism dominate the local economy now. Mining towns that have not become ghost towns have become agricultural communities.

There are still plenty of Wild West tourist attractions in Okanogan County. The most famous one is probably the Omak Stampede, also known as the Famous Suicide Race, held in August. During the race horse and riders charge down a steep hill, across the Okanogan River to the rodeo grounds on the other side.

The town of Chesaw had a brief Gold Rush boom. It hosts a Fourth of July rodeo every year. And in the town of Tonasket there is a steam threshing bee in September, where you can see the equipment that was used before the invention of the internal combustion engine.’

You might see a steam engine like this one at the Tonasket Threshing Bee, but probably not the ghost of the old farmer. Robert is good at being a ghost.
This time Robert is the ghostly denizen of the town of Molson. It isn’t just a ghost town. The entire town and several of its buildings, including this one, is a museum. The population, at last count, was only about two dozen, but the place draws several thousand visitors a year to photograph its charming attractions. I loved Molson, too.
When the people moved out, the plants moved in. Is any place where humans once lived ever actually empty, albeit abandoned? Plants live there. Mice and other small animals occupy its nooks and crannies, while bats and birds live under the roof. Hopes, dreams, and memories might also still hover within the walls.
This is a haunting photo of ghostly Joanne Perry Ruth. Her body may be gone, but her spirit lingers. Who is she waiting for? Is she looking into the past? Has she given up hope? They say hope springs eternal, so perhaps she hasn’t given up quite yet.

If I look at these photos often enough and long enough, maybe I’ll come up with a story to go with them. Or maybe the photos and what I’ve already written are story enough. Or visitors to my blog might come up with their own stories.

Crack of Dawn

Early morning is not my time of day. I’m a night owl. The crack of dawn makes me cranky. It used to be that I’d see dawn only in winter when I had to go to work and dawn arrived around eight, or on weekends when I stayed up very late or even all night. I come from a people of party animals. 

I’d have slept through this sunrise if it hadn’t been for neighbors waking me at half-past six by playing their music so loudly I could hear it in my bedroom, even while wearing earplugs. I called in a noise complaint and then went to sleep on the sofa, which is just a tad too short and a tad too narrow. Attempting to sleep on one shoulder was a literal pain. Tension was no doubt a large factor. I’ve slept comfortably on the couch before. When I gave up and got up to go to bed, the sun was rising later than yesterday, because it was the first morning of daylight savings time. Dawn light seeped through the blinds, tinting the opposite wall pale orange. I grabbed my camera and took this photo. Got a blurry one of Rainier, too. Sleepy eyes aren’t good for focusing.

This glorious dawn turned into an overcast day, with a sky as bland and white as paper. I should probably be glad that the neighbors woke me.

Flaming Sky

Views from Tacoma, Washington, US

Some of these photos were taken in the fall. One was taken in the summer. Except for the leaves in the second photo, it’s hard to tell the difference. The autumn ones were taken around half past six in the morning. The summer one was taken around four.

The tall fir on the right points at Mt. Rainier. On this day, the Monarch of Washington was hiding in the clouds.
Even without the mountains to enhance the photo the view is better to the east. Too many trees in the way when I look west. Sometimes the entire sky flames. I see these views more often because my living room faces east. This photo was taken the morning of the summer Solstice, two minutes after four.
Fog in the valley. Cascade Mountains in the background. I love fog. The spots of light are where building are. It’s nice to have them hidden sometimes.
Sometimes the Cascades are visible even when Rainier is not.
There’s that tree, pointing at Rainier.

Rainier was named by Captain George Vancouver of the Royal Navy, who in the late 18th Century explored the Pacific Northwest Coast. The person who was honored by having a magnificent mountain named after him was Peter Rainier, another captain in the British navy.

The native Salishan speakers called the mountain Talol, Tacoma, or Tahoma. The meaning of the name is unclear. Some linguists think it means snow-covered mountain. That seems the most logical meaning to me since Rainier is covered in snow, and glaciers, year-round.

The city of Tacoma is named after the mountain and would like to see that name restored. Seattlites seem to think the mountain belongs to them, even though it’s closer to Tacoma, so they prefer the name, Rainier.

Abandoned Washington

Forlorn Places and Things in Eastern Washington

Photos by Robert Ruth, (used with permission)

This is what the “Wild West” looked like in reality–people’s homes. In previous centuries, it was known as the Far West.

This photo by Robert Ruth enchants me. I love the limited color palette, the delicate pastels in the sky. The huge moon. And how soft the foliage looks; how it seems to be embracing and protecting the buildings.

Today I’m featuring the photographs of my friend, Robert Ruth. He and his wife, Joanne Perry Ruth, also a talented photographer, travel all over Washington taking amazing photos, many of which are of abandoned places and things in our state.

Robert’s photos captivated me because of the magic he does with light. He knows how to use it to bring inanimate objects to vivid life and give them personality. His work piques my imagination and prompts questions. 

Where did the people who left these places and objects behind go? Why did they abandon their homes and their dreams? Poor harvests? Illness or disability? The death of the main provider? Or did they move on to bigger and better things?

I’ve included Robert’s comments about his images. My comments are in italics.

On the last full moon, I photographed this old homestead in Grant County. I was truly surprised to see this meteor when I processed the image at home. Most of the time it is airplanes or satellites, nothing cool like an actual meteor. I try really hard to photograph abandoned places in unique and interesting ways…. a meteor is certainly an added bonus.

I’ve never before seen a house built into a hill. What do you suppose that pile of rocks is? A collapsed fireplace? I love the colors and texture of these old boards. The foliage seems to embrace and protect the house. I wonder what it was like living here?

This building was built into the hill behind it with a rock wall and had a rock partition along the side. A drone image from Grant County.

What a handsome old house. I love the bay window. It seems like it would have been a great place to live. The varigated colors of the board are beautiful, as are the soft colors of the grass.

All the best places Joanne and I find, we name. For example, we call this the Bay House. We have the Nut House, the Deer House, the Sage House and so many more. When I am talking to Joanne about a particular house and call it by its name she knows exactly what place I am talking about without me having to explain the trip and the location. Crazy I know but it works for us. The Bay House was photographed with a drone in Grant County.

If the people don’t want this house, we’ll move in.”

I had a pleasant surprise trying to photograph this eloquent old house. It was situated near a field of yellow, my plan was to capture the two together. As I focused the shot, two pigeons landed, one on the door.

I included this photo because I’ve been here, but not up on the flume. And because it shows the beauty of the landscape. I recognized it immediately from Robert’s photo, even though it’s ages since I’ve been there. I love Okanogan County and would gladly visit it again.

If you ever drive east from Loomis to Tonasket and look up at the southern ridge you’ll see this old water flume built in the early 1900s. Curious, I flew the drone up from the valley below. I can’t imagine what it took to build this irrigation system with picks, shovels, and dynamite. In doing research, I found a recounting by Harry A Sherling who actually worked on this very flume in 1916 at the age of 16.

“The Whitestone irrigation project had been started before 1916, as there was quite a long piece of weathered flume from Toats Coulee creek which we hooked onto. Entering Loomis from the east you see this flume winding its way around the rock cliff. Here is a feat I think is worthy of mention, the blasting out of a footing for this flume. Three men stood on a plank suspended about 8 or 10 feet from the rim of the cliff. On this narrow footing, they drilled (two striking and one turning the drill) and blasted out the footing for the flume. Though it was quite a drop into the sharp rocks below, they used no safety ropes, but insisted that I do so, as I worked behind them, boring out the loose rock after blasts.”

Robert says this is the base of an old stove. It might once have heated a house like one of the ones in the above photos. Is it any wonder so many people love antiques? Who can find this kind of craftsmanship today? And if you can, it’s rare and expensive. I even love the rust on this metal work. I can almost feel the texture of the floorboards.
Looks at what age and oxidation can do to an old car and its door handle. It takes and artist’s eye to recognize the beauty in something that’s seemingly worthless.

Car door handle: Rather than photographing the whole abandoned vehicle, sometimes individual parts can tell more of a story.

The photographer and his “awesome wife.” She’s a lucky woman and he’s pretty lucky too. I use quote not because she’s not awesome, but because I’m quoting Robert/