I keep meaning to do a photo essay on noxious weeds. So many have invaded the peninsula. Scots and Spanish broom, myriad knapweeds and thistles, hemlock, wild carrot, ragwort, clary sage, saltcedar, even wormwood (absinthe). Looking over the ‘most wanted’ mugshots on the Ag extension’s website, I wonder if any flowering vine, shrub or ground cover is actually native to the area. A quarantined ‘pure’ forest or meadow is difficult to imagine. Would it be nothing more than rhododendron and bracken fern curtailing the shadows wherever firs and alder desist, combed meadow barley or spikegrass bent on the belly of a fat black-tailed deer? Some spare, kempt and simpleminded paradise where brutally adaptive plants don’t writhe in frenetic one-upmanship? Well that’s total bullshit of course; even the native species list for the Salt Creek bottomland is pages long, and that is a relatively inhospitable tidal flat; brackish, alkaline, and touristy to boot.
But as a photographer in great need of a project, I tend to crave the distinct. The plant life here though is anything but; even the margins of my yard are a comical swoon of rotting lush vegetation. Imperturbably patient and infinitesimally rampant. As if under strict orders to blend in, infiltrate, subvert, avoid detection. Even extracting samples to catalog is difficult, especially to my lazy eye and work habits. So it seems like it might be a good exercise, build some aesthetic character, discipline. Break free of this embarrassing monotony of silver fir portraits.. But what to document first? Not all invasive plants seem so sinister at first site. Maybe start with ornamental and cultivated plants like Iris pseudacorus, the yellow flag iris. Oxeye daisy, the perennial “she loves me, she love me not’ flower. And of course there is the Foxglove; it looks quite lovely towering about the fetid scrum of the other weeds, a charming botanical chime in Lenten hues, until you hear the whispered scientific and colloquial names- digitalis purpurea, deadman’s bells, bloody fingers, bloody glove, witch’s glove.
A interesting sidebar to the project could be the therapeutic cost-benefit ratio of some of the rustic uses for these plants- risking protracted agony or death for a relatvely slight remedy, such as weight loss… or writer’s block. Hmmm.
From the wiki on digitalis poisoning-
Symptoms include hypersalivation, fatigue, nausea/vomiting, changes in heart rate and rhythm, loss of appetite (anorexia), diarrhea, visual disturbances (yellow or green halos around objects), confusion, dizziness, nightmares, agitation, and/or depression, as well as a higher acute sense of sensual activities.
My wife is a horse fiend. Her mare just foaled a few months ago, so I’ve gone from a distant second to a stratospheric third place in domestic rankings.
Actually, the dogs are third and forth. Then the chickens. I have to do stuff like build horse barns, chicken coops and cook dinner most nights just to stay in the extended top 25.
I used to be preemptively aloof towards horses- I’m a dog guy and horses are just too goddamned indifferent. And difficult to photograph, at least with turn-of-the-century gear. They nicker and frolic until you are ready to trip the shutter then they turn, raise a tail and depart, leaving a giant steaming dump in the focus plane. So I mostly content myself with the inanimate, or the departed. Several years ago I took some memorial portraits of a horse we had to put down and this changed my attitude towards horses considerably. I still have trouble looking at the negatives, but the sweetness of the departed is seldom referenced in the living. Every time the mare pins her ears, snaps at me or shits right outside my window I fantasize about living in an apartment downtown. Or, at least, about leaving the gate open.
Mornings still in the high 20s this week; even the daffodils haven’t come up yet so unable to sate my craving for blossoms I took these cactus pictures.
These plants are guardedly ancient- the Cereus peruvianus monstrose dates to my wife’s early childhood, and the Pilosocereus pachycladus shares our wedding anniversary. Old, wooden and seasonally disinclined, still the pairing has a connection with spring the belies the sexless, leathery and sullenly spiny carcasses of the plants. Not a flattering association by any means, but a modest nostalgic one in the traditions of any devoted pairing growing from a spot on a mutual calendar. Brute perennial inevitability. No romantic flourishes or even obvious compatibility except the proximity to its own consoling number. Near, rather than together. Dates, rather than weather.
John Steinbeck comes to mind:
Certain events such as love, or a national calamity, or May, bring pressure to bear on the individual, and if the pressure is strong enough, something in the form of verse is bound to be squeezed out. National calamities and loves have been few in my life, and I do not always succumb to May.
-The Paris Review, Fall 1969
I’ve been trying to simplify somewhat, just a 4×5 and a 135mm xenar and many many holders to find footing with. 135mm is sort of wide on 4×5, but nothing like a 150mm on 5×12. I find the instinct to stumble backwards to include more elements uncomfortably strong, but it’s getting easier to find dissecting planes and give them full attention than with the banquet formats. Selective focus being a sort of crutch through the initial missteps.
The drive out to Kalaloch crosses a few rivers- the Sol Duc 3 times, the Calawah, the Bogachiel and the Hoh. This not counting the maze of seeps, streams, or the grand watershed event that is the entire Olympic interior. The banks and courses are in constant change, a more furious and accelerated version of coastal brinksmanship.
I’m not normally drawn to rivers but riving along the Hoh, this gauze of weather and woods over the gray ribbon of water, even in minor time elapse of a 3 second exposure, was worth the stop.
I do enjoy themes of inclusion, even when risking such defined boundaries. These attempt to favor shelter over exclusion, but that might be a hard sell with the elemental promise of rivers and oceans beyond the veil, even with such conciliatory gestures in the trees.