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Month: April 2008

Plant a flag

Beach 1, Kalaloch, April 2008

I made it a little further south down the coast this past week. A goal was to make Elephant Rock eventually this year, but I haven’t gotten half that far. I keep telling myself these aren’t proper goals, these trips aren’t consumables, nor is there anything to claim even if there is an end. I’m not Shackleton. Being a typical white male I sometimes feel as if I have been bioengineered to invade, sack and reclaim. Photography has these tendencies, if in relatively benign ways. Still, A little sign I’ve managed to miss completely these many trips reads Beach 1 along a turnout and the feeling of greedy urgency is undeniable.

The forest is dense from the road so it’s easy to miss it, but the reward is immediate. First a burl forest. Giant growths nest in the prime of sitka spruces like an unearthly egg in the throat of a python. There’s a short path that meanders around select deformities; boils, cysts and tumors often split open in a rictus of arboreal torment. Yet, as fascinating as the forest was –is– the sounds of the Pacific and the light streaming around the grotesque shapes were irresistibly compelling and I had to make for the bluffs.

The view for me touches off associations with classic empire building, manifest destiny, westward expansion. As if to emphasize the metaphor, a road of bone-white driftlogs at the foot of the bluff stretch north and south for miles like progress’s collateral damage. This is quite a ways north of the Columbia River and the Lewis and Clark route, but the differences seem academic. How they must have felt hearing and smelling the waters and crashing though, so close, your heart almost running ahead of you like a pathfinder. Yet once the awe settles, who could actually claim it?

The cure of ruin

Lake Crescent, South Shore, March 2008

Alder is not held in high esteem here, but I think it’s lovely. Often a sign of new growth and renewal, the trees flag the sites of old logging roads, obliterated homesteads or just the nursed-out remains of fallen giants. A half-remedy of mostly forgotten or unknown ruin. A folk-remedy does say that you can place the leaves in your boots to ease weary feet, but I’ve not yet tried it.

Robert Frost comes to mind, but that’s little surprise:

“A winter garden in an alder swamp,
Where cronies now come out to sun and romp,
As near a paradise as it can be,
And not melt snow or start a dormant tree.”

A Winter Eden

Vivat Rex

Lake Crescent, North Shore, October, 2007

Lake Crescent is sometimes called an inland fjord. The depths almost equal the heights around it, rather like a dark, taciturn twin- so deep that the seasons hardly register in the coldness of the water. The lake margins shimmer in a kaleidoscopic emerald hue that’s hard to resist on a hot summer day, but the overall trend is to purpley-blues as the cold and deep compound. In the winter, storms slough off vegetation, talus and clay-slick land alike as the volume of snow melt and rain destabilizes the slopes and undermines the shoreline, toppling alder, maple, fir, cedar and madrone indiscriminately. It’s little wonder the highest surrounding peak is called Storm King.

Such a victim from winters passed, it amazes me that this tree is still alive. I checked this week and it’s budding out. Unceremonious, casual, as if it could be no other way.


A rare shot in open sunlight for me. I tend to retreat into the darker forest when the sun is high. The sun intimidates me a little. There is no wiggle room in full noon day.

But this was worth the risk, even though I distrust lake reflection images as a rule. What’s the gig beyond the symmetry and serenity? The log breaks the surface tension of the water and stirs it’s depths at the same time, so I can be skeptical of the log instead, standing on it with all my gear, two legs of the tripod in the icy water, heart racing.

Masks, casts and little straws

Crescent Beach, February 2006

I try to resist talking about gear too much here, I know it must be a terrible bore for non-photographers. But before I built my 5×12 camera I masked off my 4×5 camera to the same ratio to see how much I would like it, and spent several months with it. It’s quite an undertaking to build a camera. Especially with an exotic format like 5×12- I would have to build the film holders as well. I wanted to make extra sure I would actually use it before I started the project. It wasn’t enough to crop from 4×5- my brain doesn’t work that way. So I made one mask for the ground glass and a matching one to insert into the film holder.

I’m a big fan of cinema, so it wasn’t hard to fall right in to a 2.4:1 format- which is essentially the same as wide screen letterbox. Something about the long and skinny of it really draws out the geometry of most compositions. Nature is…well, meandering. I like to reign in boundaries before chaos takes root. This early shot was one of the first panoramas I took and I was hooked. I love the simple lines of it, the solid ingot of rock and the puckered almost magnetic flow of the water around it; the land barely distinguished by a slender thread of shadow and highlight.

Ironically, I wasn’t able to start on the camera until I temporarily disabled myself. It was such a joy using the masked 4×5 that I probably never would have made a 5×12. I severely sprained an ankle at work and that gave me the time to get started, since I was unable to get out even on the simplest trails- even with the little cast they gave me that you inflate with a straw. But it was enough to get me hobbling around the shop and milling the pieces, provided I puff into the cast on occasion.

Landscape Paparazzi

Rialto, November 2007

I have had a troubling revelation; no matter how deeply I explore an area, my best shots seem to happen very close to the parking lot. At Rialto for example, no matter how far down the beach I go, it’s always the shots close to the car that stand out. It’s true for many areas- at Shi-Shi/ Point of the Arches it’s 10 miles there and back, 10 miles around the Cape Alava/Sand Point loop as well and I have yet to return with anything I’m happy with from either place.

It’s not that incredible opportunities don’t abound it both areas. I’m more inclined to believe that simple toil from carrying a lot of gear makes all but the most obvious shots get lost under the brute reflex of Getting There. And of course there is no ‘There’ on such excursions. Or rather, all of it is There. In any case I often discover myself on long hikes hunkered in, head down, in a treadmill sort of oblivion.

It’s troubling because limitations always are. Am I too stupid to walk and see at once? I lecture myself yet I slow down only briefly. But it’s more troubling because there are definite inroads here into personality flaws. Maybe I’m not who I like to think I am. I like to think I like hiking, being outdoors; just being, in the cosmic sense. But looking at me, well…It’s like I’m chasing someone. Heh, maybe I’m actually no different that an opportunistic paparazzo, hunting down a victim.

Chronic winter

Kalaloch, Beach 3, April 2008

Since these fretted sandstones along the western reaches often emerge out of the mist like ruins, and since the vegetation often dissembles in the fog without the slightest regard to color or form, there is a sense of perpetual winter here; especially since the snow is still flying this late April in the high stretch of 101 between the Aurora Range and Bear Creek on the way west. This morning I woke up and the ground and hot tub lid alike were covered with frozen snow and hail; the hills around our home have a fresh January coating, and did I mention it is late April?

I haven’t given much thought to what I’ll do with this blog in the off-winter months. I know I probably have enough work from this year and last to keep me busy until next fall but who’da thunk I would still be going out in the field to burn more film for this project? I suppose I never really thought of winter in Winter Coast to be literal, but really- this is much too easy.


Kalaloch, Beach 3, March 2008

The salt spray on the coast has a magnificent bonsai effect on the sitka spruce. They seem to depart from their own growth lines, jointed along an axis of old torment- a storm or even a specific gale. Hiking down the beach is like a gallery walk of the century’s greatest storms. Entire forests staggered, beachlogs chewed in half, and exposed agates polished in the soft sand bluffs like terrazzo.

Often the more dramatic Dr Seuss-like forms are buried in a maze of understory, alder and competing spruce, making them difficult to isolate for the singular gestures they are. But it’s probably for the best; the Isolated Contorted Tree device is such a franchise of solitude and determination that it is difficult not to lapse into brute cliche, especially in steely oceanscapes. But it is hard to resist.