Tuesday, April 26, 2011


My friends from the Seattle-area Tibetan community gathered at their Buddhist Monastery last night to honor the 22nd birthday of Tibet’s Panchen Lama, Gedun Chokyi Nyima. There was a huge birthday cake, Tibetan tea, sweets, and the other trappings of a Tibetan party.

The only thing missing was the guest of honor, the Panchen Lama. He and his family disappeared in 1995 when the young lama was just six-years-old and haven’t been heard from since. Tibetans say that the Panchen Lama was kidnapped by the Chinese authorities, who have since named their own “puppet” Panchen Lama.

It’s not known whether the real Panchen Lama is even still alive.

One of the most important figures (along with the Dalai Lama) in Tibetan culture, the Panchen Lama’s birthday is celebrated each year by Tibetans...and though I've photographed quite a number of events in the monastery the past several years, there was something about the quality of the light last night that made me feel like I was experiencing that interior space for the first time. My friends placed ceremonial “khata” scarves near a photograph of the young lama and chanted prayers. Once the somber ceremony was finished in the monastery shrine room, everyone moved to the downstairs social hall where the atmosphere was lighter. Little ones giggled and enjoyed birthday cake, and adults drank the salty butter tea that is a cultural mainstay.

What a bittersweet evening.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Earth Day 2011

As someone who for 25 years has hiked the trails and climbed the peaks of the Pacific Northwest, I have seen way more than my fair share of picture postcard beauty.

At sea level I’ve trekked down the wild Pacific Ocean beaches of Washington’s coast, hanging out near distant sea stacks for photographs at sunset, then hiking in the moonlight back toward my car.

Four thousand feet higher up, I have happily wandered, in the pink alpenglow of evening, through the high, heathered meadows of Mt. Rainier National Park -- Mother Nature’s stunning gardens of wildflowers, far superior to anything created by man.

And I’ve climbed to the tops of the state’s great volcanoes, sometimes standing on summits feeling confident and strong -- but more often humble and insignificant -- looking off at views that have gone on forever.

The places I’ve visited on outdoor adventures are the kinds of spots described in travel magazines and guide books, and draw visitors from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Believe me, I know how fortunate I am to live where I do...and yet I feel obliged to point out something I suspect we all know but might occasionally overlook:

Nature’s beauty might be seen in a flower pot on our kitchen window sill, or just outside our door.

The picture above was taken several evenings ago near a park and ride three miles from my house as I waited for Leah to get off a bus. The two photographs below (of a hummingbird and a wild yellow violet) are recent images from our yard.

As I’ve become aware of the impact my car’s emissions have on the environment and on the health of those around me, I find that I drive less and less. I tend to stick closer to home, and tomorrow, I, for one, plan to honor Earth Day by leaving my car parked in my driveway.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Morning Rounds

Nearly every day I take our two dogs, Minnie and Buddha, for a morning walk along the southern border of our property. In the 15 years we’ve lived here, I’d guess hundreds of thousands of footsteps, both human and canine, have been taken on that route, so that a path now exists, worn through soil and woodland.

The four-leggeds and I poke around on our trail -- the dogs use noses, I use my eyes and sometimes a camera -- to take note of what might have changed from one day to the next.

This being spring, there is a lot going on.

Coyotes live and hunt in the wild areas near our place. When I’ve gone out to our front porch for firewood the past few evenings, I’ve noticed an uptick in the nighttime chorus of yipping and yapping out in the spooky darkness. Thus, on morning patrol, Minnie and Buddha keep sniffers close to the ground to determine whether their country cousins have strayed onto our turf. If coyote scent is detected, much peeing and barking is required on the part of my domesticated canine friends.

My personal hunt is more along the lines of a vision quest. Several mornings ago a single raindrop, pooled on the tips of cedar greenery, caught my eye. And this morning I photographed something that, for us, is a yearly rite of spring: The first trillium of the season.

My dog friends and I are happy campers, being out each morning to see what the day has to offer.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Barn

Our barn isn’t much to look at. It’s mostly white corrugated metal, and the gutters are old and pulling away from rotting parts of the roof. I’ll need to do some repair work out there this this summer.

There was a time -- to be honest it was back in the days when the economy was good, which now feels like long, long ago -- that we must have had a few extra dollars on hand and we considered replacing the barn altogether. But we realized that the structure is basically good. Our critters are snug and dry in there. We decided that we kind of like the ratty old thing, so we left it as-is.

One morning this week I headed out to feed the barn animals and I saw that the light was really wonderful. We have prayer flags (gifts brought by our Tibetan friends when they came out for a picnic last summer) strung from fruit trees near our garden up to the rafters of the barn. Something about the scene -- like our not-perfect-but-good-enough barn -- just felt right...maybe a little ramshackle and rickety, but right.

I went into the barn and saw Pumpkin lounging in the sun near the critter door. She was quite content, and I found myself a comfortable bale of straw and just sat for a while.

It was a swell beginning to the day.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Seeing Green

In the 31 years I have lived in Western Washington, my eyes have become accustomed to the color green, though I can tell you that this way of seeing was not always the case.

In 1977 we left Ohio and moved to the Pacific Northwest, settling and working first in Central Washington, in Yakima, just East of the Cascades. We lived in the rain shadow of the mountains then, a landscape of sagebrush and dry, generally brownish hills that had an Old West kind of feel. As a photographer, I would have told you back then that I knew colors, but the truth is that I really didn’t know green, at least not the way I know it now. It wasn’t until we’d lived for several months in Yakima and made our first drive west, over the Cascades, to spend a day in rainy Seattle, that I had my first Green Epiphany. I remember being slack-jawed, taken-aback, thrown off-balance by the ridiculous intensity of Western Washington's green.

We moved to the Seattle area in 1980, and today, as I sit in the second floor office I have in our home and type these words, I can look out the window to my left and the only thing my eyes take in is a rectangle of green, a huge cedar tree filling the frame...and the same is true of the view from the window to my right. I can hear that rain is falling outside -- which has been the case most days here since mid-September. I’m no botanist, but I’m pretty sure that, when it comes to trees and grass and the other plants that live outside my window:

4 months of rain
+ 3 more months of rain
= green

Anyway, we went hiking in the green yesterday, walking a path in the Olympic National Forest, about 30 minutes from our home. Our trail took us through a valley in the temperate lowlands and the day felt like spring, but all around and above us were mountains, high places still covered in winter’s snow, though now beginning its melt, so that the slopes dripped and seeped with runoff.

Drip, drip, drip. Every plant was soaking up the moisture, the creeks swelling. We came to a spot where a tree had fallen across a stream and the tree has become a "nurse log," a fertile host now for moss and ferns and baby trees. We could practically watch things grow.

1 drip
+ 2 drips
= life

Friday, April 1, 2011

An April Fool

I told a friend this morning that I was going to try to stop being one of those embarrassing-to-be-around 50-some-year-old males who too often makes off-color remarks about sex; that I should instead try to -- maybe, finally -- be a grown-up, find other topics for my humor...

Then I showed my friend today’s date on the calendar, grinned, and said: “APRIL FOOLS!!!”

Yes, I’m a political progressive. I listen to NPR, and I even get email from Mother Jones. These traits mean, I guess, that I’m supposed to be what the smart, feminist women I know refer to as an “evolved” male. But, as my man friends know, I’m sometimes not evolved, not above enjoying the occasional, slightly titillating (oh my, that word makes me smile) double entendre or slightly naughty play on words. Why, just yesterday I was poking (see what I mean?) around in my yard with my camera, photographing spring’s blossoms, the season’s over-the-top display of fecundity. Off in the distance I could hear a chorus of thousands of frogs, loudly singing their spring mating songs.

The whole scene seemed to be about fertility, about sex-sex-sex. Yes, there was beauty -- an overabundance of it actually. But, looking at nature through my camera yesterday, my yard seemed to be full of the energy of sex.

I’m not a shy fellow, but I felt I should avert (or should I say pervert?) my eyes.