The white streak is a flock of snow geese -- so distant. I could not get closer.

The white streak is a flock of snow geese — so distant. I could not get closer.

“The sound of geese in the distance,
is wonderful:
in our minds
we rise up
and move on.”
— Robert Sund, “Spring Poem in the Skagit Valley”

Snow geese, Skagit Valley

Snow geese, Skagit Valley

The snow geese rise up, then settle again.

The snow geese rise up, then settle again.

“Wild Geese Alighting on a Lake”
by Anne Porter, from Living Things

I watched them
As they neared the lake

They wheeled
In a wide arc
With beating wings
And then

They put their wings to sleep
And glided downward in a drift
Of pure abandonment

Until they touched
The surface of the lake

Composed their wings
And settled
On the rippling water
As though it were a nest.

Snow geese in a field near Anacortes

Snow geese in a field near Anacortes

“Wild geese fly overhead.
They wrench my heart.
They were our friends in the old days.”
— Li Ch’ing Chao, translated by Kenneth Rexroth

I didn’t have much luck photographing snow geese on my most recent visits to the Skagit Valley.  I saw only a couple of flocks, and they were in distant fields.  I could not drive closer.  I love to witness big flocks taking to the skies, whirling around, and settling again.  How do they swarm and yet not run into each other?  I am always reminded of M.C Escher’s prints of birds:

M.C. Escher, Sky and Water, 1938

M.C. Escher, Sky and Water, 1938

In past years, I’ve gotten closer and came away with some photos that captured the breathtaking whirlwind of wings.  One of my snow geese photos was chosen for the cover of Bearings Magazine‘s Autumn 2016 issue (it’s a publication of the Collegeville Institute in Minnesota).

Snow geese in flight, Skagit Valley, 2012

Snow geese in flight, Skagit Valley, 2012

 

 

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Seagulls on the beach at Bandon, OR

Seagulls on the beach at Bandon, OR

The final stretch of our road trip took us along the Oregon Coast from Bandon to Astoria.  Every Pacific coast beach seems unique in some way — different from its neighbors near or far away.  Part of our drive took us through the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area, giving us a taste of a landscape with high, wind-sculpted dunes.

Here are some photos from our drive along Highway 101 in Oregon:

Evening arrival in Bandon, Oregon -- fog banks and gray

Evening arrival in Bandon, Oregon — fog banks and gray

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Sunrise in Bandon, OR

Sunrise in Bandon, OR

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Coquille River Lighthouse

Coquille River Lighthouse

Bandon, Oregon mural

Bandon, Oregon mural

Logging country (One day we counted 24 logging trucks during our drive)

Logging country (One day we counted 24 logging trucks during our drive)

Reedsport, Oregon

Reedsport, Oregon

Conde B McCullough Memorial Bridge north of Coos Bay

Conde B McCullough Memorial Bridge north of Coos Bay

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Landscape near Dean Elk Viewing Station in Reedsport

Landscape near Dean Elk Viewing Station in Reedsport

Queen Anne's Lace along roadside

Queen Anne’s Lace along roadside

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

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Biker at viewpoint along Hwy 101

Biker at viewpoint along Hwy 101

Heceta Head Lighthouse

Heceta Head Lighthouse

Old House Dahlia Farm in the Tillamook Valley

Old House Dahlia Farm in the Tillamook Valley

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Crater Lake National Park

Crater Lake National Park

“. . . I think anybody who travels knows that you’re not really doing so in order to move around — you’re traveling in order to be moved.”
— Pico Iyer

By this stage in our vacation, I was experiencing moments of exhaustion.  Our whirlwind tour of the Pacific Northwest national parks was rewarding us with some peak experiences, but there was a lot of driving.  I was beginning to yearn for a stopping place, time to sit and do nothing.

“Speed diminishes the gifts that a journey can give you, the gift, for instance, of moving through a landscape slowly enough to be able to watch it, take in its characteristics, observe the land’s relationship to the sky, the patterning made by boundaries, whether of hedge or stone, the way that trees, banks in the lanes signal changes in the underpinning of the landscape: limestone turning to chalk, clay to sandy loam.  Traveling fast . . . there is not enough time to clear away the mental baggage you have brought with you from the ordinary and make a space in your mind for the extraordinary.”
— Anna Pavord, Landskipping:  Painters, Ploughmen and Places

Umpqua River along Oregon Hwy 138

Umpqua River along Oregon Hwy 138

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The drive up to Crater Lake along Oregon’s Highway 138 was itself a scenic route following the Umpqua River.  While everyone else was snoozing in their seats, I was following the long and winding road, and I have to admit, beautiful as it was, it also felt endless!

And yet, the first view of Crater Lake refreshed my soul.  I was reminded that the effort to get out to our national parks is always worth it.

First view of Crater Lake and Wizard Island

First view of Crater Lake and Wizard Island

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Have you ever seen such a blue blue?

“The deeper the blue becomes, the more urgently it summons man toward the infinite, the more it arouses in him a longing for purity, and, ultimately, for the supersensual.”
— Wassily Kandinsky

“The world is blue at its edges and in its depths.  This blue is the light that got lost.  Light at the blue end of the spectrum does not travel the whole distance from the sun to us.  It disperses among the molecules of the air, it scatters in water.  Water is colorless, shallow water appears to be the color of whatever lies underneath it, but deep water is full of this unscattered light, the purer the light, the purer the water the deeper the blue.  The sky is blue for the same reason, but the blue at the horizon, the blue of land that seems to be dissolving into the sky, is a deeper, dreamier, melancholy blue, the blue at the farthest reaches of the places where you see for miles, the blue of distance. This light that does not touch us, does not travel the whole distance, the light that gets lost, gives us the beauty of the world, so much of which is in the color blue.”
— Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost

Reflections at the edges of Crater Lake

Reflections at the edges of Crater Lake

View from the rim road, Crater Lake National Park

View from the rim road, Crater Lake National Park

I could have sat for hours on the rocking chairs lining the porch at Crater Lake Lodge!  But we stopped there only to “smell the coffee” as we took a coffee break and soaked in the magnificent view.

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Quintessential Minnesota

September 4, 2016

These things mean "Minnesota" to me.

These things are emblematic of “Minnesota” to me:

  • Stands of white-trunked birch trees
  • The haunting calls of loons on the lakes
  • The whine of mosquitos in my ears
  • The raised welts on my skin from mosquito and other bug bites
  • The humidity
  • The sound of wavelets lapping on the dock
  • The sustained low rumble of thunder, like God’s stomach growling
  • The play of clouds across spacious skies
  • Rusty cars (even though there are far fewer rusty carts now compared to when I was growing up there)
Rusty cars

Rusty truck

Prairie Sunrise

September 3, 2016

“The prairie landscape embraces the whole of the sky.”
— Paul Gruchow, Journal of a Prairie Year

Sunrise over corn field

Sunrise over corn field

“The sun rose.  It popped up abruptly as it always does along distant horizons on the prairie or at sea.”
— Paul Gruchow, The Necessity of Empty Places

Here are some photos of a Minnesota summer sunrise at the old family farm:

Dawning day

Dawning day

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Sunrise over corn field

Sunrise over corn field

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The old red barn on the farm where I grew up

The old red barn on the farm where I grew up

As long as it stands, the old red barn will be the anchor on our Minnesota family farm.  My recent visit was the first time I had returned since my father died more than two years ago.  Now the land has been split into two parts, owned by my youngest and oldest brothers.  The old square farmhouse with peeling white paint has been torn down and in its place is a beautiful new home with lots of windows looking out on the land, spiffy modern appliances, and even air conditioning.

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I am not a sentimental person, so I had no qualms about seeing the new house, and I looked forward with eager anticipation to the changes and improvements that my brother and his wife made to my old childhood stomping grounds. I was not disappointed.  At first I was just a tiny bit disoriented because the new house — while sited in the same spot as our old one — has a larger footprint and extends farther to the west.  It took me a minute to figure out where the old smokehouse had stood, to identify the stump of what had been the tree with the tire swing,  and to recognize the trees still standing next to the garage.  (The old garage has also been replaced by a new, larger one.)  Other trees have grown even taller than my memory of them.  But once I was reoriented, everything felt familiar and comfortable and welcoming.  I realized that, for me, the farm was not the physical buildings, but rather the land, the landscape and its seasonal changes, family ties and memories, and the rhythm of daily farm life.  Those things endure and I love them just as much now.  My visit was a homecoming.

Old barn and new garage

Old barn and new garage

“The eye for beauty is the eye for love.”
— Paul Gruchow, Journal of a Prairie Year

Once again I was struck by the beauty of my childhood home ground.

Fields and woods

Fields and woods

“The landscape seemed increasingly to be a succession of lines — the line of hills, the line of trees, the line of reeds, the line of cattails, the line of water  . . .”
— Paul Gruchow, Journal of a Prairie Year

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One view to the east

 

One view to the south, with woods and wildflower patch

One view to the south, with woods and wildflower patch

“Our language does not distinguish green from green.  It is one of the ways in which we have declared ourselves to be apart from nature.  In nature, there is nothing so impoverished of distinction as simply the color green.  There are greens as there are grains of sand, an infinitude of shades and gradations of shades, of intensities and brilliancies.  Even one green is not the same green.  There is the green of dawn, of high noon, of dusk.  There is the green of young life, of maturity, of old age.  There is the green of new rain and of long drought.  There is the green of vigor, the green of sickness, the green of death.  One could devote one’s life to a study of the distinctions in the color green and not yet have learned all there is to know.  There is a language in it, a poetry, a music.  We have not stopped long enough to hear it.”
— Paul Gruchow, Journal of a Prairie Year

Farm fresh eggs

Farm fresh eggs

My brother and his wife are bringing new life to the farm with animals — chickens, dogs, barn cats, pigs, and they rent the pasture to another farmer for grazing cows.  While the scale is more of a hobby farm, the animal husbandry and stewardship of the land is as hands on as the farming of years past.  Butchering six chickens brought back old memories.  I learned that a farm skill like butchering chickens is like riding a bike — you never forget how to do it!  Farm-to-table meals are not the rare thing they are in the city!

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My brother raises buff orpington chickens for meat, and the few hens lay eggs

My brother raises Buff Orpington chickens for meat, and the few hens lay eggs

 

Watercolor sketch of chickens

Watercolor sketch of chickens

 

Butchering chickens using a chicken plusher to remove the larger feathers.

Butchering chickens using a chicken plucker to remove the larger feathers.

 

Chicken on the spit

Chicken on the spit

 

Cow in the rented pasture. The red ear tags help to repel flies.

Cow in the rented pasture. The red ear tags help to repel flies.

 

Pigs raised for pork

Pigs raised for pork

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My sister-in-law titled this watercolor sketch "Bacon 2017"

My sister-in-law titled this watercolor sketch “Bacon 2017”

In my Dad’s final years, as he grew frailer, he resisted change.  Many things were falling into decrepitude, but changes were deferred for as long as possible so that my father could be in familiar surroundings.  Now that he is gone, it is rejuvenating to see my brother’s and his wife’s efforts to remake the farm into a dream home for their own lives.  It seems only right to me that they move the farm into modern times.  Time to create new memories in this deeply rooted place!

Watercolor sketch of one of the old oak trees on the farm

Watercolor sketch of one of the old oak trees on the farm

 

Watercolor sketch of zinnias in the from garden bed

Watercolor sketch of zinnias in the front garden bed

 

 

 

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park along Lake Superior

Split Rock Lighthouse State Park along Lake Superior

One of my favorite places along the North Shore is Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.  This place is often featured on Minnesota calendars.  Our visit was enhanced by the amazingly dramatic clouds over Lake Superior.  Rain showers threatened, but held off while we walked the trails in this park.

As you view these pictures, I think you will agree with the sentiment in this quote by Minnesota author Paul Gruchow:  “All the prairie world is in summer but a screen to show off the glorious sky.”

Quintessential North Shore scenery

Quintessential North Shore scenery

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Clouds over Lake Superior

Clouds over Lake Superior

 

From the shore at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

From the shore at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

Craggy, rocky shoreline

Craggy, rocky shoreline

Split Rock Lighthouse

Split Rock Lighthouse

Lighthouse keepers' quarters

Lighthouse keepers’ quarters

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The skies grew darker

The skies grew darker

Sheets of rain falling in the distance

Sheets of rain falling in the distance

Split Rock Lighthouse

Split Rock Lighthouse

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And here are two more pages from my Minnesota travel journal:

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