Pacific Ocean at Rialto Beach

Pacific Ocean at Rialto Beach

“That far-resounding roar is the Ocean’s voice of welcome.  His salt breath brings a blessing along with it.”
— Nathaniel Hawthorne, from “Footprints on the Sea-shore”

Olympic National Park has several beach access points to the Pacific coast.  On this road trip, we stopped at three beaches and walked barefoot in the sand.

Rialto Beach was the wildest shore with stretches of pebbly sand and sea stacks jutting up from the water.

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Ruby Beach was glorious in the morning light.  We descended a short trail down from the parking area to the beach.  Old tree trunks littered the shore above the tide line.  This beach, too, had sea stacks.  But it also had tide pools to explore and fine sand to walk on.

Arriving at Ruby Beach in the early morning

Arriving at Ruby Beach in the early morning

Sea stacks

Sea stacks

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Kalaloch Beach seemed tamer, with a wide expanse of soft sand down to the water’s edge.

Kalaloch Beach

Kalaloch Beach

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“The heart can think of no devotion
Greater than being shore to the ocean —
Holding the curve of one position,
Counting an endless repetition.”
— Robert Frost, “Devotion”

 

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Approaching sunset, Rialto Beach

Approaching sunset, Rialto Beach

“I never watch a sunset without feeling the scene before me is more beautiful than any painting could possibly be, for it has the additional advantage of constant change, is never the same from one instant to the next.”
— Sigurd F. Olson, Reflections from the North Country

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The sunset over the Pacific Ocean on this particular evening was an experience of pearlescent pageantry.  It was an evening of lustrous pink and gray skies.  Here is the play-by-play:

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“Fold upon fold of light,
Half-heaven of tender fire,
Conflagration of peace.
Wide hearth of the evening world.
How can a cloud give peace,
Peace speak through bodiless fire
And still the angry world?”
— Edwin Muir, from “Sunset”

“Our national parks are blood.  They are more than scenery, they are portals and thresholds of wonder. . . Whenever I go to a national park, I meet the miraculous.”
— Terry Tempest Williams, The Hour of Land

We ascended the road to Hurricane Ridge in a cloud.

We ascended the road to Hurricane Ridge in a cloud.

“What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness?  Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.”
— G. M. Hopkins, from “Inversnaid”

Sign at the Hurricane Ridge Visitors' Center

Sign at the Hurricane Ridge Visitors’ Center

We began our tour of the national parks with a 3-day loop drive around Olympic National Park in Washington State.  This is a most amazing park because of the diversity of its landscapes — from snow-capped mountains to temperate rain forests to Pacific ocean beaches.

Our first destination was Hurricane Ridge in the Olympic Mountains.  Clouds had settled at the higher elevations.  There was little opportunity for sightseeing, as we looked out on nothing but white!

Our view of the Olympic peaks was a bust!

Our view of the Olympic peaks was a bust!

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This wet and gloomy weather is one of the hallmarks of our Pacific Northwest.  When you vacation here, you have to surrender to the elements.  We soldiered on to our next destination, the Hoh Rain Forest, thinking that rain in a rain forest might make a more authentic experience.  But, of course, it was not raining when we got there!

Still, the effects of rain were evident everywhere — moss-drapped trees, green green streams, nurse logs nourishing new growth, filtered light.  We walked the Hall of Mosses Trail and the Spruce Loop Trail.  The tall trees were awesome.

Driving into the Hoh Rain Forest, Olympic National Park

Driving into the Hoh Rain Forest, Olympic National Park

Tall, tall trees

Tall, tall trees

Along the Hall of Mosses Trail

Along the Hall of Mosses Trail

Nurse log, a fallen tree that nourishes new, young trees

Nurse log, a fallen tree that nourishes new, young trees

Green stream bed

Green stream bed

Spruce Loop Trail

Spruce Loop Trail

Leaves and Blossoms Along the Way
by Mary Oliver, from Felicity

If you’re John Muir you want trees to
live among.  If you’re Emily, a garden
will do.
Try to find the right place for yourself.
If you can’t find it, at least dream of it.

When one is alone and lonely, the body
gladly lingers in the wind or the rain,
or splashes into the cold river, or
pushes through the ice-crusted snow.

Anything that touches.

God, or the gods, are invisible, quite
understandable.  But holiness is visible,
entirely.

Some words will never leave God’s mouth,
no matter how hard you listen.

In all the works of Beethoven, you will
not find a single lie.

All important ideas must include the trees,
the mountains, and the rivers.

To understand many things you must reach out
of your own condition.

For how many years did I wander slowly
through the forest.  What wonder and
glory I would have missed had I ever been
in a hurry!

Beauty can both shout and whisper, and still
it explains nothing.

The point is, you’re you, and that’s for keeps.

 

 

 

Sol Duc River at its mouth on the Pacific Ocean

Sol Duc River at its mouth on the Pacific Ocean

Olympic National Park is really huge and encompasses such diverse landscapes — snow-capped mountains, freshwater lakes (like Lake Crescent), ocean beaches, and temperate rain forests.  It really is a marvel.  Rialto Beach was less than an hour’s drive from Nature Bridge campus, so three of us interrupted our retreat to make a day trip there.

Rock cairns on the Rialto Beach

Rock cairns on the Rialto Beach

Walking barefoot on the beach

Walking barefoot on the beach

Rialto Beach is wild, windy, and glorious.  The surf pounds.  The air is rich with ozone.  Sea stacks off shore appear and disappear in the mist.  Huge logs litter the upper beach.  Tall evergreens border the ocean’s edge.  The beach is sandy and pebbly, and all the pebbles from small to large are flat and smooth.  The parking lots were full, but the immensity of the coast absorbed all those people so you felt the space as expansive.

We walked along the beach to the Hole in the Wall, ate a picnic lunch, and then painted for an hour or so.  Here are some photos of our day at Rialto Beach:

Sea stack like a ghostly phantom on the horizon

Sea stack like a ghostly phantom on the horizon

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One of the world's giant sandboxes

One of the world’s giant sandboxes

Two friends

Two friends

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Ink and watercolor sketch of sea stacks

Ink and watercolor sketch of sea stacks

Watercolor painting of sea stacks at Rialto Beach

Watercolor painting of sea stacks at Rialto Beach

Another view of sea stacks from First Beach, La Push

Another view of sea stacks from First Beach, La Push

 

Nearing sunset, Lake Crescent

Nearing sunset, Lake Crescent

“Some of my favorite definitions of wealth include the number of sunsets the family sees each year.”
— Mary Pipher, The Shelter of Each Other: Rebuilding Our Families

On two of my evenings at Nature Bridge, I took the time to walk to the Lake Crescent Lodge to watch the sunset.  These moments, and my early mornings on the dock waiting for sunrise, most closely approached what I expected from the retreat — time to settle, sit still, and quiet my thoughts, and rediscover my groundedness in the world.

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While painting was my personal focus for these days away, I was very happy with the photographs I took, too.  I got so many good ones.

It was perhaps a bit jarring for my colleagues on retreat to see me on my iPad so frequently, but I use this technology to help me manage my photographing work.  I took over 300 photos while I was at Nature Bridge, and I have learned that it is overwhelming to edit and caption so many photos at the end of a trip.  So I use my iPad as a handy tool to upload, edit, and caption my photos in small batches as I go along.  So for me, this was not a retreat from the tentacles of technology.  But I can see why people might wonder why I was on my computer so frequently when I was surrounded by all the natural beauty of Olympic National Park.  Perhaps watching me made visible all the time and effort, hidden from viewers, that I put into my photography and this blog.

One of my new friends asked me how much time I spend on the computer every day.  I suppose I am a bit embarrassed and a bit defensive about how much time I do find myself looking into a screen.  More time than I care to admit.  But I don’t have a cell phone, so I am not tethered in quite the same way as millions of other people.  I don’t have Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or Pinterest accounts.  But I do depend on my iPad for email and for uploading and editing photos.  So, yes, I am on the computer a lot.

She also asked me why I take so many photos.  Well, that’s a good question, too.  I take photos because I love to photograph!  I think I am good at it.  It gives me pleasure to share my images with readers of my blog.  But most important, I suppose, is that — like drawing and painting — when I look with a photographer’s eye, I see more attentively, and that gives me a deeper appreciation for the world.

These words of Frederick Franck about drawing, apply for me to photography as well:

“SEEING/DRAWING is not a self-indulgence, a ‘pleasant hobby,’ but a discipline of awareness, of UNWAVERING ATTENTION to a world which is fully alive.  It is not the pursuit of happiness, but stopping the pursuit and experiencing the awareness, the happiness, of being ALL THERE.”
— The Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing as Meditation

While being on retreat did not turn out to be as contemplative an experience as I had expected, I do appreciate being prompted to think about the choices I am making to spend time with my camera or paintbrush.  It’s always good to look at habits and decide whether to continue and recommit, go deeper (to the exclusion of other activities), or let go and find new pursuits.  I’m still committed.

 

 

On the shores of Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park

On the shores of Lake Crescent, Olympic National Park

Early morning moments at Nature Bridge

Early morning moments at Nature Bridge

During my childhood and youth, I never went to summer camp.  I could imagine what it was like though, from reading books.  My week at Nature Bridge finally gave me — in my sixth decade — a personal, first-hand taste of summer camp!  In fact, several youth groups shared the campus with us.  Unlike them, my time was not taken with group outings and pre-planned activities.  My time was pretty much my own.

Sunrise from the dock at Nature Bridge, Lake Crescent

Sunrise from the dock at Nature Bridge, Lake Crescent

I am an early riser, and I truly enjoyed my quiet moments on the dock watching the sun rise.  Little waves lapped and the dock creaked.  Swallows dove and swooped over the water.  I sat with my cup of coffee and marveled at the abstract, undulating colors and reflections on the lake’s surface.

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Wouldn’t these watery images make a great abstract painting?

My attempt at painting the ripples in the lake

My attempt at painting the ripples in the lake

The sky had lightened considerably by the time the sun finally peeked over the surrounding mountains.  As it rose, it highlighted the tips of the trees and rock outcroppings on the opposite shore.

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Tree tops sun lit like candle flames

Shsoreline, Lake Crescent

Shoreline, Lake Crescent

Watercolor sketch of view from the dock

Watercolor sketch of view from the dock

Watercolor and ink sketch of shoreline, Lake Crescent

Watercolor and ink sketch of shoreline, Lake Crescent

Baby swallows alighted on the dock rails.  A rabbit sat still in high alert.  A deer and her twin fawns nibbled the grass by the cottages.  The day was coming alive.  And then it was time for breakfast.

Baby barn swallow on the dock railing

Baby barn swallow on the dock railing

Barn swallow

Barn swallow

Rabbit outside the dining hall

Rabbit outside the dining hall

Fawn

Fawn

Watercolor sketch of fawn

Watercolor sketch of fawn

By the second day I found this perfect spot to do my painting.

By the second day, I found this perfect spot for painting in an empty classroom above the dining hall.  I am a bit chagrined to admit that I prefer painting from my photographs rather than in the field.  For one thing, it is always awkward to cart painting supplies in the outdoors.  And I find painting outside overwhelming.  My eyes see too much — in my direct vision, and in my peripheral vision.  I am constantly distracted.  And everything keeps moving!  When I photograph, I frame the view and limit all these competing elements.  So when I paint from one of my photographs, I can narrow my focus to just what is is the frame.

Using my photos as a starting point, I attempted to paint my impressions of the lush forests in the area.

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My first watercolor sketch of tree trunks

My first watercolor sketch of tree trunks

I started my next watercolor painting of tree trunks by coloring in the negative space between the trees.

I started my next watercolor painting of tree trunks by coloring in the negative space between the trees.

Watercolor painting of forest

Watercolor painting of forest

 

 

Near the Lower Elwha River, Olympic Peninsula

Near the Lower Elwha River, Olympic Peninsula

Big-leaf maple

Big-leaf maple

I just returned from five days at the Nature Bridge conference center in Olympic National Park near Lake Crescent where I joined 12 other women on retreat.  As check-in was at 3:00 p.m. on Monday and I left after breakfast on Friday, we had just three full days there — not really long enough for me to completely relax and rejuvenate — but still a true vacation from my city life.

The definition of a retreat is “an act of moving back or withdrawing,” especially from what is difficult, dangerous or disagreeable.  Or it can be a withdrawal for contemplation and meditation.  I found my experience at Nature Bridge way too stimulating for that.  There were all these interesting and wise women to meet and be friendly with.  The immediate surroundings offered walking trails and swimming.  Every day a few of the group took off on day trips to the ocean beaches, longer hiking trails on the other side of the lake, or other destinations on the peninsula.  The choices!

The Nature Bridge campus.  All 13 of us stayed in a larger, multi-room cabin rather than one of these cute cottages.

The Nature Bridge campus. All 13 of us stayed in a larger, multi-room cabin rather than one of these cute cottages.

The main dining room was called the Rosemary Inn.  (I felt at home.)

The main dining room was called the Rosemary Inn. (I felt at home.)

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“The time for it is always with us though we say I do not have that kind of time.  The kind of time I have is not for this but for that.  I wish I had that kind of time.  But if you had that kind of time — would you do it?  Would you give it a try?”
— Lynda Barry, What It Is

This retreat was a chance for me to have the time for “it,” and I decided that my “it” would be devoting myself to painting.  It was hard to stay focused on the goal with so many appealing alternatives.  The lovely thing about these days was that all meals were provided and I did not have to spend one minute thinking about the state of my cupboards, meal planning, or cooking.  We met as a group at breakfast and dinner, but other than that, our time was completely self-directed.

And although I did manage to make a painting each of the five days, I found I did not create as many as I had expected.  The free days were a gift, but somehow the hours disappeared far too quickly.  For me, this was a revealing taste of what life might be like in retirement.  I think I will have to develop a rhythm and structure to my days — with a regular few hours sitting down with my paints — in order to settle my mind and feel some sense of growth and satisfaction.  I never did find this kind of rhythm at Nature Bridge.

Moments in Time trail through old growth forest

Moments in Time trail through old growth forest

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The first afternoon I walked the “Moments in Time” loop trail through a stand of old growth forest.  And I made my first painting there.  This Western Red Cedar was completely burned out at the bottom, but still managed to live, with green on its upper branches.

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Watercolor sketch of Western Red Cedar

Watercolor sketch of Western Red Cedar

I am still transitioning back to city life, but I will share more of my Nature Bridge experience in the next few days.  Stay tuned!