2020 was a year of extraordinary change that effected each one of us at all levels of our being: physical, emotional and mental. The year started out ordinary enough but then came COVID falling seemingly from the sky igniting a global pandemic the likes of which we have not seen in about a century. With businesses, schools and even parks closing along with the need to social distance and wear masks, life as we once knew it came to a screeching halt. If this were not enough, as the year unfolded many of us found ourselves wading through the deep water of a toxic political environment primarily centered around the Presidential Election. Onetime friends turned against each other strengthening even more an already formidable great divide as many of us sought refuge in our social media bubbles. We started unfriending and blocking people left and right across a wide virtual field of social media acquaintances with little or no actual physical contact. During this period of time I also witnessed the slow decline of my Father and his eventual passing in September. He lived a good life but he was highly impacted during the pandemic by rules that helped keep him safe from COVID but also contributed to his isolation. My Dad introduced me to nature and the outdoors through hiking and photography at an early age and is one of the biggest influences in my life for my love of nature.
The one thing I now realize more then ever is the importance of Nature in each of our lives–Nature as a refuge from day to day troubles, Nature as a source of inspiration and creativity, Nature as a mirror and window into our own souls. Even in this Pandemic Nature is still there for me to discover. Nature is within myself, and in all places including my own yard, the woods where Julia, Caroline and I can access right out our front door, and places within walking distance of our home. As the initial stage of the Pandemic passed parks were soon reopened as long as we practiced social distancing and wore masks as appropriate. I actually spent more time in Nature in 2020 than any previous year that I can recall. In nature there is a beautiful stillness where we can experience who we truly are as person. In nature there is also impermanence and change which causes me to appreciate its beauty all the more. Much of the beauty of a flower or the colors of autumn is the knowing that this beauty is temporary. We can only experience this still, quiet, changing and impermanent beauty in the here and now, face to face with nature where we are nature and nature is us.
Here is a collection of my favorite images from 2020, not in any particular order. Thanks for looking!
#1. The Lantern
A Japanese Maple lights up like a lantern as the morning light bursts through an opening in the canopy of the small tree by a pond. It is a wonderful experience to get under a Japanese Maple and explore with a ultrawide angle lens different composition possibilities. Small movements left or right, up or down, can make major differences in the look and feel of the composition. It was a creative challenge for me to find an opening in the canopy where a sun star would be possible, along with just the right amount of natural light to illuminate the inside and outside of the tree. I felt a wonderful sense of accomplishment when it all came together in this image including a good perspective of the tree, a sun star, and wonderful backlit lace-leaf leaves lighting up like a lantern. In this image you will also see a small stone Japanese Garden Lantern. In Japanese Culture these small garden lanterns symbolize nature through the concept of finding beauty in the impermanence of the natural world. At no time was this more evident to me than underneath this Japanese Maple Tree, with its leaves now fully turned a bright red, catching the rapidly changing light, and ever so slowly starting to fall to the ground, one by one.
#2 Hot August Meadow in the Goat Rocks
On a hot August day, I started my long loop trip hike into the Goat Rocks at sunrise and did not finish until well after sunset. I suppose I could have finished sooner, but what is the hurry? In the evening I passed through this happy meadow just below a ridge top and decided just to hang out and enjoy nature at her finest for an hour or so. Hiking down from the ridge to the car I eventually had to use a headlamp and in order to not surprise animals I played Neil Young music through my JBL speaker attached to my belt. No sooner than I set up the headlamp and music I peered out onto the trail about 50 feet ahead and saw two narrowly spaced bright eyes staring at me. At first I thought it a person because the eyes were fairly high off the ground. Then I saw a big and long bushy tail. It could have been a wild dog or a cat, I do really know for sure. The animal would not move so I turned up the music a bit more , now Neil Young’s Natural Beauty Song. The animal then slowly with grace, almost like our cat Precious, started moving up the rock talus and then perched onto a flat rock and sat down like a royal cat still looking at me. Amazingly calm I proceeded back out onto the trail but it later occurred to me that if this was a cat it may have just positioned itself in prance position. Nevertheless it was all ok and good—Perhaps thanks to some mellow Neil Young music!
There are moments when my soul is a mirror to everything around me. Forms, shapes and patterns bathed in light rise out of the dark void and return again in an endless cycle. In such moments I feel I am the mountains, the sea, the setting sun, and the tree spread out over the bay. There is no me, mountains, sea, setting sun, or tree spread out over the bay–Satori.
#4 Beauty in My Backyard
This image of Mt. Rainier was taken on a hike right from my home through the forest and up to an overlook with a view of Mt. Rainier. A long 200mm telephoto perspective compressed the layers in this scene sufficiently to capture the same emotional impact this scene has on a person when he/she stands at this site for the first time.
#5 May the Light Always be With You
In the early morning at Cape Disappointment the sun finds an opening in the clouds to fill the entire atmosphere with wonderful angelic light. Every day in life is such a blessing and it is in moments like this I remind myself to live each day to the fullest. Every day is a new beginning. Who knows what is around the corner. Plan for tomorrow, but always live for today as if it were the last and welcome the light of dawn!
#6 Deception Pass November Sunset
In late November I decided to do some hiking winding my way through various trails crisscrossing Deception Pass State Park. I eventually reached this viewpoint and decided to stay to sunset, hiking out with head lamp. There is something about late fall/winter sunsets, especially when most of the day is cloudy and overcast, that make them seem more special to me!
#7 Twin Peaks
“To me dreams are part of nature, which harbors no intention to deceive but expresses something as best it can.” –Carl Jung
Fog creeps across the pond and begins to fill the Snoqualmie Valley on Winter evening after sunset. Images with atmosphere especially with fog, mist, low clouds, haze, sand, and rain can all evoke a sense of dream like mystery. What all of these atmospheric conditions have in common are particles in the air interacting with sources of light. This awakens our feelings and emotions to cultivate the sense mystery. Particles in the air soften the scene, and with the interaction of light this helps direct our attention to essential forms while hiding others which deepens the mood. It would be a mistake however to reduce our reaction to the scene’s atmosphere to just feelings and emotions. The mystery also points to something beyond even what we are feeling at the time, to a sense of wonder at the experience of being in nature. With the softer rendering of the scene made possible through atmosphere, the scene can often seem dream like and a little other worldly.
#8 Moon Rising Over the North Cascades
This is from my August backpacking trip in the North Cascades. We were treated to a wonderful sunset and moon rise on Saturday Night. After the sun set the mercury rapidly dropped bringing on a very cold night at close to 7,000 feet elevation. I laid one of my water bottles outside my tent and it was frozen the next morning! I think we felt a bit of autumn approaching in the air.
#9 Dances with Fog and Light
On a foggy morning at Deception Pass State Park I noticed this tree growing out of a eroded seawall, although large, bonsai like in its shape, with two needleless arm like branches reaching out to the rocks on the shore and in the sea. Through minimalism and the process of subtraction I knew I could get to the essence of the scene and the use of black and white would help as a medium to emphasize the contrast of light and shadow to bring attention to essential forms.
Subtraction is strongly related to both improving the composition and deepening the mystery. Subtraction is the notion that less is better, and there is a beauty and elegance in removing as many elements from the scene as possible. In photography, the world as it presents itself to us is often cluttered with extraneous detail. But the skilled eye using a good choice of lens and angle of view can always simplify the scene to primarily include those elements which are integral to the composition and deepening the mystery. This does not necessarily mean always using a longer focal length lens with a narrower field of view, as that would be an over simplification of the process. But it does mean a keen awareness of what attracts you to the scene and the skills to arrange as few elements as possible in a pleasing composition. What is left out strengtheners the mystery for the elements that still remain. With mystery there is almost always something concealed and held back.
#10 Madrone Spread Out Over the Bay
A Pacific Madrone rises from the edge of a steep undercut bluff and reaches out over the bay, and out further still to Puget Sound’s Rosario Head and Bowman Bay. Madrone trees prefer to grow along bluffs in fast draining soil close to salt water where the temperatures are also warmer in the Winter. They are always doing something, shedding bark and leaves year long, growing leaves, displaying beautiful white flowers in spring and red berries in fall and winter. Madrones are among my favorite trees. They have so much character that reflects their intimate connection with their immediate environment and no two trees alike.
#11 Sunrise at Big Cedar Tree
I pass this tree just about every day while walking through the woods close to my home. Somehow it was sparred during the logging of this area years ago. It looks so tall, beautiful and majestic at sunrise, rising above all the other trees of a different generation.
#12 The Larch
I remember watching an episode years ago of the British comedy, “Monty Python’s Flying Circus” where an image of a Larch would keep popping up before, during and after various comedy skits with the narrator uttering the words in a British accent–The Larch. Perhaps this is where the expression Larch Madness has its roots! I am thinking that this Larch Tree here may be a good specimen for any new revival of the Monty Python show! I have always been attracted to a trees with character that stand out from all the rest but also appear as harmonious and organic parts of their larger environment. This Larch certainly stood tall and majestic above all the surrounding trees offering a clear subject and focal point and blended in beautifully in with its forest and mountain home. The autumn blueberry leaves in shades of burgundy, orange, red and gold provided a beautiful carpet leading my eyes to the golden larch and the mountain background helped place the Larch in its environment without also competing for attention. I love the way this Larch is seemingly reaching for and into the cloud filled sky above the mountains. Larch trees have needles like evergreen conifers, but these needles turn from green to yellow and gold in late September and early October in high alpine areas east of the Pacific Crest in Washington State.
#13 Light in a Mossy Forest
There is nothing like hiking on a late fall day when you round the bend and find a mossy forest catching the brilliant light of the sun already starting to set in the late afternoon.
#14 Daffodils Under the Tree of Spring’s Golden Light
On an early March evening in the Skagit Valley, Spring welcomed me with Daffodils under the Tree of Spring’s Golden Light! A chorus of Geese were flying all evening overhead, heading north. Although none flew into my shot, the music was welcome in the cool air of the fragrant fields of gold.
15. The Great Pacific Northwest
This image has some of the best things I love about the Pacific Northwest and Washington State: Wild Rhododendrons in bloom, the beautiful waters of the Puget Sound and Hood Canal, Islands, and Mt. Rainier!
#16 Glimpses of Summer Paradise
From the slopes of the North Cascades, as I approached this meadow I thought I was seeing glimpses of what might be paradise, or at least as close as we mortals will ever see.
#17 The Flow and the Way of the Glacier Lilies
When the snow melts on the fields of Mt. Rainier, yellow Glacier Lilies are among the first wildflowers to bloom, sometimes rising right through a thin layer of snow, eventually forming vast colonies that flow through the meadows and lead the eyes to the beauty that is everywhere at Mt. Rainier National Park.
# 18 Lilac Tears of Joy
“When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.” Walt Whitman
For many of us 2020 has been a year of mourning. We lost many of our loved ones due to the pandemic and other causes. I personally lost my Father who passed away at age 92. He live a good life but he was highly impacted during the pandemic by rules that helped keep him safe from Covid but also contributed to his isolation. His spirit lives on in all of his children and grand children, my loving Mother, and many others in his life. My Dad loved nature and the outdoors, never gave up on anyone–always being willing to help regardless of the circumstances or what one might have done. Family always came first. He introduced me to nature and the outdoors through hiking and photography at an early age and is one of the biggest influences in my life for my love of nature. Luckily I was able to talk to him in person outside a week before he died. The flowers were blooming at a dooryard and he was very lucid. He reminisced in vivid detail about a hike we took years ago to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness as if it were yesterday. My Dad was also very disciplined and I am so happy at least some of this wore off on me! Papa has gone on to a better place and is now in peace. Papa we miss you very much, but your spirit will always remain in our hearts forever.
#19 Blue Forget-Me-Nots
This is dedicated to all our frontline workers in the medical field who have served us so well during this pandemic.
Rise and shine, this is your sunrise from the top of Steptoe Butte in the Palouse.
#21 Small Stream in an Ancient Forest
With some areas of Olympic National Park opened after initial pandemic closures, in May I decided to take a visit. I am glad I showed up early as there were few people there and all camping facilities remain closed further reducing the crowds. The few people I saw were polite in their willingness to socially distance. Although I visited a few iconic sights, I felt drawn to this small stream cascading through some old growth, moss and rocks. The water seemed as pure as one could hope to find anywhere, likely one of the benefits of taking the trail less traveled through a rain forest.
#22 South Falls Backlit Maple
As the sun sets before dipping below the distant forest above the canyon wall, the leaves and moss of a big leaf maple are backlit taking on a luminous quality. Scattered light also illuminates South Falls against the dark background of the canyon walls.
#23 Lakeside Larches Turning Gold
The Larches this year in Washington seem to have started turning gold a bit later than usual but at the time I took this image they were well on there way to their golden splendor!
#24 Blinded by the Light
This image is looking out from Hurricane Ridge’s Observation Point out toward the first flank of the Olympics rising from the ocean waters of the Straight of Juan De Fuca. I am staring right toward the sun softly filtered through layers of clouds.
A flock of birds fly through a foggy forest and into a small inlet before heading out into Bowman Bay. The song of the seagulls slowly passes through the misty air.
#26 Bare Tree Reflections in the Winter Light
The soft light of a winter sunset works its magic on a group of bare trees next to a small pond.
#27 Alpine Pond Autumn Moods
In early October, Julia and I took a hike into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area in some of my favorite conditions: clouds and fog. Autumn is still hanging on, but there were signs that it is slowly making its exit with many leaves on the ground. The blueberries were perhaps at bit beyond their peak ripeness, but still well worth spending an hour picking!
#28 Grazing and Sleeping in the Pasture
A herd of deer settle into a carefree evening in this idyllic setting under the Olympic Mountain and colorful skies.
#29 Tumwater Canyon Visions
In early October, I took a drive over to Leavenworth and the Tumwater Canyon. I just love how still sections of the Wenatchee River reflect the surrounding trees and foliage now transitioning to the colors of Autumn. I decided to experiment with this nearly abstract composition with just the reflections. I flipped the image to get closer to my Monet like vision for this scene.
#30 The Colors of Autumn
This image has some of the best things I love about the North Cascades in Autumn: a mountain lake, morning light, reflections, orange mountain ash, burgundy blue berry leaves, and larch trees! This lake lies just below the east side of the Pacific Crest where in early October the green needles of the the Larch Trees turn to gold complementing the colors of the the deciduous leaves of the orange orange mountain ash and burgundy blueberries. These larch trees only grow in high alpine elevations usually above 6,ooo feet. On this day there was wind on the water but I found this gorgeous secluded spot on the lake where the water was protected and the fall foliage wrapped around the foreground of the scene to help frame the image of the lake, reflection, and the surrounding peaks.
#31 Russian Butte in the Mist
This is from an early morning adventure in late November hiking trails above the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River. I was taking some images of the forest when I turned around to this momentary opening in the clouds, fog and mist and was easily distracted into taking a different picture, this one!
Green Fields of the North Cascades
This image was taken in August, but Spring arrives later in the North Cascades with the transition to Summer only a few weeks later, and not long after that Autumn!
Thanks for reading this blog post. I invite everyone to share with me their reactions to this blog post on The Tao and Landscape Photography. I would love to hear your comments and thoughts on this post. If you think others would be interested in this post, please share it with your friends and other acquaintances. All of these images are available on my website for purchase and are located in the following link: 2020: Reflections on Change and Stillness. If you like the kind of content I am creating on this blog please let me know and consider subscribing to blog. Thanks again and may the wonder and awe of nature be with you!