Circle Game

Island Life


It’s been about a year now, because the ranunculus are blooming again. There are, indeed,  other ways of marking the passage of years. I usually write in my rain log when the tree frogs begin their nighttime chorus. They were late this year. Generally I think of Valentine’s Day as a rough marker for when to expect the yearly wetland cacophony to begin. As we have had an unusually cool, late winter and early spring so far, it is understandable that the croaking was delayed by a coupe of weeks. I see now from digging back into my “My Photos” section of the facebooks that I recorded and posted an image of the double yellow ranunculus in my front yard last year on 23 March. They just started blooming out there within the last week, so like the frogs, things are close to three weeks behind at the moment.

There was a time not too long ago when I would hear the reggae show from KEXP on the radio on Saturday mornings and then find myself taking stock of what I had done since I heard that same show the week before. Sometimes it would spur me into action on various projects, with this weekly marker accentuating the grim realization hanging overhead that there were things on ‘the list’ that had somehow slipped by without due attention having been paid them. And now I am looking at pictures of plants that I know I also shot  about a year back- and a semi-grim reminder from that little voice chanting  in the background the accounting of all of the big projects that are still on the other list that somehow got overlooked for this past year of making other plans. There is still the unresolved, lose-the-weight thing, along with that indoor bike trainer that was going to be the answer to all of my genuine concerns over a personal metamorphosis out of slothdom. There are those piles of books for research and escapism that got set aside to make way for an abundance of binge watching. There are the unmaterialized shelves that were going to be the storage solution for all of the equipment and storage boxes that still occupy the bulk of the floor space in my office/studio. There is the bagpipe chanter I was going to diligently practice upon so I could achieve my dreams of piper nirvana, but instead the reed is still dry inside the box on top of my printer. The ranunculus has come and gone and come again, and what the hell have I been doing?

Well, I have been making photographs, and I do now have two versions of the image of the double yellow ranunculus, and to be truthful, they are quite different. I would say that that is something. I have a friend who posts photographs of his daily morning walks with his dogs, and while they are a record and proof that he is still around, it is sometimes hard to tell if they are photos from that day or ones from weeks or a year ago. I suppose one could make an argument for consistency of vision, but the only way I am able to feel good about the realities of the passing year is by seeing that there has been an evolution in my vision. This is in part due to the fact that along the way I purchased a lens that does very different things to what I am seeing, and so a part of this evolution has been driven by a change of technology. The case could be made that I am still taking the same picture, and in some ways I might agree, but mostly- not.

The premise for this project, or what these regular to nearly daily garden expeditions became, was and is to take close note of what is happening in and around the garden. While there didn’t have to be, I decided to set the parameters for this project  that all photos had to be made within the boundaries of the property. While I haven’t totally finalized the basic rules, I found along the way that I might be adding an ad caelum clause to the rulebook. Somewhere in there I decided to go 400 feet straight up over parts of the property and take stock of what was directly below, and in doing so I found that it just might be worth adding a drone’s-eye view to the mix. One thing that I have found intriguing is how trees look from straight overhead. I first noticed this a few years back when I decided to go out at night to well-lit public places around the Island, which around here meant mostly just parts of town, and take drone shots of trees without leaves that were illuminated by street lights. The branching patterns proved to be fascinating- this is the case in daylight as well, but perhaps not quite so dramatic. Along with looking down on the garden, there have been times when what is going on in the sky has been noteworthy and photographable while looking up, mostly with my infrared converted camera. Cloud patterns are easily enhanced through infrared and a couple filters, and so I may be including some of my images of what I saw as atmospheric river shots- we will see how that fits into the mix.

Another garden element that I hadn’t really thought about, until they became a somewhat regular subset of subjects, were the many kinds of pond and forest dwellers that appeared and disappeared around the yard and garden throughout the year. Banana slugs were far more common in 2020 than they had been the year before, possibly because it was damper this past year. I saw the first tree frog of this year just the other day here, although as I said, we have been hearing them at night for almost a month. While I do have a bunch of treefrog photos from around the property from years gone passed, I still do not have a shot of one from this particular, bracketed year. I did however take many shots of our growing bullfrog population. Along with the treefrogs, we hadn’t seen many garter snakes of late until last summer, when one of the stone cairns in the yard once more became a regular hangout for four or five consistent visitors. And over the winter, the hybrid Mahonia in the front yard became a cool weather food source for four or five of the resident hummingbirds, as this large specimen was blooming from late October to February. Unlike the reptile contingent on the other side of the house who mostly basked and sat in place for long periods of time, the hummers were elusive and fleeting, and standing around waiting for them to do something besides gaze all about and vacate their cloaca was cold and frustrating, unless luck and studied anticipation allowed me to finally capture them in flight, or in a red-feathered, defensive posture.

One of the things I did accomplish last year was the physical realization of an engineering project we had been talking about for years, and that was the replacement of a bridge over the pond that had rotted away years ago. As we were around last summer when the window of opportunity opened up when the pond dried out, we were able to get the concrete piers poured and the supports in and the planking down before the rains came in again. While this affords a way across the pond that we haven’t had in years, it also offers a different view and perspective up and down the pond, since it is in a more central location than the bridge it replaces. It remains to be seen if I will use this platform to get better shots of some of the pond visitors, or if it is determined that the photo record for this time is adequate to the purpose of putting together a hard copy version of this year gone by.

Current thoughts in this regard are trending toward the fact that we have completed a year delineated by bookended plant portraits of the same plant during this plague year. I believe I did mention a while ago in this space that a photograph I made of a columbine in the garden was what made me first think about turning all of this into a book. It would seem that because of the dictates of this particular year, that this will have to go beyond just being a picture book and include some kind of verbal narrative. While I don’t know that I will, or even can, stick to a one photo for each week regimen, I do think that I will limit the number of photographs to fifty-two, and try to match that with a page of text for each visual. In many ways, I am now recalling that this format sounds a lot like the garden talks I used to give, where I would set up the slides as a basic outline to where I wanted the narrative to go, and then speak to each one as they came along. Sometimes I would say nothing, as the photo would speak for itself- we will see where this goes.

And so it is that I guess I haven’t done nothing this year, although there are many times when it feels like it. Beyond the new lens, I am learning to use a new video camera with new and exciting capabilities. Along with that, I am about to step into a new world of editing software that also offers exciting possibilities. On the other hand, in sitting with the news last night, we see and are told that not much elsewhere is changing. It seems that as much as we seek out and hope for change in life and human nature, the likelihood of that happening is about zero to none. From this perspective all I can say is that change is hard, and in my little world I’m doing what I can- for the moment that’s all I can do.