Here is the current main post on Fran Mason’s Northwest Notes:
Springing into winter.
When winter comes to Seattle, it often seems like spring has come at the same time. The main thing about winter here is that the days get really short and the weather is wet and windy. By the time of the solstice, that stuff is old news, and all I think of is the fact that now the days will start getting longer and the local nurseries, finished selling Christmas trees, will start stocking next year’s plants. Today was an especially spring-like winter solstice, with sun and temperatures around 55F. I say “was” because it is now, at 4:30, dusk.
This is another in my Regional Blogs series. I’ve posted (Regional Blogs: A Smoky Mountain Journal and Views of the Northeast) about two wonderful blogs, one set in New England (Views of the Northeast)and the other in the Great Smoky Mountains (A Smoky Mountain Journal). Recently, Fran visited my site to read Madrona Park Creek: Restoring an Urban Stream. She left a nice comment which enticed me to visit her own blog. And a wonderful one it is. What is especially fine about Fran’s blog is how well she marries her own interests to precisely those features which make the Pacific NW such an extraordinary place to live: gardening, hiking, photography and the natural landscape.
One of the best features of the good regional blogs is the ample photographic testimony to what makes the place so special. Fran does not disappoint here either. She must carry a camera with her at almost all times, because almost every post has a representative photograph and they all tell a wonderful story in themselves.
Some blogs aim for a high-minded tone or a lyrical prose style that conveys the author’s interest in Big Ideas. Others have the short, stacatto machine-gun style of the old newspaper teletype machines. They want to tell you the facts, ma’am, just the facts. Fran’s style is somewhere between the two. She wants to represent reality the way it is, the way she sees it. She doesn’t wax poetic and speak in dramatic sentences. She tells you what she sees. There is a beauty in the simplicity of this style. It may not take you to the Heights of Glory. But it’s going to be real and true to its subject. And there is great and deep virtue in this.
I’ve also noticed this about Fran’s photographs. While she sometimes shoots dramatic and stately pictures, they are not grand in the style of many glossy professional photographers. In fact, if I were to give Fran any advice (which she doesn’t need from me), I’d say some shots are overexposed and look a bit “washed out.” Unlike the Eliot Porters of this world, she doesn’t attempt to plumb the depths of existence in a flower. She wants you to see and know what she’s seen and known. They can be grand and they can be mundane. But they are all her own vision and it is a simple one rooted in earth, sky and water, those wonderful elements of Pacific NW living.
All of Fran’s posts are well-populated with Comments. This proves she has a loyal and admiring coterie of readers. I both admire and envy Fran for doing what the best blogs do: they create a community of like-minded readers who share the author’s vision. I seem to get a single Comment for every five posts I write. Fran, how do you do it?? Clearly, she does this by having a unique “voice” that appeals to the lovers of nature and fine writing.
Fran especially loves hiking the Mt. Rainier trails and posts a number of times about the splendor of the Mountain. Here is one of those posts:
Mystical, mysterious Mt. Rainier
Another trip to Mt. Rainier on a cloudy day. I wanted to see the pretty green meadow again, with the hundreds of streamlets trickling down the slope, that we saw last time near the Paradise visitor center. On that trip, we showed up at that popular spot at the end of the day and had the trail all to ourselves after passing the end of the paved section. On yesterday’s trip, though it was foggy, the meadow trails were packed with tourists and kids. It wasn’t even worth completing the hike.
Fran and her hiking partner decide to drive farther up the mountain to a more remote hiking area. There then enter an imposing evengreen forest:
Giant snags had decayed to ten-foot soft stumps surrounded by a hillock of bark and wood that had sloughed off; new seedlings were growing in the heap. Fallen logs were loaded with moss and saplings. They’ll grow up as the log fades away. If you see trees growing in a straight line in the woods, as if planted that way on purpose, chances are they all grew out of the same nurse log, a ranger told us last year.
I was able to identify only a few of the trees we saw. I find it hard to memorize conifers because the differences seem pretty subtle and because in the woods, you can’t see the shape of the whole tree. Often, you can only see its trunk. You don’t know whose cones are under your foot and sometimes the tree’s needles are so high that you can’t really see them. So I tried to remember the different bark textures I saw, and I looked them up in the tree book when we got home. Noble fir, Pacific silver fir, grand fir, Douglas fir, hemlock and mountain hemlock, and westernn redcedar are the ones I’m sure of. The Douglas fir is impressive because of how gigantic its slabs of bark get as the tree ages. It starts out as normal rough bark, but grows several inches thick and gets deep furrows and flaps as it gets older.
Another strength of Northwest Notes is its up to dateness: she gives you a great feel for what is of the moment here in Seattle. A case in point is her most recent Christmas post:
The display cases in Madison Park Bakery were stuffed with Christmas cakes and pastries and looked so beautiful—all red, white, green, and chocolate frosting with shiny decorations—that I wished we had the camera with us. We hadn’t planned on going in, but once we did, it took us about two seconds to decide to buy a cake shaped and decorated like a Christmas tree. We are invited to the neighbors’ house for a spaghetti dinner tonight, which provides the perfect time to dive into a beautiful cake. If we can’t have our cake and eat it, at least we can have a picture of it.
Here’s another example of Fran capturing a fine outdoor moment in one of Seattle’s beautiful neighborhoods:
I walked to Capitol Hill yesterday under very heavy clouds with a few worn spots in the west. This let in a weak, burnishing light that made gold leaves, green grass, and other colors glow in the gloom. It is one of my favorite moods of light here in Seattle, which is the equal of Paris for beautiful light.
Later in this post she speaks of a book she’s been reading written by a naturalist who noticed caterpillar droppings while running one day:
Okay. He can spot caterpillar droppings as if they are cow pies? Wow. I’ve raised big cecropia caterpillars and kept them until they hatched as gorgeous, furry, strong flying creatures. (Just looking at the photos on this page makes my heart pound!) As a child I was good at finding these and other caterpillars, reading in the “bug book” about what plants they ate and examining those plants. But I never had any idea you could spot them by noticing their droppings. I live in a cool climate now, where I don’t think silk moths like these occur. I don’t expect to start looking out for their droppings around here. For the next trip to Missouri, I’ll have to brush up on the trees and shrubs the big moths like, find specimens that overhang smooth pavement, crouch down and look for caterpillar poo!
Here again is some nice writing and photography from a trip to rural Missouri:
This page of mine contains a picture of Hodgson’s Water Mill (scroll down just over halfway), a mill that stands on top of the spring that powered it. The water flowing from under the mill is clear and powerful, and the spring branch that flows away from it is as cool and gorgeous as any, but I wanted to see the spring where it came out of the rock instead of seeing it coming from the building.
Take a look at Fran’s blog. It will richly convey to you the feel, taste and look of the Pacific Northwest.
Richard, thanks so much for this review. Regarding comments, just keep blogging and you will build up a readership! It takes a while.