Tuesday, August 31, 2010


8:00 AM, Temp 53.7° F, Dew Pt 51.4° F, Baro 30.00 in, Wind SSE 9 mph Gust 15, Humidity 92%

August Rain

August wraps up with some welcome rain.  This will help to revive dormant lawns and refresh flower beds.  When you live by the sea, it never just rains.  It always arrives with wind and waves.  I am listening to it whistle in the eaves as the rain beats against the windows.  It is averaging around 15 mph sustained now with gusts in the 20's.  If the pattern holds, the wind will settle down in a bit leaving just a gentle rain.  Warm, sunny weather is scheduled to return later in the week.

I think Northwest people are inured to the rain and invigorated by it.  We know how to dress for it, and in winter, an umbrella is a constant companion.  We do things in the rain, like camping, gardening and skiing, that others would never consider.  It is said that Eskimos have many words for snow, and Hawaiians for lava.  Northwesterners undoubtedly have at least as many terms for rain.  According to Experience Washington, it's 157.  Today I would say, "wipers on full."

Monday, August 30, 2010

Using the Canon SX20 IS

Since January I have had trouble with the focus on this new camera, especially with macro shots.  The auto-focus frame would jump around randomly.  Sometimes at the moment of taking the picture, the subject would blur.  I discovered the camera was set on "Face Detect" all this time.  The frame was jumping around looking for a face.  I wasn't aware that it did that.  [Insert red-faced emoticon here]  The trusty old S2 IS didn't have this feature.

To fix it, turn on the camera and bring up the menu on the screen.  The very first item "AF Frame" should be set to "Center."  Perhaps now the SX20 will take pictures as good as the S2 gave me.  Naturally, for people pictures, switch it to "Face Detect."

I thought sharing this might be helpful to a fellow newbie.  As they say, "when all else fails, read the manual."  Perhaps it would have helped if the darn thing came with a manual instead of a PDF.


Madrona trees line my driveway
Shade garden sentry
Madrona at Lotte Bay, Deception Pass State Park

One of the strangest trees of all is native to the Pacific Northwest.  It doesn't follow any of the tree rules.  It is broadleaved, yet it is an evergreen.  It seems to have no sap, mature wood is hard as steel and like a reptile, it sheds its bark every year as it grows.  The tree is a symbiont and Star Trek fans will know what that means.  They prefer poor soil, don't like to be watered, survive fire and drought, but transplanting will probably kill them.  I am speaking, of course, of the Pacific Madrona (Arbutus menziesii).  It is a member of the Ericaceae plant family which makes it a relative of Rhododendrons, Huckleberry, Salal and Heather.  In California they are called Madrone and in Canada, Arbutus.  They are recognized by their large, shiny leaves and rust-red, paper-thin bark.  In nurseries, you will find a cousin, Arbutus unedo, the Strawberry Tree.

The tree cannot assimilate nutrients through the roots on its own.  To survive, it must live symbiotically with a root fungus called a Mycorrhiza.  This is why watering, fertilizing and transplanting Madronas put them in jeopardy.  If these activities disturb the fungus, the tree will die of starvation.

Last year's leaves are dropped annually

Like Rhododendrons, Madronas drop previous years' leaves annually and this is happening now.  Rhododendrons drop two year old leaves, while Madronas appear to shed last year's.  This makes me wonder if they are not trees at all, but big shrubs pretending to be trees.  Some have grown 100 feet (30 m) tall with trunks 5 feet (1.5 m) in diameter.

Bark is shed like a reptile's skin

The tree also sheds its bark every year.  It is really more like skin than bark.  In the photo, notice the split revealing the fresh green tissue beneath.  By late fall, the process will be fully underway and the green will change to the reddish hue.  A bit of last year's molt is still clinging in the photo.

Grandmother Madrona at Deception Pass State Park

In Deception Pass State Park, this is a Madrona growing along the Rosario-Bowman Bay Nature Trail.  You can tell it has been through a lot, but still it survives.  In a stressful environment, the Madrona-fungus companionship appears to be a successful strategy.

Since you can't go and buy one, I am fortunate to have several that came up in the yard.  I am keeping a close eye on four new ones.  As they age, their branches can become angular and twisted and they look good in an Asian style garden.  When young, they are easily trained into artistic shapes.  If you are fortunate to have one come up in your yard, cherish it.  Don't baby it, however, it will do best if you just leave it alone.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ombra Mai Fù

Made in the Shade

Never was there a shade
Of branches
Sweeter, more refreshing
Or more gentle.

This is the famous aria from Handel's opera Xerxes.  It is also known by the title "Largo from Xerxes" in orchestral versions.  You have undoubtedly heard it, for example, played by the organist at church during the offering, or in a poignant moment of a movie.  In the opera, it is an ode in praise of a shade tree.  The words seem a bit silly when compared to the music.  They sound wonderful, however, if you don't speak Italian.  I recently heard it on an episode of The Choir on BBC America.  It made me think of this photo from my yard.  In florid eighteenth century language, the text continues:

Tender and beautiful fronds
Of my beloved plane tree
Let fate smile upon you
May thunder, lightning and storms
Never bother your dear peace
Nor may you by blowing winds be profaned.

The music invites contemplation and reflection.  The eagle appears to have found that moment.  It has been arranged for many voices and instruments including organ, cello and full choir.  If you are still not recalling the music, here are five performances to jog your memory:

London Symphony Orchestra
Fritz Wunderlich
Placido Domingo
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Andrea Bocelli

Saturday, August 28, 2010


The Great Depression of the 1930's was in some ways worse and in other ways better than our situation today.  It was worse because I don't believe we are as desperate overall as the people of that time.  We still have programs in place from those days to mitigate the adversity.  It was better because President Roosevelt seemed to have a keener notion of what was required to get us out of trouble.  Reckless investing, tax cuts for the wealthy and bad loans led us into the Depression.  Sound familiar?  We ignored our history and look what happened.  Our history also provides a template for what to do now.  Under the "New Deal," several programs aimed at relief, recovery and reform were implemented.  Two of them were the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA).  Both had the purpose of providing jobs.  Jobs put money in pockets.  Money in pockets is spent on goods and services.  The spending of money by ordinary people creates demand.  Demand motivates job growth.

CCC Interpretive Center at Deception Pass State Park
Camp Kitchen and Picnic Grounds at Bowman Bay

Deception Pass State Park on Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.  This program was designed to provide jobs for young men 18-24 years of age.  Food, clothing and housing were provided and they earned $30 a month.  They were required to send home at least $22 of that salary.  What was formerly a bathhouse and comfort station is now the CCC Interpretive Center at Bowman Bay.  One of the exhibits is titled "Best Time of My Life."  My step-father often spoke fondly of his time in the CCC's working in Mount Rainier National Park.  Work included cutting trails, clearing recreation areas, planting trees and putting up park structures.  After 75 years, notice the enduring beauty and craftsmanship of the "parkitecture" style buildings above.  No tacky prefabs thrown up for a quick fix here.  The park welcomes more than 2 million visitors every year.

The Deception Pass Bridge
Fidalgo headlands viewed from the bridge

In the heart of the 4,000+ acre park, the Deception Pass Bridge connects Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands.  It was a project of the WPA and opened in 1935.  It was built in 11 months for $482,000, astonishing numbers to us.  Today the bridge carries 15,000 crossings a day and it is the most-photographed structure in the State of Washington.  Both the scale and the organic design of the bridge blend with its environment.  It neither offends nor steals from the grandeur of this pristine setting.  The bridge was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.

Studying the bridge's structure
The bridge from the North Beach trailhead
How Deception Pass got its name in rather awkward English

Today, much more needs to be done on the jobs front.  We have gone off the rails a bit with the notion that billionaire bailouts with tax cuts will produce jobs.  This idea is actively promoted by, uh, billionaires.  These tax cuts have been in place for ten years now, but the job growth over the period has been zero at best.  Wealthy corporations that outsource American jobs overseas, at minimum,  should not be rewarded with tax cuts and other incentives.

We ignored our history, but from our history came the two examples cited here.  They are much-loved icons, created during a tragic period and given to us to enjoy.  We seldom appreciate the circumstances under which they were built.  In 2085, will our descendants be able to look back and appreciate what we are doing now?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Skywatch Friday: Moonrise

Summer Moonrise over Skagit Bay

A summer moon rises over Skagit Bay.  Moonrise and high tide always happen together here.  The moon will set with the next high tide.

For skies from all over the planet, check out Skywatch.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

August in the Garden


Rose Campion

PenstemonRed SageScabiosa
WallflowerEnglish LavenderCrane's Bill
St. JohnswortAnemoneStokes' Aster

Even in late summer, there is still a lot going on in the garden.  I was a little disappointed when I viewed these photos individually.  They seem to look better when you put them all together.  None of them have been retouched, I promise.  These are straight out of the Canon.

PS:  If you are getting a “Site is unsafe” when clicking on the images, ignore it.  The images are hosted at a Google/Picassa site and it is not “unsafe.”  This would appear to be a false-positive from Norton, and possibly other AV’s, on posts created using Windows Live Writer.  I get no such message on a computer protected by AVG.  Several of us are working with Google and Norton to get this corrected.

Posted with Windows Live Writer

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hunting Perches

When exploring places where eagles live, look up at the tops of trees.  If you spot a tree with dead limbs at the apex, it is likely you have found a hunting perch.  You might find these along shorelines, on river banks and next to mountain meadows.  If you are lucky, you might spot one which includes an eagle or two.  I am most fortunate to have two such hunting perches, one on each side of my yard.  Both are about 100 feet (30 m) in the air and actively used year-around by the local Bald Eagles (Heliaeetus leucocephalus). 

The birds will sit patiently on the perch keeping watch over the bay.  When they spot something with their "eagle eyes," usually a salmon, they'll head out after it.  They will use two methods to catch the fish; swoop and grab which you have seen in nature films is one.  The other is "kerplunk and heave."  They will land on the water and float there for a moment, wings splayed.  It's not very dignified.  Then they heave themselves into the air with the prize in their talons. 

The trees are also used as "loafing perches," and the lower limbs for courtship.  Talk about a ruckus when that's going on.  I don't know if dead tops attract the eagles or if the birds' perching causes death of the limbs.  I suspect it is the latter since only certain trees in strategic locations contain hunting perches.  The local birds are remarkably tolerant of the presence of humans.  They perch directly over our houses and seem unconcerned when I am out working in the yard.  I would like to think they know how welcome and safe they are here.

If you are a follower of this blog, you should be able to identify the species of the trees.  Here is a hint:  Are the cones pointing up or down?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Canada Darner

Canada Darner Dragonfly

This started as a post about Japanese Silver Grass, Miscanthus sinensis.  I moved some last year and they seem to like the new location.  Three varieties are now over six feet tall.  While taking pictures, something else caught my eye.  Under one of the blades of grass clung a dragonfly.  After some internet searches, I believe this is a Canada Darner (Aeshna canadensis) a member of the Blue Darners group.  Darners are called Hawkers in the UK.  The scissor-like appendage at the end of the abdomen would make this one a female.  She is brown with egg-shell blue stripes and brownish eyes.  I decided she was much more interesting than some giant grass.  She joins my other Canadians, Branta canadensis, Lontra canadensis and Cornus canadensis

Most of her upper-left wing is missing

She was very accommodating as I went back two more times to try to get better photos.  Look carefully and you can see most of her upper-left wing is missing.  It looks snipped off cleanly, with a bird being the likely offender.  When I checked this morning, she was gone so I presume she was able to fly with the damaged wing.  This would be a lesson on the value of redundancy.

There are 407 species of dragonflies across North America with 71 in the state of Washington.  The Green Darner (Anax junius) is the State Insect of Washington.  I apologize for the bad lighting, but sometimes you must take what you can get.  Perhaps someone will let me know if I have misidentified her.  By the way, the grass is Miscanthus sinensis condensatus 'Cabaret,' and it grows as big as its name.  Like the dragonfly, it is a real beauty.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Perennial Sweetpea

Perennial Sweetpea

The Perennial Sweetpea (Lathyrus latifolius) is one of our "weeds."  It comes up wild along my bluff bordering the beach.  It is not a native plant, but like my grandmother, a European immigrant.  Some consider it a noxious, invasive weed.  The State of Oregon has banned its planting on public lands.  In my yard it is very well behaved twining around the Nootka Rose, Alder and Willow growing on the bluff.  I find it very easy to keep it in under control.  I believe English Ivy (Hedera sp.) also in the photo and Himalayan Blackberry (Rubus discolor) are bigger problems around here.  I enjoy the pink sprays that appear all along the bank this time of year.  Colors vary from pale pink to magenta.  It is listed on my Gardening page on the "Indigenous" list.  This attracts web searches by those looking for ways to kill it.  I am afraid they won't find that information here.

Saturday, August 21, 2010



"The Maiden of Deception Pass" is a Samish story pole which recalls the legend of Ko-Kwal-alwoot.  She was a young girl of the Samish Nation who was transformed into a sea spirit on this spot in Deception Pass State Park.  The cedar pole was carved by Fidalgo Island artist Tracy Powell.  She was erected in 1983 to commemorate the Skagit County Centennial and to honor the Samish people.  My favorite way to visit the site is to park at Bowman Bay, then follow the Rosario-Bowman Bay Nature Trail to Rosario Beach.

The Legend of the Maiden

The story tells of a sea spirit who falls in love with a human.  He wishes to marry her and will not take "no" for an answer.  To save her people from famine, she accepts his proposal and joins him in the sea.  Stand on the Deception Pass bridge and look down into the water.  You can see her hair drifting with the currents.

The Maiden of Deception Pass

The story pole has two sides representing the two lives of Ko-Kwal-alwoot, one as a human and the other as a spirit.  If you come to Deception Pass State Park, be sure to stop at Rosario Beach and pay your respects to her.  You will honor her story if you take good care of this beautiful place.  While exploring the tidal areas, please remember that you are a guest in Ko-Kwal-alwoot's home.

The Maiden keeps watch over Sharpe Cove

Monday, August 9, 2010

Gibralter Heights Neighbor

Band-tailed Pigeon

This handsome fellow is a Band-tailed Pigeon (Patagioenas fasciata) described by the Seattle Audubon Society as "Washington's native pigeon."  This great photo was taken by a friend up in Gibralter Heights, one of the South Fidalgo neighborhoods.  Although this is just a few hundred feet from my house, I have never seen one in my yard.  Apparently, a group of about five, known as a "band," is being seen in the area for the first time.  They are known to move from place to place following food sources.  They also come to tidal areas seeking salt and other minerals.  My columbid species has been the smaller Mourning Dove (Zenaida  macroura).  They come daily and like to "rest" in my front patio near the feeders.  According to the National Geographic Field Guide, the larger birds of the group are pigeons, while the smaller ones are doves.  Photo:  Dan Codd

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Autumn in the Air

7:15 AM, Temp 54° F, Dew Point 52.9° F, Barometer 30.05 in, Wind Calm, Humidity 96%

Misty Morning on Skagit Bay

Despite what the calendar says, the look and feel of fall has been in the air.  This is the result of a low pressure system sitting over south central British Columbia.  Over night it draws in cool moist air off the Pacific giving us foggy and overcast mornings.  We call this "ocean air."  Usually it will burn off by noon or so.  For the past couple of days, however, the overcast has persisted into late afternoon.  As if in a conspiracy, a high over the Pacific has colluded with the low to produce a more lingering effect.  Such can be summer in the Pacific Northwest.  Cool summers often transform seamlessly into warm falls.  There is no reason for concern.  We can look forward to many warm and sunny days well into October.

Weather Statistics for July, 2010

TemperatureHigh 81.4° FLow 48.1° FMean 57.9° F
Rainfall0.1 inch 
WindHigh 21.0 mphAverage 1.5 mphDom Dir SW

South Fidalgo Station Data (See Climate page for complete climatological data)