Category Archives: Intimate Landscapes


I have looked at this section of Paradise River at Mt. Rainier National Park a few times in the past.  Maybe even made a composition in my film days, but my memory is a bit fuzzy.

This time, a few years since last taking a gander at this spot, I just wanted to refresh my memory as to what the potential of the location was, if any.  Immediately I saw the scene in black and white and that got me excited.

I found this huge slab of rock full of character with its fractures.  Just as much, it is interesting how the side-strands of water are joining the main section of the “river”.

Paradise River flowing over fractured stone | Mt. Rainier National Park

Paradise River flowing over fractured stone | Mt. Rainier National Park

Today as I look at this image it makes me think of people being called to the river of life, to receive the gift of rest and hope from the fractures we all experience in this earthly life.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV)


Beauty in the Extremes

My truck wasn’t happy driving up to 11,000 ft elevation in California’s White Mountains.  The air was thin and I guess the onboard computers weren’t programmed to add more oxygen to the fuel.  We were crawling up in third gear, which was pathetic for a V6 engine, but at least it is a funny memory and we got to enjoy the scenery.  And the reward was worth the effort.

I had heard about bristlecone pines in my high school wood shop.  The instructor had a newspaper clipping story about these amazing trees capable of surviving more than 5,000 years, twisted and gnarled, often with just one branch clinging to life.  I made a mental note to see them someday.  Some 15 years later, here we were, slowly scrambling to the top.

At the end of the road, maybe an hour before the sun would sink below the magnificent peaks of the Sierra Nevada to the west, we put on our winter coats and hats and got to admiring these absolutely gorgeous trees.  It was a humbling experience to see these twisted beings clinging to life in poor rocky soil.  And yet, they were given the strength to survive and to bring absolute joy to the admirer.

John Muir put it eloquently:  “While on the roughest ledges of crumbling limestone are lowly old giants, five or six feet in diameter that have braved the storms of more than a thousand years. But whether old or young, sheltered or exposed to the wildest gales, this tree is ever found to be irrepressibly and extravagantly picturesque, offering a richer and more varied series of forms to the artist than any other species I have yet seen.”

Once the sun disappeared for the day I noticed clouds swirling, appearing from thin air and blushing with color.  That was unexpected considering the day was graced by clear blue skies.  I immediately changed my focus and we tried to run around at the 11,000 ft elevation looking for a strong composition…huffing and puffing and feeling like we’d collapse from lack of air.

Now, 13 years later, the memory of this place is almost as clear as was the mountain air….

Reaching bristlecone pines and fiery sunset sky | White Mountains, CA

Reaching bristlecone pines and fiery sunset sky | White Mountains, CA

Another place that is dear to us is the Columbia Gorge, along the border of Washington and Oregon.  It is a place shaped by the fires of ancient volcanos, a place of amazing raw beauty.  Despite all the basalt rock, life clings seemingly with much joy.

I spotted the gorgeous color of these penstemon flowers, growing at the base of a crumbling basalt cliff, through thick oak trees and poison oak shrubs.  It took a little doing to crawl in there but it was worth the effort.

With these two images and two drastically different regions, I am humbled to know that God planted the seeds of life from the highest mountains to the lowest deserts to the most arid places and the deepest oceans…just absolutely amazing.

Penstemon surviving among crumbling basalt | Columbia Gorge, WA

Penstemon surviving among crumbling basalt | Columbia Gorge, WA


Quiet Waters

So there it was, our anniversary was coming up and we decided that going camping was just the ideal thing to do.  Checking out Lake Ozette area on the Olympic Peninsula had been on the list for no less than a few years…so why not!  We packed up the truck and took off to catch the ferry from Edmonds to Kingston.  Wow, thinking about it now, I miss it all; mind you this was back in 2009.  It is always amazing to be heading out to a new destination.  Even if one knows details about the place, there is no substitute for being there….

Part of the drive was unimpressive due to going thru much logged land…didn’t look short of a war zone.  But once we arrived, there was an incredible sense of isolation and solitude.  One has to be deliberate to come here.  There is nothing beyond here except the vast Pacific Ocean, legends, and history.

Being late summer, the weather was all over the place.  It is Washington after all.  But that was part of the charm.  Imagine cooking in between two huge cedars, their branches spreading wide, trying to protect you from the massive downpour.  Some drops get through and the whole experience makes you shudder and reminds you that this place is greater than you can imagine.  The rain drowning out all other sounds.  Knowing you are not far from civilized places but still feel like you are a million miles from anywhere.  And the love of my life is right next to me sharing in the memories.

And much like in life, following the storm there was brilliant sunshine and quiet….

I made this particular photograph at one of the bays of Lake Ozette just as the sun set below a ridge of trees.  I tried a few ideas, but ultimately found this one, without a polarizer, to be my favorite.  The water was still, the lilies reflected the pure blue of the sky and the reeds reached for the air above.

Lily pads and reeds on Lake Ozette | Olympic Nationa Park, WA

Lily pads and reeds on Lake Ozette | Olympic Nationa Park, WA

‘Ah, Lord GOD! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you….’

Jeremiah 32:17 ESV

Quiet Forest Pond

There are always new discoveries to be made, even if we know a place by heart.  I don’t remember much else from this particular trip to Mt. Rainier National Park except walking a narrow and overgrown path through a forest of subalpine firs to find a beautiful setting.  A quiet landscape of a forest pond surrounded by firs and its shores sprinkled by gorgeous blooming lupine.

Soft sunlight filtered through the trees to add a bit of a sparkle to the scene.  The air was still and filled with aromas of summer forest and flowers, sweetened by the sunshine.

I have returned to this spot many times over the years, like visiting an old friend, but it has never been quite as glorious as this time.  But I have missed the last couple of years…could it have been so breathtaking then?  Perhaps this year God will paint it even more beautiful….

Quiet forest pond graced by lupine and sunshine | Mt. Rainier National Park, WA

Quiet forest pond graced by lupine and sunshine | Mt. Rainier National Park, WA

River Solitude

A few days ago was one of those times when I felt quite spent and needed to take a walk in creation.  One of the nearest places that I greatly enjoy is the southern section of the Mountain Loop Highway, along the Stillaguamish River.  Being in a very mellow mood, I didn’t know if I would see anything to photograph but I knew it would be just purely wonderful being there.

People were camping, the ranger station was closed for the day, the road was deserted.  I pulled into the Hemple Creek area and found it all to myself.  Perfect.  It was warm and the forest along the river was filled with aromas of summer.  The sun was breaking through the clouds and illuminating the magnificent trees.  The Stillaguamish was flowing clear and much lower than when I stopped here a few weeks ago.

It was good to be here again, to hear the birds and the water, to inhale the delicious air.  I thanked God for his grace.

I walked and observed and a calmness began to take over.  I began to see.  The boulders, submerged much of the year, were in full form.  My eyes began to focus on the play of river rapids around the boulders.  A particular rock caught my attention; I didn’t remember ever seeing it before even though I’m sure it has been in the same spot a long time.  It was dark and stood out from among the other mostly light boulders.

I put my gear down and jumped from one submerged rock to another to get closer and see if a composition would work.  The river was warm and I was glad to be here.  The boulder was being embraced by the waters and I felt very embraced at that moment as well.

I made three variations of this composition and settled on this one as my favorite.

Black boulder in the Stillaguamish River | Mountain Loop Highway, WA

Black boulder in the Stillaguamish River | Mountain Loop Highway, WA

I took my time and watched the river as it flowed downstream, hugging all the boulders in its path, and disappearing around the bend, on its eventual way to the ocean.

As I kept walking along the river I enjoyed a few ripe thimbleberries and salmonberries.  These are always welcome and delicious, especially the salmonberries.

I really liked this giant boulder field, and just focused and studied it for a while.  It reminds me of life flowing with all its obstacles, eventually reaching the open sea.

Stillaguamish boulder field | Mountain Loop Highway, WA

Stillaguamish boulder field | Mountain Loop Highway, WA

About an hour before sunset I went further down the river, just around that bend I watched earlier, as I had an idea or two to explore there.  I have photographed this scene before, during different moods of the river, and found it once more very intriguing.  The sky was mostly overcast again and casting a soft glow on the scene.  I set up my tripod and camera on a huge boulder, put on a polarizer and made a series of compositions.  I liked the texture of the water in my 4 second exposures but wanted to try something much longer.

I reached into my bag and pulled out a neutral density filter which gave me a 30 second exposure.  Wow, the water took on a very different feel.  Studying the two exposures on the camera LCD screen I was leaning just a bit more toward the shorter exposures because of the texture of the water.  But once I looked at the much larger version on the computer the 30 second exposure was clearly the one that captivated my imagination.  The scene has this quietness to it, a lot like what I was feeling in my heart at this point.

Quiet waters of the Stillaguamish River | Mountain Loop Highway, WA

Quiet waters of the Stillaguamish River | Mountain Loop Highway, WA

After packing up, I enjoyed my dinner sandwich while being calmed by the beauty of this scene.  I thanked God again for his grace this day.  I arrived in an exhausted state but left fully refreshed by grace gifted to me….

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?  Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

Psalm 42:11 (ESV)

Blue Waters

Some years ago, I used to often ramble along the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River, a mere 35 miles east of Seattle.  The forest road running along parts of the river is dirt, often packed with brain-jarring potholes, dusty during dry times and slick and muddy during the famous Washington drizzle.  I particularly enjoyed being there during stormy weather, when there were few others to be seen.  And early and late in the year were times I found the place even more charming.

I looked not just for river scenes but for trees with character.  During the winter months when the trees were bare and wet they provided much visual excitement to me.  And when they were covered by lichens and mosses, wow, it was like candy.

After a few years of focusing on other destinations, my wife and I recently decided to go back and have a look at one of our favorite stomping grounds.  It was actually a sunny day, which would normally not find me out looking for landscape images.  But we wanted to get out.  Once we got there we were surprised at the volume of vehicles rolling into this river valley.  The road was super dusty so there was little point to pull over and get out to enjoy the scenery because we’d be eating dirt.  Stan wasn’t too excited either not being able to get out and do some sniffing and exploring of the terrain….

The few years have given enough people time to discover this valley, which is of course great because they can enjoy the beauty but also a disappointment when one is looking for some quiet away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

But we eventually found our little quiet spot along the Taylor River (one of the rivers flowing into the Snoqualmie), through a stand of trees and mossy forest floor.  The rapids drowned out any nearby human sounds and we were just pleased with that.  And Stan was also able to ramble about without complaint!

I watched the light and the rapids as we enjoyed lunch and eventually made a few exposures.  I decided to experiment a bit with various shutter speeds to see which would be most pleasing to my eye.  And with no two photos being the same due to the dynamic nature of the rapids, it was a fun experiment that yielded some exciting results.  I settled on the image enclosed in this post.  The shapes of the rapids captivated me here as well as the play of blue light from the sky and golden/green reflections from trees on the opposite bank being bathed in direct sunlight.  And the shutter speed used provided just the right amount of dramatic movement.

Even if there were no photos to show, it was simply peaceful to relax by the river for a while….

Taylor River, a tributary of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River | WA

Taylor River, a tributary of the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River | WA