Get a theme, they say. Pretty pictures are not enough, they say. Well, some of us like pretty pictures. I do have a theme–Latvian stuff. But I’m not a one-trick pony so I like to write about other things, too.
Here in western Washington, we’re getting a reprise of summer. Nights have not been cold enough to make many trees turn color just yet. This morning was foggy and more than a bit chilly. In the afternoon we’re supposed to get short-sleeve weather. We’ll see. Forecasts around here are often wrong. I have to photos from other autumns to get touches of seasonal colors.
Sonnet 73, Shakespeare
“To Autumn” John Keats
I like the way the vines seem to embrace this rock and the moss that seems to be trying to soften the rock’s cold, hard nature. I like letting my imagination take over and go a little wild. Something I need to rein in when doing my posts about Latvia, even the ones about myths and legends.
All up and down the coast from Canada to Baja California the West is on fire. This happens every year now. I’m fortunate enough to be in an area where there is no danger from flames. Not this year, anyway. No knowing what might happen next year.
Usually, in the summer I love that daylight lingers long into the evening. Yesterday, I couldn’t wait for darkness to set in so I wouldn’t have to look at the ugly sky. As the sun was going down it turned the color of pee.
Despite the smoke air quality yesterday was pretty moderate so I sat among my flowers on my balcony for a while and wrote in my journal. Normally, my balcony is a healing place though not necessarily quiet. There’s constant traffic noise and occasional human or dog noise. I love my outdoor writing spot anyway.
We have wildfires every year but in the past, they weren’t as pervasive.
That day in August five years ago the sun was the color of a blood orange but my camera was unable to capture the true tint. Just looking at this photo makes me feel sick.
Maybe this year’s smoke didn’t get bad as early because we had drenching rain in June, which meant lots of snow in the mountains. My friend’s husband and their daughter were still able to go skiing on Mt. Rainier until mid-June, a month later than normal.
Two weather sites said that we’d get a bit of rain this afternoon. It hasn’t shown up. In June, I wanted the rain to stop now I want it to start and go on for a week or two.
Last evening the smoke was bad enough that it was coming indoors through my sliding door. It was too warm but I had to close everything up so I wouldn’t have to smell smoke indoors. The air quality is worse today but I have the slider open because the wind is mild and not blowing smoke indoors.
Will there ever be another year when the sky is clear and blue all summer? I don’t want to think about how much longer the fires will keep raging this year. I think of the poor folks who’ve had to be evacuated from their homes and my heart breaks for them. Will their homes still be there when the fires are finally brought under control?
On May 18, 1980, after two months of earthquakes and steam blasts, Mt. St. Helens in Washington state, USA, erupted at 8:32 on a Sunday morning. The eruption spewed ash 80,000 feet (24 km; 15 mi) into the atmosphere. The eruption went on for nine hours and reduced the height of the mountain by 1400 ft. (426.72 m) The ash was deposited in over eleven states as well as parts of Canada. I was 156 miles (approx. 251 km) north of the mountain. Since it was the weekend, I was sleeping in and knew nothing of the eruption until much later. In my area, all we got was a light layer of ash on our cars. The mountain exploded laterally so Eastern Washington got the worst of it.
But this isn’t an article about the eruption, the lives it took, or the damage it did. I’ve blogged during other Mays but have never felt inspired to write about the eruption. It seemed that everybody already knew about what happened or if they didn’t would learn about it every year in the days leading up to the anniversary.
What inspired this post was a comment by someone on social media about Harry R. Truman who lived with St. Helens for 52 years during which time he owned and ran the Mt. St. Helens Lodge. When it became apparent that the volcano would erupt local officials tried to evacuate Harry. The old man refused to leave. He was one of the more than fifty people the eruption killed. The woman on social media called Harry a science denier. So, I have to defend Harry. He was a rascal and an independent old coot but even though I never knew him, I have no doubt that he never questioned that the volcano would erupt. The huge bulge in its north side would have been a major clue even if the earthquakes and steam eruptions hadn’t been.
Even though I’m only speculating, I can understand why Harry refused to leave his beloved mountain. He was 84 years old, twice divorced, and once widowed. He had only one child. He’d lead an unconventional, independent life. He was a WW 1 veteran having served in France. On the way to Europe, his troopship was sunk by a U boat. Later in life, he was a bootlegger, a poacher, and a thief who stole gravel from the Forest Service and fished on Native American land with a bogus license. He was never caught in any of these acts. Before moving to the mountain he ran a service station. Though he may have been a rogue, I seriously doubt that he was a fool.
I can’t blame Harry for not wanting to leave this gorgeous area or live to see the devastation he must have known the eruption would cause to the splendid place where he’d spent more than half his life there.
At his age what would Harry have done and where would he have gone if he left his home? Give up his cantankerous independence? Go to a nursing home? Become a burden on his only child? Sit around and rock, waiting to die? The mountain was his life. Better to make a spectacular exit than to give up the only life he’d known for fifty-two years.
I hope Harry was sitting on the porch of his lodge, drinking his favorite cocktail, whisky and Coke when the mountain blew.
The last day of summer. Cold weather will be setting in sometime soon, but not yet. Today it was in the low seventies and sunny with a gusty breeze. I sat at the little tray table on my balcony and wrote in my journal. I love to write outdoors. Except when the weather was too crummy–too hot one stifling day in Jun, too wet a couple of days in September I wrote outdoors every single day all summer. I also wrote outdoors almost every day during spring and plan to continue writing on my balcony all through fall and even in winter, weather permitting.
My balcony is on the second floor of my apartment building, it has two walls and a third-floor balcony for a ceiling, so I’m protected from the weather unless it’s raining hard or if there’s a too-stiff breeze.
I have pleasant company on my veranda–fifteen plants in their containers. That would be an awful lot for a small balcony if it weren’t for a spiral wrought iron stand that holds three pots, two railing containers, and a small table that hold four fuchsia cuttings in four-inch pots.
Besides my botanical friends, I have views of sky, clouds, trees, and Mt. Rainier. Down below is a swath of lawn, bordered on the far side with a blackberry patch and plants I can’t identify.
I have visitors. Bunnies play on the lawn. A coyote sometimes tiptoes by in broad daylight. Butterflies flit around the blackberry patch. The “Blue Flash,” a.k.a. Steller’s jay flies front tree to tree. A snobbish little hummingbird adores my hosta’s blossoms, tolerates my petunias, and snubs my million bells. One time a white cabbage butterfly flew into my balcony space and sat on a hosta leaf long enough for me to take its picture.
Human neighbors also turn up on the lawn from time to time. My favorites are a guy named Bailey and his yellow dog. Sometimes the family cat follows along. Bailey runs a little robocar for his dog to chase.
I recond all these antics.
My balcony isn’t the only place I write outdoors. I’ve written at sidewalk tables at Starbucks. On the terrace of the Student Union Building at my old university. The campus is are like a park. My purse always contains a little notebook, just in case I’m somewhere interesting, or boring (bus stop) where I can pass the time while writing. When I had a car it contained a car notebook. I used to sit and write and listen to music during my lunch break at work.
Other than it being a pleasant way to spend time, why do I do it? I’ve never written anything sensible while outdoors. I’m too busy describing what I see–trees, sky, mountains, birds, bugs, passersby. My feelings of bliss at being out in the fresh air go in my notebook. Sometimes I fantasize about writing a From My Balcony version of Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek, but I’m not sure my observations are acute enough, detailed enough, interesting enough for anyone to want to publish them. Most of the things I watch I can’t identify except as, “tree,” “bird,” “bug.” Once I look them up, they could add color to my fiction. Thus far, the only idea I’ve had during my outdoor writing sessions is for a flash fiction story about a woman on her balcony. Started, but not finished. Maybe soon. Maybe never. I do have a market in mind for it when, not if, I finish it.
“They,” whoever they are, say that a daily writing habit is important for writers. It doesn’t matter what you write, as long as you write. Most days I have that habit, but none of it has translated to either of my novels. Oh, well, you never know when it might.
The last few weeks I’ve been might laggard about writing little essays for my blog. Feeling wonky in both mind and body. Not wanting to whine in public about my wonky sensations. At last! Results from writing outdoors–this blog post. Bonus, I feel a lot less wonky.
My place of peace and bliss is my balcony. It’s where I have my container garden. I sit there every day. I can feel how it reduces my stress. It’s where I watch birds, butterflies, bunnies, and even a coyote. The many trees in the surroundings keep the air fresh. Watching and photographing clouds is something many Washingtonians do. If you live here, you’d better learn to like clouds. You’ll be seeing a lot of them.
Today’s and this evening’s cirrus clouds were amazing. They form in the troposphere, the part of the atmosphere that’s closest to the earth. Ice crystals condense around particles, such as dust and even sea salt. Wind helps shape them.
Even though I’ve lived in Western Washington for many years, I’ve never seen clouds like these. I took dozens of photos. As far as I can tell, I was the only one outside cloud-gazing.
I’ve posted the picture in the order in which the clouds appeared.
In the morning, after the fog burned off, the sky was clear. In the afternoon this is what happened.
In the evening, this happened.
How much beauty do we miss by having our noses stuck to a computer screen, a smart phone, or a TV screen? I spend too much time at my computer, too. Or with my face in a book. Thanks to the view from my balcony I see more of the beauty of the earth, whether it’s a cloud or a bee.
The day after Independence Day I sat on my balcony, waiting more anxiously than usual for my friend, the Anna’s hummingbird. The other day I learned from a friend that birds can be frightened to death by fireworks. That doesn’t surprise me. I endured five hours of unceasing misery the evening of the Fourth. If the noise bothered me so much, what might it do to such a tiny creature (3.9 to 4.3 in., 9.9 to 10.9 cm) whose heart already beats at a rate of about 1260 per minute when it’s in full flight? It drops considerably when the bird’s at rest, in a state of torpor.
When I moved into this second-floor apartment with a small balcony, I decided that I want to feed hummingbirds. I bought a feeder. Right after that purchase, I changed my mind. I’d figured these little flying jewels would be better off getting nourishment from flower nectar than from sugar water. I’d also rather look at flowers than a red plastic feeder.
I bought railing boxes and filled one with petunias for hummingbirds and planted pansies in a second railing container pansies for my own enjoyment and for bees, too; they love both kinds of flowers.
Weeks of waiting and watching passed. I wondered if a hummie was visiting my flowers while I wasn’t looking. What a delightful moment it was when an Anna’s hummingbird flitted up to a blossom and just as quickly flitted away while I sat on my balcony with my journal. Hummingbirds can fly vertically, faster than the blink of an eye. I hoped Anna would get used to me and come back and stay longer. The bees aren’t as shy. They don’t let my presence bother them.
During the last couple of weeks, the little Anna’s has shown up more often but didn’t stay any longer. Then, the other day it flew into my balcony space and hovered for several seconds in front of my face, apparently having realized that I mean it no harm and that a balcony with only two open sides was not a trap. Maybe this meant there’d be more and longer visits.
On the evening of the Fourth, there were hours and hours of booms and bangs. Five hours of listening to bottle rockets and mortars. I hoped my feather friend had a good place to hide. Had she survived? Would she show up today?
What a relief when a tiny feathered creature flashed vertically up to the third-floor balcony. Maybe all that noise yesterday spooked her and she no longer trusted me. But she’d survived and hopefully would learn to trust humans again. That’s all I ask.
Anna’s hummingbird is one of 360 species, which are native to the Americas, with a range from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. In the past, Anna’s used to live in Baja California, but have now spread to the entire Pacific Coast. They weigh 3-6 grams (0.10-0.21 ounces) One third of their weight consists of flight muscles. They beat their wings 40-50 times per second and can fly 25 mph (40 kmph) If they’re courting they fly up to 40 mph (64 kmph) They hover, they fly backward, and even straight up, like mini rockets.
Anna’s hummingbird, named after, Anna Masséna, Duchess of Rivoli. Why anyone would name a bird that’s native to the Pacific Coast of North America after a European duchess, I don’t know.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, American lecturer, poet, essayist, Transcendentalist.
Transcendentalism: an idealistic philosophical and social movement which developed in New England around 1836 in reaction to rationalism. Influenced by romanticism, Platonism, and Kantian philosophy, it taught that divinity pervades all nature and humanity, and its members held progressive views on feminism and communal living. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were central figures.
Do you have bedding plants yet? I didn’t buy any plants from this store, but I bought some at a nearby superstore.
All I have is a small balcony, but I want to fill it with leafy plants and flowers. Online I see photos of Italian house window boxes and apartment building balconies, overflowing with plants and I get envious. The exuberance of these window boxes is bright and cheerful. I suspect my balcony is the only one in the entire complex that’s loaded with flower pots. All the balconies here face the back and there is no car access. I haven’t walked around back to see if other people have balcony gardens. But I’ve driven past other complexes and have seen only one plant decorated balcony. Why don’t more of us do this?
Here are a few of my bedding plants.
Flowers From Other Years:
If you haven’t bought plants yet, it’s not too late. It was late spring when I bought this coleus. It was a leggy plant with only a few leaves on a long stem. No one at the superstore’s garden center had bothered much with the plants that had been left behind–end of season, new stuff to sell. After a few weeks on my balcony, with plenty of sun, water, and a bit of fertilizer, this is what the skinny coleus turned into.
There are four empty pots on my balcony (and eight occupied ones) I’m going to have to go to a garden center and buy a few more flowers. Pots should not be allowed to sit around empty. I need flowers. It makes me happy to see little blossom faces peering over the rim of their container. The blinds in front of the slider are always open, so I can see my “pets” anytime of day or night. I like to sit on my balcony among my plants, have a cup of coffee or tea, and enjoy their beauty. There’s a bit of Italian somewhere in me.
The original picture above is one I took many years ago in Okanogan County, Washington, using a twin-lens reflex camera. It was big and bulky, required roll film, and hung from my neck on a broad strap. At the time, it wasn’t a pain in the neck, but no doubt would be now. For a while, I was in love with that camera. Took it everywhere. I was also in love with black and white film.
For a while, I toyed with the idea of a career in photography. I could spend hours in the darkroom, developing and processing the film and making prints. Watching prints in a developer bath as an image appeared on what had once been white paper was like magic.
The warm brown color is a result, not of the aging of the photograph, but from a sepia toner bath. Sepia ink comes from cuttlefish. Centuries ago the ink was used for writing and for drawing by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt, and other Old Masters.
Sadly, the twin-lens reflex camera was stolen during a break-and-enter at my old house.
My little Canon digital camera took the photo of my original print. I love this camera, too. It’s great not to have to buy roll film or try to figure out “F” stops and exposure time. The camera does it all. But that can also create problems, such as over or underexposure. No pain in the neck if I wear the camera around my neck on a slender strap, instead of carrying it in my pocket or purse. I love that I can upload photos in mere seconds. That’s like magic, too.
It’s easy to spend hours messing with the uploaded photos, too–improving sharpness and color, cropping, and rotating. Adding sepia, and other tones can be done with my photo program filters instead of in a messy bath. If I don’t like the results, I can remove the color tones. Instead of bending over a print and using a tiny brush making eensy dots to fill unwanted spots, I can do it in a second with the click of a mouse.
Although I love taking and sharing pictures, making a living as a photographer was never practical for me. My original intent in enrolling in a photography classes was to illustrate articles I wrote, maybe even published a book of photographs and essays or poetry. That, too, fell by the wayside. I’m primarily a fiction writer. Now I provide pictures for my blog, my social media platforms, and for the enjoyment of the hobby, recording magnificent beauty and also the loveliness of small, ordinary things that people tend to pay little attention to. With my camera I can say, look at this–see how remarkable it is?
Early morning is a wonderful time of day. The air is fresh and brisk. Dew is on the grass. The colors in the sky can be dazzling. I seldom experience any of this beauty. I sleep through that magical time of day. Most of the time. If I happen to be up at that hour, it’s usually involuntary, having to get up for some reason, no noisy neighbors this time. Maybe it was a dream which I’ve forgotten that woke me. Usually, I sleep through dawn. If I happen to be up, and circumstances permit, I go back to bed.
This morning I happened to be up just as the sun was rising. I may have been half asleep, but I was awake enough to grab my camera when I saw the sun peeking over the top of the Cascade Mountains. I always keep the blinds to my slider open for that very reason. Sometimes the moon peeks in; sometimes the sun peeks in. I keep my camera handy for just such moments.
The last time I photographed a magnificent sunrise, the day turned drab. Today lived up to the promise of dawn.
I hadn’t put a robe on when I crawled out of bed. I hardly noticed the chill morning air as I concentrated on taking photos, but I had to open the slider to get some decent exposures. It was around 40F (4.4 C) so I didn’t linger very long.
After I photographed the rising sun, I turned southeast and made a couple of exposures of Rainier.
Some people feel closed in by mountains. I feel protected, even though I know this is a volcano that could erupt. Life if full of perils wherever you happen to live. There’s no point in worrying about what may happen in the hundred years. Just enjoy the splendor.