Fire Weather

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.

Photo taken September 10, 2022, from her home by S.a. Tudhope.

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.

Summer of 2016 on my balcony when the air was still clean.

We have wildfires every year but in the past, they weren’t as pervasive.

Same balcony, different view. August 5, 2017.

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.

Photo by S.a. Tudhope. September 10, 2022.

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?

An Explosive Anniversary

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.

Mt. St. Helens on May 18, 1980

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.

Harry R. Truman.

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.

Mt. St. Helens and Spirit Lakve beore the eruption.

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.

Harry wasn’t fond of old people. I’m sure he’d rather have this guy for a neighbor.

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 death toll isn’t certain. A couple of people were reported missing but turned up alive. It’s not certain if the people who were found later were the missing individuals or people with the same name.

April Dawn

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.

This is the scene that caught my eye as I shuffled into the living area.
A few seconds later.
These photos were taken within the space of a minute or so.

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.

Sometimes you get so busy taking pictures that you don’t even notice what your camera is seeing. I didn’t see the halo effect around the tree until I uploaded my photos.

After I photographed the rising sun, I turned southeast and made a couple of exposures of Rainier.

Our magnificent, eternally snow-covered monarch.

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.

Ghosts & Ghost Towns of Washington

Photos by Robert Ruth (used with permission)

Washington state may be as far west as you can go in the continental United States, but as far as I can tell, most people don’t associate it with the Far West, also known as the Wild West. Probably because when many people think of Washington, they think of urban Seattle. In fact, may people think that Seattle is all there is to Washington. Not true, there is much more to our state than the mostly urbanized west side. However, the Old West can still be encountered in Eastern Washington.

This isn’t a blog dedicated to tourism, but there are some places in my state that I’m particularly fond of and want to write about. It’s been a long time since I visited Okanogan County, but I still have fond memories of it and immediately recognize much of its landscape and many of its buildings in photographs, even though it’s been years since I last saw them.

All these photos were taken in Okanogan County, which is Washington’s largest county and is located in the north central regions of the state. It adjoins the Canadian border.

You can no longer stay at the Nighthawk Hotel, unless you’re a ghost. Nighthawk is supposedly the quintessential ghost town. I love the name. I was there for a Ghost Towns of Washington photography workshop. We were warned that we wouldn’t be welcomed by whatever human presence remained. Nevertheless, I did a bit of wandering around and photographing. Nobody drove me off with a shotgun. I also love this old hotel. It’s just the sort of thing you’d see in a Western movie or TV series.

Before European settlers arrived this area was home to various indigenous peoples. The name of the county derives from the name of an indigenous nation.

Mining, forestry, and fur trade fueled the county’s economy in its early days. Agriculture and tourism dominate the local economy now. Mining towns that have not become ghost towns have become agricultural communities.

There are still plenty of Wild West tourist attractions in Okanogan County. The most famous one is probably the Omak Stampede, also known as the Famous Suicide Race, held in August. During the race horse and riders charge down a steep hill, across the Okanogan River to the rodeo grounds on the other side.

The town of Chesaw had a brief Gold Rush boom. It hosts a Fourth of July rodeo every year. And in the town of Tonasket there is a steam threshing bee in September, where you can see the equipment that was used before the invention of the internal combustion engine.’

You might see a steam engine like this one at the Tonasket Threshing Bee, but probably not the ghost of the old farmer. Robert is good at being a ghost.
This time Robert is the ghostly denizen of the town of Molson. It isn’t just a ghost town. The entire town and several of its buildings, including this one, is a museum. The population, at last count, was only about two dozen, but the place draws several thousand visitors a year to photograph its charming attractions. I loved Molson, too.
When the people moved out, the plants moved in. Is any place where humans once lived ever actually empty, albeit abandoned? Plants live there. Mice and other small animals occupy its nooks and crannies, while bats and birds live under the roof. Hopes, dreams, and memories might also still hover within the walls.
This is a haunting photo of ghostly Joanne Perry Ruth. Her body may be gone, but her spirit lingers. Who is she waiting for? Is she looking into the past? Has she given up hope? They say hope springs eternal, so perhaps she hasn’t given up quite yet.

If I look at these photos often enough and long enough, maybe I’ll come up with a story to go with them. Or maybe the photos and what I’ve already written are story enough. Or visitors to my blog might come up with their own stories.

The Last Day of Winter

A Photo Essay

I have not adjusted these photos.

Five-forty p.m.

The Cascades don’t hide as often as Rainier. The Mountain creates its own weather. It and the Pacific Ocean both have a major effect on our climate here in Western Washington.

Seconds later than the first photo.

I love big, billowy clouds like these. Clouds make the sky more interesting, even when they’re gray. As long as they’re not a flat gray, like dirty sheets.

Fifteen minutes later as darkness falls
Same time as the above photo. I love these two trees, they seem like stalwart friends.
About seven minutes later, just after six. I’m so fortunate to have this grand view of trees and sky from my balcony.
Just after six. The clouds look even more threatening.

As I write this, it’s four hours later and no storm has materialized. I can see that the sky is still cloudy, but it looks much tamer now. There’s a broad dark band across the horizon. The sky looks grayer to the north, more blue to the south, toward Rainier, which has been hiding in the clouds all day.

The clouds were nearly as interesting during the middle of the day, not tumultuous at all.

Flaming Sky

Views from Tacoma, Washington, US

Some of these photos were taken in the fall. One was taken in the summer. Except for the leaves in the second photo, it’s hard to tell the difference. The autumn ones were taken around half past six in the morning. The summer one was taken around four.

The tall fir on the right points at Mt. Rainier. On this day, the Monarch of Washington was hiding in the clouds.
Even without the mountains to enhance the photo the view is better to the east. Too many trees in the way when I look west. Sometimes the entire sky flames. I see these views more often because my living room faces east. This photo was taken the morning of the summer Solstice, two minutes after four.
Fog in the valley. Cascade Mountains in the background. I love fog. The spots of light are where building are. It’s nice to have them hidden sometimes.
Sometimes the Cascades are visible even when Rainier is not.
There’s that tree, pointing at Rainier.

Rainier was named by Captain George Vancouver of the Royal Navy, who in the late 18th Century explored the Pacific Northwest Coast. The person who was honored by having a magnificent mountain named after him was Peter Rainier, another captain in the British navy.

The native Salishan speakers called the mountain Talol, Tacoma, or Tahoma. The meaning of the name is unclear. Some linguists think it means snow-covered mountain. That seems the most logical meaning to me since Rainier is covered in snow, and glaciers, year-round.

The city of Tacoma is named after the mountain and would like to see that name restored. Seattlites seem to think the mountain belongs to them, even though it’s closer to Tacoma, so they prefer the name, Rainier.

Abandoned Washington

Forlorn Places and Things in Eastern Washington

Photos by Robert Ruth, (used with permission)

This is what the “Wild West” looked like in reality–people’s homes. In previous centuries, it was known as the Far West.

This photo by Robert Ruth enchants me. I love the limited color palette, the delicate pastels in the sky. The huge moon. And how soft the foliage looks; how it seems to be embracing and protecting the buildings.

Today I’m featuring the photographs of my friend, Robert Ruth. He and his wife, Joanne Perry Ruth, also a talented photographer, travel all over Washington taking amazing photos, many of which are of abandoned places and things in our state.

Robert’s photos captivated me because of the magic he does with light. He knows how to use it to bring inanimate objects to vivid life and give them personality. His work piques my imagination and prompts questions. 

Where did the people who left these places and objects behind go? Why did they abandon their homes and their dreams? Poor harvests? Illness or disability? The death of the main provider? Or did they move on to bigger and better things?

I’ve included Robert’s comments about his images. My comments are in italics.

On the last full moon, I photographed this old homestead in Grant County. I was truly surprised to see this meteor when I processed the image at home. Most of the time it is airplanes or satellites, nothing cool like an actual meteor. I try really hard to photograph abandoned places in unique and interesting ways…. a meteor is certainly an added bonus.

I’ve never before seen a house built into a hill. What do you suppose that pile of rocks is? A collapsed fireplace? I love the colors and texture of these old boards. The foliage seems to embrace and protect the house. I wonder what it was like living here?

This building was built into the hill behind it with a rock wall and had a rock partition along the side. A drone image from Grant County.

What a handsome old house. I love the bay window. It seems like it would have been a great place to live. The varigated colors of the board are beautiful, as are the soft colors of the grass.

All the best places Joanne and I find, we name. For example, we call this the Bay House. We have the Nut House, the Deer House, the Sage House and so many more. When I am talking to Joanne about a particular house and call it by its name she knows exactly what place I am talking about without me having to explain the trip and the location. Crazy I know but it works for us. The Bay House was photographed with a drone in Grant County.

If the people don’t want this house, we’ll move in.”

I had a pleasant surprise trying to photograph this eloquent old house. It was situated near a field of yellow, my plan was to capture the two together. As I focused the shot, two pigeons landed, one on the door.

I included this photo because I’ve been here, but not up on the flume. And because it shows the beauty of the landscape. I recognized it immediately from Robert’s photo, even though it’s ages since I’ve been there. I love Okanogan County and would gladly visit it again.

If you ever drive east from Loomis to Tonasket and look up at the southern ridge you’ll see this old water flume built in the early 1900s. Curious, I flew the drone up from the valley below. I can’t imagine what it took to build this irrigation system with picks, shovels, and dynamite. In doing research, I found a recounting by Harry A Sherling who actually worked on this very flume in 1916 at the age of 16.

“The Whitestone irrigation project had been started before 1916, as there was quite a long piece of weathered flume from Toats Coulee creek which we hooked onto. Entering Loomis from the east you see this flume winding its way around the rock cliff. Here is a feat I think is worthy of mention, the blasting out of a footing for this flume. Three men stood on a plank suspended about 8 or 10 feet from the rim of the cliff. On this narrow footing, they drilled (two striking and one turning the drill) and blasted out the footing for the flume. Though it was quite a drop into the sharp rocks below, they used no safety ropes, but insisted that I do so, as I worked behind them, boring out the loose rock after blasts.”

Robert says this is the base of an old stove. It might once have heated a house like one of the ones in the above photos. Is it any wonder so many people love antiques? Who can find this kind of craftsmanship today? And if you can, it’s rare and expensive. I even love the rust on this metal work. I can almost feel the texture of the floorboards.
Looks at what age and oxidation can do to an old car and its door handle. It takes and artist’s eye to recognize the beauty in something that’s seemingly worthless.

Car door handle: Rather than photographing the whole abandoned vehicle, sometimes individual parts can tell more of a story.

The photographer and his “awesome wife.” She’s a lucky woman and he’s pretty lucky too. I use quote not because she’s not awesome, but because I’m quoting Robert/