Autumn Shows Off University Sculpture Garden

The crisp, clear autumn days of the Pacific Northwest draw you outdoors to garden, hike or just take a walk, as I did one recent Sunday.  I borrowed my neighbor’s dog, Tuppie, and together we strolled down the hill and onto the campus of Western Washington University (WWU).  WWU is a beautiful setting this time of year for a leisurely walk.  It’s a long campus that stretches across 220 acres and backs up against the 620-foot hill of Sehome Arboretum this time of year, the deciduous trees of the arboretum turn a golden yellow and are stunning against the deep color of the towering evergreens.

The campus is full of color too as the trees there, set against the red brick and brown stone buildings, are vibrant reds, oranges and yellows and shed their leaves to carpet the walkways through the commons.

“The Man Who Used to Hunt Cougars for Bounty” by Richard Beyer overlooks the commons at Western Washington University with the Old Main Administration building in the background.

I’m fortunate to live close to campus so that on weekends, when the campus is quiet and crowd free, I can take a relaxing walk through it.  The university is home to one of the finest college contemporary outdoor sculpture collections in the United States.  Founded in 1960, the collection has grown to include at least 37 public sculptures in large part due to funding from the state’s one percent for art program the National Endowment for the Arts and through the generosity of the Virginia Wright Fund.

Richard Serra’s massive iron sculpure Wright’s Triangle frames a golden tree on WWU’s campus.

Scattered throughout the campus are monumental works by such renown sculptors as Richard Serra, Mark di Suvero, Isamu Noguchi, Beverly Pepper, Nancy Holt and Tom Otterness. It’s amazing to be able to amble through at one’s leisure, stopping along the way to study and view these public art pieces.  Autumn is an especially wonderful time to admire and photograph them because the rich colors of the season seemed to bring out the weathered patinas of the works.

On this particular autumn day, I decided to photograph some of them even though I had only the camera on phone with which to do it. (Poor planning on my part.) Seeing them against the autumn palette of the campus trees and vegetation painted vivid images. Tuppie, my black and white canine companion on this day, was patient as I squatted, knelt down, backed up and moved in and out searching for the best angle that would convey what I was seeing.  Fortunately, she was happy enough to sniff out the surrounding territory as I was angling about.

One of the charming figures from Tom Otterness’ sculpture, “Feats of Strength,” found in Western Washington University’s outdor sculpture collection.

I have personal favorites in the collection:  Tom Otterness’ goonie-like figures of his “Feats of Strength,” Nancy Holt’s  beautiful Celtic-like brown stone “Stone Enclosure: Rock Rings,” Richard Serra’s massive iron wedges of his “Wright’s Triangle,” and Alice Aycock‘s archeological influenced “The Islands of the Rose Apple Tree Surrounded by the Oceans of the World for You, Oh My Darling.”  But the one I go back to time and again is unquestionably Noguchi’s “Skyviewing Sculpture” that’s prominently positioned in the northeastern corner of what is known as “Red Square” on campus.

Noguchi’s “Skyviewing Scultpure” is one of my favorite pieces in the WWU outdoor sculpture collection.

Red Square is an expansive red brick plaza surrounded on three sides by classroom buildings on three sides and the university’s library on one.  Near the center is a big circular pool with a fountain that sprays jets of water high overhead. Noguchi’s big iron block sculpture sits diagonally from the fountain.  It’s balanced on three corners with huge holes punched through its three upward-facing sides so that when standing beneath it your gaze is directed skyward. There’s something very hopeful to me about this sculpture because it raises you up, just by unconsciously forcing you to look upward.  I love standing inside, watching the clouds above shift and change.  And when you’re within the sculpture, it’s as if you’re observing everything outside of it unseen as people pass by.

“For Handel” by Mark di Suvero sits on the plaza in front of the university’s fine arts building.

The newest addition to the collection is a split boulder, polished on its two faces and dotted with subtle pastel dots that remind me of the colors I saw at Arizona’s Grand Canyon.  “Split Stone, Northwest,” by Sarah Sze was installed in May, 2019.  It sits on the grassy lawn with the university’s Old Main Administration building rising in the background. At one time, another sculpture, Donald Judd‘s “Untitled” stood near here but was removed five years ago to be restored after the welded seams that held together the structure’s steel slabs began to deteriorate. The sculpture has just recently been resited on campus, on the grassy area next to the university’s Flag Plaza at the south end of the campus. I have yet to see it in its new spot as this autumn walk took place before the piece was replaced.

The burning orange leaves of the tree as seen through Lloyd Hamrol’s “Log Ramps” looked to me like a campfire.

One hour after I had set out with Tuppie for a 30-minute dog walk, I was back home, refreshed by having taken the time to not only stop at some of the sculptures but to capture them in the morning autumn light and color.  Even though I have taken that same path many times over, today’s was like a new adventure.  It’s the impact that public art, like this university’s incredible collection, can have on a person.

Alice Aycock’s sculpture “The Islands of the Rose Apple Tree is Surrounded by the Oceans of the World for You, Oh My Darling” is tucked on the lawn beside the Science, Math and Technology Education building.


Celebrating Autumn’s Bounty at Cloud Mountain

Cloud Mountain Farm Center’s Fruit Festival celebrates the bounty of fall.

Fall was in full season at the Fruit Festival this past weekend at the Cloud Mountain Farm Center in Everson, a small town that lies right on the Canadian border.  Until a few years ago, the festival was known as the Harvest Festival and the place was a working farm and native plant nursery known as Cloud Mountain Farm.

My friends, Cheryl and Tom Thornton, owned and operated the farm for 33 years. Seven years ago, the farm was converted into a non-profit learning center dedicated to providing hands-on learning experiences to aspiring farmers, experienced farmers, and home gardeners, continuing the work the Thorntons have always done through the years.

A volunteer shows two youngsters how to press apples for cider.

The Thorntons still live at the farm but now they are joined everyday by as many as eight paid interns who participate in an eight-month educational program to learn the practices of good, sustainable farm techniques. They study plant propagation, tree fruit production, viticulture, market development, and vegetable production to prepare them to be farm owners, key farm employees or entrepreneurs and professionals involved in the agricultural industry or advocacy.

People from all over the region seek out Tom’s advice and expertise.

At the heart of it, of course, are my friends, Cheryl and Tom.  Cheryl handles most of the business and marketing side of the farm, as she has done for years.  Tom oversees the hands-on educational side, as he has done for years becoming one of, if not the apple expert in Washington state and maybe the region.  People from all over have brought their fruit and vegetable-growing questions to Tom and learned from his expertise through the hundreds of workshops he’s conducted for weekend gardeners and industry professionals.

My husband and I headed out to the farm yesterday morning, as we have done in many years past but not recently, to see what was going on. Although the day was cloudy (it is Cloud Mountain remember?) and chilly, the back field by the grape vines were already full of cars when we arrived shortly after it opened. Little kids were scampering down the road from the field to the festival area with their parents close behind.  Lines were already formed at the tasting tent where visitors could sample all the different types of apples, pears, cherries, grapes grown on the farm.

I stopped off first at the farm’s main barn to say ‘Hello’ to Cheryl, who was at the register checking out festival goers purchasing  five-pound bags of apples and pears. As she became busier, I wandered off to a hot-house where the band, Bridge, had begun to play.

The band, Bridge, entertained while festival goers sampled fruit.

Music has always been part of the festival and listening to Bridge reminded of the year that the band in which my sons and Thorntons’ daughter, Julia, performed at the festival. They were middle-schoolers at the time, all students of musician Ginny Snowe, a wonderful piano teacher who had put the band together in a summer music camp. The kids turned out to be so enthusiastic and good that they stayed together long after the camp to write music and play gigs at schools, festivals and other events.

While still middle schoolers, the band Switch played at Cloud Mountain’s Harvest Festival.

Known as Switch, their little band actually launched the music careers of some of the band members, including Julia who’s now a professional musical director and pianist; Jeff, who’s rapidly becoming one of the country’s best classical saxophonists and finishing up a PhD at the University of Michigan; and my son, Marshall, a drummer who’s plays professionally with several bands in Seattle one of them being, until recently the funk band, The Fabulous Party Boys.  (The band was a subject of another of my blog posts.)

Take a guess at the weight of the pumpkin and win a prize if you’re right.

Julia also grew pumpkins that she harvested each fall and sold at the festival to earn money for college. The pile of pumpkins is still there but Julia no longer grows them. Her sister, Cara, however, had brought her young daughters from Seattle for the day to help out and perhaps start another family tradition at the festival.

Sue swirls caramel onto an apple during the Fruit Festival.

As Bridge played, volunteers Sue and Burt Weber, twirled thick, yummy caramel around Cloud Mountain apples to hand to young customers. Cooks from Bellingham’s restaurant, Keenan’s, was serving up tasty snack dishes made from local products at the farm at another table. And another volunteer was answering questions and sharing material about the farm center at a third table.

I headed over to the tasting tent where Tom was slicing up pieces of pears for people. He handed me a slice of Rescue, a pair so named because, as he explained, a nursery grower near Vancouver, Washington (Buckley, WA. to be exact) found the species and saved the tree from being destroyed.  The fruit was sweet and buttery and nearly melted in my mouth.  Next, Tom gave me sample of the Seckel pear,that Tom said is considered native to Pennsylvania, maybe the only true American pears. It’s said to be named after a local farmer who found a “wild sapling” growing on a farm just outside Philadelphia late 1700’s, according to some accounts.  The small, reddish-brown pear has a creamy texture and a sweet taste.

Considered the only true American pear, the Seckel was found growing wild on a farm in Pennsylvania in the late 1700s.

My taste tests were interrupted by another pear sampler who had questions for Tom about her own pear trees. This is the kind of thing that happens to Tom all the time, no matter where he is because gardeners and growers locally know that he carries a wealth of agricultural information in his head.

I moved on to the cherry and grape tables before calling it a morning.  People were still arriving as we climbed back into our car with the carton of Cloud Mountain cider and a bag of  apples.  A visit to their farm is always special and welcome, but particularly went the Fall Fruit Festival is underway.  If you missed it this year, there will be another next year.  It’s a great way to start the season and to celebrate the beauty and bounty of this fabulous farm.

The Optimist’s Autumn Ritual

I must be an optimist.  What else could explain why, every year about this time I spend hours in my garden planting hundreds (yes, hundreds) of tulip bulbs?  I do this every autumn despite the fact that I know I will need to do battle with the voracious tulip-devouring deer that frequent my neighborhood.

Every autumn, I gather my gardening tools, my bulb food, my bags of newly purchased tulip bulbs and head out to my flower beds to spend an hour or two. I pull on my gloves and strap on my knee pads and begin  punching holes into the ground with a clever little cone-shaped tool designed to do exactly that.

I gather my tools, slip on my gloves and set out to plant my tulip bulbs.
I gather my tools, slip on my gloves and set out to plant my tulip bulbs.

After years of performing this annual ritual, I have finally developed a system. It may not work for everyone, but it works for me. Punch the holes, place the individual bulbs over each one, then twist and lift out a cylinder of dirt using my bulb planter. Next, I sprinkle a little bulb food or bone meal into the hole, stir it up a bit to mix it into the dirt, drop the bulb into place, then empty out the dirt from my tool back into the hole.  I do this for no less than 15 bulbs at a time as it seems to make the process go more quickly. Once I’ve covered over the planted bulbs, I poke a little red marker into the perimeter of the area  I’ve just worked so that I don’t mistakenly repeat it later.  (Took me a few years to figure that one out.)

In the spring, my hard work pays off with a display of red blooms.
In the spring, my hard work pays off with a display of red blooms.

Usually, I have fairly good luck with this method.  Doesn’t even matter if I accidentally slice in half an old bulb buried deep in the ground from last season because tulips left over from the year before rarely produce good flowers the second or third year. (Unless, of course, you go to the trouble of digging them all up and separate off all the baby bulbs.)

My tulips take over inthe garden just as the daffodils are at the end of their run.
My tulips take over inthe garden just as the daffodils are at the end of their run.

For that reason, I quit wasting my money on the fancier breed of tulips from the nearby tulip farms or ordering the tempting delights found on the pages of the full-color catalogs that  arrived in the mail. Now, I settle for inexpensive bags of 90 sold at a big box store because, as my husband never ceases to remind me, I’m just buying food for the deer.

They are so adorable, but my tulips are like candy to these two. It's not why I plant them.
They are so adorable, but my tulips are like candy to these two. It’s not why I plant them.

If I am diligent and start in February to discourage the deer from having dinner on me, I wind up with a pretty lovely display of color in the spring. If I plan carefully, this springtime show will last for a couple of months. I try not to leave home too much during late March and April, when the flowers are in full bloom, so that I can literally enjoy the ‘flowers of my labor.’ I still like to make trips to the local tulip fields, but I find my own much more gratifying.

So, today I once again don my gardener’s gear, collect my tools and spend some time digging in the soil, performing the exercise of the optimist.  Let me know if you’re an optimist too.

The bright blooms of my tulips pop against the iron dragonfly in my garden.
The bright blooms of my tulips pop against the iron dragonfly in my garden.



Autumn Hike Destresses the Day

There’s nothing like a hike to escape the stresses of a workday.  Especially in autumn. Especially here in the Pacific Northwest.  So when I found myself overloaded one day last week, I picked up the phone and asked one of my buddies if she would like to join me for a short hike.  She had the day off and was happy to spend part of it on the trail.

We had originally hoped to hike that day, to leave early in the morning, drive up to the Mount Baker National Forest and take one of the many wonderful hikes up there. But an eye appointment for her and work issues for me preempted our plans. Besides, the weather forecast was a bit ‘iffy’, as it so often can be here this time of year. Rain was in the forecast and neither of us were excited about hiking in inclement weather.  So we cancelled our plans.  Yet as the day wore on, no rain appeared although the wind had steadily picked up causing white caps to appear on the water in the bay.

There's nothing like an autumn hike to help destress the day.
There’s nothing like an autumn hike to help destress the day.

I spent the morning tackling the things I needed to do in my studio. And when I felt I had most of it under control, I shot off an e-mail to my buddy, whose vision was blurred by the dilation from the eye exam and consequently stuck at home, to see if she’d be up for taking a shorter hike closer to home.  Fortunately for us, we live in a place that has an abundance of greenways, trails and wilderness areas within the city and county limits.

The Lake Whatcom Trail quickly leads you into a woods of towering trees.
The Lake Whatcom Trail quickly leads you into a woods of towering trees.

It’s easy to quickly get to a trailhead within minutes of your home, no matter where you live in the city.  It’s one of the reasons I love living here. The problem is deciding which one to take because there are so many choices.

We settled on one of the easier but still scenic and beautiful trails–the Lake Whatcom Park trail.  It’s a mostly flat, well-maintained trail that starts at the north end of the lake and follows the shoreline for three miles south.  I had not walked that trail for more than year and quickly agreed when my friend suggested it. I picked her up and together we drove out to the park entrance and the parking lot.  This trail, because of its proximity and relative ease, is a popular one for people with families and dogs. The parking lot is usually full, particularly on our warmer summer days. As this was a weekday, and in the middle of the afternoon, there were only a few cars.

Gorgeous sculptural tree roots cling to the boulders and old growth stumps.
Gorgeous sculptural tree roots cling to the boulders and old growth stumps.

The great thing about this trail is that you are quickly into the forest.  And a few minutes later, the trail descended out of woods to follow the shoreline. From there on, we had the lake on side and a densely green woods on the other.  Occasionally, there would be outcroppings of huge boulders from which trees somehow found a way to cling.  Surprisingly, much of the deciduous foliage was still very green. I had expected to find much more color on the leaves and had brought along my capture to hopefully record it.  I guess the nights have not yet been cold enough to bring out all the fall brilliance although in the section of the city where I live, which is at a little higher elevation, autumn is in full swing.

Trees along the trail hadn't yet changed to autumn color although this little leaf seems to be doing its best to encourage the rest.
Trees along the trail hadn’t yet changed to autumn color although this little leaf seems to be doing its best to encourage the rest.

There was still plenty to photograph and kindly, my friend waited patiently as I stopped along the way to set up and capture a shot.  The clouds above the lake were dark and threatening, but no rain.

The Lake Whatcom Trail follows the beautiful northern edge of the lake where stormy clouds added to the drama on this day.
The Lake Whatcom Trail follows the beautiful northern edge of the lake where stormy clouds added to the drama on this day.

The white-capped waves crashed against the logs that had fallen and lay on the shore as we set out, but later calmed some. The waterfalls that ordinarily tumble full down the cliff side were there but only a thin stream of what they would have been during a wetter year. It was possible to see them  from the trail through the branches of golden leaves but could have been easily missed. Still there was plenty for my friend and I to stop and admire and investigate.

Neither I nor my friend were sure what this growth was at the end of the fallen and moss-covered log.
Neither I nor my friend were sure what this growth was at the end of the fallen and moss-covered log.

We only encountered a handful of people on the trail this day.  It was nearly like we had the place to ourselves.  We didn’t walk all the way to the end, turning around to retrace our steps at the two mile marker.  By the time we arrived back at the parking lot, we had been out just about an hour and a half.  Not so long that I couldn’t get back to my desk and finish up what I needed to do but long enough to give us both a much-needed refresher from the stresses of that day.

An Autumn Hike

Autumn is in full bloom here in beautiful Bellingham and the Pacific Northwest.  The season has made for some fabulous portrait photography settings for my high school seniors and family clients.  (Will share a few of those in a separate post.) I promised a while ago to share with you some of this year’s autumnal photographic treats from my personal portfolio and am finally taking a breather from my portrait work to do exactly that.

I have been itching to get out and take advantage of the gorgeous weather and color to take a photographic hike.   I decided this morning was the morning.  The fog was thick this morning but it makes for great mood.  I picked up a friend and the two of us went for a short hike nearby.  Just enough to quench my thirst for photographing some fall foliage.

The overhanging tree limb frames the leave-strewn trail.
The overhanging tree limb frames the leave-strewn trail.

I always think of the great nature photographer, Eliot Porter, when I’m on one of these outings. His work has long inspired me.  I have several books of his photographs in my collection and have been fortunate to see some of his work firsthand.  The composition, printing and color control of his images is masterful.

This has been a great fall for spider webs. They are such works of art. This one sparkled in the early morning sun.
This has been a great fall for spider webs. They are such works of art. This one sparkled in the early morning sun.

For most of his career (he died in 1990), he used a view camera, which is why his images have such depth and detail to them.  What he would have done with a digital camera one can only guess.  If you ever have an opportunity to see his work in a museum, gallery or work, I urge you do so.  Am sure you’ll be just as inspired as I am.

Often it's the smallest details that make the shot.
Often it’s the smallest details that make the shot.

One of the things that studying Porter’s images has taught me is to look for the little details, As a journalist, I did this all the time on my assignments. It’s those small details that can make the story or photograph.

The Pacific Northwest is so lush with vegetation that it's at times almost too rich for the eyes.
The Pacific Northwest is so lush with vegetation that it’s at times almost too rich for the eyes.

Sometimes it’s hard to focus in on the smaller details, especially when you are faced with such, rich, lush and verdant surroundings as we have here in the Pacific Northwest.  The question then becomes, for the photographic artist, how to take it all in? When do you include it in its entirety and when do you zoom in to limit the view to one significant aspect?  Those artistic decision become the fun, as well as the challenges to evaluating your images.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this ‘virtual’ autumn walk in the woods with me.  And if you have, please ‘follow’ my blog for future posts and share them with your friends.  Together, we can have great photographic adventures!

So many spiders had taken up residence in this one area that I just had to made a visual record of their 'urban village.'
So many spiders had taken up residence in this one area that I just had to made a visual record of their ‘urban village.’

The turning maple leaves,  their edges polka dotted with dark spots, dramatically contrast against the morning's gray, foggy sky.
The turning maple leaves, their edges polka-dotted with dark spots, dramatically contrast against the morning’s gray, foggy sky.