Technically they aren’t really in Walla Walla. They are mostly in northern Oregon. But windmills now cover the crests of the hills surrounding this small town know primarily as the center of the wine industry in Washington.
I went out last week with a small group of photographers and was stunned by what we found: miles and miles of enormous windmills – some still under construction. Here are just a few of the images from the shoot.
At the same shoot I got a couple of other things:
Images taken October 2009.
Every year the Skagit Valley, about 60 miles north of Seattle, celebrates spring with its annual tulip festival. Last year Bob and I planned to get up early one Sunday morning so we would be there at dawn - to get the best light. We imagined the fields of tulips sparkling in the first glimmer of daylight. The weather forecast was the default forecast for this part of the country: partly cloudy, possible rain. I think that has been the forecast for every spring day since we moved to Seattle. It can mean heavy rains, no rain, early morning overcast followed by a clear cloudless sky, almost anything really. So when we woke to rain we thought nothing of it and forged ahead, hoping that 60 miles would make a difference. But when we arrived the rain persisted. So much for the early morning light. Also we had forgotten to check field reports to see if the tulips were actually blooming. They were not. We did find fields of daffodils - but no tulips.
Undaunted we decided to try it again this year. Once again we rose before dawn and ignored the weather forecast. But this time we did check field reports and were assured that we would find the tulips in full bloom. Below are a few photographs I took last Sunday. The first was taken before dawn, when the area was still blanketed with fog. The others speak for themselves.
Just back from a trip to Miami I am reminded of the now classic book The Nine Nations of North America in which Joel Garreau describes North America as nine regions with cultures so distinctive that they seem to be independent nations. Although parts of the book (originally published in 1981) are dated and I still want to quibble about some of the boundaries, I couldn’t help feeling that Miami is as different from Seattle as Paris is from Berlin. Indeed Seattle has far more in common with Vancouver than it does with Denver, Chicago, or Boston.
The nine nations according to Garreau are:
• New England
• The Foundry
• The Islands
• The Empty Quarter
• The Breadbasket
He also identifies three aberrations:
• Washington DC
Having lived in four of the nations and two of the three aberrations I believe that Garreau’s approach has much more to recommend it than the red state/blue state division that has become so popular. Miami (capital of The Islands) sounds, smells and feels like an island. Atlanta, capital of Dixie, would never be confused with Detroit. It’s more than the look and feel of the places, it’s also the values and attitudes of the people.
The Garreau Group maintains a website that describes the regions in detail and adds “new stuff.” As useful as I think the book still is, I wish Garreau would do a complete rewrite. Thinking only about Ecotopia, the last 26 years have brought a technology driven economy, an Asian looking culture, and a new emphasis on education with Seattle housing the most educated populace in the US. Yes, we still care about the environment and enjoy the magnificent land but other elements have been added. I’m guessing that a new study would reveal an intensification of the characteristics that make each region so distinctive. After all, on this trip Miami seemed even more like an island than it did the last time I visited.
Image: Taken by Bob, Miami, May 2007.
I’ve always been fascinated by the way people describe the weather. Growing up in Dallas I loved to watch a blue norther move in across the plains. You could see the wind pushing the clouds along before your actually felt the first chill breeze. Later, living in Boston, I learned first hand about the power and ferocity of a nor’easter as three blizzards in three weeks buried the city. In Cleveland we watched out for Canadian clippers, fast moving weather patterns that brought a plunge in temperatures from our northern neighbors.
Living in Seattle we are learning new terms. Sun breaks are exactly what they sound like, brief periods of sun in an otherwise overcast day. When the weather is clear we talk about the mountain being out – the mountain in this case is our beloved Mount Rainier. A silver thaw is a clear coating of ice – beautiful but deadly. But my favorite so far is pineapple express, a term used to describe what happens when the Pacific Ocean subtropical jet stream brings moisture-laden air from Hawaii to our part of the world. If you breathe deeply you can almost smell the sunshine through the rain.
Image: A sun break over the Olympic mountains, taken January 2007.
Several days ago Bob and I attended a reception to celebrate education technology innovation. Although most of the attendees were specifically interested in the use of technology and innovation to enhance K-12 schools, one of the speakers, Ken Kay, had a lot to say that we should all be paying attention to.
Ken Kay is the President of Partnership for 21st Century Skills and Chairman of Infotech Strategies. In a five-minute presentation at a stand-up wine and cheese reception he managed to capture our imaginations and inspire us to believe that schools can become effective in changing the lives of children and the adults they will become. He talked about the fact that most of us received “fact based” educations that taught us bodies of information with the expectation that those facts would remain true for at least a sizeable portion of our lives.
As all disciplines have changed – sometimes with blinding speed, even in what we think of as hard science – the notion that teachers can teach and students can learn a significant portion of the facts they will need throughout their lives during their school years seems almost quaint. Ken talked about 21st century skills that we all need to be happy and productive at work and at play. These skills are:
♣ Critical thinking
♣ Problem solving
♣ Life skills
As he talked I couldn’t help thinking that these are skills we all need, regardless of age or level of education. It isn’t enough to try to cultivate these skills among our children (although we should certainly do that). It is, in fact, hard to imagine teaching these skills without having them yourself. These are skills that need to be embedded in everything we do and cultivated in on-the-job training and the way we run our organizations. These are skills that can help us make better choices and be more productive as employees, as citizens, and as human beings.
For more information about these skills, the latest report is available for download.
Image taken June 2006.
Tucked into the far northwestern corner of the contiguous United States and just 72 miles west of Seattle, the Olympic National Park is a study in contrast. Nowhere else in the United States can you find towering mountains, a rugged shoreline and temperate rainforests within an area easily accessible in a single day.
Like the original Mount Olympus, the mountains of the ONP seem to be a home for the gods with peaks that reach to nearly 8000 feet with glaciers and glacier shaped valleys. They provide a home for endangered and not so endangered plants and animals (over 20 of which are found no place else on earth) and an opportunity for us poor mortals to literally climb above it all.
And just a few hours away the coastal areas of the Olympic Peninsula are unlike any we had ever seen before. Beaches are covered with enormous logs, trunks of trees washed from the banks of rivers running through the forests that are later scrubbed of their branches and washed back onto the beach where they protect the sea cliffs behind them. Beyond, jutting out of the ocean enormous sea stacks provide refuge for the many species of birds that make up one of the largest seabird colonies in the United States.
Image: Ruby beach with large tidepool in the foreground and sea stacks in the background, taken September 2006
But nothing had quite prepared us for the rain forest where rainfall of up to 140 – 167 inches a year (that’s over 12 feet of rain) nourishes an eco-system rich in plant growth: layer upon layer of vegetation, huge ancient trees up to 1000 years old, and the phenomenon of nurse logs that support new growth unable to find space on the forest floor.
A visit to the ONP makes it easy to understand why people in the Pacific Northwest are so committed to maintaining a healthy environment. Looking up at a 1000 year old tree has a way of putting things in perspective. It reminds us how connected life is and gives us a reason to honor it. And in the short term, there is nothing like a nice hike through a beautiful place to restore our spirit.
Image: Trees growing out of a nurse log taken in the Hoh rain forest September 2006.
Contributing to your community in large and small ways either through donations or services is a time honored American tradition. Many of our largest and most cherished institutions started with individual philanthropy. Names of people with great wealth like Carnegie, Getty and Guggenheim have become synonymous with the libraries and art museums they created. And throughout the country volunteers contribute generously to improve schools, assist at hospitals, and help the homeless.
In Seattle, the practice of giving back to the community is so much a part of the culture that failure to contribute is tantamount to being a freeloader in a union shop. At the highest end the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, now the largest foundation in the world, is working to improve world health, assist in the economic development of the poorest countries, and ensure that everyone has access to information through their local public libraries.
But giving goes far beyond Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and others whose wealth exceeds what most of us can imagine. In the short time we have been in Seattle we have met no one who does not contribute in some way to the community. We have met people who deliver meals on wheels, raise money for the homeless, contribute to the new Olympic Sculpture Park, help out at schools, and take time off from work to participate in election activities. People support those organization and services that help make Seattle the kind of community they want to live in.
Just yesterday Bob told me about an organization that gives back in a very special way. Founded by the photographer Lynette Huffman Johnson, Soulumination offers her services free of charge to families facing the death of a child. The results of her work are moving and I urge you to click on the link above to visit her site. It is clear that she is giving her special talents to help people during a particularly stressful time. It’s a wonderful example of what people do.
In the world of nature photography Art Wolfe is a rock star. Last weekend Bob and I had the opportunity to spend three days with Art in a workshop he conduct on the Olympic Peninsula. Suggested by Bruce Moore , another Seattle photographer, the workshop proved to be better than we had ever imagined. Great people, a beautiful place, and hints and tips on how to take a respectable photograph.
After many years of photographing some of the most beautiful places on earth, Art is deeply involved in promoting environmental sanity. He believes, and we agree, that the emotional impact of a photograph can go a long way toward helping people understand the importance of our relationship with the earth around us. As part of this effort, The Environmental Photography Invitational (EPI) will open this Friday and run through June 30 at the Art Wolfe Gallery, 1944 First Avenue South in Seattle. It's worth a detour.
Image: the Olympic National Park taken during the workshop, May 2006.