A few weeks ago, Cobalt and I visited one of the ghost forests along the PNW coast. These forests were formed as a result of the great Cascadia earthquake on January 26, 1700 (super interesting story for how they figured out that date). During the quake, pieces of forests along the coast dropped away and the trees found their roots in salt marshes. These trees don’t like salty water, so they died, leaving behind eerie tree skeletons that remain to this day.
I first found out about ghost forests from reading Sandi Doughton’s book “Full Rip 9.0” and I’ve been obsessed with them ever since. Unfortunately, the closest ghost forest to Cobalt and me requires a boat to get to it, so we haven’t visited that one yet. The easiest ghost forest to get to in the area is the Neskowin Ghost Forest because it’s just hanging out on Neskowin Beach on the coast of Oregon. Anyone who’s willing to cross a shallow creek can see those ghost trees. So when Cobalt and I decided to take a vacation to the Oregon coast, I made sure we paid them a visit.
This ghost forest is interesting because apparently the trees were completely buried until the epic 1997-1998 storm season exposed them. Now they host an assortment of mussels and barnacles, and sometimes even tide pools, so it’s double fun — see the ghost forest AND sea stars (can you find the sea star in the top photo?).
Cobalt and I got there just after low tide and spent the next hour or so meandering through the forest and searching for crabs (crab pictures coming soon). The weather was perfect: cool and misty, which made our ghost forest experience even more creepy. It was unfortunately pretty crowded, despite it being 8 a.m. on a Thursday. I guess everyone was excited about ghost forests and/or tide pools.
This was not the first ghost forest we’ve seen. We found our first one on accident. In 2019, Cobalt and I were exploring the area of Alaska near Anchorage and we drove past the Girdwood ghost forest. This ghost forest is much newer than the Neskowin ghost forest though, it was formed during an earthquake in 1964.
Hi everyone! How is July going for you so far? I hope good. I just got back from vacation, so I actually have photos to share for once. Waaaaat. I know, right? It’s been a while.
I think they split roughly into three posts, so let’s see if we can Get. This. Done.
Post number 1 (if you couldn’t tell from the featured photo): The strawberry supermoon! In case you were wondering, apparently the June full moon is named “strawberry” because it falls during strawberry season? Thanks space.com.
So up here in the PNW, we have a thing with clouds and fog. It’s not great for viewing celestial events (ex: we missed The Great Conjuction last year because of an epic rain/snow storm — cue Cobalt and me watching it on TV because we found an observatory live-streaming it. Oh what a time to be alive.). On the night of the supermoon, we had some low-hanging clouds, but it looked like the fog was going to hold off. So we headed outside. And waited.
And then Cobalt, who is great at finding things in the sky, said “I think that’s it over there.” There was a bright spot hidden behind the clouds. I played with my camera settings a little to see if we could pull out a moon.
We found the moon! Now to wait for it to get out of the clouds…
Note: I am not very patient, so you get lots of moon-emerging pictures now. :) I mean, if you wanted the picture of the moon not in the clouds, just scroll to the top of this post. Done. OK… on to the emergence.
Once the moon had emerged from the clouds, the adventure was sort of over for me. I mean, I took some photos of it obviously, but it just didn’t feel as epic. Plus it was late, so it was time to go to bed. I’ll leave you with one more fun photo: grass + moon!
Now that our fine comet friend has shifted so that it is visible in the evenings (~80 minutes after sunset, so ~10:20 p.m. Washington state time), it has been cloudy almost every single night. Yesterday it was cloudy all day too, but when I looked outside during our evening Zoom exercise class, I saw blue sky all of a sudden! After class, Cobalt and I went for a walk to get a better idea of the weather. It was relatively clear above us, but still cloudy to the northwest, where NEOWISE has been hanging out in the evenings. Maybe the clouds would continue to roll away in the two hours before NEOWISE was due to be visible in the sky?
We decided to attempt another comet sighting after dinner. We packed the camera and its tripod and headed off to our favorite area to see things west of us. It’s still in the city, but you have to go through some trees to get there, and then you end up looking across Puget Sound. Anyway, we got there at 10 p.m. but then had to turn around because the site has been closed during the pandemic to keep the number of people in the area down.
We drove north and finally turned down a street with a pretty good view of the northwest. There was one couple with masks and binoculars looking up, so we pulled over.
The viewing conditions were not great. The spot had tall trees blocking our view of the sky. And on either side of the trees were VERY BRIGHT streetlights. Also, other people showed up, driving down the street with their headlights blaring and then taking forever to get out of their cars and turn off all their lights. Everyone was staring at the sky, but no one was having much luck finding NEOWISE.
I was having trouble even setting up the camera. Because everything around us was so bright, I couldn’t find or focus on any stars through the viewfinder. And my glasses, which help me see the crisp pinpoints of light, were getting fogged up thanks to my mask. I was getting frustrated.
I took a break from the camera and pulled out a handy article from Sky and Telescope, which has very specific instructions and diagrams for finding the comet: Find the big dipper, it says, and then count three fists below the dipper. Then move a little to the right. I handed my phone to Cobalt to ask him if he could make sense of the diagrams while I struggled with the camera. “I found it!” he said, and motioned for me to move the camera even MORE underneath one of the streetlights. If I squinted to where he was pointing, I could just barely make out a blur that looked vaguely like the bright comet we had seen last week. Or maybe I was just imagining things.
I pointed my camera in that direction, adjusted the lens to “infinity” focus (no way to focus on something you can’t see… plus that streetlight was REALLY bright) and took a picture. This is what we saw 5 seconds later in my display screen.
COBALT HAD FOUND IT! Nice work, Cobalt. All of the other comet-viewers had given up by then, so it was just the two of us discussing how to tweak the camera settings without losing the comet. It’s always fun to photograph something COMPLETELY blind, using the display screen to give us any indication that we’re on the right track. Cobalt mentioned multiple times that we were so lucky to be in this digital photography age. Phew! Here are some more pictures from our adventure.
These photos were taken with a pretty long exposure (between 1 and 10 seconds) and a really high ISO. As usual, I have MOAR photo ideas that I want to try, but we’ll see if we get to go find the comet again. It is supposedly getting close and closer to Earth (it will be the closest on July 23), but it is also getting dimmer and dimmer. We’re lucky we have a telephoto lens and a camera that lets us take long exposures, but I’m worried that without binoculars, we won’t be able to see it by eye soon. :(
Anyone else have NEOWISE adventures that they want to share?
One of these stars is not like the others (hint: it’s a comet)…
Sooo on Friday The Seattle Times had an article about the comet NEOWISE and how we could actually see it from our often-times cloudy city of Seattle — as long as we were willing to be awake just before sunrise, which right now is around 3 a.m. Now you know me and my love of taking pictures of fun objects in the sky (the moon, solar eclipses, etc.), so I said CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.
We got up at 2:45 a.m., thoroughly confusing the cat, and headed out in search of the comet. All we knew was that it should be near Venus and in the northeast. We had found a pretty good spot for photographing the moon a few months ago, so we decided to try that. Sure enough we saw Venus poking its head up over the mountains to the east. Then it was time to find the comet. It was relatively easy to see without binoculars — we just looked for a star that looked a little bit fuzzy. Maybe it helped that there was a tree next to us with a branch that was pointed straight at the comet. Here! Here! It’s right here!
We stayed with NEOWISE for about a half an hour, mostly with me furiously clicking away on my camera, trying to get the perfect shot. It was pretty dim, so I had to focus manually. But because it was pretty dim, it was also hard to focus manually. In addition, I wanted to do a long exposure to capture NEOWISE and its brilliant tail, but the longer I left the shutter open, the more everything shifted. So it was a lot of trial and error, but I think I got a pretty good shot or two!
Anyway, at some point the sun had come up enough to make NEOWISE even harder to see, and we were feeling sleepy. So we said good night (good morning?) to the comet and headed back home to bed.
It sounds like NEOWISE should be shifting to the early evening hours a little later this month, so keep an eye out for it! It’s pretty neat! I’ll certainly be looking for it. I have so many more photo ideas that I want to try now that I’m more awake. :)
Move over, aspens. There’s a new fall tree in town.
This weekend, Cobalt and I went on an epic hike in search of larches, trees I had never heard about until a few weeks ago. These needley trees look like your typical evergreens during the summer, but then in the fall the needles turn yellow and fall off, like your typical deciduous trees. So cool!
In addition, it’s been two years since Cobalt and I have lived in Colorado, and we missed our fall tradition of seeing the glorious aspens turn yellow against the bright blue Colorado sky.
So when we found out that the Pacific Northwest has larches, we knew we had to go find them.
It’s not exactly easy. Larches in the state of Washington live at high elevation (~5,000 ft) in the northern part of the Cascade mountain range. So we had about a three-hour drive to wiggle northeast to the Cascades and then up.
But it turned out to be a beautiful day for a drive. To get to the Cascades, we drove through tunnels of orange and yellow trees that were shrouded in fog. Perfect for people who love fall and Halloween. Then as we climbed into the mountains, the sun came out and we were surrounded by outstanding views of the craggy mountains in this mountain range. Seriously, it was jaw-dropping.
My co-worker had recommended that we do the Cutthroat Pass trail, because it would definitely get us high enough to see larches (the trailhead is about 4,000 feet), and it would possibly be less crowded than other popular hikes in the area. The weather was too perfect though, so I think half of the state of Washington had the same idea we did.
Anyway, the trail was great! It was coated in snow, which ranged from a little dusting at the beginning to more prominent snow as we climbed. But the sun was out, so we weren’t too cold. We had INCREDIBLE views of the surrounding mountains, and we started to see larches nestled on them as the trail went on. Then suddenly, at about 6,000 feet, we found ourselves surrounded by these beautiful turning-yellow trees…. and all the other humans who had come out to find them.
Cobalt and I wandered around the larches for a while, taking pictures and getting to know them.
Their needles are thinner than those of other needled trees I’ve encountered, so they felt feathery and soft. Their softness and the way they were organized on the branches made the branches look like yellow pipe cleaners jutting out of the trunks. For some reason, the twisty nature of the larch branches made me think of skeletons. Not sure why.
After meandering through larches and humans, we found a large rock in the sun and decided to stop for lunch. We enjoyed our excellent views of the larches and the light breeze that swept across the area while we munched on carrots and cheese.
Then it was time to head back down. :(
These trees are magical. I can’t wait to go back and visit them again next year — or maybe next week. I miss them already.
Helllooooo friends! I hope you have been enjoying spring (or autumn if I have any southern hemisphere friends). Cobalt and I have been having a good time getting to know our new city. There’s always something fun going on on the weekends. We participated in Independent Bookstore Day one weekend and Free Comic Book Day the next! But while we’ve been having tons of fun with all of that, we really wanted to get out and explore the wilderness too.
So last weekend we went on an adventure to a ghost town with our friend Titanium! This particular ghost town only existed in Washington for ~20 years! It sprung up with a coal mine in 1900 and then it slowly started dying 15 years later when the nearby trains switched away from coal. Then a fire wiped out most of what was left of the town. Yikes. Bad news. So don’t get too excited, the only town-y parts left are a few walls and a foundation here and there. But it was still cool to wander around and wonder what it would have been like to live there.
Also, it was really incredible to see how nature has slowly reclaimed all of the remaining human-made objects in the area. Moss is not deterred, folks. It will grow on anything it seems.
Hi everyone! Guess what? Cobalt and I moved to the western side of Washington! I got a new job (more on that later), so we packed up all our stuff and drove it + a sad kitty over the Cascades.
We’re finally settling into our place here, so this weekend we decided it was time to go on an adventure. We ended up spending Earth Day at Wallace Falls State Park with our friends Titanium and Iron. It was a gorgeous day and we had ourselves a nice 4.5 mile hike to see some falls.
You guys. It was so beautiful. Everything was green and alive. And it smelled so. good. I also enjoyed feeling my hiking boots squish through the wet dirt as we climbed up and up and up to see the falls and then turned around and went back home.
I brought two cameras so that Titanium and I could play with cameras together. She had my zoom/macro lens and I had my trusty prime (no zoom) 50 mm lens. So even if we took similar shots, they probably look quite different. I can’t wait to see what Titanium captured on her camera!
It was great having another photographer to hike with because Cobalt and Iron went ahead and then Titanium and I took pictures of everything all the way up and all the way down. I was in the moment hunting for things that could be cool to photograph. Usually it’s just me being awkward wanting to photograph stuff but not wanting to slow Cobalt down.
Anyway, that’s enough chatter. Let’s look at some pictures. Oh yeah… one note: I’m still in my tiny-things phase.
So we’ll start with some big things.
Now we’ll work our way toward smaller and smaller things…
I really wanted to eat something buttery, crunchy, and flaky. And yet, most croissants that I have found, while delicious, fall short of that description. So I decided to try to make my own!
Now croissants are crazy flaky because they’re made out of puff pastry, which is basically flour and a LOT of butter folded over and over and over onto itself to make those layers we so appreciate. You can buy puff pastry at the store but I wanted to make my own. It takes a while because you have to keep the butter cold. So a typical recipe has you do a fold, then put the dough in the fridge for 30 min to an hour to chill the butter before you fold it again. It’s a lot of waiting. I decided the weekend would be the best time to try it.
Cobalt and I have Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything book so I decided to start there. I spent Saturday evening rolling and folding the dough, as per Bittman’s suggestions. Then I put it in the fridge overnight so I could make toasty croissants for Sunday morning brunch.
On Sunday, I rolled out and shaped the croissants. They looked good. Check it out.
Then I popped them in the oven. After about 25 minutes, they looked golden brown and pretty.
Though they looked pretty, they felt kind of weird. They were heavier than I thought a croissant should be. Could be okay still though. It came down to a taste test.
The inside was a disaster. They were still raw in there! I wonder if I made them too big. But also, they didn’t really taste great.
I went on a mission for a new croissant recipe. And I found this one by The Great British Bake Off’s judge Paul Hollywood.
So I went to the store and gathered some more supplies (these things need a lot of butter). And then I started on the recipe.
Hollywood’s recipe has yeast in it, which I took to be a good sign. Croissants that have risen maybe wouldn’t be as dense as the Bittman ones were.
This recipe was a little more complicated than the Bittman one. First of all, the ingredients were listed in grams instead of our American cups and teaspoons. But that’s okay! I have a kitchen scale. I pretended I was back in the lab: I tared the scale and then weighed out the exact amounts of my ingredients.
The recipe also called for “caster sugar,” which is apparently superfine sugar. Our store had sugar and powdered sugar (which is superfine sugar with cornstarch in it), so I had to make my own caster sugar. I took regular sugar and put it in the food processor. Voila. Superfine!
Then all of Hollywood’s measurements were in centimeters instead of inches. I’m not great at guestimating centimeters, so I borrowed my measuring tape from my sewing kit.
Finally, I had some drama getting the butter the way Hollywood described it. But at last I got the dough to its stopping point and let it rest overnight in the fridge.
On Monday morning, I rolled out the dough and shaped the croissants. Not bad!
These ones were smaller than the Bittman ones but they also had a two-hour rise before I baked them. They puffed up!
And then they puffed up even more even more in the oven. Oh man. They looked and smelled so good. Plus they were light and super flaky!
Time for a taste test. Looks like Cobalt likes them! Yummmmm….
I really like making puff pastry dough (minus adding the butter to the Hollywood recipe, which made me infuriated). There’s something so relaxing about rolling out and folding this dough. Especially with the Hollywood recipe because it smelled so good. :D
I’m definitely going to have to try this one again. I have to figure out how to perfect that butter part! Also maybe I should mix up the recipe a little. Maybe make some pain au chocolat (chocolate croissants)? Yes please!
I hope you all are enjoying the new lunar year! Year of the Dog! Did anyone make/eat dumplings? :)
What happens when you’re super excited about something, and then it doesn’t happen? That energy has to go somewhere, right? Last week, I decided to put my disappointment about missing the lunar eclipse into taking crazy double exposure photos of Tarantula and the moon. It was possibly more challenging than photographing the eclipse itself, AND it made me giggle, which cheered me up.
It all started last Tuesday evening, when I was nerding out about the Super Blue Blood Moon! I love taking pictures of the moon (as y’all know), and lunar eclipses (the “blood moon” part) are especially fun to photograph. Unlike a solar eclipse, you don’t need crazy equipment to keep your eyes and your camera safe. You just point the camera at the moon and click click click click. Yayyyy. Cool moon pictures.
The total eclipse was supposed to start at… 4:50 am on Wednesday morning here in Washington state. My friend K and I planned to get up at 4 am and meet up so we could witness/photograph the wonder together. Great plan!
4 am is quite a bit earlier than I am used to getting up, though, so I decided to pack my camera stuff the night before. That way, I could roll out of bed, grab my fancy new camera bag, and go see the moon!
I was getting everything ready when I looked up and saw the super moon watching me through the window. It was pretty neat. Some trick of the light made a mini reflection of the super moon right underneath the moon itself. I liked it because it was still a pretty detailed reflection. So I took a few photos. But not too many because I thought I would have way cooler ones in the morning.
BUT when I woke up at 4 am, it was CLOUDY. Cobalt, nice husband that he is, even went on a mini walk outside to see if our apartment was blocking the moon. He came back with sad news. No eclipse for me.
I was so grumpy on Wednesday. People were posting such cool photos online. Blood moon over an observatory, blood moon over the ocean, blood moon, blood moon, blood moon! It seemed like everyone saw it! And yet, I had nothing. It’s not like I slept through my alarm, or I forgot to charge my camera battery. It’s just that sometimes, these things happen. It was out of my control.
On Wednesday night, when the moon rose, I glared at it. It was still kind of cloudy, but you could see the moon. It was taunting me. Oh now you decide to show up, moon.
A part of me suggested that maybe I take some full moon pictures anyway. My camera was already prepped for moon photos. So I grudgingly set everything up and took a few photos of the moon from our deck.
Tarantula watched me from the back door. That’s when I got the idea. What if… I took a picture of the moon and then, using the multiple exposure mode on my camera, took a picture of Tarantula so that it looked like she was watching it?
Crazy challenge accepted! Finally all my grumpiness had somewhere to go: This photo was going to require some serious planning.
The way the multiple exposure mode works is that it takes two (or more, depending on what you tell it) consecutive photos and smashes them together into one photo. So I had to take two perfect photos back to back. Which was hard because the moon and the inside of my house are lit quite differently. Also Tarantula is quite a bit closer to my camera than the moon is. ALSO… I had to remember where I framed the moon in the photo and then somehow get my cat to look in that general direction.
It took two different lenses (take picture of moon, switch lens to portrait lens, adjust settings, take picture of cat) and a lot of trial and error.
I’m still sad that I didn’t get to see the eclipse. But at least I got to have fun with my camera, which is one of the things I was looking forward to. I’ve been trying to take pictures that tell a story. Sure, a photo of the eclipse would have told a “Potassium got up super early so she could see this sweet lunar phenomenon” story. But these photos tell a pretty neat story too. I mean, how often do cats get to look at a moon in their own living rooms?
Now it’s your turn! Did you see the eclipse? What’s something that’s disappointed you lately? How did you handle your feelings?
Today I thought I would share my newest revelation about my current job/life situation. But first we have to talk about cameras. Why? Because I like cameras. And also because this is my blog and I say so.
So let’s start at the top.
My camera has two settings for focusing: auto and manual.
For autofocus, I tell the camera what to focus on and then it controls the lens and brings my subject into view. I use it almost all the time because it’s fast and usually the camera and I agree about what I want it to look at.
Sometimes I can’t use autofocus though. Sometimes the camera and I disagree about what should be drawing the viewer’s eyes. Sometimes, like when it’s dark outside, the camera has a really hard time “seeing” what I see, and it’s easier for me to just switch the camera to manual mode and focus for myself.
It can be a challenge. When I use manual focus, I often second guess myself about what “perfect” focus looks like. I bring my subject in and out of focus as I test the possibilities. It’s even harder when it’s dark and I can’t really see much better than the camera can.
Here are some examples:
Last summer, I noticed a bunch of birds sleeping in a tree by my house. It was so cute to see their little bird butts sticking out of the leaves, and I grabbed my camera to capture the moment. It was 10 pm. The camera said “I see a vague tree-like shape here… ummm… not really sure what you’re going for…” so I switched to manual, which was hard because I could barely see the birds myself! After some trial and error, I finally captured the birds the way I wanted them, and I left them alone to dream.
This past weekend, Cobalt’s best friend T was hanging out in Seattle. So we headed “over the hill” and into the city. It was lovely! We talked books with T and his family, we ate an epic brunch with my sister, and then we hung out with my friends from grad school, Titanium and her boyfriend whom we will call “Iron.” Titanium and Iron took us on a ferry so we could go have dinner on Bainbridge Island. On the way back, we spent the majority of the ferry ride in the crazy cold wind outside because we wanted to witness the Seattle skyline draw closer and closer. I brought out my camera to photograph the skyline. That was pretty easy for autofocus: point camera at space needle. Camera sees the lit-up space needle against a dark sky. Camera brings space needle into focus. BAM. Picture.
But then I thought, hrm. How would I capture the fun we are having right now on this ferry? And I decided to take some pictures of Titanium and Iron. The lighting was not ideal for humans. It was 10 pm (again). Titanium and Iron were either backlit from the light inside the ferry or the Seattle skyline and my camera was not finding their faces. So I switched to manual focus. But again, the same problem with the birds popped up – it was hard for me to see when their features were that crisp though the eyepiece either.
This is where the story gets a little different. For the birds, I just used my on-camera flash to illuminate the birds once I got them in focus. This past weekend, however, I decided that since I was manually focusing in the dark, maybe I should play around with some of my camera settings. What would happen if I didn’t use my flash and instead turned the shutter speed waaaaay down (longer exposure=more time for light to illuminate Titanium and Iron)? Well Titanium and Iron would be blurry because we were on a moving boat. But maybe that would be a fun effect. Let’s try it. And so I did. And here are my pictures.
I was thinking about these pictures yesterday, and how much I enjoyed the fact that they were not “perfect” and crisp. I loved the blurriness and the crazy Seattle-skyline bokeh around Titanium. And that’s when I realized that this is how I feel about my life right now. I have a lot of education now (PhD, Scicomm certificate, lots of multimedia experience), and I’m not quite sure how I want to use it to make the world better. I have some idea what I want to do and where I want to end up. But it’s all pretty hazy. No real way for a camera to autofocus on it. So instead I’m using manual focus. And then the pictures come out like this – I can just make out my subject there smiling in the future. It’s there! And I’m coming for it.