[Seattle Sights] Wildlife and Wanderlust in Union Bay

All good things are wild, and free.

Thoreau, Walden

Hiding around every corner of Seattle, from the coastline into the heart of the city in all directions are glorious amounts of open, public green space. The Trust for Public Land ranked Seattle as the 11th best city for parks, and fourth on the West Coast – and I wholeheartedly agree. Boasting over 485 natural areas and parks – and growing, city parks come in at around 6,400 acres, with a whopping 96% of Seattle residents able to walk to a local park in ten minutes or less.


Befit with sports fields swimming pools, marshes, rivers and beaches, BBQ pits, boat launches, a plethora of winding paths and a menagerie of wildlife, the local lore at the parks just keeps me coming back for more, and more. With a new sense of childlike wonder and amazement since moving up to Seattle in February, I’ve made it a goal to explore and enjoy as many of the open spaces as possible; and I can’t wait to share my favorites with y’all – of course!

Just a hop, skip and a little run from our home, the University of Washington sits in pristine location – and features multiple parks on site, each with a stellar view of Mt. Rainer and the waterfront. From the North East, you’ll first meet Yesler Swamp which is managed by the Center for Urban Horticulture. Back at the turn of the last century, the area used to be known as the Yesler Sawmill, until it was bought by the University. After the sawmill burnt down in the 1920’s, the area went unchanged for almost seventy years until a graduate student project revitalized the area and turned it back into a nature preserve.

The swamp is full of critters, including plenty of ducks, geese, egrets, blue herons and even beavers!

Winding across the walkways and into the heart of campus, you’ll get dumped out at the Center for Urban Horticulture’s Soset Garden and Fragrance Garden; and yes, it is indeed a delectable smell!

University of Washington, Center for Urban Horticulture

If you’re willing to take the path less traveled, there are some neat graduate projects standing in the woods – you’ll just have to go out on a limb and find them! My favorite is this little stained glass booth, perfect for meditation or journaling in the midst of the woods.

And now, you’re well on your way into Union Bay on a variety of different foot and bike paths. From there, you’ll get a fantastic view of Mt. Rainer and Bellevue, not to mention the UW Football Stadium and Lake Washington. The paths are lined with native plants, and as Spring keeps making headway – there have been so many more blooms, including these wild roses which are abundant with all sorts of bees.

As I dive deeper into nature and wildlife photography, I’ve been depending more on my telephoto lens, and believe you me – animal are fucking difficult to capture, let alone for a crisp snap.

It’s curated my patience, knowing that I will definitely not get the photo I want in one shot; it’s made me slow down and listen to the sounds of the world, which happen to be an excellent giveaway if you’re tracking down an animals. With the beaver above: if I hadn’t heard branches crash into the water, I would have never known he was around. Lastly, it’s inspired me to grow, mentally, emotionally and physically – to carry around a Canon 6D and four lenses at all times, to know when to use which lens and which settings to find quickly. I have an infinite amount of respect for others in the same field.

Last but certainly not least, for all the ornithophiles out there; these photos are for the birds! How many can you identify for yourselves?

Falcon chased by a smaller bird
Hummingbird
Song Sparrow
Blue Heron + Duck
Red Winged Blackbird

Do you have any tips or tricks to getting stellar nature photography? Is there one centralized location near you that you can literally find all the flora, fauna and furry friends? Let me know in the comments below!

For more on Union Bay and Yesler Swamp, peep these links:

Yesler Swamp | Union Bay Natural Area
University of Washington Center for Urban Horticulture

[Traveling Tales] Bounding Through Bellevue Botanical Garden

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Moving up to Seattle, one thing that I wasn’t prepared for is the mammoth amount of biodiversity that the entire state has to offer. On a Macro Level, Washington State has an incredibly unique and diverse ecological footprint. The West Coast oscillates between a Mediterranean Climate over the Summer and a blustery, Marine West Coast Climate over the Winter. Nestled on the top North West corner, the Olympic National Forest is home to 4 distinct rain forests, the Hoh, Queets, Bobchiel and Quinault; the Hoh Rain Forest ranks as one of the largest temperate rain forests in the United States, let alone the North West. On the flip side of the Cascade Mountains, which act as a rainshadow, Eastern Washington boasts a vast high desert featuring a dry, arid climate that includes the Juniper Dunes Wilderness and Channeled Scablands, both carved out of land that acted as a flood basin during the last Ice Age until multiple cataclysmic floods washed through the region. All things this girl is excited to explore!

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Dropping into a micro level, Seattle proper is an oceanic seaport city that sits comfortably between Elliot Bay, Lake Washington and the Puget Sound which provide some sanctity from extreme heat and cold, while the geoclimate features a wonderful range of local flora and fauna. Moving at the end of the Winter Season means that we’re prepping for the glorious weeks of Spring then Summer, and you best believe this California Kitten is ready to frolic in the succulent sunshine. But, rain, shine or clouds – every second I can, I’ve been exploring nooks and crannies of the area with a sense of childlike wonder and amazement: the weather has ensured everything is lush and lavish, with parks on literally every corner. Not to mention, the myriad of bays, cuts, rivers, sounds and lakes give way to infinite amounts of waterway views. Every day, you could explore a new partition of the area – and lookup parks, or gardens, and find you’re surrounded by enough to have to make a game time decision; and that’s exactly how we happened upon the Bellevue Botanical Garden.

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Just a hop, skip and a jump over the freeway from Seattle proper by bridge sits an urban oasis sprawling over 53 acres of gorgeous landscaping; complete with both restored and natural wetlands and woodlands, alongside expertly cultivated and curated gardens. We came across it quite by accident and in the middle of Winter, the landscape gave way to vibrant flowers, and buds just itching for the right amount of sunlight to get their bloom on; and I can’t wait to visit again on purpose and revel in the flowers’ maturation.

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Back in 1981, a couple by the name of Cal and Harriet Shorts deeded over seven acres of land, as well as their home, to the city of Bellevue in hopes of creating an arboretum and public park in the heart of the city. A little over three years later, the Jewett family were inspired to create a Botanical Garden on the property; with the city, and the Shorts, approval, the Bellevue Botanical Garden Society was launched to create the Garden itself, while the city added ten additional acres to the already blossoming landscape. Fast forward to 1989, and Bellevue managed to incorporate 19 more acres of land surrounding the Shorts estate – bringing the acreage up to 36; and finally, in 2006, the Botanical Gardens reached their current 56 acres with assistance of the city.

Now one of Bellevue’s most popular destinations, the Botanical Gardens has a menagerie of habitats, from woodlands and meadows, to natural wetlands and gorgeous display gardens, like the Japanese inspired Yao Garden, the Lost Meadow Trail and fuchsia, dahlia and rock gardens. With ample space to stroll, and lose yourself in this delicious slice of nature.

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This garden is such a hidden gem, that even though we were there to gallivant through it on a Sunday, it felt like we were the only ones there; it was glorious! What are your favorite hidden gems in your city?

For more on the Bellevue Botanical Garden, head to their social channels or simply pay them a visit – I promise, it’s a worthy afternoon and you will not be disappointed.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Yelp | Instagram

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[Local Lore] Wild and Free at the William L. Finley Wildlife Refuge

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Tucked deep in the heart of Corvallis sits a whimsical wildlife habitat; a home to many seasonal creatures as they make their semi-annual migratory routes. Created back in 1964, the William L Finley National Wildlife Refuge is a preserved natural land area in the Oregon’s greater Willamette Valley and is notorious for the flocks of dusky Canada geese that frequent the landscape. Unlike typical Canadian geese, their dusky cousins nest and mate along the Copper River Delta in Alaska over the Summer and visit the vast acreage of wetlands of the Finley Wildlife Refuge during the colder, Winter months.

One of the last intact wet prairies in the area, the refuge was a reaction to the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964 which diminished the available natural land for dusky Canadian geese. Fast forward almost forty years and in 2006 the Snag Boat Bend Unit was acquired as a partition of the reserve, adding almost 350 acres of unique, historic habitat to the already sprawling 5,300 acres of wetlands covered by the Finley Reserve.

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Beyond the dusky Canadian goose, the William L Finley Wildlife Refuge also plays homebase for a variety of flora, fauna and fowl throughout the year with a handful of habitat regions on site, ranging from wet prairies on the East End to sprawling wetlands off of Muddy Creek, or to the upland Oregon white oak savannas and forests. On any given day, you could run into a menagerie of birds and waterfowl from migratory raptors like the rough-legged hawk to turkey vultures, peregrine falcons, golden and bald eagles, to great horned owls and geese, great blue herons, wood ducks and swans, woodpecker colonies and meadowlarks; not to mention the herds of Roosevelt Elk, blacktailed deer, coyotes and bobcats, alongside pond turtles, red legged frogs and the endangered yet recently re-introduced Fender’s blue butterfly.

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For a full spectrum of the Refuge, I highly suggest returning throughout the year. Even though Winter is wonderful to observe the migratory patterns of waterfowl, November marks the beginning of ‘Sanctuary Season’ which closes off the interior or the park for resting animals; the season end on April 1st, and all interior trails are opened once again.

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Whether you’re hiking, cycling or simply just observing the world at large, the refuge boasts a menagerie of looping trails and rolling hills throughout the grounds, offering over a handful unique hiking paths that cover over a dozen miles of land. For those looking to stay lazy, fret not – there’s an auto tour route with ample roads for roaming. Posted every now and again, you’ll find neat tidbits and educational facts on the nature and ancient nurture of the area.

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Originally, the land was settled by the Kalapuya tribe – a conglomeration of thirteen related tribal groups speaking three distinct languages among themselves; each tribal group inhabited a specific area along and around the Willamette River. With the volcanic Cascade Mountains nearby, tribes around the river effectively fashioned obsidian  arrowheads and spears; if you look hard enough, you can still find obsidian artifacts and minerals in the area to this day – including in the grounds of the Wildlife Refuge. On the other end of history, is the Willamette Valley segment of the Applegate Trail, first used in the 1840’s – it’s a more southerly trail than the Oregon Trail sauntered through by European Settlers.

For more on the William L Finley Wildlife Refuge, head to their social channels – or simply go pay them a wonderful visit; I promise, it’s worth it!

What are your favorite spots to observe the wistful, wonderous wildlife in your town? Let me know in the comments below!

Website | Friends of the WLF Refuge | Facebook | Twitter

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[Oh, Snap!] Lensball: Playing With Perspective

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“If you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.” Frances Hodgson Burnett

From morning til night, each one of us is creating our own visual catalog of the day with our own distinctly unique perspective.  For each and every second of it, we’re consciously flooded with sensory stimulation from a 360 perspective; subconsciously, we’re processing patterns, unraveling narratives and unlocking clues to questions we’ve yet to ask.  To me, this is why photography is such a transformative art form – to be able to capture moments and make memories tangible; to hold onto our emotions and to those we care about in the present; to tell our own stories in our own way.  The power of photography has catalyzed my creativity from an early age; but after we adopted our Canon 6D, my love of the art has transformed completely.

In Alex Grey’s ‘The Mission of Art‘, he posits that the reason painting evolved was because of the introduction of photography.  For centuries, the best way to depict a landscape or scene was to do so as accurately as possible; to retain the original qualities of the subject.  However, with the advent of the camera – the need for replication started to dwindle, and be replaced with cubism, surrealism, expressionism, and the like.  Fast forward to now, where we all have a camera in our pockets and at least two (or more) forms of social media accounts to post photos on.  Those same driving factors that lead to abstract art are creating a shift into abstract photography; employing digital editing, prism lenses and other incredibly fun photo warping tools.
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Enter: Lensball.  By far, my personal favorite trippy little photography friend; Lensball is high grade crystal glass photography sphere, here to refresh your perspective and refresh your image skills.  Coming in two standard sizes, the Lensball Pocket is 60mm while the Pro version comes in a 80mm version.
To see a World in a Grain of Sand,  and Heaven in a Wild Flower,  Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour

First things first: everything is a toy if you play with it; so, play! Find fun lines and eye catching center pieces to flip and reverse; discover inventive ways of placing the glass to create your images beyond your hand; manipulate your subject matter into something magical.
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Our engagement photo, shot by the talented Juliana Bernstein (Get Tiny)
My only roadblock to conquer so far was how to get an in focus shot on a manual focus lens while flying solo – but with a little practice, I think I’ve finally mastered the art.
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One quick warning – because this is a glass orb, the Lensball behaves like a magnifying glass in the sun: it can burn your hand if you’re not careful how you hold it and prolonged exposure in bright light can even cause a fire, so be wary of where you point it and set it down. Catch my Lensball in action in my Flickr album, or Follow me on Instagram! If you’re interested in one of your own –  peep their website and social media pages for incredible amounts of inspiration; their photo ambassadors are unreal. Or, just cave in and snag one (or a couple!) already – you know you’re curious!

Lensball | Website | Facebook | Pinterest | Instagram

What are some of your favorite Lensball shots? What about best toys to create with??  I’m eager to ingest all this knowledge into my photography lexicon; let me know in the comments below!

[Self Discovery] Falling for Autumn

 

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Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower 
– Albert Camus –

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As of this past weekend, Summer officially gave way to Autumn and up here in the Pacific NorthWest, we’re experiencing all the Fall colors in all of their glory.  There’s a cornucopia of shades springing out from all the flora and the fauna; flowers, trees, bushes, ivy – you name it, it’s changing – and essentially right in front of your eyes. Sunflowers, Rhododendrons and Roses are shedding their vibrant petals, much to the late season chagrin of bees and hummingbirds.

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With our recent move up to Oregon, some of the top comments we’ve heard across the board are about the abundance of unfavorable weather and consistent rainy, grey skies;  neither of which I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing yet.  Instead, I’ve taken full advantage of the sunshine, with the Canon 6D in tow and gotten to know the new neighborhood.  Not to mention, Fall is an excellent time for letting go and turning into oneself to rediscover what makes our inner fires burn brighter. watching as leaves descended in a dizzying dance to the ground, it felt like I was letting go of my past, and shedding my seasoned skin for a chance to refresh the soul and hibernate the spirit, only to emerge refreshed next Spring.

Here are some of my favorite snaps of the change in season; can’t wait to share more!

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For more on the beauty of Fall, or just Corvallis, check the Flickr Album!

 

[Traveling Tales] Finding Magic on the Emerald Coast

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By and large, the best thing about living in California was the not just the proximity to, but vast amount of National Parks and National Forests within a stones throw.  From Southern California’s  Anza-Borrego  Desert State Park in San Diego to the Antelope Valley Poppy Fields, Joshua Tree and the Angeles National Forest up to Big Sur, Sequoia and the Redwood Forest of Northern California – the state is rich with magical nooks of nature and luminous landscapes.  But – I no longer live in California!

Last year at our wedding, Danny and I promised each other that within a year, we’d be making our way up through the Pacific NorthWest and into the wonderful state of Oregon. Like many good thoughts, it sat on a shelf of our minds that we would dust every so often with life changes, epiphanies and our growing love for each other. A few weeks ago, we realized that our time in California felt like it was slowly slipping from us. We wrote lists for pros and cons, rights and wrongs and then we realized: there will always be something to second guess, and hold you in place – there is beauty in calmness, but there is growth in chaos; there is no perfect time for your next big adventure, because the time will always – and forever will be – NOW. So, one year to the date of our wedding – we looked, and then we took a leap of love and moved ourselves, and the kitties, up to the wonderful town of Corvallis, Oregon where my father grew up and now resides again.

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While we were living in Los Angeles, even though nature was just a hop, skip and a jump away – that hop, skip and a jump came at a cost: crowded roadways leading to overpopulated parks, where each nook and cranny was taken over.  Up in Oregon, it’s a horse of a very different color.  Just the other weekend, we took to the Emerald Coast, paying visits to Newport, Devil’s Churn, Thor’s Well and Yachats; up and down the beach, you could take in the coastline for miles and miles – and barely a soul was there to share it with us.  Traveling the beaten forest paths, we would run into a small group of family maybe every other mile – if that.  Not to mention, the Oregon Coast is what happens if you merge the majestic coastlines of Big Sur with the sprawling forests of Sequoia – it’s just that beautiful!

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Nearly every beach boasts a bevvy of tide pools, full of technicolor sea anemones and itty bitty crabs.  Crawling over the porous coastline near of Yachats with Cape Perpetua in the background, Danny had a hunch that we were frolicking over a volcanic vein – a little bit of GTS later, and low and behold we were!  As if the sprawling landscape of the Oregon Coast wasn’t enough to make one feel infinitesimal it turns out, Cape Perpetua is a now dormant volcano, last active over 50 million years ago! Growing up, I had a favorite beach in Yacahats – Bob Creek Beach; my family would flock there from early morning to sundown, picking blackberries along the way.

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Some of my favorite memories of being with my grandmother and her family involved skipping down to the shoreline during low tide and browsing the wares the ocean waves had brought us.  The beach itself is famous for its agate hunting, and combined with the idea that an old volcano slumbers sweetly nearby, it makes all the more sense. We came away with so many goodies, and I can’t wait to start including them in my crafts and jewelry up here!

When we weren’t up to our wrists and ankles snagging promising rocks and scoops of sand off the rocky shoreline, we were adventuring as far as we could see.  If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I’m a sucker for a great reflection shot – and living in Oregon is going to be this kitty’s photographic dream. 

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 Another apt lesson that we learned is while in Oregon: if you want an adventure, go on an adventure; if you’re going to sit there and worry about the weather, maybe just move back to California.  The weekend we went out to the coast, the forecast was 60 and scattered clouds with sprinkles; good news, we didn’t actually check until we were already out there.  Instead of checking on the chances of rain or shine pre-trip, we simply packed for a weekend of whimsical weather where we took all the options into consideration: sandals, hiking shoes, sweaters, tank tops, swimsuits, the works.  It looked like we were leaving for a week vacation even though it was just a few days, and I’m proud to say that for once my overpacking worked in my favor.

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UntitledThe first day on the Coast boasted salacious sunshine, only to be slowly overtaken by the marine layer during the evening, the next entertained patchwork clouds and a light mist, while the last was one of the most beautiful days I’ve ever experienced.  Clouds danced along the horizon expediently, taking shape after shape in front of our eyes and crafting eerie shadow pockets into the water.  Cruising over to Devil’s Churn, we could see the tide had overtaken the shore we’d been sitting on the day before, bouncing waves off the sides like a handball game of epic proportion.

Image may contain: 1 person, food and outdoorAs we gathered our things to head home, we had to make two last pivotal stops.  First, we were on a mission for some of the freshest fish and chips and oysters a kitty could eat.  Heading out to the coast where Highway 20 canoodles with the Pacific Coast Highway, the main town – Newport proper has an incredible arrangement of restaurants, including a personal favorite Local Ocean; but, we’re ballers on a budget and were looking for something a little more ‘hole in the wall’ – and let me tell you: we found it.  Just a little south of town, across the bridge and close to the Oregon Coast Aquarium, you’ll find the South Beach Fish Market.  Featuring fresh catches from the day, whole Dungeness Crabs and oysters as big as your face, we stuffed our mouths to the brim and kept our pockets full.

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As we lingered longer, we realized we were in no rush to actually hurry home – so instead we kept our eyes on the Corvallis-Newport Highway.  Lined with thousands of shades of green on millions and millions of trees as far as the eye could see, Highway 20 contains a lot of little loops through the forest, into a land far more wild in Western Oregon than I’d ever seen, including unpaved roads and covered bridges that brought me back to the days of the Oregon Trail.  The scenic way seems to be the only way for me, and I’m very okay with that.

The more time I’ve spent in Oregon, away from highway interchanges, bustling crosswalks, and the dense vivacity of California, the more I’ve realized this is where my soul truly resides: somewhere lost in the forest, full of wonder.

What are some of your favorite spots of hidden nature?

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[LA Life] Adventure Along the Angeles Crest Scenic Highway

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Mother’s Day Weekend is a special weekend, a fruitful time for family and a fitting occasion to embrace the divine feminine, and within that – our true Mother – Earth, Nature, Gaia – if you will.  As Danny and I gallivanted away this past weekend to go spend some quality time with his mom in Lancaster, we had (what we considered) a brilliant idea: instead of taking the 14, let’s take a leisurely drive through the Angeles Crest Highway.  And what a magical adventure that became.

Adventure Along the Angeles Crest Highway

The Angeles Crest Highway is often referred to as the ‘Highway to the Heavens‘, and in my opinion – rightfully so: just one cruise through it’s winding trails, your car eagerly hugging the curves and you’ll be confused if you’re still in Los Angeles, let alone California – or the United States.  At times, the drive reminded me of Zion, my fiance kept thinking of the Grand Canyon and it’s easy to think that you’ve instantly been transported to the Swiss Alps or somewhere picturesque in the South of France.

Adventure Along the Angeles Crest Highway

Considered one of the most beautiful non-coastal drives in the United States, the Angeles Crest Highway spans the northern most portion of California State Route 2, reaching from the the tip of Los Angeles County in La Cañada-Flintridge to Wrightwood in the heart of the San Gabriel Mountains.  Wander along the winding roads and you’ll find picturesque views of every angle of Los Angeles from the ridge-line of the Angeles National Forest.

The area is befit with a rich history that dates back to the turn of the 19th Century, and boasts plenty of turnouts with epic views, and hiking trails for those willing to adventure. And with nature just off of a stunning Superbloom season – or as I’d like to think of it, still marinating in the tail end of it, the hills are currently lush with bright yellow, violet and pink blooms.

Adventure Along the Angeles Crest HighwayStopping literally at every turn out we could – because, why not?! – we quite accidentally took a hearty nature break where Mill Creek intersects with the scenic byway.  As Danny found himself enamored by the tunnel born out of the mountain slabs, we were stopped in our literal tracks by the serene sounds of a bubbling brook. Danny eagerly clamored down the hill, reveling in the diamond in the rough that we just discovered – I was busy freezing in my flip flops, overthinking my way down to the water’s edge. After negotiating, and then poorly navigating my way down – spoiler alert: I slipped several times anyways – it was absolutely worth it.

Because we live in the wonderful Mediterranean climate of Southern California, it’s pretty much always a good time to go for a drive on the Angeles Crest Highway, but during the winter months (and some awkward days of June gloom), the snow can shut down parts of the mountain pass and the fog induced poor visibility is actually terrifying – just trust me on that one.  So, before you hop in your car and ride away into the sunset – make sure you check the road conditions to ensure a smooth, beautiful drive.

There’s something absolutely sacred about the way a car hugs a tight turn along a scenic cruise, whipping the soul around to enjoy a palpable, panoramic landscape in a heartbeat; albeit I think the windows should be down and music up to take full advantage of the moment – but who am I to tell another soul how to enjoy a leisurely, weekend drive.

Take a peek at my recent adventures on Flickr!

For more on the Angeles Crest Highway, peruse their website and social media channels – or just take yourself out for a spin; trust me, it’s worth it – and you can thank me later.

Website | Facebook


Adventure Along the Angeles Crest Highway

Adventure Along the Angeles Crest Highway

Adventure Along the Angeles Crest Highway

Adventure Along the Angeles Crest Highway