Something Beautiful, Something Blue: Seattle from Alkai

I love my adopted city. I’ve never been much of a big-city person, and I’d frankly rather be out in the mostly wild spaces most of the time, but I’ve always adored Seattle. I find her beautiful from most every angle. I love wandering round downtown, rambling among the hills and the shops and the art and architecture. I love her culture, and her old buildings, and her waterfronts. The only thing I don’t like is driving there, but even that isn’t horrible. Merely awful. Best to take the bus and a comfortable pair of shoes, and make a day of it.

"Something Beautiful, Something Blue." Seattle from Alki, view across the Sound with a spray of water over the Space Needle.

“Something Beautiful, Something Blue.” Seattle from Alki, view across the Sound with a spray of water over the Space Needle.

I love her skyline. I took this image from Alki Point one summer. There’s a strip of beach with excellent views toward the city center, and a set of concrete stairs, and waves that splash dramatically against said stairs, and give a photographer a chance at a little artistry. I like how, after a bit of mucking about with contrast and saturation, it ended up looking a bit like a watercolor.

My fair city isn’t without her faults, though. In fact, we’re pretty much standing on one here, and one day I shall tell you about it, once we’re done with all this volcano nonsense.

Supercrow and Other Natural Art Stories

Sorry for bugging out on you, my darlings. The sun came out in midwinter in Seattle. Then there was The Hobbit. And basking in the sun with the cat. And then filtered sunlight, but still more than adequate for wandering about photographing interesting ice. Then more basking in the sun with the cat, this time with the cat atop me, and an inordinate amount of photo editing on a rather excessive number of photos. Excuses, excuses – but you may enjoy the results.

I found a new bit of North Creek I’ve not been to yet. It’s tucked behind a business park, and it’s remarkably lovely, filled with birds and assorted wildlife, wonderful examples of waterways, and some fabulous ice. I’ve now folders full of delights, which I shall parcel out as time goes on.

We’ll begin with some efforts at art. I’ve been playing around with photo editing, attempting to turn some of the more boring shots into something rather more interesting. This one started out as a disastrous photo of a flock of waterfowl who took off over the pond upon my appearance.

Flock of Waterbirds over a North Creek Pond.

Flock of Waterbirds over a North Creek Pond.

Now I think it looks vaguely Impressionist. Well, perhaps a drunk Impressionist at the beginning of an attempt at an art career that ended rather soon thereafter.

Black Ripple, Blue Water

Black Ripples, Blue Water

Much of the pond was ice (which means I have enough material for a Ducks on Ice theme for you), but there were bits of open water with interesting water birds, and interesting ripples. I clipped the above ripples out of the 9 billionth picture of some very lovely UFDs that were paddling about. You’ll probably laugh at me for not knowing what it is.

Reflections and Ripples

Reflections and Ripples

The drunk Impressionist strikes again, I’m afraid. Bit o’ some ripples, reflections of branches, bits o’ branches poking out.

Bridge Over Mostly Untroubled But Definitely Busy Waters.

Bridge Over Mostly Untroubled But Definitely Busy Waters.

The creek flowed vigorously, full of water from recent storms. There was evidence that it had been rather boisterous during at least one of the downpours. And with its bridge and its flow, it made a nice study. A little fiddling with filters, and I can play at being Ansel Adams for three minutes.

Yeah, well, I like it.

Ice Lily, Ice Shards

Ice Lily, Ice Shards

So this is a pretty little bit of ice that formed round a stump or some such. I love the patterns that form in ice. I wish I knew more about why they happen.

Circles and Lines

Circles and Lines

I imagine, when I go out there this summer, I’ll be seeing the plants leaving these sticks all over. And there were these magnificent circular ripples with the sun shimmering off them.

Anatinae, reflectere

Anatinae, reflectere

This female mallard (I believe that’s what she is, anyway) reflected so clearly in the rippling waters of the pond is quite wonderful. Alas, I chopped off her upper half. We’ll pretend this is intentional. It is Art.

This next qualifies as an intentional unintentional shot, as I was trying to photograph this particular crow, and thought it hadn’t turned out well, but upon a closer look, it turns out to be rather neat.

It's a Bird, It's a Pla- Definitely a Bird - It's Supercrow!

It’s a Bird, It’s a Pla- Definitely a Bird – It’s Supercrow!

Looks like it’s off to save the world, dunnit? I quite like it.

And, finally, a lovely leaf encased in ice at the bottom of an occasional cascade.

Leaf in Ice

Leaf in Ice

Yes, it has been cold lately. And the cold can do some beautiful things to remnants of autumn. That’s nature’s art, that is. Wonderful stuff. All one has to do is choose it, photograph it, and pick a bit of it to frame.

I do love this beautiful world of ours.

Beauties, Beasts, and a Lesson Most of Us Don’t Want To Learn

This is a good read, an important read, and I’d like you to read it all. Gyzym is gentle but firm in explaining why movies like Beauty and the Beast can be jarring for those who didn’t realize that the fairy tale is actually a classic domestic violence scenario.

That’s important to face. And for those who would rather not face it:

We can argue for media that doesn’t push the horrible shit we need to unlearn as a society to get to a healthier place, or we can point out the flaws in our preexisting media, or we can do both. But “Just shut up,” isn’t an option. “Just shut up,” can’t be an option, because we can’t keep playing the “Nobody told me because nobody told them,” card. Nothing will ever get better that way. Nothing will ever improve if we keep not telling people this shit.

People not shutting up and speaking hard truths to hear may have caused me some discomfort and made a few favorite films, songs and books impossible to enjoy without acknowledging their deep flaws, but those folks who said “No, I won’t shut up” and continued to speak the hard truths made me a better human being. When I get back to fiction, they’ll have made me a better writer telling better stories. And they’ve made me unwilling to shut up my own self, which may not be the popular thing, but is a necessary thing, so fuck if I’ll stop. Even if I end up with kids (not necessarily my own, mind you). Even if they groan and grump and implore me to STFU during their show. Like George Wiman said when he posted this link, this is “Why it’s important to do MST3K with your kids when you watch movies.” Because while there’s such a thing as willing suspension of disbelief, we need to be trained that suspending disbelief should be a conscious act, and revocable upon return to the real world.

Fiction is useless except as a panacea if we can’t use it to compare and contrast with our real-world lives, if we can’t use it to throw our conditions and relationships and societies into starker contrast, if it can’t help us think. Escapism is lovely, and I love engaging in it. We all do. But we need to be conscious what we’re escaping from, and escaping in to, and watch out that we don’t allow our lovely bit of escapism to subtly normalize very problematic things*. Performing the occasional MST3K exercise on movies we enjoy is good practice for recognizing problem patterns in life. It’s necessary for separating fiction from fact.
And for those who want to cry, “But it’s art! You don’t need to take it so seriously!!” I have just one thing to say: art was never advanced by people passively enjoying the status quo. “Just shut up” isn’t an option for life, but it isn’t an option for art, either. If you truly love art, you will give it no quarter.**

We can do better.

The Beast with a rose. Image courtesy Nieve44/Luz on Flickr.

The Beast with a rose. Art with a problematic message can still be loved and appreciated as art. It can help us navigate the complexities of our world. But only if we’re willing to engage it. Image courtesy Nieve44/Luz on Flickr.

*Read this link. I mean it. Miriam hadn’t even written it when I wrote this piece, but it’s like she’d read my mind and knew I had this post sitting in drafts, and wrote it for the line I inserted it in to, and it says much of what I intended to say, and more.

**Nothing in the above should be construed as advocating for the position that art must always faithfully reflect reality. Fuck that noise. When artists hold mirrors up to life, I like the glass to be at least a bit wibbly.

Holiday Gifts For You

When I decided to go back to school to study geology, I really had to start at the beginning with the upper-division undergraduate courses, since my previous education had been in computer and software engineering.  The first class I took was Earth Materials, where I learned to recognize various rock types and incidentally fell in love with petrology.  We studied a lot of hand samples, and during finals week I took some photos of my favorites.  I really wanted to use them as computer wallpapers, but I hate tiled wallpapers that repeat awkwardly.  So I fired up a photo-editing tool called The Gimp, and made smoothly-repeating tiles that wrap both horizontally and vertically.

The original samples I photographed are all the property of San Jóse State University in San Jóse, California, USA.  The images themselves are copyrighted by me (Karen Locke) and are available for all non-commercial uses without attribution.

The first tile is a granodiorite from the Sierra Nevada mountains of California.  This I know the most about because I’m very familiar with the rock type; I spend a fair amount of time in the Sierras.

"Sierra White" granodiorite

“Sierra White” granodiorite

This granodiorite (and granodiorites in general) are made up of quartz, various feldspars, and “accessory minerals” like hornblende and biotite mica.  It formed underground in a magma chamber that slowly crystallized and became solid rock over a very long time.  The magma chamber that ultimately produced this rock was hot, active, and feeding a volcano back in the Mesozoic.

The next tile is a schist.

Mica schist

Mica schist

The shiny bits the photograph as bright white are light-colored micas.  Without looking at the rock again, I can’t really identify the other minerals, though there’s undoubtedly some chlorite in there somewhere.  Schists most often start out life as mud that, under high pressure and temperature, progressively gets metamorphosed into mudstone/shale, slate, phyllite, and finally end up as schist.  Along the way minerals get converted to other minerals, which then get converted to other minerals…

Here’s a gneiss.



Gneiss is another metamorphic rock, produced at moderately high temperature and pressure.  Under those conditions the minerals in the rock actually migrate, producing the light and dark colored bands you see in this sample.  The parent rock was probably something like a granodiorite.  The orange stuff is probably iron staining from weathering; most of the dark minerals in rocks like this are iron-rich.

And finally, here’s one of my favorite rocks, eclogite:



Sometimes called “Christmas Tree Rock”, eclogite consists of garnets embedded in pyroxene.  It’s created when basalt is subducted all the way into the mantle, because it requires mantle pressures to form.  It’s fairly rare to find it on the surface; it must be exhumed fairly quickly (in geologic time) to prevent the minerals from changing into other minerals at lower temperatures and/or pressures.

So, assuming the editor hasn’t clipped my artwork, any of these should give you a seamless wallpaper when you select “tiled”.  Enjoy!

Happy Holidays,


Three Beautiful Things and a Funny

I just spent a few moments perusing G+ whilst dinner cooked. For those of you who aren’t on G+ or don’t follow me there, I figured I’d share, because there are three extraordinarily beautiful photographs and something to delight the hearts of current and former English majors.

If I remember rightly, there were people who said, when photography was born, that it could never be art. It’s too bad they’re gone. I’d like to spread the following photos out in front of them, laying them down like a royal flush.

For geology lovers, Kent Mearig’s photograph of a stream in an ice cave in Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier. You’d be forgiven if you thought such things couldn’t appear on this planet – but they can, and do, and they are exquisite.

Arachnophobes beware, but our own George Wiman took this fantastic photo of a tiny spider, and I think it’s utterly adorable. Also, I love the eyes! Remarkable little critters. And capturing it in such detail takes a certain mastery of photography that can only be envied by amateurs such as myself.

The trump card*: liquid flower photos. Mind boggled. Click through to see the whole series, because they are amazing.

And, teh funneh: English doesn’t borrow from other languages. Laughed me arse off, didn’t I just? I’m sure at least one or two of you got a kick out of that.

It’s back to the gargantuan 800+ page paper on Mount St. Helens for me. Stay tuned for the best UFD ever later this morning…


*I don’t play poker, so I don’t know if there is a trump card in a royal flush, or even what a trump card is except in a vague “ha ha you are so pwnd” sort of way, and I didn’t feel like looking it up. Did I mention dinner? Also, 800+ page paper? Yeah. Just go with it, m’kay?

Paul Kane’s Famous Mount St. Helens Painting

I’m fairly certain Paul Kane didn’t expect to paint an active volcano when he went West. He was interested in Native Americans. The Hudson Bay Company almost didn’t send him so far, either: they thought the Irish-born Canadian might not be tough enough for the American West, so they adopted a wait-and-see attitude. Make it thus far, they said, and you can go further.

Photograph of Paul Kane, c. 1850s. Photographer unknown, from the M. O. Hammond collection. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

He laughed in the face of hardship and made it all the way. “The greatest hardship that I had to endure,” he later wrote, “was the difficulty in trying to sleep in a civilized bed.” Traveling over the Rockies, through what would become Oregon and Washington, and back again, in a time before abundant railroads and hotels, crossing mountains by snowshoe because the horses couldn’t make it through deep snow, facing the possibility of attack by hostile tribes, certainly adapts a person to things other than feather beds.

Yeah. He was tough enough.

He got his Native American sketches, later turned into paintings, which are still a boon to ethnologists. And he brought back a little something special for geologists. In fact, his contribution to the field is given special mention in Dwight Crandell’s exquisitely-detailed paper on Mount St. Helens’s eruptive history, “Deposits of Pre-1980 Pyroclastic Flows and Lahars from Mount St. Helens Volcano, Washington.”

Several eyewitness accounts cite some kind of eruptive activity occurring on the northwest or north side of Mount St. Helens during the 1840’s and 1850’s. Of these accounts, the best documentation is a painting by the Canadian artist Paul Kane, which was based on a sketch he made in March 1847. The painting shows an eruption column rising above a vent on the northwest side of the volcano in the approximate position of Goat Rocks. The start of dome extrusion has not been determined. I infer that the eyewitness accounts and Kane’s painting record dome extrusion over a period of many years, intermittently accompanied by emission of ash, steam, and gases which were visible for great distances.

I love the merging of art and science right there. I like to imagine Paul would have got a kick out of it, too. He probably didn’t expect fame in the geological world when he sketched and later painted St. Helens’s antics.

Mount St Helens erupting at night, 1847. Painting by Paul Kane. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

He was fortunate enough to arrive in the Northwest during the Goat Rocks Eruptive Period, which ran from 1800 to 1857. In his notebooks, Paul recorded the nighttime eruption he would, with a little poetic license, make famous.

March 25th. – I started from the Fort for Vancouver’s Island in a small wooden canoe, with a couple of Indians, and encamped at the mouth of the Walhamette.

March 28th. – When we arrived at the mouth of the Kattlepoutal River, twenty-six miles from Fort Vancouver, I stopped to make a sketch of the volcano, Mount St. Helen’s, distant, I suppose, about thirty or forty miles. This mountain has never been visited by either Whites or Indians; the latter assert that it is inhabited by a race of beings of a different species, who are cannibals, and whom they hold in great dread; they also say that there is a lake at its base with a very extraordinary kind of fish in it, with a head more resembling that of a bear than any other animal. These superstitions are taken from the statement of a man who, they say, went to the mountain with another, and escaped the fate of his companion, who was eaten by the ” Skoocooms,” or evil genii. I offered a considerable bribe to any Indian who would accompany me in its exploration, but could not find one hardy enough to venture. It is of very great height, and being eternally covered with snow, is seen at a great distance. There was not a cloud visible in the sky at the time I commenced my sketch, and not a breath of air was perceptible: suddenly a stream of white smoke shot up from the crater of the mountain, and hovered a short time over its summit; it then settled down like a cap. This shape it retained for about an hour and a-half, and then gradually disappeared.

About three years before this the mountain was in a violent state of irruption for three or four days, and threw up burning stones and lava to an immense height, which ran in burning torrents down its snow-clad sides.

That night, he nearly caused an eruption of his own when his expedition’s campfire set a burial ground on fire. This may have briefly proved more exciting than the volcano.

Two days later, Mount St. Helens put on an encore:

March 30th – We landed at the Cowlitz farm, which belongs to the Hudson’s Bay Company. Large quantities of wheat are raised at this place. I had a fine view of Mount St. Helen’s throwing up a long column of dark smoke into the clear blue sky.

Paul sketched her, then painted her when he returned to the agonies of a civilized bed. He was the first artist known to capture a Cascades volcano in action, and remained the only for nearly 70 years. Quite the claim to geological fame, that, and all because an Irish-born Canadian wanted to document the lives of Native Americans before their way of life was gone forever. Funny how things work out.

I’m Sending You to the Salt Mines

This. Is. Amazing.

If somebody wanted to send me to work in this salt mine, that would be totally fine. I’d be all over that. It’s one of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen. Who would have ever thought that a bunch of salt miners would have spent extra time down in the mines to create something so perfectly magical?

Who would have thought plain ol’ salt could be the medium in which such beauty could be expressed?

I’m going to show you a glimpse of the whimsical part of it.

Image Source

Then go gape at the rest. While you’re at it, the geology of that mine is pretty wonderful, too.

I will never see humble old salt in the same way ever again.

I Can’t Show You This Picture, But You Must See It

I have this weird respect for copyright, so I didn’t want to embed this, but you really have to see it. Then come back and we’ll talk about it.

Yeah, that’s some kind of delicious, isn’t it just? More where that came from, at David Rankin’s website. So many sights there that reminded me of the not-so-halcyon days when I lived in Page. The only thing good about Page was the scenery. No complaints there, my friends – it’s truly dramatic. And David managed to capture an extra dollop of drama there. Fantastic.

I thought I recognized that old local icon, the Navajo Generating Station, but I wrote to him about it just to be sure. He advised, “The photo was taken with a telephoto lens from southern Utah just across the UT/AZ border looking at the Navajo Generating Station and LeChee Rock.” Four years I lived there, and I never knew that was LeChee Rock. We callow kids didn’t know the names of most of the mesas. We just kind of pointed at them and said “That one” when discussing them. I think the only reason we knew Page is built on Manson Mesa is because, hey, it’s Manson.

I used to go out at night up to the place on the edge of the mesa where it was rumored a whole settlement had blown sky-high one Halloween night back in the ’50s, and I’d stand there looking beyond the barely-lit airstrip out to the Navajo Generating Station. You wouldn’t normally think of a coal-fired plant as beautiful, but it was. Standing out there alone in the bare desert, the only light beyond Page for miles aside from the moon and stars, it looked like a ship in a sandy sea, sailing serenely among rocky icebergs. I mean, seriously. Go look at it again. Take your eyes off the lightning and really look at the plant. Doesn’t that look just like a grand old steamship, floating out there against the mesas? David captured it just as I remember it. Only he managed to capture so much more: the stark, dark cliffs standing against storm-torn skies.

This is what I was talking about when I told you about slickrock. Those mesas rose up from the desert floor, stark and still. The storms rolling in over them are bloody amazing to watch. Only you’ll want to do it from high ground. David’s shot what I’m talking about. It may not even be raining within a hundred miles of where you are, but suddenly, a sound, a roar, and water, swift and deep and treacherous. You can’t outrun it, and if you’re in a slot canyon, you can’t out-climb it, either. People have died because they didn’t understand this about the desert: even here, you can drown.

But to stand in a high place, to watch the lightning strike and the rain arrow down, to hear the wind roar through the barren rock – that you won’t trade for anything. To see the storm-light on the red rock, watch colors and hues change, dappled over ten or fifty or a hundred miles around you, painting an already painted desert – that’s a vision that will imprint itself indelibly. It stays.

I want to go back. I want to sit in the high places, and watch the sun explore ancient rocks. I want to hear a silence so profound it’s like a physical force. I want to lie back against that smooth, bare slickrock and stare into an endless sky. And I want to see the storms again, smell a petrichor so intense it tangles up and overwhelms the more prosaic scent of sand, feel that shock of chill air from a thunderstorm that washes over the skin like a mist and leaves you with goosebumps in a hundred degrees. I love and miss those things.

I’m glad I have such images to remind me.

Chinese. Fucking. Elvis. Need I Say More?

Apparently, I do.

Today, I braved rain, floods and landslides (oh, my) in order to go see Martha, Josie and the Chinese Elvis at Burien Little Theatre.  If you live in the Seattle area, you have three more chances to see this show, and if you miss it, you will be reduced to a pathetic wreck of a human being, weeping with remorse until the day you die.  I mean, c’mon, how often do you get to see a show about a demotivated dominatrix, an obsessive-compulsive housecleaner, a cross-dressing drycleaner, a wanna-be ice dancing daughter, and an allegedly dead woman?  Not to mention, Chinese Elvis!

Maggie and Eric truly find some fucked-up shit to put on, but man, is it ever good.

This is one of those moments I cursed myself for not bringing the camera.  There were some strikingly artistic, truly beautiful and haunting moments in this play.  When soon-to-be-former dominatrix Josie Botting is standing at the top of the stairs, watching her daughter try to walk in her stilettos on the hapless Chinese Elvis, everything about her screamed noir.  It was a moment worthy of film.  And it wasn’t the only one.

Alas, I haven’t got a picture of it, but courtesy of Ken Holmes and Phillip Benais, you can have a taste:

Thank you, Burien Bloggers!

You can read about how outstanding the play is at the link, there, and every kind word is true.  Myself, I want to give a few particular shout-outs to the cast.  Gerald B. Browning, who plays Lionel Trills, had the hard job of making a balding transvestite sub drycleaner come across as the most admirable man in the universe – and he does.  Loved him.  Geni Hawkins, who plays the very repressed housecleaner, does the best Irish accent outside of Ireland, and let me just say she makes you root for good girls wanting to go bad.  Kelli Mohrbacher had a hard job playing Brenda Marie Botting, the “simple” twin, but she made you want to run her straight out for a pair of ice skates and a sequined costume (you’ll understand why, should you see the show).  Angelica Duncan, who is long-lost twin Louise Botting, played a difficult character to perfection (and I shall say no more, least I spoil your fun when you see it).  They were all outstanding.  They all got and deserved center stage.  Which makes me feel guilty singling out the next two for special treatment.

But Alexandra Novotny… holy damn.  I mean, honestly, she runs through the shadings of an extremely complex character flawlessly, and her expression was so fucking perfect.  Some people can act without saying a word, without even moving more than a few muscles in a face.  She is one.  She left me breathless.  And no, it didn’t have anything to do with that cocktail dress toward the end there, although it was an excellent costuming choice.  War paint, indeed!

I felt like bowing to her when I left.  Seriously did.

And yet, she very nearly got overshadowed by Ken Wong, who is the Chinese Elvis that Lionel hires for a birthday party that turns bizarre.  People, we are talking about an American who managed a Cockney-Chinese accent even while singing just like Elvis.  Everything – his timing, his delivery, his expressions, his movements – everything was perfect.  I mean, look at his face up there.  Does that not look like a hapless, rookie Chinese Elvis who’s been having a horrible night of it, and is now wondering just how to fuck he’s gotten into this mess and wishes someone would come rescue him from it?

He even delivers a line as corny as “Elvis has left the building” in a way that was funny, fresh, and brought the fucking house down.

And in case you see the play and wonder: no, he’s not lip-syncing.  That’s really him, singing Cockney-Chinese Elvis and sounding eerily like the King.

They couldn’t have found a more perfect cast for this show.  ‘Twas a delight, worth risking life and limb and missing the weekly phone call with my best friend for.  If you get a chance, go.  Just go.  You’ve got all next weekend for it.

Do not end up spending the rest of your life moaning about missing it.