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Patterson Lake Reflection, Twisp, Washington State.

My family has had a good friend visiting from France. So rather than my often great far-flung adventures, I have been sticking closer to home and finding (and sharing) joy in the local beauty and wilderness here in Washington State.


While I’ve never taken the splendor of my home state for granted – Cascadia and the Salish Sea makes that impossible – it is refreshing to inhale fresh clean air off the water each day and partake of the resident mountains, rivers, lakes, and trails. Joy comes when you realize just how great the place you live can be.


“The Pacific Northwest is simply this: wherever the salmon can get to. Rivers without salmon have lost the life source of the area.”

Timothy Egan

Diablo Lake, Route 20, North Cascades Highway.

Wanting to impress, we traveled up Washington’s Route 20, along the Skagit River and then across the forests, waterfalls, and valleys of North Cascades National Park. This climbing and hiking park contains over three hundred glaciers (more than any other US park outside Alaska) and makes up most of the 634,614 acres of the Stephen Mather Wilderness. It is the northern portion of the four hundred and forty-mile Cascades Loop Byway which takes you from sea to mountain and back again.

Blue Lake, North Cascades National Park.

We revisited some of our favorite fall hikes. Blue Lake sitting at over 6,000 feet, and amazing green Larch (deciduous conifers) and bright red huckleberry bushes that adorn the trail from the parking lot to the summit at the lake. This hike starts just before you pass Liberty Bell Mountain and the Early Winter Spires. Then we stopped further east across 5,477 foot Washington Pass, past the first stands of aspen on our journey, and hiked along the Cutthroat Lake trail (1,669 meters for our friend from Paris). My wife and I love these beautiful but relatively easy trails, but this year we were perhaps a few weeks early as the Larch had only just started turning to its fall vibrant yellow, and there was no snow on either trail.

Cutthroat Lake, North Cascades National Park.

Winding down west into the foothills of the North Cascade mountains, we spent a few idyllic days at a cabin in the Methow Valley, and evenings hiking along and photographing the Methow River with its headwaters in the remote Pasayten Wilderness. Flowing downstream, the Methow joins the Twisp and Chewuch Rivers before joining the Columbia and eventually turning back west on its journey to the Pacific. The small towns that we visited, Mazama, Twisp, and Winthrop, are all home to world class outdoor recreation, good food (the bakeries!!), and the arts. Besides hiking and a long-history of climbing and ski-mountaineering, the Methow valley is also a great destination for mountain biking, Nordic skiing, and fishing.

End of Day Along the Methow River, Washington State.

On our return trip back across the mountains, we were presented with some wild skies courtesy of local fires in the Cascades. No visible fire from Highway 20, but smoke, ash, and weird and strangely beautiful clouds and sun.

Clouds & Smoke. Headed west on the North Cascades Highway.

Magic is both in the mountains and in the water, so the following morning we took a leisurely ferry over to Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands. Joy is experiencing both sea and mountains on the same day (or alternate days) and the relationship between the mountains and water is a special magic realized here in Cascadia.

Clouds & Smoke 2. North Cascades Highway.

Two days later, we drove further north along the iconic Mount Baker Scenic Highway (State Route 542). Our destination that morning - uphill on the Canyon Creek Road to Damfino Lakes and then a six-mile roundtrip to Excelsior Pass in the Mount Baker Wilderness, with endless views of Mount Baker, Mount Shuksan, and the Canadian border peaks. We just missed the peak of wildflower season in the high meadows along the trail – but (oh my!) the tiny mountain blueberries and huckleberries were amazing and delicious. Even my dog Willow was willing to take a break and eat them off the bush.

Evening in the Methow Valley. Washington State.

This morning, we were beat. Too much fun! So a slow morning, breakfast, and a short trip downtown to Bellingham’s Maritime Heritage Park on Whatcom Creek to watch Chinook salmon find their way up this cascade. Salmon and the Pacific Northwest go hand-in-hand, so this was a great way to show our friend something unique and special to Bellingham, Whatcom County, and Cascadia. If we were tired, it was nothing compared to how these salmon jump, surf, and fling themselves against the rocks as they return to the same river or stream to give birth to a new generation of salmon.

Patterson Lake. Twisp, Washington State.

Joy is home, friends and family, wilderness, salmon, dappled sunlight through the firs, and all the wonders of the Pacific Northwest.


Here in the corner attic of America, two hours’ drive from a rain forest, a desert, a foreign country, an empty island, a hidden fjord, a raging river, a glacier, and a volcano is a place where the inhabitants sense they can do no better, nor do they want to.

Timothy Egan


Endnotes:

· Cascadia is a unique coastal bioregion that defines the Pacific Northwest of the United States and Canada. It incorporates all of or parts of southern Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Northern California.

· In researching this edition, I found that in 2019 North Cascades National Park signed a sister park arrangement with Peneda-Gerês National Park in Portugal. Formed by glaciers, both protected areas feature mountainous terrain and rich biodiversity. Both parks are also transboundary in nature, sharing international borders -- North Cascades with Canada and Peneda-Gerês with Spain. While you can find the park on many sites, I used the link above because it is in English and has some great photos.

· I have been lucky enough to hear Timothy Eagan speak a number of times. Tim is an author and journalist who was born in Seattle and is a weekly op-ed columnist for The New York Times.

· Is Washington’s Cascade Loop the Most Beautiful Road Trip in America? Outside Magazine, 2022.

· The Stephen Mather Wilderness honors Stephen Mather, the first director of the National Park Service. It is located within North Cascades National Park, Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, and Ross Lake National Recreation Area. It is surrounded by the Pasayten, Mount Baker, Noisy-Diobsud, Glacier Peak, and Lake Chelan-Sawtooth Wilderness areas.

· As with all rivers and streams in the Pacific Northwest, salmon are in trouble. Historical salmon and steelhead returns in the Columbia River (and its tributaries, including the Methow) were estimated to be between 10-16 million fish. Current returns are around 1 million.

· As of last week, there were over ninety fires across seven western states. Thirteen in Washington, including the Bolt Creek, White River, Suiattle River, and the Chilliwack and NW Pasayten Complex Fires in the North Cascades.

· Chinook salmon are the largest species of Pacific salmon and are also known as king, tyee and blackmouth salmon. Chinook are the first salmon to travel through the Nooksack, Whatcom Creek and other local watersheds starting in September.



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Poison Lake Sunrise, British Columbia

My thought process for writing this blog began when a few of my old friends sent me an article on kayaking and risk assessment. I was transported back to my early work on river conservation and outdoor recreation – and how offended I was (still am) when people said “oh, you’re just a bunch of adrenaline junkies” or “thrill seekers.” It took a while, but eventually I resolved not to be upset because my love of rivers and water was so special and exciting. But this absurd attitude continued to really confuse me because adrenaline and thrills just didn’t capture even a part of why I found myself on the water, day after day.

Mother Grizzly with Cubs, British Columbia

Along with the article was a link explaining flow state (A Review on the Role of the Neuroscience of Flow States in the Modern World), defined as a state of optimal, smooth, and accurate performance along with an acute absorption in the task. Flow state is an expression sometimes linked to transcendence and spirituality, and tasks that you enjoy and are incredibly passionate about. A sense of fluidity between body and mind. Ah, and here it really hits home and becomes relevant for me. It got me wanting to explore the concept more and share it with others.


“There’s this focus that, once it becomes intense, leads to a sense of ecstasy, a sense of clarity: you know exactly what you want to do from one moment to the other; you get immediate feedback.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, 2004 TED Talks

Water Reflections! British Columbia

While my skills may never have put me into “optimal” performance status, I have often found myself “in the moment” while on the water. And my experiences (and those of many of my paddling friends) include so many attributes linked to the science of flow state: a highly positive experience, lack of distraction, removal of self-consciousness, and even time distortion (see the complete list of the psychological states in terms of challenge level and skill level here).

Cayoose Creek, British Columbia

Certainly flow state is not limited to kayaking and whitewater, or even creative pursuits, sports, or business, but to any activity where one finds oneself operating at full capacity. I am sure we have all found ourselves “in the zone” at some point in our lives.

Cariboo-Chilcotin Reflection, British Columbia

I know that being one with the water brings me as close to flow-state as I may get. Especially on a first trip down a new river, paddling solo, or in heavy weather when every fiber of your body is focused and alert. But sometimes I can get there just by closing my eyes and feeling the pull on my paddle or having my boat surf along with the current and waves. I can imagine that advanced rock-climbing and high-altitude skiing requires one to reach this level as well. But I can also see achieving flow state in much less stressful activities, such as fishing on a wild Montana river, taking photographs of wildlife or beautiful landscapes, or just sitting on the shore, watching the waves, and gazing out to sea. Thinking these thoughts, and imagining the beauty of nature, I may get close to this state just writing here in my living room.

Far From Home! British Columbia

But of course it is easier when the skills, challenges and environment are all in equilibrium, the formation blocks for any high quality experience. For me, sitting at sunup in the high peaks, or photographing bears and elk, or trying to get an image that is perfect in timing, light, and subject, that is when zoning out is so special. Distractions are gone, time distortion has set in, and my only conscious thought is what I see through the lens or what is around me. As expertise with the camera increases, I am less aware of fumbling with settings and more focused and absorbed in the task. And while I don’t feel that I am especially patient, I find I can sit for hours waiting for that right moment, or for an animal or bird to move into the light and turn its face to me. Cold, hunger, fatigue all seem to fade away as I seek that perfect image.

Look to the Future! Heckman Pass, British Columbia

Last week, I needed to refresh my spirit and find high quality time in the woods, and I traveled north to British Columbia to do that. In great part, this area was a prime reason I moved to Bellingham. We have the North Cascades and the Salish Sea in our backyard, and fifty-three percent of Whatcom County Residents live within a half-mile of a park*, but if you need more, just look north across the border. After you leave suburban Vancouver, you have days of travel though beautiful mountain landscapes and few people. And that splendor just keeps on going the further north you go.

Sun Break - Cayoose Pass, British Columbia

Much of any trip is driving. Traveling along the Sea to Sky Highway up to Whistler, then through the incredible mountain vistas near Pemberton and Lillooet, continuing up the Fraser** River valley, then west out to the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast is easy on the eyes, the mind, and the soul.

Bear Stare! British Columbia

Did I enter flow state on this trip? Since I am not a cutting edge athlete, I may have gotten as close as I can at this point in life. I definitely was in the moment numerous times: sitting beside a turquoise Ashlu Creek, watching a smoke filled sunrise over Cayoosh Pass, the evening sun on Poison Lake along the Dean River, sitting for hours beside a rock fall hoping to see pika (not this time), and an evening walk along the river, seeing a mother grizzly and two cubs – and watching them until total darkness set in.


My absorption with in-the-moment passion, beauty, nature, and being connected with the world – this is what flow means to me.


Endnotes

· *The national average for those living within a half-mile of a park is eighteen percent.

· **The Fraser River is called “Sto:lo” in Halqemeylem, one of the Central Salish First Nations peoples. The Salishan (also Salish) languages are a family of languages of the Pacific Northwest (the Canadian province of British Columbia and the American states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana). Coast Salish (primarily WA, OR and BC) also includes our local Lummi (Lhaq'temish) Nation and Nooksack (Lhéchalosem) Indian Tribe. Nuxalk, is an endangered Salishan language with only 3 fluent speakers in the vicinity of the Canadian town of Bella Coola.

· Flow State is not a new science, and research on this became prevalent in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the father of Flow, was noted for his work in the study of happiness and creativity, and the world’s leading researcher on positive psychology (the scientific study of what makes life most worth living). But he is best known as the architect of the notion of flow.

· Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the father of ‘Flow,’ Dies at 87



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Mt. Baker from the Ptarmigan Ridge Trail. Washington State.

This blog takes a turn back in time to reflect on what brought Northwest Rivers Photography to life.

Working on my images and going back into my portfolio the other day, I was overcome again with a wonderful sense of appreciation for where I live, for all of the places I have been privileged to visit, the wonderful people I have met, and the truly amazing sights that this world has to offer... and that I have been lucky enough to have seen and participated with them all.

Damselflies. Mt. Baker Wilderness, Washington State.

Appreciation means admiration, affection, enjoyment, gratitude, recognition, respect, and love. And yes, all of this comes into play when I think back on the places that have provided images and stories that I can now document and share.

Mirror Lake, Mt. Shuksan. Washington State.

It would be true to say that my photography grew, in great part, from my conservation work with American Whitewater, Hydropower Reform Coalition, and the Whatcom Land Trust. I traveled, saw so many special places, and experienced a special sense of value and appreciation for nature. But what beat even that was my love of and absolute need to photograph bears!

Bear & Salmon. Atnarko River, British Columbia.

One of my first outings to photograph bears was in British Columbia’s Bella Coola valley in 2014. Some of the images here are from that time and that trip. They are older photos, and ones I go back to again and again for inspiration. Some have provided enough inspiration that they are losing definition and focus. I wanted to share them before they deteriorate even more.


This earlier Bella Coola trip, and more recent ones, definitely fueled my desire to share time with wildlife and increased an already irresistible urge to spend even more time in bear country. If I didn’t know I wanted to work to become a photographer full-time, that awareness descended on me in the valley and in that first close encounter with the truly wild.

To the Fish Market! Bella Coola River, British Columbia.

Thoughts of Bella Coola are once again stuck in my head. A yearning for another journey north to one of my absolute favorite destinations and to photograph spawning salmon, bears, pika, and fall color in all its magnificence. You will know if I make it by my next posting!

Pika, Bella Coola Valley. British Columbia.

Reflection also brings a special appreciation for the opportunity I have had working to conserve wild places and flowing waters. Those decades of work do not convey any sense of special ownership or entitlement, but maybe just a more acute sense of what has been lost, and the threats still facing our natural world each day. Appreciation certainly for what still survives, the wonders that remain, and my new inclusion and ability to document the wonderfulness that is.

Feast! Bella Coola River, British Columbia.

Throughout my decades in conservation work, our biggest desire was to see more people outdoors. New advocates who would push for increased management and maintenance, improved infrastructure, and access, and who would bring increased support for conserving and preserving additional land and water resources. Then Covid hit, and the outdoors was not ready for the numbers visiting national parks, forests, and even those end-of-road getaways that were previously immune to over-visitation.


Does that mean you shouldn’t go? No, we still need more people who understand and appreciate our wild lands and waters. Get out, get involved, but, before you go, do your homework.


Leave No Trace Principle 1 -- Adequate trip planning and preparation helps backcountry travelers accomplish trip goals safely and enjoyably, while simultaneously minimizing damage to the land.


For me, doing my homework means:


Knowing the current rules, understanding why they are in place, why they are needed, and why they apply to me! Over the last decade National Park staff has shrunk by 14%, primarily due to budget cuts, while visitation has increased by 20% during that same time.


Recognizing the collective stress on our wild areas and following the principles of “Leave No Trace.” Realizing that this is more important than ever.


Knowing that the experience and my trip will be different, bringing a good attitude, and realizing that "roughing it" in today’s world may start long before I reach my destination.


Getting involved and being proactive in supporting local conservation efforts and public land and water. We talk about how National Parks are America’s “best idea,” but it is appalling how little funding goes to managing and maintaining that best idea (the National Park Service faces a $22 billion backlog of deferred maintenance). If you are a business, and you are wildly popular, that usually translates into better technology, more staff, and increased production. It is a shame that doesn’t happen in our parks and forests. Help make a difference!


Endnotes:

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