The Strange Spring and Summer of 2020

During the strange spring and summer of 2020, dominated by the novel coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic and social chaos, photography has provided a wonderful way to escape temporarily, the oppression of the times.

Here in the Palouse, photographers are blessed with endless opportunities to observe and capture the beauty that surrounds us. For instance, so far this year we’ve been treated to a couple of wonderful “supermoons,” including the “strawberry” moon (above and below), seen rising above Latah County’s Paradise Ridge in the distance.

Sunday afternoon drives provided a much-needed respite from our governor’s heavy-handed “stay at home” order, as well as an opportnity to visit some new areas around us.

Marty Mullen, author of Reflections on the Road, her journal of personal travels on the backroads of Whitman County, passed away recently. When my wife Paula and I ran into her on a walk a few months earlier, she told us that the view from the road to Pine City from St. John, Washington was not to be missed. So we headed that way one Sunday afternoon. It started out as a sunny day but storm clouds loomed to the north, where we were heading. Just past the intersection, as Marty had promised, this wonderful, scenic stretch of road appeared before us. I had to stop and capture it with my camera. We were the only car on the road, so standing in the middle posed no risk. What a glorious view!

The Road Goes Ever On and On…

Finding fresh air and a fresh perspective doesn’t always require a drive to someplace. Sometimes, a simple walk in the park will do; in this case, Sunnyside Park, just down the block from where I live. Sunnyside Park is home to Pullman’s annual Community Fourth of July Celebration, as nice a small town festival as you’ll find anywhere in America–unless it happens to be called off because of a pandemic. Its two ponds attract migratory waterfowl and other wildlife (we’ve seen red foxes in the area this year), along with the occasional errant Frisbee thrown by a disc golfer who thought he’d take a chance on a long shot.

Sunnyside Park also provides a nice backdrop for senior portraits, engagement and wedding shoots (wedding parties occasionally rent the pavilion at the park to hold their ceremony and/or reception there), and impromptu family photos.

I captured the scene below a few years back during a late afternoon walk with Paula. Sunnyside Park Reflections has become one of my favorite images, a reminder that soul-stirring beauty can be found in the familiar.

During the spring months, the Palouse is a sea of shades of green. The winter wheat, already green in winter, is first to enjoy a growth spurt, followed by spring-planted grains, legumes, and other crops. While Steptoe and Kamiak Buttes provide some of the most iconic views of the Palouse terrain, just pulling off the road near the top of a hill often can yield surprising views of these croplands.

Crop rotations change annually and with them, the Palouse landscape. This spring and summer, canola has been planted more widely than at any time I can recall over the past 40 years. Bright yellow fields surrounded Pullman and were prolific throughout the area. I also learned that beekeepers are taking advantage of the yellow blossoms; I’m eager to find out what canola honey tastes like!

Sometimes, it’s the small details that catch a photographer’s attention. Like the textures of a rusted old wagon wheel, resting on the side of a weathered barn; or a piece of ancient farm equipment turned into yard art, such as the manure spreader pictured below (and possibly worth more today as collector’s item than when it was originally used on the farm).

Sunday afternoon drives, as I said earlier, have provided a welcome break for us in recent weeks, a few hours of refreshment outdoors. Among the spots we visited over the past few weeks were the University of Idaho Arboretum, a great place to enjoy a long, leisurely walk in natural surroundings on well-maintained gravel paths; we drove there via the Old Moscow Highway, with its close-up views of farms and cattle; Green Hollow, northwest of Colfax, where the Manning Bridge still stands; the Whelan Cemetery, a few minutes’ drive from Pullman–an old pioneer cemetery that’s been left mainly wild and is home to many native wildflowers; and a new family winery 11 miles south of Juliaetta, Idaho, the Rivaura Winery. Their estate-grown wines are delicious and the view from their patio is as picturesque as any in the Pacific Northwest.

The University of Idaho Arboretum offers miles of walking paths and myriad specimens of trees, shrubs, flowers, grasses, etc., whose appearance changes with the seasons.
Wheatgrass in bloom at the University of Idaho Arboretum.

As I finish this post, farmers across the region are preparing to harvest their crops, providing yet another subject for a wandering photographer.

We’ll get through this pandemic, one way or another. In the meantime, I’m grateful for the peace and beauty we enjoy here in our special corner of the world, this paradise called the Palouse.

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