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Into the woods

Updated: Apr 6, 2020

In the maritime Pacific Northwest, a distinctive landscape stands apart as a defining character. This is the temperate rainforest.

From British Columbia in Canada stretching to the northernmost part of California, when we residents "go for a hike" it's likely into these woods. There are variations from the east side of headlands to Coast Range foothills to the western slopes of the Cascades, with conifers shifting in their adaptations to wind, salt, snow and moisture.

Along the Oregon coast where I live, the dominant trees in our forests are not the iconic wind-formed shore pines often depicted, which are short-lived and prefer the sunnier, sandy soils near beaches. In our forests you'll find delicate western hemlocks with their droopy tops and soft needles, the occasional western red cedar, and towering over them all-- the stately Sitka spruces. These remarkable trees live for hundreds of years in the most demanding conditions, absorbing all the wind and salt spray the mighty Pacific can throw at them. They form the architecture of our woods.

As the forest matures, openings in the canopy develop and light reaches the ground, providing the right conditions for the dense understory and forest floor. Here you might find cascara, manzanita, wax myrtles, two different kinds of huckleberry and vine maples on the edges. Beneath your feet is a carpet (yes it's cliche but true) of sword ferns as far as the eye can see. Look closer and spot other ground hugging plants like Mahonia repens, the prostrate version of Oregon grape, and mosses so intricate they make you drop to your knees.

Walking in the forest, I am constantly trying to capture the light with my camera. At almost every point along a trail in these woods, the articulation of the trees causes magical shafts of light to fall on the ground, sometimes slanting at odd angles depending on the time of day. The layers of green and brown, when touched by light, burst into a kaleidoscope of color.

This place has always been my church. Growing up on a wooded Oregon farm, into the trees was the place to go for peace and renewal. The soaring heights, the color, the serenity, the magical light, the quiet. I'm endeavoring to capture that in this mosaic triptych, 'Cathedral.'

Below, the completed work. This mosaic is now installed at Samaritan hospital in Newport, OR, on the second floor corridor just north of the main entrance lobby.

(Photo by Bob Gibson and Jeri Knudson of The Photography Studio in Lincoln City)


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