Chignik Lake in 29 Photos: Blue Flag

wild irises Chignik Lake Alaska
Blue Flag

In the first half of my life, I knew irises only as garden flowers, eye-catching in their stunning variety of whites, yellows, oranges, reds, blues and purples – the latter at times so dark they appear black. But I later discovered that among the approximately 300 species worldwide, there are many which are wild. One of the things I love about irises is that their peak tends to coincide with my June 30 birthday. I have come to think of them as birthday flowers.

Regardless of the species, I’d long referred to all varieties of this flower as “iris,” a name derived from the ancient Greek iris, which means “rainbow.” But recently I’ve come to learn that the vivid purple-blue wild specimens I’ve been seeing are among the types referred to as  “Blue Flag” in descriptive passages of certain novels featuring bucolic settings. It’s a fitting name for Iris setosa, the meadow and bog loving variety we have out here on the Alaska Peninsula. They are, to my eye, the most beautiful among the many wildflowers that bloom in the Chigniks, and serve as a sure sign that spring is coming to a close, that salmon are in the river, and that summer will soon be upon us.

Irises are unscented, an aspect of Blue Flag that brings to mind a line written by Steve Conrad and delivered by Sean Penn in the film, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: 

“Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.”

I made the above photo just a few steps from our home on June 19, 2019, the day before summer solstice. There is a small meadow near the beach shared by Blue Flag Irises, Chocolate Lilies, Nootka Lupine, Northern Yarrow, Wild Geranium, Cinquefoil, Yellow Paintbrush and other wildflowers. Two challenges present themselves when photographing flowers. The first is light. Regardless of their color, petals are easily blown out under bright skies. So it is best to try to shoot during a brief period of soft light early or late in the day. The second challenge is, surprisingly enough, movement. Set atop willowy stalks, the slightest breeze can set the flowers into enough motion that they end up appearing as blurs in photographic images. A solution is to take full advantage of a calm, early morning and to make as many pictures of flowers as possible before the sun climbs too high in the sky. A good tripod is invaluable. (Nikon D850, Nikkor 600mm f/4.0, 1/400 at f/9.0, ISO 200)