A Graceful Character

I wish I knew what this Chinese character means – but to me, it’s beautiful form may be enough.

LETTERS – that’s this week’s Daily Post Photography Challenge.  The challenge says,

“As you look through your lens, think about how your image might convey something bigger: a snapshot of how we communicate with one another, even if we don’t speak the same language.”

I wonder, does a person fluent in Chinese notice the inherent beauty of this character? Or does it whiz like lightening through the brain as it connects with other characters to create meaning, disappearing as the meaning is grasped?

But I think any sensitive reader of Chinese might notice the artfulness of this carved and painted character.  And for me, there can be no meaning beyond the graceful form.  That’s enough, for now.

Wikipedia says that Chinese characters are the oldest continuously used writing system in the world. People who read Chinese usually know at least 3,000 – 4,000 different characters. I’d like to learn Chinese, but, well, not very likely at this point!  I will always appreciate the artfulness of the characters, though.

This photo is from my archives; it was taken at New York’s Snug Harbor Chinese Scholar’s Garden.

More responses to the photo challenge are here!




The Soft Light of an April Afternoon








These photographs were taken on the Snowqualmie Valley Regional Trail in Duvall, Washington. The 31 mile trail passes through a lush agricultural valley, with the Cascade Range to the east.  Bordered by tall native trees and very level, it’s a favorite of dog walkers, joggers and mountain bikers.  Rivers and streams that are important for salmon weave through this valley, and many of the local farms here are certified “Salmon Safe” – a farm program that protects habitat for salmon.

Herbs, specialty vegetables, Christmas trees, blueberries, and native plants are some of the crops you might see from the trail.  But these photos were taken right on the trail, where native plants are common – there are bracken ferns, Big Leaf Maples, wild cherries and maybe, hiding in plain sight, a few harmless snakes out sunning themselves.



On Top” is this week’s theme for the WordPress Daily Post Weekly Photo Challenge.

Stacked on top of one another, toilet bowls are reminiscent of Greek columns, creating an amusing  “formal” entryway for a site specific sculpture.


A few miles outside the tiny town of Joshua Tree, in southern California, acres of eccentric sculptures sit unattended* off a dusty dirt road. The artist Noah Purifoy lived out his last years here. His trailer and supplies, worn and bleached from the relentless sunlight, are evidence of a life dedicated to art.  Scores of sculptures he fashioned using found objects and most anything else that came his way compete for your attention as you walk through the property. It’s essentially a huge art installation that feels a little like a carnival, a little like museum, and a lot like stepping into a very creative mind.

The photos show sections of one large piece. Climb the stairs, and you’re on a fanciful deck overlooking the Mojave desert. Ahead, a cut out view of a nearby Joshua tree is framed by scraps of wood, sheet metal, an old shoe and assorted sundries, arranged on top of one another in an assemblage that begs close inspection.

Purifoy was a fascinating man – take a look!


I’ll post more photos of his work one day soon.

And many more photo challenge entries are here.

*Though no one is at the site to monitor visitors, The Noah Purifoy Foundation does oversee and care for the work.  It’s not an easy place to find; the day I visited, only one other visitor was there.  The remoteness and lack of promotion have probably saved Purifoy’s work from vandalism.

Swallowing Green

We go to

a green place.

rain just stopped –

Denny Creek softly chuckles.


up, up,

a wren launches his quavering melody –



Sword ferns are sprouting


down, and sideways, like they do

every year.

And the Red Elderberry’s flowers  –

creamy cones of tiny stars,


in the green tangle.

Our path winds around grand old Douglas firs,

dignified Western redcedars,

And down in the ravine, Big Leaf Maples bloom.


And licorice ferns adorn mossy

tree trunks.

At their feet,

Bleeding Hearts nod





We are dizzy with the


of this green machine,

churning the air with

curves and tips and spirals of spring –

it enters even into our synapses,

inside-outside: verdant life.

Then a grand old cedar anchors us to the ground of being-in-spring.

The Douglas fir steadies our gaze,

with furrowed skin and

noble roots,

it clings tightly

to the steep slope.


It’s hard to leave this green-drunk paradise.

No worries though – it’s

in us now,

tiny dabs of inchoate green

lodged in our

neural pathways,

echoes of the afternoon.


Photographs taken at O.O. Denny Park, Kirkland, WA, 4/15/14, with a Lumix G5 and 14-42 mm lens.

Desert Spring, Take Two

My first day at Joshua Tree National Park left me eager to go back and see more. I had a better idea of the lay of the land so I knew what I wanted to see but I would still leave plenty of time for serendipity. (Photographs from Day One are here).

It was Saturday, and the local Farmers Market was in town. But first I wanted to photograph the Jimson Weed (Datura) blooming beside an outbuilding in my host’s yard. It was so pretty in the morning sun, living up to one name – Angel’s Trumpet. But if I ate it I would likely experience another name for it – Devil’s Apple!

Joshau Tree may be a small town but the Farmers Market is choice. True to their reputation, the California-grown vegetables looked bigger than life and super fresh. Too bad I couldn’t bring some home with me, but they wouldn’t have survived the heat of the car.


The desert beckoned…

Desert Sand Verbena, Abronia villosa, a common flower on the sandy ground near the road.

The park’s northwestern side, where I entered, is Mojave desert habitat – Joshua trees, junipers, yuccas, cacti, and spectacular boulder formations dot the rolling landscape.  As you head south through the park along the two lane road, over the course of 60 miles the habitat gradually morphs into Colorado desert. With its lower elevations, it’s a spare-looking  landscape dotted with creosote bush and highly adapted plants like the spindly Ocotillo.

I wanted to see both habitats so I planned to spend the day slowly making my way south, returning on the same route, with a side trip to Barker Dam if I had the time.


A tough Pinyon pine casts shadows over the sensuous monzogranite rocks. The crazy rock shapes are the result of millions of years of slow erosion.  Weather works its magic on old trees in the desert, too:



Everywhere, flowers bloom against a backdrop of the skeletal remains of trees that spread pale, twisted branches  across the sandy ground. This is a type of Phacelia – its flowers bloom from tightly curled cymes.

This magnificent oak commands the landscape – the cars give you an idea of its size.

Deep blue desert skies behind the doughy shapes of boulder piles kept drawing me off the road. This rock has an inclusion of different rocks running right through it, allowing enough water to be retained in the crevass to allow wildflowers to take hold.

Another crevasse provided just enough water to grow a yucca, at least for awhile. Some rock faces are bright with assorted lichens.

It’s a very spare landscape, but life finds toeholds, and flourishes.

About half way through the park, an extensive patch of Jumping Cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia fulgida) draws the eye. Not only is it covered with spines, but each spine is covered with tiny barbs, making it very painful and difficult to remove. I saw a sweatshirt abandoned on a fence near the Cholla Garden – it was bunched up into a ball from a close encounter with one of these pretty but dangerous cacti.

Nearby, a bee worked its magic on a Beavertail cactus (Opuntia basilaris) flower.

Desert Bells (Phacelia campanularia) graced a dry ditch near the road.  (For the botanically inclined, notice the tightly curled cymes again, with bell-like flowers arising off them – diagnostic of the Phacelias).

The road had dropped down a series of long hills, bringing me to the Colorado desert habitat.   The boulders were mostly gone, as were the Joshua trees.  Now,  the Ocotillo’s (Fouquieria splendens)  spindly branches swaying in the desert breeze were the only large feature in the landscape, other than the distant mountains ranges. It’s brilliant red flowers are hummingbird magnets – how strange it was to see a hummer out here in this harsh environment. (Wish I could have reacted in time to photograph it!)

The road through the park has no services (and often, no cell phone reception).  I was running low on gas and water, and there were many miles ahead of me. The single ranger station at the south end of the park was a godsend – I pulled over, replenished my dwindling water supply, and asked where the nearest gas and food were. It was just about 5 miles out of the park – a truck stop, called Chiriaco Summit. The promise of gas, food and even a Foster’s Freeze (a local ice cream fav) sounded really, really good at this point!

After gassing up and standing in line for a fabulous thick chocolate milkshake, I wandered next door to a courtyard holding a shrine – an unexpected oasis. And strangely enough, a few steps further down there was an old airport. Built for General George Patton, it is now the General George Patton Museum.

So if you’re ever traveling between southern California and Arizona on Highway 10, Chiriaco Summit is the place to rest.



Speaking of rest, I think this is enough for one entry. Soon I will post more from Joshua Tree, including a lovely full moon that rose over the desert.






Seeing Through to…





This isn’t the colorful, spring-inspired look you might expect to see this time of year.

Grasses have not grown high yet; the places where they dominate are still brown with last year’s tattered remains.

At a local preserve, a plexiglass sign lost it’s text, creating a dirty window into the grassy field beyond.

The contrast between the grass itself and grass obscured by scratched plexiglass interested me.

(Maybe I should have photographed the bear scat we saw on the path, too).

Also seen that day,

Moss and petals:


A tight fist of unfurling Bracken fern:


And trees blessed by lichens and moss:



APRIL: No Regrets

Seattle enjoys an extended spring season, thanks to cool weather and abundant moisture. We don’t have those temperature spikes that can turn spring into summer in a day. Right now the city is full of color – it may not be the yellow of a shining sun, but it certainly is the intense acid green of new leaves and the blues, purples, pinks and yellows of spring blooms.

There is a small, but choice garden tucked in a corner of the University of Washington’s campus. It surrounds the Miller Library, a public horticultural resource, and includes the Soest Herbaceous Display Gardens, a fragrance garden, a courtyard, and a transitional area tying the buildings to the Union Bay Natural Area beyond. It’s all set on a fairly small parcel of land, but there are many delights here, for the eyes, nose, and all the senses.

This weekend there was a book sale, a plant sale, a botanical illustration exhibit, and a garden full of early spring treasures. (Yes, I scored a few great books!)  Pearly gray skies cooperated yesterday by holding off from releasing the rain until the afternoon, giving me time for photography.

Above, one of many interesting compositions: Fawn lily (Erythronium oregonum) nods its creamy flower heads in front of Barrenwort, or Bishop’s Hat (Epimedium  acuminatum), with its red-tinged, elegant leaves and pretty little flowers held on impossibly fine stems.  At their feet there are anemones  in bud and tiny white flowers I couldn’t identify.

Below, a mix of black-leaved Mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus) with – again, I’m not sure – probably another Mondo grass – but what a beautiful look!


A Giant Wakerobin (Trillium chloropetalum) is planted under a bed of flowing ornamental grass. Typically these native woodland flowers are planted in a woodsy setting, maybe under a tree, but I think this is brilliant.

Below, a Japanese flowering cherry tree (Prunus serruata ‘Shirofugen’)  in full bloom – it’s just about the end of the cherry tree blossom time here, so this tree with its cloud-like bloom was a welcome sight.


This garden is typically “Pacific Northwest” in it’s restrained aesthetic – orderly and calm. The fragrance garden benches, like most wood structures here, are host to various lichens. Narcissus nods its pretty head shyly behind a bench, below.




The strange Checkered lily (Fritillaria meleagris), above, is planted in the courtyard in raised beds with moss-covered boulders behind it.  It’s a European native that is not found often in the wild now, because of habitat loss and picking.  Here in the Pacific northwest, the Chocolate lily (Fritillaria camschatcensis) is similar; it too, is not often found growing wild. Two years ago I found a few on a small mountain south of here known for it’s plant community. They perched precariously on a rocky overhang, so I struggled to photograph them, crawling as close as I could. Yesterday’s stroll was easier.




Fawn lilies light up a dark corner of the garden above. Below, hosta spears boldly break through the mulch! From ground level, they are so amusing , especially with raindrops about to tumble from their tips.

I love peering at the ground in early spring, when plants are just beginning to emerge.



Below, another Bishop’s Hat, (Epimedium x perralchicum ‘Fröhnleiten’).  Above, three different fern fiddleheads are outrageous contortionists, expressing the intense release of pent up energy.

This appreciation of spring is dedicated to Peter Matthiessen, who died yesterday.  A celebrated author, nature lover and explorer, I knew him better as Muryo, back when we were members of the same Zen Buddhist organization in New York. Peter was a fantastic story teller, weaving tales and transporting you to faraway places with ease and finesse.

His writing inspired me, from my first encounter with it, in the New Yorker Magazine in the sixties. Later, in 1981, I attended a workshop on Zen and Photography that Peter co-led with John Daido Loori. I was impressed with the way both men handled an overflow crowd and answered tough questions. They mentioned studying Zen with a teacher named Bernard Glassman at a nearby Zen center. I had been interested in Eastern thought for years, but always shied away from any sort of group involvement. Matthiessen and Loori were smart people, I reasoned, maybe this place is OK.

Still I hesitated, until a few months later a flyer for the same Zen center crossed my path. I knew then the time was right. I ventured up to the rambling, old mansion on the Hudson where ZCNY took root, and it changed my life. For the next five years, I lived there, immersing myself in Zen instead of studying it in books. I would not have gone to that workshop if Peter hadn’t been leading it, and I would not have considered ZCNY if he hadn’t spoken well of it.  So I him to thank for the spark that set in motion an experience that nourishes me to this day.

He lived a long, full life. No regrets.


Gasho, Muryo.