As Natural as a Walk in the Park

Recently seen

in my neck of the woods,


the green machine has been working overtime:





upward bound.















All but three photographs were taken on the Lime Kiln Trail in Robe Canyon Park, near Granite Falls, Washington, with a Panasonic Lumix G3, kit lens.

From the top:

View of farm fields from the Snoqualmie trail (near Duvall, WA) with Cow Parsnip (Heraclatum lanatum) in the foreground.

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum), Lime Kiln Trail.

Cat-tail moss (Isothecium myosuroides).  This photo was desaturated.

Foxglove bud (Digitalis purpurea).   Also desaturated a bit.

Ripening Salmon-berries (Rubus spectabilis).

Thimble-berry flowers (Rubus parviflorus) and assorted fauna.

Unidentified moss – maybe a beaked moss – I don’t know, but it sure is pretty. And those are new leaves growing from the midribs of the old leaves!

A bend in the Lime Kiln Trail.

A bee on Manroot (Marah oreganus) on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail (a 2x and a 4x filter were stacked on the lens for the close-up).

Another bee on Cow Parsnip, Snoqualmie Valley Trail, same lens set-up.

Western Red Cedar stump, probably cut about 80 years ago, Lime Kiln Trail.

Moss-covered Western Red Cedar (Thuja plicata) trees with Sword ferns (Polystichum munitum), Lime Kiln Trail.





It looks like someone took a little nibble from this skunk cabbage leaf – it’s tightly twisted, new leaves must be really fresh.  But personally, I wouldn’t go for it!  Local indigenous people did find a use for the plant though – they used skunk cabbage leaves, which can get really huge, for lining baskets and such.

It’s another Photo Challenge from Word Press – the challenge: images with TWIST! More here!



The sign may not look promising, but it leads to desert magic.

A man named Noah Purifoy lived the last fifteen years of his life here and transformed a few acres of parched desert into a carnival of sculpture.

Two months ago I flew to Los Angeles, picked up a rental car and drove four hours away from L.A. and into the Mohave desert. My goal was a long weekend exploring Joshua Tree National Park.  While browsing tourist brochures in town one day, I came across information about an open air sculpture “museum” devoted to the work of Noah Purifoy. I had never heard of him.  Purifoy is well known on the west coast but I had spent my formative adult years in famously self-absorbed New York City. Few west coast artists were on my radar.  I stumbled upon these inspiring acreage as naive as I could be, knowing nothing but the man’s name.

Innocence can be a good thing.


After I got home I did some research.

I learned that the man whose work enchanted me that afternoon in the desert had a fascinating life.  Purifoy (1917 – 2004) worked in social work, child welfare, and education. He was, at one time or another, a window dresser, a program administration and an artist.

Born in rural Alabama to poor African American sharecroppers, he managed to get a good education, ultimately holding three degrees. Art was not part of his life until well into adulthood, after he had moved to L.A.  Seemingly on a whim, he decided to attend Chouinard Art Institute in 1951, becoming by dint of his own insistence, Chouinard’s first full time black student. After art school he did high end furniture and store design for Hollywood types.  Then, wanting to directly benefit people in need, he co-founded an art center in the poor neighborhood of Watts, adjacent to the Watts Towers.

A year later the neighborhood went up in smoke in the infamous Watts Riots.  Always a tinkerer with found objects, and intrigued by the appearance of the ruins left after the fires and looting, Purifoy and some friends gathered pieces of debris from the ruined neighborhood, and a year later they put on a well received exhibit, 66 Signs of Neon.

That experience was the beginning of a different artistic impulse for Purifoy, an impulse that fully flowered years later in the hot Mohave desert, far from the city.

It’s hard for me, brought up middle class white, to imagine Purifoy’s layered understanding of race, culture and politics. He was just a generation or two away from slavery, he spent his earliest years in a segregated Alabama, he fought in WW II, was well educated…a heady mix of influences!  I have my own deeply layered history with racial hatred – a very different one – and my own artistic influences. And I have no trouble relating to Purifoy’s work.


In the late 1980’s Purifoy moved to the desert from Los Angeles at the suggestion of a friend who owned land near the small town of Joshua Tree.  Slowly, he transformed the property with his art.  Now kept purposely low key by a foundation, the little publicized site is hard to locate.  But once you find it, there’s no question that you’ve stepped into magic.

The amusing piece below was the first one I saw. It seems ready to accommodate a crowd that might squirm uncomfortably in their seats as they are pulled around the site while a docent spouts nonsense about the virtues of each installation.

But thankfully, there are no docents.  You’re free to wander at your heart’s content, in the stillness, and likely alone, as I was most of the afternoon.




Purifoy did not believe in making art to convince people to think or feel something in particular.  He thought that was an insult and would detract from the the essence of the creative process.

The sculpture below is maybe 25 feet long by 8 feet tall and is fashioned out of a multitude of discarded objects, arranged in the most ingenious ways. That’s a mirror on the right. The column on the left is covered with oyster shells. All of Purifoy’s work rewards close inspection.


I love this sculpture – there is such delight and freedom in it, but it maintains a strong formal presence. It’s made from dozens of heavy duty baking trays.

Evidence of Purifoy’s life here is doled out in tantalizing bits and scraps, like the art.  The trailer where Purifoy lived is locked and the windows boarded up, allowing no curious peeks inside.  But an open-air room near the trailer, featuring an old refrigerator and crooked metal shelves stacked haphazardly with books, reveals some of the practical and eccentric sides of the man.

Desert breezes weave through the room, rifling book pages, conjuring ghosts.

Purifoy stated that being human itself is not the essence of being, but rather the human in relationship to the world is the real essence of being.


Late afternoon sun reflects a Joshua tree on the door to the locked trailer.  Inside and outside mingle, boundaries blur.

Piles of materials lie waiting in the open air for the next piece that will never be made. The entire property – sculpture, living spaces, trees, materials, desert sand – becomes a ready made sculpture for the opened eye.


Purifoy said that art and the creative process are different from one another; his impulse was to interrelate the the creative process with art, as he did with his own mind and body to make a whole person. He spoke of having oceanic experiences – levitating for hours in his room back in LA.  He studied Jung and Freud, Husserl and Heidegger, developing his own philosophy by analyzing which parts of other people’s thinking made sense with his own experience in the world.

I would love to have had the opportunity to sit at his side out here and listen. But hours spent immersed in his work was ample food for my mind.

Below, three crosses dialog across the still desert air with three fetishes.  Lively, loose, playful and profound, for me this piece expresses the essence of Purifoy’s work. Questioning religion, spirituality, art making traditions, and probably more I haven’t thought of, the piece rises above ideas of propriety or art history, charging the air with good-hearted  wisdom.



Purifoy’s work out here in the desert seemed mostly unmolested as it weathers into eternity.  Maybe I’ll return one day to find the colors a little paler, the angles even farther from 90 degrees, but I trust the human creative impulse will still ring loud and clear.


A complete oral history of Purifoy’s life can be found here. It was completed as part of a UCLA Oral History Program.

Purifoy’s sculpture doesn’t come on the market often. I was surprised to read that next month one of his sculptures will be up for bidding at the Swann Gallery in New York, part of a special auction of  African-American art from the 60’s and 70’s.

An excerpt from a 2003 exhibition catalog from the Haggerty Museum of Art, Marquette University:

Noah Purifoy
From his days as an art student at Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles (1951-54), Noah Purifoy resisted the traditional
approach to art based on drawing and painting. Instead he chose to “find his own way,” inspired in part by the Dada
artist Marcel Duchamp, who challenged the boundaries of art and explored the connections between every day objects and
art. The Brockman Gallery director Dale Davis remembers Purifoy as an artist who challenged the community with his
art. “He was controversial, not well understood but interesting to those who gathered around the Brockman Gallery.”32
Purifoy’s background as a social worker made him conscious of the needs of at risk members of society, and he determined
to use his art to advance social change.

Both the Duchampian influence and his commitment to art as a means of social change influenced his choice of materials
and the form of his art. The debris from the riots provided a natural starting point for the materials, and the wasted urban
shapes already reduced to abstractions called for abstract forms in the art. “Purifoy was struck by a thought: What if
these people could look at junk in another way—as a symbol of their being in the world,….What effect could art have upon
the people who are living right inside of it? ‘Junk’ means wasted unusable material. Transferred to human beings it
means a life of despair, uselessness, and hopelessness. The resurrection of the discarded material could represent the resurrection
of the people who have been discarded by circumstance.”

The Purifoy desert site  as featured in Atlas Obscura.

A bird’s eye view of the surrounding land.  The site (not visible) would be in the middle.  This gives you a good idea of the spare beauty of the desert here.

The catalog from the 66 Signs of Neon exhibit, with quotes by Purifoy and photos of the work.

Obituary from the LA Times.



ON A FEW ACRES OF DESOLATE CALIFORNIA DESERT, a man named Noah Purifoy settled in and went about making art for the final fifteen years of his life.  His outpouring of sculptures, many of which are big enough to walk through, are now an outdoor museum. After I managed to locate the museum at the end of a narrow track off an obscure dirt road in the Mohave desert, I was so taken by the creative energy pulsing through the site that I could barely hold still to take proper photographs.

Below is part of a large sculpture made from discarded objects, Purifoy’s material of choice. In this piece, fabric has been cut, torn, glued and stapled to a wood surface, then subjected to at least ten years of desert sun and wind.

Walking around and into the installations moved me to look carefully and think differently about materials and their relationships. Purifoy’s spirit is catching. I wanted to jump in and join him, even though he’s been gone for ten years.  Just to see what would emerge, I cropped the photo and converted it to black and white, revealing expressive folds and torn edges in the cloth that might evoke a landscape of thwarted desire. Or something else entirely – this is art that invites participation.  At the top of the page is my reflection in part of another sculpture which involves a broken mirror and glass on the ground, enclosed in a complex, room-like structure. Soon I’ll post more photos of Purifoy’s sculpture.

“I do not wish to be an artist. I only wish that art enables me to be.”

Noah Purifoy  (1917-2004)

The WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge for this week is to share a photo of something that is art in your eyes. Purifoy’s work is art to me, and it moved me to tweak my photograph of his art, making more art…

More WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge “Art” experiences can be found here.

The Noah Purifoy Foundation:


Up Close



more rain,

more sun…

Add a measure of wind:

It all makes for

an abundance

of beauty.


Which I am pleased to share with you.

These photographs were taken in the last week at a garden, a park, and a wildlife refuge. Moat are native plants, a few are cultivated. Details:

Panasonic Lumix G3 with a few Hoya filters (2x and 4x) stacked on for the closeups.  Processed in Lightroom and OnOne.

The fourth image – the tiny flowers – is Fendler’s Meadow Rue (Thalictrum fendleri), a Pacific northwest native.  It’s related to the Thalictrum’s people grow in gardens. It has separate male and female flowers – these are male flowers, their stamens heavy with pollen.  I used to grow Thalictrum in my garden in upstate New York, ten years ago – I love the airy, delicate beauty of it.

Below it, the tiny white flower is Star Solomon’s Seal (Smilacina stellata), another native wildflower. It too has popular relatives for the spring garden, as some of you know.

The flowering grass and the blowing grasses are unidentified; both are cultivated. The handsome flower below them is a Shooting Star  – Henderson’s (Dodecatheon hendersonii). The first time I saw one growing wild – two years ago today – I jumped up and down, I was so excited. That something so delicate and extraordinarily beautiful was just growing alongside a trail, unmolested – it was astounding!

The yellow garden iris is followed by native Broad-leaved Lupine (Lupinus latifolia) growing abundantly in open marshland at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.  Another beauty with garden relatives, it proved too tempting for a little girl on the trail, who plucked a stem, which I later saw discarded by the wayside.

When I was around her age I used to comb the woods behind our house in upstate new York, where I found Trillium and May-apple (Podophyllum) growing. Sometimes I dug the pretty plants, brought them home, and planted them behind the house. It didn’t work with the Trillium’s, but the May-apple’s weren’t as fussy.

When I lived in Western North Carolina in the foothills of the Blue Ridge  Mountains, I used to pass an old log cabin with a huge tree in front, under which hundreds of May-apple’s made a spring carpet each year with their odd green umbrella-shaped foliage.

The round-ish leaves in the second photo are related to those May-apple’s I collected as a child – but they are from China.  There are only 6 species in the genus – 5 grow in China and the other is native to eastern – not western –  North America.  How that happened is a mystery, isn’t it?  🙂





Staring down at water lily leaves after rain…

Surely it’s spring, even without green!

For some people, especially those struggling with depression or those who lost a loved one at this time of year, spring can be a hard season. Someone whose personal world is drained of color and hope can feel even more alienated by all the renewal and rejoicing going on.

So this is a reminder to be aware of people nearby who may be struggling, and to allow them their space – and maybe to gently suggest that a world seemingly drained of color can have it’s own beauty.

And it’s temporary, everything is.

Many images of Spring that may strike your fancy: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge.


About 125 miles east of L.A.,  a harsh but delicate desert land has been preserved as a national park. It’s called Joshua Tree, after the odd, tree-like yuccas that grow there.

Rock, wood, leaf, spine, flower, lizard, vulture –

the adaptations of form and function to place

seem more than one can begin to understand.

On my first day at Joshua Tree I explored the northern end of the park.

The next day I traced the main road – all 60-odd miles of it, to the southern entrance.

It was a slow journey of many stops, and as I neared the park’s southern border I was hot, thirsty and hungry.

More important, water and gas were running low.

There are no stores or gas stations in the sprawling park, so I left in search of gas, water and food.

And then re-entered.

Heading back north, I drove the long, sloping and winding two lane road with one eye – OK, often two eyes – out for the subtle colors and striking shapes I had quickly come to associate with Joshua Tree.

I stopped frequently.

I took photographs.




Pulling over and stepping down a well worn, boulder-strew path sheltered by gnarled branches felt like climbing straight into a fairy tale. My gaze switched back and forth between the big picture – those fantastic rocks, the distant vistas, the big trees – and the close at hand – a lizard disappearing into shadow, a barb on a cactus, sunlight playing on flower petals.

The strange Smoke Tree (Dalea spinosa), whose twigs can photosynthesize (!) made a soft haze of palest gray green from afar. It leafs out only for a few weeks of the year.

And the pretty Desert Bluebells (Phaecelia campanularia)  was difficult to photograph in the blazing, harsh sunlight, but I couldn’t resist that blue!

Twisted textures of ancient oak bark

invited lingering.

A cactus, warmed by late day sunlight:

Opuntia basilaris.

The name’s rhythm tripping a staccato

ping, ping, ping  –

like the tiny barbs that march

across its surface.


Everywhere, boulders were improbably piled and balanced on ancient weathered rock.

Another Opuntia cactus glowed cool blue-green in the shadows.  Named O. englemannii, after German immigrant George Englemann, a medical doctor who explored America’s western flora, its fruit was eaten by indigenous people. But the tiny spines on the fruits, called glochids, have to be removed first!  This attractive cactus was brought to Africa as an ornamental and is now a noxious weed in Kenya and South Africa.

It’s all about place, and geography!  What defines and integrates into one place may be a poor guest in another place.


Barker Dam, constructed over a hundred years ago by ranchers, beckoned. I will have to return another time to see the Bighorn Sheep that come here, and I didn’t see the petroglyphs either. But I was well satisfied by the magic.

There was just enough moisture

for willows.

Catkins gathered sunlight,

their glow drawing me from across the pond.

A little mud on my shoes? No problem!


The rocks were painted with sun-glow

as the sun slowly fell away

behind a ledge.

Tree gods

perched at the edges

of the circle of stones,

tying water

to sky.


Plunging sun

moved the colors around,

creating a new palette every few minutes.

And behind me,

a full moon.

Subtle light,

Gentle simplicity.

Satisfied and full of the impressions of the day,

I head back to the car

and out of the park.

The next morning I had to leave…

but there’s always another trip.