Variations on Junk

We were breezing through National Park Highway with the winds of Rainier at our backs,

Mt. Ranier

heading through Ashford, WA on the way to Mt. St. Helens (see: Beauty and the Beast),

Mt. St. Helens1

when the sight of a 17-foot grazing giraffe (Aspen Zoe) craning over a split-rail fence caught our attention,

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causing us to catch a second look.

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The open field before us provided a perfect pedestal for oversized sculptures.

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The allure of a hidden sculpture garden amid the cedars and firs of the Cascades was galvanizing, and had us hooked.

Big Fish.jpg
Oscar–18-feet long by 12-feet high

We felt magnetically drawn to the magical monstrosities, and compelled to turn into the gravel driveway for a closer look, sharing the parking lot with The Angel from Hell.

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The gatekeeper was generous, allowing us passage,

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and we were free to roam through Recycled Spirits of Iron Sculpture Park for a small donation. 

I turned to Leah, pointing to the bird…


“Check it out. Toucan get in for the price of one!” I mused.

“Your jokes are a bit rusty,” she retorted.

“True,” I countered, “but at least I beaked your interest.

We paused at our first fish-out-of-water encounter to admire the mechanical calculus of mashing a gearhead, cogs and sprockets together with a wheel here, and a drain cover there, and accented with a fan blade for a fin, and a saw blade for a snout, wrapped around an exoskeleton of grating.

“How many horseshoes do you think it took to fabricate the skin?” Leah wondered aloud.

seahorse profile

We stepped around for a different perspective.


“Why don’t you ask the artist,” volunteered a robust woman wearing a calico print apron and approaching us from the porch. Indicating afar with her pointer finger, “That’s my husband on the tractor out there, just about finishing up the front yard cut. He’d be happy to meet-cha by the garage, cuz he loves talking about his art.”

Dan Klennert was hungry for conversation, and passionate about his process of collecting junk.

Dan Klennert portrait

He walked us through the nerve center of his creative cocoon, where all things junk were separated according to subject and size, and stacked in stalls that reached to the rafters.

There are scores of “works in progress” scattered throughout the warehouse that originated on the whim and inspiration of a stray piece of driftwood, or the basin of a wheelbarrow, or the rotary cage of a lawnmower.

Dan is a junk whisperer of sorts. As he sifts through new collections of scrap that he regularly inherits from area farmers and ranchers, he gets a “tingle of inspiration” when he comes across something special.

“This here’s gonna be a whale,” Dan claims, showing us the sweep of the bough with the sweep of his hand. “And this eagle I got started on, I’m still waitin’ on the perfect piece that gonna be his wings.”

“I grew up in a small town called Crookston, MN,” he recalls, “and as a kid, I loved to draw. When I was seven, my family moved to Seattle. That’s when I started pulling my red wagon around the neighborhood, and collecting things from junk piles. I wasn’t much of a student then, but Friday was always my favorite day of the week, because Friday was art day at school.”

Dan became a mechanic by age 22 and learned from a foreman “how to glue two pieces of metal with a welder.”

“I found a way to put together the two things I loved most, scrounging and art,” confides Dan.

Leah and I continued our tour of the property, where the playful…

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and the whimsical…


intercepted with the spiritual…

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the arcane…


and the carnal…

Adam and Eve
Adam and Eve

But it’s safe to say that Dan Klennert has found his Eden on earth. His four-acre niche has given him a place to park the variations of a mechanical mind that melds an anchor to a sprinkler to imagine a snail, as he earnestly nudges the nuance of ex-nihilo–creation out of nothing.


WPC–Variations on a Theme

Beauty and the Beast

Some mountains should keep their distance or at least stay in the background, while other mountains always seem ready for prime time. And so it is with Mt. Ranier and Mt. St. Helens–two significant volcanoes within the Cascade Arc, and part of the Pacific Ring of Fire.

As the crow flies, both peaks are 50 miles from each other, yet on a sliding scale, they couldn’t be further apart.

For starters, Mt. Ranier is majestic,

view from a bridge

lush and verdant,


powerful and dominant,

Ranier glaciers

and picturesque;

Ranier reflection

while Mt. St. Helens appears wretched,

Staring into the crater


crispy trees



and grim!

southern valley

To be clear, none of the fault belongs to Mount St. Helens. Before May 18, 1980, this was a vital volcano with a perfectly shaped cone, rising 9600 feet over Spirit Lake. But when the explosion raised the mountaintop, she was stripped down to 8366 feet without her snow bonnet.

The results were catastrophic: 300 mph force shock waves tore ancient trees from their roots, and the largest landslide in recorded history combined with glacial meltwater to create raging lahars that deposited up to 600 feet of volcanic slurry as distant as 50 miles from the eruption. Fifty-seven lives were lost in the blast, which also caused over 1 billion dollars in damage.

Thirty-seven years later, the altered landscape remains daunting and unforgiving,

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By contrast, the continuing history of Mt. Ranier and the surrounding area can be told in the 8 ft. diameter cross-section of an ancient Douglas-fir beside the Longmire Museum.

history tree

Although Mt. Ranier has been sleeping since 1895, its volcanic volatility may pose a bigger risk to nearby population centers than Mt. St. Helens.

But until then, the love affair continues with visitors who pass through the gates…


motorcycle dog
Thanks, Leah

…on the road to Paradise, stopping at Narada Falls…


Narada Falls wide

in the hopes of finding the mountain clear of cloud cover.

below Paradise

If there was ever a beauty pageant for mountains, Mt. Rainer would be a contender for the glacial tiara. There are few mountains more photogenic.

wildflowers and Ranier (2)

While the obvious star of the park is the mountain, the bounty extends beyond the twenty-five glaciers clinging to its summit,


as the park deceptively draws its visitors into the forest where the reward is equally as impressive, and no less stunning.

looking west of Ranier

Louise Lake

view from Paradise

Lest anyone think that Mt. St. Helens’s image can’t be salvaged, consider what a few accessories can accomplish to dress up an outfit.

While you can’t put lipstick on a mountain, there are artful techniques that offer instant gratification. For instance: point the camera a safe distance away from the subject, add a few clouds to soften the light, frame the composition with trees for a bit of mystery, then employ a spot of color for distraction, and voilà–Mt. St. Helens transformed!

view from the marsh

Or by photographing the beauty on the edge of the ugly, makes the ugly seem more attractive by association.

lily pads

Adams and Spirit

Although Wrangell–St. Elias, the Great Smokies, the Rockies, Shenandoah, and Grand Tetons are recognized as jewels in the National Park Service crown, none of them is a mountain unto itself. Only Mt. Ranier and Denali command the right to be a park that bears their names. (Mt. Rushmore doesn’t qualify; it’s a National Monument.)

While Mt. Ranier and Mt. St. Helens are very much a tale of two mountains, each one (despite their appearance) commands respect for different reasons: Mt. St. Helens for the power unleashed, and Mt. Ranier for the power restrained.