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The Arts Scene: Our shrub-steppe biome is inspiring

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Often when I am explaining to someone from out of state that I live in Washington, I clarify by saying I live on the “desert” side. I know they often have a vision of greenery and rain, such as in my hometown of Seattle.

Yet if I wanted to explain it more specifically, it is technically a type of desert: the shrub-steppe. This is where we can even specify it as a biome: a habitat of environment, plants and animals.

How does our particular biome inspire artists? That is revealed in a new exhibition at the Boxx Gallery called “Images of the Shrub-Steppe.” The exhibit is the result of a collaboration with Cowiche Canyon Conservancy. One of the best places to explore the natural shrub-steppe is a walk through Cowiche Canyon, and maybe take the path up to Wilridge Winery.

The Cowiche Canyon Conservancy owns and manages 5,000 acres of land and offers 30 miles of trails.

The exhibit was juried by local artist Leo Adams, who selected 66 pieces in a variety of media. Paintings, sculpture, fiber, photography and jewelry are just some of the works created by 47 artists.

Jay Carskadden says she is “inspired by and love the shrub-steppe because it’s a unique landscape. Every time I go out into the desert-like environment, it’s like a mini vision quest. The open space is soothing and the smell of sage gives me a sense of calm. The air is fresh and comforting.

“I can go on a hike alone to clear my head and come up with new ideas for projects — or walk with a friend and work out the ups and downs of the day — all while the secret lives of flora and fauna are discovered along the way. I love the little lizards, and when I catch the song of a meadowlark it makes me feel happy, and that everything is going to be OK.”

An artist reception will be held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

Also, a “Creative Coffee” will take place from 10:30 a.m. to noon Aug. 15 at Boxx Gallery. This event will include a talk by Hillary Goodner, geology instructor at Yakima Valley College, who will discuss the shrub-steppe and the unique geology of the area.

Proceeds from the sale of this exhibition will benefit the artists and the Highland Food Bank. The Boxx Gallery is at 616 Maple St. in Tieton.

• David Lynx is director of the Larson Gallery at Yakima Valley College in Yakima. Learn more at

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