The Art of Natura Obscura

My husband has a habit. Most often it kicks in during a hike, but it has been known to occur in cities. It all depends on what’s lying on the ground. Seaweed, spanish moss, volcanic rock and dried mud have all triggered it.

The habit is simple: Pick up a bit of nature lying about, then use it as a mask. That’s it. We call it “Natura Obscura”.

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The first instance of Natura Obscura came about years ago while walking Mt. Rainier’s Grove of the Patriarchs. Bits of lichen resembling cabbage were strewn about across the trail, and too good to pass by, Carl grabbed a handful, stuffed it into his hoodie then pulled the drawstring shut, enclosing the plant across his face. And there I was, standing by with a camera. Pleased with the result, Carl used the photo for his Lyft profile for months (why drivers still picked him up, I do not know).

Since this initial moment of inspiration, Natura Obscura has made a number of appearances across the country. The following are my favorites thus far, but this artform continues on. Take heed, and should a bit of fallen shrubbery look particularly alluring, take part.

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Brown seaweed along the beaches of Seattle’s Discovery Park transforms my husband into a hipster Zoidberg. The Puget Sound provides a peaceful backdrop.

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A landscape of volcanic rock outside of Bend, Oregon topped Carl’s sweatered body with a head of craggly igneous rock.

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Massive oak trees in New Orleans’ City Park shed clumps of spanish moss which make for wonderful photoshoot props. I wore a scarf of moss as we walked from one centuries old oak to another, but in a veil of the stuff Carl made quite an ethereal earth bride.

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A hike to Tumalo Falls in Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest warrants a fleece even in June, the perfect material for a fallen branch to cling to, especially a branch woven together with webs of moss.

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Summer’s flash floods in Escalante Utah quickly soak the desert landscape, before the sun dries out the land hours later, causing the earth to crack into shards of baked mud. This unique event provides an interesting visage.

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A gloomy day in San Francisco’s Sutro Baths provide a very ropey seaweed, helpful for contorting a hoodie-d head into an alien shape. Note: A hoodie serves as a handy accessory for stuffing vegetation into. Skinny jeans + hoodies is the standard uniform for men in the Pacific Northwest, and Carl was often lucky to find himself wearing the right thing at the right moment.

Prospective participants of Natura Obscura be warned, no one can say just what bugs may sleep in the clump of plants that could shortly rest over your nose and mouth. An open mind (and awareness of the physical characteristics of poison ivy) is needed prior to venturing into the woods. Natura Obscura does not involve tearing up flora, it’s all about momentarily repurposing what’s already on the ground, be it fallen or washed up. The landscape should look just as it did before and after the photo is taken.

It’s all about camouflaging into the environment, not disrupting it. After all, we’re the ones who are the strangers on the scene.

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