Monthly Archives: May 2014

Having New Eyes

On Saturday I had the opportunity to get a sneak peek at the new exhibit at the San Diego Natural History Museum (the NAT) that will be called Coast to Cactus.  And while it is still months away from being open to the public, I was inspired by the ideas and messages I found there. This exhibit focuses on the ecosystems of San Diego county…their diversity, beauty, resilience…all that is often unseen and unappreciated.

This quote, scratched out in marker on a piece of paper and taped to a wall, spoke to me and has continued to resonate.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes.      Marcel Proust

I’ve come to appreciate museum exhibits in new ways these days as I’ve learned about their conception and design.  Instead of consuming the content they offer, I see them as invitation to see my world anew.  The Coast to Cactus exhibit offered me views that I see everyday, and yet invited me to resee them…something I have also been doing through my camera lens.  In the emerging exhibit I saw native plants and animals…meticulously crafted (apparently by a company in Minnesota that hadn’t see many of the plants they were building) to look realistic. And in addition to seeing…there will be opportunities to smell, hear, and feel the environment as well.

On Sunday, we headed off to the Torrey Pines State Reserve to walk and enjoy the natural beauty of this magnificent place.  A few miles from home, this place is home to many native plants and animals, including the rare Torrey Pine tree.  And it is ruggedly natural, with sandstone cliffs and breathtaking views of the ocean, lagoon, canyons…and even the freeway!

This is my community…our school grounds host Torrey Pine trees, the ocean is the ever-present western border, hawks and other raptors cruise the skies, and native species like black sage and lemonade berry are frequently viewed as weeds.  I see them everyday…and yet often don’t see them at all.  Even the fires are a part of this ecosystem…and the exhibit features fire within it.  So many of our native plants depend on fire for regeneration, and rather than being destroyed by fire are reborn through fire.

As I hiked through Torrey Pines, I found myself looking for new ways to see this beautiful natural landscape.  Here’s a peek at some of what I saw.

beach cliffs torrey pines

Wind eroded cliffs, rich with iron oxide which gives it the reddish cast

sun through the Torreys

Sun through the Torrey Pines

succulent tree

The ocean through the yucca

prickly pear in bloom

Prickly pear cactus in bloom

prickly pear with bee

Bees pollinating cactus blossoms

ceanothus flower

Is this buckwheat or ceanothus (up close through my macro lens)?  It’s everywhere in the lagoon and at Torrey Pines Reserve.

As you might imagine, I took many more photos…and I’m sure you will catch a glimpse of a few more over the next days and weeks.  I love spending time out in my community, learning to see my everyday landscapes in new ways.  And in addition to what I see through my lens, when I am out taking photos I am also smelling, hearing, and feeling what these places have to offer.  I hope that the Coast to Cactus exhibit that will open in 2015 at the NAT will have a similar impact on others who visit it.  You don’t have to go to Torrey Pines to find this beauty…it is all over San Diego, you just need to look with new eyes.

En Plein Air: Beach Photography

As a writer, I’m trying to pay attention to the stuff the people aren’t paying attention to.

When this quote came across my Twitter feed today, I found myself thinking about how it applies to photography too.  And establishing a habit of taking photos every day…with the express purpose of posting at least one…pushes me to consider new ways of paying attention to the potential images around me.  It’s not that I don’t see what others see…I do, and I often see that others around me take photos and post photos that are similar to mine.  So that means I need to pay attention to the details of composition, lighting, angles…

I realize that I use photography for a variety of purposes.  Sometimes I am documenting events in my life, sometimes I am teaching myself some new techniques, sometimes I am relaxing and enjoying the outdoors…and sometimes I am working to create art.

Some photos turn out just the way I want them to, with the colors and focus and frame all in perfect harmony.  And some pictures benefit from some editing…cropping, light adjustments, filters and such.

When I saw the Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge today was “work of art,” I knew I would focus on photos taken at the beach.  I headed to the beach today as a break from worrying about the wildfires in our community.  School was canceled, the weather was still hot, and the sand, waves, and briny sea air called to me.  As I got closer to the shore I noticed the juxtaposition of the bright blue sky to the west and south and dark smoke rising from the north.  The fires on Camp Pendleton had flared this morning, and firefighters were hard at work knocking it back down.  As I walked in the cool salt water I aimed for the shot that would capture the brightness of the blue sky and also capture the dark, ominous smoke in the distance.

beach with smoke

The carefree playfulness of the children on the beach was contagious!  Even though the water is still cool…in the mid 60’s, it seemed that everyone was enjoying the water.  I saw this group of kids heading into the surf and wanted to get a sense of the activity.  It’s interesting to me that the photo looks like the beach is empty, just by the framing of the shot, when in reality there were lots of people on the beach today.  I also played with a filter in Snapseed, creating a bit of a vignette effect, highlighting the children at play.

beach play

I ended up back at the beach later this evening when my husband came home from work.  It was still quite warm out and I had enjoyed the beach so much earlier in the day that I wanted him to have the opportunity to feel the relaxation and the cool of the ocean.  As I walked down the ramp toward the shore I noticed this gull on the roof of the  beach building.  With this post in mind, I decided to play around with the image a bit, cropping to bring the bird closer and then using a black and white filter.  I’ve noticed that black and white is great for some photos…and terrible on others.  I like it on this one.

Gull on roof

It wasn’t yet sunset as our walk came to an end, but the sun was low in the sky and created a shiny reflection on the water below it.  As we sat on some benches on the hill above the beach at the end of our walk, I was drawn to the silhouette of the palm tree in the distance.  I’ve photographed this tree before, but not quite at this same angle or at this same time of day.  It’s funny that this filter is called redscale, it seems to give the photo a yellowish, sunset kind of glow.

sunsetting yellow filter

As a photographer, even an amateur, there is a lot to pay attention to.  And the more I practice my craft, the more I find that I am able to pay attention to the stuff other people aren’t paying attention to, resulting in some interesting works of art…or alternatively, some interesting prompts for writing.  The beach is a rich resource to draw from, a source of inspiration, renewal, relaxation and fun.  And for me, today, it was also a welcome distraction.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Going Places

Enjoy taking photos? Love to share them with others? Welcome to this week’s photo challenge! (I post a new challenge every week…check in each week and join the fun!)

As I think about a photo challenge for this week, my mind is also on the horrendous fires burning in my community.  (If you are interested you can read more about it in yesterday’s blog post.)  Schools were closed today and most, including mine, are also closed tomorrow.  The firefighters are amazing and the flames are fierce.  At one point yesterday we had at least 9 separate fires burning in San Diego county.  And while there is still danger and fear around…it’s time to think about a photo challenge for the week.  I had one all ready to go…and then changed my mind and decided to go in a different direction–literally and figuratively.

Seeing the sky fill with smoke creates an urge to move…to check on your home and neighborhood, to see what is going on, to make sure children and animals are safe.  This photo was my “going” photo yesterday…as fires moved into my area.

smoke over cardiff

But earlier in the week, I had done some other versions of “going places” as  I headed up to the Bay Area to attend a conference and visit my son…and took advantage of the opportunity to ride the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit).

bart station

Sometimes going places is as simple as taking the dog out for a walk around the neighborhood.  (You can see I fell a bit behind as I stopped along the way to take photos of other interesting things in the neighborhood!)

walking Roscoe

And then there’s this little guy who is genetically programmed (I think) to determine his travels based on eating his way through all available milkweed.  I love how the butterflies who lay the eggs seem to be always going places and somehow know how to find milkweed…this particular box of milkweed is outside my classroom.


So this week’s photo challenge is to capture an image or images that show someone or something going places.  As always, you are welcome to interpret “going places” in ways that suit you best! Post either the photo alone or along with writing inspired by the photo. I also invite you to use others’ photos as inspiration for your own writing and photography. I often use another photographer’s image as “mentor text” for my own photography, trying to capture some element in my own way.

I like to share my images and writing on social media…and I invite you to share yours widely too. (You might consider Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+) Use the hashtag #goingplaces and include @nwpianthology to make it easy for us to find and enjoy. You can find me on Twitter and Instagram @kd0602. I’d love to follow you if you share your handle.

You can also share your photos and writing by linking to this blog post or sharing in the comment section below. How will you show going places through your lens?  I can’t wait to find out!




Palm trees, the Pacific ocean, mild temperatures, sea breezes…paradise in so many ways.  But this week we are reminded that even in beautiful southern California, there are risks and dangers that make us all feel powerless and frightened.

High temperatures, low humidity, Santa Ana winds…and extreme drought conditions… combine to make the scariest of conditions for us this week.  This is fire weather.

And yesterday…with temperatures into the 90s on the coast, the worst happened, a fire erupted.  In these conditions, the smallest of sparks is fanned into a raging inferno.  With a single fire yesterday, all fire resources were focused on battling that fire.  My husband watched air drops from his office window.  Schools were evacuated, residents were evacuated…no buildings burned and that fire is at 50% containment.

Today it was already more than 80 degrees when I woke up…and was warming quickly. Before the end of our minimum day, as I spent time observing reading groups, I noticed what appeared to be clouds in the sky.  As I walked out to take a closer look, and take a photo, I noticed the dark smoke in the distance and headed to the office to find out if there was more information about nearby fires.  I had heard earlier that there were fires on Camp Pendleton (a nearby military base), but this new smoke was much closer…a few miles from home.

fire from cardiff

Shortly after students left, we had an announcement that our staff meeting was canceled and we were free to go to our homes–with many teachers living close to areas threatened by the fire.  The thing about fires is that they are unpredictable.  They aren’t easily controlled and they turn in an instant.  Winds whip them this way and that and they create their own weather systems within the fire itself, fanning the flames and generating tremendous energy that seems to spin the destruction in all directions.  100 degree temperatures didn’t help the firefighters, but water drops and the expertise and courage of these people manage to keep devastation to a minimum.

At one point this afternoon there were at least 7 active fires in the county…most in north county.  Some houses have been lost, but human life at this point has not.  School has been cancelled for tomorrow and uncertainty prevails.  I’m fortunate, my family and home are safe…for now, but we are watchful and vigilant because this is not yet over.

Here are a few photos of the fires…courtesy of some of my friends who shared them on social media.

Bernardo fire, Tuesday (photo credit: Abby)

Bernardo fire, Tuesday (photo credit: Abby)

Oceanside fire, today. Photo credit: Janis

Oceanside fire, today. Photo credit: Janis

Carlsbad fire from Encinitas, Photo credit: Laura

Carlsbad fire from Encinitas, Photo credit: Laura

Like tornados and earthquakes and floods and storms, wildfires are scary.  They make you feel helpless and vulnerable…and they reveal all the weaknesses of our urban systems.  Traffic jams up, electricity capacity is compromised, and we often realize we do not have the plans in place that will serve us best in an emergency.  My bags are packed…just in case…and the cat carriers are ready if things change and we have to leave our home.

In the meantime, thank you firefighters for your amazing service, expertise, and dedication.  I hate fire weather, but I love this place.  I understand that wildfires are a natural part of our ecosystem, made more difficult because of urban development, but it doesn’t make me like them.  It does make me more wary about fire, and more vigilant about paying attention to fire safety advisements and preparation.

So, stay safe San Diego, take care of yourself and each other.  It’s supposed to be hot again tomorrow…and then cool off.  I hope tomorrow brings good news and containment!






A Mother’s Day Adventure

Sometimes one invitation creates space for new adventures and unexpected opportunities.  And for me that invitation led to today’s Mother’s Day adventure.

Tomorrow I will attend the 100Kin10 Summit at the Exploratorium in San Francisco–an effort focused on improving STEM teaching by bringing interested stakeholders in lots of different fields together to support teacher development and retention.  But more about that later…

So this morning I was on the moveheading to San Francisco on Mother’s Day to spend the day (and night) with my son and daughter-in-law.  And all of today’s travels were adventures…trying some new ways to getting where I needed and wanted to go.

I started my morning on an airline I hadn’t flown before.  I made my decision based on both price (of course) and on my need to fly into SFO.  There were lots of choices…and Southwest is usually my go to airline for short jaunts like this.  But this time I decided to try out Virgin America.  Advantages: same cost as Southwest, secured seat assignment (no worries about checking in exactly 24 hours before your flight to get your line-up number).  It also has a very different vibe…feels a bit “retro” and “hip”…especially the safety features video (a music video piece…quite amusing!).  The purple light decor and the music that played during the boarding process added to that feeling.

Virgin airlines

My flight arrived early into San Francisco…another plus, and I headed off to find the BART.  Today I would ride the Bay Area Rapid Transit system from the airport to my son’s house in the east bay.  I’ve ridden BART before, but not from SFO and not to my son’s house.  And you probably know, when you don’t do something very often, each time feels like something new.  Figuring out how to buy the ticket was probably the trickiest part of my journey…and it wasn’t too challenging.

sfo bart station

bart rails

I spent the BART ride people watching and taking photos of the scenery passing by.  While the train was relatively empty when I got on at the airport, it continued to fill as we headed from station to station toward the city.  There were travelers with luggage, young people with backpacks, families…a cute family with three exuberant boys got on at one point, the young couple with the bouquet of flowers for her mom, the guy with the electric bike that he positioned between his knees so he could sit and work his crossword puzzle for the journey, the older woman who was off to spend the day with her son, the cute older couple who held hands as they found seats, and more…

electric bike

I took this shot by shooting out the window while we traveled at a fast pace through a tunnel, capturing the reflection of people in the car with me.

window reflection

It was fun to watch and notice and recognize the different communities along the way, from the colorful houses on the hillsides between the airport and the downtown area to views of the oil rigs and shipping containers outside of Oakland, and then the expansive hillsides of the suburban east bay communities.  I arrived as scheduled, ready for my son to pick me up.

bart station distance

After being treated to lunch out with my son and daughter-in-law, we had a relaxing Mother’s Day, hanging out at their house, catching up and talking, and playing with Roscoe…their Corgi. We were still on the move as we headed out for a walk into the sunny and warm afternoon, giving me an opportunity to explore their neighborhood.

dog walking

And…it gets better…my son cooked a delicious dinner for us!  The perfect ending to a wonderful day filled with adventure, movement, and love.  I’ll be back on BART tomorrow, commuting with my son this time, as he heads in to work and I head in for the conference…