Category Archives: nature

Watch Them Soar

I can watch them for hours as they coast on the air currents high above my head. They seem to play with each other…follow the leader, tag, red rover red rover won’t you come over… Some arrange themselves in perfect formation, vees of aerodynamic perfection performing intricate maneuvers in mid flight. Others fly solo, seemingly free from the attachments of family or community.

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Birds are hard to photograph.  Maybe that’s the draw for me.  They don’t sit still and the slightest movement sends them to the sky.  They seem spare and compact, unlimited by the constraints of time and space.

“In order to see birds it is necessary to become a part of the silence.”

Robert Lynd

Birds require patience and silence.  I have to sharpen my senses, still my heart, and settle into the landscape to have a chance to watch them in action.  And when I pay close attention I learn a lot about the unique qualities of the birds I am watching–and maybe something about myself too.

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Watching birds is a lot like teaching.  The most important part of my work is getting to know my students.  I have to recognize the subtleties of their behavior, knowing when to let them grapple productively and when to step in and offer support–a place to perch until their wings are ready for the next flight.  I have to remember to be still and let the learning come rather than force my pace. Patience and silence are important here too.

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Like students, birds often seek cover, blending in with their surroundings rather than risk standing out in the open, exposed and vulnerable.  But when the space is safe enough and if you listen carefully, you’ll hear their song.  And with time you recognize those voices, even when you don’t see them.

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When the light is right for a mirror-perfect reflection, I realize that I love birds in the wild but resist the idea of caging these creatures. Yeah, they’re easier to get close to and photograph in a cage–but something essential is missing.

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But mostly, birds and students give me hope.

In the words of Emily Dickenson:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

Watching birds reminds me to expand my self-imposed limits and to give my dreams flight–to take to the metaphorical skies and soar.  And that’s what I want for my students too.  Their lives are awash in possibility. I hope that my small breath under their wings helps lift them to pursue their interests and passions.

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So they can soar.

Rainforest Serenity

Where I live it seldom rains…and when it does, it creates all kinds of havoc because we are not equipped to deal with it.  And our environment reflects the lack of water, with plants that take the least water–cacti, succulents, sages and other brushes–thriving, while others only survive because we take the time (and expense) to water them.

Today we snuck away for the long weekend to a place known for rain–and specifically headed off to explore the temperate rain forests of the Olympic Peninsula in the Olympic National Park. We knew that rain was likely for the entire weekend, and still headed off to spend time outside in this environment so different from the one we are used to.

Somehow, we managed to avoid rain today, but had plenty of evidence of its presence.  As we walked among the giant evergreen trees (spruce, cedar, and firs) I could feel the calm settle over me.  Out in the cool, damp air among the towering trees, the sun had to work to reach the ground.  The serenity was tangible, but seems difficult to put into words.

light in the center

I started to notice the water droplets hanging from tree branches as I brushed against them and caused my own little rain storm.  And then I became fascinated with the jewel-like quality of the water, trying to capture it with my camera.

drops from the branches

I noticed ferns and mosses and lichens all around me and I started to play with my camera, trying to capture the light as it danced and played hide and seek in the forest.

moss in the light

And I started wondering about mushrooms…why hadn’t I seen any?  At about that moment, I came around the corner and noticed this beauty growing on a fallen log.

mushroom close up

There were more…and more as I began looking closely.  I love this entire colony we found growing on the flat face of this stump.

mushrooms on a log

Geoff caught a picture of me leaning in closely with my camera trying to capture the unique beauty of fungi!

leaning in close

We left the rainforest and headed toward the beach…hoping to catch both the low tide and sunset before darkness pushed us indoors for the night.  And you know that I spend plenty of time on the beach…but these wide, wild, untamed beaches are very different from the beaches I frequent.  The tide was low and sand seemed endless.  Instead of driftwood, drift logs were in evidence!  We spent only a short time walking the beach as we took in the sunset.

logs on the beach

And as we headed off to a tiny town that would be home for the evening, we made one last stop after sunset, but before darkness had settled.  I love this post-sunset glow that shines pink through the silhouettes of trees that frame the ocean beyond.

post sunset at ruby beach

I didn’t know I was looking for serenity today, but it found me as I explored the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.  I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring!

 

 

 

Taking Time to Explore

I’ve been debating on a word to call on as a muse for 2015.  I’ve been looking for a word that is active…that will push me to move out of my comfort zone, challenge me mentally and physically, and will work for both my professional and personal life.

And today’s adventures pushed me to decide.

We knew we wanted to squeeze one more hike into these precious days off…something a bit out of our ordinary choices.  And when we left the house this morning in our hiking gear, with cold weather layers ready, we thought we were heading up into our local mountains.  But at the gas station, we changed our minds and headed off on a two-hour trek to Palm Springs and the aerial tramway.

tram to the mountaintop

The tram takes you from the bottom of the mountain near Palm Springs to near the top of San Jacinto at over 7000 feet.  What we didn’t anticipate were the crowds…or the snow.  Each tram holds about 80 people and takes about 15 minutes to go from the valley to the mountain station…and there are two.  We were lucky and only waited 90 minutes for our turn to go to the top.  By the time we boarded the tram people were waiting more than three and half hours!

Once we got to the top, we headed off on a five plus mile hike…in the snow!  And ah, it was breathtaking!  As we walked away from the lodge, we moved away from the throngs of people who had come solely to throw some snowballs and slide in the snow.  The sun shone brightly on the clean, white snow.  We could hear birds chirping and our own breath as we climbed the mountain.  We happened by this family of snowpeople as we headed out on our hike.

snowman family

We reached our destination at 9100 feet!  Crisp and white and fresh…Round Valley (the peak is another three miles up, we’re saving that for another day!).

at altitude

The views were gorgeous!  I had that same feeling of peace and relaxation that I get when I walk on the beach–a sense of the power and beauty of nature.

tree on San Jacinto

From the magnificence of the trees, rocky mountainside, and enormous boulders, to the fragile elegance of icicles and the reminders of what is yet to come from the pinecones…the wonders of Mother Nature surrounded us and wrapped us in her arms.

pinecone in the snow

And for the cherry on top, as we got back into the tram for the trip back down the mountain, the sun was setting with the full moon in view.  As the tram floor rotated 360 degrees during our descent, we were treated to amazing and colorful views of the entire valley below.

full moon at sunset in the tram

A friend reminded me that I could actually stick with my word from last year for more than a year…play has plenty more potential.  I could probably stay with it for a lifetime.  (And I think it will remain with me!)

But I’m ready to add to play…and this year my word will be explore.  I want to explore possibilities and places, new ideas and old habits.  I want my explorations to take me in new directions, to push me to try things I haven’t imagined I would ever do, like hike up a mountain in the snow!  I look forward to exploring this year…physically, intellectually, imaginatively, and playfully.  Hope you’ll come along for the ride!

A Bear and a Bridge

This really is a month for the unexpected!  On our last day at Yellowstone, we set off early knowing we were heading toward the other side of the park and hoping that an early start would bring more opportunities to see wildlife.

As we sipped our coffee and drove down the road, we suddenly saw a bear ambling across the road.  You might remember from yesterday’s post that Geoff had his heart set on seeing a bear during our visit…so imagine our excitement and the jolt of adrenaline when we spied the bear ahead of us on the road!  I grabbed my phone as the bear looked up and headed off to the side of the road.  I started taking pictures as it headed off, stopping and looking back at us then continuing into the trees.

bear in action

I was excited that the photos captured the bear…and with some editing, showed some of what we saw.  After consulting with some folks at an information center, we think this is a grizzly based on the hump on the back and the fact that it is collared.  (They said they believed only the grizzlies are collared in the park…not the black bears.)

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bear

This bear sighting was truly the cherry on the top of this trip to Yellowstone!  Even the rainy day couldn’t dampen our spirits or spoil our adventures.

As a lark, later in the day we decided to take what we thought was a quarter mile hike to a natural bridge in the rain.  Donning our rain jackets with hoods on, we headed down the path through the woods.  That quarter mile turned out to be at least a three-mile round trip in a steady downpour…and totally worth it!  The natural bridge was spectacular!

natural bridge

We ended our day with dinner at the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel, a delicious and relaxing ending to three days in the park.  The rain stopped and the sky brightened.  As we drove out of the park towards our hotel, the sun and clouds gathered to create a gorgeous skyscape.  We stopped not far from the arch to take this final photo at Yellowstone.

skyscape

Our time in Yellowstone has been amazing, filled with the unexpected.  We’ve enjoyed exploring the natural beauty, spending lots of time outdoors, and piquing our interests to learn more about the natural world.

There is so much more to say…and so many more photos I’ve taken on this trip.  I’m sure you will be hearing more about my adventures in Montana and Wyoming!

Summer Lovin’: Hiking

Sweat, dust, steep trails, panoramic vistas, photo ops, heart pounding, more sweat, more dust…

Hiking has become my new favorite activity this summer, summer lovin’ for the Daily Post weekly photo challenge.  And in spite of feeling like I am going to die at some points, I’m enjoying the exertion, exploring the county with my hubby, and the amazing opportunities for photography.

Today was a tough one.  We headed off bright and early to avoid the heat…but not early enough.  An 8am start meant we ended our nearly 8 mile hike at noon, and it was hot!  The early morning light was beautiful as we headed out and we noticed a group of children fishing from the pier.

fishing dock

The trail definitely got more trying as we climbed and climbed.  We could see views of hikes we had done in previous weeks–and could also see that this one was longer and more strenuous. At one point, I thought I might have to stop and turn back.  But a rest at this tree almost two miles from the summit convinced me that I could muster the strength to go on.

Tree Mt WoodsonMaybe it was the shade, maybe it was the views…whatever it was, I continued to climb.  Dust clung to my sweat covered arms and legs, my hat provided some much needed shade, and regular stops for sips of water kept me going.  The trail was rocky, switchbacks zigzagging toward the summit.  We went through this boulder path as we neared the top.

Boulder path

I was surprised as we crested the summit to find a line of people waiting for a photo opportunity on “the chip,” an interesting rock formation near the top of Mt Woodson.  When the person got their “turn,” they would head out toward the end of the chip and pose while a hiking companion took their picture.  We didn’t wait in line, but I did get a few shots of the comedy of watching others.

Waiting for photo op Mt Woodson

But the chip isn’t quite the top of the mountain.  We continued up a fairly steep asphalt path to the pinnacle where all the communication towers jutted high above the peak.

Selfie Mt Woodson

There were also beautiful pine trees and amazing views of the valleys below.  And it was the perfect place to stop and rest a bit before heading back.  Here is picture of my husband with the breathtaking views behind him.

Geoff Mt Woodson

I thought it would easier heading down…and I was right for a good portion of the trip.  The rest at the top was energizing, and there were cool breezes up at the heights.  But it got a lot hotter and a lot harder as the lake came into view.

Lake Poway

At nearly 7 miles into the hike, our reserves of energy had run low and the noon-time heat was brutal.  The one more uphill near the end of the hike was excruciating!

And in spite of the challenges, I’m loving hiking this summer.  I love the time my husband and I spend out in the countryside exploring and testing our physical limits (he’s a much more experienced hiker than I am!).  I love testing the limits of my body…even when I am hating it! There is a wonderful camaraderie on the trail…and unexpected diversity of age, ethnicity, language, physical ability…with people cheering each other on.  And there are amazing numbers of people out hiking on weekends, at times these trails resemble our local freeways (without the road rage!).  I love the hours on the trail looking for interesting photos, noticing the wildlife (we watched a bird of prey float on the wind currents at the summit today…it seemed almost within arm’s reach) and the resilience of the drought resistant plant life.  We observed areas previously ravaged by fire returning to their natural beauty and places where nature is reclaiming what men tried to tame.  My next hike will be in Montana…I can’t wait!

What are you lovin’ this summer?

 

 

 

Sunshine on a Stem

I spied it from afar as I was heading to my car this morning.  And I had to stop.  Right in the middle of our gasping-for-water, drought stricken lawn a dandelion stood tall and yellow, sunshine on a stem.

dandelion painting

I’ve definitely become obsessed with dandelions…in all their forms.  They represent the tenacity, resourcefulness, and strength I want to help cultivate in learners and teachers. Learners as hot house flowers that have to be carefully controlled and cultivated seem too fragile to become the innovators and explorers we need in the world.  Teachers are often portrayed as gardeners, nurturing their crop of learners…but I’m wanting to reject that image too, it seems to take all the energy and agency away from students in that scenario.

Like dandelions, I want learners to thrive where they live.  I want them to land in places where they can dig in and grow tall.  And I want teachers to be like dandelions too, not dependent on specialized tools but instead drawing on the processes that honor writers and tinkerers and explorers.  And when they happen to be plucked by the curious child who takes a big breath and blows on the puff, I hope the wishes fly far and wide and land on fertile ground so that these tenacious and resourceful survivors populate our classrooms and our world.

 

 

Exploring Natives…and Some Extras!

If you’ve been reading my blog, you may have noticed my obsession with weeds (here, here, and here are some examples). So when I heard that the Lux Art Institute was hosting an artist whose work features weeds, I couldn’t wait to visit.  And I wasn’t disappointed.  Beverly Penn makes exquisite sculptures by casting what others might classify as ordinary or weed-like flora in bronze and then creating beautiful art that seems to breathe, move, and reflect light.  I wish I could have taken photos of the art–but the museum requested no photos in the studio.

And as an added extra, when I had a minute to chat with the artist, she talked about how her current work (that she is working on as she is in residency at the Lux) uses the native plants that grow prolifically on the Lux grounds.  As we left the studio, we headed out into the grounds to see the sculptures installed in the native plant trail…also surrounded by even more native chaparral.

I took this photo of the native buckwheat.  And if you look closely you will see a little extra in the background–one of the fanciful birdhouses that is a part of the sculpture collection at the Lux.

native and extra

As I walked the natives, I couldn’t resist stopping to put my macro lens on to get closer to these often unappreciated beauties.  Seeing Beverly Penn’s sculptures inspired my curiosity and had me wanting to look even more closely at these plants that seem to grow like weeds…and many consider weeds.  Lately, they have been celebrated for their resilience in drought conditions, requiring considerably less water than the decorative plants that many like to cultivate around homes and businesses.

This Hummingbird’s Trumpet uses its brilliant scarlet to attract pollinators…and my eye.

monkey flower

I was surprised to learn that this vibrant yellow bloom is called the California Brittlebush.  I love the bumpiness of the centers when when you get close.

brittle yellow

I’m really not sure of the name of this purple flowering plant.  The bloom is interesting because it includes a spiky ball and then a delicate flower.

purple native

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My interest in weeds has also allowed me to find the beauty in the stages of blooming that some might dismiss as ugly or uninteresting.  This plant, the Seaside Daisy, had a few blossoms in full bloom with white petals and a bright yellow center.  But I found myself interested in the blossoms that were past their prime, “gone to seed”–reminding me of dandelions and their tenacious seed dispersement and the beauty of the husks as the seeds blow away.

seaside daisy husk

seaside daisy seed

I was also drawn to the black sage…a common plant in these parts.  The blossoms are now skeletons, and yet somehow their intricate beauty draws me in and the fragrance evokes San Diego summer.

black sage

I loved the extras that presented themselves as I headed off to the Lux today.  I was reminded to appreciate the natives…and look closely to find their beauty and intricacy.  And one more extra: I ran into one of my students (and her little sister who will be my student when school begins in the fall) as they came out of the art studio and I was about to enter.  Their mom mentioned that they were there because we had studied weeds…they just couldn’t wait to see what the artist was doing with weeds as her subject!  What a great beginning to summer!