Category Archives: nature

A Conversation With a Duck

Sometimes a conversation with a duck takes a surprising turn.

mallard talking

This guy had a lot to say about my camera and the intrusion of his privacy.  He stood right up and let me know that my attention was not wanted.  Before I had walked toward him, he had been sitting in this spot, relaxing in the cool and sunny afternoon sun.  A couple of females swam nearby.  This little body of water sits next to a local community college…across the street from the local lagoon.

mallard swimming

As I walked back toward my car, this mallard continued his conversation as he stepped into the water and swam upstream, against the current.

I’ve been working to capture some of the sounds I hear on my photo walks these days.  And it’s hard.  When I am out walking and taking photos and noticing the world around me, I also hear amazing sounds…like the conversation with the duck.  Unfortunately, the microphone on my iPhone is simply not sensitive enough to capture these conversations with nature.

Today I headed out to a portion of the lagoon I had never explored before.  It was strangely desolate…dry, smelly…not the lush environment I experienced closer to the shore.  I could hear so much more than I could see in this setting.  Birds called, dragonflies and bees buzzed, the rushes whispered, and I could hear the white noise of the traffic from the freeway not far in the distance.  I came across this sign…and it made me wonder if the birds take note of information like this!

bird sign

As I explored this dry and deserted environment, I noticed these strangely unique plants…I don’t know what they are called and haven’t seen them before…but was immediately drawn to them.  My husband called them alien flowers and immediately began a narrative about visitations from aliens (he is a big sci-fi aficionado).  Personally, I think these thistle-looking flowers are beautiful!

alien flowers

As I walked along the road away from the lagoon toward my car, I found myself thinking about the distinctions between weeds and native species…and in many cases, I think they may be one in the same!  I doubt that anyone planted these flowers, but I recognize them as native.  I have seen them often in and around the lagoon…and they are lovely…especially as they blow in the sea breezes.  They are like miniature sunflowers or daisies…brilliant yellow…the definition of spring!

flowers near lagoon

I walked through many patches of these flowers growing wild along the side of the road, attracting bees and other pollinators, and simply making the road more beautiful than ordinary dirt and asphalt ever thought of being.  And then I noticed this tree, large and stately…and likely home to many birds and bugs, and shade to many more.

tree near lagoon

I learn so much on my walks with my camera…even when I don’t capture it in images.  Today I was much more aware of sounds than images.  What looked like dried grasses and brush hinted at a richness of life within.  I could hear birds calling, the rustle of animals, and the wind singing in tune with the plant life.  I came across a hidden babbling brook and wondered if the water were fresh or brackish.  At one point a bee came to whisper in my ear and stayed with me longer than I really wanted.

And so I am reminded to not just look…but also to listen to the world around me.  There is so much to be learned from a conversation with a mallard or the whispers of a bee, if you just take the time to listen.

Wise Words Inspire: April’s Photo-a-Day Challenge

It seems like a chicken and egg dilemma: does the picture inspire the words or do the words inspire the picture? I’m never quite sure. I often go out and take photos of things that catch my eye and later go back and figure out how to make it work for the photo prompt of the day. On other days a single photo will bring a flood of words, and then sometimes with a word or words as prompt, my eye is tuned to find photo opportunities I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise.

With spring in the air (even though we in southern CA haven’t had much of a winter), I find myself looking for signs of the seasons: buds emerging, flowers blossoming, baby animals, warm breezes, rejuvenating rainfall, and all the poetry they evoke. My friend Janis was inspired to find some quotes for us to use as prompts for our April #sdawpphotovoices photo-a-day challenge.

So for April, let each prompt inspire a week of photos. Take the quote literally or figuratively. Take some photos and examine them with the quote in mind to find the intersections and connections or read and ponder the quote and then head out to find the images that the quotation evokes. You get to decide if your photo matches the prompt!

After you shoot, post a photo each day with the hashtag #sdawpphotovoices to Twiiter, Instagram, Flicker, Google+ and/or Facebook (the more the better!), so that we can all enjoy the posts. If you are game for some extra action, compose a blog post about a photo, a week’s worth of photos, write a photo essay, try a learning walk, or write some poetry or even a song! (More about learning walks here and here) You are invited to create a pingback by linking to this url or post your blog address in the comment section. It’s fun for me to see what others are doing with the same prompts I am using!

Week 1: April 1-6

Nature will bear the closest inspection. She invites us to lay our eye level with her smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain. —Henry David Thoreau

orange bud

Week 2: April 7-13
I had always planned to make a large painting of the early spring, when the first leaves are at the bottom of the trees, and they seem to float in space in a wonderful way. But the arrival of spring can’t be done in one picture. —David Hockney

orange flowers

Week 3: April 14-20
Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better. —Albert Einstein

purple fist bud

Week 4: April 21-27
Spring has returned. The Earth is like a child that knows poems. —Rainer Maria Rilke
Earth laughs in flowers.—Ralph Waldo Emerson

flowers red and pink

Week 5: April 28-30
What is the good of your stars and trees, your sunrise and the wind, if they do not enter into our daily lives? —E. M. Forster

sun on water

Let these wise words inspire your photographic art in April! Have fun, be creative, explore the limits of your photography…April is the perfect time for new beginnings. You can post every day, once a week, or even sporadically throughout the month…whatever works in your life. Be sure to share and tag your photos with #sdawpphotovoices so we can find them!



Learning From Weeds

My students seem to be falling in love with weeds.  After reading Weeds Find a Way yesterday, we invited students to be on the lookout for weeds.  And this morning while kids were out running laps for Cardio Club, I was presented with more than one dandelion puff–those magical seed pods of childhood.  I guess they wanted to make sure I knew how much they loved them!

And I love it when different classroom activities intersect and overlap, creating a deeper learning experience for all of us.  Today when students headed out to the garden with our gardening teacher, they went in search of weeds.  And while they had weeded the garden beds before, after our reading yesterday and with the gardening teacher knowing that we were learning about weeds, this time they were looking more closely.  One student came in from recess with a weed clutched in her fist.  She showed me the plant, pointing out what she was as interesting features.  She also let me know that she had sketched this plant in her gardening journal.

Student brought a basket full of weeds back to the classroom…and we’ll use them later this week in a science lab about weeds.  As I peered into the basket, I was immediately interested in the stickers on the plants that I remember as a child.  I have vivid memories of pulling those stickers out of my socks.  And of course, I had to grab my phone and take a few shots.

sticker weed

In some ways the topic of weeds has stuck to me like those stickers I used to pull out of my socks.  I’m noticing a lot of variety in weeds and find myself wishing I knew more about them. I’m also still thinking about labels and how that influences the way we view and treat those labeled as nuisance or disposable or disgusting or not worth time or energy.  This goes well beyond plants.  It seems to apply to both living things and inanimate items.

Think about those one-time use plastic bags that many people (me included) use to carry groceries home from the market.  We find them everywhere they don’t belong…on the ground, at the beach, on park benches and half buried in the sand.  They are seen as expendable, cheap, replaceable–so people are not taking care to keep track of them or even to dispose of them properly.

My city is contemplating banning these bags because of the environmental dangers they pose. How will the ban change the way people see them and use them?

And how does this apply to students?  Which are seen as expendable, easy to replace, just a number in the system? Does that change the way they are treated?

I’m glad we are learning about weeds.  They are helping me learn a lot about myself.

A Homage to Weeds

I’m fascinated by weeds.  They have a way of surviving in the most unlikely of circumstances, even when they are directly and persistently attacked…like the dandelions in our lawn!  And on a lazy Saturday, a day where I am trying not to have the cold this tell-tale runny nose is suggesting, I’m still looking for an interesting photo or two to snap.

So, after wandering around my yard, I spied a patch of dandelions and other assorted weeds that have hijacked an abandoned pot of dirt and the ground around it.

I love my macro lens when weeds are concerned, it takes me in close and lets me see the magic and beauty of what often is mistaken as ordinary.  So with the macro attached, my phone and I headed out to a corner of the yard.  I’m particularly interested in unfolding buds, like this one.

Dandelion bud-macro

The string-like petals remind me of a variegated ball of yarn or multicolored strands of thread. It’s hard to believe that this will bloom into that yellow, sun-like blossom that most recognize as a dandelion.  (I’ve written about dandelions before, if you’re interested.)  Here’s a few tiny blossoms trying to get a foothold in my lawn.


SDAWP TC Cindy Jenson-Elliott just had her first picture book released recently.  Weeds Find a Way is a book that celebrates weeds in all their tenacity, beauty, and adaptions for survival. We’ll be using it in our class this week to both teach students about weeds in all their glory and to study the writing as a mentor text for our writing about some other plants in our school garden.

water drop on dandelion

So this post is an homage to weeds, a pause to appreciate these often maligned plants.  Taking time to find beauty, especially in what others have taught us to see as ugly or a nuisance, is refreshing and renewing for me.  And for me it transfers beyond weeds and helps me look at all aspects of life and living in a more appreciative frame.

What have you taken the time to appreciate today?

The Strength of Violet

Violet always seems so gentle, so calm…like flowers budding in the spring.

The color of these mussels surprised me.  Sometimes they can look almost black…other times a deep indigo or rich blue.  But on this day, in the warm winter sun they looked violet, understating their strength and resilience.

I admire these creatures who survive in the intertidal zone.  They live part of the time under the sea, covered completely by briny ocean water.  And they live part of the time exposed to the sun and wind and birds and people, holding tightly to the rock.  They have an otherworldly look…like they belong to a time before people walked the earth…and perhaps they did.


Sometimes we miss the beauty of strength, the ability to adapt, to hold tightly and conserve resources.  Mussels, like some of our students, are stoic.  They don’t complain or call for our attention.  They aren’t showy or dramatic…they’re almost common, easy to overlook.

Who are you overlooking in the classroom?  Which of your students takes care of business without attracting your attention?  And what would happen if you were to notice?  What would you see and learn?

A Place to Treasure

We often think about treasures as those tangible trinkets: an irreplaceable family heirloom, the lock of hair from your baby’s first haircut, the multifaceted diamond in your engagement ring, the lucky penny you wear in your shoe.  They often carry sentimental value far beyond their monetary worth, representing events, memories, and stories to remember.

As I was thinking about treasure as the topic for this week’s Weekly Photo Challenge at the Daily Post, I considered the treasures in my life.  Of course I have those tangible items infused with sentiment that carry treasured memories, but a walk on the beach today with my husband brought my treasure forward for me.

As someone who lives a few miles from the beach, it can be easy to take this treasure for granted.  I don’t think anyone would argue that the beach is beautiful, but there is so much more to treasure.

The beach is a chameleon.  It responds dramatically to nuances light and changes moods with even subtle weather changes.  It can be wild and ferocious or calm and playful.  Today was one of those picture-perfect February days that allowed me to roll up my jeans, tie my sweatshirt around my waist, and walk barefoot in the cool salty water.


I am continually fascinated by the wildlife, the geology, and the physics at the beach.  This egret caught my attention today and let me get quite close as it investigated close to the cliffs. Egrets more commonly hang out at the lagoon and I seldom see them on the beach.  This guy was quite interested in whatever lurked in the brush at the base of the cliff.  He seemed to move in slow motion, jutting his head forward with each step.  I tried to capture his movement in a short video, but he moved so slowly and deliberately I probably should have tried time lapse!


But what I treasure most about the beach is the opportunities it allows for time…time to think, time to reflect, and time to engage in deep conversation with a companion.  Somehow, no matter how many people are there, you can find space at the beach.

big sky beach

There is a vastness that has a way of wrapping itself around you, shouldering some of the tension that weighs so heavily.  Reflectiveness is a natural on the shoreline; the water and light play with each other, making connections and expanding views…creating opportunities for new understandings.


We left the beach after a long, meandering walk refreshed and relaxed having reveled in the natural beauty, the breaths of briny sea air, and the warm rays of sun that danced on our shoulders and cheeks.  I often play with my iPhone photos in editing apps, cropping and brightening or creating interesting effects.  All the photos in this post are completely unedited, shown the way the camera on my phone captured them, in their natural state.

I feel confident that those of you who live in other places, far from the sea, also have some natural treasures like the beach.  What are the places that you treasure?  What makes them special?  I look forward to experiencing your treasures through your lens and through your writing!

Ups and Downs

You’ve probably noticed that I love the beach–I take lots of photos there and it’s a wonderful place for walking.  There’s the sea breeze, the beauty of the surroundings…and it’s pretty much flat, making walking easy.

So today, we decided to take a walk away from the beach.  In fact we went to a place that we knew would have some pretty significant uphill and downhill climbs.

And while there is something to be said about staying on the flat and keeping things on a even keel, there is value in the ups and downs too.

As we started up the gently slope it was easy to set a brisk pace even as I was looking around at the native plants and looking out over the vistas.  I could walk and talk and breathe.


The first part of the walk continued on a gentle incline.  We walked quickly without feeling labored and then began down a pretty steep decline.  Walking downhill does’t feel too hard…but I was remembering that I was going to have to walk back up that same slope.  And at the bottom there was a pretty steep incline in front of us.  And rather than turning around, we decided to continue up for a bit.  I could feel myself slowing down and my breathing becoming more labored as I headed upward.  And then, about halfway up I noticed a mushroom growing along the side of the trail.  Of course I had to stop, kneel low, and take a photo.


When we turned around to head back, lots of steep uphill was in front of me.  I could feel my muscles, my heartbeat, and each and every breath I took.  And yet, I kept climbing and kept walking.  I had to give up talking for a bit…I needed my breath for the climb.  At the hardest point in the climb, the place I was ready to stop, I found myself noticing and naming the native plants.  I recognized the black sage, the lemonade berry, the alkali heath…

As the grade eased, so did my breathing and I began to enjoy the scenery again.  We could see evidence of the rain in the plants, tender green shoots and colorful blossoms decorating these often monochromatic plants.


As the walk came to an end, I felt good.  The ups and downs made my body (and mind) work in some different ways than walking on the flat.  The peaks and valleys made me work harder, and I could feel myself working on both my stamina and my resolve as I walked.

There are many more steep trails that we haven’t yet tried, and in spite of the fact that I know they will feel hard, I can’t wait to head back and explore some more of them.  I have great admiration for the woman I watched run the same trail I had trudged.  I don’t aim to run that route, but I would love to improve my fitness by including more of these challenging walks in my repertoire.

I find myself thinking about ups and downs, peaks and valleys in the classroom too.  There are some climbs that leave us all winded, laboring to get to the next flat stretch.  But, like my experience today, the challenges help us build our stamina, increase our “fitness” for learning together, and remind us that even when things are hard, there are reasons to continue on.

What ups and downs do you experience?  What do they teach you about your life and learning?  I know that I will be including more ups and downs in my walking routine, but don’t worry, I’ll still make time for walks by the beach.

Undulating Clouds

As I commute to and from work I hear the radio reports of the polar vortex and the frigid temperatures in the midwest and eastern parts of our country.  Cautions of frostbite in ten minutes to exposed skin.  Wind chills and snow and ice…

And yet here the weather is unseasonably warm.  We’ve mostly forgotten where we put our jackets, and shorts and flip flops are back to being a common sight in the community.  And the worry is rising too.  The last day we had any measurable precipitation was December 19th…more than a month ago…and this is our “rainy season.”  (As much of a rainy season as you get in a place with annual rainfall of less than 10 inches.)  Drought has risen above a whisper and we are remembering the horrors of wildfires and water restrictions, not to mention the hardships on farmers and the agricultural community.

But yesterday I had the opportunity to share my latest find with my husband and we drove to Double Peak Park, not too far from home, and looked out over the county.

Clouds swirled and churned, creating undulating patterns in the sky.  It seemed that we could see rain falling in the distance…high in the sky…never reaching the ground.  We wished and hoped for rain that never did materialize.


It remained cloudy today, and the clouds gathered and churned in great gray billows in the theatre of tonight’s sunset.  But still we have no rain.  The forecasters are pointing to Friday for rain, but the percentage chances seem low and it wouldn’t be the first time that forecasted rain was canceled as we come closer to that day.

So I’m hoping for some milder temps for friends in the midwest and east…and I have my fingers crossed that we get some much needed rain here.  A bit every day would be ideal–our roads and buildings don’t handle large amounts well.  I’m sure my students would love to search under their beds for the forgotten rain boots, scour the garage for the misplaced umbrella…they might even locate that jacket shoved deep in the hall closet.  And I’ll even silence my complaints about the dreaded rainy day schedule at school and the mess of the indoor lunch–the rain will be worth it.

Think some rainy, wet thoughts for us!

Exploring, Lagoon Style

Sometimes I find myself taking the same photo over and over again.  I definitely have my favorite places to go, and when I’m not intentionally doing something differently, habit leads me to frame that same photo yet again.

To combat that, and to push my photography, I’ve been trying two things: finding someplace new to take photos and framing my photos in intentionally different ways.

I stopped by the San Elijo lagoon yesterday and snapped a few photos near sunset.  Today we headed off to the Batiquitos lagoon–a place we seldom visit–to walk the trails and take photos.

Heading west, we took a trail over a small bridge and found ourselves on a mucky path, slick with mud and wet sand.  We trudged on for a while until we got to a place where we could only pass by climbing rocks.  But along the way I had noticed the pickleweed, a specially adapted plant that thrives in the brackish water of the lagoon.  It’s often green, but today it was gorgeous with vivid pinks and reds.  I got out my macro lens and leaned in close to capture the pickleweed.


And as long as I had the macro attached, I took photos of other native plants including salt grass and whatever this plant is.


Heading back to the east, we found the drier part of the trail and walked with many people and their dogs in the sunny mid-60 degree weather.  We spied an osprey high in a eucalyptus tree overseeing the lagoon.  Ducks paddled and dove down into the briny water for a mid-day meal.

I love the way this lagoon plant almost looks like cotton with puffs exploding from it.  I worked to photograph the lagoon with this plant in the foreground and the sun over my shoulder, framing the water with the plant instead of shooting over the top of it.


Bare trees are uncommon around here, so this one caught my eye.  Instead of focusing my camera on the tree branches, I worked to see the lagoon through the tree, capturing the wispy white clouds and the shine of the water’s surface behind it.  Shooting toward the sun created the silhouette-like sharpness of both the foreground and the background.


As we were leaving, looking toward the northwest, the sun was a bit off to the side as I tried to frame this image of the space where the freeway passes over the lagoon.  I knelt, pulling the brush into the image as I looked out to the ocean.  You can see the fog beginning to gather along the coast and if you look closely you might even notice the many ducks floating on the current just beyond the brush.


And as an added bonus, we got in a nearly two mile walk in the fresh, salty air on our quick photo expedition!

Frosty Beauty

White crystalline structures, both fragile and surprisingly strong, appeared this morning on the lawns and cars in my neighborhood.

All too often frost is just another annoyance…evidence of cold weather and the need to either scrape the windshield or wait for the defroster to gain enough traction to melt it so I can see through the windshield to drive off to work.

But this morning, when I heard there was frost on the cars, I put the macro lens on my phone, grabbed my jacket and headed outside…before even taking time for breakfast or coffee.

And I was rewarded by the intricate lacy beauty of this micro winter wonderland.


When viewed through my macro lens, those ordinary blades of grass were transformed.


This stray leaf blossomed with delicate white crystals of ice.  I was afraid to breathe too heavily for fear of melting these structures before I could capture them through my lens.


The frozen moisture seems to grow, creating intricate pathways of texture extending over the roof of the car.  It seemed to stay colder there longer than along the sides.  I’m sure the neighbors thought I was crazy as I crawled along the lawn photographing blades of grass and peered along the top of my car examining the patterns of frost in the crisp, cooler-than-usual morning air.

But for me, I rediscovered my sense of wonder and curiosity as I worked intently to find and capture this minute beauty.


My macro lens has reminded me once again to take the time to look closely and appreciate the beauty in those things that seem uninteresting or annoying on the surface.

I didn’t get to work quite as early as I usually do this morning, but I had the perfect start to my day…just by looking a bit more closely.