Tag Archives: mountains

Snowy Adventure: SOLC #14

I had a snow day today. Of course I know that most of you will be scratching your head and thinking, what is she talking about? It’s Sunday! But then you will need to know that, in fact, I have never had a snow day. Not once have I experienced one of those days that so many of you describe. No school, no work, just a snowy day for tucking in to read by the fire or to spend outdoors playing in the snow. (You may also notice some romanticizing that goes along with never having lived where it snows!)

I’m lucky enough to live in a place where within a two hour drive you can go to the beach, to the desert, or to the mountains. So this morning as we debated how to spend a wide-open Sunday, my husband suggested our local mountains. With rain last week on the coast, our mountains got some snow. We wondered if the snow was still on the ground, so we checked out the mountain webcam just to see what to expect. It looked like there was still some patches of snow at the highest elevations, so we dressed for snow, laced up our hiking boots, and headed east.

As we passed the 4000 ft mark, we started to notice small bits of snow on the side of the road. We zigzagged up the winding mountain switchbacks, at times feeling like we were right in the middle of the clouds. At about 5000 ft, the skies opened up to all the shades of blue along with bright sunshine…and snow! We started to find cars pulled off to the sides of the already narrowed roads and saw kids on plastic sleds and boogie boards slipping and sliding on available open roadside patches of snow.

When we got to the Palomar Observatory we found the parking lots closed and fences bolted. But not far from there, we found our own side-of-the-road space to pull into. We pulled on hats and jackets and headed out to explore. We stomped through some snow drifts, hoping to find some marked trails to hike. Instead, we found still fresh snow perfect for snowman building. So…we built (in a minimalist sort of way).

I love to explore through the lens of my camera. I snapped pictures of pine cones, of snow tucked in the nooks of trees, of rounded mounds on tree stumps softened by the sun. (I had abandoned my jacket by then–it was a gorgeous, warm snowy day!)

And we even found some places with stunning long range vistas of the valley below.

When we headed back down the mountain to the west, we decided to make a stop at the beach for a walk to get those exercise minutes logged on our watches since the hiking trails on the mountains just weren’t accessible to us snow novices. It was a mountains to the sea kind of snowy day adventure. And the perfect way to spend a wide-open, spring-ahead Sunday.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Earthy

One of the things I like most about hiking is the feeling of being close to the earth.  I place my feet, one after another, on a trail, over rocks, skimming the earthy surface of our planet.  My hike last weekend took me away from beach, toward the eastern edges of the county.  I rarely think of San Diego as mountainous…but then I looked out from Eagle Peak and saw these in the distance.


Even with other people around, there is sense of spaciousness out here, an opportunity to connect with the earth on its terms.  I love the way this hiker looks so small against the vast earthy background.


And you never know just who you will meet…like this cow grazing nearby.


I found myself drawn to the design of the tree branches…and wondering if these are trees dying from the long standing drought or just bare for the winter. (Our local coastal live oaks usually stay green all year long)


Surprisingly, the next day was rainy and stormy, accompanied by unusually high winds. It took a toll on many trees in our area.  This one, at UCSD, fell over, unearthing its large root system (taller than me). Luckily, this one caused no damage to people, cars or buildings like some in the county did.


I love tulips.  They don’t grow naturally around here (I don’t think it gets cold enough), but you can buy them potted at our local Trader Joe’s.  This one bloomed and was beautiful…and I love its subtle continuing earthy beauty as the bloom fades and dies away.


And today I couldn’t resist this still life–designed by the sea–complete with bubbles from the rising tide.  An earthy arrangement of shell, sand, water, and rock.


So, what is earthy in your life this week? You might look in your yard, head outdoors into nature, or even look in the potted plants in your house. Or maybe you will find earthy in places I haven’t yet imagined!

You can post your photo alone or along with some words: commentary, a story, a poem…maybe even a song! I love to study the photographs that others’ take and think about how I can use a technique, an angle, or their inspiration to try something new in my own photography. (I love a great mentor text…or mentor photo, in this case!) I share my photography and writing on social media. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter using @kd0602. If you share your photos and writing on social media too, please let me know so I can follow and see what you are doing. To help our Weekly Photo community find each other, use the hashtag #earthy for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

So, unearth the earthy this week, I can’t wait to see what you find!

Urban Mountains

I’ve spent some time over the last year exploring mountains…and testing my body and my endurance.  I’ve walked for miles, enjoyed wildflowers, listened to birds, noticed clouds, smelled pine trees and the musky aroma of sage.  I experienced California’s drought, seeing hundreds of dead trees and dangerously low water levels and reveled in the beauty that nature has to offer.

As I walked through downtown Chicago over the weekend, I found myself thinking about how the skyscrapers are like urban mountains standing tall and proud, shading one side while the sun shines on the other, reflecting the sky and creating canyons and valleys between them.


I’ve logged lots of miles in the last few days and I love the way that walking brings me up close with the city.  Old sits next to new, the homeless rubbing shoulders with the wealthy, sweet smells of Garrett’s carmel popcorn on one block, sour smells of trash and filth on the next.


And I was seduced into joining the throngs of other tourists (from all over the world) to experience the view of Chicago from 103 stories above.  What was formerly Sears Tower is now known as Willis Tower, the tallest building in the US (and there are some who insist in the world).  110 stories tall with radio towers making it taller, this building is a feat of engineering that was built in the 1970’s.  And in spite of having been in Chicago a number of times before this, I had never gone up…or even walked by this building before!


I was determined to not only brave the long lines and go up…but while up there I decided to battle my intense fear of heights and walk out on the plexiglass sky bridge, looking straight down at the ground so far below my feet!


Yeah, it was scary…hand sweating, vertigo-inducing, catch your breath scary.  I’ve been up high before…the Space Needle in Seattle, the Empire State Building in NYC, but the sky deck took away the comfort of window ledges and railings, leaving me with clear plexiglass as safety from falling.  But I went out there not once, but three times.  Each easier than the one before, although I can still feel my hands dampen as I write this.

I was even able to snap a few playful selfies with my husband, who enjoyed every minute of this sky high experience.


Once down, we circled the building to find those plexiglass outcroppings from the outside.  The height is even more impressive looking up–the sky deck is barely visible from the ground!  (Look closely–maybe even click on the photo to bring up a larger version to see them!)


You don’t have to be in the wilderness to enjoy the outdoors.  There is lots to see and experience right outside the door.  And I fell in love with the interactive art in the park spaces in downtown Chicago.  The bean in Millennium Park encouraged people to come close, stand back, group up…and of course, take plenty of photos, while also reflecting the beauty of the urban mountains.


And on a hot summer day it was fun to watch people interacting with these tall brick fountain structures that also include projections of faces, facing each other.


I’m glad we spent time exploring the urban mountains of Chicago, walking miles and seeing the city up close.  It might not be a National Park, but it was fun exploring the great urban outdoors!

Breaking Through

Living where I do, sometimes it seems like the skies are always blue and the sun is always shining.  And lots of people equate the blue skies and sunshine with happiness.  Sometimes, though, it is gray skies, dense clouds, and the promise of rain that soothe the parched land and the stresses of everyday life.

As much as I love my work, the end of the school year brings its share of stresses.  And for me the answer to those stresses is not more work (to catch up–as tempting as that is), but to get away and clear my mind, move my body and appreciate the beauty and love in my life.

Heading up toward Stonewall Peak with thick, wet clouds wrapping us in their embrace quieted the roar of all the tasks that need to be done and made space to listen to the bird songs, the wind, and the sound of my own breath.  And as I broke through my own funk, I also noticed how nature was dealing with the effects of the devastating fires from a few years ago.


This Tennessee Williams quote captures the quiet power of nature.

The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks.

We found ourselves mesmerized by this tree that had grown into and around a big boulder.


As we hiked, I noticed details…like raindrops on wildflowers and the still life arranged by the wind.  And as I noticed, the knots in my shoulders loosened and I felt relaxation breaking through.



When we drove down the mountain heading toward home, the skies were still gray but my own mood had lifted.  I felt the satisfying tiredness that comes from following trails, climbing rocks, and walking miles.  Like the violets breaking rocks, I can feel the healing breaking through life’s stresses giving me energy and strength for the week ahead.

Quiet Forces of Nature

When we think of a force of nature, our thoughts often turn to those terrifying and often devastating earthquakes, tornados, avalanches, floods, tsunamis, hurricanes, and wildfires.  But sometimes in nature, forces whisper and almost go unnoticed.

In the solitude of the hiking trail, the rhythm of our boots joined the whoosh of the wind as it races through the tree tops.  When I look closely I can see how the wind shapes those tall sentinels, bending and curving them with its quiet force.


Could have been wind or water (or the lack of water) or something else that worked this tree trunk loose from the ground.  Now it continues to contribute to life in the forest as it decays, providing a home to insects and fungi, enriching the soil…and providing a natural frame for this photo!


Tiny flowers spring up, planted by the wind and passing wildlife, watered by the increasingly rare raindrops, and nibbled by the local inhabitants.  In the meadows they create a carpet of color, a delight for the eyes.


Look closer and you can see the individual blossoms as they sway in the breezes, their beauty fleeting…it won’t be long before the blooms dry up and fall off and this colorful carpet will turn to dry brush.


The barbed wire hints at the cattle that graze these spaces.  As I see the fences I remember a photo recently posted by a friend…and it becomes a mentor for one of my own.


I hear birds and look up.  On this hike I have seen birds of prey floating on the wind currents and what I think are local woodpeckers, with bright red heads, chatting with one another in the tall oaks high above me.  I see other evidence of their presence, the creation of granary trees where they store their acorns.


There are so many forces of nature at work in this magnificent place in our local mountains.  Nature’s forces weren’t roaring, but they whispered their power, begging me to take notice and appreciate the intricacies of her systems at work.  I’m part of this system too, and when I care I can make a positive difference, remembering that my needs and desires need to stay in balance with those of the trees and the birds and the wildflowers.


Finding Focus

Sometimes life is so busy, it seems to go by in a blur.  Images are out of focus and it’s hard to see with any clarity.  But mostly, when things get busy, I forget to take care of what matters most–my relationships with the people I love.

My one little word this year is explore.  And as the year has progressed, I have discovered that explore means more than journeying outside and exploring the world around me.  It also means exploring my interactions with others, the limits of my physical strength, and how I use my time outside of my work responsibilities.

Hiking in the mountains Saturday with my hubby offered me time and space to breathe deeply (even at 8000 feet of elevation!), spend time together away from chores and other work, and to appreciate the beauty of the natural world.

I took many pictures, but the ones I will highlight here are those that include both a sharp image and a blur–thanks to my macro lens.

The drought means that things are dry, even high in the mountains.  And while we saw a few lingering patches of snow, it’s clear that water is scarce.  But the manzanita was in bloom with its beautiful red wood and pinkish-purple blossoms.


I’m not sure what these little pods are that caught my eye hanging from the tree I passed.  Small and green and fuzzy looking.


This plant seemed to have found a water source…with some green buds visible.  If you look closely, you’ll notice a hair caught on the bud while the background is a blur.


These dry little thistly plants look like weeds…and I love that you can see the blur of the forest behind the crispness of the dry looking plant.


And here, the mountains are in evidence behind these dry branches.


It’s easy to get lost in the blur of the hectic pace of everyday life, yet these images remind me that we can decide where to place the focus if we choose.  Life’s too short not to take time to explore…and figure out what is important.  Sometimes the blur is the perfect backdrop, the broad overview, the hustle and the bustle.  And other times we need to focus on what matters most and appreciate what is right in front of us!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Monumental

Yesterday Abby and I spent our day on Capitol Hill talking with congressional reps, exploring the history of our county, and thinking about the multiple meanings of words (more details of that here).  So as I thought about a weekly photo prompt, the word monumental came to mind.

There are the obvious images of monumental, like watching the sun rise behind the Capitol building. (It’s being renovated, giving it an almost Minecraft-like cubism.


There’s some less obvious uses of monumental too–at least in my mind.  Like the monumental effort it took to capture this image of the squirrel sitting on this piece of branch, facing out, eating breakfast.  I wanted to get close, but not so close that I would cause him to dash.  So I did a bit of editing to bring him more into focus so you could get a glimpse too.


And what teacher wouldn’t love a monument made of books?  I was a bit flabbergasted by the enormity of the stack–tower–monument of books written about Abraham Lincoln on display at Ford’s Theater.


I was also thinking about my visit to the desert near my home last weekend…and the monumental majesty of the mountains that frame our local desert spaces.  I love the blooming ocotillo in the foreground, bringing a touch of color to the endless palette of browns against the brilliant blue sky.

mountain and flowers

And then there is the monumental beauty in the ordinary…like these yellow flowers that somehow find enough water to survive…and thrive and bloom in this dry, hot environment.


Back to my day on the hill yesterday…I had a monumental amount of fun with Abby.  We worked hard, talked a lot, and Abby’s playfulness is contagious!  After me filming her dancing on the steps of the Supreme Court (she was tempted to ask the armed security guard to dance with her!), she asked to take a photo of me…and encouraged me to move, react, not just stand still.  I’m no Abby…but I appreciate the invitation to push out of my comfort zone of standing back, out of the limelight, to take in the sun on the hallowed steps of this historic place.


So…what seems monumental to you?  Is it a place?  An event?  An experience?  An emotion?

You can post your photo alone or along with some words: commentary, a story, a poem…maybe even a song! I love to study the photographs that others’ take and think about how I can use a technique, an angle, or their inspiration to try something new in my own photography. (I love a great mentor text…or mentor photo, in this case!)

I share my photography and writing on social media. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter using @kd0602. If you share your photos and writing on social media too, please let me know so I can follow and see what you are doing. To help our Weekly Photo community find each other, use the hashtag #monumental for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

So explore the multiple meanings of the word monumental and represent it in your way through a photo (or two or three).  I can’t wait to see monumental defined through your lens!