Tag Archives: nature

Photography in the Garden: SOL22 Day 14

Last week we learned about Jane Goodall and her passion for animals. Today we began learning about Ansel Adams and his passion for nature and photography. I want students to see that there are lots of ways to take action to make the world better–and following your passions is a great place to begin.

It’s surprising to me that I haven’t had students use their iPads to take photos before this point in the year. I’ve used iPads sparingly this year–I think partly in response of the intensive use of devices during COVID times. So today was the day I decided that we simply HAD to do some photography.

I started by showing my students a slide show with three photography techniques: bug’s eye view (a view from a low perspective), bird’s eye view (a view from above), and using the rule of thirds (framing the subject using grid lines to help with positioning). We did a quick practice in the classroom where I could give some immediate feedback by walking around the room.

After lunch, we came back to the classroom where I gave a few pointers about taking our iPads outside, and then we headed out into the garden to take photos using the three techniques. I limited them to 10 photos, but encouraged them to explore and experiment, deleting any that weren’t good.

There’s nothing like watching first graders take photos. They have no hesitation about laying on the ground, crawling under a plant, or taking an angle that I would never have imagined. As we walked back from the garden, we made a few stops to snap a couple of extra photos of some California golden poppies growing along the fenceline, some other wildflowers, and a lizard doing some sunbathing. And of course, I couldn’t resist a bird’s eye view shot of the class on our way back.

Back in the classroom we took a few minutes to look through the photos, identifying which technique (or combination of techniques) we had used. Tomorrow we will explore some editing…and select our best three for some caption writing.

There’s more to come on this project…stay tuned!

After the Storm: SOL22 Day 4

I woke with a jolt at 2am to the rumble of thunder, the room lighting up even under my closed eyelids. The patter of water on the roof followed, the predicted rain had arrived. Forecasts for rain are often unrealized promises in these parts as we watch the rain percentages on the weather app drain away as the appointed rainy day nears. We were lucky this time, we did get close to half an inch overnight.

Friday afternoons are blissfully usually Zoom-free, with most people being done with meetings as the week winds toward the weekend. That also means I can often squeeze in a walk on the beach if the tide conditions are right. And today was perfect. With a negative tide around 4pm, we would have plenty of beach to walk and explore. There is nothing like heading to the coast to make that separation between work and the weekend.

After a storm is a glorious time. The sea is wild with wind-whipped whitecaps and the shore is often empty as sun bathers stay away and water lovers wait out a few more hours before risking the swim. With temps in the high 50’s, the time was right for some exploration and deep breathing.

The tidepools beckoned. I stepped carefully, making sure to avoid the exposed sea anemones. And I found myself mesmerized by the ripples in the water, catching the light and dancing in the light sea breeze.

Geoff is an avid beach cleaner, always with a bag in hand to pick up any trash we encounter. Storms push the trash to shore and we came across an assortment of styrofoam pieces (from surfboards and from food containers), straws, bits of colorful plastic, and even this mostly intact plastic food/drink container. I couldn’t resist a shot with the seagull in the background before Geoff added it to his trash bag.

I love the way a walk on the beach unkinks my shoulders and smooths my brow. The white noise of the waves crashing clears my mind and helps me set my work aside and be present in the beauty of nature. I leave windblown and refreshed and this week, ready to host our San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP) Spring Conference tomorrow morning. Another beach walk may be in store tomorrow afternoon…

3 Haiku: NPM #5

Faced with a long drive back home, we decided to detour and find some mini adventures on our way. It makes for a long day…but was filled with small surprises that provided the perfect fodder for some Haiku.


Transitory sprites

conjuring springtime dreamscapes

also known as weeds


Wetland Walk

Basking in the sun

pulling me to look closely

turtle or a rock?



The gaggle gathers

lunch counter or wetland spa?

pause in reflection


SOLC Day 20: How Does Your Garden Grow?

I love plants. I’m drawn to their simplicity, their complexity, the subtle variations in color, the brilliant bursts of color, not to mention the smells and textures and the tenacity they exhibit.

At best, I’m a fair weather gardener. I always have the best of intentions and I love to pick out this plant and that one, sure that I’ll get it planted in the perfect place in my yard or in that beautiful ceramic pot I just have to have.

In reality, most of my plants arrive as gifts, frequently from students and their families. As they enter our home, they claim their position in the kitchen garden window (it’s one of those windows that pushes out, creating a sort of mini greenhouse). Lucky for them, my husband has a green thumb and works hard to keep all the house plants alive and well. He mists the ones that need mist, waters the ones that need water, and leaves those that need little mostly alone.

But every now and then, in a flurry of decorating and cleaning, I purge that window box exiling those that are overgrown or straggly or on their last breath to the back yard. (With the exception of the orchids–they get to stay in even if they are not looking their best!) The exiles take their place along the edge of the patio where they can take advantage of the sprinkling system, ensuring that they will be watered with regularity. (It doesn’t rain much here, so irrigation is essential!)

It’s been raining most of the month of March here (we seem to be trying to catch up on rainfall totals for the entire year), so we’ve turned the sprinkler system off for the time being. With a rain-free day today, I decided to take a break from endless Zoom meetings and worries about student remote learning (Google Classroom glitches) and wandered out into the back yard.

Who knew that dandelions can grow tall…like knee high? And that all phases of dandelion bloom can be represented at the top of a single plant? I love dandelions, so I left these to thrive…if only temporarily until my husband heads out.

Then I wandered over to the exile zone…and wow! Those exiles have banded together to become a beautiful wild garden! Lavender reaches high, waving its fragrant blossoms. Aloe, like a giant spiked serpent, peers out from beneath. Swirls of succulents show their perfect Fibonacci sequence–math and nature perfectly intertwined.

But the piece de resistance (imagine that said with the perfect French accent) is the fuschia plant that I was certain was dead. It is vibrant and healthy…and when I tried to turn the plastic pot it is growing in, it didn’t budge–the roots have reached out of the pot into the ground. Such a gorgeous harbinger of spring!

I can’t take credit for any of the beauty on display in the backyard. Luckily this wild garden mostly takes care of itself (with a little help from my husband). But I am delighting in it today as it lifts my spirits and brightens my day!

How is your garden growing?

SOLC Day 2: Garden Inspiration

I’m fortunate to teach at a school with a garden.  No, I really don’t have a green thumb–and I love the idea of gardening much more than the practice of gardening.  So, lucky for me, we have a garden teacher who directs a lunchtime club that gets things growing…and then I can take my students out to use the garden as inspiration for photography, art, and writing!

Today I started to teach my students about photography by reading them the book Antsy Ansel by Cindy Jenson-Elliott.  (I’m fortunate to know Cindy and have her as part of our local writing project too!)  My recent trip to Yosemite further inspired my teaching about Ansel Adams and appreciation for the natural beauty around us.  Below is photo of El Capitan with the sun setting and casting its glow on these impressive granite slopes.  If you look closely you can see a heron in the foreground who decided to hang out and watch the light change from its vantage in the Merced River.


I like to show students that photography can be more than just taking pretty pictures.  Photography can be a form of activism–another way of expressing your views and spreading information to others.  Adams’ photography played a role in the establishment of our National Park system, something I am grateful for!

So today after a quick lesson on a variety of composition techniques (rule of thirds, leading lines, bug’s eye view…), we headed out to the garden to take some photos.  With iPads in hand, students explored through their camera lens.  They got low, looked closely, climbed slopes, scrambled under bushes…all in search of an interesting photo.  I haven’t yet gotten a look at their images…we barely made it back into the classroom in time to head out for lunch! Tomorrow will bring next steps…and some inspiration from Dorothea Lange.

And of course, I had to take a few shots along with my students.  Here’s one of some students in action.


And another experimenting with black and white…something I will ask my students to do tomorrow to help them see the world through Ansel Adams’ lens.  This is a bright yellow flower I found blooming in the garden.


We’ll be doing some writing tomorrow as well…hopefully we’ll get far enough that I can share a slice of student results soon!

Water Blues: NPM 2019 Day 12

How do you maximize your vacation on the day you fly out? Head to beach at the crack of dawn! The beauty of Hawaii is that the morning is warm and the beach pretty empty—perfect for that last dip in the cool blues of the sea.

And then 5 hours in the air gives quiet time for composing poetry. I’m not sure I quite got to any particular point…but maybe that is what poetry is all about. I followed the words, letting them lead me.

Day 12:

Water Blues

In the crack before dawn

morning rises fresh and new

dark becoming blue that

beckons us outdoors.

Breezes whisper nature’s secrets

in our ears

telling stories of

blow holes

and green shelled turtles

that give us reason to smile

and care.

Raindrops caress our faces

smoothing out the creases

of worry

carrying them deep

into the sea.

Stepping into the not-quite-warm


where blue cools

concerns that churn

under the surface

splashing up waves

of frothy salty foam, intricate as lace.

Our eyes follow the lacy white

into a spectrum of blues:

the palest dance

along the surface

pirouetting into fine mist

keeping the air soft and moist

the darkest dive


swirling with all the waters

through the ages.

Stories rise up

taking us on travels

through time and space

that skip and play like children

delighting in the unexpected

and wondrous.

Variations of blue

like a symphony

of sound and color

sing out

painting rhythms

on worry

sculpting melody

into hope

listen with all your senses

and you’ll hear the possibilities

as the sea performs

the water blues.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Nature’s Art

There is so much beauty around when you take the time to look closely. Sometimes I find that I need to stop, kneel down, and really lean in to find what I might have missed with a quick glance.  On the beach the other day I noticed the brilliant blue of sea creatures–I had seen these before, they wash up on the shore from time to time.  As I bent down to photograph them, I noticed the ladybug and the sea grass creating a sort of found still life…an interesting piece of living art.  (I did a bit of research and found that these creatures are called velella, they are propelled only by wind and waves so can’t get themselves back in the water once they are washed on the shore.)

img_6439A look up and the moon caught my attention above the cliffs. I love the browns of the eroded hillside framed by the greens and purples of the plants growing, all against the brilliant blue sky…with just the tiny hint of the moon just above the shoulder of the cliff.img_6417

I was surprised and delighted to find these stacks of stones all lined up. Someone had taken time to find some balance in the smoothed rocks, creating stack after stack along the ledge.  High tide made the beach narrow, pushing me up toward the cliff line…where I couldn’t miss this whimsical sight.


And sometimes nature’s art is in the framing.  This seagull looks like it is “on duty,” a feathered lifeguard keeping an eye on all who are enjoying the beach!


And I don’t have to go to the beach to enjoy nature’s art.  I noticed these same purple blooms that I had seen in my neighborhood on our school campus earlier this week.  We had invited our students to take a photo to use as an element of their Mother’s Day project.  I found myself looking with an eye to light and shadow, as well as working to capture the delicate brilliance of the bloom in the foreground.


This lily-like flower also caught my eye.  The oranges and yellows seem to be highlighted by the diffuse light peeking through the shadows–yet another example of nature’s art.


And in my neighborhood yesterday afternoon, on a walk to the park with my 14 month old grandson, I spied the brilliant red of this fuzzy guy.  A closer look brought the contrasting green and yellow bloom into focus. My friend called this plant kangaroo paws–such an oddly beautiful plant.


So, take a look around…  Where do you find nature’s art?  I love that my camera reminds me to look at the usual in new and different ways–so be sure to look closely and consider light and shadow, framing, nature’s arrangement…and more.

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 #naturesart for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

What is nature offering up this week?  Take a look around and share your view of nature’s art with us!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Earth

It’s Earth Day, a day established in 1970 to appreciate all the earth has to offer and to raise awareness about the need to take care of the precious resource that we call Earth.  My camera definitely helps me appreciate the earth and notice more about this wonderful planet. This week finds me at home, back at work, instead of out exploring a National Park (like I was last week at Joshua Tree).  And still, there is so much life and beauty around me.

On my way to an evening meeting on Monday, I decided to take a side trip away from the crowded freeway (still with plenty of traffic even on the side roads) to stop at Mount Soledad and appreciate the view.  Now this is hardly a mountain, but it is a high spot that overlooks the city and the bay to the south and west and La Jolla to the north and west.  Wildflowers are blooming everywhere, creating a beautiful frame even if the haze and low clouds make the view less than crisp.


The wild mustard has gotten tall this year, with vivid yellow blooms waving in the breeze.  I see this plant often along the side of the freeway (no, I don’t stop!) and other places visible from the car, but not convenient for stopping.  Before I left Mount Soledad, I noticed a patch of wild mustard and couldn’t resist leaning in for a shot.  I love the bokeh effect in the background, adding sparkle to the beautiful weed/flower.


Later in the week I took another side trip on my way to an appointment. This time I headed to a place where I would have a view of the famous Carlsbad flower fields.  The ranunculus are in bloom, creating ribbons of color that stretch for acres right above the outlet mall with the old Encinas power plant in the background.  They charge quite a price to go in close, but there is a lovely view from a sidewalk outside the property.


And when I turned the other way I noticed these brilliant tiger’s claw trees, bright against the blue of the sky.  As I moved closer, I noticed this hummingbird flitting from flower to flower–a pollinator in action!  I was lucky enough to catch a shot of this tiny bird at work with the help of my lens.


I’ve been back to the beach this week too.  The tide has not been right for long afternoon walks, but a quick stop after dinner last night offered views of seagulls as the sun reached that golden hour.  With the help of a filter, I could emphasize the colors of the sun beginning to set behind the bird in flight.


Today’s short walk drew my attention to the cliffs and the sky, and reminded me of a favorite Rachel Carson quote,

If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery if the world we live in.


I try to be that adult for kids in my class…for my own children and now for my grandchildren.  I know that I appreciate opportunities to explore the outdoors more than ever these days.  Nature is right here–right under our feet–when we take the time to look closely and appreciate each small treasure.

And sometimes within nature’s frame you see other interesting views.  I couldn’t resist these “wintering towers,” huddled together along the edge of the beach.  They begged for a black and white filter to emphasize the contrasts in light and dark…and I obliged.


So, while Earth Day is officially celebrated on April 22nd each year, in my opinion every day should be Earth Day–taking time to appreciate and take care of our planet, even in small ways.  Head out with your camera and capture Earth’s everyday specialness.  What will you notice when you pay attention to Earth?

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 #earth for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

Celebrate Earth Day all this week.  Let’s create an album of Earth’s treasures and needs and help our next generation shepherd our world to health and longevity by sharing our fascination and appreciation of our planet Earth with them (and with each other).

Weekly Photo Challenge: Sharp

There’s so much to love about living in San Diego.  The proximity to the beach offers unlimited opportunities to revel in all that the sea has to offer, and I never tire of it.  But sometimes it’s nice to get away and do something different.

This week has been my spring break–a whole week with no work, a much needed respite from the demands of my everyday routine and an opportunity to recharge.  I spent the beginning of my break with my twin grandsons–having so much fun, reveling in just what it means to be 13 months old and discovering the world of play, times two.  With my other grandson out of town, I talked my husband into a trip to Joshua Tree National Park after I got back.

Just a few hours away from home another world awaits.  High in the desert not far from Palm Springs is an expansive park that straddles the Mojave and Sonoran (Colorado portion) deserts.  Most noticeable are the trees the park is named for…odd, spiky trees that seem almost alive. They seem like the kind of trees that would move when you turn your head.  The sharp spines contrast with the wind smoothed boulders in the background.  This photo of the blooming Joshua Tree is lit by the soft light as the sun was setting over my shoulder.


Looking west, you can make out the sharp silhouette of the Joshua Tree against the enhanced colors of the desert sunset.  The mountains look like small hills in the distance instead of the snow capped peaks my eyes could see.


Sharp cactus spines and brilliant blossoms attracted my attention–and also attracted bees and other insects.  This Hedgehog cactus was quite a display of beauty…with sharp edges.  (And just one of many cacti variety in bloom!)727fd74f-f97a-466e-8974-2adadc81b2c1

The Chollas (teddy bear, silver, and other varieties) are known for their sharp, barbed spines.  Coming across an entire garden of them was breathtaking!  And then seeing them in bloom was even more spectacular.  This little ladybug was right at home, posing comfortably as I moved in close with my camera.


Hiking is really the best way to appreciate this dry land of sharp contrasts.  We climbed steep rocky slopes that switchbacked up and over trails filled with wonder.  We spotted lizards scampering under shrubs and a couple of huge lizards sunning themselves on rocks as we made our way to a desert oasis marked by native California fan palms.


It’s evident that some visitors decided to mark their visit with a sharp object, carving initials in these majestic trees.  While we rested in the shade of the palms, a casual conversation with another couple revealed a close encounter with a rattlesnake up on the path.  Made wary by their story, we were cautious on our hike back and definitely felt the jolt of adrenaline when the distinct rattle stopped us in our tracks.  My husband watched the rattlesnake (he counted 8 rattles) move off as we carefully made our way around it. (Sorry no picture…sometimes you just have to stay back!)

Another hike took us into a valley filled with rock formations.  I couldn’t help take a shot of this seemingly dead tree casting a sharp shadow, extending the tree both into the sky and across the ground.


The rock formations in the park are popular with climbers and we often looked up to see people high above us.  After a relatively short hike to find Arch Rock, and an accidental side trip off the path, we found this interesting formation, rounded by the same conditions that cause plants to have sharp needles rather than broad leaves.  It was fun to watch my husband scramble up the sharp angle of rock to pose in the arch, giving a sense of size and space to the formation.


Today on a drive into a far corner of the park, we found Ocotillo growing…and in full bloom.  Of course we had to stop to photograph these massive beauties reaching high into the sky, sharp red blooms against the cloudless blue above.


And photo credit to Geoff for capturing a photo of me, dwarfed by this tall specimen…looking so sharp in my hiking boots and shorts!  (And as always, with my camera around my neck!)


So, as you go about your week be on the lookout for sharp.  It doesn’t have to be the desert that inspires the sharp edges in your photos, you might find sharp in the crispness of your focus, in the wit of a family member, or maybe even in your kitchen.

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 #sharp for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

Share the sharp in your life this week.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Organic

In a place where clear blue skies are the norm, clouds are a novelty. Puffy white clouds catch my eye, drawing it upward.  There is something about the organic nature of these floating shapes that captures my imagination.  I find myself taking photo after photo, like this one of the clouds reflected in the windows of the buildings at our local university.


Or this one that makes if feel as if you are walking on clouds.


I know that clear skies create perfect sunsets, but there is something about clouds that give dimension and the unexpectedness of organic designs to the colors and reflections of the setting sun.  Halloween is my husband’s birthday, and this year also included a perfect low tide for a sunset beach walk punctuated with organic streaks and shine.


And when the sky isn’t enough, there are many organic treasures revealed by the sea. With low tides all week, the ocean revealed rocks covered in these organic skeletons.  I’m not sure exactly what they are, but I love the textures.


And I always feel rich when I come across a sand dollar, especially one that is mostly whole.  I love the simple design, almost like a delicate pencil sketch.


And then there is the human form, organically represented in these clay skulls arranged in alters celebrating ancestors in honor of Dia de los muertos found in our meeting room at UCSD last weekend.


My students are currently fascinated with rocks and minerals as we’ve dived deeply into the study of geology.  Today’s “museum” featured a specimen from each student and created an organic opportunity for some interesting informational writing (I plan to feature some of that writing in a future post).  Here’s one of nature’s organic beauties.


So look up, look around, maybe even catch a reflection of something organic.  What’s catching your eye because of it’s organic quality?

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 #organic for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

Head out with your camera in search of organic…will you represent it through the natural world? Express an organic idea? Explore the intersection of organic and geometric?  Take the prompt wherever it leads you and share your photos with us!