Tag Archives: outdoors

Beyond the Still

I love to take photos of things.  Collections of things.  Seemingly random things.  Sometimes I notice people looking, trying to figure out what it is that I am photographing.

Still life.  Where does that label come from?  Is a bowl of fruit really a “still life?”  But when I take a photo of a collection of inanimate things, I call it a still life.  Does it freeze a moment when you might imagine life paused?  Or maybe the “things” actually have a life of their own?

The school garden is one of my favorite places.  Not because I am a gardener.  I am an avid photographer of gardens, but kind of a “fair-weather” gardener.  But I love the idea of gardens and I love the outdoor learning space of school gardens.  I love spaces where kids can uncover bugs, dig in the dirt, write in the shade of trees, hang out for a while under the influence of nature.

The garden was pure respite for my students and me this year with all the COVID restrictions.  We pulled weeds, found the world’s largest carrot–forgotten when school closed the previous spring–sowed seeds, and wrote.  My hit-and-miss gardening style meant the weeds were always back with a vengeance when we returned to the garden weeks after our previous visit.  I was honestly relieved when our garden teacher was able to return to campus and spend weekly time with the kids doing some actual gardening.  

And the beauty of it all was that I could spend time with the kids in the garden doing the things I love best: noticing nature, writing under the influence with the breeze in our faces and dirt under our feet, and photographing life…both active and still.

Outside

I spied this gorgeous hawk sitting in a tree not far from me as I was walking today.  I slowed and carefully positioned my camera, trying to capture this image.

photo-1

And as I watched and then continued my walk, a short 25 word story (or maybe the beginning of something more) was brewing in my head.

Tucked in behind the gas station and across the street from the McDonalds, hawk oversees wild space…what is left of what used to be.

I took a minute at the stop light and jotted notes down in my phone to remember this thought when I got back home.  Thinking about what used to be interests me.  What caused developers to leave this wild space untouched?

Last week a parent in our class sent us this article about going outside to write when you feel stuck or uninspired with your writing, saying that it reminded her of us and our classroom.  (Such a great compliment!)  I’ve shared it with many others…and was thinking about it this morning as I headed outside for a long walk.

I knew I had lots of writing to do today (beyond my blog post) and told myself I needed to get outside and be active before settling down to work.  To make the prospect more appealing, I planned my walk with a mid-walk stop at the local Starbucks and had my iPhone handy for any interesting photo opportunities.

As I started my walk I noticed that my “monkey mind,” as Natalie Goldberg calls it, took over.  I could feel my attention pulled in a million directions as I noticed sounds (cars, birds, breeze, leaves crunching, bicycles whizzing by…), smells (the smell of water in the curb drains, car exhaust, the damp of foggy air…), sights (the lone purple flower in a sea of ground cover, scraps of paper interwoven in the brush, leaves blowing…), and physical feelings (the sheen of sweat building on my shoulders, the push of air as cars rushed past, the uneven sidewalk under my feet…).  Before I started my walk, I had thought I might continue on a theme of water photos started yesterday with a walk on the beach, but the first half of my walk didn’t offer any interesting possibilities.

And then I noticed the hawk.  It literally stopped me in my tracks as I looked closely, noticing the beauty of this bird.  Crows and pigeons are pretty commonplace on my walks…and hawks are mostly noticed from a distance, flying high above.  I loved the opportunity to look closely as I angled my lens.  He watched me as I watched him.  And then he spread his magnificent wings and took to the sky.  I only wish I could describe the sound of those large, powerful wings as they lifted the bird from the branch.

As much as people complain about “screen time” and lament that devices are keeping our young people indoors, inactive, and uninspired, I find that it is my device that gets me moving, heading outdoors, and paying attention to my surroundings.  As always, we need balance in our lives.  Opportunities for solitude and times to interact.  Playtime and sustained work.  Time in nature to notice and question and wonder and time with our screens to produce, write and connect.  It doesn’t have to be either/or…can’t it be both?

How does your device (or devices) impact the ways you interact with the outdoors?