Tag Archives: photo essay

Bubbles

There’s a bubble man that regularly shows up at the beach where I walk.  He concocts a bubble mixture, pours it into a bowl that is fitted onto a one-legged stand that he plunges into the sand, and then starts working his magic.  

bigger bubble

Two bamboo poles are his wands, and they are attached by long stretches of rope that serve as the point of bubble creation.  He dips, lifts, opens and swirls using the natural sea breezes to create enormous bubbles that drift along the shore.

Tiny bubbles

Like the Pied Piper, the bubble man attracts children.  They flock to him, chasing the bubbles, hands reaching, eager to pop these ephemeral jewels.  He teases them with a cluster of low, small bubbles, sending them out in a flurry, then lifts his wand high above their heads, coaxing another bubble to grow.  A snake evolves into a dragon, expanding and twisting as it nuzzles the sunset. The kids look up, arms stretched, running beneath the giant as it floats out of reach.  

color unfurls

When the conditions are right, bubbles become corridors to another world.  Immersed in briny ocean water, the brave enter the bubble, seeing the world from inside its colorful coating.  For those who are patient and move with elegance and ease, the bubble stays, moving with them in a watery dance of soap and salt and air.  

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There’s something freeing about the temporary nature of bubbles.  You can almost catch them, but never quite possess them. In some ways it’s like learning.  For a moment, you can stop time and hold it in your hand and then, pop! It has become part of the air again, you breathe it in and it is a part of you.  

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Don’t stop, blow a new bubble today. Try some small ones to get started, share them with others. Now reach. Higher. Open your arms wide, catch the breeze.  Pop! It’s gone before the bubble formed. Try again and again until the light catches and the colors unfold into a rainbow of possibility.

Full color bubble

Finding my Spirit Animal

I think I’ve found my spirit animal, my patronus (to borrow from Harry Potter).  This is not the same as saying here is my favorite animal or here is the animal I identify with, this is the animal that keeps finding me and when it does, it brings me energy and calm, power and focus.  

Long walks along the beach have become a norm for me.  At first I started walking for a reason to take pretty photos.  But the more I walk, the more I need to walk and the more I want to walk.  I walk to burn off calories, to engage my muscles, and to breathe. I walk to think, to reflect, and to problem solve.  I walk to notice, to engage with the world, and to write. I most often walk on my way home from work, but I also walk on weekends, on vacations, and sometimes right before the sun sets.

Seagulls are a staple of my walks on the beach.  These birds are the ever-present, iconic bird of the beach.  They gather on the shore, they swoop and soar overhead, they keep a sharp eye on things…especially those snacks people think they have tucked carefully away for after their ocean dip.  Pelicans are a regular sighting as well. These bombardiers fly in perfect formation, shifting leaders as they speed along the coastline.  If you watch carefully, you may spot one over the head of the surfers waiting for the perfect wave as it waits and then suddenly drops, snapping up a fish in its huge pouch-like bill.  And there are the sandpiper category of birds (curlews, avocets, plovers) that love the low tide feeding opportunities. They are much shyer than the seagulls and much more fun to watch as they run up and back with the waves.  And I take lots of photos of all these birds, trying to creep up close without causing them to fly off.

But back to that patronus, the spirit animal.  Some people have always known their spirit animal.  For my husband, the bear is his kindred spirit. He takes comfort and energy from seeing bears and identifies with their fierceness, their lumbering ways, the way they protect their young, and their general good looks.  I have never considered that I might even have a spirit animal until lately. I think I started to make some connections about the possibility of animal totems when I read a post by a virtual friend, Molly Hogan over at Nix the Comfort Zone where she talked about the significance of some Baltimore oriole sightings outside her window.  When I read about Molly’s oriole, I immediately thought about the snowy egret sightings I had experienced–and the joy each sighting brought.  I’d been writing about egrets and photographing egrets without considering any connections I might have to them.

egret in the surf

I often come across these beautiful birds at low tide and spend lots of time watching their bright yellow feet stomp the murky water to bring fish and other food possibilities out of hiding.  I learned to creep close without disturbing the birds, clicking my camera lens trying to get a perfect shot. And lately, the birds seem to be finding me. Just recently egrets have appeared at unexpected spots along my beach walk, and we’ve hung out together on the edge of the surf.  Each sighting brings a sense of calm and intense pleasure, a camaraderie and comfort that comes from being with those you care about and who care about you.

egret close with ruffeld feathersegret looking

And then, as I started writing this earlier this week I came across an art print a CLMOOC friend had sent me a while back while I was looking for a container of sea glass I have on display in my house…a print of a heron.  I stopped and snapped a photo of it, remembering that when I had looked up animal totems on the internet that heron and egret were defined together.

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Later in the afternoon I headed out for my usual beach walk.  I was feeling good already, the sun was shining (something that can be a bit iffy in these parts in June), I found a parking place not too far away, and I was ready to stretch my legs and breathe deeply.  As usual my camera was strapped around my neck, ready for whatever shot presented itself. As I reached the mile mark along my walk I considered turning back, but decided since the day was so beautiful and the tide was cooperative I would continue on a bit further.  I am so glad I did…just at about the point I had planned to turn around I noticed the familiar shape in the surf. But wait, it wasn’t white. As I walked closer and watched carefully I could see that it was a great blue heron hanging out in the surf! I have never seen a heron on any of my beach walks, but there it was!  

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The coincidence seems too great to be a random sighting.  I am certain these birds are bringing me messages of calm and support.  They are certainly bringing me strength and inspiration and an incredible jolt of joy.  So I am claiming the egret and heron as my spirit animals, patronus if you will, there to call on in times of need.  

So now I am wondering, do we each have a spirit animal, an animal totem representing our strengths and bringing us power and focus?  Is there more to the heron/egret than I have yet discovered?  I’d love to hear about your experience with your patronus!

 

Reflections on Writing Poetry

After 30 days of writing a poem a day, I asked my students to take some time to reflect on what they learned from participating in the challenge.  So, in the spirit of full participation, I am also taking the time to reflect on all I learned from this poetry challenge.

My thoughts seem to have coalesced into four categories: learning from poetry, learning from writing, learning from students, and learning from blogging.

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Learning from Poetry:

Poetry offers opportunities to express feelings, to practice crafting vivid descriptions, to bring others into your view of the world.  Like the sunset, poetry makes everything more beautiful. Each word contributes to the painting the reader experiences, blending and building,  As I read poems written by others–published or not–I found inspiration for my own poetry.  Poems became mentors for my poems, they opened my eyes to my own experiences, allowing me to see my own life in new ways.

branching out

Learning from Writing:

The only way to be a writer is to write.  I have learned the lesson again that when I write daily, writing comes.  My brain and my hands seem to respond to the daily habit of putting words on a page.  Knowing I will write each day helps me pay attention, helps me think about connections between thoughts, actions, and ideas, and helps me articulate my thinking.  When I write daily I get into that mode we in the writing project often call writer’s brain.  It is a space where experiences become fodder for written expression.  When I expect to write, I write more and better and explore life’s possibilities through language.  Writing helps me branch out, trying on new ideas in different ways.

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Learning from Students:

I have watched my students blossom as writers.  Stilted, ordinary poems have become unexpected expressions of whimsy, of fear, of love, of exploration.  My students have become a community of writers who are interested in the writing of others and who are eager to share their writing with others.  They are talking about their inspiration, about their struggles as writers, about their ideas for revision, and finding poems in their baseball games, in their dance rehearsals, in the night sky, and in the books we read.  I have loved watching their poetry grow in sophistication and I have noticed that writing has become less daunting, although no less challenging as they strive to express themselves.

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Learning from Blogging:

Blogging my 30 days of poetry has been a public affirmation of poetry as a valuable learning activity.  I not only made my own poetry public, but I also showcased the poetry of my students. Giving my students an authentic audience was motivating.  They were eager to share their poetry and have it appear on my blog.  Many checked my blog to see whose poem they would find. Blogging each day also made real my commitment to being a teacher-writer.  I not only teach writing, I write.  Being vulnerable as a writer helps me remember that this writing thing is not easy…and is filled with pitfalls.  I remember each day when I work with students that writing needs nurturing…and writers do too!

Thanks to all of you who read and liked and commented during our 30-day poetry challenge.  I look forward to reading my students’ reflections and hearing their perspectives on this learning. I’ll be sure to share their insights with you too!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Details

As a photographer it’s easy to see the big things…the colorful sunset, the magnificent vista…and I’ve taken many photos of those, many that you have seen if you follow my blog.  Lately I’ve been looking closely in an effort to notice the smallest of details in hopes of creating something different, more nuanced, through my lens.

The moon was spectacular in December, well before the super moon made headlines (unfortunately it was too foggy here to get a good view). My eye was drawn to the bright crescent and I worked to snap that crisp clear shot.  With some light in the sky right past sunset, I was able to get a view that satisfied my inner critic.

moon

A trip to the zoo with my grandsons had me searching for animals that they could spot…and it wasn’t easy since many hide in the shadows on a warm day.  But looking up I kept noticing the Skyfari ride and the ways the buckets passed each other every so often. I particularly like this shot with the iconic palm tree in the frame.

skyfari

Much to my husband’s dismay, our front yard has become a haven for dandelions.  He cuts the grass and the dandelions pop right back up.  I love the way the light shines through the puffs in this shot with the bicycle rider in the background.  Sometimes my own front yard is the perfect venue for a photograph.

dandelion garden

This week has been marked by extreme low tides in the afternoons, a favorite time for walking for me.  I love the wide beach and the way the landscape is changed as the sea pulls back.  This fisherman was way out on the algae-covered outcropping when I heard the helicopter overhead. The juxtaposition of fisherman, helicopter, clouds and light pique my interest.  I haven’t tried any editing on this image yet, I wonder what might make it even more interesting…

fisherman and helicopter

The low tide has also brought out the playfulness of the pelicans.  Walking out along the waterline brought me closer than my usual vantage.  I stood and watched this guy float, then fly up and search the surf only to drop into a cannonball-like dive.  I managed to catch this shot of the head-first dive.

diving pelican

I don’t usually do much food photography–mostly because I don’t eat very interesting (or photogenic) food.  But today I decided to try the portrait mode on my iPhone to take this unedited shot of my Mexican chicken soup from Jorge’s Mexicatessen.  I like the sheen of the fat on the surface of the broth, the green of the avocado, and the silvery aluminum foil that holds yummy hand-made tortillas.  This is the BEST soup, a cure for all that ails you.  Luckily, I’m not feeling sick, but it never hurts to have a dose just for good measure!

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So, it’s your turn.  What details will you find when you head out with your camera?  The curve of a smile, the wag of a tail, a tender bud poking up through the snow?  (That last suggestion does not come from my reality…but I am obsessed with snow pictures!)

Share your #details this week, in images or words…or both. 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 #details, you can also link your post in my comments.

Sharpen your vision and look closely for details.  Be sure to share your image(s).  I can’t wait to see the details you find through your lens.

Best of 2017, Photo Style

I’ve been taking at least one photo a day for many years now (I think I started in 2012), which adds up to quite a collection of photos over the course of a year.  I do like to take the time to pick out some “best of” photos from the year, based on my own criteria of course!  (Here’s a link to last year’s collection.) Instagram, where I post my daily photos, offers a #bestnine each year where the nine are determined by the photos that get the most likes.   (You can see mine for 2017 on my Instagram account @kd0602) For me, those are not my best photos.  Instead they are often related to an event that creates some traffic rather than images that stand out for their photographic merit.

It was hard to pick nine “best” photos for 2017. Initially I came up with eleven–but after some careful consideration I narrowed it down and I am sticking with nine!  I went all the way back to the beginning of last year and found myself drawn to this photo of the ocean lighted by winter’s low sun angles and muted by the clouds, creating a colorful sky.  I love the pensive mood it creates on the delightfully empty beach.

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My annual trip to Washington D.C in 2017 happened to correspond with the blossoming of cherry trees.  I absolutely love the delicate pinks against the brilliant blue sky.  While I wasn’t there at peak bloom, this was close enough for some beautiful photos.

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Some days my photo choices are limited to something in my house or yard.  Imagine my surprise and pleasure when I took this shot of the lavender plant in my back yard with the bee in action.  The macro effect erases the background, creating a watercolor of greens and browns.

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All the lifeguard towers that we see during the summer, winter near the jetty not too far from my house.  This composition begged for black and white, a cluster of white towers against the dark of sky and sand.  I feel like there is a whole story in this one image.

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A spring trip to Joshua Tree National Park offered amazing opportunities to experience the desert in bloom.  Everything that is ordinarily dry and brown was exploding in color.  And the sky at sunset was up to the challenge, silhouetting the distinctive Joshua tree in its colorful descending light.

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A local man is a regular at the beach near sunset creating enormous, soapy bubbles that reflect the setting sun.  I love this particular bubble because of the swirl of color radiating in front of the light from the sun. This guy encourages kids to run in the bubbles, seeing how long they can stay in before the bubble pops.  I have taken tons of photos of his bubbles, but only a few are this spectacular.

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As you can tell from the previous six images, many of my photographs are of nature.  But on the 4th of July I found myself captivated by the action of the volleyball players.  I kept creeping closer, working to time the snap of my shutter with the ball centered over the top of the net.  I am in love with the action of this shot…all the way down to the sand puffs under the players’ feet!

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November took me to the National Writing Project Annual Meeting in St. Louis, Missouri.  In spite of full days of conference sessions and meetings, no trip to St. Louis is complete without an opportunity to get close to the Gateway Arch.  Night photography is always challenging for me, I love that I had just enough light to catch the arch as a frame for the cityscape in the background.  Look closely, you can see the American flag off to the right!

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And number nine was taken on New Year’s Eve, just a couple of days ago during a walk on the beach.  I love when the tide is low and the beach is wide.  Obviously, my friend the egret feels the same.  I love the light and color in this image, showing off the vivid greens and reds of the sea grass and algae and the bright white of the egret’s feathers.  If you lean in you might be able to see the brilliant yellow feet of this snowy egret.

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I hope you enjoy my best nine of 2017, I’d love to hear your thoughts about my choices…and suggestions as I go into 2018.  And I’d love to see your best of images for the year…feel free to leave a link to your post so I can enjoy your best of 2017!  (Or even best of today!)

 

 

Writing and Photo Challenge: Reflection

Reflection in writing and thinking has become habit for me…and it’s something I emphasize for my students.  In fact, I did an extensive study of reflective thinking and writing for my MA quite a few years ago now.  I know that reflection helps learning stick.  It creates opportunities for problem solving and connections.  In the classroom we talk about reflection as a way of collecting learning.

Over the last week or so I’ve been playing around with reflection in my photographs.  It’s a bit different from reflective thinking and writing.  Instead of examining your thought processes and searching memory, this kind of photography requires a shiny surface of some sort to catch the reflection.  Low tide walks are perfect when there is some sunshine to create reflections.  I’ve had to tinker with angles, how close to get to the reflective surface, and what kinds of objects reflect well.  Yesterday, low tide was near sunset.  Perfect weather, warm and clear, allowed for a refreshing walk in the water.  I noticed the reflection of the pier, light posts, pilings, and even people, creating a perfect mirror image on the wet sand.

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I couldn’t resist trying to capture the color in this reflective photo of the buildings and palm trees along the shore line.  I love the brilliance of the blue sky reflected on the wet sand.

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I noticed this reflection as I worked to create an interesting photo of some trash on the beach.  As I turned my phone to find an interesting angle, I noticed the reflection of the palm trees.  While the angle isn’t perfect, I was able to get an interesting #litterati photo and get some plastic off the beach and out of the ocean.

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I’m a bit obsessed with seabirds.  I try to get as close as possible without spooking them, getting low if possible.  These guys are pretty perceptive and love to start walking away when they see me in the distance!  I particularly like the soft light of the setting sun warming up their reflection with the pier in the background.

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I captured this guys’s image earlier in the week.  The day was a bit gray and blustery, ruffling his feathers and making the texture dimensional. This is the only photo in the post that I have edited.  I found that by darkening and brightening the image, I could draw attention to the detail of the feathers, the beak and the reflection.

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Reflecting on all this reflection reminds me how much there is to learn from thinking about the processes we use.  While photography uses different skills and processes than writing, they both benefit from taking time to reflect on successes and frustrations.  And it always helps to study the work of another.

So, head out with your camera and try your hand at capturing reflection. Low tide created a perfect shiny surface for me.  Will you find another body of water?  A wet patio deck? The shiny side of your car?  And what will you learn when you take the time to think back and write about your experience capturing reflection through your lens?

Share your #reflection this week, in images or words…or both. 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 #reflection.

I can’t wait to learn from your reflection photos…and your reflections on reflection this week!

Paying Attention: #whyiwrite 2017

Fall is subtle in San Diego. Instead of a riotous celebration of trees dressed in their best fall colors I notice that the lifeguard towers have been moved from their strategic summer shoreline positions to a collection near the road. Instead of grabbing a sweater and drinking warm apple cider, we scan the horizon for evidence of wildfires as hot winds gust and whip the dry grasses and dust into a frenzy.

lifeguard towers

But in spite of these easy to miss markers of fall, there are seasons in San Diego. Not the two (spring and summer) that so many use to describe our temperate climate, but four distinct seasons that you might only recognize if you take the time to notice, document, and reflect.

fall colors on the ocean

It’s like that in my classroom too. As teachers (and maybe as parents and learners too) we all wish that learning came with recognizable markers of growth. That we could watch the leaves of learning change from green to yellow to brilliant crimson, celebrating new knowledge, expertise and confidence. We’d love for snowplows to mark the new pathways that allow for connections between new concepts and older understandings. But learning is often subtle. It is incremental, sneaking its way into our synapses and those of our students without fanfare.

To pay attention to these subtleties, I turn to my camera.  My camera has become my go-to tool for focusing my attention, allowing me to notice and document changes in my environment.  Through its lens, I pay attention to changes in light and shadow, notice moods and action, and see what might otherwise be overlooked.  Combined with writing, reflection becomes a daily habit with camera in hand.

black and white seagull

Writing helps me pay attention. It helps me record the small details that don’t seem to amount to much and notice how those details change, accumulate, and grow over time. And when paired with photography, writing helps me leap from concrete to abstract, considering why a photo of lifeguard towers stored for the fall and winter draws my attention to my students and their learning. Writing pushes me from the tediums of day to day, to examine the reasons I keep returning to those same topics. And even more importantly, when I write, I am reminded of the power of writing not just for myself but also for my students and that helps me search for ways to support them as they find their own reasons to write.

I write to support my students as writers, knowing that the power of the pen will open possibilities for thinking, learning, and problem solving. And when I pay close attention, I will not only learn about them but also from them. That’s why I write.