Tag Archives: photo essay

Team Bird: SOLC 2019 Day 15

Today’s walk had me watching pelicans.  And as I observed their precision maneuvers, I started to think about how birds compare to sports and their athletes.  Pelicans are like synchronized swimmers, matching their moves and depending on the precise movements of each to create the desired formations as a group.  I sometimes see one peel off, slowing down or heading off in a different direction, but most of the time they are working the V, adjusting position and speed to ensure that the entire group gets where it is going with speed and efficiency.

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Seagulls are more like that pick up game of basketball or soccer.  They have shared interests, but there is always plenty of squabbling and trash talk.  There are definitely leaders and followers and lots of jockeying for position (and food).  Seagulls seem to laugh a lot (at least in my mind), they love to play in the wind currents and hang out together on the beach.

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Osprey are those elite individual athletes–the Mikaela Shiffrins or Serena Williams of the bird world.  They are strong and independent and ferociously focused on their goals.  Osprey are beauty in motion, each muscle toned, each movement made with grace that makes the nearly impossible seem easy.

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Egrets are steady, patient and observant.  They wait for the perfect opportunity, a lot like the utility players in football or basketball.  They have that grace of movement, but they don’t draw your attention until you look away from the shining stars of the game.  But when you do look…oh la la, they are poetry in motion!

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Sandpipers are team players all the way.  They move together, eat together, and watch out for each other.  Like a finely honed World Cup soccer team, they seem to read each others’ minds, moving separately almost like one.

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I’m always encouraging my students to be a team, reminding them that we need to support each other and create a space where we all can learn.  But after watching the birds, I’m wondering if I need to refine my language.  What kind of team do I want them to be?

Tiny Snails and Butterflies: SOLC 2019 Day 12

Kids have a way of seeing the smallest of details in the world.  While they often miss some big picture items, they never miss the puncture mark in the shared eraser, the cloud shaped like a volcano erupting, or the perfect rock that most of us would never give a second look.

We had another unexpected rainy morning today, pushing me back upstairs to change from my suede booties to my cowboy boots before heading out the door for work.  By the time I was out on the blacktop for before school recess duty, the rain had stopped, but the ground was still wet and shiny.  The time change has kids straggling in later than usual, giving me plenty of time for mental meanderings as I watched the few early kids play on the blacktop.

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After recess duty, I spent a few minutes back in the classroom chatting with a few of my third graders, listening to their stories of the previous evening.  When the bell rang, we headed out together to pick up the other students where we line up on the blacktop.  We barely made it out the door when one my students noticed an incredibly tiny snail on the sidewalk in front of our classroom.  Smaller than the fingernail on my pinkie, this snail was a perfect miniature model of those pesky snails often found in the garden. We all knelt low, noticing its perfect features, spiral shell, and gooey slime on the wet sidewalk. After taking a few photos, one of the students offered to carefully “save” it and move it from the sidewalk where it risked getting stepped on by the many students who would walk that hallway to a safer location on the nearby dirt.  Carefully picking it up by holding the shell, the snail was relocated without incident.

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Later in the day, the sun shone brightly and most students had shed their jackets to bask in the warmth of the almost spring sun.  During lunch the kids had noticed that our school seemed to be in the flight path of a butterfly migration.  Monarchs are familiar friends to our schoolyard where milkweed grows tall, so the kids thought the smaller butterflies they were seeing were baby monarchs.  We walked out to the pollinator garden to see if we could get a closer look, but butterflies flittered by in twos or threes, staying above our heads rather than alighting on any plants.  I’m pretty sure these were actually painted ladies…the same butterflies I had just seen in profusion in the desert over the weekend.

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It always surprises me that these same students who never miss a tiny snail or the beauty of butterflies migrating overhead don’t seem to notice that they are standing on a classmate’s jacket with muddy shoes or that they just jumped in front of ten other children patiently waiting for supplies for a project.

They are perfectly self-centered and exquisitely altruistic, obnoxious and incredibly kind, thoughtful and infuriatingly rude…all rolled into one.  Tiny snails and butterflies remind me to look closely and find those sometimes hidden endearing qualities rather than focusing on what so often is the most obvious to notice in the classroom.  And I’m lucky, those same confounding small humans are also the reason I find myself paying attention to the smallest of details, appreciating the world through the eyes of children.

California Poppies: SOLC 2019 Day 11

The golden poppy is California’s state flower.  We often see this cheery orange flower growing along the side of the freeway, in roadside medians, and in the landscaping of public buildings.  It’s both delicate and hearty.

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As a California native, I’ve seen these poppies my whole life, but I’ve never seen them like I did over the weekend.  Drought has become a way of life in southern California where I live.  Our average rainfall is only 10 inches per year, so those years when the rainfall falls well below (I know we’ve had recent years with only 5 inches–for the entire year!) are devastating for plants and animals (and humans too)!  This year we are already well above average for rainfall, and the season doesn’t end for a few more months.  That means our landscape is greener than usual…and flowers are everywhere!

On our way home from Saturday’s adventures (you can read more about those here and here), we decided we would stop by to get a glimpse of some poppy fields at the peak of their blossom.  As we headed back from the desert, we swung through a part of Riverside county called Lake Elsinore.  Even before we got to our destination, we could see hillsides in full bloom!

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We weren’t the only people who wanted to see these beauties, traffic snarled as we got close.  We saw the highway patrol ticketing cars that folks had parked on the shoulder of the freeway to try to circumvent the traffic to photograph poppies!

Our patience paid off with the opportunity for some close up views of these massive fields of poppies.  Unfortunately, we were late in the day as the sun was dipping below the clouds and the temperatures were dropping, so many blossoms were beginning to wrap up tight for the night.

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In spite of the challenges, I enjoyed my poppy experience.  I’ve been noticing more poppies in my own community as well.  I passed several small patched of poppies along the roadside on my way home from work today.  And I’ve seen many people I know posting pictures of poppies…from Lake Elsinore and many other hillsides around the state!  They are beautiful…and a cheery indicator of a wet winter and spring’s arrival.

Saturday Adventures Continued: SOLC 2019 Day 10

Our Saturday adventures didn’t stop with the Super Bloom.  As we hiked back toward our car, still admiring the seemingly never ending beauty of the desert in full color, we started a bit of a “what if” conversation.  We knew we were done hiking for the day…but it was still before noon, why not continue exploring?

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We’d seen signs for the Salton Sea as we drove towards Borrego Springs.  What if we just went further and explored the Salton Sea?  We checked out the distance on Google maps…it seemed a reasonable option, so we plugged it in, pushed start, and headed east.

We drove through more patches of the desert in full bloom, watching carefully for those drivers and folks with cameras who pull off the road suddenly, flipping car doors open without remembering that they are stopped on the side of highway.  We continued to drive, the view changing until it seemed we had found landscapes that time had forgotten.  Sparse vegetation, windswept columns and deep valleys reminiscent of the Grand Canyon surrounded us, I almost expected to see a giant dinosaur pop its head up and look me in the eye.  As we continued on, we found the hideaways of weekend RVers and their myriad dune buggies racing up and down self-made roadways.  Unexpectedly, the landscape changed again.  Were we seeing a mirage?  The blue on the horizon looked like we were seeing the ocean in front of us.  The Salton Sea is called an accidental lake, though apparently at one time it was a naturally occurring fresh water lake.  It is located directly over the San Andreas fault and is known as one of the largest and saltiest inland bodies of water.  (I cannot even begin to do justice to its history in this post, so if you’re interested, I encourage you to do some research–it’s super interesting!)

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As we got closer, we realized that our navigation led us to the community of Salton Sea City.  We drove as close to the shoreline as we could and got close enough to take it its immensity.  We wanted to get closer–close enough to walk along the shoreline.  We tried Google again, this time trying the search word “beach.”  We had a couple of choices–one closer than the other.  We headed toward the closest one…Salton Sea Beach.  As we drove, we were hoping for beach access.  We were surprised when we drove into a small community and the navigation told us we had arrived.  Driving around a bit, we followed a road toward a shoreline where we found “No Trespassing” signs.  We realized we had not driven to the beach, we had driven to the community named Salton Sea Beach!  Frustration was building–surely somewhere there was access to the shoreline of the Salton Sea!  Consulting Google once again, we chose that other option and headed off toward the Salton Sea State Recreation Area.  Luckily, it took us mostly in the direction we would eventually head to return home.  But we were surprised when the exit looped us back in the direction we started from and were even more surprised when we realized we were on the opposite shore of the Salton Sea!

But we finally got that beach access we were looking for.  A short walk gave us a view of black necked stilts along with some familiar gulls.  Apparently the Salton Sea has become a migratory flyway for many birds–one that is in danger.  California’s water wars are most evident when it comes to the Salton Sea…the topic for yet another blog post.

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My photos of this sea are not spectacular–the light was all wrong, the birds too far away. But the experience was worth the frustration and the strange driving routes through unfamiliar desert areas…definitely a Saturday adventure!

Super Bloom: SOLC 2019 Day 9

The desert is usually subtle.  Many shades of brown often characterize the plants and animals that live there.  Blending in is necessary for survival and adaptations for preserving water often mean staying small and skinny to prevent evaporation.  But when there is abundant rain in the winter, the desert can be a bit showy.  Super Bloom 2019 is underway!

We planned a desert hike for today, knowing that hiking would give us glimpses of the blooming desert while taking us away from more of the bloom tourists.  We got up and left the house early…appreciating the beauty of the sunrise as we drove toward the east.

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One of the perks of living in San Diego is that you can get to the ocean, mountains, and deserts in about two hours or less (if traffic cooperates).  We arrived in Borrego Springs before 8am and easily found parking near the Hellhole Canyon trailhead.

Many of the flowers were still asleep, tightly closed against the cool of the night.  As we walked, the desert slowly woke, stretching and unfolding in the gentle light of morning. Starting early meant having the desert mostly to ourselves, allowing the desert soundscape to fill our ears.  The caw of a bird called my attention to the hillside where I spotted a mama big horned sheep and her baby.  We watched and listened as they click clacked their way down the hillside.  I definitely envy their surefootedness!  A buzzing nearby had me turn my head where I spotted a beautiful tiny hummingbird sitting in a leafless tree. Painted lady butterflies played tag as they flitted from flower to flower to flower to flower. The trickle of water tinkled in the distance, growing to a burbling stream as we got closer to the oasis framed in native fan palms.  The outcome of abundant winter rain was in full view as we finally got to the maidenhead falls where water poured from over our heads into the running streams below.

The desert is carpeted in wildflowers right now.  Yellows and whites stand near purples and pinks.  Splashes of red and brilliant white blossoms punctuate the view.  Ocotillos are just started to bloom, along with the barrel cactus.  The prickly pears will be ready in a couple of week, judging from the emerging buds.

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The super bloom is just beginning and there is nothing like seeing the desert in its full color glory!  As the temperatures gently rise, the blossoms will continue to emerge.  If it doesn’t get too hot, the bloom may last through mid-April!  Today’s hike was perfect: a just-right physical challenge as we gradually climbed, scrambling up rocks as we approached the falls, like the sheep we saw earlier.  The weather was sunny, with coolish temperatures in the 60’s, and everywhere we looked, it was simply gorgeous!  It was a perfect Saturday adventure.

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Snack Time: SOLC 2019 Day 8

It was windy today as I headed down to the beach.  Not ocean breeze windy, it was stand your hair on end windy.  I zipped my jacket up to my chin, grabbed my camera and set off down the hill.

The winds stirred up the whitecaps like frothy whipped cream and the surfers seemed to have taken the afternoon off. The skies were blue with billowy clouds in the distance.  I walked briskly, scanning the shoreline for interesting photo possibilities.

As I walked further south a bird caught my eye.  I watched the bird–seemingly in suspended animation–riding the wind current, but staying in place.  It seemed almost to hover high above me.  I kept watching and took a few photos, knowing that my lens was not powerful enough to really capture a good picture.  After watching it hover and adjust, and then spread its wings a bit further so that it caught the light just right, I realized that this wasn’t a gull or tern. This was a large raptor…an osprey!

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I kept watching in wonder at the strength it must take to fly in place, when suddenly the bird appeared closer, and much larger.  I kept taking photos as the bird seemed to fall from the sky!  (I’m thinking of you and your duck, Molly!)

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I continued to watch and snap photos as the osprey dropped into the sea and then rose…with something gripped in its powerful talon.  I watched it swoop and circle and rise, snapping all the way.  I continued to watch as it flew down the beach, fish in hand, away from the way I was walking.  I didn’t stop to look at my photos, but I was hoping I had taken a photo that somehow captured my experience.

A couple of miles later when I returned to the car, I was still thinking about the osprey and its snack.  I sat and looked through my photos–and gasped when I saw this one.  It’s far from perfect, but it does capture some of the magic and majesty I witnessed!  (All photos are unfiltered and unedited…for now!)

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Things I Love: SOLC 2019 Day 7

Thursdays are my SDAWP day.  That means that I spend the day at UCSD doing my work as the director of the San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP).  Inspired by Margaret Simon‘s list of things she loves in her slice the other day, I’ve been thinking about things I love about my SDAWP work.

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I love being on campus at UCSD.  I’ve taken so many photos of the library–it’s unusual architecture means it always makes an interesting picture.  This one was from this morning–I wanted to capture the billowing clouds to the east.  As I neared the library, I could hear music.  If you look closely you’ll see the people singing.  The acoustics of the cement building made their voices soar, those few people sounded like a concert…before 8am this morning.

I love the many opportunities I have to talk with educators across disciplines, across educational roles, across levels.  Rich conversations about access and equity, what constitutes success and how to bridge the instructional gaps that happen along the K-college pipeline for some students.

I have a love/hate relationship with writing grants.  I love imagining the possibilities and creating structures to support teachers and students.  I hate deadlines and the institutional hoops you have to leap through just to submit–and that doesn’t even ensure the grant will be awarded.  I’m deeply in the writing process of a grant right now…and probably should be writing that right now instead of blogging.  Wish me luck!

I love working with and supporting teachers.  I especially love talking educational pedagogy, best practices, and all things writing.  I love reading the latest research and thinking about both tried and true approaches and new ideas that I haven’t yet tested for myself.

I love that my doctorate didn’t pull me out of the classroom.  With my dual (or more) roles, I get to retain my expertise and credibility as a classroom teacher and stretch beyond my classroom to work county-wide, state-wide and nationally.  There is never a dull moment with my multiple hats balanced on my head.

And I love that on my way home I can stop off at Torrey Pines Reserve for a walk on the beach.  The cliffs at Torrey Pines are spectacular!  Today I chatted with a photographer whose camera lens was the size of a small child.  He was watching a mating pair of peregrine falcons, waiting for a chance at a perfect photo.  He patiently waited and watched, chatting with beach walkers as they passed.  I’m grateful to have gotten a chance to see the falcon–although my camera lens wasn’t able to capture it.  The view below is of a raven.  A pair of them were swooping and diving…and I’m sure I saw them carrying twigs or other nest building materials in their beaks.

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The tide was low today so I was able to walk to the southern end and catch a glimpse of tons of hang gliders in the distance at the Torrey Pines Glider Port.

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Don’t think for a second that this is a comprehensive list of things I love about directing the SDAWP…I’m sure I could go on and on and on!  I do love my work.  What would you include in a list of things you love today?