Tag Archives: photography

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.

Tiny Surprises

Not too long ago I got a cool little photo gift–a small detachable macro lens for my iPhone.  It has a little clip (kind of like a clothespin) that fits the macro lens right over my phone’s native camera lens.  The fun thing about a macro lens is that it lets you get close up and magnify tiny things so you can really see them.

During Tuesday’s lunch break I decided to attach the macro lens to my phone and head out into the backyard in search of a photo subject.  The milkweed is looking quite sickly.  There are a few flowers, but the leaves have been stripped clean.  Upon close examination, I did find a caterpillar–the monarch variety–cruising the stripped branches.  I leaned in, took a deep breath, and held as steady as possible to snap a few photos of the yellow, white, and black crawling creature.  It was a pretty big one, so I ended up with a head shot rather than a full body portrait.

Then I turned my attention to the lavender.  I love the way that lavender has tiny blossoms that make up the bloom.  I aimed the macro lens at the individual blossom–and then I saw them!  The tiniest ants were crawling in and out of the blossom.  I moved the lens away and looked closely.  I could make out the tiny ants, just barely, without the lens.  I snapped a few different shots of the tiny ants exploring the blossom and then my questions started emerging.  Are these ants pollinators?  Do they help or hurt the lavender?  What about these tiny ants–are they a different species than the regular ants I’m used to seeing, just smaller?

I love the way taking photos also creates opportunities for research and learning, piquing my curiosity as I notice something new or unexpected.  Photography keeps reminding me to look at the world through fresh eyes, changing my angles…or just the camera lens!

Fair-ly Fun

Familiar summer rituals

Re-defined, refined

Slimmed down (but not the calories)

Cows, goats, and sheep

Stayed home

Bunnies and birds

Flower arrangements and woodwork

Were missing this year

Throwback bands and tiny dancers

Are looking forward to next year

Empty barns and arenas

Define the pathways 

To plentiful parking

Lined with orange cones

Racing pigs and cinnamon rolls

Check

Enormous blow up plastic aliens

Check

And the iconic gigantic ferris wheel framed

By palm trees and the Pacific Ocean

Rolls slowly against the not-quite-blue sky

Partially covered in June-gloom

Filled by smiling fair-goers

Happy to once again

Enjoy a fair-ly fun day

It’s summer!

Ducks

There were a lot of them.  Gathered in a group, moving with purpose.  Where did they come from and where are they going?  

Seagulls are usual.  They congregate, squawking and arguing over who gets the bag of cheetos stolen from the blanket.  Shorebirds with their long thin beaks poke the wet sand in search of snacks.  Whimbrels and godwits are shy, scattering as I creep near.  I’m always on the lookout for egrets, tall and elegant with bright yellow feet.  Sometimes they feed in pairs or triads, but mostly seem to lead a solitary life.  

When the little girl approached the group, I expected them to take flight.  Rise into the sky in unison.  But they didn’t.  As I got closer, I saw they were traveling together, one after the other like school kids heading from the classroom to somewhere.  They were unperturbed when I came close with my camera from behind.  And not concerned when I ran ahead and took my photos from the front of the line, in fact, the lead duck nearly walked right into me!

I’m still wondering about that sord of mallards (if they had taken flight they would have been called a flock).  In all my walks on the beach over the years, this is my first sighting of mallards on a pilgrimage.  Where did they come from?  Where were they going?

Poetry is Sunshine: NPM #28

Today we studied Francisco X Alarcon’s poem: Words are Bird as our mentor text. My students noticed that way words were described as birds, something that was new for them to think about. It took a bit of work and experimentation for the kids to find their own metaphors. Some that they came up with included: hand sanitizer is a warrior, trees are magical, and words are gum in your hair. I was a bit skeptical about that last one–and expressed that while I wouldn’t rule it out, it seemed like a difficult one to write for a word lover like me (and this student happens to be a word lover). While I don’t have the text in front of me to share with you all, let me tell you that she did manage it…in some interesting ways!

I may have taken the easy way out, writing my poem about poetry. Here’s the draft I wrote with my students today:

Poetry is Sunshine

Poetry is sunshine

that brightens each day

shining its light

on words

emotions

new ways to think

about the world.

Some poems reach deep

burning a little

touching on something

tender and sore.

Sometimes poetry

warms us from the outside in

when we’re struggling

to warm ourselves from the inside out.

Poetry blazes

even when we don’t see it.

Covered by clouds

it waits,

until we’re ready

finally burning its way through

the thick marine layer.

It’s the center

of our solar system

the gravitational pull of words

that express

our humanity.

®Douillard

Balloon Dichotomy: NPM #24

It’s not unusual to find old balloons when we walk on the beach. What was once bright and shiny, filled with Helium and lifted aloft in celebration becomes a beach hazard. Danger for sea creatures and birds, eventually becoming micro plastics that endanger us all. And while we find these damaged symbols of festivity along the shore, I always wonder where their journey began. Do they escape from backyards? Bob out of car windows? Escape from the small hands that delight in these bouncing beauties?

My poem today tries to capture that dichotomy in words…along with the photo of the mylar balloon we found onshore today.

Balloon Dichotomy

Bouncing, floating

a bright smile against the blue sky

celebrate

a breath of air

becomes lighter than air

drifting upward, dancing with the breeze.

Until

it takes flight, escaping bonds

dropping lower and lower

caught by the sea

washed out

washed up

plucked from the shore

and deposited

as trash

®Douillard

Face-to-Face: NPM #14

Sometimes a photo holds a story–or wants to be a poem. This one that I took over the weekend keeps speaking to me. I’m not sure yet whether this is the story or poem it wants to be…but maybe it is a start.

Face-to-Face

In the slippery world of the sea

sea lion barks and seagull screeches

complex conversations

like those you have

with your father

about politics, where you’ll 

never

reach agreement

or with your sons

about their diametrically opposed choices

for a family car

A face-off, face-to-face, FaceTime, about face

familiar faces

we recognize beyond seeing

contours engraved in the mind

connections beyond confrontation

Love that is the warm salty 

blood that runs through your veins

the briny fluid that feels like home

where life began

splashing, swimming

One slides onto the rocky shore, the other

swoops down from above

joined by

difference

joined by connection

joined by

the slippery world of the sea

®Douillard

Yellow Bird: NPM #11

Today I decided to use Georgia Heard’s 6-room poetry strategy as preparation for writing my poem. This is something I have used with great success with students in the past, but hadn’t thought about it in a while. I happened upon this beautiful yellow bird (apparently some kind of an oriole) who posed for me while I was exploring along La Jolla Cove this morning, and knew I wanted to try to capture something of that experience for today’s poem.

Here’s my poetic effort for today:

Yellow Bird

Waves crash, swoosh, hush in the distance

background music

ambiance, Sunday’s soundtrack

A flash of yellow

banana

lemon

Tuscan sun

in the local brush

wild mustard waving

nasturtiums covering

and you

regal in your bright brilliance

trimmed with black epaulettes

Waves crash, swoosh, hush

steel gray skies and seas

a monochromatic backdrop

for your golden brightness

my eyes drink in your honeyed sweetness

sunshine on a cloudy day

Is that tiny hummingbird on a nearby branch your friend?

Do you make your home nearby

or are you stopping by on your migratory path?

Waves crash, swoosh, hush

and I wonder

®Douillard

Climbing Poems: NPM #9

Climbing Poems

I climb

rung by rung

collecting words

wearing them like necklaces, strung together like pearls

I stretch higher

one foot pushing

one hand reaching

the blues:

cobalt, cerulean, azure

sing to me

a poem painting a layer of calm

a soothing lullaby reaching my ears and eyes

waves hush and roll onto the shore

step, reach, step, reach

breathe in the blue

and sing out nature’s wonder

as I climb poems

®Douillard

Cloud of Birds: A Slice and a Poem (NPM #6)

After more than a year of staying close to home, we ventured out this week, spending several days away from home. This morning represented our final leg–knowing we would land at home later in the day. We didn’t have a concrete plan when we woke up. We knew we had about 4 hours of a drive–and were in search of an adventure somewhere along that path. We considered some lakes (up in the Grapevine) and even talked about walking on our local beach once we got home. The beach! Why not explore a beach that is not close to home?

We decided we would head off to Malibu. A beach everyone has heard of, but so many people have not visited. We programmed the navigation and set out through the mountain pass. Clearly there are others who are also itching for some travel. LA’s freeways, while not at peak gridlock, were plenty full. Midway there, Google maps offered another route–one that would save us 11 minutes. We took it.

Once parked, we set off to explore the beach. Right away we heard the shrill sound of birds. What was that? Seagulls? What was going on? We watched as a huge cloud of birds lifted, screeching and calling. It happened again and again.

Cloud of Birds

A high pitched cloud

swirls up from the beach

whirling, cartwheeling

somehow sensing each wing

each beak

flying high, flying low

over the surfers, above the shore

moving in synch, as one

a crowd in perfect unison

terns turning

Is it murmuration?

®Douillard

A bit of investigation on our drive back home led me to discover that these are likely least terns, a tern variety recently at risk. I really don’t know if murmuration is specific only to starlings, but it was fascinating to watch these birds rise and fly and move as a group.

We loved our morning in Malibu. The weather was perfect, the crowds minimal, and the traffic manageable. A perfect ending to a bit of a spring break.