Tag Archives: San Diego

Symbols of Place and Noticing Systems: A Photo Essay

Some places are instantly recognizable by symbolic landmarks…the Golden Gate Bridge, the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building…even the reflective bean (I don’t know its official name, but I know where it is), the London Eye, St. Louis’s arch or the Space Needle.  What systems allow us to know those symbolic places without having visited?  Systems of communications, news, arts…  Some I know firsthand, some I know from watching TV, movies, seeing art exhibits, social media, and more.

But when I think of my place, I can’t imagine what large landmark people unfamiliar with my place would immediately recognize as San Diego.  But there is this large body of water that extends along the western border of our place…the Pacific Ocean.

Most days I notice the ocean from the vantage of the land, looking over cliffs, walking in the surf along the shore, looking below as I cross a bridge or stand on a balcony above.  But over the weekend I had the opportunity (thanks Joe and Katie) to step aboard a beautiful sailboat and view the ocean, and discover local symbols and landmarks from a different vantage.


A week or more of heavy overcast and summer cold and gray turned sunny and blue as we headed toward the open ocean.  Under sail with wind power, we breathed in the briny air and soaked up the sun, surrounded by every shade and hue of blue.  The ocean has its own rhythms as the sea interacts with the wind and the land, unpredictable and powerful.  As we moved further into the open sea, vast blue enveloped our sight along with a sense of solitariness…even though we weren’t alone.

Systems of ropes and pulleys interact with large sheets of sail, wind, weather, and the knowledge of the sailor.  A turn of the wheel is reflected in a change of course that changes the way the wind sits in the sails that impacts the speed of the boat.  An unexpected gust with an inexperienced navigator can cause the boat to heel unexpectedly or abruptly change direction! I noticed that sailors have lots of tools that help them with their systems…the obvious instrumentation that give readings of water depth, speed, direction and the less obvious colored strings that blow in the breeze, the different colored ropes, the sheen (or lack of sheen) of the water that indicates breeze, the feel of the breeze on the cheek.


We passed buoys along our way where sea lions basked and sang in the sun,


and seagulls served as sentry, overseeing the watery world.  And these too are part of the navigational system of the waterways.  They are symbols that show ships where to travel to avoid shallows, that mark the water in the ways that lane lines and exits mark our freeways.


As we headed back into the bay, we had the opportunity to see our city skyline from the outside in rather than the inside out.  And it never hurts to have a beautiful sailboat as part of the view! The hustle and bustle of the city was replicated in the water with many people enjoying the water on every kind of boat: tour boats, speed boats, fishing boats, luxury boats, racing boats, tiny boats, large boats and even jet skis.

Invisible systems of etiquette acknowledge which seacraft are most maneuverable.  Sails have the right of way over motors…but like on our roadways, inexperience or recklessness remind us that right of way is no guarantee of safety.  Paying attention to others is crucial at sea, just as it is on the streets of our beautiful city.


As we got closer the blue curve of the Coronado Bay Bridge came into view.  This is probably the closest thing to an iconic symbol that we have in our city.  And another view of its beauty is revealed from below as I noticed the way it snakes down in a gentle curve as it crosses the span of the bay.


Coming back through from the other direction, I noticed the optical illusions of distance as it seems that the mast of the sailboat crossing below will certainly scrape the bottom the bridge.

Under sail we were at the mercy of the wind to keep us moving.  And since the wind doesn’t conveniently change direction when you want to go back the other way, a system of tacking or intentional turns allows the sailor to keep the wind in the sails by crisscrossing across the path to reach the desired destination.  (Remember those pulleys and the wheel?  They all come into play during the tacking process!)


San Diego is a military town, and nowhere is it more obvious than in the San Diego Bay.  The Midway, a decommissioned aircraft carrier turned museum, is visible along the waterfront. From the street, it is an impressive sight.  From the water, it is spectacular!


And what system allowed this majestic and enormous vessel to become a floating museum? And what systems interact to keep it functioning?  I know there are educational elements with school field trips, ceremonial elements with honoring of military personnel, tourism elements that bring visitors into contact with military history…


As we headed back toward the marina, we noticed the tugboats heading toward the ocean. These brilliant orange workhorses are fast and powerful, churning water in their wake (and creating some waves for us aboard a sailboat!).  We knew they would be used to escort a big ship into the bay. What would it be?

What systems are in play when these small but powerful boats are deployed as escorts?  How do they interact with this enormous whale of a warship?


We searched the mouth of the bay, waiting for the ship to come into our line of sight.  We were soon greeted by the USS Carl Vinson, an aircraft carrier, along with military police and two tugboats coming into the bay.  The deck was lined with people who looked to be in civilian clothes.  Was this the end of a dependents’ cruise (where family members go out on the military ship)?

Is this a system created to acknowledge the hardships of having a loved one at sea for months at a time, a way to allow families to reconnect by making the workplace more familiar and accessible?


We had a front row seat as we watched this elegant gray giant enter the bay.  Other recreational boats gathered round, also taking in the view of this symbol of power and strength–our military might.  Earlier in the day we had passed other military vessels–but all were docked.  Seeing this ship under power is a less than usual sight.

And then there is the military as a system.  It is often invisible to those of us outside of it.  And yet, in this city where I live the military is ever present.  The ins and outs of military vessels are only a small part of the military system.  Behind each ship are interconnected webs of systems that keep them running, informed, stocked, maintained, staffed…

Our outing came to an end as the marina came into view and we navigated our way back into the slip that is home to this sailboat.  But the journey on a boat doesn’t end with the parking. There are sails to be furled, ropes to be tied, hatches to close, instruments to put away…more systems in play to keep the boat maintained and ready for the next use.


A leisurely day on the ocean…not quite.  But a beautiful day on the ocean…absolutely!  Thanks so much Katie and Joe for including us and allowing us to experience so many symbols of our city from a different perspective.

I noticed so many systems that I don’t ordinarily pay attention to during this one outing (and there are likely many, many more that I didn’t even mention!)  What systems are going on in your place?  How do they impact you and others?

Self Portraits, Photo Style

I experimented with taking self portrait photos today.  The #sdawpphotovoices photo-a-day prompt for September 6th is self portrait, which got me thinking about how to be creative in my approach to creating a photo portrait of myself.  I’ve done some playing around with self portraiture in the past (here and here) and have been practicing the art of the selfie as a way to document some of the outings my husband and I take.  (Otherwise I have discovered that I am absent in my own photography.)

But what does it mean to take a self portrait?  And what does it say about me and my photography?  As I set out today, I knew that I was not going to be taking the typical hold your phone out at arm’s length and shoot a photo sort of self portrait.  Instead, I wanted to focus on ways to capture portraits of myself in less typical ways.

Walking along the waterfront, I noticed a monument to those who have served in the military that had shiny marble sides.  I could see my reflection as walked by, so decided to try taking a self portrait by framing myself in the shot.

Monument selfie

I like the way the grain of the marble creates a texture on the photo, and you can see how the shade also impacted the image.

Continuing our walk, I noticed a mirror used to help cars see around corners as I went to cross a driveway.  I stood and aimed my camera as I framed myself in the mirror.

mirror selfie

It’s interesting to me the way the mirror captures the urban elements of the setting, while the background features the branches and leaves of a tree.

As we walked down the Broadway Pier, I noticed the reflective glass of the building there. Along the side of the building I could see the USS Midway, a retired military aircraft carrier, reflected in the window.  I urged my husband to join me and capture this self portrait.

Midway selfie

Geoff noticed this star on a window of a restaurant as we headed back toward where we had parked our car, so of course I had to stop to snap a photo.  The long skinny window makes an interesting frame for the self portrait.

star window selfie

We had talked earlier in our outing about the possibility of me taking a self portrait by framing myself in my husband’s sunglasses.  So as we passed the park at Seaport Village we stopped to try this technique.  It took a few tries…and we left without knowing for sure if my image would be visible.  With a bit of post production editing, this is the resulting image.

sunglass selfie

Today’s focus on self portrait photography had me paying attention to light, reflection, texture, and composition.  I was working not only to capture an image of myself, but also to document my surroundings in interesting ways.  Sometimes I noticed that I held my phone in a way that obscured my face so then I experimented with holding it lower and tried to look into the reflective surface rather than at my shutter button.

I did some post production editing to crop away extraneous material and place the focus on the portrait.  Filters helped me brighten or tone down colors and create an effect that I found pleasing.

I took many other photos today as I walked the waterfront and explored downtown San Diego, but it was fun to experiment with the self portrait too.  Taking photos of myself in reflective surfaces made me aware of the many ways I can use those surfaces to create other kinds of photos as well–things I don’t always think about as I am shooting.  I know I’ll be doing some experimenting over the next week or so!

What do you learn when you take photographic self portraits?  What techniques are your favorites?  I’d love to hear from you!

Snow in San Diego…Really??!!

A rainy Saturday set the scene for our adventure.  Remember, rain in San Diego is an event! The smallest amount makes our roads crazy and all the talk…on news stations, in coffee shops, in bars, on the street…is about the rain.


On the surface, we told ourselves that we were off to do some holiday shopping, but really we were looking for a bit of adventure!  Parking itself was an adventure…and as we searched we discovered that we were just in time for the Little Italy Tree Lighting Festival. And as we searched for parking we also spied this magnificent rainbow.


Once parked we emerged into the cool, crisp afternoon.  The rain was done for the time being, the sun made an appearance…a perfect time for a bit of exploring.


As we wandered and walked and ate and talked the sun began to set, painting splotches of brilliant pink onto the gray rain clouds in the distance.


We explored the booths at the festival as darkness arrived and looked up, turned to each other and asked…what is that?  Small white flakes floated in the air…could it be…  As always, as someone who grew up in dry, relatively warm southern CA, when I saw the flakes my first thought was ash…a fire?  No…snow swirled and danced in the glow of the lights. Snow?  Really?



Sure, it was snow.  The man-made variety.  But it did lend an air of festivity and winter-ness to the event.  It was noisy…and turned off and on as the guy manned the switch.  But when it was blowing snow, everyone around responded.  Children danced and chased the flakes, trying to capture them in their hands, on their tongues (I have no idea how it tastes), in their outstretched hats.  Adults flocked around capturing pictures of their children, of each other, and of themselves.


I haven’t yet had the opportunity to try my hand at photographing snowflakes…and this version of snow lacked the hush and wonder of the snow gifted from clouds.  But it was fun and unexpected.  Remember, we think light rainfall is a major weather event.  So snow in San Diego…  Maybe a snow day will be next…

A Change in the Weather

The weather in San Diego is regular…regularly mild and as the weather reporters on the nightly news say, “Night and morning low clouds, with afternoon sunshine.”  Or something to that effect.

So when our weather changes, it is an event.

Today started out cool and overcast.  One of my first graders told me how freezing it was as we walked to the classroom this morning.  She was dressed in a short sleeved t-shirt, jeans, flats without socks, and a faux-fur lined vest.  In contrast, I was wearing a cotton sweater with a corduroy jacket and a windbreaker-like jacket over the top of that and a knit scarf around my neck…along with my slacks, short boots and socks.  I’ve learned over the years to layer since mornings are cool and the day usually warms up.

When I left my school at midday to head off to the university for the other part of my job, I carried my jacket and scarf…but knew I would bring them inside with me when I arrived.

And I’m so glad I did!  By the time I left the university it was raining!  I pulled the hood up on my jacket and tried to figure out how to capture a photo of the rain.  (It continues to look invisible through my camera lens).  Students walking across campus had their sweatshirt hoods up…but there were no umbrellas in sight!

As I got into my car I was hoping that I was ahead of the rush hour traffic.  Remember, the slightest moisture in San Diego brings out the crazy in drivers.

The rain had diminished before I got very far down the road…but as I got closer to home the clouds were mesmerizing.  Big, white clouds were layered with gray clouds that looked like the stuffing from grandma’s quilt.  As I drove, I was thinking about where I could get off the road to try to capture the beauty of the clouds.  (And it is not okay to stop on the freeway!)

I pulled off near my school, watching the streaks of sun shining through the clouds along the coast.  I drove to a spot I see most mornings where tall thin palm trees stand like sentinels overlooking the sea.


And I captured this view looking out to the ocean where the sun was getting ready to set on this short December day.

Change in the weather also means a change in the view…and it was spectacular this evening!  I like the way that change brings a new energy with it.  I can see it in my students when we change up the routines or like today, embark on a new topic of study.

As I look for new photo opportunities, I appreciate change even more than ever.  A fresh view, a new angle, a different frame, a change in the light…they all offer opportunities for photographic magic.  Just like change in the classroom creates new spaces for learning magic…and routines serve as anchors when the seas get rough.

I love the regularity of our weather here…and I love when it changes.  And I still need to learn how to capture a photo of rain…  Now to wait for another one of those rare occasions…

Close to Home: Adventures with My Sister

I just got back from a whirlwind trip to Boston–an interesting town that I only got a tiny taste of because of the demands of the conference schedule and my own travel constraints. I’ve been to Boston before and hope to go back before too long just to explore and revel in all there is to see and do!

And my sister arrived here in San Diego Saturday for a short visit to my parents (who live near me), so we made plans for a little adventure to the zoo today.  My sister consistently visits twice a year, in the summer and at Christmas, usually with her family.  So this unexpected, solo, pre-Thanksgiving visit is a treat!  And although we invited our parents to come along with us today, when they declined we had a great time exploring, chatting, remembering…just the two of us.

Unlike Boston, San Diego is a place I know well–sometimes so well that I take it for granted. Today was a perfect November day.  It was mild and sunny, perfect for walking and talking. Kristie and I grew up in this town and have been to the zoo more times than we can count. We remember the days when the zoo was always free for kids 16 and under…and spent many a day exploring the zoo without an adult in sight.

And although the zoo has continued to expand and evolve, much remains the same.  We followed familiar paths and enjoyed watching the animals lounging and playing the early morning sun.




And when I caught a glimpse of the historic bridge from afar, I wanted to find a place where I could take a photo.  So we tried to remember a place where the bridge was visible…and as we walked down the path, Kristie found that perfect spot where we could see it through the leaves.


I love the way this landmark is framed by the oranges, reds, greens and browns of autumn in San Diego.

We headed from the zoo to lunch at El Indio’s, my sister’s favorite Mexican restaurant and then off to the beach.  Even though I live near the beach, I can’t go there often enough…and for my sister who no longer lives near the beach, an opportunity to smell the briny air, feel the sea breezes, and walk on the sand is a welcome treat.

We left our sweatshirts in the car and walked along the shoreline to the pier and back.  It was so clear we could see far off into the distance…breathtaking!  (Even when I see these views regularly!)


And then off we went to the glider port–a place we don’t remember going to as children, but a place with views that are amazing.  We rumbled down the dirt road to the dirt parking lot, which was surprisingly full for a Monday afternoon.  My sister called me optimistic as I navigated toward the end of the lot where we wanted to be…and she saw the perfect spot for us to park, just a few steps from the pathway to the cliff’s edge.


And although there were no gliders in sight today, we could see the pier where we had just walked.  We looked over the steep cliffs and noticed erosive handiwork of the wind and water.  The ocean sparkled and gleamed a brilliant blue in the November sun and we watched surfers hike up from the steep path to the beach…and walked partially down it ourselves for a closer view of the beach below.

We spent a few minutes watching someone get a hang gliding lesson, holding tightly to the giant parachute as he learned to control its movements.

It was a wonderful day to spend together, exploring this place that we know so well and yet has so many more experiences and secrets to discover.  This is the place where we spent our childhood together and as adults have to steal away time from our families and work to share time and space and memories.

So many people have been expressing their gratitude during the month of November.  During this week of Thanksgiving, I am thankful to have spent time with my sister on an adventure, close to home.

San Diego Fall: The Hue of You

Living in a place like San Diego, seasons are all about subtlety.  Rather than piles of fluffy white snow or icy winds in winter, we have chilly mornings and nights and mostly sunny, cool days.  Spring is our rainy season (note: 10 inches of rain per year is our maximum!), the nights and mornings are a bit warmer than winter and most days are cool and sunny–although late spring brings the dreaded “May Gray,” that marine layer that pushes the sun away from the coast.  Summer in San Diego starts slowly.  June is characterized by “June Gloom” (just like May Gray), with the sun appearing for a cameo in the late afternoon before the fog rolls in again.  And fall in San Diego is gorgeous!  It’s warm and sunny, often well into November and even December.  But it can also be scary with dry Santa Ana winds that whip up the fire danger in our arid, desert-like climate.

Today we decided to trek up to a local mountain town about an hour east of my house in celebration of fall.  Julian is known for fall…filled with apple pies, apple cider, and other iconic fall features.  But those vivid red and orange and yellow leaves that shout fall in other regions, whisper fall in San Diego.  And even in Julian where San Diegans go for fall, the autumn hues are subtle.


And they’re positioned between the greens and browns and reds of the pines and manzanitas and California live oaks that are native to the region.



And then there are the iconic fall images we know so well…pumpkins, scarecrows, apples.




So, the hues of you for me as a San Diegan in fall are a rich, but subdued, palette of oranges, yellows, greens, browns, and reds.  And I can feel them and smell them and taste them as much as I can see them.  Warm and dry and spicy…and yummy.  Like this apple dumpling I had today.


What hues evoke fall for you?

A #Macro View of San Diego Natives

I’m lucky to live in a beautiful city–a place where I don’t even have to say the name of my state for people to know where I’m from.  Many people I meet have either visited or know someone (often a relative) who lives here.  But despite that familiarity, there are many misconceptions about San Diego.  So many people expect it to be tropical–like Hawaii or Tahiti–and are surprised when they come in contact with our pervasive marine layer, moderate temperatures (low 60’s in the winter to mid 70’s in the summer with occasional higher and lower temps), and low humidity (we average about 10 inches of rain annually).

San Diego skyline from the Coronado Bay Bridge

San Diego skyline from the Coronado Bay Bridge

Our beautiful skyline and beaches are often framed with tall swaying palms (not native) and colorful hibiscus flowers (also not native).  Many species of plants grow well here–especially when supported by providing extra water.  Today I vacationed in my own city, taking a trip to Chula Vista to visit the Living Coast Discovery Center (formerly the Chula Vista Nature Center). Located in the wetlands along the San Diego Bay, the center boasts a rich history.  Once the domain of the local Kumeyaay people, around the turn of the century this location became a kelp processing plant run by the Hercules Powder Company extracting potash and acetone from the kelp to make cordite–an explosive used for fuses during World War I.  After the war, abandoned buildings were taken over by the San Diego Oil Products Corporation and became the largest cottonseed warehouse in the United States.  Later it became farmland and after that a site of illegal dumping.  In 1980’s the city of Chula Vista helped develop the site into the Chula Vista Nature Center.

As you can see appreciation of our local habitats has not always been a given, even among the local population.  We love our beaches and our mild climate, but haven’t always taken the time to understand how to best care for or learn about them.  Today, with the help of my macro lens on my iPhone, I spent time looking closely at some of the native plants of San Diego.

The coastal sage scrub community, which grows around our wetlands near the coast, is filled with hearty, drought resistant plants.  In the summer many of them look dry and brown.  Some might even conclude that they are dead…but just wait until some rain falls…

I noticed today that some of the most beautiful blooms are tiny…often unnoticed unless you take the time to bend down and really look closely.  Here’s some of the beauties I uncovered today, all taken with my iPhone and macro lens with no filters applied.

I wish I knew the names of all of these plants.  I admire the resilience and adaptations of these hearty natives and know that I will continue to learn about them.  It’s so easy to overlook these plants and be mesmerized by the exotic beauty of other more colorful species.  I hope you’ll see what I saw when I took the time to look closely–that there is much to appreciate about these natives, you just have to come close and notice what is right in front of you!  (Yet another lesson for my classroom…look for the talents and expertise that are not immediately obvious, but there nevertheless!)