More geometry in photography


Obexer’s Boat Company, Lake Tahoe, California, 2016

by cheri sabraw

I never set the world on fire in mathematics. In elementary school and junior high, my placement was in honors math but barely. In other words, I provided for all those annoying whizzes a magnificent  “C” that adjusted the curve in their favor.

The only math subject that I liked was geometry. My teacher, Mr. Di Paola, was a great guy full of corny jokes.

He’d arrive in class with his leather briefcase and neatly cut black hair with a decisive linear part, perfect for his subject matter.

I’d notice, ” Gee, Mr. D., I see you got a haircut.” (Always the sycophant, perky little me…) To my compliment he would reply (while unpacking the stacks of proofs he had meticulously corrected), “Actually Miss Block, I got them all cut.”

I laughed out loud. Some of my classmates did too, but most of the other students were too busy checking their homework.

This joke repeated itself every month, for every month he had his haircut, and every month I chose to compliment him. I hoped my attention to his detail would weigh heavily on his mind, especially when he was filling in the bubbles on the grade sheet the night before grades were due.

Let’s see: Cheri Block. Nice kid. Hard-working. Earnest. On the border. B- or C+ ?

Once, after receiving a mediocre test score, I made the mistake of announcing to Mr. DiPaola (and the whole class) that I would never use geometry again in my entire life (I had a penchant for over-statement).

It wasn’t until 1985 when I was teaching American Transcendentalism that my grandiose statement to Mr. DiPiola entered  my mind like an old ghost and rendered me an immediate liar. As I drew three circles–one for God, one for Nature, one for Man–and intersected them into a Venn Diagram, I realized I had, in fact, used my geometry to illustrate what Mr. Emerson, Mr. Whitman, and Mr. Thoreau believed.

I was so taken with myself at that moment!  I deviated from American Transcendentalism and walked off the topic, deep into the woods of Euclidean Geometry. I regaled my students with the story of Mr. DiPaola, my flippant and ignorant remark, and alas, my average math performance.

That weekend, I called Mr. DiPaola, who was still teaching in the same district, to let him know that little Cheri Block, now 35 years old, had been (gulp)—wrong.

For some odd reason, I am now photographing geometric images. Mr. DiPaola is in his 80’s and I know his son, a geometry teacher in a neighboring district. I must let them know that I owe all of my recent interest in geometry and now, painting, to Mr. DiPaola.


Obexer’s Pier and empty slips after a fresh snowfall, Lake Tahoe, California, 2016



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A desire for simplicity

by cheri

Several weeks ago, while attending a fine arts  show in Scottsdale, Arizona, I viewed one artist’s take on landscapes, houses, barns, and oceans–all done in a starkly simple manner, emphasized by shadow, complementary color and linear expression. Not quite modern (warmer) but clearly impressionistic, her paintings drew me in.

Their simplicity  charmed me.

In a world of too much chatter, commentary, people, and bluster–I returned to my own photographs, searching for the photographic equivalent of the art I had viewed.

Maybe I shall try to paint!

Here are few shots that capture some of the simplicity I crave.


Chateau d Audrieu, Normandy, France, 2010


Nova Scotia, 2009


White Sands National Monument, New Mexico, 2012


Tehachapi, California, 2013


Omaha Beach, Normandy, France, 2010


Mother and Child, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico, 2012

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Ayatollah Coyote


by Bunnie

I am a bunny who tends to socialize with other bunnies. We nibble the same greens and  communicate in familiar yips and nips  known only to other bunnies. P1020970

Sure, my cottontail may be rounder, my hind legs more muscular, and my nose twitchier than some of my other bunny friends’ physical attributes, but taking all minor differences aside, we still feel safe among our own.

When a coyote, snake, or roadrunner enters our countryside, we flee to safety of thickets and holes.

However, hiding in our warrens, we try our bunniest to be tolerant of those who are different (as long as they aren’t interested in eating us for dinner). Quail and small birds fall into that category.

Snakes, roadrunners, and especially coyotes present us with a major dilemma.

Despite our knowledge that our predators want to lick the marrow from our fragile bones, we still have compassion for them because, well, we are bunnies!

What is a compassionate bunny like me to do?

“For starters,” said the Snake, “stop being so damn compassionate. It will get you killed for sure. And while you consider toning down your soft-hearted response to every Kim, Dictator, and Harry, try expressing the rage you really feel instead of hip-hopping around, donating to charities that make you feel good about your freedoms.”


That wasn’t nice to say.

But then, you really didn’t mean it, did you? Or, did you?






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Does color change Beauty?

P1020987  by cheri sabraw

Let’s get back to the topic of Beauty.

Unless you are a member of ISIS, you all might agree that this scene is beautiful. This Gila woodpecker might easily fit onto a page of Allure Magazine with his natty herringbone coat tucked over his proud breast. Accenting his smart expressive dark eyes and matching beak is his spot of orange atop his head. Surely, he must be the Moses of Woodpeckers–a wise patriarch with a head covering.

The unity of body and proportion harmonizes as he speculates about his next move while perched on a festive feeder. The fresh green background emphasizes the beauty of this bird.

P1020987 2

Is the picture just as beautiful in black and white?

I would argue no, it is not.

While the subject is the same, our perception changes without color. Of course, perception (as a philosophy) can be internal, external, or a combination of the two. Perhaps we only engage internal perception in black and white whereas external perception (where sensory experience kicks in) is manifest in color and emotion.

No longer is the scene striking. Now, a Gila woodpecker stops momentarily on a cold empty feeder. His disappointment is apparent. Where to go in 32 degree weather? His confusion is palpable. He tucks his tail feathers and inflates his plumage to stay warm.

P1030008And what is your appraisal of this little guy? Beauty?

Is he wondering why he (who has a short beak ) has landed on a hummingbird feeder?





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Have a Curious New Year!


by cheri sabraw

If I could sprinkle you with pixie dust, hastening your flight to enlightenment (I might add) and bestow upon your gentle soul one quality that will invigorate your heart and vitalize your mind, I would.

Instead, I am escorting you inside a fragile old storefront disguised by dusty windows and translucent gossamer curtains. I turn the worn brass knob on the door and push forward with some concerted effort. A bell attached to the knob tinkles; the walnut floors, long overdue for a staining, whine at the pressure you apply. You, with your stylish heels, remind me to step lightly or better yet, fly.

We meet the proprietor, an old woman with few wrinkles and almond-shaped dark eyes, wearing a shimmering talisman that rests comfortably on her ample bosom like a golden egg resting in a large nest.

She asks who you are and you tell her.

“I am a distinguished engineer who designed the bridge across the street from your store. It’s funny (not really, I think)—I’ve never noticed your sign outside before or spent any time wondering what product you sell or anything. Why, I must have walked by this store a thousand times on my way to the hair dresser or to my office.”

She asks what you are thinking and you tell her.

“ Not much, really. I’m so busy, what with calculating the loads, bickering with the architect, and considering whether to use steel or wood, I’m usually consumed with the pedestrian and I don’t mean a human on foot. I do think, however, of dinner and what I will prepare and how much salt to use.”

She asks what motivates you in life and you blank out.

“ You know, I’ve not considered my purpose in life. I do know that I love to play solitaire on my iPad.”

And then the silence in the curio shop overtook both of us. A tabby cat padded by and sniffed your ankles.

I felt awkward, only desiring intimacy, so I spoke to you in my invisible voice. I murmured, “Have you ever wondered about or tinkered with or imagined the great mystery that is the life experience?”

It must have been the hot tea brewing in the corner of the shop, the Madeleine cookies, the porcelain teacups, the diminutive silver spoons, but whatever the reason, you spoke back to me in your own silent voice.

“No, I haven’t considered the mystery of life. I have no curiosity that I know of. How do I nurture my curiosity?

My heart swelled. It seemed that yours did too. The three of us sat down to tea on a petite table among the curios. That seemed to be a good place to start, I thought.






Posted in Education, Life, My fiction, My photography, Writing and Teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Beauty in the Sonoran Desert

Anna's Hummingbird in the desert, December 24, 2015

by cheri sabraw

Season’s Greetings from the Sonoran Desert!

This Anna’s Hummingbird visited my feeder today. His name is Harry.

Harry is pure beauty– a symphony, a unity of color and balance, petite proportion and aesthetic gorgeousness.

P1020953May your drinks tonight be filled with sweet nectar.

May your wings be humble but your grip secure.

May your focus be intense and your tail feathers ready for flight.

May Nature’s miracles sustain you throughout  difficult times.

May we all remember to thank those who feed and nurture us.

May we keep the faith.




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What is aesthetic beauty?


by cheri sabraw

This photograph of a single California Brown pelican floating in the silvery-grey Pacific Ocean is not cropped or enhanced. It represents a real moment in time in the life of a solitary seabird who is resting from   flight.

Is this bird aesthetically beautiful? Is the photograph a thing of beauty? Do standards exist that enable us to judge the beauty of a bird or a photograph?

Is a piece of fine art, such as a painting or sculpture, or a work of literary art, such as a poem or a story, or a sentient being or object in Nature, such as a pelican or an ocean, a thing of beauty? Is beauty found in the cliched “eye of the beholder” or does beauty have qualifications?


This austere scene, taken in the mid-afternoon on the Central Coast of California, reveals the silver light of the sun on a distant horizon. We may appreciate the illumination of the line and its contrast to the dreamy clouds. But is  this scene or photograph an example of beauty?


Consider Jackson Pollock’s art, particularly his masterpiece entitled lucifer-1947.jpg!Blog

Lucifer, now on display in a new museum devoted to abstract impressionist art, a gift to Stanford University by the Anderson family. Some may view this large work as an ugly and violent smattering and whirling of oil paint thrown onto an unsuspecting canvas. Others may see pure genius in Pollock’s interpretation of Satan. But, do they see beauty?

It was Diotima, an Ancient Greek priestess and teacher, whose dialogue about the love of beauty Plato shares in his Symposium ( 4th century BCE). Diotima suggests that first we must appreciate the beauty of a single person or object. We may agree that a single pelican embodies what Plato believed constituted beauty: proportion, harmony, and unity.

We are aware that our senses identify the pelican as an example of beauty. Diotima tells us that after seeing beauty in a particular bird, we are now capable of experiencing beauty in all birds. We move from the specific to the general.


Ecstatic emotion may flood our senses when the silver line expands to reveal a three-dimensional candlelabra of flowing light and motion, coming toward our eyes in gentle waves. Our hearts open to the beauty of all light and all seas and all waves.

Diotima would suggest we are now ready to see absolute beauty.








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Toxic snack

by cheri sabraw

IMG_3111 On the cool tile floor of her veterinarian’s examination room, Dinah waits patiently for the results of her blood test.

After eating the rat poison d-Con (and living to wag her tale about it), after having her stomach pumped (from wherein heaved two masticated clumps of blue toxic stuff), and after having to listen to the painful apologetic phone call her Dad made to  her Mom in Arizona, she has one thing on her mind: her next meal.

Poor Mom.

All she wanted was a little piece of peace for a few days, sitting in a chair, staring at the desert barranca, photographing bunnies, quail, coyotes, and hummingbirds, far away from olives.

Should d-Con be on the market? Should a toxic product that appeals not only to rats but also to dogs be sold?

Mom flew home just in time to take Dinah to the doctor for an all-important blood test, one that determines her blood clotting function. D-con disables blood clotting so the rat (or the Labrador Retriever) will bleed to death from the inside. Will she need Vitamin K? Has her blood returned to normal? Will it now clot?

The veterinarian entered the examination room with good news. All is well.


“Dinah is fat. What has she been eating? Who has been giving her table scraps?”




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Rancholivo at last

IMG_4811by cheri sabraw

Buddhist masters sit still on cushioned floors, inhaling and exhaling, practicing the art of nothingness. They attempt to disentangle their minds from thought and desire, from attachment and emotion. In their linen robes, they forsake the material life with its pull toward objects and people. Without drink or feast, laughter or tears, they hope to ascend to perfect understanding of life in the silent rite of nothing. No hope. No desire. No loss. No fire. It is true that if you desire nothing, when nothing happens, you have met your heart’s desire.

But. Is this life?

Life is full of heartache, wonder, suffering, joy, despair, gratitude. It is sensual, earthy, fragrant, sticky, and hot. It is roaring, messy, oily, and frigid. Life, in short, is a day and night of pressing olives after a day of picking olives after a year of spraying olives, and after years of watering, pruning, fertilizing, and dreaming of olive oil.

My sister Cindy and I can be simplistic, at times. Having not researched how man and woman have been extracting the oil from the olive, we thought the equation went something like this:

Harvested olives+olive press=olive oil.

Not quite.






The yield this year was small.

We ran out of time doing it ourselves.


Life in all its iterations happened–the deafening roar of the hopper splitting the olives into millions of shards of pit, skin, and oily meat; the rhythmic rowing of the grinder kneading the shards into a reddish paste, the slap of the disks on the table enabling the spinning spatulas to spread the material; the tremendous electrical surge of the press itself descending upon the disks; the trickling and then gushing of the liquid into the bucket…

The meaning of life?

It was in the oil.























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Fact-checker in the atmosphere

by Mrs. Sabraw

The adventure all started the moment I reflected on an event that happened twenty years ago when I taught  Junior Honors English students at one of this country’s top public high schools.

Watching the events unfold in Paris this week caused me to to write an account of the experience. As the words appeared on my screen, I wondered,  Is this how it really went? Were the events then as I  remember now?  Memory has a way of morphing  faces and words that may not have been a part of the story.

In order to assess the validity of my memory, I realized I needed a different view of the situation. An aerial view.

I invested in an airtight suit, a canister of helium, a pump and goggles, filled my suit with helium, un-tethered the ropes holding me to earth and off I levitated, blowing in the wind, floating in the atmosphere, and focusing on a troubling meeting I endured in my academic haven, my classroom.

Surrounded by blue sky, clouds, and a soothing wind, I called up the circumstances of November, 1995.

And they went like this…

*   *   *   *   *   *

I taught for 17 years at a top public high school. In the 90’s, new immigrants from Taiwan, India, Korea, and Pakistan made their ways to Silicon Valley, bringing three generations with them—grandma and grandpa, mom and dad, and children, whom these new immigrants hoped would gain admittance to U.C. Berkeley and Stanford, Harvard and Yale.

I was a young teacher in my 40’s’s with a plum assignment: honors freshmen, honors juniors, and journalism I and II. Students lobbied to get into my class.

Many, many bright new immigrant students—with a perfect command of the English language—sat in front of me, ready and willing to execute any assignment I gave.

My political persuasion was more conservative than most of my colleagues’ in the English Department.

My father had instilled in me values that I held and still hold sacred today—honesty, fidelity, and justice. In my instruction of grammar, literature, and writing, rarely did I allow my personal beliefs to bleed into the subject matter. In those days, such adherence to the educational mission of predicate nominatives, Henry David Thoreau, and Lorraine Hansberry was an anomaly. Most of my peers used their podiums to further their own political messages.

I tried hard to stay apolitical as a teacher.

One day, one of my young Muslim students from Pakistan approached me and asked if I would consider becoming the Muslim Students’ Association faculty advisor.

There were no Muslims on the faculty, so I said, “Yes.” Why not?

The months went by with weekly meetings in my room, N-9.

The students, mainly Pakistani, Iranian, and Middle Eastern at the time, invited imams to speak and a  Black Muslim imam from Oakland even came to talk to the club. The boys sat on one side of the room and the girls on the other.

My role was nil. I sat at my desk in the back of the room, ate my sandwich, and corrected papers but always kept an ear to the discussion.

And then it happened one November day in 1995:

An Israeli right-winger assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who had won the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Yassar Arafat and Shimon Peres, for trying to shepherd peace into the Middle East.

At the Muslim Club the next week, one student after another, rose to the podium to cheer Rabin’s assassination. Vitriol spewed from their mouths. I wondered what the conversation had been at home with their educated parents.

I stood up from the back of my room and asked them if they knew what Rabin was trying to do in Israel—that he was a good man, trying to find a solution to the problems in the region.

They didn’t want to hear any of the facts—and continued on. These students were honors students. They were not stupid, just ignorant and unsophisticated and clueless about their Jewish advisor who was providing space and energy so that the Muslim students had a place to gather and exchange ideas.

I quit my advisorship on the spot and told them to find a new person who would spend an hour a week listening to the machinations of a “peaceful” religion.

That day, only six years before Islamists flew our planes into the World Trade Center, I wondered if an unholy Holy War were coming.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *

Today, after the melee in Paris, France and the downing of a Russian airliner  by an Isis bomb, and a Jewish teacher stabbed  while walking home on the streets of Marseille, I hovered above the fracas in order to think objectively about the Muslim Students’ Association meetings of 1995.

Blowing myself up for a cause yielded clarity.

Posted in Life, My fiction, Writing and Teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , | 28 Comments