Can You Understand the Language of the Environment?


Have you noticed the world talking to you in new ways?

The time I used to spend indoors at school has now been replaced with hours in the woods. Walking for miles, in semi-peace and almost-solitude has led me to slow down, look, and ultimately seek out meaning in things I’d otherwise take in passively.

Here’s the thing. I don’t actually like that I’m doing this.

I wish a walk in the woods could be just that. A walk in the woods.

But in the process of detoxing from life, tuning out the news (or my children), and using nature to neutralize my eyes from the constant input of screens, I’ve begun decoding shapes and patterns into symbols with concrete meaning.

Heart-shaped rock at the Beekman farm (1200x800) • Adirondack Girl ...Is it love or am I just seeing things?

This is not as relaxing as it sounds, but it’s not terrible either.

I imagine this is the way the brilliant scientists out there see the world when they look through their microscopes for nearly invisible answers to enormous questions. It seems all they have is colors, shapes, numbers, and patterns to go off, and yet, they’re being asked to create cures. And quickly.

Two lab scientists preparing to test COVID-19 samples from recovered patients on April 8, 2020, in New York City. Lab scientists preparing to test COVID-19 samples from recovered patients on April 8, 2020, in New York City

Life Science Lab: DNA Demystified | Gene therapyDNA under a microscope

Mapping of human genome onto mouse chromosome using synteny ...

Mapping of human genome onto mouse chromosome

A digital representation of the human genome. Each color represents one the four components of DNA. (Photo Mario Tama/Getty)

However magical it looks under a microscope, their job is no walk in the park.

But fortunately, yours can be!


Those of us at home might not be able to create a vaccine, but we’re so grateful for those working hard to do what feels like the impossible for our health and safety. With our new lenses and a deeper appreciation for the world around us, we can begin looking closer at the mysteries of the universe while trying to satisfy our weary or wandering minds.


Roots are no longer roots.

Roots are the curves of elegant prose

written in cursive like a love letter.


Flickering shadows are the ambiguous gray tones of print media.

They can’t be trusted.

They evolve before meaning can even be made.


Branches and sticks are always the alphabet.

Sturdy road maps for language.

Twenty six letters and counting. Twenty-seven, twenty-eight…


Cracks in the mud are the desperate clawings of a clumsy child

attempting to write his name for the first time.

And because the universe is giving me the opportunity to star in my very own SciFi flick, I may as well embrace my chance and become the best undercover, double agent, super sleuth possible and keep reading the messages in the trees, creek-beds, parking lots, and sidewalks with my handy-dandy looking glass while I can.

Look along with me this week! Here’s how:


  1. Photograph the letters of the alphabet you spy along your neighborhood walks or while out in the woods. Here’s the catch, you can’t rearrange objects to create letters, they must exist as you found them. If you’re using man-made objects, you can’t just photograph a letter from a printed word. For example: Don’t send me a picture of the letter “S” from a stop sign, look for something that resembles an “S” like a blade of grass or an old shoelace. Bonus points if you can collect all 26 letters of the alphabet and arrange them in a grid like the one below. BONUS, BONUS points if you theme your collection, for example, photographing letters made only from natural items or letters made only from man-made items.

Alphabet In Nature | Alphabet photographyNature ABCs

Visual Literacy - Media Class

Human-made ABCs (almost) 


Here are a few examples Ms. Bomba and Oscar found on a quick walk around Kingman Island and The Fields the other day. Can you guess which letters we saw as we tried to assign new meaning to familiar objects? 

img_2374Here is a shameless picture of my sourdough loaves from yesterday. Feeling pretty proud of my second attempt at creating artisan bread from my humble little sourdough starter. Can you see the funky letter “M” and the “X” scored into my crust? 


2. Send Ms. Bomba a secret message spelling out a single word from the letters you’ve photographed and have her guess what you’re trying to say. Hunting for the letters of your name might be a great way to get started on this word hunt.

Jennifer Blakeley's "Alphabet Photography" | Photography Blog

Home |

preschool picturesCan you read these uplifting messages?


3. Find non-text related messages in the environment like hearts, faces, symbols, and other complex shapes. Photograph or video tape your findings.

The trees were spying on us as we walked along the Potomac River this morning near Leesburg, VA. Bulging eyes on the trunks of skinny trees were nosily watching our every move!

A few helpful tips about photography before you begin:

-Composition is everything. Really make sure you frame out a good shot. Your picture should have nice balance and contrast. By that I mean, you should aim to create a relationship between positive and negative space. Light and dark should be competing with one another. Your borders should complement the main subject.

-Blurry photographs are NOT COOL. Make sure you take your time and don’t rush your shot.

-The lighting should be working in your favor. Too dark or too light makes for a weak photo. Try not to get your own shadow in the picture unless that’s the effect your going for.

-Make sure that you look at your photographs with the eye of an artist. Your photographs should be able to stand on their own as a work of art.  Ask yourself, “Could someone look at this photo and see if for more than just the letter I was trying to create?” “Is there enough artistic integrity (going back to contrast, balance, repetition, space, etc.) to consider this shot art?”

I am a huge fan of photography and find that it is the true medium of the moment. We all have access to our camera phones and can take incredibly observant fine art photographs that say far more than words ever could about the world around us. Please send me your thoughtful shots of the world as seen from the lens of your decoding eye via TEAMS, TXT, EMAIL, or INSTAGRAM.



7 thoughts on “Can You Understand the Language of the Environment?

  1. I look forward to these posts so much!

    I’ve done some names like this for my sister’s kids (each kid a different city) and for Dave’s sister. I’ll see if I can find a few favorite letters to send to you.

    I love the photo of Merritt in Jeff’s jacket. Are you finding the trails busy? Anywhere you’ve been that felt distant AND distanced?

  2. Another home run, Ms. Bomba – these images make me want to go for a walk.

    That’s quite a feat on a Monday.

    ( I can’t believe I have just 11 instructional days left.)

  3. Hi Ms Bomba,

    Theo (McCullough) has been really into nature photography lately! We’ve also spent a lot of time in the woods. He has taken a lot of toad photos and also flowers. Here are a few. Have a good summer!


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