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Phacelia cicutaria (aka Catepillar Phacelia). All photos: Wendy Chan

As someone born and raised in Southern California, I’m always curious about the perceptions of other Angelenos who didn’t grow up here. I always wonder, “How is Los Angeles different from their own hometowns?”, and “What is their perception of the Southern California landscape and nature here compared to where they’re originally from?”

Transplants often mention the lush green garden landscapes and the amazing urban tree canopies of their own hometowns. They also complain about the lack of discernible seasons in Los Angeles compared to other parts of the nation.

Venegasia carpesioides (Canyon Sunflower)

Ceanothus spp._California Lilac

But what are some botanical indicators of seasons in Southern California? It’s often non-native trees that bloom across Los Angeles that offer observable visual indicators of the changing of seasons. For example, the beautiful purple blooms of the Jacaranda trees and white blooms of the Southern Magnolia tree bloom in spring, while the red leaves of the Sweet Gum trees reveal themselves in fall. These trees offer a more obvious change seasons in the city. The seasonal cues revealed by our native plants in the mountains require a more careful eye.

Bouteloua gracilis

Lately I’ve set out to document the seasonal indicators revealed in our Santa Monica Mountains. The goal of my project is to understand how our native plants change throughout the seasons – from their beautiful flowers in the springtime, to a period of dormancy through summer, to new life reveled in fall. Photographing California’s native plants reveals seasonal changes, including the striking warm colors of dried flower blooms lining trails and the swaying arid woody stems of our native landscape. The collection of photos here were all taken this spring, each revealing the subtle seasons of Southern California.

Bromus spp. (aka Brome Grass)

Encelia californica (aka Bush Sunflower)

Ceanothus spp._California Lilac

Eriogonum fasciculatum (aka California Buckwheat)

Eriophyllum confertiflorum (Golden Yarrow)

Lotus scoparius (Deer Weed)

Malosma laurina (Laurel Sumac)

Phacelia spp.

Salvia leucophylla (Purple Sage)

As 2017 year comes to a close, the AHBE LAB contributors are taking time to look back at our year’s worth of posts. We are each identifying the most memorable post and sharing what we found interesting, informative, and inspiring. Enjoy the flashback, and let us know which post you thought was most memorable.

Photography that reconciles poetry and minimalism with the natural landscape is unusual. Calvin’s exploration of the snowy Japanese landscape of Biei captures what happens when you successfully compose with these concepts in mind – stunning photographs reminding us the landscape does not always need to be fully grown, alive, colorful, nor complex to visually trigger catharsis.

The photographs are a visual documentation of life struggling in harsh conditions, each photograph of the beautiful landscape carrying a weight and deeper layer of meaning, evoking hope and perseverance. I believe everyone – perhaps unconsciously – can grasp and identify with this feeling: no matter how cold or difficult the situation around us, we can still aspire toward simplicity and beauty.

The original post here: Biei – “A Silent Landscape”

Downtown Savannah. All photos by Clarence Lacy

I’ve been feeling a tinge of excitement building thinking about my impending return home to the Chesapeake Bay. Virginia will always have a special place in my heart, specifically Hampton and its location on the Peninsula. The Bay is home to some of the richest ecologies, including my favorite, the estuarine/salt marsh.

During a trip to Savannah and Tybee Island, I observed this ecosystem up close in a different context. While attending Landscape Architecture School I began to understand the importance of this ecosystem and the role it plays in our lives as coastal residents. Armed with my hipster camera and some old found film, I was ready to explore a new territory.

Panorama of Tybee Island.

My adventure begins amongst the enchanting oak woodlands. These woods feel and smell like something straight out of the pages of a fairy tale. Spanish moss covered live oaks shade a flood of palmettos, creating a varied texture unique to southern live oak forests. Wandering through these woodlands, each tree feels like an ancient spiritual guardian welcoming you into the equally divine salt marsh.

Skidaway Island State Park.

Leaving the woodland, solid ground gives way to a reedy edge. The oak woodland smell is quickly exchanged for an overwhelmingly familiar smell reminiscent of my childhood on the Chesapeake Bay. Those early days were spent visiting the wharf to buy a bushel of crab, where I would also stop to watch swarms of gulls perched or gliding mid-flight overhead over the piers. Many boats are docked here – a true show of Savannah’s boat culture. From this edge, my journey begins upon the water.


Our boat weave in and out of small tributaries that wind around the subtle topography of soft ground. A new understanding of the eco-diversity and local nuance of this landscape revealed itself through its broad visual monotony. A vigorous smell of salt water intermingles with a subtle, yet captivating smell of decomposition, accompanied by the surround sound symphony of life teeming within this ecosystem.


A combination of childhood nostalgia, love of seafood, and my education brought me to a truly spiritual nexus – a discovery of something unfamiliar, yet familiar. This moment solidifies my love for this ecosystem.


Looking back at my photos, the place feels ghostly and magnificent, yet also tinged with a spirit of the sentimental past. To this day, this trip holds great importance to me. The visit taught me that a true understanding and appreciation of an ecology requires more than academic research, but also a firsthand experience within it.

All photos by Calvin Abe

I had the opportunity to visit Biei, the northern most Japanese island of Hokkaido, for the third year in a row this past winter. Although I have never traveled to the island’s quiet and beautiful landscape in the spring or fall, photographs online tell me that the location is equally beautiful during those seasons.

As I reflect upon my last visit – already almost three months ago – I wonder what is it about this place that piques my interest and ignites a strong desire to return. Biei is a place where I return to experience silence, beauty, and the sacred. The simplicity and the quiet is surreal, unworldly and restorative. And besides, there is nothing like sitting outside in zero degree temperature in an “onsen” (hot bath) naturally sourced from a hot spring, with long distant views of nothing but rolling snow covered landscape.

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rancho-seco-power-plant-004

All photos by Calvin Abe

Over the holidays I went up to Sacramento to visit my family. While there I decided to visit the Rancho Seco Nuclear Power Plant in nearby Herald, California, about 12 miles from my where I grew up. Although the plant was decommissioned back in 1989, it was built in the early 1970’s when I was in high school, and was operational for nearly two decades. The plant was eventually decommissioned due to operational problems.

rancho-seco-power-plant-002

This post and accompanying photos are not presented to argue the merits or criticism of nuclear power, but simply to share a dualistic thought that popped into my head as I drove around the facility: the admiration for the bucolic beauty and sculptural qualities of the reactor towers as structures – each sitting atop the landscape – while at the same time recognizing their potential to alter the face of the landscape for thousands of years in an instant. Chernobyl in 1986, Three Mile Island in 1979, and the recent Fukushima incident still remain vivid memories of this dualism between potential and pitfalls.

Is the future of nuclear power a sustainable or resilient approach? I’ll let you decide. But here are a few of my photographs from the two days I was there to view and witness their history firsthand.

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