Photography Assignment: Pioneer Park

A couple days ago I mentioned that I went to a park at sunset just to take pictures.

I had an overwhelming urge to capture Mother Nature in all her glory and I left the park feeling overwhelmingly satisfied.

Plus, both Penny de los Santos with whom I went on the Photography Tour of Mexico City


Diane Cu, who instructed the Food & Light Workshop

both strongly encouraged giving ourselves personal projects.

Meaningful projects that challenge us and push us out of our comfort zone.  Or at the very least challenge us to just do something.  Anything.

Whether that’s challenging yourself to cook one new recipe a week or take 5 pictures daily or run 1 mile without stopping, just doing something is better than nothing.

So I assigned myself the challenge of taking pictures and pondering the deeper meaning and thinking about the stories attached to things I saw and images I captured at Pioneer Park.

But it’s not just any park.

It’s actually an old cemetery from the 1800s but now there is a school and playground equipment on the grounds.

Why this place?

It’s nearby

It’s not run of the mill

How many pictures of roses and sunflowers can you really take anyway before they begin to all look the same

And there are powerful stories on the grounds of Pioneer Park.

Who was Agnes?  What kind of life did she lead?

Obviously she was a Mother.  And clearly an amazing one since MOTHER is in all caps, it’s at the top of the headstone, and that’s how her family wanted to remember her.  I’d be flattered if my family did the same for me.   If I don’t succeed at that job, everything else seems for naught.

Nellie, you were loved.

And this stone is truly breathtaking in person

The sun was setting and quickly

Daylight was dwindling.

But the giant redwoods did not care.

They never do.

They will be around for another 200 years after you and I are bits of dust and ash.

There is character and stories aplenty on these grounds

The history, the vintage flair, the creepy-yet-artsy vibe

The stonework.

All hand carved.

Who can carve stone by hand?

I can’t even grind cashews by hand.

Who were these artists?

The beauty of the stones they carved and remembering the beauty in the lives for those who now lay underneath those stones.

I wonder who these people were and what San Diego was like for them 120 years ago?

 I wonder whom and what they believed in?

Or if they believed?

I imagine life was hard for them, but I’d like to think they were happy.

Happy with the simple things

I wish I knew their stories

I’d venture to guess, Kittie, wife of James, a 29 year old woman, died in childbirth.

I wonder if she had other children.  Or if the baby lived.  Or if there was a baby.  I’m just speculating.  But it’s reported that up to 40% of women in the 1800s did die in childbirth.

But who really knows.

As I paid honor to those dead and gone, I witnessed life.

Children running and playing on the playground equipment

Skylar dancing on the sidewalk

And I remembered that life is short.

And precious.

Hug your loved ones and live your life to the fullest.

This self-assigned project was good for me.  Very good. 

It made me think.  It stretched me.  It made me grow.

Both as a photographer and as a human.

Thanks for the comments on my last post, Fruit or Vegetable.  There are a few head-scratches, indeed.


1. Do cemeteries seem creepy to you?  Or not?  Are you scared of them?  Do you have after-death wishes, i.e. buried, cremated, don’t care?

I am not scared of cemeteries at all.  I wouldn’t want to get married in one, but I don’t fear them.

And if you could see this one (I didn’t want to take pictures of the jungle gym because there were lots of kids on it and I am not comfortable posting pictures of people and especially children whom I don’t know and don’t have their express permission to photograph) but this cemetery is so alive. 

There is a school on the grounds of it, it doubles as a park and there are always weekend gatherings and potlucks at this park.

There’s a Starbucks and thriving urban scene right around the corner.  It’s much more vibrant and full of life, actually, than any other cemetery I’ve ever seen.

After death, I’d prefer to be cremated but actually, the more I ponder it, I don’t really care.  I won’t be here.

Getting a little morbid?  Oh well.  Life is not always roses and sunflowers.

2. What was the last project or assignment you gave yourself? Or that someone else gave you?  What did you learn?


75 Responses to “Photography Assignment: Pioneer Park”

  1. Tamar — August 25, 2011 at 12:18 am (#

    I was so moved by this beautiful post and just wanted to let you know.

  2. Kathryn — August 25, 2011 at 12:59 am (#

    Absolutely beautiful – both the pictures and the words. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Dutchgirl — August 25, 2011 at 1:06 am (#

    Thank you for this post.
    I’m not ready to think about when I’m gone, but it’s good for the soul to look your fears in the eyes, every now and then. They way you give us a glance, with this beautiful pictures of yours and the story about the place being alive… I love it. Thank you. It’s a great start of he day (as it is 10 am over here) and I’m going to live it like I mean it ;).

  4. Maris (In Good Taste) — August 25, 2011 at 1:23 am (#

    Moving post. It is so awesome to be here to watch as you develop and grow.

  5. Hayley @ Oat Couture — August 25, 2011 at 1:41 am (#

    A lovely post, I love looking at really old photos and wondering about the lives of the people in them, people who are long, long gone by now and lived in such a different age to us, living such different (yet similar) lives. What they were feeling or thinking as the photo was snapped. It’s fascinating stuff, to me anyways! :) Cemeteries are a little creepy, but not in a bad way, if you know what I mean. They just make you feel very aware I guess.

    • Averie (Love Veggies and Yoga) — August 25, 2011 at 2:50 am (#

      I love pondering what their lives were like too. The stories. I dont read food blogs or blogs for the food; I read them for the stories and people!

  6. Ulrike — August 25, 2011 at 1:45 am (#

    That really was a beautiful posts and great photography.
    I don’t really feel scared by cemeteries. Indeed it can be very interesting to visit them especially when you’re on holidays abroad beacuse they can be very different in other countries or cultures. It’s a thing I and my family allways used to do when traveling as we don’t like to only do all the obvious touristy stuff when we go somewhere.
    I don’t know what I want to be done with my body after death, but probably I doesn’t really matter after all. The only thing I think is important for everyone to make up their minds about is if you want to be an organ donor. I never really thought about it until a friend of mine who I went to school with died in a car crash at a very young age. That really made me realize that life could be over any day but if you happen do die young and healthy your organs might save another life. It is a very personal and hard decision but one everyone should make I think.
    Enough said. Have a good day Averie!

  7. Jemma @ Celery and Cupcakes — August 25, 2011 at 2:03 am (#

    All of these pictures are beautiful!

  8. Sara (The Veggie Eco-Life) — August 25, 2011 at 2:23 am (#

    I think this is a wonderful post, you say some very beautiful things. I’m not scared from cemeteries, I did some shoots in Normandy (France) at the cemeteries where fallen soldiers are buried. There is this special atmosphere… I think it’s love and peace, it’s kinda weird but there just is this particular feeling…
    I do know that I loved life and hated war to the bone when I was walking around there..

  9. Sue @ Sue In Training — August 25, 2011 at 2:27 am (#

    Cemeteries don’t scare me. They’re just quiet places, full of trees and flowers and squirrels.
    After death, I think I want to be cremated and tossed into the ocean. Something like that. I don’t want a grave and a stone.

    • Averie (Love Veggies and Yoga) — August 25, 2011 at 2:51 am (#

      I always said cremated and tossed over Aruba in the ocean. But now…I realize..I dont even care that much, but that’s what I used to ask for.

  10. cathy — August 25, 2011 at 3:11 am (#

    what a unique photography outing. i love the photo of the tree trunk – the colours and the composition of the shot.
    i don’t seek out cemeteries but i wouldn’t avoid them. so many stories tucked away, you’re right. they can be really awesome running spots because there are roads or paths, little traffic, and it’s so peaceful.
    can’t wait to see what your next assignment is!

  11. Sweet and Savvy — August 25, 2011 at 3:20 am (#

    Such beautiful pictures!:)

  12. lindsay — August 25, 2011 at 3:40 am (#

    I hope you are framing these! They are amazing Averie. THe picture at dusk, wow!

  13. Jess@HealthyExposures — August 25, 2011 at 3:58 am (#

    “taking pictures and pondering the deeper meaning and thinking about the stories attached”

    YES. THIS is what I was talking about when I said I missed photography the other day. Shooting things with meaning. Not just assigned shoots, which I’ve been doing a lot of. Sure, I love my horses, but that’s not quite what I mean, and not just “because it looks neat!” shots, either. Things that evoke emotion and make you think, just like you are doing here! They are beautiful, and I love the warm tones. The tree pictures are so eerily calm and peaceful.

    Cemeteries. I like them. In fact, I used to walk around this one really cool one every morning. I think I seriously sketched out the maintenance guys who were always mowing, haha. I used to think I wanted to be cremated but I haven’t re-thought about it in a while, lol. Not sure why I was thinking abour cremation v. burying when I was, what, 17? Morbid child… ;)

    • Averie (Love Veggies and Yoga) — August 25, 2011 at 5:11 am (#

      the deeper meaning. cannot WAIT to see what you do with the new blog. it’s perfect for you and RIGHT after i got done editing most of these pics, your post about your new blog popped into my reader. it was eerie serendipity type timing!

  14. chelsey @ clean eating chelsey — August 25, 2011 at 4:22 am (#

    I run through a cemetary on my usual route around town, an I always wonder the same thing about the people I pass – “who were they? What are their stories?”

    This, was probably the best line of the whole post: “I can’t even grind cashews by hand.” – you’re too funny!

  15. Heather @ Health, Happiness, and Hope — August 25, 2011 at 4:38 am (#

    I absolutely love this post, Averie. Challenging yourself is the best way to grow and learn. Such heartfelt, beautiful photos.

    I used to be SO freaked out by cemeteries when I was younger, but in about 7th grade, my brother and I went out for ice cream and then drove around two cemeteries in our town. We spent hours just looking at the headstones, reading the loving, funny, serious, and sometimes ambiguous headstones. It made me realize that cemeteries are about love and life, and not something to be fearful of; cemeteries celebrate the happiness in the lives these people had and the love of those close to them. Do they still seem a little creepy to me? Sure, but I’m able to look beyond that now and see the true meaning behind them. :)

  16. Leanne @ Healthful Pursuit — August 25, 2011 at 4:51 am (#

    This is all great, Averie! Challenging yourself is the best, isn’t it? I’m taking my camera with me on vacation… the first time I’ve ventured out with it on my own! I’m pretty excited to just take pictures of random stuff along the way!

  17. Marla — August 25, 2011 at 5:03 am (#

    The best post you have ever written. Taps in to life & everything.
    “Obviously she was a Mother. And clearly an amazing one since MOTHER is in all caps, it’s at the top of the headstone, and that’s how her family wanted to remember her. I’d be flattered if my family did the same for me. If I don’t succeed at that job, everything else seems for naught.”
    Oh my.

    • Averie (Love Veggies and Yoga) — August 25, 2011 at 5:09 am (#

      I know you’re on vacay still so wasnt sure how much you were reading blogs but am glad you saw this. Didnt exactly want to fwd you a post about..cemetaries! on your trip either :)

      And this
      “The best post you have ever written. Taps in to life & everything.”–
      THANK YOU!! You are an amazing mother, photographer, blogger…I am so proud to call you my friend and to hear that from you…thank you :)


  18. Snippets of Thyme — August 25, 2011 at 5:07 am (#

    Aren’t these assignments the perfect prescription for visually creative people like us? As you know, my last “assignment” was the lavendar farm…which turned into the cotton farm! I really do act as if I am going “on” assignment and you know what? I learn so much each time I do this. Your cemetery photos are fantastic. I wonder all of the same things about the bits of info on the stones…

    • Averie (Love Veggies and Yoga) — August 25, 2011 at 5:10 am (#

      yes it’s all so good for us…thank you for the sweet comments Sarah and your assignments are also great..i remember one with an asian market or a foreign grocery store of yours from 3-4 mos ago, give or take? it was great!

  19. Lindsay — August 25, 2011 at 5:16 am (#

    The idea of a “green burial”, i.e. no toxic chemical treatments- just a ceremony and a wrapping cloth, as well as a plot of land in the forest- the naturalness of it is really a peaceful thought. Very important to also remember the impact you can have even just on your immediate circle of family and friends is lasting and important.

  20. Emmanuelle — August 25, 2011 at 5:36 am (#

    Wow, beautiful post Averie, I so agree with you! Photography is such a wonderful way to see beauty in everything, and conveying stories. And such an amazing place!
    It’s funny, yesterday I didn’t plan on walking home, but I did, with my camera in hand. I felt I needed to take my Inner Artist out for a walk, so I did. I felt so peaceful and happy after doing this!

    I am not creeped out by cemeteries, I think they’re beautiful, especially at sunset. I think I want to be cremated. That said, comes the time, I won’t mind :)

  21. Pure2raw twins — August 25, 2011 at 5:49 am (#

    love love love these photos!! sunsets make for the pictures

  22. Ilana — August 25, 2011 at 6:07 am (#

    Averie, this post is GORGEOUS. In more than just the photographic sense. Your passion for what you are doing sizzles in the words you write. I am SO happy for you!
    re: cemeteries, they don’t “creep me out” in the traditional sense of ghosts and spirits and sadness, I just think the idea of dead bodies all in one spot is gross, haha I know I’m weird.
    re personal projects:,I’m in the midst of like, working my whole life (for now) out and there’s kind of a lot going on but one of the things I am focusing heavily on is developing a blog for a yoga based philanthropic organization i work with. I’m really interested in developing content that is resonant, thorough, educational, and captivating in a way that ADDS to the conversation about yoga and service rather than just being another voice clamoring in the din. no big deal! ha!

    • Averie (Love Veggies and Yoga) — August 25, 2011 at 12:17 pm (#

      Wow to hear your updates and what you have going on and your goals…is just amazing as well. Talk about passion! :)

  23. Suzanne — August 25, 2011 at 6:20 am (#

    Your commitment is incredible……………..I love your pictures

  24. katie @ KatieDid — August 25, 2011 at 6:45 am (#

    Averie I loved this post! Beautiful, telling pictures.
    I have been challenging myself to always take daily photographs and link meaning to them. I’ve been pushing myself out of my comfort zone with my camera and its so liberating and fun. My favorite part of my day is coming home after being out with my camera, sitting down and looking through what I captured on my computer and weaving a story with the images for either a blog post, or just for myself.
    Your blog is very inspiring.

    • Averie (Love Veggies and Yoga) — August 25, 2011 at 12:17 pm (#

      coming home after being out with my camera, sitting down and looking through what I captured on my computer and weaving a story with the images for either a blog post, or just for myself. = ME TOO!!!!!!

  25. Naomi(onefitfoodie) — August 25, 2011 at 6:47 am (#

    I think some cemetaries do creep me out but some are so well maintained and well kept that they have a beauty to them. the grass is so green and the stones are so well kept. I acutlaly think it could be a beautiful scene to do some photography,especially for a memory book for someone? there is beauty in everything :)

  26. Holly @ The Runny Egg — August 25, 2011 at 7:05 am (#

    Cemeteries do not creep me out — maybe if I was alone there in the dark I would be scared, but as a whole I kind of like visiting them for the reasons you listed. It makes me stop and think that I don’t have a ton of time on earth and it helps me put my priorities in place. And I agree that there is a ton of beauty there — the trees, the flowers, the carvings, the sculptures, etc.

  27. Jacqueline — August 25, 2011 at 7:06 am (#

    Gorgeous photos.

    I quite like strolling through cemetaries, reading the gravestones and imagining the people they remember.

  28. Kristina @ spabettie — August 25, 2011 at 7:27 am (#

    beautiful photos, Averie! I especially love the old trees – those trees always give me more powerful pause than headstones, even – stunning and regal.

    the last project I gave myself – just yesterday I tackled something BIG in the kitchen, something I have wanted to try for some time and have been intimidated by the intermediate process. I researched and carefully planned, and pulled it off! today is the photo shoot so I’ll be sharing soon. :)

    • Averie (Love Veggies and Yoga) — August 25, 2011 at 12:18 pm (#

      photo shoot days…I know them well!

      to think that a few yrs ago this was ALL totally foreign to me…well, takes a blogger to really ‘get it’ what that means and you and i both know!

    • Kristina @ spabettie — August 25, 2011 at 12:27 pm (#

      haa – right? I know, I was just getting into photography a few years ago, WAY before blog, although I was taking food photos! ;) (I cringe to look at them now, wow!) :D

  29. Jessica @ Dishin' About Nutrition — August 25, 2011 at 7:43 am (#

    I hope I have time someday to focus more on photography, this is so cool!

  30. Shannon — August 25, 2011 at 7:45 am (#

    Such a beautiful post. I love the photos, the sentiment, and the subject–I feel like we’ve paid our respects in some way to those that we’ve loved and lost. Your photography definitely gets better & better!

  31. dragonmamma/naomi — August 25, 2011 at 7:46 am (#

    I love cemeteries. Our Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery gives lamplight tours every October, where local historians research several people buried there; they dress in historical garb and reenact scenes from their lives. Very cool.

  32. Rosalie — August 25, 2011 at 7:52 am (#

    Averie, this entire post, words and especially pictures, is heart-wrenchingly beautiful. You have grown so so much as a photographer and it’s so inspiring to see :)

  33. Bev Weidner — August 25, 2011 at 8:02 am (#

    Cemeteries both creep me out AND I love them. Girl, I feel like getting a blog post up everyday is a project!

  34. Pamela — August 25, 2011 at 9:00 am (#

    Averie, you have a way of decidedly and regularly stepping away from food and the “healthy lifestyle” aspect of your blog to explore and share details of your life that allow us, as readers, to more fully understand your depth and breadth as a person. It is what keep me coming back to your blog day after day. You seem like such a sincere, complex, and deep person, despite how how one-dimensional folks can appear through a computer screen. That is no easy feat! Thank you, always.

    • Averie (Love Veggies and Yoga) — August 25, 2011 at 12:21 pm (#

      Thank you for the high praise and for saying what you said! I tire so much of food blogs, healthy living blogs or one dimensional blogs and have tried to make mind a place of diversity and to show some depth and breadth of character and person and content. To know that you feel I have accomplished that is very rewarding for me….thank you so much for saying what you said!

  35. Amber K — August 25, 2011 at 9:56 am (#

    I get uncomfortable in cemeteries and I really, REALLY hate “walking” on people. I always try and walk along the aisles and I stick to walking just above one headstone so that if I am stepping on someone it’s just on their feet. Which is so weird to me because I believe in Heaven and Hell and that there are no souls in the empty bodies. And yet, I still feel like I’m being disrespectful if I don’t watch where I’m walking!

    Skylar looks like she has grown up so much! Maybe it was because I was looking at some of your old blogs for yummy recipes and she looks so much bigger in comparison!

  36. Laury @thefitnessdish — August 25, 2011 at 10:31 am (#

    your photos are breathtaking!

    This is going to seem REALLY weird…but….my cousin and I as a kid, we loved hanging out near cemetarys. We were obsessed with scary movies. We’d get a bunch of friends together, picnic and tell scary stories. Seems a little disrespectful now that I think back…but cemetery never really scared me too much

    I am reallynot sure of my after life wishes. One of my clients told me that you can be turned into a diamond and that’s what she wants. For her kids to wear her around their necks. You can literally be turned into a diamond! Not sure how I feel about that but it’s nice? Creepy? Idk. Jewish people can not be cremated, I am not Jewish but hubby is and I would think I would like to be laid to rest with him…

  37. Victoria @ The Pursuit of Hippieness — August 25, 2011 at 10:31 am (#

    Gorgeous photography Averie! And what a beautiful location.

  38. Jessica @ Jess Go Bananas — August 25, 2011 at 11:28 am (#

    cemetaries do creep me out but then again they interest me to a high degree because of all the stories they hold

  39. Ashley — August 25, 2011 at 1:22 pm (#

    This was very moving and beautiful! I love the photos and the way you thought so in depth

  40. Michaela — August 25, 2011 at 2:00 pm (#

    I can only chime in – very moving post! Personally, I love cemeteries and I have been taking pictures there quite often. I, like you, love strolling along and trying to get to know the story of the buried (sounds kinda strange ;)).
    I constantly give myself assignments, as I am a very ambitious person. From creating the perfect vegan veggie pie to personal things, I always have something on my list ;)

  41. Ali @ Urbanfruitbat — August 25, 2011 at 2:08 pm (#

    Amazing photos, and even more amazing thoughts today Averie. I think that cemeteries are actually places of great peace. Death can often be a very traumatic experience for the person who is passing and their loved ones. Be it a long illness or an accident. After all the struggle and pain, I think it might be nice to know that your loved one is no longer suffering, and the cemetery is a place to go and remember them as they were. My latest project was starting my blog, and it has been so rewarding so far!

  42. Christine (The Raw Project) — August 25, 2011 at 2:50 pm (#

    Gorgeous pictures. Very interesting on the park, cool history. So true about life being short and there seems to be plenty to remind us of that lately.

    1. Not really, life and death seem pretty natural to me.
    2. A hummus recipe challenge last night that went south. :-)

  43. laura — August 25, 2011 at 2:59 pm (#

    Wow, Averie! These are some of my favorites of all your great photos. So beautiful.

  44. Rachel @ Eat, Learn, Discover! — August 25, 2011 at 3:21 pm (#

    This is so powerful, and so beautiful. The emotions that you’ve conveyed with your photos and writing are so well done, I almost feel like I’m there with you.
    The last project I gave myself was creating and maintaining this blog – and I think it has been the yes thing I’ve done for myself in a very long time.

  45. Kaitlyn@TheTieDyeFiles — August 25, 2011 at 7:00 pm (#

    What a fantastic way to grow as a photographer! Such a great idea that I think I’ll have to steal :) Skylar always looks so happy and innocent in your photos. She clearly loves spending time with you.

    Cemetaries don’t creep me out, I think they’re a really great place for reflecting and often harbor a lot of unexpected beauty! Death isn’t creepy, it’s just a part of life.

  46. Beth — August 26, 2011 at 9:17 am (#

    Loved your photos from Pioneer Park.

    Cemeteries are an interesting place. So much history, family & community connections there. Although, I don’t want to be buried. I want to be cremated.

    My last assignment was to ref at the paintball field. Normally I am at the front of the park, greeting customers and setting them up with equipment – and then cleaning up when they leave.
    A couple of our Refs asked if I could ref a couple of days so that they could see where the “line” is for rules, safety, etc.
    The first day was exhausting, but I really enjoyed it (much to my surprise). An unexpected bonus was being tasked with taking photos of the players in action. And I do use the Auto setting ;) I’m not the one taking pictures every day, but I’m one of the 3 that my husband deems “good enough” to do the job right. Woo-hoo!
    If you are curious, you can check out some of our photos on the Facebook fan page:

  47. Kim — August 26, 2011 at 4:47 pm (#

    Absolutely beautiful post Averie…
    Thank you.
    I now feel the desperate need to visit some family members who have passed. I often like to take a walk around the cemetery, and wonder about the peoples lives and who still remembers them. I like to visit random peoples graves, and tell them that I am thinking of them. You just never know if anyone ever visits them, or thinks of them any more. This makes me sad…

  48. Rachel — August 30, 2011 at 5:16 am (#

    this post made me tear up a bit! it’s all so beautiful. i love cemeteries actually. one of the most famous cemeteries in the country, i believe, is only 15 minutes away from my house. it’s also an arboretum, i believe. but all kinds of famous people are buried there, as well as one of my close friend’s moms. i love to go visit her grave, partially cuz i miss her so much, but also because it’s located right behind a lake. this post really inspired me to go visit her today, perhaps take some pictures, and think about my life and all that i value in it!

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