Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

Monday, March 28, 2016


I never used to be spontaneous, but last week I switched up plans for a Death Valley camping trip in the middle of a Pilates class while wrestling with reports of big crowds (spring break) and not much bloom at higher altitudes, where I wanted to be.  Besides, a March trip would break my DV rule; November through February only.

So there I was, doing one-legged bridges, when I thought of the beach and of a guaranteed place to sleep, shower and park.  The ultimate glamping trip.

I grew up in San Clemente California, a beach town in southern Orange County.  Nobody has lived in that condo in a long time, but the family uses it fairly regularly, especially on weekends.  I thought I’d revisit some of my old haunts photographically during a rare opportunity to be there on my own.

I loaded up my bicycle and camera gear and hit the road.

The Pier Bowl
The place has some emotional overtones for me.  I spent my middle and high school years here, a complex time in my family.  Those memories now have the distant tone of the troubles of a character in a familiar novel, even sitting here in the middle of what might be called the crime scene.  Still, I’ve been putting the stamp of my current life here these last few days, biking and hiking and walking.  As I spoke to my sister about it, I realized I’ve been marking territory in a way.  Reclaiming it with the camera.

San Clemente’s Pier is its chief icon, rebuilt after severe damage during the 1983 El Nino storms but still in the spirit of the original structure, used for 1920s rum running in the city’s infancy.  I photograph it a lot.

Dawn at Dana Point Harbor
Dana Point Harbor is just five miles or so up the coast.  It’s home to the Ocean Institute including the photogenic Brig Pilgrim, a replica of the tall ship made famous by Richard Henry Dana, the Harbor’s namesake.  She was featured (apparently as more than one vessel) in Spielberg’s 1997 film Amistad. The harbor’s jetty was built in the 1960’s, essentially transforming the former surfing beach Doheny into a lake.  Some local surfers are old enough to remember and complain still about their loss.

Wild Artichokes and the view, Rancho San Clemente Trail
Since I left in (ahem) 1980, some changes have taken place in my home town.  The 1970 census showed the population here to be 17,000.  Today the number of inhabitants has nearly quadrupled as subdivisions have marched inland into the hills.  City planners have taken advantage of the sprawl, building a network of trails through town.  I had a lovely afternoon hike along the Rancho San Clemente Trail, apparently a remnant of a ranch road from the old Rancho Santa Margarita.  The odd fence post and stock tanks remain, serving as foreground to neighborhoods on one side and the gigantic Marine Base Camp Pendelton on the other.  Mysterious non-native flowers (geraniums and asters) inhabit a hilltop.  Google has not cleared this up for me, but I found them to be lovely focal points for a few images.

I’m getting ready for my return home as I write, and, as is the mark of a great photo trip, with a long shot list for next time.  In some ways it’s good to leave something on the table.

More South Orange County images are in the Sothern California Gallery on the website.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

The Selfish Do-Gooder

I do, in fact, get more out of this do-gooder stuff than I put in.

Reflecting on a most remarkable week, I have real-world examples for you.

Regular readers will recall that my husband and I, as well as several of our friends, are enthusiastic supporters of the Guatemala Literacy Project (GLP).  Over 19 years, nearly 500 Rotary Clubs worldwide have partnered with an extraordinary, progressive nonprofit called Cooperative for Education (COED) to “break the cycle of poverty in Guatemala through education.”  I’m quoting their mission statement here because it’s a good one.  Some staffers use the phrase “Poverty Busters.”  

David & Gladys Wright House, Phoenix
I had the honor of participating in what I’m fondly calling the GLP roadshow last week.  Gina Regan and Garrett Fenchel, both COED staffers, flew to Arizona from their home in Cincinnati to spread the word.  They made their formal presentation at five Rotary Clubs and had several private meetings with interested folks.  Neither had spent much time in Arizona before, so we did manage to squeeze in some fun; a hike in Sedona, Spring Training Baseball (the Reds, of course) and a tour of the David and Gladys Wright Home in Phoenix. 

We had a wonderful, productive week, which got me thinking about what I get out of this do-gooder stuff, and from helping the GLP in particular.  

I give you, then, the top 8 reasons we support this program that we believe in (and reasons to be a do-gooder in general).

1    1. We’re helping.  I’ll get that out of the way because it’s important, but just the obvious tip of the iceberg.

T     2. The first-world relationships.  I’ve come in contact with countless extraordinary people and made lifelong friendships with COED staffers from the US and Guatemala, fellow supporters and travelers.  Like most relationships with like-minded folks, I could never have predicted where many of them would lead.  For example, I met some exceptionally generous Rotarians from Grand Cayman who supported our grant to replace the computer controller for the Yarnell (AZ) water system after the fire.

        3. A different kind of travel, which is especially relevant to me as a photographer.  We travel with COED to small villages and we’re automatically accepted.  Elders welcome us and are are willing to be photographed.  The kids have implicit permission to play with us, accept our gifts, and watch my husband’s antics and magic tricks.  We are honored guests.  Though these relationships are brief, they have a depth that I won’t forget.  

        4.  I’m able to be a social ambassador for our country and in turn to represent Guatemala to folks in the States with images like the ones that accompany this post.  International projects are cultural exchanges.

Marco, Flor, Alejandra, Rebecca in Antigua Guatemala last year.
         5.  A chance for deeper connection.  I’ve written before about Flor, who wouldn’t have been able to go to school without a COED scholarship.  She’s 21 now and essentially supporting her family.  My husband and I are honored to remain in touch with her and to see her whenever we return to Guatemala.  We look forward to seeing Alejandra, who’s just started middle school again next year.  She’s our second scholarship student.
        6. The ripple effect.  I stole this one from my friend Katie. Each literate child will grow to raise an educated family. Commonly, they pay for school for and serve as role models for their younger siblings. COED’s programs are in 10% of the schools in rural Guate.  The resulting traditional and computer literacy is transforming the country.  So many things seem to be deteriorating in this world; what could be better than contributing to waves of positive change?

        7.  Flexibility.  There is sure to be a cause which appeals to each of us which can use whatever we have to give, time, talent, or treasure.  If we’re short on funds, we can roll up our sleeves or find a sit-down job.  
        8.  Fun.  If you’re beginning to tire of hanging out at bars or the mall, please consider spending time working toward a goal with like-minded people.  My husband and I knew we’d have as much fun helping the COED staff set up for their Cincinnati fundraiser last fall as we did at the party itself and we had a great time last week on the Guate Road Show.  We humans have an instinct to collaborate and we’re happiest working together toward a goal.

Selfish, indeed.

Margaret Mead famously said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”