Category: journal

Walking This Earth

This has been a strange and unsettling ten days in the UK.

So many things are in flux, the future uncertain, huge questions being asked about politics, identity, nationality, and at the deepest core about our values – what kind of a society we claim to be, and want to be.

I found myself in England last weekend, two days after the referendum. Sometimes, switching on the news, this country where I was born and grew up can feel like a foreign country, changed and changing, different.

Not so in the hills.

We headed out for a walk in the Peak District where the world was green and lush, the air warm, the brief but heavy showers providing welcome relief from the stickiness of the climb. It was quiet on the paths on the way up and back down again, but along the top was a ridge path, easily accessible from a car-park, and the place was hoaching with people.

We sat and enjoyed a picnic a short distance from the path, watching the rain clouds in the valley beyond, the greenness of the hills, and the beautiful diversity of the people walking by: no stereotyped hikers here but all ages, shapes and sizes, all kinds of voices, all backgrounds, points of view. People smiled at each other and greeted the day, in all its rainy sunny loveliness.

Things felt different here, quieter and more human. I couldn’t help thinking, up there eating my sandwiches and back here looking at this photograph, that the world conspires to make us feel separate and different, to see a gulf that lies between us.

And yet here we all are, one Saturday afternoon in June, just walking this earth together.

Falling

I was half watching a programme the other night about space. The presenter was talking about gravity.

One way to think about gravity, he said, is that everything in the universe is just falling through space time.

The moon is falling into the valley created by the mass of the earth. The earth is falling into the valley created by the sun, and the solar system is falling into the valley created by our galaxy, and our galaxy is falling towards other galaxies in the universe.

He looked pretty happy about this theory (perhaps this is because he was perched on top of a stunning mountain range) but I confess it made me feel a little strange, this feeling that everything might just be: falling.

Sometimes the time that we’re in has that feeling too, that things are getting darker, tumbling in a way that’s outwith our control. The political environment is toxic, the news is dark as can be, and despite our fancy theories about the wonders of the universe we seem little closer to knowing how to look after this most beautiful planet.

It’s one of the reasons I find myself returning over and again to the quiet, tiny wonder of macro photography. Sometimes even the size of a landscape is too much to me but I always love the detail of the close-up watching, the surprise of what the lens might reveal. Plus you always know where you stand with a flower.

Here are a few recent macro shots, taken with the Hipstamatic. I hope you enjoy them.

Beginning Again, Again

macro shot of a dandelion seeding

already turning
to seed
the dandelions
in my notebook
after this long silence

I took a break from here which turned into a little longer than expected.

And then, as happens when you take a break from blogging (and which is why in truth it’s better just to keep on going and shift position as you go) it became harder to come back again.

Somehow you wish for some grand insight, some truth you’d hauled to the surface during your time away, while in reality I just have most of the same old questions, and a reminder of the same old truth that the art of practice is simply being willing enough, and humble enough, to begin again, again.

without the words
to begin again
I watch an orange-tip
carve a passage
through the sun

A Sense of Belonging

I read something the other day that started me thinking about gratitude, and belonging.

How we feel a sense of gratitude when we feel that we belong – and perhaps that we feel a greater sense of belonging when we cultivate gratitude.

A sense of belonging is, for me, inextricably tied to the earth: feeling close to and familiar with the rivers and the trees, with the patterns of fields and the curves of the land.

I think perhaps this is why birdsong can be so powerful – it’s not just that it’s beautiful but also that it reminds us: of other places and times, other songs we’ve heard, it reminds us that we’re here, and hearing, and present, a part of the moment, the listeners of the song.

And I think this is why I love the flowers so. Even if you’re feeling out of sorts and disconnected, even if you can’t see the big picture or make sense of the patterns of life, or the lack of them, there they are, fully present, fully familiar.

All you need to do is bend down and notice, say hello, pay attention.

I’m not sure if these are big thoughts or small ones, only that again and again I come back to this moment, this invitation, to bend down and notice.

To feel not just wonder but familiarity, and belonging, and remembrance that you’re at home.

~~~~

With thanks to Kim Manley Ort for prompting me to think about the power of gratitude.

Welcoming the Snowdrops

clump of snowdrops dancing in sunlight

When does a year begin?

For me it is this day, when the sun is finally shining and you walk out in hope because surely they must be here by now, and even though it’s not much of a surprise,

even though it’s become something of a ritual for you, this watching for them, waiting,

still –

I’m not sure there is anything more lovely, more hope-giving, than the sight of these wee flowers poking up their heads through the mud, and rough ground, and glinting in the sun.

The Light of this Day

One of the biggest gifts of photography, for me, is that it teaches me to notice and appreciate the light.

The way it falls, the way it moves and changes, the way it throws shadows, and the way it illuminates.

I find when I try and think back on a year I am taken instead to particular days, particular places, particular moments – watching, and noticing the light.

Although we love to love the newness and promise of a brand new year, I will keep on learning to notice the look of this day, this place, here, now.

Have a very happy New Year when it comes!

What a Gift

Boots.

Ice grippers to stop me from falling.

A path from my door that leads to a nature reserve in a disused quarry.

Ten minutes walk, and no need to drive on ice.

Blue skies, and brilliant sunshine.

A camera that fits in my pocket.

It being Sunday morning.

The thickness of the frost, hanging on everything, tree branches, bulrushes, nettles, and everything drooping with its weight and glinting with its brilliance.

A path dipping through it, like entering a Christmas card.

An avenue of trees.

The aesthetic of winter.

Ice.

Sunshine.

Sunday.

Boots.

Wishing you all all the gifts of the season – especially the free sort

Caught By A Rainbow

The days in December have been dark, and wet. We haven’t had the inconvenience of ice and snow, and for this our commuting selves are grateful, but the absence of sunlight, of any kind of light, can get to you after a while, and leave you staring at the sky, and at the hour by hour weather forecasts, hoping for a break in the clouds.

I grabbed an hour or so the other week when the forecast looked auspicious, or passable at least, that fitted with the daylight hours, and other work and domestic plans. I had an hour, a whole hour, to head up the nearest hill, camera in hand, and breathe for a while.

As I climbed, you could see the break in the weather that I was enjoying. Although I was bathed momentarily in strong winter sunlight, across the other side of the river, huge dark clouds were looming, rolling and filling the skies.

A rainbow followed, cutting through the sky, arching across what sometimes feels like the whole of central Scotland from way up here, stretching out in front of you. I stood, transfixed by the rainbow straight ahead.

I have no picture to show you – I couldn’t catch it.

It caught me.

As I stood and watched, transfixed, a bird of prey flew across and stopped, and hovered.

For a few moments the sky was full.

For a few moments the sky and the world and the time were full.

There was nothing but this: the land stretched out ahead, the sleet showers looming, the arc of the rainbow, the hovering wings of a bird of prey.

And then the light changed, and the rainbow faded.

The bird flew on.

And in the aftermath I said a quiet thank you for the intensity of this moment, reflecting, picture-less, that this, this, is why I take photographs.

The Blue Hour

I was learning about the blue hour this week.

The blue hour

is the period of twilight each morning and evening when the Sun is a significant distance below the horizon and the residual, indirect sunlight takes on a predominantly blue hue

Down at the Forth shore in December the day felt blue even at lunchtime,

but then again it is so often blue down here, the space and the shore and the river light all playing off each other and merging into not much more than blue,

which is one of the reasons I like to head down here when I can, just to mooch, just to look at the sky and the shore and the absence of stuff,

and even if the light is low I am still grateful that it is not chucking it down with rain, and that although I have to work in an office my job is flexible enough that at some points in the week I can duck away in time to catch what little is left of the light, and just walk along the shore, and let the soft blue light do its work of seeing off the winter blues.

The Opening

Perhaps it always only ever takes but a moment –

Just the fraction of a moment for something to catch your eye: some movement in the trees, some fragment of poetry, some kindness in a stranger’s smile, some chord in a song, some way the light falls –

And there it is again, that reminder, that possibility of things being different – wilder, thicker, deeper and eternally more true –

And the invitation to walk right on in.