shadows of bin on
brown slats of fence
an old leaf turns in the sunlight
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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!
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.
Wishing you all all the gifts of the season – especially the free sort