Behind the Glass

I have been in the house all week. The combination of a dislocated shoulder and days of snow and ice have kept me on the inside, looking out, behind the glass. For once I am not missing it, the outside. The fear of falling has made me glad to be indoors, and I have plenty to keep me occupied between Gaelic still to learn (since a language is something you can never reach the end of learning) and the internet to entertain and a stack of real, hard-copy books that’s part of my collection and intention to resume a reading habit.

Yet still something keeps on gnawing at me, some missing connection, some missing link, some meaningful sustained creative practice, some way to reach beyond the glass.

~~~

Friday morning, five past nine, I watch the birds through the living room window. The waters of the loch beyond are cold, a steely grey. Clouds drift above the water. As I watch, the clouds shift in colour, the edges tinged with the first hints of sunrise, as the morning starts to break behind the hill. The moment fills with hints of goldlight, edge of sunlight, the heart is full for just one moment with nothing but the rising of the morning.

Watching through the living room window, the headlights of my neighbour’s car creep slowly down the hill.

~~~

Fragment by fragment, I remind myself. Although for more than a long time I have wished that I could shape and mould these fragments of mine into form, into poems, into essays, into three lines even or the rhythm of 17 syllables they are resolute in their defiance and slip away if I chase them too hard. Perhaps that is all that there is for me, and perhaps that too is enough.

~~~

I take a photograph from the inside out. Picking up letters from the porch the light pulls me, demands I find my phone and take a photo, through the glass. I still don’t know why or what it is, this need to take photographs, even today stuck inside, taking pictures through the glass-glare, once again this magnetic desire: to click, to notice, to say thank you.

looking out

~~~

I have been feeding the birds by the door for fear of setting foot on the ice. I notice the pattern of their feeding on the ice, marking their time this week, and mine.

bird tracks

~~~

Reading this made me think about how we make connections online. Although the article’s about love, it reminded me, wistfully, of how much I used to believe in blogging as a human, democratic form, and the possibilities it offered us to forge connections, to stretch out our hands, to offer some small glimpse of our selves to others. Has that possibility really gone, or is still ours to claim?

~~~

More snow has fallen, soft and crunchy. The ice-fear reduces and I walk into the garden. The sun is falling through the shadows of the trees, I mean its branches, I mean here for a moment there is nothing but this meld of shadow tree and sunlight snow and a roll of winter’s memory.

Snowlight

~~

Perhaps this is my practice. Perhaps this place and space, this knowledge I have of how to link and mix together pictures and words, to piece together fragments, perhaps this act of blogging is of itself, for me, creative practice, no need for more.

~~~

Saturday morning, sunlit snow. Feeling stronger, fitter, brighter, braver and with someone else in the house during daytime hours in case I’m needing rescued I venture out at last, five minutes down the road. A snow path by the harbour. Sunlight glinting on snow. The sun is strong and the air delicious. The starlings are shouting with the love of it, their squawks like a serenade. I wish I could lie down on the snow path and take photo after photo of the way the light falls. It feels like Christmas morning, like New Year’s morning, like the first morning.

snow and shadow

Away and Towards

more than ever we need people willing to pause and listen, to open their hearts to what is uncomfortable, and to hold space and attention until the new thing emerges

~ Christine Valtners Paintner

Every so often, mainly on a Sunday, I think about writing something here. It can’t be that hard I think: just a title, a photograph, some words. A way back in, opening the door, back into your own space.

Sometimes I find a title, and sometimes a photo, and sometimes the fragments of some words, but even so, I don’t get beyond.

It’s something to do with the seeming size of the task, to find something worth saying, a practice worth practicing in the face of all the… the sheer weight of all the stuff that’s going on out there, day in, day out, relentless, remorseless.

It’s something to do with the shininess of the modern web, its gloss and promise. I miss the scruffiness of the human web I used to know, the home-made sites, the people sharing words and worlds without pretence at knowing.

Yet still in the turning away from so many things I do not wish to list, still there is a turning towards even if the shape of the new thing is unknown.

It’s not (for me) Art, or Writing, or Photography, but still something in this space between the lines that blogging offered / offers: unpolished, not knowing, open, human, connecting, here.

I fear I am not close to finding half the words I wish to, but also do not wish to let another Sunday pass away without some claiming back of space, some way of saying that even as we turn away and further keep on turning – we can still turn towards: unpolished, unknowing, open, human, here.

With thanks to Christine at the Abbey of the Arts for sharing ‘Mystical Hope and the New Thing‘ including the reminder to keep practicing, together and the nudge to me to keep going.

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.