2022 February

calendar for February 2022

February begins quietly here – there is little sense of winter progressing as we used to experience it. Yes there is some snow, but it rarely lasts more than a day and is never as deep as we were used to! The weather pattern seems to be warmer, wetter and windier!

snow storm

Snow is one of the real beauties of winter. The landscape can be drab here, with fields of raw ploughed earth waiting for the Spring sowing. A bright white is transformative.

snow begins across the howe

At its best the snow can enhance the muted green and browns of the winter garden, and create a misty distance of half obscured trees across the howe, creating mystery as well as beauty.

Both of those shots were taken on February 6th – so to keep the timeline for the early part of the month, let’s take a look at the state of play across the UK with Covid 19.
The UK is now dominated by the Omicron variant, which is quite alarmingly transmissible, and has spread so quickly it has taken the experts and the politicians by surprise. Hospitalisation and deaths are not as high, due in part (probably a major part) to levels of double and triple vaccinations. But the high levels of infection mean that more and more people are away from work, self-isolating. And that impacts on every part of the functioning of society.
The approach to this situation has varied, with Scotland and Wales both keeping as many ‘mitigations’ as possible in place, especially regarding mask-wearing and behaviour in crowded indoor spaces and large outdoor events. The English government has been keen to lift as many restrictions as possible, encouraging a return to office work, abandoning mask wearing, and freeing social and school situations from Covid mitigations. It is all a matter of ‘self selection’ now, and individual freedom of choice.
And the countrywide map for Feb. 5th clearly shows the impact of the different approaches!

Covid map February 5th 2022
UK Covid map for February 5th 2022

The lighter the colour, the lower the rate of both infection and transmission.
Personally the impact of Omicron has been to return Mike and I to stricter self-isolation, and upgrading our masks from n95 to n99 (FFP2 to FFP3). Outings are almost exclusively for shopping trips, early in the morning when the shops are reasonably empty of customers!
Storm Arwen has curtailed our usual patterns of exercise, as most of the places we visit to walk and take photographs are closed due to the storm damage of last November/December. And they will probably remain closed for most of the year! This is making big problems for us both, as two years of the pandemic has had an impact on our general health and our muscles and general stamina.

speed and rain

Our outings are mainly shopping trips, and I do tend to shoot through the car windscreen as we drive along, whatever the weather! Here I merged several shots to add the sense of speed.

Snow through the window

And when the weather is too bad to tempt me outdoors with some cameras, I can record the view through the windows. Here I was shooting with an iPhone. A typically grey and sunless day. As the snow hit the window it melted, adding a nicely cold and wet feeling to the scene.
There have been so many days with the same leaden grey skies this February! It does make the world indoors much more appealing!

So I have spent more time focussed on indoor creative pursuits – both photography (on Flickr) and watercolour painting.

My Xmas blue Segawa vase

I’ve begun collecting some wonderful miniature vases by Yuta Segawa – hand-thrown, and so very small. I’ve spent plenty of time shooting them. The smallest of flowers will set off their delicacy!

My Xmas white Segawa vase

This is the tiniest one I have, and pure white. With a few dried hydrangea flowers it seems to float.
And I do search out flowers from the local supermarket ……

beauty of tulips out of season

….. they brighten the house, and lift the mood, glowing in the occasional winter sunshine. These yellow tulips remind me that Spring will return … maybe soon?

white roses in the sun

When I buy flowers I tend to hang on to them, and gradually as the blossoms fade I find a few that still look fresh. So smaller and smaller vases are used until, like this, a small maple syrup jar suffices to show them off!

On to March, and the hope Spring!
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2022 January

calendar January 2022
My Calendar cover for January 2022

Yes. Year three of the Covid-19 pandemic begins. It has been such a long journey since November/December 2019 when we first read about a virulent new virus causing concern in Wuhan, China …. then January 2020 when we found it was here in Aberdeenshire, brought back from Italy by someone returning from a ski holiday in the Italian Alps.
It is hard to recall just how innocent, how ignorant we were of what might lie ahead as the new decade began! So how does the world look as 2022 begins?

In pandemic terms the Westminster government is yet again trying to suggest that the pandemic is over … well NEARLY. Desperate for some ‘good news’ it is repeating the mistakes of last year by trumpeting the next “Freedom Day” of no face masks and back to work in the office.
The reason for this (looked at with a cynical eye) is to divert the populace away from the ocean of lies, corruption and sleaze that is engulfing Boris Johnson and his government. It is difficult to find a way to summarise this … Partygate, lying (both to the Commons and the people), bullying and intimidation of MPs … just a tiny taste of the sewer that the ‘national’ government has become. It is being revealed day after day. Desperate attempts to shore up the government mean that throwing vulnerable citizens under the Covid bus is just one plan to divert attention away from the mess they are in. Declare the pandemic over – compare it to a winter ‘flu once again.

And where am I personally as the year begins? Well my energy seems to have shrunk to the size of a walnut! I guess 2 years of constant stress and anxiety would be enough of a problem for the ME/PVS (Post Viral Syndrome) my body has had to live with over the past 30 years. I used to avoid the annual ‘flu jab because it took months to recover from the after-effects. But Covid has redrawn the map! Now I have had 2 ‘flu jabs and 3 Covid jabs. I guess the answer is right there! And since the booster jab of Pfizer I have had some strange side-effects such as alterations to my sense of taste. Nori, which I love, became quite horrible. This winter’s ‘flu jab was administered at the same time as the booster shot, and the arm muscle involved has remained painful – even now – 3+ months after the jab.

So I find very little energy for my creative drive. Even back-pedalling on the housework, and neglecting the garden, I find myself sinking into watching DVDs or recorded TV programmes rather than beginning my painting for the year! And endless card games on my iPhone take the time I used to spend reading poetry, or books on Cezanne, or my only magazine on B+W photography. My eating is chaotic, with far too much sweet (cakes and chocolates) and little salad and fresh fruit! So I have a mountain to climb to get myself back on track!

It is only slowly, as the end of the month approaches, that I feel able to take some tentative steps towards what was ‘normal’ in 2021, or further back in 2020, and even pre-pandemic times. I sourced a ‘new’ vintage lens on eBay, and now have a second Meyer Optik Gorlitz lens – this time a closer Domiplan 50mm. Not expensive, and very like the Helios range, but giving an hexagonal bokeh light ball. And I am beginning the year by brushing up on my photographic skills.
Something I can do every day, especially in the early morning, is to step outside and shoot the dawn from the garden. It is often the most interesting and colourful time of the day.

morning sunrise

In winter a stunning dawn like this can resolve into a grey, overcast day. So the zoom of my RX10m3 is by the door, to catch the ‘lightshow’ that welcomes the morning!

Misty winter world

The other photogenic morning offering is the early mist. Here I tried out the new Domiplan 50 lens outdoors. Focusing on something as insubstantial as the mist across the howe is quite demanding of any lens!

And indoors I’ve been using the Domiplan 50mm as my ‘go-to’ lens. I find it’s the best way to learn a new lens, to have it to hand as much as possible, and shoot anything and everything that catches my eye. Looking at the results later on the PC monitor I can discard disappointing shots, but all of them build up my knowledge of what are the strengths and weaknesses of a lens.

fading yellow tulip

The remnants of a vase of yellow tulips, caught in the sunshine and reflected on the wooden table surface.
The hexagonal bokeh in the window was a delight.

glass and light

A ‘grab the camera’ moment as the sun caught some glass photo props before I put them away! I was about to finish for the day … and prepare some lunch.

One of the few remaining ‘normal’ activities we have is the weekly shopping trip to Inverurie. The range of shops we visit is reduced to just two, and has been since the early days of the pandemic. It makes for a quick ‘exposure’ with masks and sanitiser …. early in the day before the shops are crowded. But there is a bonus to the early start, especially in the winter, as it means we drive through the dawn! We drive into the sunrise as we go, and the sun is behind us as we return. Both effects can create beautiful photographs!

January dawn

As the daily ‘light show’ of the dawn unfolds before our eyes, there is the chance of the sky silhouetting the trees by the roadside. Irresistible for me with my Sony RX100 – which is perfect for such ‘drive by’ shots.

On the road with lenticular clouds

By the time the shopping is done, the day has opened up, and with the low winter sun at our backs we can take in the full glory of the world we live in. I’ve recently learned that the clouds we often see here are called Lenticular and can look like rolls of cotton wool.

By the middle of January we made our first (short) trip to the coast – the first since last April! The day was grey and cold, but we missed being able to walk by the sea and enjoy the freedom to exercise in fresh air, walk on the sand, and feel the power of the sea as it meets the shore. The damage inflicted by Storm Arwen has closed our local exercise places, Fyvie Castle and Leith Hall, so the sea is the only space that is open to us.
As it turned out we found that Storm Arwen has robbed us of our usual seaside spots too! The road to Banff Scotstown was closed off, with nowhere to park. so we couldn’t even park and investigate on foot!

Banff Bay January 2022

I had to shoot Banff Bay from above, fighting a gale as I tried to catch the sea with my new lens! It was beautiful, but I couldn’t stay long, as standing upright was a battle in itself!

We decided to try Portsoy, further up the coast. If the sea was too wild and windy, then the shelter of Little Loch Soy might be a place we could stretch our legs and get some exercise. We discovered that Storm Arwen had marked even Little Loch Soy, with trees destroyed, and only freshly cut tree stumps remaining in some places.
I had decided to take my Lensbaby Double Glass lens with me, as it too had been languishing over the past few months. At least I could try for some interesting lens effects, if the day was grey and the lochside walk was dull!

Little Loch Soy with Lensbaby

As it happened the Lensbaby did transform the dull day into something more magical! Back home I took 3 Lensbaby shots and wove them into a wintery wonderland. It is amazing what the Lensbaby can create!

tulip petal

Back home I played with the Lensbaby indoors. With macro rings I can get in really close. There are lovely swirling patterns the lens can create with a fallen tulip petal and stamens, on pebble glass.

As the month progressed we continued to slowly clear up the damage from Storm Arwen. So many branches brought down in the garden, and debris together with leaves needing to be hauled up to the recycling centre in Turriff. As the month drew to a close we were warned of another severe storm arriving. The closing weekend was going to be graced with not one but two storms – Storm Malik and Storm Corrie. So before the worst began to hit Aberdeenshire we returned to the coast and treated ourselves to fish and chips by the sea at Whitehills.

Banff from across the Bay

The weather was already becoming wild and stormy, so we ate in the comfort of the car before venturing out to catch the surf breaking on the rocks. As it happened this was the quiet before the real storm arrived!

Storm Malik

An online capture of the two storms! We waited for power cuts, and for trees in the garden to be brought down, but we were lucky and survived with just more debris to clear away!

And so the month draws to a close with us feeling battered and bruised and very tired! Anxiously waiting for both storms to pass, and wondering how we could run our generator with 70+ mph gales battering us. We look forward to a more peaceful February, and are in need of time to rest and recover!

On to February, and the hope of calmer weather!
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2021 November

Autumn colours in the trees
Our only sunny morning trip to Fyvie Castle is rewarded

November is ushered in with a heavy heart – the prospect of another winter struggling with Covid. This will be the third winter, and there is a feeling of Deja Vu all over again. We have had both the Covid booster and the annual ‘flu vaccine – both administered together, one in each arm! So we have the maximum protection possible. But we remain very cautious about exposure to the virus, and continue to limit social contact, continue to wear masks, continue to use hand sanitisers etc.
The NHS is still struggling, and most staff are completely exhausted. The situation is far from rosy!

Looking back on 2021, we have been more limited in many ways than we were in 2020. Much of the limitation has been due to our own health conditions. The knock-on effect of 2020 Shielding and Lockdowns has impacted our physical well-being. Muscles that are not used will weaken – and we have suffered and failed to keep the strength and mobility we had pre-pandemic. It is a downward spiral that it is hard to correct when we are still limited.
But nature continues to raise our spirits, and we went to photograph the autumn leaves at Fyvie on the 8th.

A golden carpet of leaves

We had some stormy days at the start of the month, so we were pleasantly surprised to see so many vibrant colours still on display.

Still glowing golden

In a sheltered corner the full glory of autumn gold remains. The colours are wonderfully intense.

Auchterless village in B+W
Strong shadows make an ideal B+W composition of our village

Though I don’t usually process a lot of shots into mono …. this one of returning home to the village seemed to ‘sing’ in Black and white! Late autumn and winter are the time of the year when the low sun makes long, strong shadows.

collage of one dawn

November can be a spectacular month of colour – like a final display of fireworks before the more monotone winter arrives.
So when there was a Flickr challenge to create a photo collage … I decided to offer one early morning shoot in our own garden.

Some of the shots are across the howe/valley to the hillside behind which the sun is rising. There are stands of trees where crows nest, and they will rise in clouds to greet the sun! Further along are 5 massive turbines. And turning to look back at the house I can see the dawn reflected in the curtained windows. This particular morning I went out to shoot the frost on the car windshield … so I included two of the frost patterns! Then as I was coming in, a skein of geese flew overhead, flying south for the winter, and making a noise as they flew. And finally as I shut the glass front door I caught the dawn colours through the reeded glass. 10 minutes later the wonderful colours were gone, and the greyness of November took over!

So, as the cold weather closes in I find more time for both painting and still life photography – both indoor pursuits!
Earlier this year I found a source for miniature hand thrown vases. They are exquisite, and I love to feature them in my photographic work ….

Miniature vase and leaves

Summing up autumn in a few tiny leaves. I love the simplicity of these tiny vases, with beautiful glazes. They fit perfectly with my taste for macro photography!

Miniature vase with ribbon

Thinking of the festivities to come. For us December is an entire month of celebrations, as all our major anniversaries happen in December – so togther with Xmas and Hogmanay it is a month packed with things to celebrate!

Then as the month seemed to be coming to a peaceful close ….

Friday November 26th and Storm Arwen arrives
We had warnings of a fierce storm bringing severe gales all down the North East coast of Scotland … and that is us! The storm arrived in the early afternoon and knocked out the entire power supply for our area.
So, as the bitter cold brought temperatures close to freezing, we struggled to find alternative sources of light, heat, and cooking. The mobile phone network is down also – so we rely on our landline and an old ‘analogue’ handset for communications with the outside world. Ironically we have invested in a new generator as a back-up … but it is not functional yet. A week later and we would have been in a much better position!

Saturday November 27th and the winds abate.
Still no sign or hint as to when the power might be back on. Every suggested time passed with no sign of power. There are hundreds of thousands of homes without power, so the outlook for us is bleak! When the wind permitted we surveyed the damage to home and garden. Only one tree has been brought down so far. But it threatens a small wall – so we tried to remove some of the branches, to minimize the strain on the wall. A second night trying to cope with room temperatures of 13c.

Sunday November 28th and it gets colder
Day 3 dawned with snow to add to the weather picture! There are still many thousands of homes without power. Hope of power being restored today is fading. As we have no shop in the village, and 15 or 30 mile round trips to shops, we rely on well-stocked freezers and fridges for our food supply. No power for days can end is a food disaster. We are heating one bedroom and the kitchen … we have only 2 calor gas heaters for the whole house. We hope there is enough fuel for the camping gas portable 2-ring cooker, but of course we are limited as to what we can cook, and uncertain as to when the camping gas will run out!

Monday November 29th and there’s no reliable news
Day 4 and we wake to bedroom temperatures of 13c. It is sub zero outside and there is snow on the ground. As usual we look out of the windows at complete blackness. No hint of a light anywhere, and no tell-tale brightness beyound the hills to suggest nearby villages are back on the power grid. Another day of trying to eke out our diminishing resources. Last we heard there are still over 24,000 homes cut off. I doubt we will see any power today.
Evening and Radio Scotland have an interview with someone in the know (at last!!) who says they are almost complete with the high voltage network repairs, and then ‘the rest’ will be tackled. Another 2 days of no power looms /0\ WHY oh WHY didn’t they tell us the truth in the first place?!?!?!
If they had said …. “You are looking at anything up to a week – maybe longer” – then we could have planned better! BUT NO …. every day we spent half an hour on the phone waiting to find out what was going on – and if we got through to a human being they seemed to know less that we did … and the mantra was always “the power should be back on by 10.30 tonight”. It NEVER was. And as the days passed the 30 minute wait on the phone just offered a ‘ring back’ that never came.

Tuesday November 30th and we light our fire
Day 5 and the day begins with a temperature above freezing. Last night we finally decided that we will have to revive the open fire! It means a cold session emptying the shed to get at the stored grate, coal scuttles, fire-guard etc. It is some years since we needed an open fire! Happily we had the chimney swept recently.
So by mid-morning this end of the house is finally warm and I am typing this in front of a log fire \0/ It feels better to be able to sit in another room! I could have done this days ago!
Lunch time and Lucy called to tell us that there is a free hot meal available at the Village Hall. So we had fish and chips for lunch, and we have soup as well, which will give us supper too! Suddenly there is a smile on our faces!
To complete the story of Storm Arwen I’ll start December on this page. December began with us looking at more days without power.
It was Day 6 of our ongoing ordeal and the fridges are too warm to be of any use. We’ve moved the contents into a shed which is colder. Of course it means getting cold ourselves to bring items indoors!

break out the log fire

Finally we decided that none of the news releases by our electricity company, SSEN, could be trusted.
“Reconnected by 10.30 tonight” was just face-saving lies!
So we emptied the shed in the sub-zero dawn to get what we needed for lighting the open fire. And huddled close to its warmth.

SSEN finally arrives in our village

Then, suddenly in the morning the field across from our house was filling with men, vehicles and equipment from SSEN! The first sign of activity in 6 days! Was rescue at hand?

By nightfall on Wednesday we were reconnected, and warmth and light were restored!
It had been a long 6 days, and slowly through the month of December we will absorb the lessons learned from the experience of Storm Arwen, and prepare for future events that will leave us powerless! We need to ‘winterise’ and ‘power-proof’ ourselves and our home. So we are giving Christmas a miss this year, and stocking up on the essentials we need to survive in our power-hungry world, when everything is cut off!

So – on to December, Picking up the pieces – and winter arrives with Omicron.
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Hands-On Watercolours 3

in the style of Cezanne AK
Study in the style of Cezanne, from Angelika Khan Leonhard

In the style of Cezanne

My next move was to experiment using the things I was learning about Cezanne’s techniques and palette. Could I take the bare bones of an idea he sketched out, and develop it myself? Taking away the colour, the paint, and just with a hint of outlines from a minimal drawing. There is so much in there, just waiting to be developed. He had an eye for extracting the essentials.

Cezanne painted sketch of tree

I started by making a pencil drawing of this painted sketch. The motif of the lone tree, the viaduct and the distant mountains that merge into the sky. Using the motif I began with faint pencil lines …..

based on a Cezanne sketch

…. and the minimal Cezanne palette. I did several versions – some thinking of the colours that I am more likely to see locally here in the north of Scotland and then thinking about how to create the sense of volume in the foliage, or the sense of the receding landscape to give depth.

Only then did I look back at the original and see where my decisions and thinking were different. Later I used them in another experiment, blending them with landscape photographs of my own.

blended watercolour and photo

Here I blended one version of the tree with a view across the Moray Firth. It was the sense of the receding landscape that made me think of the shots I take looking along the receding coastline here.

Might the foreground tree add something, and make something interesting?

Cezanne pencil sketch of tree

Some of Cezanne’s drawings are so fleeting, so minimal that they are compelling and tantalising. There is a whole world of possibilities that I am just beginning to explore!

One thing that I learned was how Cezanne created harmonies by using the same colours and tones across the ‘canvas’. He built up an image using layers upon layers with slight tonal differences, that create both depth and also a unity that makes the whole visually satisfying.
My early experiments are both minimal and very simple! But faced with a blank sheet of paper it soon becomes apparent that you need a clear idea of where you want to go!

in the style of Cezanne 1

So I am off on my own, with the merest hint of a tree or two. A hint of foreground and more distance across the water.

experiments in the style of Cezanne

The same outlines, but in reverse. Again trying for a unity across the page – a sense of foliage and sky, of the solidity of the earth …. and using Payne’s Grey (a lovely grey with a hint of blue)on a fine rigger brush to suggest the lines of the trees.

Tree trunks watercolour

And starting to use more solid trees and tree trunks from my own landscape, but keeping the touches gentle and soft, and as simple as possible.

Ah – that magic word simple. We tend to think of simplifying something as making it easier. But the kind of simplification that Cezanne is a master of is, in fact, a complex and subtle process that is learned and refined over years! How to ‘simplify’ a landscape yet keep the spirit, shape and essence of what you are seeing – and then translate it into a painted image that is not just a version of a photograph. That is no simple task!
I came across a handbook that has proved useful in this process of simplifying …..

Book cover Angelika Khan-Leonhard

The header image of this page is my version of this cover image. The book takes a fully realised Cezanne landscape and breaks it down into steps – applying layers of colour across the canvas. Then some details from the image are looked at more closely.

Using the original palette (and even the brushes) it is a useful way to get to grips with his technique, copying and the giving other images the ‘Cezanne treatment’. These exercises are a good way to expand my understanding of his way of working and thinking. But sooner or later I need to choose a palette for myself, and look into the full range of watercolour paints that are available now….

On to Watercolour 4 – Choose a palette – cutting the ties!
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Hands-On Watercolours 1

cover Cezanne
Cezanne watercolours

As I approach watercolour painting for a second time, after a long break, why have I chosen Cezanne as my guide and teacher? Well, his watercolours are mainly either landscape or still life – the two areas I am interested in. Yes – but it’s more than that.
He painted hundreds of watercolours, but rarely displayed any. Maybe he thought they were inconsequential (in his day watercolour was seen as a second-rate medium) – maybe he used them to think about a subject – maybe they were a personal passion, and private. I can’t say. But to me they are more ‘alive’, more vibrant than his finished oil works. To me they express his soul in a way that moves me, and I want to learn from them.
But I need to dig deeper into why they draw me, and leave me breathless in admiration.
If I look at the photographic work I do, there may be some clues. The camera lens can do so much. A macro lens can show details that escape the naked eye. A landscape lens can record the scene before me accurately. Specialist lenses like the Lensbaby can distort the image in surprising ways. I enjoy all of those capabilities, but I don’t want to reproduce them in paint! But some of the qualities and effects I seek through the lens do resonate when I look at a Cezanne watercolour:

Cezanne landscape

Minimalism
He can take a landscape and extract the essence of the scene. With delicate strokes he can suggest an entire landscape with a minimum of paint.

Cezanne water-melons

Light
The paper is rarely if ever covered in paint. The white of the paper shines through, and allows the subject room to ‘breathe’…. to suggest rather than reproduce the subject in detail.

Cezanne Still life on a table

Use of colour
The closer you look, the more you realise that the colour choices he makes are quite amazing. And the variations in tint and brightness make the subject vibrate and sing!

These are just three of the things that draw me to study Cezanne. I want to discover how he can paint a watermelon, an onion, a knife or a carafe and be both a suggestion – an impression – and also jump off the page as so alive I feel I could reach out and touch it!

So some research was called for! I needed to find out how he created the watercolours, and then start to study them carefully!

Cezanne palette colours

Luckily I came across some information about the palette he used. It comprised just 3 colours – lemon yellow, cobalt blue, rose madder (genuine). To save having to mix them each time – I added yellow ochre and burnt umber.

Cezanne palette

And I made up a small box of the same colours. OK I added one of my own favourites – Payne’s grey for darker lines. The plan was (and still is) to work on copying Cezanne using his palette.

On to Watercolour 2 – Study and learn through copying
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2021 April

plum blossom
The Japanese plum tree is usually a mass of pink by now – but winter is still with us!

April is the cruellest month! How right T S Eliot was!
Winter continues unabated – sub zero nights and cold days have dominated April 2021. The plum blossom is almost completely killed on the Japanese flowering plum tree by the gate. Usually the tree turns into a pink delight in April, but this year there are just a few random pink dabs among the bare branches! The new green buds on the hydrangeas and azaleas are blackened and blighted too. It is indeed cruel! There is more hail than snow, and the high winds sweeping down from the Arctic are driving the hail off the large field behind the house, and into our garden, building up against the house, and into our faces when we open the back door!

winter in April
The garden is full of the snow and hailstones blown off the field behind the house!

By the middle of the month the snow has been replaced by overnight frosts and bright sunny days. Better than the constant snow and hail, but the weather pattern is still so very cold, even at midday. The blue skies are very welcome, and the sun is hot through the window glass – but it is deceptive! And there is now no rainfall at all – so the land that has been soaked all autumn and frozen solid all winter is now too dry for the Spring planting to germinate properly.

winter sunset in Spring
It looks more like midwinter than April!

On the personal front we have managed to continue to do some of our own grocery shopping. The lockdown together with the vaccine roll-out has seen a welcome and reassuring fall in infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths. There is now a Covid Dashboard provided by PH Scotland that shows cases by Local Government areas, and within each area too. So we can check to see how safe the places we wish to visit are.
It is a strange world when the freedom to enter a shop and choose my own fruit and vegetables is a real treat! What used to be a regular chore has become a mark of returning normality, and real delight to look forward to!

April 14th – and another milestone. We both get our second vaccination jag!
That is only 8 weeks since the first, and we were expecting to wait another month. So now we only need to wait another 3 weeks to ensure the antibodies have built up fully. Early May will be so good!
No ill effects from the 2nd AZ shot – a mild ‘flu’ feeling for a day, but not even a sore arm!

April 26th – and there is a lot of easing of restrictions, both for travel, meeting others, and for opening up of shops, cafes and pubs. The emphasis is on outdoor meetings and venues as these first tentative steps test how effective the lock-down and vaccine roll-out have been.

But most of these changes are not affecting us two, as cold winter weather continues to make indoors most appealing! So I have been enjoying shooting anything and everything that I can find lying around in my studio! Catching the fleeting moments of sunshine, and celebrating the feeling that the year of constant stress might be loosening its grip…

feather and hydrangea
Feather and hydrangea, one of my many ‘odds and sods’ shots.

I call this slightly frivolous excursion into random still-life shots my Flickr Odds and Sods album, and am happily adding to it as often as I can!

tiny medicine bottles
Some of my tiny antique medicine bottles – as a monochrome
feather and stone
Feather and stone, one of my many ‘odds and sods’ shots.

And before April ended we managed another trip to Fyvie Castle and grounds, to see if the new green of Spring had finally managed to emerge. This time I took a Sony NEX-7 with the magical Zeiss Makro E 50mm F2.8 lens. Usually used for close macro photography, I have discovered it is a wonderful landscape lens too!

Spring at Fyvie loch
Spring is finally showing the first signs of new fresh green!

To round off April with the photography I’ve posted on Flickr, here is the collage of my online month.

collage of shots for April 2021
The collage of shots taken and uploaded for April 2021

April ends the way it began, with driving hail and freezing temperatures.

And on to May, and has Spring arrived .. at long last?
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© 2021 Elisa Liddell

2021 January

spectacles
Lines and patterns in the ordinary moments we often overlook.

As January begins we are in a worse place with COVID than we ever expected to be! The virus is mutating, and the more it spreads, the more opportunities it has to create variants that will make it more successful. We have vaccines already rolling out, but mass vaccination is a daunting and long process – and all the while there is the threat of a mutation that the vaccines cannot combat. Our current mutation (B 1.1.7 – the Kent variant) is thwarting all attempts to contain it. It is filling the hospitals to overflowing, and with a younger age profile than we have seen.

Covid statistics
How the new variant COVID is changing the vulnerable age-group profile

Those aged 60+ are highly vulnerable now, not just the 80+. So we start the year with an almost total lock-down across mainland Scotland, reinforced with travel bans entering or leaving the country. Needless to say the general background stress level is high, even though we, personally, are as well protected as possible. The change in the age profile has lifted us both into an earlier group of the vaccine. Hopefully February will see us getting the first dose.

Sunrise and the tree line
Morning across the howe, a sigh that never fails to delight!

So, while keeping track of the local and national progress of the pandemic, I am trying to keep a clear eye and close focus on the beauty that lies all around me, and close at hand! We’ve had some wonderful red dawns … and I grab a camera and capture the view as the sun rises over the far hillside! The weather has been cold since the start of the year, with overnight deep freezes that mean icy roads and some freezing fog too.

freezing fog on the road
Ice and fog, a dangerous but magical mixture.

Before the lock-down we drove to Inverurie to fill up the car at our nearest ‘pay-at-the-pump’ filling station. The ice and fog made for a beautiful sight but a treacherous drive!
And January 7th and 8th saw our first real snow event of the winter!

Night snow
The snow caught in the night street light – hypnotic!

It started overnight, and the street light allowed me to watch the snow swirling as it fell silently. I wondered if it would all be gone by the morning …..

sunlight on the snow
The pristine world when the day dawns and the sun shines.

…. but the delight of sunshine and crisp dry snow made a white wonderland of our world!
As the month progressed we see-sawed between deep freeze and torrential rain. The ground was either a muddy mess or a frozen muddy mess!
So I decided that it made good sense to look for some inspiration in the garden, and began shooting some things I usually overlook. One of these is our crab apple tree. The blossom is gorgeous in Springtime, but the fruit is usually ignored, both by the birds and by me too! I brought indoors a few of the last apples hanging tenaciously to the tree …..

crab apples
Shooting the winter garden and looking closer at the humble crab-apples

And we finally DID make a few trips to Tesco in Inverurie! We needed to fill both cars with petrol, and it is the only ‘pay-at-the-pump’ place we know. And along with the petrol I also raided the store for fresh cut flowers. They lift my spirits so much with their beauty, and also inspire me to reach for my camera and my paintbrushes.

chrysanthemum on the table
Chrysanthemum on the table – my first fresh flowers since January

Then, just before the month ended, we drove to Fyvie Castle. It is under 5 miles if we drive the narrow road over the hill – but with snow and icy roads we took the longer route using the main road. There is still lockdown, and the request is not to leave home, but there comes a point where the need for exercise and fresh air is paramount. Regular exercise keeps the muscles in shape, and that is essential. And our village only offers one pavement to walk along – and walking on concrete is not good if you have a bad back or hip!
So we took cameras, and went to see if the grounds remained open during this lockdown! They were indeed open, but the parking area was closed as it was too icy to approach. We managed to walk across the lawns, all icy and crunching underfoot. I took an infrared camera, wanting to see how winter looked through the IR lens.

infrared trees at Fyvie
Our first visit of the year to Fyvie Castle grounds, caught in Infrared.

We couldn’t do much, as the grounds were so icy and slippery. Even the loch was frozen! But the visit was a real tonic – and along with the flowers it marked a high point of January.

collage for January 2021
The images I uploaded to Flickr through the month of January 2021

And so to the collage of all the shots – indoors and outdoors – that I posted to Flickr this month. In 2020 I used these monthly collages as the page header. As a change I think I might use them as a ‘footer’ instead of a ‘header’ from time to time!

And on to February, and the roll-out of the vaccine, and a story of snow!
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© 2021 Elisa Liddell

2020 September

September 2020 collage
My collage of all the photos and images I uploaded to Flickr during September 2020

We started month 7 of our pandemic experience with bright sunshine and the determination to get out and about as much as possible! So September 1st saw us driving to Fyvie Castle grounds for fresh air and photo opportunities.
When Mike is driving I usually shoot my ‘drive-bys’ of the countryside as we pass. With today’s smartphones taking such good qualty shots, I often use mine rather than an actual camera! Here we are climbing up the steep hillside out of the howe of the Ythan.
The barley has been harvested, and the fields are ready for hay baling. This croft and the trees on the horizon are a feature of the landscape we see from our house. But I rarely get to catch such a goood, close-up shot! And yes, that angle really is accurate, the hillside is steep!

hillside croft
climbing the hillside out of the howe

I took an unusual combination of cameras and lenses – an old Eastern European lens, the Meyer Optik (known now as the ‘bokeh monster’) and an old Nikon D90 which has been converted to shoot only in the infrared range. This one has the gentle 720nm filter, and was my very first infrared converted camera, and my way into the whole IR world!
[more about my adventures in IR here]
Trees are a special subject for me, and together with catching the play of light, a great obsession when I am photographing outdoors.

Infrared sunshine and trees
Sunshine and trees at Fyvie Castle, caught in infrared.

The infrared light range turns the greens of the grass and leaves white, which makes the foliage very delicate, and also makes for a scene that looks like winter!

Fyvie castle walk in infrared
Fyvie castle walk, and driveway, caught in infrared

Branches, tree trunks and tarmac give wonderfully contrasting dark tones. We can walk down this driveway, listening to the pigeons cooing, and the leaves rustling, and the cares of the world seem far away.

Autumn leaves in the sunshine
Autumn leaves caught in the sunshine

This time in colour, with the heavy Meyer Optik lens. It can really capture the rich colours of the autumn leaves. As September began the autumn colours were just beginning to appear. We had fingers crossed that there would be a sunny dry month ahead, to give us the best of the flaming reds and rich golds as the leaves turned.
And a week later we were back to see how the colours were progressing …

across the loch at Fyvie Castle
Across the loch at Fyvie Castle, Aberdeenshire

This time with a Canon 70D and another old lens attached – a Russian Helios 44-2. The Canon is not my usual camera – I use mainly Sony. So I struggle with this 70D!
But the views of the loch and the trees are always beautiful and so calming. I think this year, more than before, we value the therapeutic effect of our trips out. Instead of thinking only in terms of exercise and photography, we now find the added value of reducing the stress levels, and refreshing our spirits.

As we picked out more calm days with the promise of sunshine, we went adventuring up the coast twice during September – once to Banff Bay, and then further up the coast to Cullen, both favourite haunts we had missed through the long lock-down months!
We rarely have the luxury of choosing times when the tide is in or out … we need to go in the morning when our energy is ‘in’. By lunch-time it is most definitely ‘out’ and we need to head home for a siesta!
Banff Bay found us enjoying the sand as the sea retreated ……

The beach at Banff Bay
The beach at Banff Bay on a chilly September day

while Cullen found a wild (and very noisy) sea delighting us with crashing waves.

Cullen Bay stormy weather
Cullen Bay with the waves crashing. Wild and noisy!

We kept true to our plan, and visited the grounds of Leith Hall twice in September too. It was exactly a year since we were last there! This time entering the Walled Garden we met our first sign of Covid changes, with a one-way system to walk around and a reminder to ‘social distance’. On our second visit we found some of the gates we often use to access the top levels of the gardens were locked. We met almost no other people as we wandered around with our cameras … glad at least, and at last to be able to enjoy the fresh air and the gardens.

Leith Hall
Leith Hall nestling among the trees

The Hall looks as majestic as ever. I’m not sure if it is open to the public again, but our main delight lies in the tree walks, the flower gardens and the wonderful views.

Leith Hall autumn colours
The autumn colours at Leith Hall. Shot with the Lensbaby

The autumn colours were showing in some of the trees. This one is close to the huge rock garden, which is being rescued, rebuilt and re-planted according to original plans recently found at the Hall.
So September had the feel of sunshine, the outdoors, visits to favourite haunts, and a whole lot of photographs!
But that was not all. At home we had a surprise with the best harvest of plums we’ve had for years.

the plum harvest
2020 has been a bumper year for our plums!

We are aware that the single Victoria plum tree we have is now over 20 years old, and maybe past its best in producing plums. Some years the frosts kill the flowers in Spring, some years there is not enough rain, or too much – not enough sun or too much. So a sudden bumper harvest was a great surprise and delight. Home grown plums, fresh from the tree, taste so good! We collected a bowl like this every day or two for about two weeks.

But of course I can’t look back on September without reference to the pandemic!

This month saw the biggest gamble, as it was decided that schools, colleges and universities had to open again. It began with schools. Here in Scotland we start the school year a few weeks before the rest of the UK, so we were the first to try out opening up our schools, both Primary and Secondary. Personally we looked on with sinking hearts, as young children are notorious spreaders of infections. Is coronavirus so different? And teenagers and college students are the least likely groups to follow the guidelines on social distancing and avoiding crowds! But the ‘science’ said differently … at least in September! But as the month ended there were signs of infection rates picking up. October might prove to be a difficult month!

On to October and autumn arrives.
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© 2020 Elisa Liddell