2022 June

Calendar for June 2022
Calendar for June 2022

June has been a month of recovery! It is month 3 of our major undertaking of the year. We are both ‘disabled’ by long term health problems, and have a very meagre energy supply. So we live very restricted and limited lives, and only maintain a balance by carefully monitoring our energy output. For me it is crucial, as long term ME/Post Viral Syndrome is so similar to Long Covid …. as the world wakes up to what we have known for decades … that viruses can do long term and irreparable damage to the human body! Fatigue is not a new concept to me, it is what I’ve lived with for decades!
So April saw us preparing for Laurie’s visit from the USA – May was the month Laurie was here – and now June has been the month of recovering. Energy is very low – an energy drought that is echoing the water drought across Aberdeenshire – so staying at home is the best idea all round! We have had deliveries of groceries rather than driving to Inverurie and shopping for ourselves. So my photography has been home based, with indoor still life photography replacing the usual summer visits to the coast and local beauty spots.

Another reason for staying home is Covid. The latest versions of the virus (BA.4 and BA.5) are still very active and growing in numbers both locally and nationally – Scotland is always the worst figures of the 4 nations. I follow Aberdeenshire quite closely, and we began June with a recorded 350 cases (134.2 per 100,0000) peaking at 996 on the 26th and ended the month with 868 cases (332.8 per 100,0000). In May I had my second booster shot, but Mike has not been offered one, so we are super-careful this summer.

And as June progressed the garden has blossomed, growing apace despite the meagre rainfall. It has been neglected this year, as the growing season has coincided with us focussing on Laurie’s visit and the preparations. So weeds abound, the honeysuckle is running rampant, and the dandelions are thriving! But we do have some surprises and delights in the mix too.
I’ve tried to grow clematis over the years and always failed. Last year I planted 6 along the bare ranch fence in the back garden.

The clematis fence

In the Spring everything looked dead, but then they started growing from the ground up. By early June at least 4 were looking promising with plenty of buds ….

the clematis fence 2

And by the end of the month the fence is a blaze of blossoms, both purple and pink. I’m told they are ‘Clematis Pink Champagne’. I am just so thrilled that they have managed to thrive in our northern climate!

clematis flower

Needless to say I managed to bring indoors some of the beautiful clematis flowers so I could shoot them!
Here one flower, in the sunshine, shot with the Lensbaby Double Glass and macro ring.

a white peony

Buying flowers from the supermarket is becoming a very occasional treat now, as prices of everything sky-rocket! But I did indulge in a small bunch of peonies, something I can’t grow here.

physalis or Peruvian groundcherry

One thing I did add to my range of planters was 2 physalis plants. I have them indoors and they are thriving and growing rather tall! They are a new venture for me … I’ll see how they do. I’d love to be able to grow my own!

tree cutting

On a more sombre note about ‘growing tall’ we have had to cut down our tallest tree, an alder. If we are to expect gales like Storm Arwen this coming winter, then this is the tree most likely to succumb, and damage house and garden.

signs of barns wallows

As ever, we share our house and garden with visiting barn swallows. This year we have two families busy raising their first brood. We sometimes have a second brood – so we are hoping.

Here the first eggshell I found, and an early feather. Shot with a miniature vase – with the Lensbaby.

Japanese tea

Since the last vaccination in the spring (Pfizer) I’ve found my taste buds have gone really weird. I lost my taste for Japanese food, and it has only now returned. What a delight to enjoy my favourite tea –Genmaicha Iri Matcha.

And I can’t close without referring to ….
the cost of living crisis.
Everything, but everything is shooting up in price. Food bills are creeping up week on week. And when there is no price rise we find that the quality or quantity of items has been reduced! Do they think we are idiots and don’t notice??
And our heating oil has had a 50% rise this Spring, with a bigger rise promised in the autumn. We have no gas supply in rural Scotland – and have never enjoyed a ‘price cap’ – so suppliers are free to charge whatever they want /0\
Electricity is another essential that is set to sky-rocket this autumn. So we do daily monitoring to get our usage as low as possible. Only use dishwasher once a week. PCs off unless specifically needed. Laptops and iPhones replace the PC. Lights and appliances off unless needed. It feels like wartime as describes by my parents!
Scary when you think we are in summer … winter in the north of Scotland can be brutal! So as we leave June we are feeling sombre and wondering what disasters await us as 2022 progresses …

So on to July

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2021 June

Yunomi and mochi
A Japanese Yunomi cup and a mochi snack with red bean paste.

June 2021 – in which I discover the joys of Japanese snacks, find that we are in a drought period here, and try to get a grasp on the Covid ‘Delta’ variant.

I’ve long been an admirer of many things Japanese; from their food to their philosophy and art, there are so many things to enjoy, admire, and ponder. ‘Art’ is a word that you can extend to encompass almost every aspect of Japanese life – from the tea ceremony to making paper, there is an expertise that has been developed over centuries. And recently my friend and fellow Japan admirer Laurie Kern introduced me to the taste experience of traditional Japanese ‘snacks’.
Laurie discovered two suppliers offering snack-boxes on a regular basis, each with a selection of traditional artisan-made snacks and sweets. Sakuraco supplied their April box that included the Yunomi cup and mochi in the shot I took as the header photo for June.
There are many different kinds of mochi. This one is red bean paste encased in a soft cake.
The snacks seem to be less sweet and sugary than our usual Western sweets or snacks, and the tastes are more subtle and gentle. And they are wickedly delightful and ‘more-ish’ 😊.
Each box comes with a booklet that describes each snack included, so it is a learning experience as well as a taste experience! And after sampling some of the delights of Laurie’s April box, she sent me a box of my own from another supplier, Bokksu as a surprise gift!

Bokksu Japanese snack box
My surprise present of a Bokksu Japanese snack box.

And like Sakuraco it came laden with snacks, and an accompanying booklet about each snack. No little porcelain cup this time … just delicious treats to nibble!

Momoyama Japanese snack
Japanese snack called Momoyama, which is quite delicious!

Apart from savouring the different tastes from Japan, the month of June was also one of the driest on record! After a prolonged winter that lasted through until May, we were looking for some relief for our garden. Some plants didn’t survive the winter, and those that did were blighted, with new leaves and buds blackened by constant overnight frosts. So we hoped to welcome some warmer and sunnier weather, to allow the garden to revive. It was such a blow to find week after week with no rain! We had to resort to using hosepipes to keep everything alive …..

June garden colours
The blossoms which make our garden so colourful were quickly dying due to the drought.
The back rockery
The light sandy soil doesn’t hold the water well – and strong sunshine will soon defeat the plants!

Some areas like the back rockery find that the steep slope means our light, sandy soil doesn’t hold the water well – and strong sunshine will soon defeat the plants!

And so onto the third and final part of my June Journal – the progress of the pandemic!
I saved writing about this aspect of June until the month ended, as it quickly became apparent that there was a further wave (3rd? 4th? I’ve lost count!) of Covid infections breaking on the shores of the UK – the Delta variant.
“SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant, also known as lineage B.1.617.2, is a variant of lineage B.1.617 of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. It was first detected in India in late 2020. The World Health Organization (WHO) named it the Delta variant on 31 May 2021.”
[source: Wikipedia]

I live in Scotland, so I keep an eye on the Covid statistics for Scotland, and in rural Aberdeenshire, so I track and record the statistics for my area too.
This variant was being tracked at it was even more transmissible than the Kent (Alpha) variant. And instead of closing down international travel between the UK and the Indian sub-continent, the Westminster government allowed hundreds of thousands of potentially infected travellers to enter the UK without testing or quarantine. Another political disaster, to add to the seemingly endless succession of disasters the Westminster government has inflicted on us! I despair /0\
The Indian (Delta) variant quickly took hold and throughout June it spread like a wildfire throughout the UK, especially in densely populated cities. Scotland has fared worst of all, with almost double the number of confirmed cases when compared with England.

A quick snapshot of the data here in Aberdeenshire shows the trend throughout June:
* May 31st – 22 recorded +ve cases.
That is 8.4 people infected per 100,000. And a test positivity rate of 0.4%
** June 29th – 514 recorded +ve cases.
That is 196.8 people infected per 100,000. And a test positivity rate of 5.9%
And Aberdeenshire has been one of the least badly affected areas of Scotland.

A snapshot of the state of things in mid-June. By no means as bad as it was when June finally ended! On this daily tally for June 18th we are only 54.4 per 100,000. By June 28th we were 196.8 per 100,000.

Scotland COVID June 2021
Delta variant cases in Scotland by mid June 2021

Truly horrifying and exponential growth! The figures just got worse and worse as the month went on. We became even more aware that we were guinea-pigs in a giant experiment to see how far vaccination could protect us all in the real world ‘laboratory’. Every afternoon we checked for the latest stats, and drilled down into the Aberdeenshire figures. It was the only way to find information to guide our decisions about when it might be safe to go grocery shopping, or to go out for exercise. The detailed statistics were always lagging 3 days behind, so it could only be a general guide – but it was better than nothing!

Broadly the results seem to suggest that vaccination (double vaccination) does help to protect against the severe form of Covid, as hospitalisation; intensive care numbers and registered deaths all remained low. But the infection rates for the younger and unvaccinated groups have soared, and the implications in terms of Long Covid, and longer term effects remains unclear. And as July approached we wondered about the promises from London of “Freedom Day” and a quick return to ‘normality’.

On to July – and where next for the pandemic?
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2020 June

collage for June 2020
A collection of images posted on Flickr this June 2020

So June came – month 4 of the lock-down. Not seeing family and friends was not too bad, as we are scattered, so the phone, email and Facebook activity were our main ways of staying in touch. What we missed most of all was the freedom to go and walk by the sea, and in the grounds of the local National Trust Scotland sites, along with Historic Scotland and others. We live in the middle of farming land, where there is nowhere for humans to exercise and enjoy the outdoors. Walking a potato field is not fun!

walking in the woods
Trying to find alternatives to our regular exercise/walking

Trying to find alternatives to our regular sites for exercise and fresh air became a preoccupation as the weeks of Lock-down stretched out. It’s surprising how quickly your muscles become weaker with little or no regular exercise!

Sunshine through the trees in infrared
Sunshine through the hillocks and trees in infrared

I took cameras with me wherever we went, and captured the hillocks and difficult terrain in infrared and colour too ….

view through the trees
Still searching for a place to exercise!

Another inhospitable location … difficult to walk without keeping your eyes firmly on the ground beneath your feet, as the danger of spraining or breaking your ankles was very real!
I don’t think the decision to close down the GROUNDS of the National Trust properties in rural areas like ours was a wise one. The grounds were never crowded, and they provided essential spaces for essential exercise! Even with a garden, our health was being impacted by the closing of places to walk safely!

Indoors I was having more fun, and success as I continued developing my painting. I wanted to use some of the thousands of landscape photos I have taken over the years. I don’t think I could ever find the energy and stamina to paint outdoors, so I have to rely on the photographs I take together with the memory of the observations I make at the time of shooting. So my starting point was the trees that are all around us here. It chimed perfectly with Cezanne, whose watercolours include many tree studies!
I started by using some of my infrared shots, as they can give the clearest definition of the architecture of the tree, the ‘bones’ that you often don’t see until winter strips away the leaves. Infrared reduces the foliage to white areas … which I could then paint in from memory or imagination. The idea worked quite well – but I didn’t like my attempts at the foliage!! But then I had an idea. How about putting the IR and painted pictures together, rather than just throwing my watercolour away? I had already used this technique to blend together several photographic images … how about using this technique to create such blends?

blending painting and photography
My first experiment blending painting and photography.

My first blending experiment gently wove the colours from the painting with the original infrared shot. So I pursued the idea – whenever I came across a Cezanne image that reminded me of a local scene, I tried to merge them. Here an avenue of trees at Fyvie Castle echoed an avenue of trees close to Ceazanne’s home in Aix.

blending paint and photo
My sketch based on Cezanne’s avenue, together with a photo from Fyvie

OK – a very amateurish watercolour sketch! But I liked the idea of weaving the images together!

The other ‘newcomer’ during these pandemic months has been the purchase of a Canon camera. I’m a Sony fan, and most of my cameras are Sony – so getting a Canon, even an ‘old’ EOS 70D was a big step for me. Learning the onboard computer was the biggest challenge I foresaw. There would be a learning curve, especially as I wanted to use it Manual Mode. My plan was to be able to create multiple exposure images within the camera itself. This is something Sony have not developed! So I set about learning my new camera.
I shot first of all on Auto, with the kit lens. Just shooting from the front door, looking out along the path into the garden was my first step. I then took some of the shots and blended them together in Photoshop, to get the feel of how in-camera multiple exposure might look..

3 layer image of lockdown
using the Canon 70D and layering shots

As I looked at the result I realised I had (unconsciously) summed up the feelings of lock-down.

Next I moved on Manual Mode, and attached one of the lenses I wanted to use – an old Russian Helios lens that can give wonderful colours and bokeh effects. And this when I really stepped into foreign country!
All my Sony cameras use EVF, Elecrontic Veiw Finder. I hadn’t even heard of the alternative, the OVF or Optical View Finder. But WOW! was I about to discover what OVF means in practice!
Briefly with EVF I look through the view-finder and see what the result of my shot will look like. I can adjust the settings to make everything just how I want it to look, from focus to colour and light. What I see is what I will get! But the OVF just shows you what your eye is already seeing …. NOT what the shot you take will look like! You can adjust the focus – but otherwise you are ‘flying blind’. I found myself having to take a shot, look at it, adjust the settings and try again, and again, and again – before I could take the photo I wanted.
Imagine that you are walking down a tree-lined path, with dappled light, moving from strong sunshine into quite deep shade. With EVF I would simply look and adjust the image I see until I get an optimal balance of light values before taking the shot. Maybe 15 seconds to set and reset the camera. With OVF it takes me much longer and several test shots before I can take the final shot. No way to catch a fleeting light effect, to capture a swan suddenly coming in to land on the water! It felt like regressing to a much slower and clumsier age of photography!
Whether I want to shoot using the kit lens, or a specialist lens the problem is the same – to take multiple exposures I need to work in Manual Mode. So the problem remains. I need to shoot regularly and keep refining my skills and speed to reach my goal of making in-camera multiple shots!

On to July and a lifting of some restrictions!
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