May begins and the world here turns from Spring into summer. Mostly it is overcast with few sunny days, little rain – and there is a constant cold wind. But despite that, the crab apple and the Victoria plum trees are full of white blossom, and the azaleas and rhododendrons give the garden some magnificent colour! No matter how cold it feels, the colours warm me!
Even the dark and threatening sky can’t take away from the colourful world around us. There is such a lot of rape seed planted here this year!
In the rockery the delicate acer bushes have been suffering from so little rain, so we’ve been watering them carefully to keep them growing! Caught here is a burst of late evening light.
As the month started the crab apple tree began to turn a deep pink – a sure sign the blossom is on its way. Caught in the late sun, every branch and twig is glowing with the promise of the visual delight to come.
As the weeks pass the flowers open, and the evening air is filled with a scent of almonds. Such a beautiful extravaganza of pinks and white. When the sun catches them, the delicate pinks and white of the flowers really shine.
In the wider world the rape seed and barley fields set patterns of yellow and green that fill the world. Sometimes it feels like moving through a colourful jigsaw.
The skies might be full of stormy signals, but the rainfall is still very low, sometimes nothing – at most 23 mm over an entire week.
But the garden is a riot of colour! This is the best time of year, when all the rhododendrons and azaleas are in full bloom. We planted an entire hedge of yellow Azalea Luteum some 6 years ago.
The Azalea Luteum were expensive plants, but they are the only azaleas that have a scent … and so far they have weathered all the storms and winter freezes.
And indoors? I’ve had little time for either painting or photography, as we have our friend, Laurie Kern across from America this month. But I am reading about the history of colour – fascinating!
The months of April and May have both been shaped by Laurie’s visit. It is so long since we had anyone to stay, even for a few days! So the spare room needed to be prepared, and an enormous amount of ‘stuff’ moved into loft, sheds, and other spaces!
Yes – Laurie arrived early in the month, and planned to spend 10 days walking the Moray Way, over 100 miles in all. But she fell and damaged her hip, and had to return early to rest and recover.
On our way up the coast to deliver Laurie to the start point for her walk, we called in at Cullen, and I had the chance to shoot the sea there … it’s been many months since we had that delight!
It has been such an eventful and packed month, it seems to have flown past! As we move towards June, we are planning a long rest, some time to catch up with the garden and with painting, and maybe some more outings to our coast and local beauty spots!
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
After the deluge that closed July, the whole garden has sprung into life with renewed vigour! The months of little or no rain saw the blossoms fall early, and growth severely limited. Now there is a sense of catching up with our chaotic year of 2021 – an overlong winter, cold and frosty Spring, and dry summer. Not too promising! But we even have hopes that the Victoria plums will revive and fatten – fingers are crossed! There is sense of optimism as we approach August, Covid numbers are down to quite low levels – we might finally see some summer weather – and there is the promise of some return to ‘normal’ pre-pandemic life!
High under the eaves, above my bedroom, we have the ‘homes’ of our summer visitors – barn swallows. This year they have been very busy! We suspect that their first brood didn’t survive the late and long winter, as there were no signs of new life apart from the eggshells. But since then there have been at least 2 more broods, with copious bird droppings adorning the honeysuckle that grows below them 😊 I can see the shadows of the swallows against my bedroom curtains, as they swoop up and into the nests, feeding the young. Some mornings there seem to be dozens of them circling and zooming in to the nests. I watch them with amazement! And through August we have seen a new nest, and a first brood appear under the eaves at the side of the house! They are spreading their wings – quite literally!
I was given a miniature vase years ago – a blue one I use often use, with a few small flowers, in my still life photography. I’ve never found another so small and so photogenic …. until now! They are hand-thrown and beautifuuly glazed. There’s a link here to a video of how they are made. I am having fun shooting them!
And by the middle of August I have started driving again! I need to keep my driving skills up-to-date. The very long and hard winter meant I avoided driving in such difficult conditions. Since then we have had our two Covid vaccination shots, each of them takes away energy, and has left me more tired – not good for the low energy levels from my long-term PVS/ME. But with Mike’s back problems I figure it is wise to make time and find the energy to polish up my driving. So a few early morning sessions at weekends have got me feeling safe and confident – though the energy has only taken me to Turriff a few times!
Since Laurie introduced me to the delights of Japanese snacks, cakes and pancakes I have been enjoying adding to my range of eating experiences. And I confess to being well and truly hooked! Just like here, it is the small, traditional artisan makers who produce the best flavours. This lovely delicate momoyama snack is just one example.
August has been a poor month weatherwise, with little rain to help the crops or our garden! And there has been even less sunshine – the skies have been a leaden grey most days. So we are relieved, as the month draws to a close, to finally see the small wild bees returning and swinging in the breeze on the lavender. Usually the garden is buzzing with activity, but everything is late this year – and insects, especially bees and butterflies are here in much smaller numbers.
And finally, as the month ends, I have to include a Covid reality check at the end of August.
Covid-Delta numbers quadrupled during August! Yes! We started the month feeling optimistic about the progress we had made against the Covid-Delta variant. But as August ends things are running madly out of control here!! Our schools have been back 2-3 weeks now, and colleges are ready to return. And this is all on top of a summer of football, sporting and music festivals, and now the Edinburgh festival.
Previously Aberdeenshire had seen low infection rates – but in the past month infection numbers have more than quadrupled!! August 1st – 230 cases reported a rate of 88.2 per 100,000 August 31st – 1,159 cases reported a rate of 444.4 per 100,000 VERY locally we have usually had weekly numbers too small to count (0-2) with a max of 3 and an occasional 4. As the month draws to a close we have 25 reported cases.
It seems that most hospitalizations are of younger age-groups, mostly unvaccinated or with a single vaccine. But the authorities won’t give the go-ahead for school-age children to be vaccinated yet. And about 1/3 of hospital admissions are among the older and double-vaccinated groups. ICU figures are slowly creeping up, but so far deaths remain low. But there is no idea of what long-term damage there could be from Covid-Delta itself. The Scottish Govt. is holding its breath and hoping that we can ride out the current wave. But already the demands on hospitals are forcing them to cancel non-urgent surgery etc. as the wards are filling up again with Covid cases.
On which happy note we end August! September means we are moving into autumn and winter weather (with more indoor activity). So it looks like we will remain essentially self-isolating and relying on masks and keeping away from any crowded places. But before we move on to September, a look at my Flickr activity for August. I post regularly to Flickr, with a mix of macro, still life, landscape and experimental images. And as the month ends I create a collage for each month. They act as dividers in the flow of images, and also as a reminder to myself of what I have been up to over the previous weeks!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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 …..
…. 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 …..
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.
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.
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.
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!