March is so often the grey and bleak tail-end of winter. As the snow comes and goes, the slush and rain take over. And here the farmers begin to plough fields ready for Spring sowing. The trees are still bare, and the colours all so drab! So our long winter continues. This is the 6th month when it has been so cold we need the central heating on 24/7. It is truly a bleak and brutal winter. I’ve been looking for both warmth and colour through the lenses of my camera. And I’ve chosen glass and prisms set against a bright orange scarf to offer a warm alternative to the outside world!
After so many years we have ‘discovered’ Turriff park and lake! Although it is still colourless and cold there, I took my Lensbaby (the ‘original’ I started with in 2013) and added some lensbaby fly-away effects to the winter lake.
Looking across the howe from our garden, and using a telephoto lens to catch the sun brightening the world and revealing the winter white that still dominates our lives!
Most mornings start with scraping ice off the cars, spreading grit and salt on the slippery paths, feeding the birds as well as we can, and keeping the ice off their water dishes. Then curling up and keeping warm indoors, wrapped up in quilts and sipping hot drinks.
With our world still dominated by winter the garden is low on photographic interest. Here dried flower heads from our blue ‘mop-head’ hydrangeas are caught as the sun melted the ice on the petals (using my oldest Helios lens)
A real snow storm in early March, caught this time with the Zeiss Makro 50mm lens. Again the dried flower heads of the hydrangea – looking so different in the background bokeh!
I move as many planters as possible indoors to overwinter – many of them my delicate pink geraniums.
And they occasionally reward me with a fresh and delicate flower to cheer the indoor world, and provide me with a lovely subject to shoot! Here with one of my newest miniature Japanese vases.
And being confined to the warm indoor world, I search through my ever growing store of photo props to celebrate each new day! I bought a large collection of marbles on eBay one year. Always a delight to shoot.
I decided to concentrate on my internal world this month, rather than the external and political events that continue to swirl around us. Together with books and music my photography forms the bedrock of my creative life. We have each other – which is the absolutely essential bedrock on which everything else is built. And we have been so lucky to be able to support each other through the long (and ongoing) pandemic experience. We do feel the impact, especially in energy terms – the stresses are always leaking energy. I suspect we are all on the edge of exhaustion as we contemplate the coming months!
I began February by looking at how we, in Scotland, were handling the Covid pandemic. The map of case numbers showed that we were more ‘in control’ than elsewhere in the UK. But now as we reach the middle of March the picture is completely changed! It just proves that the pandemic is still very much with us, no matter how much the politicians prattle on about ‘living with Covid’ and ‘we are now in the endemic stage – it is no longer a pandemic’.
Scotland is being completely overwhelmed with yet another new variant of Covid. Omicron, the previous variant, is called BA.1 and the tsunami of cases now showing on the map are 85% variant BA.2. We’ve been told that it is as infectious as measles, which apparently is the most transmissible virus in the world! Rather than tracking the ‘headline’ reported cases, the emphasis has changed to following the hospitalisation reports, the ‘severe’ cases (needing ICU), and deaths. All these indicators are rising, and especially concerning is the rise in admissions among the 50+ and 70+ so there are plans to get the most vulnerable another booster shot. So it looks like I will have a 4th shot some time in April … though at the moment the cut-off age is 75, and that will exclude Mike who has a very relevant underlying condition in diabetes! So with the prospect of yet another vaccination, I decided to try and tackle my bad eating habits! Long term PVS/ME has cut my energy levels to the bone – and years ago I realised that taking the winter ‘flu vaccine knocked me back for months. So the past 2 years of taking not only the ‘flu vaccine, but also three Covid vaccines has pretty well flattened my energy levels. In response I have upped my sugar intake to boost my flagging energy levels and help me through the day. But if I am to face yet another vaccine, then I need to get my sugar intake (and blood glucose readings) under control. So March is proving to be a hard month, as cutting back on sugar is proving to be a struggle!
The month started with heavy frosts and morning mists. Spring has taken a hit, and even by mid March the snowdrops dominate, and crocuses and daffodils are only found in protected sunny corners! But we did hear that the gardens at Fyvie Castle are open again – after Storm Arwen and all the following storms. So we went to see what the damage was like, and what has survived, and what has been destroyed. The day was bright and sunny but cold. And evidence of the devastation was everywhere.
On the entrance drive fallen trees had simply been cut in two and dragged to the sides to allow for access. Everywhere trees have been torn up by the roots – young and venerable old trees.
Guessing at the grim reality awaiting us I took my Lensbaby cameras with me, to give me something colourful and beautiful to capture!
Even the dark bleakness of the bare trees skirting the loch can be given a lift with the Lensbaby, and a personal choice of White Balance!
And what a difference the Lensbaby can make to a sudden shaft of sunlight through a stand of undamaged trees! A rainbow prism caught by the lens.
With a Sweet 50 Lensbaby optic and a macro ring …. the beauty of last year’s beech leaves can brighten the cold Spring morning.
I’ve been shooting the seasons, the walks, and the castle itself for many years now – so I decided to look through my archives, and remember what March in 2019 looked like – a time of seeming innocence before the world was rocked by the pandemic! I chose a day when I took an Infrared camera with me … with the ‘Super Goldie’ (590nm) filter on my old Sony A5000. It can make the world through the lens quite magical – changing the colours radically! [More about my Infrared journey here]
Sometimes when we visit Fyvie Castle we are lucky enough to catch a rider, exercising her horse. Here I processed my Infrared shot in black and white, as she rode down the entrance driveway ….
….. and here I processed the shot to give a ‘faux’ effect, where the grass is white (not covered in snow, as it might seem) and the sky a brilliant blue. The two photos don’t look like they were shot within minutes of each other. The magic of the camera!
But for most of the month we have been at home, with the mixture of cold winter weather and tantalising spells of sunny Spring sunshine keeping us indoors. We are both feeling the effects of two long years of confinement and stress – energy is low, and everyday household chores seem to devour more and more of that meagre supply. The days pass, and we feel like we have accomplished very little! I have managed to keep my photography ticking over, mainly shooting still life and macro indoors. The living room is strewn with small shooting sets, and a myriad of items (large and small) awaiting me ….
Here I was shooting tiny Swarovski crystal beads (1cm each way) – multi-facetted and clear glass. Placed on glass, lit with small coloured LED lights they glow and sparkle. A macro lens can offer a world as different as the infrared filter can!
And here, using the same background of black velvet cloth, I took 3 small drinks glasses, and used the reflections of the daylight on glass to define the glasses and give form to them.
I like taking part in challenges in my Flickr groups – it often pushes me into trying something new and different, stretching me. Here it was a challenge to show smiles reflected in spoons!
The challenge here was to a create a macro silhouette in black and white. It wasn’t new to me – but how to make something interesting within the terms of the challenge? Here I bent the rules a little, as there are quite a few reflections in there!
And so, as the month draws to a close there are the first signs of the latest Covid wave slowing down, if only a little! And the first signs of Spring are definitely appearing through the snow showers and bursts of warm sunshine! So to finish I’ll include my monthly ritual for Flickr, which is to make a collage of all the photos I have uploaded to Flickr during the month. It is a way I divide up the unending flow of images that make up the ‘photostream’. This month was quite a busy one, as I uploaded 28 images in all. Some of them have already been featured on this page too …. but here is the full complement.
March began with the first vaccination accomplished, and a wait for the second dose that may reach into May. It developed into a month of unholy wrangling with the EU over vaccine supply. Over half of the UK adult population have received a first dose, and the impact has been striking. Numbers in hospital with COVID, in the ICU, and dying from COVID have all fallen dramatically since December when the vaccination began. Studies are showing that the gamble of maximizing the range of the first jab and delaying the second jab has paid off.
The EU has been slow to give medical approval for the vaccines, and also slow to place orders for them. They have an average of 10% of their populations vaccinated, and are facing a third wave, with lock-downs. The immediate outlook is bleak for people in Europe, as the variant becoming dominant is the B117 (Kent variant) that has plagued the UK too. It has proved to be more tranmissible, and more deadly than the original virus here. Sadly the EU Commission response has been to try to block vaccines produced on the continent from being exported to the UK. They have spent two months trashing the reputation of the AstraZenenca vaccine, and are now trying to ‘sell’ it to their populations! Currently there are significant numbers who are refusing the AZ vaccine, despite growing research evidence of its efficacy and safety. What a mess!!
Here we both had the AZ vaccine, and after a couple of days feeling like a mild dose of ‘flu we have had no adverse effects. The Shingles vaccine was much worse!! So now we feel more confident going out and about. Still in lock-down in Scotland in March, so exercising at Fyvie Castle and essential shopping in Inverurie are the extent of our ‘out and about’. But there is a slight feeling of returning normality, as we are no longer totally dependent on deliveries for our weekly grocery needs!
The weather has been against us, as sub-zero temperatures (especially overnight) have made for bleak, cold and windy outings for exercise. The trees have been battered by the severe winter and are not at all photogenic , and only snowdrops are adorning the pathways at Fyvie
With a little Helios lens magic the snowdrops appear to swirl, and add a little magic! Indeed magic is needed to see the beauty hidden in the wintry corners of the castle grounds….
This time it is the Lensbaby optic adding some colour and sparkle to the cold day!
So much of my time has been spent indoors – too cold to think about tackling the garden and all the dead-heading and clear-up after the winter! Decision time! I am still determined to fit my watercolour adventure into the already cramped timetable for the day/week/month! It does take my energy reserves right to the edge, and it does mean the housework is being neglected! The more I dig into my first watercolour venture (some 20+ years ago), the more I understand when artists say watercolour is the most difficult and challenging medium of all! I have a whole lot to learn or re-learn, and yet I know where I want to go ….. so balancing the need to learn important things with wishing to avoid a “watercolours by numbers” approach is making for slow progress! I don’t want to lose my own vision …. The first thing that I need to get a grasp on is the colours that I have got.
I want to use as many transparent colours as possible, as they can let the paper glow through – but there are so many qualities to each paint. Transparent, semi-transparent and opaque is only one quality to weigh! There are staining/non-staining colours, and then reflective colours, and sedimentary colours … and then how about warm and cool colours, colour dominance? …. and I am nowhere near the paper choices, or the brush choices!
I have decided to simply throw myself in the deep end, and sink or swim. The problem is that I am not good at failing … especially not repeatedly! I tend to beat myself up, and get discouraged…. so I am trying to fit a small watercolour ‘corner’ into each day … failing, but gradually getting closer to every other day! So I have ‘built’ my first palette.
I’ve already been experimenting with mixing my painting with my photographs ….
See more on the August 2020 page, and on Flickr I have an album of all kinds of blending and merging of media. I want to use some of the landscape images I’ve captured over the years, and express them in watercolour too … like this winter sunrise as we drove along ..
So, as March draws to a close, and the sunny days begin to outnumber the wintry ones, my ToDo lists are packed with ideas for photography and painting, and my online Flickr presence will vie with the demands of house and garden! Hopefully there will be the chance to travel to the coast, as lock-down restrctions ease. It may be May before we see a second vaccination jab … so extreme caution is still the 2021 ‘normal’. Here are the images that I posted on Flickr during March ….
And this is where the narrative of our lives really began to change.
I am old enough to remember the shivers of fear that the AIDS advertising campaign had in the 1980s. The falling tombstone, and the sense that there was a hidden ‘enemy’ out there! But nothing really touched me and my life. And after that there was SARS, and again life went on as before. No reason to panic when the next unwelcome visitor put in an appearance … surely not! Originally known as known as “2019 novel coronavirus” the virus is officially named “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” (SARS-CoV-2) and in non-specialist use as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) it has come to dominate our lives in so many ways! The first frisson of fear came on March 4th when our hairdresser told us there were rumours that a case of COVID-19 (and death) had been reported in Turriff. Now that is really close! Maybe rural Aberdeenshire is not going to left in peace this time! By mid March we were planning for possible restrictons, realising that things could get difficult. We don’t have a shop in our village, and we are dependent on being able to drive to local towns for our groceries and other supplies from their shops and small supermarkets. Online deliveries are possible too. So we might be OK! Looking at the news, especially online, we followed the progress of the virus as it spread from Italy across Europe. In a few weeks it would be in the UK in a big way. We expected the UK government to close down air travel, and monitor closely international travel of all kinds. But nothing happened! There was a strange kind of limbo. The country seemed to collectively hold its breath! I stopped sleeping properly, felt tired on waking, couldn’t concentrate or do anything much. I tried to act as normal, photoshooting for Flickr and writing for the ‘Zen Camera’ section of Inedita – but I found myself watching ‘easy’ TV and playing cards or word games on my iPhone and doing jigsaws on my iPad!
Sunday March 15th We woke to a Kafkaesque world. I wrote in my diary: “All people aged 70+ are to be locked down for up to 4 months. I guess we are being encouraged to die quietly behind closed doors – by starvation if not the virus.” We started to make emergency trips to the supermarkets, to stock up with food. Self-isolating was not a massive problem as we are mainly just the two of us. We have a house and garden, and neighbours are not very close by. Maybe we can make it through 4 months, if we can make essential trips to shops and some exercise at our local beauty spots and at the coast. Fingers were crossed!
Wednesday March 18th We walked around the small loch at Fyvie Castle. It was cold enough to freeze my fingers as I shot. This is the time when I get out my landscape lenses and metaphorically dust them off for a summer of shooting the countryside and seaside all around us. The winter is the time for indoor photo shoots, as the cold really takes my energy away. So I took an Infrared converted camera with me, to familiarise myself with it again. A new (to me) Sony A5000 with a 850nm filter, that I needed to get used to. It didn’t matter if all the shots I took were duds, and thrown away – the main aim was to ‘limber up’ my outdoor shooting.
Little did we know, but it was the last time we got to walk round the grounds of Fyvie Castle until lock-down was officially lifted in July! Somehow it seemed appropriate that I was shooting with the darkest IR 850nm filter, as there were dark days ahead. The mood of those shots was sombre, and (looking back) full of foreboding.
After that the ‘shock of the new’ began to take shape. Schools closed, supermarkets were overwhelmed and shelves stripped as panic buying gripped the nation. We found our local supermarkets were beginning to organise for ‘social distancing’ and arranging time slots for NHS workers, and for the 70+ (locked down). The postie started putting parcels on the front step, ringing the bell and stepping back. No more signing for a parcel – COVID changed that rule! We decided to start our own ‘mini-greenhouse’ in a large plastic tub – to grow salad leaves and herbs. It worked out well over the summer, giving us some tasty additions to our salads. But eventually the plants went to seed and we dismantled it in September. All is ready to start again next year!
We also started with sprouting seeds, alfalfa and mung beans to start with. Again it went well, except we misjudged the quantities, and became overhwelmed with alfalfa that kept on growing! Again we have the seeds and the jars, and will try growing more over the winter!
This is the time of year when I have the cameras out to shoot the Japanese ornamental plum tree by the gate. It was a welcome escape from the encroaching gloom and impending threats that lay, invisible, beyond our gate!
As so often happens it was cold and windy enough to bring sprigs of plum blossom indoors to shoot!
Wednesday March 25th One of the days that Tesco organises a one hour slot for the 70+ age group. We didn’t have face masks, but did have some disposable gloves, and plastic pouches for credit cards etc. I tried using a knitted scarf as an improvised mask (months later I learned knitted masks are positively dangerous, and worse than using no face covering!)
As things began to sink in we realised that we wouldn’t have the possibility of help from neighbours, or to call a taxi if needed. Age-related lock-down has implications! I really felt the need to get my driving skills back … to help with the practical situation, and also to feel less helpless!
The month ended with the clocks moving into Summer time – and overnight snow to complete the irony of upcoming summer 2020!