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