1 May 2015

It felt like summer for a moment

It’s a strange moment when you realise that the sound of nature is the sound of millions of animals, birds and insects desperately trying to get laid.  Unknown

A week or so ago we had a spell of the most gorgeous warm sunshine.  It was unseasonably warm and it felt like summer had arrived – the days felt a decent length, with lighter evenings, after the clocks had gone forwards a couple of weeks earlier.  I took my work outside at any opportunity and sat doing my polishing in shirt sleeves – an unexpected bonus for the middle of April.  Although it’s slightly incongruous to sit out with tulips in bloom and no leaves on the trees.

We often get early warm periods like this, lulling us into thinking that summer has actually arrived, then as quickly as it arrived, it vanishes again and we’re reminded of just how early in the year it still actually is.  I went to post some orders today, grabbing an opportunity of dryness between wintry showers and really regretted not putting on my gloves, as I walked to the letterbox.  My afternoon sojourns to polish in the garden bathed in sunshine felt like an especially surreal and distant memory.

Orange-tip butterfly looking for a girlfriend as soon as he emerged for the season.
Orange-tip butterfly looking for a girlfriend as soon as he emerged for the season.

Whilst sitting outside during this nice spell, I was aware of how many insects were now active, presumably spurred into activity by the rise in temperature.  Nothing evokes the idea of summer quite as readily as the sound of insects busy at work and I had several treats during this period.

Left you can see an Orange-tip butterfly I photographed in the garden.  It flew past me and I dashed to grab the camera and by the time I found it and got it ready, he had settled on a climbing hydrangea I have growing up the end wall of the garden.  I took the photograph and was annoyed that a plant label was reflecting the sun and dominating the frame, so as I adjusted my position to try and photograph him with a better background, my moving shadow must have spooked him and he was soon off over the wall and away.

Ironically, that in itself turns out to be the interesting point.  I wasn’t wholly sure of the name of the species, so turned to my books for confirmation.  And there I read that male Orange-tip butterflies emerge in April and their first task is to find a mate.

There were a number of the same species of hoverfly active too, the first I've seen this year.
There were a number of the same species of hoverfly active too, the first I’ve seen this year.

The lady Orange-tips aren’t actually orange, they’re grey where the lovely chap above is orange and consequently, the males, in their quest for a girlfriend, land on anything white hoping that they’ve found a willing female.  He returned to the garden briefly several times during the day, variously landing on lightly variegated leaves and the same obviously enticing plant label.  I hope he was successful at some later point.

I’ve always been fond of hoverflies and keep some plants in the garden that I know they favour.  I love the way they drop their undercarriage to land and they don’t bother you, sting or bite and I’m happy to have them visit the garden.

There were several of these large hairy bee-like species and they alternated between hovering in the air in the sunshine and washing their legs on the tops of leaves.  Love was clearly in the air as we saw several coupled as they hovered, which must be quite a feat in itself – presumably they find it safer to be airborne whilst distracted and vulnerable rather than a potential double meal for something if they landed to get down to business.

The intense colour of these tulips really comes alive when backlit by sunshine.
The intense colour of these tulips really comes alive when backlit by sunshine.

My work this week:

I’ve revisited some of my ‘classic’ designs for some new variations recently.  Some pieces continue to sell well even though their first incarnations were early in my career and I seem to have been working on several of those again recently – although I do perpetually hone the designs as my technique and workmanship improves.  There are some designs that as soon as I get back in stock, they’re gone again.  The earrings below are a variation on the rosebud knots that I’ve now done in many different formats and even as I made these, I had a subsequent idea for a bracelet link, which I’ve just started making up.

Rosebud knot looped link earrings featuring intensely coloured raspberry jade beads.
Rosebud knot looped link earrings featuring intensely coloured raspberry jade beads.


'Coil on coil' pendant featuring a lovely delicate aquamarine jade bead with a lovely marbled texture.
‘Coil on coil’ pendant featuring a lovely delicate aquamarine jade bead with a lovely marbled texture.


A new variation of an early design which I used to wire wrap with copper, but these now have the flowers ball riveted with silver.
A new variation of an early design which I used to wire wrap with copper, but these now have the flowers ball riveted with silver.
7 May 2011

The best holiday weather since 1996

That says it all doesn’t it – that I can actually remember the last holiday we had with really great weather – and not that recently either.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view.
On the Good Friday bank holiday we hit heavy traffic and were held up for some time – Herdwick ewes being moved into pastures closer to the farm ready to have their lambs. Mr Boo christened this photo “Where’s Woolly?”

This was taken over a week later, but only a few yards away so may well be one of the Herdwick ewes above being brought down to lamb. Each ewe only has a single black lamb.

We’ve just spent the extended Easter, Royal Wedding and May Bank Holiday period in the English Lake District and with the exception of one evening with a short-lived downpour – late enough that we’d already drawn the curtains and washed up from dinner, so it really didn’t trouble us – and one day that was grey and drizzly, we had wall to wall sunshine for the entire 12 days.

I’ve always had a bit of a fixation about sunlight through trees, it’s just one of my very favourite things.

Where we stay in a permanent static caravan on a working farm, the bedroom window is on the north east face of the structure and if I wake up with the sun on my face, we know it’s a good start. Unfortunately, that’s a somewhat rarer experience that I’d personally like. Every morning, bar one, the sun kissed my cheeks as the alarm went off. Fabulous.

Ramsen / wild garlic; the hedgerows and woodland were thick with it – the flowers just opening – it gives off a gorgeous sweet garlic smell if you brush the leaves as you pass.

But then you have to get up and to it quite promptly as long, static, metal caravans in full sunshine soon turn into baking tins and whilst the day might start with temperatures close to frost-inducing, the air warms alarmingly rapidly as the sun rises and heats the metal sides.

Our neighbour during our stay – taken through the kitchen window – this spot, nestled against one of the damson trees in the orchard, was a morning favourite as the sun warmed up. Soon after I took this, his brother sidled over and snuggled up next to him.

But it is fabulous to eat breakfast with the patio doors wide open and looking out onto the scenery with the spring breeze playing around you.

One of the very most important things to me is walking through woodland and it was just about perfect last week.

A rare moment of stillness in an otherwise very breezy period.

Walking through woodland along a lake shore and coming across small private (albeit rocky) beaches periodically to perch, catch your breath and admire the view, is about a perfect way to spend a spring day.

The weather was just about perfect for us, lots of sunshine, but cool air and on some days, a distinctly brisk and chilly breeze. Just ideal for getting out and walking, although our lunchtime picnics were a little more lively than ideal on some days. When your crisps blow off your plate and you have to hold bread down, you know it’s time to retreat indoors to eat. Al fresco dining; I love it.

I wish I could have captured the fragrance for you too. There are few things more perfect to enjoy than dappled sunlight on deciduous ancient woodland with masses of wild bluebells.

The trees pretty much fully opened from bud within the time we were there and there’s this short period each spring when the trees are this most magnificent luminous bright spring green – the foliage in the sunlight last week was breathtakingly gorgeous – beech trees especially are the most vibrant fresh colour. Foliage is pristine and un-ravaged by weather, disease or insects and at its most perfect – combined with the lovely clear air and sunshine, the Lakes were about as beautiful as I’ve ever seen them – and I’ve spent a lot of my life there in just about every possible set of conditions.

When we arrived, most of the ferns and brackens were unfurling and within a week, were all totally open

I wish I could share with you the fabulous fresh air, scent of the bluebells and the invigorating freshness of woodland in sunshine, but I’ll just have to leave you with the photos and your imagination will have to fill in the rest. There’s a more complete set of photographs in my image sharing gallery.

I love to sit on this seat around a tree and view the fabulous rock garden with its gorgeous maple trees at Sizergh Castle. I never tire of looking at it.

I love this scene in the castle gardens – the water lillies are just growing.

These flowers are less than an inch in diameter, yet fabulously complex geometric structures.

I was so excited when I came upon this pen of pigs – there must have been 50 assorted pigs of different breeds, colours and sizes, all sunbathing in a pile together – that I almost forgot to take photos – I was too busy trying to stop myself from squealing and jumping up and down in excitement.

Did I mention that I totally love walking through woodland and seeing the sunlight filtering through. I suspect I did.

29 Jan 2011

Sunlight through trees, one of my favourite things

As I’ve posted many times, I enjoy walking in the outdoors, preferably somewhere natural and away from people and man-made structures and most preferably; amongst trees.

Please click on any of the photographs to see a larger view.

I absolutely love seeing sunlight filtering through trees, those little flashes of golden light you see playing on the trees and ground to make infinitely variable abstracts. Being amongst woodland is good in any weather and often the very shelter it provides makes it a good choice on days of extreme weather; lessening the effects of rain, wind, or hot sunshine.

As the weather forecast for today was for clear skies and temperatures not far above freezing, it was too good an opportunity to miss and the domestic chores we should have been addressing were abandoned in favour of a nice drive to a favourite spot (Beacon Fell in Lancashire), a walk and some soup and fresh bread for lunch – which always tastes much better outside.

But I really do love seeing shafts of sunlight between trees, it’s something I never tire of and must now have taken hundreds of photographs of, but it’s also something very difficult to do justice to in a still photograph. Sometimes, you just have to be there and enjoy it in the moment.

I get a great deal of comfort for being amongst trees and I cannot conceive of living anywhere where I wasn’t in close proximity to trees – I am blessed in being able to see them right outside my windows and to be within walking and driving distance of some totally gorgeous woodland areas.

All of my favourite walks are in woodland and if I’m stressed or unhappy for any reason, it’s the idea of being amongst trees in the fresh air that comforts me and gives me something to look forward to. It’s where I take my mind to when I want to be distracted.

It had clearly been below freezing overnight and we woke to visible frost, but within the forest park we encountered a number of areas with different weather conditions, from a light snow covering, to thick frost and in more sheltered spots, areas of mud where it hadn’t frozen at all. This pond was surrounded by a dusting of snow and the water itself was completely frozen – someone had already broken the ice near the edge and flipping over some of the pieces we could see that it was over an inch thick.

I’ve shown photographs before of this willow woven statue of a deer that has recently been built in a little clearing in the forest and you just encounter it at the side of the path as you walk along. I took this photograph with a wider angle lens than previously as I wanted to check the status of the small pine trees growing around it. the ground was well covered with seedlings of different sizes and I was curious as to whether they’d been planted or were self-seeded – considering that the ground is littered with cones from the adjacent trees.

My new camera has a 30x zoom lens (from wide angle 35mm equivalent focal length of 24mm and 720mm at the telephoto lens) and I was curious to see the range it offered me from the same spot. Both photographs were taken from the same place and are both full frame. There’s a little camera shake in this close shot as it was taken at a very slow shutter speed. You can see the willow is starting to bud, so presumably this will sprout leaves in spring, so it will be interesting to see how it develops.

I also wanted to do some more work with my new camera, but it was bitterly cold, especially in the shade under the trees and as a Reynauds sufferer, I was really struggling with numb hands today and trying to operate the tiny buttons on a camera – and keep it still – wearing thick ski gauntlets (recently purchased and just not up to the job) wasn’t the best methodology for good results. And don’t even get me started on how hard my hat, scarf and hair was fighting me today, variously getting in my eyes and causing me to steam up my glasses.

This is one of my favourite spots on our walk – and as we did a figure of 8 walk we walked this section twice today – you drop down quite steeply through a plantation area which is quite dense with conifers and even on the brightest of days is very dark and the light rarely penetrates the area as it never gets direct sunlight, being in the shadow of a hill. But there is a clearing ahead where paths cross and the trees in that area are often in a shaft of light, making this lovely glowing focal point to head towards.

The deep contrast of the lighting makes it almost impossible to photograph well and do the scene justice, but I think you’ll get the idea. The patch of trees ahead of you in the path always seem to glow as they catch the sunlight.

20 Aug 2010

Piggies and other farm animals – what’s not to love

“Pigs are not that dirty. And they’re smart, strange little creatures. They just need love.” Shelley Duvall.

“The pigs stuck out their little feet and snored.” Elizabeth Bishop.

Someone posted an especially adorable photograph of two young pigs asleep today, a day when my frame of mind was not terribly positive, my disposition not terribly agreeable or my prospect of achieving much, all that good. So the pigs were especially appreciated and I set off to look at some of my own favourite pig photographs.

Please click on any of the photographs for a larger view, they look rather dark here on the page.

I was surprised to see how many people expressed a love of piggies and enjoyed the photographs, I’d always felt I was a little unusual in liking them so much. But, let’s face it, what’s not to love.

So whilst I work on more technical and worthy articles for future blogs, I thought a wet Friday was a good day to spread some porcine loveliness. And while I’ve been searching out photographs to post, I found some other favourites of farm animals – which I think make lovely subjects. Because we spend as much time as possible in the English Lake District and on a farm, I do spend time in the company of farm stock and they’re as entertaining and enjoyable as any wildlife or domestic pet.

Herdwick sheep are a regular sight in the Lake District and resident on the moors, where they wander about in their individual territories and don’t bother with you and just go about their business. I love to see them, they’re so photogenic that I’ve taken a massive amount of photos of them.

We once had a conversation with the farmer, whose property we regularly stay on, about different breeds of sheep and Mr Boo made a comment about how Herdwicks were reputed to be very territorial, each animal sticking to a relatively small area of moorland and subsequent generations do too. He seemed perplexed that the very idea should even be noteworthy, commenting; “well, of course they do, you remember where you live don’t you and go home every night?”

This particular photograph has always been informally called ‘Reservoir Sheep’ when I identify it in my mind as the way they walked down the road reminded me of that scene from the film.

In the area where we stay in the Lakes, quite a few of the local farmers keep Highland Cattle, what we affectionately call ‘Muckle Coos’ – which must always be said in a Scottish accent.

I spotted this scene one summer evening when we were returning home from a day out – the cows were spilling across this field as the setting sun filtered through the trees. We’ve driven past this spot many, many times since that day and I have not seen the light as lovely since.

This is Lucy, one of the dairy herd at the farm – they often pop their heads over the wall as we drive past and as the field is higher than the lane, their heads pop over from above you as you pass.

This particular meal held up traffic in both directions for several minutes, but I don’t think anyone minded.

Not really a farm animal – but when I spotted it earlier, I thought it worthy of inclusion as it made me laugh again. Each spring, usually just after Easter, there is a local country fair in celebration of the local delicacy of damsons – called Damson Day – and we try and catch it if we’re in the area, it’s worth a visit to support a community which we consider our second home. One of the attractions a couple of years ago was Ferret Roulette. You paid your 50p stake, someone chose a ferret and you each took a card with a number – which each corresponded to a tube radiating from a central drop point.

The selected ferret, was popped into the central core and if he emerged out of the spoke you had the number of, you won a modest cash prize. I certainly lost more than I won – but it was worth every penny. I was most disappointed that it wasn’t there last year, I’d saved some 50p coins specially.

Don’t you just love the way lambs go mental in an evening. This is from the window of the caravan we stay in – it’s lovely that we have such delightful entertainment laid on – we’ve wasted many an hour just watching them play. The orchard is long and thin and they just hurl themselves from one end to another en-mass in an evening.

This Easter I saw one of the funniest things I’ve seen a non-domestic or trained animal do in a long time. One of the ewes was watching the youngsters collectively run back and forth and she stood there intently following them with her eyes, having totally abandoned her eating, from one end of the field to the other. On about the third or fourth pass, she joined them – running full pelt alongside them – she ran to the far end and back again and as they came to a dip in the field where the land has creased into a mini scar down the hillside, she leapt vertically into the air over the gap. When she landed, panting, she shook herself off and carried on with her supper.

She had clearly watched them and remembered how much fun it was and wanted to join in. I’ve never seen a full grown sheep join in before and I was sorry that it was getting dark and happened very fast and I just didn’t have a camera to record it for posterity. To be honest, I was laughing way too hard to have managed a decent photograph.

We followed this farm vehicle on the road one evening and I managed to get one photograph as it slowed to turn. Unfortunately the third dog on the left just dropped down at that point, but up until then, it had been stood up at the front too. I wonder if the planks hadn’t been there, if the German Shepherd would have been stood up too?

We once followed a similar convoy down a very narrow single track lane, with the addition of about 40 sheep. The sheep were running along the lane, followed by the farmer on his quad, with his 2 trusty sheepdog in his trailer. It was slow going and we tried not to look like we were pressuring them to hurry – after all, they were working and we were just having a nice day out.

The farmer slowed and gave a complex sounding whistled command and the dogs jumped out of the trailer and ahead of the vehicle – they herded the sheep up a side lane to a farm and held them there, a dog at each end of the flock, just off the road and he pulled into the mouth of the lane to let us pass. He then gave another whistle and the dogs returned the sheep to their path along the main lane and jumped back into the trailer.

I have huge, huge admiration and affection for the farming community, they are interesting and hard working people with the most amazing sets of skills and heads full of incredibly valuable knowledge. I always feel it is an honour to witness such a demonstration and can only stand back and applaud. I always enjoy watching the amazing teamwork between man and sheep dog, where the mearest hint of audible command, can make something fabulous happen.