The Sunshine After the Rain

The last photos that I want to share with you, from my walk in the Trossachs the other day there, were not taken at Loch Achray, but at the loch adjacent: Loch Venachar. There’s a lovely cafe on the banks of Loch Venachar, and as we sat there eating our lunch, we watched the storm clouds roll in, the waters getting choppy, the rain begin to pound the jetty. And then, just as suddenly as it began, the storm passed, the sun would reappear, the loch became smooth and the rain-soaked boardwalk would start to dry out. There’s something so uplifting about watching the sun triumph from behind the dark, rain-heavy clouds. You get the feeling that truly anything is possible, and that any hardship you may meet along the way is but a temporary aberration. My spirits felt lifted and my soul felt as weightless as air.

Hello Sunshine

Loch Venachar Jetty

Rainwater Boat

Do you find your spirits affected by the weather? When the sun appears from behind a heavy rain-cloud, how does it make you feel?

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February 29, 2008. Environment, Photography. 6 comments.

The Flooded Loch

The loch that we walked along the banks of yesterday is called Loch Achray, which is located near Brig ‘O Turk: a village above Callander but south of Balquhidder. Now, it’s not a loch that I’m particularly familiar with, but you didn’t have to be to realise that this loch is currently larger than it usually is, and that is was even larger not that long ago. We’ve been getting a lot of rain this last week, and consequently a lot of rivers have burst their banks, the fields are waterlogged, and mud predominates along woodland walks. Yesterday was the first day in a while that the sky cleared and blue sky prevailed. However, several heavy rain showers swept across the land, but fortunately we only got caught out on our walk once. The rest of the time the weather was blustery, but bright. One of the things that caught my eye (apart from the cattle) was the blue tones of the water as it mirrored the blue of the sky, and how the blue was broken up by the reflections of tree branches. Also, as you’ll see, because of the flooding, the reflections of the trees extended further than they would normally do, caused by the swollen waters. Anyway, here are some photos so you can see what I mean. The first photo shows the extent to which the loch has burst its banks, while the second shows the fence in close-up with the grass caught in its wire from a recent, more severe, flooding. The rest are of the beautiful blue waters, and the reflections I found resting upon their surface.

Flooded Loch

Stranded

Rippling Blue

Branch Reflections

Branch Reflections 2

Branch Reflections 3

What can you see mirrored in the reflective surfaces in your part of the world?

February 28, 2008. Environment, Photography. 10 comments.

Highland Cattle

I had planned to stay in today, but we had our first glimpse of blue sky in a few days and I just couldn’t resist. I phoned my mum, and soon the pair of us were taking the children for a walk in the Trossachs. I’m going to do a couple of photo posts, of which this is the first, and if you like them, you can vote for Lives Less Ordinary in the Best Photography Blog category in this Blogger’s Choice Awards.

A Highland Close-Up

Lunch

Meeting of the Cattle

Scratch That Itch

3 Stages of Ascent

Despite the rather lethal appearance of their horns, highland cattle are actually very placid creatures.  As we walked along the road which divided their field, they just raised their pink noses to peer at us through russet bangs, and then returned to their business of eating grass, sitting on moss, and enduring the driving rain.

Could these animals be any more picture perfect?

February 27, 2008. Environment, Photography. 6 comments.

Identifying Dragons

Following on from my previous post, I want to share a little bit more about the book, Everyone Knows What A Dragon Looks Like.

Everyone Knows...

Plot Summary
It’s about a Chinese city which is under the threat of imminent invasion by the ‘wild horsemen of the North’, and whose leaders pray to the Great Cloud Dragon for deliverance. The following day, an old, fat balding man arrives at the city and is welcomed by Han, the young street-sweeper. He tells Han that he is a dragon and he has come to save the city. Han believes him, and takes him to the city leaders, who pour scorn on the fat old man, declaring that they know what a dragon looks like and it doesn’t look like him. The fat old man simply reasserts that he is a dragon, and he will save the city if he is shown hospitality. At this, the leaders throw him from the palace, and then go into hiding, terrified of the approaching horsemen. Han takes the old man back to his hut and humbly offers to share his meagre rations. After eating his bowl of rice and drinking his glass of water, the old man declares that because of Han’s hospitality he will save the city. With that he takes a deep breath and blows away all the fierce horsemen, thus rescuing the city inhabitants from certain death. He then shows Han what a dragon looks like, by transforming into a fierce, brightly coloured creature shimmering in the sky, before disappearing. Han then relates his story to the rest of the city and is handsomely rewarded for the generosity that induced the dragon to save them all.

As I wrote in my last post, this book was given to me as a leaving gift when I was 7 years old, and it included a message encouraging me to keep my ‘head out of the clouds’, so that someday I could write ‘my wonderful book’. Well, as you can tell from the plot summary, the content of the book does not directly relate to writing, authorship or the desire to become published. However, what I think it does do is highlight the need to look beyond the face value of people, places, ideas, life. Although Han was unable to see the true form of the dragon, he was willing to believe that there was more to the little old man than his appearance suggested. In that sense, he was open to an alteration of perception; he was open to the possibility of a life less ordinary. If I were to apply this message to writing, I would like to suggest that even the most ordinary, the most mundane, the most pedestrian, everyday subjects can be transformed into beautiful, translucent, iridescent prose, if we treat them with care and attention when inscribing them upon the page. And if this is the lesson I was to learn from the book, then I’m pleased to report that I’m still learning it, and I intend to continue learning it for a long time to come.

I am, however, perfectly prepared to listen to alternative interpretations, so if you have any ideas which differ from this reading, please do let me know! Also, I would love to hear if there was a book from your childhood which continues to have a profound effect on you. Do you still own it? Have you referred to it recently? Does it offer new interpretations at different points in your life? And if not from your childhood, is there a book you read recently which has influenced the direction of your life’s journey?

February 25, 2008. Creativity, Inspiration. 4 comments.

My Love Affair With Writing Began In Childhood

There’s a book on my shelf that’s not like any of the others. Beside my volumes of poetry, my tattered short story anthologies, and my well-thumbed novels is a picture book by Jay Williams, called Everyone Knows What a Dragon Looks Like. Today, I want to tell you about how I acquired this book, and why it still has a place in my library and in my heart.

When I was in primary 2 (age 6) I had an awful teacher; she was loud, angry, aggressive and controlling. I can still remember her voice shrieking at a little boy who dared to use the Scots word ‘ken’, instead of the accepted standard English, ‘know’. I can still remember her physically dragging a child out of the classroom to go to the higher power of the headmistress. And, I can still remember her anger directed at me following a particularly lacklustre effort at writing a story. I, too, was sent to the headmistress, but remembering the incident of the last child who objected to this directive, I went quietly.

The thing was that the headmistress, Mrs Faulds, was one of the most gentle, generous women I would ever meet, and she genuinely cared about the children under her charge. I can only assume her hands were tied in some way concerning the continuing employment of my class teacher! However, this being the first time I had been sent to her, I had no idea what to expect, or how to handle the situation, and, understandably, what with my experience of authority figures in school, I was, quite frankly, terrified. Trembling, I passed over the meager 3 sentence narrative scrawled in my jotter. She read it over and then looked at me with eyes filled with kindness, tinged with disappointment. She said, “I know you are capable of so much better than this. You have such an active imagination, but your daydreaming is interfering with your work. Maybe you could try writing down your imaginings and share them with everyone else? I’m sure we’d all love to read them.”

Now, I don’t know whether it was her interest in my dreams, her faith in my ability to communicate them, or just the sheer relief that she was so unlike the teacher that had sent me to her office, but her words lit a fire in me. I started to write epics… Ok, well 5 page stories, while my classmates struggled at 2. I began to be known for my stories and my writing. It felt good. It still does.

Anyway, the following year, my family and I moved away from the area. On my last day at school, I was once again called into Mrs Faulds office. This time, I went gladly, confidently. I sat down in front of her desk and she gave me a leaving gift; she gave me a beautiful picture book with an illustration of a small fat, old Chinese man, a village and a colourful dragon floating above the clouds. Later, when I opened the front cover, I discovered that she had written a message in silver ink:

Childhood Mesage

It reads: “Dear Amy – just remember to keep your head out of the clouds and I’m sure someday you’ll write your wonderful book. M. Faulds”

This lovely lady’s encouraging words, first spoken and then, a year later, written, have stayed with me throughout my years as a child and then as an adult. I’ve still not written my ‘wonderful book’, although I remain convinced by Mrs Faulds’ certitude that ‘someday’ I will. In the meantime, I continue to write down my dreams, my experiences, my thoughts. I continue to feel joy in sharing my words. I continue to feel humbled by others’ appreciation of my writing. I continue to read Mrs Faulds’ message from over 20 years ago.

I continue my love affair with writing.

What childhood experience inspired you to go on to become the person you are today? Did you have a teacher who gave you the confidence to follow your dreams?

P.S. This is a post for Joanna Young’s group writing project, My Love Affair With Writing over at Confident Writing. You can still join in as the closing date for entries is the 28th Feb, and if you do, let me know and I’ll add a link to your entry here.

February 24, 2008. Tags: . Creativity, Inspiration. 15 comments.

A Lovely Surprise

I just heard this evening that the fabulous Penelope Anne has nominated Lives Less Ordinary for three Blogger’s Choice Awards: Best Parenting Blog, Best Photography Blog and the Blogitzer for best writing. To say this is a big surprise is to put it mildly!

If you agree with Penelope Anne, then could I ask you to click on the buttons which I’ve added to the sidebar, or the links in this post, and cast your vote. It really would be very appreciated!

Thanks again, Penelope Anne!!

February 22, 2008. Admin, Photography. 4 comments.

Chiaroscuro

Chiaroscuro has long been a fascination for me.  And it seems that the strong contrasts between light and dark are now calling to my subconscious.

Framed

The Doorway

Sliver of Light

Portcullis with Shadow

Light at the End of the Tunnel

I always find it so intriguing when I arrive home from a trip, and load my photos onto my computer to survey them for the first time, only to discover I have taken images which are all variations on a theme.  You may remember my many path photos from my walk up Dollar Glen.  When I got home and first saw those photos, I was struck by just how many shots I had taken of paths.  And, yes, I’m sure part of it is to do with the physical environment that I’m photographing.  But, I’m also pretty sure that it’s also partly related to my internal environment too.  By that, I mean, it has to do with what is going on in my life, and how I am connecting to the inevitable changes that life brings.  With the paths, I had been thinking a lot about which direction I should take in my life’s journey.  I felt I needed to make a change, but I didn’t know what exactly.  I really feel that this predominant state of mind came through loud and clear in some of the photos I took at the time.  In particular, it came through in the photos of the paths.

So, the photos that you see in this post were all taken on Monday when I went up to Stirling Castle.  When I first looked at my collection of photos taken on Monday, these examples of chiaroscuro really struck me, as I had taken them over and over.  I chose the most striking examples to upload on to Flickr and to share with you here, but believe me when I say that I have many more on my laptop!  So, of course, I’m moved to try and get at the root of this particular slant of my attention, this skewing of my perspective.  I like to think that it shows that I’m beginning to catch sight of the light at the end of the tunnel.  Or that I have found enlightenment in some area of my life.  In each case I feel like the light is approaching rather than receding, but then I always was a glass half full kind of a girl!

So, anyway, I’d like to put it out to you.  What strikes you about these images?  Do they speak to you, and what’s going on in your life?  Do you find that your subconscious speaks to you through your photography, or indeed through your writing, your painting, your art?

February 21, 2008. Inspiration, Photography. 8 comments.

In Love With My Home

The Carved Heart

The other day there I was feeling a little low. You know what it’s like; some mornings you wake up, and you just want to pull the duvet over your head and go back to sleep. But like most of you out there, I had to get on with the day. I dragged myself out of bed, put the kettle on and began to prepare breakfast. Making my morning cuppa, I had already decided that what I needed was a good dose of one of the things I love best; I needed to get out and about in my city.

Stirling is not a big place. I think currently we’re at a population of around 45, 000 which makes us the smallest city in Scotland. It’s size means that everything is relatively close to everything else. However, the old town is built on a steep incline and the castle is situated at the top of the hill. You certainly get a good workout running after 3 excited children all the way to the castle gates! As we strode up the road passed 16th century sandstone ruins, 17th century townhouses, and cemeteries where the quality of light stops you in your tracks, I was struck once again by my relationship to all this national history. Because not only did I take note of these ancient bricks and landscaping, I also gazed with affection at the bench where, eleven years ago, my fiancee and I sat and tentatively agreed that we should move in with each other. I suppressed a giggle while walking by the pub where I (rather drunkenly) celebrated my 18th birthday. My muscles remembered how much harder it was walking up that hill a decade previous, while pushing the pram containing my first precious newborn. My personal history is deeply rooted in these cobbled streets, these tall buildings, these broad trunked trees. I find my self reflected in its antique glass…

Self Portrait

I haven’t lived in Stirling all my life. I was born here, but we moved away when I was a child, and I was raised first in Ayrshire and then in Edinburgh, where I spent the majority of my schooling. When it was time for university though, I returned to Stirling. The majority of my family live in Stirling still, grandparents, parents, aunties, uncles, and it really is where I feel I belong. I won’t be suprised if I move away again at some point in the future, but I know I’ll return. Because, you see, Stirling is not just in my genes and in my memories; it’s in my soul.

Here are some photos from my trip to the top o’ the town:

A Bench With A View

Silhouette Skyline

An Enormity of Sky

The Puggy

Man the Cannons!

Graveyard Monument

King's Knot

Robert the Bruce Surveys the Hillfoots

Where is home for you? What is your relationship to the buildings, the gardens, the landmarks? Do you find that your memories are anchored by their geographical connections?

P.S. This post was written as my entry to the Lifehack Spread the Love contest. The closing date is the 21st Feb so you still have time to enter your own post on relationships. If you do decide to enter, let me know and I’ll add a link here.

P.P.S If you want to see a clip of Stirling’s historic architecture then you can view this great short film put together by Canadian David Raetsen:

February 20, 2008. Environment, Photography. 17 comments.

Diving In

Just a very brief note to let you all know that I’ve written a guest post for Joanna Young over at Confident Writing, which you can read here.  This is the first guest post that I have done, but I have so enjoyed the experience.  Of course, it helps that Joanna is such a hospitable blogger!  Oh, and if you do decided to pop over for a look, do take the time to have a browse around Joanna’s blog.  She’s such a warm, encouraging person, and it shines through in her writing.

And for those who have clicked through from my guest post, and this is your first time here – WELCOME!  I hope you like what you find, please do feel free to comment, and I hope you’ll grace my blog with a return visit 🙂

P.S. If you have a blog, and you would like me to do a guest post for you, please do get in touch at amypalko at madasafish dot com

February 18, 2008. Admin. 3 comments.

Long Walk, Big Thoughts

We have been getting such wonderful weather here in Scotland recently. Certainly not the seasonal wind and rain we are used to in February! Yesterday we decided to take advantage of the wide open blue skies and go for a walk. We decided on a place about 14 miles north of Calander, called Kirkton Glen. We parked the car at the kirk in Balquhidder, and had a wander around the ancient graveyard, where the Scottish folk hero Rob Roy and his family are buried.
Balquhidder Graveyard 4

Balquhidder Graveyard 3

Rob Roy's Grave 2

Rob Roy's Grave 1

Extremely old graveyards, such as this one, hold a certain morbid fascination for me. The headstones at varying degrees, the encroaching lichens, the crumbled ruins of the original kirk all speak of a history, of a tradition, of a culture which spans centuries. With thoughts concerning my own mortality, and my own insignificant position within the time line of my nation’s history, we wandered up into the hillfoot forests of the Balqhidder Braes.

Here we encountered another kind of history altogether, where time moves at a different speed from that of human lifetime. Huge trees towered over our heads, their trunks broad, and their thick roots sunk deep into the leaf carpeted forest floor. Some of these trees began their lives in a time when my great grandparents played carefree games of hopscotch and skipping, their young limbs moving with the graceful ease of youth. These trees are still reaching for the sky, while my great grandparents only exist as fond memories recounted to my children by their great grandparents.

A Long Lasting Partnership

Tall Trunks

These feelings of impermanence were then compounded when we left the path, and came across a ruined village of around 10 houses. Not one of the structures were built up passed a height of 4ft; the stones which once protected from the elements now lay strewn across the land, and the forest had moved back in to claim its own. Trees grew where once were hearths. Moss lay thick along the windowsills. Brambles with their sharp thorns entwined en masse to obscure doorways. Implements lay abandoned and rusting. And a haunting silence pervaded the scene, broken only by occasional birdsong.

Forgotten Village 3

Forgotten Village 1

Forgotten Village 2

I came away from the folk hero’s grave, the ancient trees and the dilapidated village with a renewed sense of just how brief our time on earth is, and how important it is that we try and relish every moment of our existence here. I was reminded of that Edna St Vincent Millay poem, First Fig:

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and o, my friends –
It gives a lovely light!

As we neared the end of our walk, I stopped and looked back over my shoulder, and saw a sight which has graced Kirkton Glen for millenia before it was ever known by that name, and it took my breath away.  It made me realise that my life may be brief in the large scheme of things, but if it’s filled with sights and experiences such as those I had yesterday, I know that it will have been a life well lived.

Expanse of Sky

Have you found yourself having thoughts such as these?  What inspired them and where were you at the time?

PS If you want to see more pics from the walk, you can see a Flickr Set of them here.

February 17, 2008. Environment, Inspiration, Photography. 15 comments.

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