Just When You Think You Know A Place…

…you discover something new.

I was born in Stirling and I live just outside the city now. I haven’t always lived here, but members of my family have lived in the area since long before I came into the world, so I like to think that I am very familiar with this town and its surroundings. Today, however, I was proved very, and most happily, wrong.

There’s a junction that we always turn right at, which takes us to the homes of both my aunt & uncle and my parents. Today we went left, and, oh my, it was beautiful! I took these shots from where we stopped for a picnic:

Perfect Picnic Spot

Wind Turbines

Bridge in Polmaise

Mother & Lamb

Sheep & Turbines

As you can see in some of the shots, we were quite close to the wind turbines, which I’ve only ever seen from a distance. Their movement is graceful and somewhat hypnotic. I know there are some that object to them on the basis that they spoil the countryside, but I think I rather like them…

When was the last time you turned left instead of right, and discovered wonder in the once familiar?

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May 13, 2008. Environment, Photography. 13 comments.

Climatic Celebrations

I don’t know about the rest of the world, but Scotland has been getting the most fabulous weather recently! Today I celebrated the warmth, the sunshine, the acres and acres of blue sky, by taking my kids and my niece to Braidburn Park in Edinburgh. It’s one of those places that I often notice as we go passed it on the bus, but I haven’t actually set foot in the place since I was 12 years old. On my last visit, it was covered in a thick blanket of snow, and my friends and I made the most of its steep inclines, as we sped faster and faster on our sledges till we reached the bottom, cold but exhilerated.

Today, it wasn’t snow that dominated the landscape, but blossom.

Escape to the Blossoms

Blossom Avenue

Sea of Blossoms

Pink Blossom Blue Sky

There was something quite magical about walking beneath those archways of blossoming branches. Really quite enchanting…

So how are you celebrating the weather in your corner of the world? Are you barbecuing in shorts and shades or are you snuggled up indoors with a steaming mug of hot chocolate? Are you jumping in the puddles or are you imagining shapes in the clouds above?

May 8, 2008. Environment, Inspiration, Photography. 11 comments.

The Ground Beneath Our Feet

Mud. Squelchy, slippy, gritty black mud. It covers the road surface, dragged over by the heavy lifting equipment used by forestry workers to harvest the swift-growing, tightly-packed pines. Tracks of vehicles, bicycles and hiking boots are impressed into the malleable muck. We pick our way gingerly through, trying to avoid the worst of it and walking through it anyway. The soles of our boots caked with it.

Striding uphill and off the path, the mud has given way to lush green grass and a luxuriant selection of mosses. Steep inclines forces us to walk with our feet turned sideways. Helping hands and friendly shoves keep us all moving in the right direction: upward. The sun beats down through the dewdrenched canopy warming the undergrowth until the atmosphere turns heavy and humid. Breath becomes laboured, sweat begins to pool in the small of the back and the lactic acid builds up in the muscles.

Heading down now, and our feet walk a different surface once again. This time, last year’s bracken. Rust red and brittle, it crunches, disintegrates, crackles beneath the weight of our tread. Beneath the bone dry leaf matter, however, rest the logs of previous forestry exploits. Wet, slippery and rotten, they lie in wait for the oblivious walker to place their weight upon them, expecting the solid ground but finding nothing. We all fall over at some point on the way down.

The ground evens out. The body and mind unite in the relief of some flat surface. The moss feels spongy and soft, springy underfoot. Great hummocks of grass and heather lie strewn across the landscape, and pretty soon we’re hopping from one to another trying to avoid the bog that the moss has given way to. Everyone stands in awe and fascination as a small brown frog, no bigger than an inch, is spotted jumping nimbly across the boggy earth. We continue our leaping, inelegant and ungainly, from hummock to hummock.

Back to forest road, except this time it is surfaced with blue slate shingle quarried from the local hillsides. Smooth and unstable, it shifts beneath our soles. The deep bluegrey of its grain magnifies the blue of the sky and the loch, melding water, air and stone into one. It glints in the light of the sunbeams that have penetrated those thick pine branches which exude the sharpsweet sap fragrance that delights our noses and reminds of Christmas. The clatter of slate against slate accompanies us back to the bemudded road that leads back to the car park.

The terrain we traverse is the challenge: the sights we see, the reward.

Trossach Mountains

The Blue Lochan

Loch Drunkie

Loch Drunkie From Lookout

Scenic Scotland

What challenges have you recently engaged in and what has been your reward?

May 5, 2008. Environment, Photography. 9 comments.

A Powerful Combination

I just love going to garden centres.

I love to walk along the aisles of ordered plants: a shelf of petunias, a bed of pansies, a row of ornamental cherry saplings.

I love how the fragrance subtly changes as you move from one display to another.

I love how my eye is first attract by the mass of colour, but then becomes entranced by the individual detail of the petal, the stamen, the leaf shape that truly delights.

I love to be surrounded by well-cared for plants; clematis, magnolias, ranunculi and azaleas draped with an aura of nurture, love and consideration.

Salmon Pink Ranunculus

Pink Clematis

Purple Stripe Clematis

Pink Rhodedendrons

Purple Parrot Tulip

Magnolia Heart

Orange Ranunculus

It’s this heady mixture of sensual delight with the awareness of the loving attention lavished upon each individual plant that inspires my love for the garden centre.  Although the garden centre is certainly not the only place that I find this intoxicating combination. I experience similar delight when I visit the farmers’ market, where the products on sale are presented with the justifiable pride of a producer who has had hands-on involvement in bringing the product to the eager customer. I find it in craft fairs where knitters, beaders, binders, and painters all ply their trade while simultaneously practicing their craft for all to see: a community demonstration of the time, intention and creativity which goes into each individual item. Lastly, I find it in blogs which display well-crafted writing, provide food for thought, and give me information, entertainment, and aesthetic pleasure. The time and effort which has gone into each to provide sensual pleasure translates as a powerful positive intention to connect, to communicate, to create.

Where do you find this powerful combination of a treat for the senses with evidence of positive intention?

May 4, 2008. Creativity, Environment, Photography. 13 comments.

Meanwhile, Over At The Breathing Space…

Following A PhotoTrail

I’ve been talking for a while about doing ‘something’ with my photographs that I share with you all here. The feedback that I get from you always blows me away and my confidence with the medium has gradually increased over time. So, today marks a significant step for me, and I’d like to share it with you all as it’s the accumulation of your words that have got me to this point. Karen Wallace, who blogs at The Clearing Space and also produces the online magazine The Calm Space, got in touch with me recently asking if I would like to contribute an image to The Calm Space to illustrate this month’s theme of ‘Balance’. I was, of course, thrilled and, after careful consideration, submitted a photograph that best captured ‘Balance’ for me. I tried to think where it was that I found balance in my life, where I felt centred, where I regained my sense of self. Anyway, you can check the result out for yourself: it’s over at the section of the site called The Breathing Space. The lovely Leah Maclean has created a desktop wallpaper from the image which you can also download from site. It includes a calender for the month of May, and it looks just lovely. I’ve downloaded it as my desktop already, and I’m really pleased with it!

Why don’t you pop over and have a look, download the desktop wallpaper, leave a comment and then check out the wonderful articles there.

After all, I think we could all benefit from a little more balance in our lives…

May 1, 2008. Admin, Photography. 10 comments.

Mystery Photographs

When my Grandma was sorting through my Great-Grandad’s effects following his death, she found an envelope with old photographs in it. It’s thought that they belonged to my Great-Grandma, but we are at a complete loss as to the identity of the people in the photos. Have a peek through this small opening in time:

Family Portrait

All Dressed Up

A Day Out

Lean On Me

Precious Flower

As much as I would love to know who these people are and what happened to them, I’m almost as enamoured with the intrigue as I am by their curiously rigid poses, their strangely styled apparel and their gravely silent gaze.  Did they lead happy lives?  What was their first childhood memory?  Was it standing on a chair, dressed in their Sunday best while a man stood shrouded behind some weird piece of technology?  What was their greatest achievement?  What moment would they relive if they could?  Who or what was the love of their life?  If they could tell me just one thing, what would it be?

So many questions, and all without answers…

What question would you like to ask these mystery people?  Or, indeed, what question would you ask of your own far distant ancestors?

April 23, 2008. Inspiration, Photography. 12 comments.

The Setting of the Sun

I was taking in the washing from the line last night after dinner, when I noticed that the light had taken on a really beautiful colour. I looked beyond our neighbour’s house and saw the Ochil Hills bathed in a burnished glow, and I suddenly got an urge to be up there among the grassy hummocks, the woody heather, the dilapidated drystane dykes and the skittish sheep. I wanted to be bathed in that light too, and I wanted it so badly I could hardly think straight. I ran back in the house and quickly got the kids into their boots, grabbed our scarves, gloves and jackets, jumped in the car and began the 15 min journey which would take us up into the heart of the hills.

We drove along the twisty, single-track road until we came to a layby, where we parked the car, before we all tumbled out and started running up the grassy hillside. The wind was biting, and soon my ears were burning with the cold, and the tips of my fingers poking through my fingerless gloves began to turn red and numb. Wrapping my scarf about my head and shoving my hands deep in my pockets, we continued to set a brisk pace up the hillside to the summit, our bodies warming from the effort.

And then we arrived.

The light was that of liquid amber.

The air was so fresh and pure.

There was an enormity of sky.

And the whole experience was utterly breathtaking

Tree Silhouetted

Blue Sky After Sunset

Beyond the Grass

Enormity of Sky

Between the Clouds

What sight last took your breath away?

April 21, 2008. Environment, Photography. 17 comments.

Dandelion Wishes

Now, maybe it’s because of Daz Cox‘s comment on this post about celebrating dandelion season, but I have been seeing dandelions everywhere recently. I took these 4 photos as a series on the stages of the dandelion, ending with the wish-making stage.

Half-Bloomed

Dandelion

Dandelion Clock

Make A Wish

Even though I am technically a grown-up, I still find it almost impossible to walk by a dandelion clock without plucking it from the plant, holding it to my mouth and scattering the seeds with my breath, whilst half-whispering some whimsical wish. Sometimes I wish for a rainbow; other times I wish for a flower to bloom on one of my cherished plants, or the serendipitous find of a white feather. I used to have a friend at school who always wished for an orange… The wishes should always be for those things which now seem simplistic to our adult sensibilities. A feather or an orange may seem trivial, but these kind of wishes are about enjoying life’s small pleasures, don’t you think?

What do you wish for as the fluffy dandelion seeds float away on your exhaled breath? Or do you prefer to wish on an eyelash, a lorry-load of hay, or perhaps the first star of the evening, twinkling in the twilight hues of pink, turquoise, lilac, blue?

April 20, 2008. Inspiration, Photography. 12 comments.

Spring On Campus

This afternoon I took the kids out for a walk around the loch at my university. It’s a lovely walk and it had been a while since we had taken the time to wander round the path taking in the seasonal flora and fauna. If you’ve been reading Lives Less Ordinary for a while now, you may remember I posted photos from a walk we took back in December last year. That day was beautiful, clear and frosty – the grass crunched beneath our feet and our breath could be seen clearly as it left our bodies. Today, however, the sun was out, the earth was soft and a bit soggy from all the rain we’ve had recently, the flowers were abundant and there were a few wonderful surprises of the duckling kind waiting for us. Take a look:

Springtime Campus

A Springtime Scene

Underneath the Magnolia Tree

Magnolia in Bloom

Backlit Blossom

Duckling

This Way!

Gone Swimming

If you want to see the whole set, you can find it here.

So, how is Spring progressing in your part of the world? What are you doing to make this Spring memorable?

April 17, 2008. Environment, Photography. 16 comments.

Loch Katrine Boat Trip

Sometimes I get something in my head, and then I just have to do it and get it out of my system. When I finished my thesis chapter earlier this week, I decided that I really wanted to go on a boat trip, and once I decided that, there was no stopping me.  I wanted to sail away from the land, view things from a different angle, breathe in the fresh air of the Scottish countryside.   Today, we went to Loch Katrine and I got my wish, as we took the boat trip round Ellen’s Island.  It was only 45 minutes, the weather was overcast, but not raining, and there was a sharp chill in the wind, but it was precisely what my body/mind/soul needed.

Here are a few photos from the day:

Loch Katrine

Rugged Pink Spring

Loch Katrine

The Blue Window

Trossachs Pier

The last photo is of the boat ‘Lady of the Lake’, which is a reference to the Walter Scott poem of the same name, that he wrote while staying with his family on the banks of Loch Katrine. Here’s a verse from it which provides a wonderful description of the loch and its surroundings:

XIV
And now, to issue from the glen,
No pathway meets the wanderer’s ken,
Unless he climb with footing nice
A far-projecting precipice.
The broom’s tough roots his ladder made,
The hazel saplings lent their aid;
And thus an airy point he won,
Where, gleaming with the setting sun,
One burnished sheet of living gold,
Loch Katrine lay beneath him rolled,
In all her length far winding lay,
With promontory, creek, and bay,
And islands that, empurpled bright,
Floated amid the livelier light,
And mountains that like giants stand
To sentinel enchanted land.
High on the south, huge Benvenue
Down to the lake in masses threw
Crags, knolls, and mounds, confusedly hurled,
The fragments of an earlier world;
A wildering forest feathered o’er
His ruined sides and summit hoar,
While on the north, through middle air,
Ben-an heaved high his forehead bare.

Isn’t that a fantastic description?  Is there a special place you like to visit to recharge and refresh?  Or perhaps, like this boat trip, it’s not necessarily where you go, but what you do that helps to sweep the cobwebs from your mind?

April 3, 2008. Environment, Photography. 12 comments.

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