Flamingos in the Mist ~ Dawn on Lake Elmenteita

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The light changes every second across the lake. From dawn till dusk there is always something to watch at Elmenteita in Kenya’s Great Rift. There are over 400 species of birds to spot for one thing – among them the endangered white pelican that breeds there. The main stars, though, are the surely the huge flocks of flamingos, both lesser and greater varieties, that turn swathes of the lake to rose-petal  pink. Even a passing glimpse  from the nearby  Rift highway  is enough to catch the breath. A pink lake – how can that be?

This story continues at: On watch at Elmenteita – the lake that blows away

Over at Paula’s Lost in Translation the challenge for this Thursday’s Special is ‘multitude’

Kind of Mauve not Blue at Plas yn Rhiw

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Looking back, it was a mauve sort of a day, the day we went to visit the old Welsh farmhouse of Plas yn Rhiw on the Llyn Peninsula. The sea in the bay below the house was peaceful, and the air still and dreamy. If you listened hard you  might hear echoes of the past along this ancient pilgrims’ path to Bardsey Island, the place the Welsh call Island of Currents. It was late September, and Wales was very much in end-of-season mode with many places closed; or if they were open, then looking as if they wished they were closed. It’s often like that in Wales. Even the stalwart National Trust, that now has care of Plas yn Rhiw, was slow to open up. We had to go away and come back. In fact that was a bit of good luck. Further down the peninsula in Aberdaron we were taken by surprise at Y Gegin Fawr, The Big Kitchen cafe, where the owner was enthusiastically hospitable.

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It turned out that she was keen to uphold  a 700 year-old tradition of feeding pilgrims. We had some very excellent hot chocolate there, not something the saints would have recognised. Or if they had, and if they had seen Graham’s mug overtopping with whipped cream, they would surely have pronounced it a sin of the flesh, and to be eschewed at all costs.

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Back at Plas yn Rhiw we stepped into another time-warp.

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Here, the seventeenth century farmhouse had been lovingly restored from ruin by the three Keating sisters, who at the urging of friend and architect, Clough Williams-Ellis (he of Portmeirion fame) scraped up the funds to buy the place in 1938. They lived there until they died, filling the house with personal treasures. When you wander from room to room, there is a feeling of benign, if eccentric spirits. They don’t seem to mind us peering at their books and nick-nacks…

 copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

For more of this story:

Gazing into Hell’s Mouth at Plas yn Rhiw

 

Jennifer Nichole Wells One Word Photo Challenge: Mauve

Eclipsed in Much Wenlock on World Happiness Day and Taking a Solar Selfie

100_5065 Here I am on top of Windmill Hill, Much Wenlock’s landscape landmark, and this is the only way I could see the partial eclipse – with my back to it, and camera at the ready. We had such clear skies, and the sun was so bright that we remained bathed in sunshine throughout this cosmic event, although it did seem very cold. Lots of people who were out walking their dogs had gathered  at the windmill too, one lady monitoring the process through a pin-hole viewer. This is the scene before me as I take the photo over my shoulder: windmill and pointer. Had the eclipse actually happened? P1000779 P1000764 P1000788 Aftermath. I caught the sun in the trees as I walked home across the Linden Field. This, incidentally, was the place where the Much Wenlock Olympian games were, and are still held every year. They were devised in 1850 by the town’s physician and herbalist, Doctor William Penny Brookes, and went on to inspire the founding of the modern Olympic Movement. Windmill Hill provided the natural viewing platform where spectators sat to watch the events. See how this little town of ours spread its good hearted influence around the world. Wishing everyone joy on this, International Day of Happiness   #eclipse #International Day of Happiness

Out in the Midday Sun: Running Ostrich and Ngong Hills

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This week over at Paula’s  Thursday’s Special she is inviting us to break rules with our photo taking. This shot of a camera-shy, and thus fleeing male ostrich was taken in Nairobi National Park. I expect when I started to focus on him, he was facing the other way; after all, who wants a snap of an ostrich bum. (I should say that ostriches, so G tells me, are the only birds with external genitalia, and believe me they are surprisingly impressive when glimpsed, though thankfully not visible here).

Also one of the main rules of photography in Africa, particularly when  you are close to the Equator, was simply not to bother trying during the middle of the day. All colour tends to leach away; there may be a heat haze and also dust in the air; and the landscape maddeningly flattens out and stops looking magnificent.

But that is all very well. What else can you do when you find yourself in a Kenyan game park is in the middle of the day. It’s the kind of thing mad dogs and English persons do. Photos had to be taken, and of course later discarded.

The thing I like about this photo, being hooked on Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa, and the ‘I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills’ line, was that while I was concentrating on the ostrich, I inadvertently captured the Ngong Hills in distant blue profile. Though largely static, earth tremors apart, they were also hard to photograph. Here, though, I caught them, and you can well appreciate how they got their name, derived from a Maasai word meaning  fist. See those four clenched knuckles.

Otherwise, nothing much is in focus here except perhaps for big bird’s blousy white feathers. All sense of movement is truncated, ‘frozen’ in time under the fierce tropic sun. I still like the photo though.

 

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

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Elephant tribe versus Man tribe: and how the bees are helping

We’ve been watching a very heartening series on BBC i-Player The Secret Life of Elephants. It followed the magnificent conservation work being carried out by Save The Elephants, a charity that operates in Samburu, Northern Kenya, and relies on the cooperation between  the nomadic Samburu people, local smallholder farmers and scientists from Kenya and beyond.  One of the key initiatives is to put tracking collars on the matriarch leaders of particular elephant clans, and also on the large bulls who, outside the breeding season, lead more solitary lives.

Elephants may cover vast distances in the course of their annual migrations. But once they leave the national parks they are more vulnerable to poachers, and also to irate farmers who are tired of having their year’s livelihood consumed in a single night. By tracking and mapping the herds’ movements on computers, and  maintaining channels of communication with the pastoralists and farmers, Save The Elephants researchers  are working out ways to lessen conflicts, and present solutions, and above all, to secure the future for wild elephants.

The Samburu pastoralists have always been wise enough to respect elephants, and are now anxious to do what they can to protect them. This is their view on the matter:

 

The first man said the elephant is like us, like our brother, and we have to live together, not hunt elephant. That’s what we say we were told at the beginning. That’s what we still believe. The elephant has always been, and will always be, special to us. This is why we protect it now.

Samburu people on the importance of elephants

 

 

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For farmers it is a very different matter. People are often killed trying to drive elephants out of their crops.  And so one of STE’s objectives is to work out the best place to erect elephant fencing so that elephants can be channelled away from farming communities as they pass by on their seasonal trek between the river where they congregate to breed,  and the mountain forests where they go to browse.

Fencing, though, is not always the total solution it seems. Elephants are not daft. The old bulls have learned  how to open gates onto the vast European wheat farms that lie to the west of Mount Kenya. But while the large-scale producers can tolerate some elephant grazing, smallholders cannot. For them it is a matter of living or starving.

One of the STE researchers, Dr. Lucy King has come up with a very simple, low-tech and productive approach to keeping elephants out of Kenyan farmers’ cabbage fields.  It began with the discovery that elephants will move off if they hear the sound of bees buzzing. African bees are especially aggressive, and on a very short fuse temper-wise. She thus came up with the notion of placing beehives around farm fields.

Traditional African beehives are made of lengths of hollowed-out tree trunks that are then suspended in trees. These were hung at intervals on the field perimeters, and connected up by tripwires. When the elephants tripped the wires, the hives were duly shaken and out would swarm the angry bees. Elephants would then beat a retreat, leaving farmers with both their crops and a new source of income from the honey.

As Colonel John ‘Hannibal’ Smith was so often wont to say in The A-Team: “I love it when a plan comes together.” In this case, though, it is clearly the work of the B-Team.

Copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

Related:

I’ve written more about elephants in Elecommunication: So Many Connections

 

And last but never least, thanks to Paula at Lost in Translation and her guest challenger, photographer Guilhem Ribart. TRIBE is the prompt. For more interpretations, please also follow this link.  I should add that my photos here were taken in Lewa Downs which is part of Save The Elephants’ sphere of operations. The original negatives are very degraded, but seem to have a new lease of life translated into B & W. In fact they also seem to capture the elephantness of elephants rather better than the colour originals, which is interesting when you think about it.

One of my treasures ~ introducing Kapp 1890-1978

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I stumbled on this print almost literally. It was years ago and I was treading warily around a rackety riverside warehouse in Shrewsbury. The place called itself an Antiques Centre, and as I climbed the stairs to the ‘showroom’ the chances of sudden building collapse loomed large. Having reached the first floor, I remember creeping around on tiptoe, trying not to challenge the timbers. So it was, in mid negotiation with  uneven floor boards, my hand reached down to an old picture frame. It was propped against a cardboard box underneath a table. When I turned it round, there it was – a caricature of The Rt. Hon. Viscount Cave, signed by Kapp.

I’d never heard of either the subject or the artist, but who cared. It was love at first sight – the colours, the ‘cut-out’ two-dimensional form,  that two-thirds frowning, pasty face of the viscount.  The whole thing made me smile, inside and out. Best of all, the price tag said £2.50. What luck – to find something so pleasing for such a paltry sum.

My tracking down of information about the work and its creator has continued off and on ever since. I discovered first (and long before the days of Google) that my ‘print’ is an offset lithograph, and one of a series called Ten Great Lawyers  created in 1924 for The Law Journal. I also learned that Edmond Xavier Kapp was an artist, and caricaturist of note, born in London in 1890, and a Cambridge graduate.

I came across him again when reading poet, Edmund Blunden’s World War 1 memoir Undertones of War. Kapp, already well known for his drawings and short stories before the war, was serving on the Western Front, a 2nd Lieutenant, in the Royal Sussex Regiment. He provided some of Blunden’s lighter moments in the trenches. Blunden himself was only twenty years old at the time of their encounters, and newly arrived at the Front:

Second in command, Edmond Xavier Kapp appeared, ready with scribbles and charcoal drawings not unworthy of his reputation as a satirical artist…[He] was a lively hand to have in a dugout; his probably imaginary autobiography, peeping out at intervals and enriched by other versions, was also a diversion; but one day he was called away to an interview with the Colonel, and soon he disappeared into the irrelevant air of GHQ, far beyond the stars.

Kapp was twenty-four when he enlisted and, until his promotion to Intelligence and the rank of Captain on General Haig’s Staff, had withstood three nightmare years in the trenches. In Time Will Tell: Memoirs  his first wife Yvonne Kapp says that he witnessed the wipe out of his own platoon twice over, and never was able to lay the ghosts of lost comrades.

That he survived at all is remarkable. Because he spoke German fluently, he was sent out alone to occupy a dug-out in No Man’s Land, the objective being to interrogate German prisoners as they were brought in. On one occasion, in the bloody chaos of shifting lines, Command forgot he was out there. Under constant bombardment and gas attacks, he survived for several weeks on tins of bully beef. When he was finally rescued he was deaf and half blind, and almost dead, and thereafter spent several months in hospital. Later, he apparently relished his senior officers’ less than whole-hearted commendation of his military service: “his zeal sometimes outruns his discretion.”

In the light of all he must have endured, and in what he described so sparely as those “five long dreadful years”, it is astonishing that he went on to serve as Official War Artist in the World War Two. Between the wars he produced many drawings of well known personalities, both for periodicals and exhibitions. He also ventured into oil painting after working with American artist, Maurice Sterne. Then in the 1930s he deployed his lithographic skills to produce portraits of the twenty five members of The League of Nations, and this led to his meeting and friendship with Picasso who sat for him in 1938.

Kapp himself disliked being called a caricaturist. He considered himself to be a “character-portraitist”, producing works of psychological rather then satirical intent. And perhaps, now  that I look again at The Hon. Viscount Cave, this is the quality I most admire. After all, the stuffy old gent is rendered with such gentle humour. It speaks, I think, of the artist’s humanity, and of a good, and kindly eye.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

Post inspired by Jennifer Nichole Wells One Word Photo Challenge: Melon

Follow the link for more bloggers’ responses.

Fiction Writers, Are You Reading Enough? Just Thought I’d Ask…

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…because there was a time in my adult life when I read no fiction at all. I went from avid child-teen reader (some favourites above) to wilful adult non-reader. The reason was not reasoned. As a child I decided I would be a writer ‘when I grew up’, and when I grew up I further decided that reading other people’s works would block the ethereal visitation that, any day soon, would deliver the lightning bolt of writerly inspiration, that in turn would drop into my mind the fully formed novel idea, and thus spur me to sit and write the thing.

It was not a good start – a case of locked-in block before I had written one word.

There was a further obstacle, one I did not even see until I had returned to reading. By then it had also occurred to me to buy a writing magazine, and that was a turning point. Instead of a lightning bolt of inspiration came a thunder blast of reality: I might be a whizz at writing dissertations and museum guide books, but I knew nothing of the mechanics and craft of writing fiction. I was astonished to discover that people had so much to say about it: story arcs, characterisation, foreshadowing, pace, mood and setting etc etc. Good heavens. Who knew!

Of course it might be said that you can become too knowing, that absorbing too much ‘how to’ can lead to self-consciousness and a lack spontaneity or originality.  I think my answer to this is you need to cover the ground, embed what you can through practice, then move on. It is rather like a painter learning how to prepare their canvas and mix their pigments before the real composition can begin. It is also about opening up mental pathways that clear the way for the story-making. This means reading other writers critically, and not simply reading with your discretion turned off. Two and three readings might be needed to see how and why a piece of fiction works. The best writers, after all, aim to be seamless, not to display their working methods.

So for some swift and pleasurable enlightenment on the fiction writing process I can suggest no better start than to visit the children’s section of your book store or library.  Some of the most impressive and imaginative fiction around is for young adults. Works for this age group are tightly written, multi-layered, have memorable characters, affecting themes and energetic plotting that is character-driven. The writing will be economical, but also resonant, and often very deep. The best and most telling words will be chosen. There may also be a repeating motif that is more suggestive of poetry than prose, and which may lift the tone of the book in unexpected and magical ways. There is also the overall impression of the story having been well distilled, and thus being refreshingly free of the kind of self-indulgence found in some adult literature. In other words, every word will count.

My own favourite writers for this age group include Geraldine McCaughrean (The Kite Rider), Sharon Creech (Walk Two Moons), Kate di Camillo (Because of Winn-Dixie), David Almond (Skellig and Kit’s Wilderness ), Philip Pullman ( Dark Materials Trilogy), Frances O’Roark Dowell (Dovey Coe) and Gillian Cross (The Great Elephant Chase). All these stories may be characterized by the fact that they have something worth saying, and that this ‘something’, framed in highly original ways, gives their stories stature and substance as well as making them darn good reads.

And aside from learning fiction’s nuts and bolts, there are other good reasons why writers must keep reading.  It is not so much about borrowing (stealing) ideas, but more about drawing on the creative energy of other works, and using it to fuel your own writing.  And I am not talking about plagiarism, but of tapping into the spirit of someone else’s creation. Reciprocating, if you like. Striking up an engaging conversation.

If you think about it, it is obvious. As children, we learn to speak our native tongue through exchanges with others. We learn not only vocabulary, but also rhythm, inflexion, idiom, innuendo, puns, riddles, jokes, and narrative skills – all the tools we need to communicate effectively.

With writing we thus have a paradox. Writers, as some of the world’s great communicators, generally struggle to wring out their words in isolation. It has to be done that way. There are no answering voices except the writer’s own. But if that is the only voice, how is the writer to learn, grow and and test the boundaries of their art? How will they keep their edge? And yes I do know that many writers, new ones especially, fear losing their own voice if they resort to reading other writers’ fiction.

I would argue that through continuous reading, writers replenish their imagination banks, hone their language skills, explore different modes of expression, learn new things, grow wise, develop insight and understanding, find new ways of telling a story. What they read in the external world, and their reactions to it, will all be stored in the subconscious for further processing and reworking.  And I believe that this is all part of learning how to make oneself heard, of building one’s true and distinctive voice.

Best of all, if  a project has stumbled into a dead end, then visiting another’s writer’s world may provide the very thing  to turn the work around. I personally find that I write best when I am reading a book that carries me away. My most recent writer’s refuelling came courtesy of Malaysian writer, Tan Twan Eng  and The Garden of Evening Mists.  This is an adult book, but I will also return to Geraldine McCaughrean’s The Kite Rider  whenever I need a fix of this writer’s airy prose.

So for those of you writers who have not been reading much lately, time to join the big fiction conversation. Read, read, read. You will be glad you did.

 

Related: Fun and Games at the Writer’s Block Party

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

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Night-time on Broadway ~ look out, the music’s escaped…

This week artist, Suzanne Miller, is Paula’s guest at Thursday’s Special, and she has challenged us to think and look at our photographs in a more abstract way. This photo was taken after a trip to the New York Ballet at the Lincoln Centre. I’m rather fond of ballet, and had been very much looking forward to the show, but after the first forty minutes, I was so bored I succumbed to rather more than forty winks. It was far more exciting out on Broadway.

To see Paula’s and others’ response to ‘abstract’ go to her post at Thursday’s Special

 

Release Your Inner Artist

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We are each of us born brimming with potential, creators in the making. But then something happens – at least for most of us it does. Somewhere between the childhood dreaming, and the adolescent wake-up call we make a decision. For each of us this will be the result of particular, often very painful circumstances, but the outcome will be the same. From that point on we will tell ourselves we are not good enough, and what we do is not good enough and that even if we toil until the crack of doom, it never will be good enough. We give up. Surrender, often before we have given ourselves half a chance. Somehow – through repeated expressions of contempt, denigration, ridicule, bemusement from peers and elders – we learn that it is dangerous to be too extraordinary, and that if we persist in following our dream we will end up alone, and worse still, hated.

At the same time, reinforcing our sense of uselessness, the dominant culture peddles the notion that geniuses are born, and that true talent is ‘natural’. In other words Beethoven’s symphonies, Shakespeare’s plays and Picasso’s Blue Period simply manifested themselves via the gifted hands and minds of said geniuses.

This model of spontaneous creation, artist as divine conduit, somewhat like spontaneous combustion, does not take into account the actual years of preparation that preceded the creation of these works.

To compound this whole misunderstanding of the creative process, there is then the popular belief that ‘inspiration’ is the be all and end all, when in fact it is only the starting point for any work. Added to this are the ideas that you must ‘wait for it’ and thus be someone ‘special’ to receive it at all. Yet in reality ideas do not happen in a vacuum. They  need triggers, and you need to actively invite those triggers otherwise it is indeed a self-fulfilling prophecy; do not engage and sure enough, nothing will come.

I have no idea whether or not geniuses are born rather than nurtured, but my own feeling is that the nurturing has an awful lot to do with it. We all have capacity to create something. We are all artists. What we go on to create, should we be determined enough to follow our inclinations, will be influenced by our experiences, past, present, conscious and subconscious, and by the encouragement, assistance and wisdom we may receive from considerate others.

Sometimes we are lucky to have long-lasting mentors who are generous enough to stand by, ready to open our eyes to new ways of looking and making; sometimes we have to do much of this work for ourselves.  In this sense, then, it is a quest, an honourable labour. The learning process can take a huge amount of time and dedication. It might take a lifetime. There are craft skills to learn and hone, stimuli to absorb and decipher. Most of all, there are failed attempts and mistakes to learn from.  But nothing in this process is ever wasted: every part informs another part, even if you are the only person who knows it is there.

The final onslaught that the dominant culture visits on the creative process is the commoditisation of art, judging it by its selling power. I include in this the idea of competition, and the presumption that it is in some way useful to judge one piece of well-crafted work against another piece of well-crafted work.  Of course it creates publicity, and boosts sales, but this is a distraction from what really matters – the work itself, and how it ‘speaks’ to people.

Creating art is a mediumistic pursuit not a commercial production. Our gut reactions, whether as creators or observers tell us the difference. It is about integrity, craftsmanship and telling the truth at some level. It is about doing the best we can. And we can all choose to take this path, and make of the journey what we will. The things we create are worth creating. So I say again, we are all artists. And if you don’t believe me, imagine yourself at life’s end when you still have hidden, and unrealised in your heart that story you longed to tell, the picture you did not finish, the film script lying in a box in the attic. How does this make you feel – not to have seen them through?

So what are you waiting for then? Set free the captive. Who knows what wonderful things will happen next.

copyright 2015 Tish Farrell

 

This post was inspired by Bill at Pinklightsabre and his poem Moon Song for Marz

Thank you, Bill Star

 

Related:

How I Write: telling the truth in fiction