Weekly Photo Challenge: UP (in NYC)

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Of course NYC has been a city on the rise ever since its origins as Dutch New Amsterdam in the seventeenth century. And when you visit Manhattan, what else can you do but look UP. This photo, though, was a true  happenstance shot: I just happened to look up as we were going into Grand Central Station.  Here are some more ‘up’ views. Guess the locations.

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As the baseball caps and tee-shirts sold on every street corner would  have it: it’s hard not to love NYC; a city that led the way in up-ness.

© 2013 Tish Farrell

Weekly Photo Challenge: Change

Rift Valley from Escarpment


Change, what change? All seems so still in this shot of Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. The day is fine. The short rains have brought on the maize and pyrethrum crops on the small escarpment farms. The distant volcano, Longonot, appears dormant and suggests no kind of threat. It is hard to imagine, then, that this peaceful scene is a site of great seismic upheaval, and has been for the last 30 million years. Likewise it is hard to accept that even as I took the photo, the tectonic plates beneath the Rift floor were v-e-r-y slowly pulling apart. In another million or so years you might stand in the spot where I stood and look out on the Indian Ocean; the ground beneath your feet will be a brand new island, and the low Rift terrace where Kikuyu farm wives presently toil, lost under the sea.

The thought is unnerving. For it’s an interesting paradox: while we accept and embrace increasingly rapid changes in the man-made environment, we’re not too keen to confront the reality of a planet that transforms itself beneath our feet and in ways we cannot control. It is interesting then to think, as scientists have been doing, that our very origins as humankind, could well derive from the creation of the Rift Valley.

The argument runs like this. The Rift has long been referred to as “The Cradle of Mankind”. The earliest remains of human ancestors have so far been found along its length (in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania), but the time when we see the big leap in hominid development coincides with the time of maximum uplift in the Rift. This happened around 7 million years ago when the so-called Wall of Africa was created and Africa’s climate thereafter began to change. The rain shadow created by the upthrust highlands caused the forests, the preferred habitat of our primate predecessors, to give way to the more arid savannah we see today.

Without trees for cover and look-out posts our ancestors became vulnerable; food would have become less easy to find, and so in order to hunt and not to be hunted they had to stand up on two feet in order to see over the tall plains grasses. Thus began the long march to cell phone, app and PC that much of humanity apparently cannot now live without. It’s interesting to think how things end up.

As to what created the 3,700 mile-long Rift, then that comes down to plumes of hot semi-molten rock surging up beneath the earth’s crust. In Kenya this surging has also left behind chains of dead and dormant volcanos, including Mount Kenya which, at 17,000 snow-capped feet, is only a vestige of its former unexploded vastness. The pulling apart of the Rift plates has also created the famous soda lakes of Magadi, Nakuru and Baringo, and the deep freshwater Lake Victoria.

Personally, though, I prefer the old Kenyan story that says the Rift was created by termites. It goes like this. Once there was a marauding giant abroad. He preyed on all the animals and none of them was strong enough to finish him off. In the end it took the cunning of many tiny insects to burrow away under the ground and create a well hidden ambush. The next time the giant came rampaging by, the ground gave way beneath his feet and he plummeted into the great trench that the termites had created and so was killed. It was doubtless a fitting end for a troublesome giant, while the hitherto disregarded insects could look forward to greater respect from their fellow creatures.

©2013 Tish Farrell

Weekly Photo Challenge: Colour

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Christmas Kitchen

It’s interesting, not to say cheering, when you find a way to see the familiar with fresh eyes, or by accident  tweak the mediocre effort and create something  new. This, after all, is meant to be the artist’s way, whatever medium they choose to work in. It’s how I spend my days when I’m not digging my allotment or fanning the slow flame of local civic activism. So here’s a snap of my kitchen where my last post’s tulips hang, but rendered in ‘poster effect’. I think it’s rather intriguing.

And since I mentioned my allotment, here’s the communal apple tree, which I call the Garden of Eden tree because of its very red apples, complete with rainbow – also in poster effect.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: COLOUR

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Fruit Bowl by Penny Rees

Last week I posted a photo of tulips in my snowy garden. Now here are the tulips in my kitchen. This painting shouts undiluted joy to me; tulips that want to party. It was painted by Herefordshire artist Penny Rees and I love it. It hangs beside our dining table and encourages frivolity even on a Monday night.

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And now you’ve seen my tulips, here are my crab apples: another view from my kitchen taken back in the autumn. Red hot colours for a freezing April in Much Wenlock

…of creation’s imperative

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Snow at Easter! I took this photograph last week as the slightest thaw began. Earlier that day, the buds had loomed beneath the ice crust, looking like blood spots rising from the earth. But then the sun came out and the tulips, red-hot, burned their way out, leaving smooth hollows in the snow. For me, as voyeur, the wind was biting cold and I was soon frozen through. I dived indoors whining at the unseasonal frigidity, and then as ever, in whining-writer mode, began to take the tulips’ triumphal expression personally. What about my own creative impulse? Why cannot I manifest my intentions with such exuberance, and with such elegant economy? And under such extreme weather conditions too?

And so as one thing leads to another, I thought of Robert Louis Stevenson bemoaning how writers alone among artists are “condemned to work in mosaic with finite and quite rigid words” (The Art of Writing), or how the true author knows how “to judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it” (Colette). Or how if I were Tolstoy I would only ever write if I could dip my pen in the inkpot and leave behind a shred of my own flesh (and thus write later only from the stew of my own life force perhaps?) Then I uploaded the photo and studied it on my computer screen. Isn’t there a story, I thought, that begins with a silent, winter’s world, and a queen sitting and sewing at her castle window and, as she pricks her finger on the needle, three drops of blood fall into the snow…

text 2013 Tish Farrell

Trakai Island, LithuaniaPhoto by anjči from London, UK [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Trakai Island, Lithuania
Photo by anjči from London, UK [CC-BY-2.0] via Wikimedia Commons