Month by month Jude at Travel Words is challenging us to join her in a mission to improve her and our photography. February’s topic has been about ‘patterns’, and the final assignment (I’m on the last lap here) has been to use pattern as a background for a more substantial subject. She says it isn’t easy, and she’s right! Anyway, here’s my best shot at it, though I’m thinking my background is too much in my foreground. Further pondering required.
There’s been little chance to take photos this month. We have had altogether too much bad weather: two storms and one on the way; rain that has been raining since the end of September; wind, sleet and hail; and for poor people who live near the River Severn, horrendous floods. Nearby Ironbridge has been deluged, the water breaching the flood barriers. Our county town, Shrewsbury, has been returned to the bad old winter flood days of the 1960s, this despite its modern flood defences. (You can go here to see the BBC coverage.) In Much Wenlock ten homes on the High Street were treated to a slurry of liquid mud and gravel courtesy of run-off from surrounding hillsides delivered by road into their living rooms and parked cars.
There is much that could have been done since our region’s last big floods in 2007-8. No one seems to drain fields properly, or maintain lane and roadside ditches as they did in my childhood, interventions that would at least help to slow the flow. In fact our verge-side ditches seem to have mostly disappeared, presumably filled in and sacrificed to road widening. And so in times of heavy rains when highway drains may become quickly blocked, our roads serve as highly efficient flash flood delivery systems.
We need to start thinking about better water catchment management, and especially on our denuded uplands where our rivers rise.
Australian farmer initiatives show how all our water catchment areas could be managed better with the addition of ‘leaky weirs’ set at intervals down water courses: rocks, tree trunks judiciously placed to create a series of delta effects. No need for hugely expensive hi-techery. Such simple methods not only hold back flood water and sediment, but hydrate surrounding land and foster regrowth of bank-side vegetation that in turn restores biodiversity, providing resilience too in times of drought. AND, most importantly of all, reducing soil erosion.
BECAUSE apart from the absolute misery caused by flooded homes, the impact on life, health and livelihoods, the biggest long-term loss to us ALL, is the fertile soil that floods carry away. Once it is gone, it is gone. Many of our soils are already mineral depleted. This will ultimately have an impact on the quality of food produced and on human health. The way we treat the land, always clearing, forever taking out with an eye to greater efficiency and higher productivity, but without ever replenishing adn rebuilding, is a good way to degrade local and regional weather systems. In fact creating land resilience and restoring the natural environment are probably the most useful things we could be doing now this minute to mitigate future extreme weather events.
And before too much blame is laid at farmers’ doors for industrial farming practices, the UK and Australia, it seems, have various laws that forbid landowner interference with water courses on their land. They must seek official approval to do anything that impacts on water flow. In the UK, riparian owners have some very serious responsibilities which include ensuring the clear movement of water through their properties.
Here’s an interesting video showing how leaky weirs work, and showcasing the pioneering efforts of farmers and the Mulloon Institute in New South Wales:
And back on the home front and to fend off sensations of all round rising damp, here’s a photo of my drying washing, taken on the one day this month when it was worth hanging it out in the garden. Nothing like filling one’s sheets with wind and sunshine; always makes for the best sort of sleep, I always think.
Sue has a very lovely gallery of photos this month. Please go and see.
Flamingos at dawn on Lake Elmenteita, Kenya
What better way to spend wet and windy days than trawling through old photos: scenes of times past when we lived in Kenya. So all thanks to Tina at Lens-Artists who this week sends us off on a treasure hunt through the photo files. Images may include sunsets, sunrises, birds, mountains, expressive portraits and a host of other things – in combination or otherwise. For the full list, follow the link at the end of the post and be inspired by Tina’s own treasure-hunted photos.
Meanwhile, I’ve chosen photos taken at different times but in a single place where we often stayed – a tented camp on the shores of Lake Elmenteita – a 2-hour drive up the Great Rift Valley from Nairobi. The camp had gone now, but the 46,000 acre wildlife sanctuary that surrounds the lake may still be visited. It is now the Soysambu Conservancy, the land still owned by Lord Delamere, whose grandfather, in the early 1900s, was one of first British colonial settlers in Kenya.
The Eburru massif is still volcanically active. The light here changes every second.
The pioneering Delamere ranch at Elmenteita was never successful, the soil too thin on volcanic bedrock and lacking in vital minerals, a fact well known to local Maasai herders who had long avoided grazing their cattle around the lake. Their name for the place could have offered further clues. In Ki-Maa Elmenteita means ‘place of dust’, their oral accounts telling of times when the lake blew away completely, leaving only a dust-plain.
These days the water levels rise and fall, but in any event the lake is both shallow and intensely alkaline, being one of a string of soda lakes along the floor of Kenya’s Great Rift. The waters are rich in crustacea and insect larvae which support large flocks of Greater Flamingos, and also blue-green algae that keep even larger numbers of Lesser Flamingos well fed. On rocky islands beneath the rugged cones and scarps of the Eburru massif pelicans breed. While around the lake, in marsh and acacia scrub, some 450 bird species have been spotted. The sanctuary is also rich in all manner of plains game: gazelle, eland, impala, waterbuck, zebra, giraffe, warthog, dik-dik, buffalo. And then there are monkeys, aardvarks, spring hares, zorillas, porcupines and rock pythons.
My memories of course are forever fixed in the 1990s, and as an antidote to the kind of nostalgia-wallowing that inevitably overlooks the modernising needs of Kenyans, I should just mention that the volcanic steam vents of the southerly Eburru hills are now being exploited on an industrial scale to generate geothermal power as part of Kenya’s greener, cheaper energy initiative.
Now for my ‘treasure’ trawl:
Who scattered those rose petals on the lake?
I’m including this photo because it shows that East Africa can have very dull weather, often for weeks in July, August and September when it can also be quite cool. The bush is very dry during this period – the main rainy seasons being the short rains in late October – November and the long rains late March – June: if they happen, that is; some years they miss altogether. This last year there have been life-threatening deluges across East Africa. The other striking feature here is the exploded volcanic cone across the lake, traditionally known as the Sleeping Warrior, but also dubbed Delamere’s Nose on account of the original pioneering lordship’s hooter that so impressed the locals.
Paul Kabochi, camp ethnobotanist and medical herbalist. There was not much he did not know about the wilderness, the ways of its wildlife and the healing properties of plants and trees. His animal tracking expertise was often called on by the BBC in the making of wildlife documentaries. The times I spent with him, walking through the early morning bush, or out on night drives, are fused in my heart.
Paul Kabochi and Jo Bickerton on an ethnobotany walk.
I think it was at this point that Paul invited my sister to stick her finger in the top of a harvester ants’ nest. Jo, newly arrived in Africa, but quick as a flash, balked and suggested he might stick his own finger in the nest. This is not the best of photos, but I love the body language: total engagement in more senses than one.
An unexpected portrait:
This tiny Kirk’s dik-dik is not much bigger than a hare. They are rarely spotted during the day, so I was lucky to see this one; even more that he stayed to have his photo taken. Unlike most larger antelope, dik-diks live in monogamous pairs, staying closely together, the male marking their territory with dung middens and secretions from the conspicuous glands at the front of each eye. Each couple generally avoids their immediate dik-dik neighbours, though when boundary disputes do occur they can lead to fierce combat between the males.
Below Wenlock Edge on the way to Westhope.
The Downs Mill lane two winters ago.
Much Wenlock High Street, Reynold’s Mansion built in the 16th and 17th centuries on the immediate left.
The lane by Wenlock Priory ruins and some fine Corsican pines.
On home territory – a shining on Sheinton Street.
It’s years since I rode a bike. In fact I wonder if I still can, though I do remember the precise moment when I first mastered the skill and forward momentum suddenly happened. Just like that – after hours of wobbles and falling about. What a sense of freedom. And so I’m thinking if I had a handy beach I might well give it another go. Softish surface to land on for one thing. But what joy to whizz over tide-washed shores, sea wind in one’s face, gulls wheeling in their own particular way.
Looking at this photo now I’m beginning to feel envious of this unknown cyclist caught plying Newborough sands a few Christmases ago.
The gardener travels hopefully, always looking ahead. It is the only way to go. But then there are also always ‘the now’ activities, the planning, preparing, nurturing, harvesting, recycling, whichever is appropriate at any given point in the cycle of things.
Knowledge gained from past endeavours – the successes, failures and ‘could-do-betters’ – also informs the way forward. There can be neuroses too prodding you along – is now the right time to sow for the best mid-summer crop? Will this variety or that one provide the best tasting produce/be easier to grow/need staking or otherwise managing? Is it warm enough/too wet/too cold to plant the seed potatoes? What can I do this year to fend off pea moth/allium beetle/slugs/pigeons/carrot fly? What measures can be taken in case of drought/flood/heat wave? What else can be grown to extend the cropping season? What will best dry/freeze/be otherwise preserved over the winter? Shouldn’t I be making more compost/collecting more leaves/maintaining a cycle of green manure growing/weeding? What would the bees, bugs and butterflies like?
So much to think about for the coming year. And while I’m busy doing that, here are some ‘back-to-the-future’ successes from last summer that are spurring me onwards. Remembrance of things to come…
Lens-Artists: Future This week Ann-Christine gives us ‘the future’ as her very thoughtful challenge. Please call in to see her evocative double-exposure images. You’ll be glad you did.
This morning the radio weather commentary described our English temperatures as ‘polar’. It surely feels like it – and that’s inside the house. For despite the existence of central heating and the recent consumption of a good hot mug of coffee, I am wearing mittens as I type this.
And since it is far too cold to go outdoors I cunningly combined Jude’s ‘patterns challenge’ which asks us to look at the subject from different perspectives, and combined near and far subjects – snow on the bedroom window and next door’s garden ash tree – all in one shot. The abstracted result rather reflects my abstracted mindset at present.
Please visit Jude for lots of inspiring ways to look at your photo subjects.