In Search Of Lost Time At Elmenteita ~ Back To The Old Africa album

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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.

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The Eburru massif is still volcanically active. The light here changes every second.

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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.

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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:

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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.

People portraits:

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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.

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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:

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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.

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Lens-Artists: Treasure Hunt

 

In And Out And Round About Much Wenlock

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Below Wenlock Edge on the way to Westhope.

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The Downs Mill lane two winters ago.

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Much Wenlock High Street, Reynold’s Mansion built in the 16th and 17th centuries  on the immediate left.

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The lane by Wenlock Priory ruins and some fine Corsican pines.

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On home territory – a shining on Sheinton Street.

Cee’s B & W Photo Challenge: roads

The Beach Bicyclist

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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.

 

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge: cycles – one, two, or three wheelers

Backwards And Forwards Planning ~ That Would Be Gardening Then

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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.

‘Polarised’ ~ Today’s Skylight View

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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.

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Please visit Jude for lots of inspiring ways to look at your photo subjects.

How About Some Spanish Sunlight On Toast?

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It’s not something I do often – once in a blue moon, or more especially as an antidote to four months without much sunshine. But then the Seville oranges had arrived at Entertaining Elephants, sister Jo’s scrumptious shop. So it had to be done – a spot of marmalade making.

There’s no doubting it’s a faff – all that separating of orange innards into a muslin bag. (I found a desert spoon speeded up operations). Then the fine chopping and slow simmer of peel. But oh, the scent of warm orange that filled the cottage, and then the satisfying row of glowing jars. So then I thought I’d take a photo, and as I was cropping and squaring it, it occurred to me that it had a Rothko-esque quality had that fine artist ever thought to pursue the diagonal or ponder on the joys of marmalade making.

By the way, it tastes delicious too. But in the absence of a tasting, may the marmalade light be with you.

copyright 2020 Tish Farrell

January Light #27

Below The World’s First Cast Iron Bridge: Half ‘n Half-Light

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I admit this is not a great shot of one of industrial history’s key artefacts, though you can just make out  the new rust-red livery of the ironwork. Obviously the thing that caught my eye here was the strange lighting effect between bridge and river.

But for those of you who like a few facts to support ‘first in the world’ claims, the bridge was built in 1779 by Quaker Ironmaster Abraham Darby III. It spans the Severn Gorge in Ironbridge, Shropshire, and was intended to replace a (sometimes treacherous) ferry crossing between Broseley and Coalbrookdale, much used by the local workforce. But most of all it was designed to impress. Not only was it the world’s first cast iron bridge, so demonstrating a pioneering structural material, it was also the first single span bridge on the River Severn (all the other bridges were built of stone and had low arches). This new design meant that the large sailing barges (trows) coming up from Bristol did not have to de-mast to pass under it.

The River Severn trade was a busy one too – all manner of luxury goods coming upstream, locally produced pig iron, castings, ceramics and porcelain going downstream. Inevitably then, word of this daring new structure would quickly spread. People would start thinking of cast iron as a material with prospects. The Coalbrookdale iron masters certainly had plenty of ideas – from the industrial (iron framed factories, wagon wheels, rails, boiler castings) to the decorative and all points in between. The Great Exhibition of 1851 and the world trade fairs that it engendered provided the shop window for their ever more ingenious fabrications.

The Company’s catalogues were the ‘style books’ of the late 19th century. Cast iron was used to make just about everything – glasshouse frames, intricate park gates, garden rollers, seats, horse troughs, statues, fountains, stoves, boot scrapers, fire surrounds, nut crackers, bandstands, lamp posts, fruit bowls, cooking pots, grave memorials and all manner of finials and fancy pieces. Its beauty lay in the fact that once designs had been committed to moulds, pieces could be mass produced, and whether for grand architectural statements for the stately pile or a cauldron for the workman’s home the material was supremely functional (if a little cold to the touch).

So how about one of these to hang your hat on:

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These pieces might seem ‘overdone’ to our eyes, but they involved consummate skill (and physical risk) in their moulding and casting. As to design, the Coalbrookdale Company founded a technical institute for its workforce with the specific aim of nurturing local expertise and innovation in the fields of decorative ironwork.

But these days it is perhaps the enduring and durable ornamental garden seat that is more appealing to us. Here’s one I spotted at Dudmaston Hall back in the summer:

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And now back to where it and I started, but with a better view of the Iron Bridge: Abraham Darby III’s magnificent cast iron PR stunt. And it’s still going strong after 241 years (thanks to some recent rigorous conservation work by English Heritage). And still the tourist attraction it was back then too – even to us locals who like to pay homage to this piece of engineering chutzpah every once in a while.

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January Light #24

On The Church Green ~ Willow-Light

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A bit of an odd phenomenon I thought on Monday as we were walking across Wenlock’s Church Green. And not only because we had sunshine – a rare event over the past few months – but also because the willow tree appeared to emitting its own light. The sunshine was also catching the edge of William Penny Brookes’ grave (1809-1896), he who was the town’s enlightened physician and who in 1850 recreated the Olympian Games as an annual town event. These games attracted national and later international interest. Brookes was in correspondence with Baron Coubertin (often given the credit for masterminding the modern Olympics) who visited Wenlock to see the games for  himself. The model that William Brookes had perfected, down to the designing of the medals, was the actual inspiration for the creation of the modern Olympic Movement.

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Brookes was a man who operated on many fronts when it came to improving community wellbeing. He was responsible for the arrival of the railway and the gas works, founded a library and the Agricultural Reading Society for working people, conducted trials on children’s bodily fitness and lobbied for the introduction of physical education to British schools. The link above gives a brief summary of his life and legacy to the town, and indeed to the world at large. The house where he lived stands opposite the church, marked with the requisite blue plaque. He is well remembered.

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http://www.wenlock-olympian-society.org.uk/ for more information on past and present Wenlock Olympian Games

January Light #22