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Posts from the ‘Photography’ Category

Finding the Scallop Shell Road

P1020951 It happened on a day of doubts and indecision.

I found myself wandering along an unfamiliar dirt track through farmland in north east Scotland, toying with plans for the summer and searching for solutions to some big questions. And after I’d walked through the predictable mud and gravel, I stopped, stunned, as the dreary path gradually gave way to the glorious ridges, pinks and peaches of the symbol I’d followed for a month across Spain; I’d stumbled across a Scallop Shell Road.

Some shells were crushed and broken by vehicles and feet, others were still entire and enticing me forward in the way I followed them for 500 miles on walls, on pavements, through woods and streets and swinging from the packs P1020899of fellow pilgrims all the way to Santiago. Filling potholes may be practical but it seems such a mundane finale for the fine shapes and colours of the Coquilles St Jacques and I wonder if they’re used like this elsewhere.

So was it coincidence – or an omen? Chance, or a clear sign that I should set off again to follow the mark of the scallop shell?

Van with a View (1)

P1020783It took two years of deliberation, but finally the van is On The Road.

And the first camper adventure may have been brief but it was shared with my sons.

So on this momentous occasion my view from the back seat of the two co-drivers is the one I’ll treasure.

Happy days.

The beauty in broken down barns

The old Ontario barns could tell tall tales. They’ve fought their weather battles and bear the scars but I fear for them now, abandoned and unloved.

There’s still strength there but the snow intensifies their disrepair and vulnerability. And makes them even more beautiful.

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Conscience free snow

There’s deep snow underfoot and fluffy flurries falling as I walk in late afternoon light. It’s Ontario in the midst of a freezing Canadian winter, and I’m shovelling to clear the driveway,  playing on skates, skis and snowshoes, taking endless photographs and piling on layer after layer to stay warm. I grab wool, down, boots, fleeces, gloves, hat, more down and sunglasses and am rewarded with whiteness, shadows, a glowing body, aching muscles and a warm dram at night. There’s no guilt.

Guilt? For enjoying winter?

We had snow too when I was little, growing up on a Scottish dairy farm which was perched at the top of a steep slippery brae. There was only one focus every snowy morning; the long farm track had to be ploughed and sanded for the daily visit of the milk tanker. The pot-bellied lorry had to power its way up the hill and manoeuvre round the bends to reverse into position outside the dairy, unhook its long pipe and suck the bulk tank dry because a herd of cows was already gearing up to fill it all over again . And they couldn’t wait.

It seemed the jeopardy was with us every morning. Would this be the day the snow and ice would prove to be  too much and we’d have to pour the hard-earned milk down the drain? We kids had the family farm work ethic; we knew it mattered.

My father and the men would spend the morning scraping and sanding the road then hook a tractor to pull the tanker up and up,  climbing round the dangerous slippery drops which fell to the river far below. We’d listen for the sound, willing the engine noise to slowly draw closer and roar outside the farmhouse window. Not until it was safely back down the hill  could we children make slides and throw snowballs, knowing that all was well with the world. Until the next day.

It’s a lifetime ago but carefree snow is still a novelty. This week I’m embracing it.

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No one home

I travelled such a long way to visit….P1020602

… but only the chickadees came out to play on the cross country trails.

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A swirl of moss

A swirl of moss

Near my grandfather’s grave a swirl of moss on stone outlines a neighbour’s life.

Point the way, beach sentinel

On lightening blue days it kicks and dances or reclines to soak up scarce northern rays. When the storms come I watch it shiver; exposed to the blast from the sea. And once the sun fades low, it turns mellow in the glow of our soft winter light. Bare beach tree, I love your moods.

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Surviving the season with a blast from the past

Thermals… tick. Down jacket… tick. Gloves, scarf, hat… tick.  Boots, double socks…

The damp and darkness of a Scottish winter have driven me indoors to pore over my 2013 diary for a fiery blast of southern sunshine. This time last year I was in the goldfields of Kalgoorlie, Western Australia where the temperature was 46 degrees; unbreathable and unsleepable and the most extreme heat I’ve ever encountered.

On Hogmanay 2012 I’d caught the Prospector train from Perth for a seven hour journey east across barren land, the train track accompanied all the way by the essential water pipe from the coast that the sceptics said could never be built. And on New Year’s Day 2013 I joined my brother in the truck he drives for hundreds of miles every week, over ungraded red roads, all the way out to the remote gold mines.

We explored deserted settlements and abandoned mines where there’s nothing but a few sun-faded signs to hint at the P1030053gamble that went into the building of pioneering prospector towns like Kanowna, just an hour’s drive from Kalgoorlie.  I ventured out of the cab for a few minutes at a time to poke around the weather-beaten posts that marked ancient claims and to see how the props of solitary digs and the dreams of desperate men had crumbled to dust.

The unrealised expectations that had been invested in these harsh places just 100 years ago made me wistful. The prospect of riches had attracted an optimistic community of people who build homes and hotels, formed social clubs and a football team, a fire service and a Salvation Army. Children went to school here. Yet despite enduring the discomfort and sacrifices the dream ultimately failed to deliver. And now the inhospitable land that was once home to a town full of miners and their families has been returned to nature with only a few dents in the ground to show for all the expectation and effort.

P1020910By contrast, just a few miles away, the Kalgoorlie Super Pit still continues to yield gold, ever since  three Irishman stumbled across a huge nugget in 1893. Around 50 million ounces of gold have been mined here and the dumper trucks which look like worker ants in the huge scale of the pit still appear to work 24 hours a day.

Kalgoorlie-Boulder was once one of the biggest cities in Australia and home to the “richest mile on earth”. And some of the characters you meet on its streets even now look every bit as desperate and determined as the 19th century photographs of prospectors on display in the town’s museum.

There were a few of these men in the Broad Arrow Tavern too, an outback pub where we retreated indoors in the relative cool and drank pint after pint of iced water and I, the unacclimatised Scot, tried to stabilise my soaring body temperature.

P1030022 Maybe that cool dark Scottish rain pelting the window tonight isn’t such a problem after all.  I’ll just throw another log on the fire.

Good morning 2014

Sunrise on 2014 and the first breakfast of the year. Sláinte!

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The knots that make magic

P1020204Oh it’s grey, grey, colourless bleak on the beach in these dying hours of the year. The waves, the sky, the land – even the little birds feeding down at the tide’s edge disappear in the dirty half-light. Monochrome. Cheerless.

And then they rise up and you’re mesmerized and smiling. They flash quicksilver white, swarming sky-high in a throng of thousands, diving and twisting, catching light you didn’t know was there. There’s a rush of wings and they’re bearing down, funneling a wind as they flock over and around, and suddenly silence. And then another synchronized spiral of wings and they disappear to lifeless cloud.

Happy, mercurial little knots, you have made magic in a grey day.

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