“The light always comes back…”

Early morning sun and mist on sports field, Collins Park, Greenhithe, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2017. Edited with Snapseed.

Morning sun breaking through the mist. Collins Park, Greenhithe, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2017. Edited with Snapseed.

My morning walks have become longer again, and are beginning to require a certain military precision in their organisation. Keys — tick. Woolly layers — tick. Toes strapped (experiment in postural correction) — tick. Fitness tracker, headphones, smartphone, new podcasts downloaded — yes, yes, yes and yes.

I’m a huge fan of BBC Radio 4 podcasts, and this morning the Desert Island Discs of Scottish writer and poet Liz Lochhead provided the soundtrack as I set off into the mist that mantled Greenhithe.

Early morning, Greenhithe Road. Image: Su Leslie, 2017. Edited with Snapseed.

Early morning, Greenhithe Road. Image: Su Leslie, 2017. Edited with Snapseed.

Sunrise behind the cabbage trees. Collins Park, Greenhithe, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2017. Edited with Snapseed.

Dr Suess-like cabbage trees, Collins Park, Greenhithe, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2017. Edited with Snapseed.

The title of this post is from the poem In the Mid-Midwinter, by Liz Lochhead. It seems particularly appropriate today as nature has already bestowed on Greenhithe an almost white-out mist, bright winter sunshine and now a sky of “dreich greyness” as the rain approaches.

In the Mid-Midwinter
Poem

‘Tis the year’s midnight, and it is the day’s – from John Donne’s
‘A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy’s Day, being the Shortest Day’.

At midday on the year’s midnight
into my mind came
I saw the new moon late yestreen
wi the auld moon in her airms though, no,
there is no moon of course,
there’s nothing very much of anything to speak of
in the sky except a gey dreich greyness
rain-laden over Glasgow and today
there is the very least of even this for us to get
but
the light comes back
the light always comes back
and this begins tomorrow with however many minutes more of sun and serotonin.
Meanwhile
there will be the winter moon for us to love the longest,
fat in the frosty sky among the sharpest stars,
and lines of old songs we can’t remember
why we know
or when first we heard them
will aye come back
once in a blue moon to us
unbidden,
bless us with their long-travelled light.

Liz Lochhead

Written for Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge at Lens and Pens by Sally.

Some thoughts on atmospheric conditions, focus and the illusion of isolation

Hints of the changing season. Black and white, close up shot of raindrops on Loropetalum chinense (chinese fringe flower) leaves. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

All it takes is a change of focus to see what lies beyond us. Raindrops on Loropetalum chinense (chinese fringe flower) leaves. Image: Su Leslie, 2017

I woke this morning to find the world beyond my street has disappeared.

A mist has rolled across the harbour and made an island of this, slightly elevated, piece of land I call home. Beyond the neighbours’ roofs, a stand of macrocarpa trees fades softly into a flat, grey void.

The still air carries the sound of motorway traffic in the distance, but like shapes in the mist, the sound is muffled and indistinct — a mere hint of life beyond this temporary island.

For this time I am alone; the drivers, dog-walkers, joggers and cyclists either still at home or invisible to me.

For this time I can enjoy the quiet and solitude, the safety and peace, of my island. Soon it will be gone; evaporated by the climbing sun. Once again I will be part of a bigger, messier, noisier whole.

I can’t ponder this without thinking of John Donne, and THAT poem:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

MEDITATION XVII
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
John Donne

I imagine all over the world right now, good people are reading and quoting this rebuke of isolationism, even as the sound of guns being cocked and drawbridges being pulled up echo through the mist.

For those of us who have a safe place — a home, a friendly neighbourhood, a peaceful country — it is tempting to build a fence, patrol the boundaries, create rules for entry. It is tempting to hold on to what we have and create a mist to obscure that which is beyond.

It is tempting to zoom in and focus on what is near. But however blurred by our lens, there is always a background in shot which must share our attention too.

Written for Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge at Lens and Pens by Sally.

“Always the bough is breaking …”

Grainy b&w shot of milkweed seed head. Image: Su Leslie, 2017. Edited with Snapseed.

Milkweed seed head. Image: Su Leslie, 2017. Edited with Snapseed.

I’ve become a gardener. Not just in the literal sense of having a garden; but more in the way that my garden has become a filter through which I see the world.

I grow flowers for the bees, set beer traps for snails, chase wasps from the swan plants and am the Big T’s eager accomplice in Monarch butterfly husbandry.

When I grow hungry, the contents of the  vege patch are as important as the contents of my fridge.

And when the annoying TV weatherman casts impending rain as a villain swooping in to spoil the party, I want to shout “sod off! Think of the plants; think of the gardens.”

The thing about gardening is that you become part of a cycle; birth, life, death, decay, re-birth. Compost as metaphor!

I have become connected. Though my little patch of cultivated dirt, I feel a sense of belonging to the Earth that is not only new, but surprising in its intensity.

Grainy b&w shot of milkweed seed head. Image: Su Leslie, 2017. Edited with Snapseed.

Milkweed seed head. Image: Su Leslie, 2017. Edited with Snapseed.

I found this poem yesterday and realised that where once, if asked about my attitude to life and death, I’d have quoted Dylan Thomas’s Do not go gentle into that good night. 

Now I think Willam Soutar‘s Song might be more apt.

Song

End is in beginning;
And in beginning end:
Death is not loss, nor life winning;
But each and to each is friend.

The hands which give are taking;
And the hands which take bestow:
Always the bough is breaking
Heavy with fruit or snow.

… a cube of sunlight

 

Black and white shot, Oriental Bay boatsheds, with St Gerald's church in the background. Wellington, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Oriental Bay boatsheds, with St Gerald’s church in the background. Wellington, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2016. Edited with Snapseed.

I recently spent a long weekend in Wellington; the world’s southernmost capital city and one of my favourite happy-places.

Wellington is a small city, full of art and culture and great places to eat and drink coffee. Bounded by the sea and the hills, it works on a human scale. Everywhere is walkable, even in one of the howling gales for which Wellington is famous.

I arrived in the midst of such a storm. Throughout the flight from Auckland the captain warned that we might be in for a “bit of jostling” as our plane approached Wellington airport. He wasn’t joking.

Girls pose with the Max Patte sculpture, 'Solace in the Wind.' Wellington waterfront. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Waterfront sculpture. Max Patte, ‘Solace of the wind‘ — with admirers. Wellington waterfront. Image: Su Leslie, 2016. Edited with Snapseed.

Although the wind dropped a little over the weekend, it remained a grey and windy time — perfect for black & white photography.

Wellington street sculpture. Terry Stringer, 'Grand Head', Victoria Street, Wellington. Image: Su Leslie, 2016.

Wellington street art. Terry Stringer, ‘Grand Head‘, Victoria Street, Wellington. Image: Su Leslie, 2016. Edited with Snapseed.

Sculpture on Wellington waterfront. Michael Tuffery, 'Nga Kina', sculpture at Kumutoto Wharf, Wellington waterfront. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

Michael Tuffery, ‘Nga Kina‘, sculpture at Kumutoto Wharf, Wellington waterfront. Image: Su Leslie, 2016. Edited with Snapseed.

After the movies. Coffee and cake at kaffee eis, Cuba Street, Wellington. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

After the movies. Coffee and cake at kaffee eis, Cuba Street, Wellington. Image: Su Leslie, 2016. Edited with Snapseed.

'The Beehive', NZ Parliament building, Wellington, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

‘The Beehive’, NZ Parliament building, Wellington, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2016. Edited with Snapseed.

Indoor sculpture. Francis Uprichard, 'Mandrake', from Jealous Saboteurs exhibition at Wellington City Gallery. Image: Su Leslie, 2016

More sculpture indoors. Francis Upritchard, ‘Mandrake‘, from Jealous Saboteurs exhibition at Wellington City Gallery. Image: Su Leslie, 2016. Edited with Snapseed.

The title of this post comes from the Alistair Te Ariki Campbell’s poem ‘Blue Rain.’ An extract, below,  is included in the Wellington Writers’ Walk — a series of “typographical sculptures” placed around the city. It occurs to me that the phase “cube of sunlight” might also be applied to photography.

“Blue rain from a clear sky.
Our world a cube of sunlight –
but to the south
the violet admonition
of thunder.”

— Alistair Te Ariki Campbell. From ‘Blue Rain’ in The Dark Lord of Savaiki: Collected Poems, Hazard Press, 2003

Posted to Sally D’s Mobile Photography Challenge, at Lens and Pens by Sally.

 

 

On narrow streets and the life to come

Looking up a cobbled wynd in the Scottish town of Falkland, Fife. Image: Su Leslie, 2013. Edited with Snapseed.

Cobbled wynd. Sharp’s Close, Falkland, Scotland. Image: Su Leslie, 2013.

In Scotland and northern England, a narrow street or alley is called a wynd or a close (/ˈkls/ pronounced with a soft ‘s’ rather than a ‘z’ at the end).

A few years ago, I stood at the entry to this wee street with its old cobbles worn slick, and saw, in the creamy stone and whitewashed houses, my family’s past.

My ancestors — overwhelmingly working class Fife men and women — lived not in Falkland but in Dysart, Auchtermuchty, Wemyss, Kinglassie, Abbotshall and Gallatown. In streets with names like Pittesdown Close and Watery Wynd; Coal Wynd and Dobie’s Close.

For some, their whole lives were lived in those narrow streets, moving from one rented dwelling to another in the same village or town. Others left Scotland altogether; sensing a wider future for themselves in Canada, the United States, Australia, southern Africa and, in my parents’ case, New Zealand.

I love the way this poem —Wynd, by fellow Fifer Andrew Greig — gives tangible, geographical form to the almost universal condition of being young and caught between the seemingly narrow world that is known, and the vaguely suspected vastness of a future to come.

Wynd
Poem

It’s back again, the how of rain
pleating off leaky roans, binding
strands that curve down stanks, curl
by high-walled wynds and dreels,
past sweetie shops with one faint bulb,
bell faltering as the pinnied widow
shuffles through from her back room –
What can I do for you the day?
She hands me now
no Galaxy or Bounty Bar
but a kindly, weary face, smear
of lipstick for her public, the groove
tartan slippers wore in linoleum
from sitting-room to counter, over thirty years:
the lost fact of her existence.

Currents ravel past the draper’s
where Mr Duncan and his unspeaking sister
sort shirts by collar size, set out
Mason’s cuff links and next season’s vests;
on stiff white cards their flowing pens
price elastic, Brylcreem, dark tartan braces.

Floods tangle, splice, uncoil
down Rodger Street, past bank and tearoom,
the dodgy garage where they sold airguns to anyone,
the steamed-up window of the ‘Royal’
where fires warms the bums of men who like
to drink standing, bunnets jammed down tight.
At Shore Street the rain-river
leaps the pavement, scours a channel
through pongy weed behind the sea wall
where damp frocks shiver under umbrellas
by the market cross, waiting for their lucky day
or at least the bus to Leven –
which won’t come for ages, because it’s Sunday.

In the hours between Stingray and the evening meal,
when the strings of family, place and history
working us, are all too bleeding visible,
as gutters burst the adolescent wonders
whether to have a quick one or read French poetry.
Smouldering with solitude, the prince of boredom
stands at the window, watching rain,
wondering when life ends, or will finally begin.

Fall, flow ache.
By those cramped streets, the kenned wynds,
loans, closes, byways, dreels,
the dying shops, fishermen’s damp houses
with empty sail lofts, broken pantiles,
wash-houses not ready for witty conversion;
by the constricting, cherished dreichness of our town
whose high tide had ebbed before ours began;
by the draper with its yellow blinds pulled down,
the angle of a bent streetlamp,
the budgie cage in old Jeanie’s window;
by the secret path behind the allotment,
the steep slalom of Burial Brae,
the short-cuts, the dank kirks and graveyards –
by these details we did not know we loved,
we grew up provincial, in the heart of the world.

You are standing at the bedroom window
watching rain, homework abandoned on the desk.
The parents are somewhere unimportant,
wee brother plays keepie-uppie in the gloom –
time to belt the shorty raincoat, go
in search of nothing but the life to come.

Andrew Greig

— from the Scottish Poetry Library

A contribution to the Daily Post Photo Challenge, on the theme of narrow.

Poetry in music: intoxicating lyrics

Image

"'Cause tomorrow's keep on blowing in From somewhere." Bic Runga, Listening for the Weather, 2002. Storm surf at Takapuna Beach, Auckland, NZ. Image: Su Leslie, 2015

” ‘Cause tomorrow’s keep on blowing in from somewhere.” Bic Runga, Listening for the Weather, 2002. Image: Su Leslie, 2015

NZMM2016_jpg

This week at Where’s my Backpack, Ailsa’s Travel Theme word is poetry.

As someone with very little musical ability, but an enormous love of language, it is usually the poetry of the lyrics that draws me into a song.

I could probably have chosen any of Bic Runga‘s songs for this post. Her single Sway was voted the 6th best New Zealand song by members of the Australasian Performing Rights Association, and I will enthusiastically warble my way through every song on her second album Beautiful Collision if there’s no-one around to hear me.  But I’ve chosen Listening for the Weather, because I just love the opening lines:

Listening For The Weather

So, I’m listening for the weather,
To predict the coming day.
Leave all thought of expectation
To the weatherman.
No it doesn’t really matter
What it is he has to say,
‘Cause tomorrow’s keep on blowing in
From somewhere.

All the people that I know
In the apartments down below,
Busy with their starring roles
In their own tragedies.

[Chorus]
Sunlight sends you on your way,
And those restless thoughts that
Cling to yesterday.
Never be afraid of change.
I’ll call you on the phone.
I hate to leave you on your own,
But I’m coming home today.

And this busy inner city
Has got nothing much to say,
And I know how much you’re
Hanging ’round the letterbox.
And I’m sure that as I’m writing,
You’ll be somewhere on your way,
In a supermarket checkout
Or a restaurant.

I’ve been doing what I’m told.
I’ve been busy growing old,
And the days are getting cold,
but that’s alright with me.

[Chorus]

Yes I’m coming home today.

I’ve been doing what I’m told.
I’ve been busy growing old,
And the days are getting cold,
But that’s alright with me.

[Chorus]

 

If William Blake had designed fabric …

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'Tyger, tyger': more kaleidoscope fabric design using Pixlr Express. Design/photo: Su Leslie, 2014.

‘Tyger, tyger’: more kaleidoscope fabric design using Pixlr Express. Design/photo: Su Leslie, 2014.

Tyger, Tyger

William Blake

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
 
In what distant deeps or skies.
Burnt the fire of thine eyes?
On what wings dare he aspire?
What the hand, dare seize the fire?
 
And what shoulder, & what art,
Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand? & what dread feet?
 
What the hammer? what the chain,
In what furnace was thy brain?
What the anvil? what dread grasp,
Dare its deadly terrors clasp!
 
When the stars threw down their spears
And water’d heaven with their tears:
Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the Lamb make thee?
 
Tyger Tyger burning bright,
In the forests of the night:
What immortal hand or eye,
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?