July.

How are we already in July? The most surreal year; I think any of us have ever experienced, has definitely not rested on its laurels. In a way I am grateful for this speed as with each passing month hopefully means a month closer to getting back to some sort of normality.

An attempt to partake in some sort of pre-lockdown activity this week, I visited Croome Court. I knew that once the National trust had reopened Croome I would like to visit. You have to prebook tickets for a set timeslot, you are unable to enter the properties, but this did not phase me as the grounds of Croome court are exquisite,

The walk did not disappoint, I was even lucky enough to see a Heron in the lake hunting, unfortunately they did not manage to make a catch while I was there, although it did aid my photograph snapping; Herons stand so still while they are stalking potential prey.

Another day and another walk, this time on the Malvern hills. Views from the top, over Worcestershire and Herefordshire are breathtaking. Patchwork fields, glittering water sources and of course the hills themselves all offer their charm as you walk further up the hills.

Garden macro photography has continued to be a source of comfort when I am unable to go out. The flower beds are still providing beautiful blooms, this weeks offering being the bright orange of the Calendula.

There are still a good number of flowers yet to bloom and I cannot wait to see what has flourished from the seeds I had previously scattered (a wild flower mix). The wild mustard flowers are currently the main attraction for insects, with various hover flies and bees visiting the delicate yellow flowers.

I hope you have all had a great week, until next time, take care.

A Menagerie.

This past week has offered an abundant amount of photographic opportunities, from garden macro to poppy field and old gravel pit visits. A collection of all sorts to suit most tastes.

I had never visited a poppy field before, but I had recently seen my fair share of amazing poppy captures across all my social media feeds, from first light illuminating a sea of vibrant red to soft, delicate shots of single stems.

Poppies have long been one of my favourite blooms, as I am sure they are with others. I always feel that their season is all to fleeting, but their impact, everlasting.

As soon as I approached the field in Condicote, Gloucestershire, the first thing that struck me was the colour. Poppies always stand out no matter where they grow but seeing them en masse was stunning.

Whenever I visit a location that has been snapped and shared copious times before, I go with the view to try and take shots my way, to try and not copy what has been done before.

That being said trying to get a new perspective on a poppy is like teaching my dog to speak. I’ve tried to take photos that are true to my style. I have even edited (with my newly acquired photoshop skills) a floral portrait; not only with a poppy but with other flowers that have grown in the garden, to elaborate on their beauty without any distraction.

Speaking of the garden, from the bare mud that was dug over about 6 weeks ago, now contain some florals (Californian poppies and orange daisy’s) but mostly green vegetatian still growing to flourish soon.

I am so relieved that the seeds I scattered have since grown, it fills me with such joy. I now have many varieties of hover flies, bees and bugs visit the garden. Not all are tolerant of me trying to get their picture but I hope I can capture the majority.

From bugs to birds another new location to my ever growing list of places I now love was Grimley Gravel pits. This wetland of old flooded gravel pits housed lapwings, redshanks, oyster catchers and the usual water bird suspects (swans, geese and ducks). I hadn’t been bird watching properly since Upton Warren, just before the lockdown was initiated.

The walk around the pits was a lovely quiet event with no-one else around, you are unable to access the gravel pits directly, the walk around offers a good vantage point as not to disturb the birds. I feel this is a location I will return to regularly. I have in no way seen all that this beautiful place has to offer.

As with most weeks my mental health has been on a roller coaster ride. I do find that after I have been out either walking or in the garden watching mini beasts I generally feel brighter (if not better), I would definitely endorse nature therapy as a prescriptive therapy.

I hope that your week has been a great one, until next time, take care.

Predictable

Well it wouldn’t be a normal month if my mental health didn’t take a nose dive after a run of good days. I would be lying to say that I wasn’t still struggling to find balance for my mental health.

Its exhausting to keep fighting off the same lows, I seem to get to a point where I can get on with my days without the anxiety/depression to then suddenly be back at the start.

It feels at times there is a physical weight on chest, normal activities become strained, added to guilt of not being able to function normally. If people could see the weight maybe attitudes would change towards mental health. Although I have found that the worst judge of my mental state is myself.

Self loathing is a big part of my guilt. I blame myself for everything that goes wrong, I feel like I’m being punished for being lazy, pathetic etc…. These feelings rationally are redundant, they serve no purpose other than to add to my poor mental health, I just wish that when I am at my lowest I could remind myself that these thoughts bear no meaning.

Self doubt comes along for the ride too. Every photograph I have ever taken gets scrutinised to a point where I cannot see any quality in them. I criticise my posts where my opinion of my own writing is just bland and repetitive.

It may sound like I am giving up, some days I do feel like this. I haven’t yet mainly due to family, friends and photography. There is no way that I would get through my low episodes without all of these, left to my own devices I very much doubt I would still be here.

I am a huge advocate for reaching out, not only to those around you but to professional help, charities where you can speak freely. There are days where I don’t talk about how I am feeling to anyone and these are always the worst days.

Opening up doesn’t remove the problem but it makes it more bearable, it helps to see the bigger picture which could be the difference to feeling hopeless to hopeful. I’ve included some links which may be of interest if you are not able to open up to those around you or if your worried about someone who may be struggling.

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/helplines/

https://www.samaritans.org/how-we-can-help/if-youre-having-difficult-time/signs-you-may-be-struggling-cope/

I may not be in a great position at present but I have the right support to remind me this is all temporary and hopefully when this passes the length of time between each low moment will extend.

Below are the macro shots I have continued to take from the garden even when my motivation is lacking. Concentrating on the set up of a shot, what settings I will use it allows me some calm, a distraction to the noise within.

I don’t want this entire post to be negative so I will include positive moment/action from the week. I have started a photoshop course on skillshare (the link below allows for 2 months free for anyone that would like to check it out, there are courses for photography, graphic design, painting, all sorts).

https://skl.sh/2YVW2gv

I’ve always been curious about photoshop, I am never going to manipulate my nature shots to be unrealistic but I would like to utilise the app to enhance what I am shooting.

So far the course has been engaging and I’ve learnt a lot, I hope the information sticks. I would definitely recommend Skillshare. I hope you are all having a great week and until next time, take care.

A New Place To Roam.

There aren’t many things that fill me with as much joy as finding new photography locations. This past week I have managed to find not one but two! The variety of wildlife at both of these locations will give me plenty to capture as the year goes on.

The first location was a relatively local set of ponds, covered with reeds, it housed plenty of ducks, moorhens and even the odd brown rat. Its a place I am more than certain I will return to regularly.

I love feeding the ducks. I would assume most peoples first encounter with wildlife would be feeding the ducks or swans as a youngster. It is something that I will never grow out of, the only difference these days is that I don’t feed them bread, I take seed which the ducks still guzzle down enthusiastically.

At the pond there were plenty of new life, baby ducklings, moorhen chicks and young rats. I really hope to see how these families progress as time moves on.

The second location was a circular walk along the River Avon. Along the river side there were plenty of dragon flies, damsel flies, butterflies and swallows, whizzing past to catch the midges over the water. I had hoped to potentially see kingfishers, so I had favored my longest lens, leaving my macro at home, a decision I would regret with the amount of mini beasts around. Again, as with the ponds, I am very eager to return.

The swallows were fascinating to watch, catching their query along the river, I tried numerous times to get in flight shots but they were just so quick. I did discover that there were a few nesting pairs beneath a railway bridge and managed to capture a shot of a single Swallow perched on one of the steels. They are beautiful birds when you can study them and are not just a blur.

I also saw my first Sedge Warbler, a flit of movement in the reed bed across the river caught my eye. It took a long while to locate the source and even then the picture isn’t the clearest. I am relativity new to birding really, apart from watching garden birds. There are many firsts to be had even with abundant varieties, I look forward to what I manage to capture in the future.

Since the lockdown restrictions have started to ease, I have been trying to look for walks that would not be too busy, for ease of social distancing. I need to be in green space, there is something about being out in nature that just calms my mind. I have struggled this week with extremes of highs and lows, but when I am out feeding ducks or walking along a field, I am level.

I really hope you are all keeping well, until next time take care.

Finding the words

I apologise for the lack of posts recently, in truth I just haven’t been able to find the words. There have been so much to process over the past couple of weeks, it felt frivolous for me to jump onto here to write as if everything was “normal”

This year from the get go has been one trauma to the next. In my recollection there hasn’t been another year like this before. I don’t really talk about news events in these posts, concentrating instead on the photography and even more recently mental health (in hopes of helping others).

So in that same vain of wanting to help others; I am going to add my voice to plead with those who haven’t yet to support Black Lives Matter. Sign the petitions for justice for those who are no longer able to speak, donate (if you are able to), for white people (myself included) to educate yourselves and to have those difficult conversations with those around you about our privilege and what ways we need to be more receptive to learn and move forward as allys, it is up to us to do better.

There are so many heartbreaking and anger inducing situations that should never have happened. From the murders by people who are paid to protect their citizens to birders being reported to the police and having their colour weaponised when politley asking for someone to put a lead on their dog in an area that dogs should be on lead.

I am not qualified to lecture on how these affected their communities, as a white woman I can never fully understand how it feels to be judged, discriminated against because my skin colour/religion/ethnicity is different. When will ignorant people learn that different is not dangerous.

This isn’t a trend, when the news dies down and the next big story break, I urge you to continue to seek out and learn from diverse voices, support diverse companies, look at how you can help to move forward and create an equal footing for all.

I’ve started by talking to my own children about these horrendous acts, it doesn’t matter what age they are, you are never too young/old to learn about (in)justice, equality and privilege.

I will leave links for a few of the petitions I hope you add your name to:

https://www.change.org/p/andy-beshear-justice-for-breonna-taylor

https://www.change.org/p/minneapolis-police-department-justice-for-george-floyd

https://www.change.org/p/suspend-uk-export-of-tear-gas-rubber-bullets-and-riot-shields-to-usa?source_location=petitions_browse

https://www.change.org/p/the-school-system-petition-for-changes-to-be-made-to-the-school-system-to-address-racial-issues-in-the-uk

Nature is a therapy for me, it should be inclusive for all. When I go out with the camera, yeah …I may worry my equipment might get damaged or stolen at worst. I’ve never had to explain to others about my nature watching, or worry others may discriminate while I am out because of the colour of my skin.

I hope we can move forward to a place where can never be the case again, its an uncomfortable journey for us white people, it should be. I am willing to learn and I hope other white people reading this too are to.

Below I have still provided my most recent pictures, I still chose to share them in this post as questioning and learning about racial inequality and how to change behaviors to aid those who most need it should be the new normal and is not separate from my everyday.

Until next time I wish you all the best, take care.

I Am A Work In Progress

Another break from the blog last week, again another mental health stumble. Oh! how I wish for consistency.

The tone of each blog post, I am well aware see-saw from high to low and in truth that is how it has been from day to day. One day I am motivated, eager and happy the next low, no energy, no confidence etc…

I am fighting hard to stay on top of the extremes, my photography has been a great focus and even on an off day I’ve sat out in the garden with the camera.

It’s strange how others view your work, I constantly doubt what I put out there. I never see any quality in my captures, in all honesty I feel like a fraud when I am given positive feedback. I have started to wonder why I keep putting pictures out there as every time I do, I have a little breakdown about not feeling good enough.

I am very critical of my pictures, I only ever see their faults. I wish I could build myself up the way I am more than happy to do for others.

I started sharing my work as I love photography. I don’t make money or seek fame for my snaps. I have to remind myself I do it for the love of the craft. My creative outlet, does it really matter if my image isn’t pin sharp, if I like the image, why isn’t that good enough?

Of course I would like others to appreciate my work, I just hope one day I am able to appreciate them too.

This doesn’t just apply to my photography, I doubt my looks, my personality, my roles etc.. Lack of self esteem mixed with anxiety is a mixture that creates a mindset where I feel like an inconvenience to everyone.

I am constantly a work in progress. I hope for the coming weeks my mentality will plateau.

It was World Bee Day last week, watching the bees in the garden over the past weeks, I’m quite envious of how they just get on with things. They don’t question what they do, they don’t worry about whether they are doing enough, they just do it.

I observed one bee fight against the blustery wind we have been experiencing recently, holding on to the bell flower for dear life until the wind had died down to just move onto the next bloom to continue their pollinating.

An update on the garden, the seedlings have started to get bigger, I have to remember to keep them watered as the warm, dry weather continues. I am looking forward to seeing what wildflowers flourish in the flower beds. I am hoping they will attract butterflies as the garden is lacking their presence.

I hope you are all keeping well, until next time, take care.

Variety Is The Spice Of Life

After a very brief break from blog writing, I’m back with what I hope you find a great variety of captures. The opportunities for photography in the garden recently has been fantastic.

The bird feeder has started to attract a great variety of birds and the mini beasts have been out in force during the warmer weather we have been lucky to have experienced recently.

I have been setting myself goals each day for what I would hope to snap each session. Of course nature is very unpredictable and I have to be flexible as to what is available to shoot.

Generally, I will start by choosing which lens I will be using for that day ( a choice between my 150-600mm or macro 105mm lens). This determines what I will be trying to shoot, e.g macro lens for mini beasts or flora.

I’ve really enjoyed being able to mix my photography up in this way. It has allowed me the focus on a particular subject each day rather than trying to capture absolutely everything, which could result with me missing photographic opportunities and more than likely leave me frustrated.

An update on the garden, another small flower bed had been dug over and more wildflowers have been sown. The flower bed I mentioned in my previous post has now sprung to life, small seedlings are beginning to poke their heads out through the soil. These are very exciting times.

I am unsure as to what project I will next kick start for the garden, a wildlife pond maybe? or more flower beds? I will keep you updated.

Spirits have continued to remain high during the brief writing break, I repeat myself often when I say this; but I am very grateful for times when this is the case for my mental well being. I have been keeping myself active with other small activities that have helped tremendously. Activities as simple as, baking a loaf of bread with a very established and active sourdough starter I started (RuRu), gives me a sense of achievement.

I hope you are all managing to remain positive as lock down continues, if not please, please reach out. We are in this together! Until next time, take care.

The Not So Secret Garden.

In all the years I have lived where I do, I don’t think I have ever spent as much time in the garden as I have recently. The garden even though very basic in design, has become a sanctuary for my well being, aided by the weather being so reasonable.

The garden, regrettably, has been neglected for years. With it being my only green space at present, lockdown has provided the perfect opportunity to try and rejuvenate this sparse bit of land.

I would be going against everything I love if I didn’t try to create a wildlife friendly garden. Ideally I would like lots of flowers for pollinating bugs, alongside habitat for them to make this garden their home e.g a log pile, a small wildlife pond and eventually some form of native tree to encourage more birds to the garden.

The first port of call was to create a flower bed. This was quite tough to dig out as the ground in the garden is made up of very hard clay. It was really hard work and eventually I managed to get it to a stage where I was able to sow some seeds. I chose a native wildflower mix, I am trying to keep the planting scheme loose as I am not a very experienced gardener, I would definitely struggle with thinking up structured planting schemes and knowing what plants grow well alongside each other.

I have to say having a new project has really kept my spirits high and my mind active. I am sure that this project will be ongoing for some time, there is no real need to rush. I can take my time to think of what the garden requires and allow me time to gather the resources, at present a lot of gardening supplies are quite hard to acquire.

Over the coming weeks I will document my garden transformation and may even provide some visual evidence.

The only flora currently growing within the garden would be labeled as weeds by some people. These plants especially in a garden lacking from any other flowers are vital to those pollinators who have awoken this springtime.

Each “weed” holds a certain charm and are often some of the first plants you learn the names to growing up. Early memories which include these plants are summers where I would make daisy chains or picking dandelions to blow the seed heads to make wishes. I am very keen for these to stay within the garden and for my own children to experience the same pleasures I had.

Another positive from the week, more birds have been visiting the feeder. Regardless of their type I am just so happy to be shooting birds again. This does not mean my macro photography has been forgotten, that spark is still ignited. I was extremely pleased with myself as I managed to capture a jumping spider catching their lunch.

My motivation appears to be full steam ahead at the moment and I am very keen for this to continue, especially as lock down continues to be enforced. I am always very grateful for these times when my mental health is in a stable position, I am feeling positive going into the new week.

I really hope that your week has been a good one and that you are all managing to keep safe. Until next time, take care.

A Brutal Truth

http://www.samaritans.org/

https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/suicide/

https://www.supportline.org.uk/problems/suicide/

What’s the lowest you have ever felt?

I recently came across an Instagram post from someone on my feed who had shared a selfie with the caption; “this was taken an hour before I tried to take my own life”. The post continued to describe how they had warned a friend, who had then proceeded to stop them and support them through this trauma.

Something about this post triggered a memory I had not lingered on for a long time. I am going to share it with you now.

By sharing this memory, my main hope is to reach out to others that may be in the same head space and to urge them to reach out before it is too late.

Some brief background information, I lost someone extremely close to me just over three years ago. I had never previously felt a loss like it, nothing prepares you for it. Grief added to a mind already susceptible to anxiety/depression did not make for a good mix.

At my lowest, I didn’t even feel human. My day to day life felt like an outer body experience. I remember telling someone “I know these are my arms and legs, I can see them, feel them, but they do not feel like they belong to me”.

I would not eat, bathe, move from my bed, the days dragged along with very little involvement from me. It pains me to say it now but family members/friends became shadows, I knew in my mind, rationally I loved them dearly but I felt numb about everything.

The longer I dwelled in those dark days, the more I rationalised that for everyone elses sake it would be better if I was not around. I would daydream of taking the next step to making this a reality.

I know some people view suicide as a selfish act. Having been in a mindset where this was an actionable option, I would argue the complete opposite. All I would see was the benefit to others. for me not being around. How family/friends would move on with their lives and live happily without me dragging them down. I felt like an inconvenience, that I was not worth saving.

I hasten to add that that is not the reality, there is no truth to those thoughts. If you feel in any way as I did then, believe me there is no truth in those thoughts. No matter how much your mind wants you to believe it, you are worth saving, you are loved and you can get through this.

Reach out to someone, anyone. I started my real recovery the day I cried for help.

I had been prescribed so many different strong medications throughout my grief; ones for sleep, ones to aid in preventing panic attacks and ones to steady my mood. They sat in the medication tin alongside the usual painkillers, paracetamol etc.

When I started to contemplate my own demise, the pills in my house became my focus and would have been my first port of call.

This is not an easy thing to admit but one day I gathered them all together, the packets sat in my lap inviting me to indulge.

I broke, tears fell down my cheek, I knew that if I didn’t try to get help now, I would do something stupid. I put the medication into a box and handed them to a family member. Crying as I explained that if they didn’t take them away I would do something horrendous.

They were taken back by how far my thoughts had took me, they had no clue to the depths of my despair. They held me as they pleaded with me to get help, that they would help me in any way that they could.

It pushed me to make the best decision I had made for a very long time. I sort after professional help. I was referred to the local mental health team. I am still in recovery, I probably always will be, but I am nowhere near the darkest edge that I have been to.

Its not easy, I’ve mentioned this in previous posts but every day you are here is a win. Each day you see to the end is a win. You are bigger than your infliction makes you feel.

At the top of this post I have linked some web pages that may be of aid to you if you are feeling suicidal, if you find you cannot reach out to family/friends, then reach out there. If you cannot talk, try and write your feelings down, post/text/email them to someone.

If you fear for someone in your life about how they are acting, if they are prone to poor mental health, I would urge you to reach out to them. The power of knowing your are not alone, that people care for your well being, helping them see they are not an inconvenience, can make such a difference. Its not an easy fix, but its a start.

I am forever grateful for my family/friends that have stuck by me through my worst. I am thankful I am still here. I am in a much better place nowadays, even with the recent fluctuations in my mood I have the right tools to see me through.

The picture I have decided to add to this post is one I recently took of the stars; the constellation The Plough, it reminds us that even in the darkness there is light to be found.

I hope you are all taking care of yourselves and hope that we are all looking out for each other in this current climate.

Until next time take care.

For The Love of Macro.

Another week in lock down completed and my love affair with the macro world is still burning as brightly as it previously had. I never, ever, ever thought I would get excited about snapping spiders, flies, snails etc but here we are.

If someone had said to me a month ago, that I would have a favourite spider, I probably would of laughed, I also would of been very wrong to. The zebra spider (a variety of jumping spider) has very quickly crept up into my affections.

How can a spider be this cute? It has got to be something to do with those big eyes. To me it appears like they are wearing goggles (a steampunk spider?). I actually squealed with delight when I got my first decent shot of one.

They are not the easiest subject to shoot, they move very quickly and unlike some other spiders they just don’t seem to stop at all. Their jerky movements and tremendous jump makes them quite unpredictable, so the fact I have been able to get any pictures makes me very pleased.

I am never one to beam over my own pictures but the jumping spider photographs are some of my favourites I have ever taken. Whether this due to my mood recently becoming quite buoyant, so to my confidence follows? or that the subject matter has become a new passion or it could be all of the above.

I am proud of what I have been able to produce these past couple of weeks and that isn’t really the done thing for me.

I have been extremely lucky this week to be able to access a local woodland for my allotted exercise time, this is the first time I have been out to any decent green space in a month. It was very much needed, I have spoken in past posts regarding the restorative power of nature.

The bluebells are currently out in full display and with the bright sunny weather we have been experiencing lately, the woodland offered plenty of exquisite dappled light.

One of my hopes for after lock down is for people to appreciate their green spaces more. The old saying of “you don’t know what you’ve got until its gone”, I knew I missed my nature walks, but being able to walk around those woods, selfishly, I wished I could be there everyday.

I am not sure when I will be able to get back out there, I am just so grateful for being able to at all.

I really hope you are all keeping well, until next time, take care.