Saturday, 29 January 2011

Sunlight through trees, one of my favourite things

As I've posted many times, I enjoy walking in the outdoors, preferably somewhere natural and away from people and man-made structures and most preferably; amongst trees.

Please click on any of the photographs to see a larger view.

I absolutely love seeing sunlight filtering through trees, those little flashes of golden light you see playing on the trees and ground to make infinitely variable abstracts. Being amongst woodland is good in any weather and often the very shelter it provides makes it a good choice on days of extreme weather; lessening the effects of rain, wind, or hot sunshine.

As the weather forecast for today was for clear skies and temperatures not far above freezing, it was too good an opportunity to miss and the domestic chores we should have been addressing were abandoned in favour of a nice drive to a favourite spot (Beacon Fell in Lancashire), a walk and some soup and fresh bread for lunch - which always tastes much better outside.

But I really do love seeing shafts of sunlight between trees, it's something I never tire of and must now have taken hundreds of photographs of, but it's also something very difficult to do justice to in a still photograph. Sometimes, you just have to be there and enjoy it in the moment.

I get a great deal of comfort for being amongst trees and I cannot conceive of living anywhere where I wasn't in close proximity to trees - I am blessed in being able to see them right outside my windows and to be within walking and driving distance of some totally gorgeous woodland areas.

All of my favourite walks are in woodland and if I'm stressed or unhappy for any reason, it's the idea of being amongst trees in the fresh air that comforts me and gives me something to look forward to. It's where I take my mind to when I want to be distracted.

It had clearly been below freezing overnight and we woke to visible frost, but within the forest park we encountered a number of areas with different weather conditions, from a light snow covering, to thick frost and in more sheltered spots, areas of mud where it hadn't frozen at all. This pond was surrounded by a dusting of snow and the water itself was completely frozen - someone had already broken the ice near the edge and flipping over some of the pieces we could see that it was over an inch thick.

I've shown photographs before of this willow woven statue of a deer that has recently been built in a little clearing in the forest and you just encounter it at the side of the path as you walk along. I took this photograph with a wider angle lens than previously as I wanted to check the status of the small pine trees growing around it. the ground was well covered with seedlings of different sizes and I was curious as to whether they'd been planted or were self-seeded - considering that the ground is littered with cones from the adjacent trees.

My new camera has a 30x zoom lens (from wide angle 35mm equivalent focal length of 24mm and 720mm at the telephoto lens) and I was curious to see the range it offered me from the same spot. Both photographs were taken from the same place and are both full frame. There's a little camera shake in this close shot as it was taken at a very slow shutter speed. You can see the willow is starting to bud, so presumably this will sprout leaves in spring, so it will be interesting to see how it develops.

I also wanted to do some more work with my new camera, but it was bitterly cold, especially in the shade under the trees and as a Reynauds sufferer, I was really struggling with numb hands today and trying to operate the tiny buttons on a camera - and keep it still - wearing thick ski gauntlets (recently purchased and just not up to the job) wasn't the best methodology for good results. And don't even get me started on how hard my hat, scarf and hair was fighting me today, variously getting in my eyes and causing me to steam up my glasses.

This is one of my favourite spots on our walk - and as we did a figure of 8 walk we walked this section twice today - you drop down quite steeply through a plantation area which is quite dense with conifers and even on the brightest of days is very dark and the light rarely penetrates the area as it never gets direct sunlight, being in the shadow of a hill. But there is a clearing ahead where paths cross and the trees in that area are often in a shaft of light, making this lovely glowing focal point to head towards.

The deep contrast of the lighting makes it almost impossible to photograph well and do the scene justice, but I think you'll get the idea. The patch of trees ahead of you in the path always seem to glow as they catch the sunlight.

Friday, 21 January 2011

A frosty workout for my new camera

Yesterday evening we had the most amazing weather - I've never seen anything quite like it. It had been a cold day and as the light and temperature dropped at dusk, there was quite an eerie feel to it as a thick fog drew in. I could actually see the frost developing in the garden as I worked, tangibly turning surfaces white as it got dark. It's not often that you see a frost developing quite that quickly and quite so early in the evening.

Please click on the photographs to see a larger view - they look rather dark here on the page.

As the fog swirled round, the frost visibly thickened - within a couple of hours of me noticing the fog, the garden was entirely white - like a modest covering of snow. As the night drew in and the temperatures dropped further, the frost thickened and you could see the air was full of ice crystals, twinkling as they caught the light. By midnight, there was a solid white covering over every surface, almost an inch thick.

And I mean every surface - when snow falls, even very gently, it only lands on uppermost surfaces - obviously as it's falling downwards. But this frosty covering wrapped around every surface of exposed items, in all dimensions and on the leading edge of larger structures like trees and furniture. By the time we were heading for bed, I put on an outside light to check progress and you could clearly see spiky crystals projecting randomly from the surfaces of leaves and garden furniture. I was hoping that it would last until daylight so that I could get some photographs - I had a new camera I was keen to give a good workout.

A little reading turned up some new information to me - it seems that if frost is formed specifically from fog freezing when it hits cold surfaces, it's called 'rime' - there's soft rime (very similar to hoar frost) and hard rime. I'd not heard that term before. I think this frost therefore must have been soft rime. Hoar frost is very similar, but forms when the relative humidity is just generally high and the moisture in the air freezes on surfaces. So it often occurs when there's a very cold snap after a period of thawing snow.

The moss on a dead tree I keep for my tree creeper - you can see how light and fluffy it is when it doesn't even disturb the tiny delicate seed heads of the moss and formed around them.

Unfortunately by sunrise, it must have warmed during the night and the crystals I'd seen as we shut up for the night had collapsed somewhat and now it just looked like a soft and gentle covering of very light powdery snow - and much of the frost on lower surfaces had seemingly dropped off, adding to the snowy appearance.

It was still beautiful nontheless and I was glad that I'd got to see it form during the evening, it was quite spectacular. As the sun rose, despite a very cool air temperature, its light texture ensured that it thawed very quickly where the sun hit it, remaining longer in shady areas. I got quite wet taking these photographs as it dripped off the trees. Some of the photographs were taken in my garden, some on a walk later in the morning.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

The mixed blessing of a good tidy up

As I've blogged before, I have a hopeless case of terminal hoarditis. A consequence of which, is that your living space diminishes in size as you fill it with gubbins. It often has its plus sides of course - but there does reach a point where you can't bear your own squalor and something has to give.

Starting with our pre-Christmas tidy, we got the bug to address some problem areas within the house that were very long overdue - we realised that we have things stored that are never going to be needed and we could simply put the space they occupy to better use - like clothes my son grew out of several years ago. My husband used to manage a hi fi store and this resulted in him being pretty committed to keeping the boxes etc. for electric goods and the like, in case they needed to be returned - or you later sold it - 'as bought' or boxed condition certainly commands a higher price.

A worthy practice for anyone to adopt, but when you realise that you have the boxes, leads and instructions to goods that themselves are no longer in use, you need to draw the line. So we've had a blitz on clearing out cupboards and ridding ourselves of some of this clutter and making more storage space available.

The desk I use for packing was one area to get my attention whilst I still felt inclined. The space available to me for working was getting progressively smaller and when looking at it, it was clear many things being stored on there would be better elsewhere, so I set about sorting through the massive piles of papers I had in trays - you know the things you keep - too good, or potentially important, to throw away, but not sure where to file them. A task I have avoided for an indecently lengthy time.

I still have two boxes awaiting my attention - most of which will see shredder action - but I did find some treasures. I also found things that I'd put aside to deal with another day and it was a rather bittersweet process. Difficult letters both received and sent, newspaper cuttings of friends obituaries and photographs of people no longer in your life, for a variety of reasons.

But there were pluses too - photographs of family and days out you'd not thought about for a while and made you smile to remember, a wedge of Airmail stickers that I felt sure I had but couldn't find and a favourite set square I'd wanted several times and couldn't locate.

One of the treasures that made me smile the widest was some photographs of a boxer puppy - thinking back, I think this must be Hadleigh - who turned into a massive dog with a head the size of a breeze block - rather larger than their current female boxer Chelsea. I think the photographs must be well over 20 years old - but I'd certainly forgotten how cute he was, with his oversize paws and rather too much skin.

I remember the day this one was taken, the week my parents brought him home from the breeders - I was married by then and we went over to visit the first weekend he was home - and we all grovelled on the floor to play with him - and when he was totally tuckered out, he flopped onto a cushion and flaked out completely to recharge his batteries.

Who knew that I actually had a nice polished wood desk, buried beneath the detritus of too many years. I shan't leave it as long next time - even though there were some nice surprises and happy memories.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Where are my sultanas Boo?

I have two gardens - no actually, I have three really - on account of the garden wrapping round the house on three sides and each one being somewhat different and separate.

That sounds rather grand, but in reality, they're each very small (each has an area approximately the same footprint as the house itself) and even their combined area wouldn't qualify as a 'small garden' by landscape gardening and TV garden show standards.

Please click on any of the photographs to see a larger view.

We currently have a pair of nuthatches - their MO is to grab food and take it off to hide in a crack or crevice in bark or old branches - I assume they go back to it some time later - the pair work as a team, hiding their food in locations adjacent to each other. Nuthatches are the only birds that descend tree trunks - and can feed - head first, as shown.

On the kitchen side of the house is what we call the 'railway garden' on account of it being adjacent to a local railway line running a tourist steam railway. A rather grand name for a rather scrubby patch of land that we can't do very much with. When we bought the house, in the late 80s, there were a few bushes and scrub outside the perimeter of this garden at the very end triangular tip of an area of woodland behind the row of houses and we got a lot of morning sunshine.

We have daily visits from all the common garden tits - this one being a blue tit.

As the years passed, the scrub became trees and the light levels diminished and things consequently didn't grow quite so well. The garden area was badly damaged in a freak flood that deposited tons of rubble on the lawn a few years ago and the buildings insurance covered it being re-landscaped.

We always have a posse of goldfinches in the garden, squabbling noisily in their little face masks.

We decided that it's position under trees that we couldn't trim (and didn't necessarily want to) was best served by doing away with the lawned area and to landscape it as a bird garden. We'd always kept feeders in that area due to the surrounding trees, so covering the original lawn area with coarse gravel, with large stone slabs to take feeders and tables, surrounded by some potted planting and seats, suited us well.

One of our handsome male bullfinches - we are currently blessed with 2 pairs. Each pair is monogamous and they are never more than a few feet from each other - if you see one, their partner will be within the same field of view.

We rarely occupied that garden, as the adjacent woodland made it a bug fest on summer evenings and it is actually open around the house, so not very private, so keeping it as one for viewing from the three large windows on that side of the house, rather than being out in, was the best use of the space.

We did return home one day and find that our garden visitors had somewhat increased in size. Another time we returned to find a cockerel, but I didn't manage a photo of him.

I keep the hanging bird feeders filled (largely with sunflower hearts, all birds seem to like them) and take out loose food for the tables, as required, along with warm water in winter. I make up my own mix of sunflower hearts, sultanas, chopped peanuts and supplemented with occasional stale biscuits, crushed fat balls and grated cheese. I obviously have a reputation for putting out good stuff as some of the cheekier visitors will remind me at the window if there isn't much left - or what remains doesn't contain their favourite morsels.

Some of the visitors are quite small - there's often a mouse to be seen scurrying from under the wall to pinch food off the ground table. I don't mind the mice, but I'm not keen on their larger cousins.

I have a very good selection of feathered visitors, from regular and widespread garden birds like robins, great tits, blue tits, coal tits, blackbirds, gold finches, dunnocks and sparrows to slightly more rural visitors like nuthatches, bullfinches, collared doves, wood pigeons, wrens, long tailed tits, jackdaws, crows and woodpeckers. I occasionally see a tree creeper and tawny owl too.

The tawny owl is certainly the most elusive and difficult to photograph visitor and this is the best I've so far managed, despite setting up a laptop and remote capture system when he was active in the garden one autumn and spending a lot of time waiting for him to visit. I gradually increased the lights and left them on for him to get used to them. Most often, we only get a fleeting glimpse as he lands to catch something to eat and triggers the security light.

The long tailed tits tend to arrive as a noisy, chattering gang to feed in a group - they have such cheeky and cheerful little faces, that they always brighten your day.

Sometimes there's a deadly quiet descends on the garden and I know that a sparrowhawk is nearby. In fact, just as I'm typing that, some instinct made me go to my office window and there was a tree creeper not ten feet from me. That's a particular thrill I never tire of.

I've only once got a proper look at the sparrowhawk - on this occasion he took his captured lunch just into the scrub outside the garden perimeter and I was only able to find him by following where all the other birds were looking and avoiding.

I think if I had to choose only one, the wren would certainly be up there as a my favourite garden bird. I just wish they didn't move quite so fast, I might have a better collection of proper photos and not quite so many of disappearing tails, if they were a tad slower.

At present I have at least three thrushes - in that I've seen three at once on several occasions - and they, like the blackbirds, are especially partial to some fruit. I put out a plentiful supply of sultanas in cold weather and they're always the first thing to go - crows and magpies will also come down to the furthest table at the fence-line if they spot sultanas on there - but they're more timid about venturing onto the tables closer to the house.
I was very excited indeed when I first spotted a tree creeper in the garden. Having spent a lot of time trying to get a photograph in the wild, I finally got one of my best photographs from my own utility room window - on a filthy wet and stormy day - which was very dark indeed! This small rowan tree has since died, but I leave it there as it is one of his favourite spots to feed and I often spot one circling up the trunk and dead branches.

Between the 6 or 7 blackbirds I have, with the three thrushes and a selection of other occasional visitors, the sultanas are picked from the mix in a matter of minutes and then those that feel they have missed out will tell me so.
The thrush above is one such feathered friend. She stands on the front-most corner of the table near the kitchen window until she catches my eye and gestures with her head that there is a lack of dried fruit. If I take some out, she'll return to feed and bob her head in acknowledgment from the same spot. I took the photograph above yesterday morning when we had a few moments of weak, wintry sunshine and she arrived for her elevenses. It amazes me how quickly thrushes and blackbirds can stuff their beaks with whole fruits and swallow them in the blink of an eye. Makes me wonder how they can become so partial to them when they don't appear to even taste them.

So despite the diminutive scale of my bird garden, in which little grows, the very trees that make it dark also bring me these lovely visitors, so how could I possibly mind.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

My scrap pot bracelet and Christmas gift makes

My name is Boo and I'm a hoarder. I just can't help myself - if I think something might be useful, I just keep it. I can't bear to part with anything that might just come in useful some day, be used to fix something or just the part I need when making something. The fact that my house is stuffed to the rafters with junk is testimony to my [bad/good/environmentally sound; take your pick] habit.

Inevitably, the true usefulness of a saved item often peaks the very week after you finally part with it, so I tend to hedge my bets and keep things anyway. Just in case. I also feel slightly smug about re-purposing what most would probably consider to be rubbish and Christmas is one of those times when the rubbish generated is often of even higher calibre than the rest of the year - it's amazing, once you tune into it, just how many foodstuffs and gift items are packed with nicely coloured or coated card liners, for example.

I spent a few happy hours in front of a film over the Christmas period, making gift tags and bags ready for next year - the idea being that I don't want to end up in a last minute panic like I did this year - wrapping gifts into the early hours, as I'd left it too late. I made in excess of 50 gift tags just from one box of Christmas crackers, more from chocolate boxes and lovely received wrapping paper spray mounted onto white card.

All the smaller pieces of gift wrap I had from wrapping my own gifts were made into small gusseted gift bags - a habit I've got into in recent years as a quick and much easier way to wrap small and awkward items - a little tissue to wrap the item itself, then the bag is tied up through a punched hole with copious quantities of curling ribbon. making an attractive and easy wrapping method and you can make a bag with as little as an A4 sized piece of wrapping paper.

Please click on any of the photographs to see a larger view.

The rag tag assortment of failed links from my scrap pot that went on to become a new bracelet for me.

I'm loathed to part with anything that might have a future purpose and it's no different with the materials I work with. Failed parts, clumsy solders or those that break when working, are put aside for potential repair, re-use, or simply melting into other components. I grade my Sterling silver scrap into two pots, one that's truly scrap, every smidgeon of trimming is saved for melting into nuggets etc. and larger pieces that might be useful are kept separate.

Thus over time, I'd accumulated numerous silver 'rings' that had the potential to be re-worked or rescued in some manner and the idea formed some time ago, to make these good, in between other work, to make myself a Sterling silver bracelet. So I started working on sorting some of them out and soon had a dish of assorted links for a bracelet. I made some new smaller links from those that couldn't be made decent and supplemented these with some new jump rings (some indeed cut individually from scrap itself) and a hook to bring it all together. I wanted to finish it to wear at Christmas and didn't really have the time to do it properly, so rather rushed the finishing.

The finished, albeit rather rough and ready scrap pot bracelet ready to wear for Christmas.

I have filed off the worse of the blimps and hammered to cover a multitude of sins, but the work certainly couldn't withstand close scrutiny or be good enough to give someone else, but I rather like it for myself - it feels rather virtuous that I have something nice to wear from my rubbish and whilst I could do with giving it some more time, I suspect that I won't and it has already been worn most days since I made it.

I don't normally do haphazard or random, it doesn't come naturally to me. But this 'scrap pot' bracelet was made up from a completely random assortment of parts - I just hastily arranged them on my bench in a way that looked pleasing to me and actually gave the end design very little thought. I suspect that this is part of its charm - I certainly think that, on this occasion, the end result benefited from very little thought and serendipitously just worked. Although I don't think I'd recommend this approach in client work - I was lucky this time.

The original source photograph for the leaf pendant - the larger leaf was manipulated into a black and white line drawing as an etching resist.

One of the reasons that I didn't have much time to work on the bracelet just before Christmas was that I was concentrating on making gifts for others. Further to recent posts on copper etching, I still had some ideas I wanted to work for loved ones as gifts. One of which was a leaf pendant for my mother which started life as a photograph of a backlit beech leaf taken one autumn, as above. I created a two tone resist design, transferred this to the carefully prepared copper sheet, sealed all the edges and back surface, etched it, cleaned the etched copper and sawed around the leaf shape and polished and rounded the edges, giving it a little leaf like shaping too.

I wanted to keep the plain border of copper sheet beyond the etching to a minimum and parallel to the leaft outline, but didn't want to drill a hole through the etching either, for various reasons, so this would require fixing something invisibly on the back to hang it from. I didn't really want to use a tube bail, as I have in the past, as I wanted to put it on a chain with quite a large clasp and a tube bail works best on fine chains with in-line clasps like snake chains.

So a soldered D shaped hoop on the back was the obvious solution, I could make it easily in whatever size I wanted to accommodate the clasp. My usual practice when soldering, especially in silver, is to use my own cut strip solder pallions, but I'd recently bought some solder paste to try and have found this especially good with copper, but less so with Sterling. The texture and workability of the paste allowed me to get a nice neat join and I was delighted that it took oxidising so well - as an Easy paste I didn't expect it to. So I left the back of the pendant with a dark gunmetal finish as a potential alternative way to wear it.

I made my first pair of cufflinks for a Christmas gift and I'll write more about the process and inspiration behind the pattern I etched in a later blog.


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