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  • valeriehuggins0

Farewell February

Today is the last day of February - the 29th - as 2024 is a leap year. It takes our Earth 365 and one quarter days to travel around the sun, so astronomer Sosigenes proposed to Julius Caesar in 46 BC that every 4 years an extra day is added. It was something that I didn't give a second thought to, until I first went to Ethiopia. I arrived in September - and they were celebrating New Year! I discovered that the Ethiopian calendar has 13 months in a year, 12 of them with 30 days, and the final one in September is either 5 or 6 days long, depending on whether it is a leap year. Learning about such different traditions, cultures and patterns of life opens your eyes and mind to other ways of being. It can shake your taken-for-granted views, and cause unexpected cognitive dissonance as you accept that your worldview is not the only one. People around the world will be noting this Leap Day in a variety of ways. In Germany, birch trees are decorated with ribbons, while the Italians have a saying Anno bisesto, anno funesto, which means "Leap year, sorrowful year".

The way that we mark time is such a fundamental to our daily lives. Although February is the shortest month in my calendar, it seems to have been never-ending this year! We are used to wet weather here in Devon and usually have about 15 days of rain in February and only 80 hours of sun. February 2023 was one of the driest on record, and we had water shortages throughout the year, but the weather gods have certainly made up for that this year! Three times the usual rainfall and hardly a glimpse of the sun.

I have done quite a bit of musing on this as I have watched the rain fall, day after day. Climate change is causing much warmer waters around our coast and we are having a lot less ice and snow. The winters are milder, wetter and windier. We have had a very stormy winter so far, with the prospect of widespread flooding becoming the norm, affecting both our coasts and river plains. The environmentalist George Monbiot warns that we are already living in the sixth great collapse of Earth's systems. There is some hope maybe that we will have time to gradually adapt our lifestyles and infrastructure to new weather patterns, but I, along with many others, fear it is already too late. And at this time of the year, as the rain keeps falling, and the rivers keep rising, it can be difficult to keep a positive mindset.

So, I turn once more to my photography. I am part of a group working with Charlie Bellamy on a joint project over the year ahead. This month we are exploring the concept of 'weather' through our photography, which has been a real challenge. How to capture the constant rain on the window, the gloomy outlook, the rising waters?

Raindrops on windows became a theme for the month. Different windows, different effects. Different shades of grey! But by capturing the varieties in the pattern of the raindrops, using different focus points and varying the angle of the light depending on the time of day, a subtle beauty emerged. These images reflect my mood for most of February - desperately seeking little glimpses of light in the gloom, looking for possibilities to shake me out of my lethargic and dampened moods. I started to look for any little patches of colour out of the windows:

And then at last, very briefly one morning this week, the sun burst through after yet another very heavy downpour! I looked out of the window and my eye was caught by the glistening magic of the sparkling raindrops on the newly opening leaves of the cherry tree. Now the raindrops were no longer a dampener! My heart sang as I took a series of photos, using a macro lens to get the bokeh* behind the bright orangey-yellow leaves. Such evocative signs of Spring!

The next day, some crocuses were just starting to flower, and again there was a gap in the clouds for a brief glimpse of sun. I was struck by how vibrant the colours appeared after the days and days of grey deluge. I used ICM (intentional camera movement) to catch the depth of the greens and purples:

As we enter into March, the first day of meteorological Spring, the days will get longer and brighter - but we have yet another yellow weather warning for rain tomorrow!

It is hard to be hopeful about the year ahead, as the war drags into its second year in Ukraine and the destruction of Palestine continues. I came across this Wordsworth poem recently and it struck a chord. I will leave you with it.

Lines Written in Early Spring:

I heard a thousand blended notes,

While in a grove I sate reclined,

In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts

Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link

The human soul that through me ran;

And much it grieved my heart to think

What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,

The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;

And ’tis my faith that every flower

Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,

Their thoughts I cannot measure:—

But the least motion which they made

It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,

To catch the breezy air;

And I must think, do all I can,

That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,

If such be Nature’s holy plan,

Have I not reason to lament

What man has made of man?

William Wordsworth 1798

Source: The Longman Anthology of Poetry (Pearson, 2006)

Definition of 'bokeh': Bokeh refers to the aesthetic quality of the out-of-focus areas in a photograph or the visual representation of these areas. It is often characterized by a smooth, blurred background that enhances the subject in focus, creating a visually pleasing and sometimes dreamy or artistic effect. To find out more, follow this link: What is Bokeh?

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