Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A Day Out 

I really ought to get out more; perhaps I should make that a new year’s resolution.

In attempting a post a day for NaBloPoMo, I discovered the rather obvious truth that blog posts commonly arise out of the experiences of the day. Varied, fresh experiences yield varied, fresh posts – days filled with more of the same yield only posts filled with more of the same – which in my case is all too often a melancholia arising from that very sameness. A glance at my Flickr pages, or at the photo folders on my hard drive tells an obvious story: the distinct reduction in the number of photos taken in the last 12 months is a direct indicator of diminished variety of experience and is reflected in the paucity of worthwhile posts here. Not a judgement, just a fact.

That being the case, a stroll in the Hertfordshire countryside, camera in hand, seemed like a good way to start the New Year, especially when spent in the company of my son (this is the one training to be a maths teacher, not the one on leave from Afghanistan) and his girlfriend.

What could be a better archetype of rural England than this scene? For full authenticity it ought to include the spire of the village church, too, but unfortunately that is just out of shot to the left. Before the days of Mr Macadam, all country lanes would have looked something like this. Or even more recently than that – this could have come straight out of the pages of the William books by Richmal Crompton; I can just see William and Ginger peering through the hedge – grubby knees, crumpled shirts, caps askew - as they plot some mischief for an unwary traveller.

I hardly notice the position of the sun in the sky when at home. But here, it seems so much more obvious; it’s just past mid-day and the sun seems exhausted with the effort of reaching a zenith that is barely above the tops of the trees fifty yards away. Even though it’s a mild day for mid-winter, that low-angled sun makes the arctic circle feel surprisingly close. We discuss the making of clinometers – a common experience it seems of junior school days.

‘Wan’ may be a word that is overused to describe the sun’s face on days like this, nevertheless it is entirely appropriate; clear rays of light are few and far between. Once in a while though, a few break through to create little pockets of brightness.

Once upon a time, I studied geology. I’ve often wondered what path I might have taken had I continued those studies instead of opting for the safer route of physics and then engineering. Pointless to have regrets now, of course… all the same… I wonder…

The visual landscape owes so much to the underlying rocks. Our part of Hertfordshire sits on London Clay – heavy, sticky mud, incapable of forming into anything approaching a real hill, or even a pretend hill for that matter. But half an hour’s drive takes you to a very different landscape, at the tail of the Chiltern escarpment. Here, the underlying chalk rises out of the surrounding flatness, blending with the covering soil to give freshly-ploughed fields a marbled appearance.

The path is also a bridleway; the shadows of divots raised by cantering horseshoes make a promising subject which I almost but not quite fail to capture. Ah well, we live and learn. Better next time, perhaps.

This part of England is largely flat. To a first approximation, anyway. Flatness disturbed by a few ripples and pimples here and there. You only have to look at the line of the horizon to see just how gradual and/or short any gradients are. Here, we’re standing on what passes in this part of the world for a mighty summit.

Turning away from the scarp edge and descending the more gentle slope of the escarpment, the chalk dips away under a covering of clay, and the going underfoot becomes heavier – especially when farmers plough over the public right of way.

I pause to say hello to an exhuberant pup who has just made the crossing in the other direction and receive a liberal coating of mud on my arm in return for my friendliness. Ah well, it’ll wash off. Good thing he was on a lead though.

Now that the sun has given up the struggle for the day and gone into hiding, the dominant colour in this landscape is brown. Or rather, the dominant colours are browns; the plurality provides some remarkably subtle colour schemes.

Against these, the greens of alien conifers appear brash and artificial.

Tractor tracks in the stubble make for photographic possibilities;

a shot of some trees proves unsatisfying in its own right, but yields an opportunity for some tinkering.

More tinkering, this time to rescue a shot blurred by camera shake in the fading light,

and those trees again.

But let the closing shot be a real one. Well, almost; just the teensiest bit of messing with the grayscale.

Oh, and by the way, I wasn't playing gooseberry - it's just inevitable that pausing to take photos means I end up following several paces behind for much of the time.

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