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April 19, 2020 … If I had the wings of an angel*

Three weeks of lockdown at level 4 (the highest) are now completed in New Zealand. At least one more week to go, and perhaps more. Even if the government does loosen the reins, I suspect there will still be considerable restrictions on movement, especially for those of us over 70.

If as a result, I don’t pass the virus to anyone else, or indeed receive it as an unwelcome gift from another person, then it is a price worth paying.

Mary and I are doing well in our shared confinement, and have much to be grateful for, especially having Mary as my “bubble companion”. Of course the confinement has a limiting effect on my photography. It does however, give me lots of practice in photographing things that are closer than usual. It also enables me to observe just how very hard Mary works (and has always done) to keep the house running smoothly and still keep supporting other people by phone.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Mary brings home things that might make a good image. I really liked this roadside plant. My web search suggests it is a Yarrow (also known as Achillea). The density of the little flowers made it especially attractive to me.

Autumn

Just about a kilometre down the road, and well within our permitted walking distance is the grand old house originally built for George von Zedlitz, one of the four founding professors of Victoria University of Wellington. Sadly, being German, he was interned on Somes Island as an enemy alien during the first world war. The university did not cover itself in glory with their support for him. The house is in what is now Jubilee Park, just across the road from us. It is currently designated as Hutt Minoh House, and is the focus of the sister city relationship between Lower Hutt and the Japanese city of Minoh. Although the park in which it is situated is predominantly native bush, there are patches of deciduous trees which allow me to find a touch of Autumn colour in the otherwise unrelenting green.

Super Moon

The full moon just prior to Easter looked as if it was going to emerge into a clear sky. Then the Eastern hills acquired a blanket of low cloud. The moon appeared but hid behind the scudding clouds. I took the shot and was quite pleased with the result … click to enlarge for a better view. This shot was made from our front door.

The owner of this bear keeps changing its persona

I gather that in many countries where lockdowns are in force, people are putting “teddy bears” in their windows to cheer up the kids walking in the neighbourhood. Some householders are putting a lot of effort into their bear displays. This home owner changes the persona of the bear every so often and most recently it has a red wig and a guitar in its guise as Ed Bearan.

Thoughtful gift

A near neighbour has been painting rocks to give to friends and neighbours to cheer them up in these times of lockdown and anxiety. Some are left on the roadside as treasures to be found by random strangers and they each have a message of encouragement on the back. She does very nice work. People are really good.

Leptospermum

The flow of things that might be worth photographing continue as Mary does her regular daily walk around the hills, anywhere from seven to twelve kilometres a day. This lovely piece of leptospermum is a derivative of the Manuka shrub, much prized for the medicinal quality of the honey made from it. I like it for the delicacy of the flowers perhaps a centimetre in diameter. .

Floating flora

Sometimes I spend a lot of time setting up images that, while they may look attractive to me, make no sense. In this case, a chrysanthemum blossom floating in a glass vase is accompanied by some dandelion blossoms from the (un-mowed) back garden. I like it but can offer no other reason for making the picture.

A rare visitor

Despite the cuteness of Beatrix Potter’s Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, the common hedgehog is a pest animal in New Zealand. It is a serious predator of many of our ground-dwelling birds, and as a friend described it they are a “rat with spines”. It is rare that we see them near home and especially in daylight. I am not equipped either in tools or in my nature to kill the animal so it was allowed to wander on its way.

A howling Nor’Westerly

At the bottom of the front yard there is a ponga fern which is a good indicator of whether the wind is the prevailing Nor’Wester or a colder Southerly. It just depends on which side its skirts are lifted. At this stage the wind was well in excess of 60 km/h. Even had there been no lockdown, I probably would not have gone far on such a day.

Driftwood

Our home at 150 metres above sea level is very far above even the highest of tides, so the only explanation for this piece of driftwood is that it took Mary’s attention while on some beach walk and I was persuaded to load it into the car. It’s a very heavy lump of wood and thus not suitable for setting up on my usual photography table. The stump takes on various characters depending on the weather and the way its coating of moss and lichen catches the light.

Random Web

I have not seen the spider that made this web. The randomness of the pattern is astonishing. Even more so is the question of how it went about building it. I tend to view it as a little like Gaudi’s plan for the Sagrada Familia cathedral … for a very long time, though they admired the work, other architects struggled to understand how the design derived its strength and how it worked.

Koru

Though I have spent a lot of time focus stacking recently, I suspect I shall be glad to move onto other techniques when the present lockdown is relaxed. Meanwhile, here we have a new unfurling frond from a silver fern. the circle of light is a shot glass in the background.

As you can see, most of the images in this edition have been made in close proximity to the subject. Despite the relative comfort of our metaphorical prison, I shall look forward to the chance to get further away whenever it finally arises.

*The Prisoner song (Guy Massey)

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April 4, 2010 … everything is changed … a locked down but nevertheless golden celebration

This week marks a special occasion which you can read about under the final image.

When I last wrote, everything was more or less normal here in New Zealand. I no longer know what “normal” means. Back then, there was little indication of the changes to come. Now we are in lockdown, and since Mary and I are both in the over 70 age group, society is taking special care of us. We are not even supposed to go to the supermarket because we are apparently especially vulnerable to catching the infection.

When I first heard the lockdown regulations, I formed some preconceptions as to how this would play out and where I would still be able to go for photography. Reality is a little different and rather more restrictive. The basic rules are:

  1. Stay at home
  2. Wash and dry your hands frequently.
  3. Stay within your own domestic “bubble”
  4. Stay at least two metres from anyone from outside of your bubble
  5. You can leave home for essential purposes such as visits to supermarket, or a doctor unless you are over 70 in which case you need to get someone else to shop for you because you are more vulnerable
  6. Go back to rule 1 … rinse and repeat

Despite rule 1, it is permitted to exercise in your own neighbourhood by walking, running, cycling etc, as long as you remain close to home and don’t come closer than two metres to anyone else. More adventurous exercises such as hiking, surfing etc are not permitted because if you need assistance you endanger others.

So, with all that in mind let us explore the images I have made since last time, in chronological order.

Spoonbills in the river
Browsing the mud in the Pauatahanui inlet

A pleasant morning and the likelihood of some bird shots resulted in Mary packing a lunch and the two of us setting out in the direction of Waikanae. Remember, this was when things were still “normal”. On Gray’s Rd around the Northern edge of the Pauatahanui Inlet, we saw the spoonbills. I thought that the cluster of them dredging for crabs in the soft mud of a serpentine creek might make a picture. I like the wandering path made by the creek, but the spoonbills were less prominent than I hoped for in my mind’s eye. I think, if you click to get the enlarged image, you will see the grey teal in between the two nearest spoonbills.

Juvenile dabchick
Still dependent on its parents

In Queen Elizabeth II Park at Paekakariki, I checked out the US Marines memorial Wetlands and was delighted to find that the dabchick families were still in residence. This one still wears the black and white facial markings of a juvenile bird, and indeed it was still being fed by its parents. I have to say I always enjoy the deep green colour of the QEII wetlands as they reflect the surrounding bush.

Yachts in the marina at Oriental Bay
In Oriental Bay

It needs to be acknowledged that Wellington is a small city, and there are relatively few parts of it that I have not yet been to in search of picture opportunities. The obvious consequence is that there are some places that I have used over and over and over again. My excuse is that they are attractive or interesting spots to begin with, and different days present different conditions, and thus different pictures.

This image was made from inside the breakwater on the Eastern side of the Clyde Quay Wharf (formerly known as the Overseas Passenger Terminal). As you can see, the conditions were calm.

Northward view across Oriental Bay Marina
The other direction

On the same day as the preceding image I crossed in front of the boat sheds, to catch the stillness of the day. Many leading photographers tell us that clear blue skies are boring, I still make blue sky images if the scene appeals, but I do enjoy grey skies if the clouds have textures. On this occasion, I liked the patterns and their reflections in the remarkably still water. So far, life is still normal.

Purple water lily
Water Lily

If I had known that my photographic activity in the near future would be almost exclusively based on still life, I might have gone elsewhere. However, the Begonia House in Wellington’s Botanic Garden offers some visual pleasure, even in normal times. There were some nice shots of orchids, and begonias to be had, but the vivid purple of the water lilies made this an image of power for me.

Pauatahanui looking moody but still
Pauatahanui Inlet

Another place I visit often in normal times is the Pauatahanui Inlet. I have over 3,000 images in my catalogue from there. So many different moods, but always my favourites are when the water is still and offering reflections.

The Hutt Valley was misty so I had hoped there might be similar conditions at Pauatahanui. Sadly that rarely happens, and I am guessing that the exposure to the sea air on the Western side of Haywards Hill prevents the mist forming. Anyway. I regret that E.L.James seems to have captured the phrase “shades of grey”as I love these conditions (the meteorological ones).

Swells on Wellington South coast
South coast

There are days when, even though conditions are calm, the South Coast still gets heavy swells. The sheer majesty of a big slow moving wave and the weight of water thudding into the rocks never fails to move me. I could watch those green walls coming in for hours.

View across Cook Strait from Makara
The day before it all changed

And now the change begins. The New Zealand Government implemented a series of conditions numbered 1 through 4 each with increasing levels of control measures to manage the spread of Covid-19. It opened at level 2, and then on March 24 went to level 3 with the warning that it would be at level 4 for at least four weeks from the following day.

Careful to minimise contact with others, Mary and I made the last of our final day of freedom for a while and drove first to Makara and then on to Plimmerton for a picnic lunch. On the way, we visited the West Wind wind farm. There standing beside one of the big turbines, we enjoyed this view across the Cook Strait to Arapawa Island and parts of the Kaikoura ranges.

I wholeheartedly endorse the government’s management of this crisis even though it means that for at least the next four weeks, we are required to stay home except as required to obtain the necessities of life. All businesses except those providing essential goods and services are firmly closed. People over 70 (you may be surprised to learn that that includes us) are instructed fairly firmly to stay at home and rely on others to shop for them. So here we go.

Sea Urchin shell
Sea Urchin shell

Day one of the lockdown. While taking that last walk on the beach at Plimmerton the previous day, Mary found this lovely little sea urchin shell. It’s rare to find an intact one and this is a very small one … about 50 mm (2″) in diameter … I was unaware of its beautiful colours until after I made the picture.

Fly Agaric toadstool
Amanita muscaria or Fly Agaric

Mary is a walker. There are few days indeed when she doesn’t walk briskly around the hills or along the riverbank for 90 minutes or more. I on the other hand, am a couch potato. Mary knows that a four week lockdown is going to be hard for me as an obsessive photographer. Bless her heart, on the first day of lockdown, she gathered a bunch of objects that she knows will make interesting still life images. The common fly agaric toadstool is quite toxic, but also presents a striking appearance. My darkbox is going to get used often, I suspect. Focus stacking may also be used for this kind of image.

Collected sea shells
Memories of beaches past

Not only is she good at gathering things while walking, but Mary also has a large collection of small mementoes gathered on various trips over many years. And so, I was allowed access to her box of small sea shells. The background in this picture is a glass drinks coaster with etched concentric circles.

Kiwi feathers
Genuine honest to goodness kiwi feathers

Back in 2014, our local hospice was involved with the Department of Conservation in a fundraising exercise involving the naming and release of a young kiwi. Mary and granddaughter Maggie got to handle the young bird, and even walked with the DoC rangers to release it in the hills behind Wainuiomata. The bird left some of its feathers behind and they found their way into Mary’s souvenir tin.

Beach souvenirs
Indoor beach

On day five of the lockdown, I was given access to some of the larger beach memories. I borrowed the sand from my long forgotten mini Zen garden and spread it in the floor of my lightbox. A couple of starfish, some sponges and some interesting shells were arranged over the sand and thus we have instant beach though no water was involved. While attempting to return the sand to its proper space, I managed to spill some on the carpet. Vacuum cleaner duty!

Dandelion and reflection
On reflection

Another of Mary’s finds (isn’t she a gem?) was this dandelion. I decided against the straightforward ‘head and shoulders” portrait since I have done it so many times before. A paper plate was filled with water to a depth of one or two millimetres. The dandelion was then drooped until I had a clear reflection.

Early morning view up the Hutt Valley
A landscape day and I am trapped at home

Landscape images are very much harder to arrange now that we can not go anywhere in the car. The best I can manage is shots of the valley from the front yard. Happily, different day, different light, different weather means a different picture. On this day, river mist coming down from the upper valley made a difference.

Starling in the bird bath
The Spin Cycle

We have a bird bath on the front lawn, and it is well used. Sometimes five or six sparrows splash about in it, sometimes a huge kereru fills it to overflowing. On this occasion a starling was taking heed of the instruction to wash frequently and thoroughly. This was taken through the glass window of our dining room, but I enjoyed the scene.

More fly agaric specimens
More found treasures

A bunch of fly agaric toadstools were in Mary’s latest collection so I arranged them in some compost from one of our pot plants. I know they are toxic, but as far as I know that refers to ingestion, and anyway, the hand washing regime should take care of everything else.

A personal celebration

Mary and I on the day before our golden wedding anniversary
Fifty Wonderful Years Together

On April 4, 1970, Mary and I got married in St Patrick’s Church in Patea. We had a Nuptial Mass celebrated by the late Father Brian Sherry from New Plymouth. Being so long ago, some details of the day are hazy in my memory. However, one thing is clear, this was the best thing that ever happened to me.

Together we have five amazing children of whom we are extraordinarily proud. They in turn brought their spouses into the family and gave us six wonderful grandchildren who light up our lives, even though, in the present circumstances visitation is not possible.

Mary does not like to be the centre of attention, and I shall probably catch it for what follows, but something has to be said on such an occasion, so here goes …

She is a woman of deep faith who believes her purpose in life, her calling, is to serve others, especially those in most need. I have never met anyone who better understands the true meaning of the word “vocation”. I and my kids have benefitted enormously from this. Mary was a registered nurse for fifty years and in the last decade or so of her employment was a social worker helping patients and their families in Te Omanga Hospice.

She also volunteered for various good causes. Since her retirement in 2017 she has become busier than ever, volunteering for an organisation that offers care and assistance to young mothers, and another that supports the partners of people who have dementia. She is the most selfless person I know. It is a matter of some grief to her that, being over 70, the lockdown rules prohibit her from carrying on those tasks until it is over.

Mary has been there for me and for all our family throughout our fifty years of marriage. We have shared many joys and a few tough times. I particularly admired the way she supported me when I lost the plot and undertook to do a PhD late in life. Even more, she allowed me to leave a well paid management role in industry for a job as a university lecturer on literally half the salary.

Mary is a wise and loving woman who I am privileged to have as my wife. She is nevertheless real, and each of us occasionally does things that drive the other nuts. (I really should exercise more and eat less) But she is also a forgiving woman so here we are together still, and if my luck holds, we will continue to be so until the end of our days. Our planned celebration with the family is of course cancelled, and alas, not even the florists are open.

Thank you Mary for all that you have done, and for all that you are. You are a beautiful person and the light of my life.