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:
- Stay at home
- Wash and dry your hands frequently.
- Stay within your own domestic “bubble”
- Stay at least two metres from anyone from outside of your bubble
- 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
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.