For over a year now, I’ve sat myself at our kitchen table, looking through the big window out over the garden, thinking about things, life, the universe — you know, thinking. While I’ve been sitting, I’ve been watching the birds, as you do, and finally I divested myself of some savings so that I could try to capture a few images with a reasonably sophisticated camera, telephoto lens, that sort of kit.
I rationalised that I might could create a little photo album to entrance the grandsons, one of whom might be intrigued enough to read to his younger brother. The boys’ grandmother is always knitting lovely garments, whether jumpers or socks, but I’ve had nothing to contribute, so I thought a little photo project might be fun. It was supposed to be about the birds of the garden, but to bulk it out, I’ve had to rename it ‘Friends of our Garden and Fields.’
Little did I realise how hard it was going to be! Not an easy proposition, garnering photos of flitty little birds, not at all! And they really are small, and so far away! Though mobile phone cameras are getting better, they still can’t capture the detail we want to see. No, it really does depend on getting the right kit, and practising, practising, while learning the rules of composition, to secure an image that’s satisfying. So far, I’ve learned, you’ve got to show the bird’s eye, that’s like ‘the law.’
At least the larger animals, like friendly old Plough, do stand still long enough to be snapped. And Gordon, our beloved guinea fowl — he can be quizzically stable for a few moments, sometimes. But who, apart from professional wildlife photographers, can actually capture a house martin in flight? Still, I’ve learned a few tricks. With my new and reasonably sophisticated camera, I can control the shutter and focus from my mobile phone, thereby clicking from indoors while the innocuous setup on a stable tripod captures tiny birds at their feeding station. Wildlife photographers must use contemporary tricks such as these, I’m sure. But for many images in the little photo album, I’ve had to resort to what I can cobble from the internet.
On the other hand, the text is mostly all my own, with thanks to a variety of sites for information. It’s tricky to write words that might entrance a gifted six year old. Stimulating, yes, arcane no. Just enough to interest, not too much to put off. And now I’ve only got six double page spreads (out of a total of 27) to write for, and the little album will be finished, just in time, I hope, for the youngest grandson’s birthday. The problem is, I keep realising that there’s yet another creature we sometimes see, up on these fells, that really must be in the little book. And I struggle with anthropomorphism, with first vs third person narrative, with that nasty interior voice that’s critical and stultifying of anything creative, of course I do. But as I persevere, I hope it’s all stimulating, and fun, as I break across convention between the paragraphs.
Just like a knitted garment, it will be a labour of love, but more than that, perhaps, it’ll be a labour of something that I can do, that I too can give, of myself. It will be something that has taken me out of myself, into that enchanted realm of creativity, which we enter too rarely. I can hardly wait to see the finished copy.
[This diary entry is dedicated to the teaching of the arts in schools today, with thanks to Michael Rosen for his thoughts on the arts emergency.]