Thursday, January 2, 2020

2020 New Year's Day without the sun.

Thistles, Nature's Fireworks!
Thistles, Nature's Fireworks!
On New Year's Eve there was the usual saturation advertising of bargains from the department stores, the roads packed out once again with vehicles on their way from home to somewhere else, and the gatherings in public places to welcome the New Year in, with lashings of good cheer, amplified noise (sorry... music!), fireworks, Boom! "Ooooh!" Crackle! "Wow!" Pop! "OMG!"

I slept through the midnight hour - the blessed moment when 2019 became 2020 - being rather tired after a greater part of the afternoon of New Year's Eve waiting for a 1.30pm appointment at the hospital eye clinic, then missing my afternoon bus home, and having to wait for the evening one.... that was delayed due to a break down.

These little human touches, the aches, sniffles, wobbles, waits, and worries can so easily interrupt the best laid plans, but the New Year - 2020 - appeared on schedule as we suspected it might, and we greeted it with bleary eyes at 5.30am whilst cats were fed, and we brewed the first cup of tea for the year!

As 5.30 became 6.30, then 7.30, and tea had been superseded by coffee, we became increasingly aware that the outside world was not behaving in a reliable way. The early light of the day, that time just before sunrise,when the starry sky fades into a pale blue-grey, with a hint of lemon yellow, had scarcely brightened. There was no sun at all, just a yellow- grey twilight that, if anything, grew dimmer as we progressed towards the middle of the day.

Late morning it grew darker. A world without cast shadows.
Mr Smaug was alarmed by this change of the usual order of things, and moped through the morning restless and dispirited, Nigella Stopit did the what wise and mature cats do when faced with situations beyond their control, she put herself to bed - our bed - covered her eyes with her paws and her nose with her tail, and slept.

If it were not for the tick of the clock, the slow wipe of the minute hand, and the steady walk of the hour, there would have been no way of knowing if it was 7, 8, 10 or midday, or even 3 or 4 in the afternoon, because we were without the sun. We had light of a sort, and a yellow cast to everything, but no hint of shadows to assure us that the sun was "over there", or "up there".

A Studio for Rembrandt! New Year's Day in my studio.
I took a few photographs over the course of the morning. Our eyes adapt to some extent to the dimness of the day, but the camera was more objective about it. The lack of light was astonishing. With a 400 ISO setting and aperture f3.3, shutter speed was 4 seconds in my studio. Outside was often 1/5 to 1/8 of a second at 400 or 800 ISO, and fairly wide aperture settings.

I found myself mostly taking photos of weedy road edges, rather than full landscapes. There was something about the light and lack of hard shadows that made the busy patterns and quiet colours of seeding grass, leaves and flowers even more attractive.
In the afternoon there were spots of rain, and light drizzle, and this brought with it the taste of wood smoke and ashes.

The yellow-grey twilight was due to the vast ash cloud that strong winds had carried all the way from the bush fires in Australia to New Zealand, and then on toward Antarctica.

It is one thing to see the horrendous images of the bush fires in the media and to hear about it on the news, but it makes the scale of it very real when you taste and smell the ash, and to walk in semi darkness more than 2000 km away.

As the New Year is cheered in and celebrated, our thoughts are mostly with the Australians who are doing their best to battle on and survive fires that are unimaginable in ferocity and scale.