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As 5.30 became 6.30, then 7.30, and tea had been superseded by coffee, we became increasingly aware that the outside world was not behaving in a reliable way.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.


Linda Starr said...

si sad about all the fires, hope the people and animals receive a new years miralce, all the best to you and yours.

Peter said...

Thanks Linda,
Good to hear from you. A miracle is definitely needed!
All the Best for the New Year!:-)

gz said...

We have had haze and dust but not as much as that.
See you both in a month!

Barbara Rogers said...

That landscape without shadows is certainly eerie looking...but it does remind me of some paintings. So sorry that you are impacted by the terrible Australian fires. It is indeed awful what is happening there. And as we are all connected on this big blue ball, we experience the loss in our sense of feelings. At least I do.

Peter said...

Hi Gwynneth,
Good to hear from you. Glad you avoided most of the haze and dust. Evidently quite a bit worse South of us. Looking forward to catching up with you when you are down this way!

Hi Barbara,
Thank you for your thoughtful comment. We certainly are all connected, and in many ways this "big blue ball" is seeming smaller and smaller. We can glimpse within a moment what almost anywhere on the globe looks like, thanks to Google Earth and similar, and hear news from many different places. Sometimes we hear and see so much in the media our capacity to be shocked or moved is blunted. For me (and I suspect for many others here), the day of yellow twilight and smell of ash and burning wood, made what is happening in Australia all very real.

Armelle Léon said...

Happy New Year to you Peter and to Laura, the cats,

How difficult to Austalian people and you in NZ to begin with those bush fires' twilight and smoke from the sky, I hope this will end very soon, best wishes to you and I hope you will recover soon.

Peter said...

Happy New Year Armelle,

Thank you for your kind thoughts. It is certainly a terrible time for Australia, and we think of them a lot.

Anonymous said...

Very well put. Controlled fire is at the heart of your great craft, but uncontrolled fire is another thing altogether. Love how your shadowless pics have lost perspective. I’d love to see you paint the snap of your dim studio! We will definitely visit the OPO clan in 2020! G&A

Peter said...

Hello G&A,
Happy New Year to you both! It will be lovely to catch up again at the OPO. Not sure if it is summer or winter here, we seem to have both seasons swapping around with each other which gives the cats lots to complain about..., Mr Smaug easily overheats in the sun, and Mrs Nigella Stopit would spend every hour regardless of the season snoring in front of the electric heater if she had the chance! Mmmm... painting...., now there's a thought!

Anna said...

It has been a horrible summer here in Oz and it's not over yet. Still some fires burning though under control now and yet in other coastal areas there has been flooding rains. We had our GoBag packed in case of bush fires near us but fortunately it was 'only' the smoke that kept us indoors. Many potters have lost their studios including my former teacher, Steve Harrison who barely survived himself when the fire roared through so quickly he was unable to leave. His Plan B of a kiln fibre lined shelter was what saved him. You can read about the harrowing experience on his blog: local potters are banding together to help him and his wife back on their feet.

Peter said...

Hi Anna,
Thank you for your thoughtful comment. Sorry to have taken such a long time for it to appear on the blog, I lost it somewhere in my correspondence and rediscovered it moments ago whilst peering through letters to be answered!
The smoke from the fires must have been awful to experience, but I am glad that your home escaped the fire itself. I saw an article about Steve Harrison in the paper first of all, then read his account of it on his blog, and have also been reading more recently of the tidy up of the property that is going on. I'm so pleased that others are pitching in to help where they can, it seems almost a superhuman task to have to get through a fire like that, clear up the mess, and then put life, home, and the pottery back on its feet again.