Port Meadow is a common pasture just outside the Oxford city centre; it’s a completely unremarkable patch of land, covered in cow and horse and bird dung, for most of the year, but occasionally either rain or other weather conditions turn it into something quite magical. Couple of years ago, the whole meadow was flooded for weeks, turning it into a lake hundreds of acres wide, full of birds. The flooding this year hasn’t been nowhere nearly as severe, but the meadow is still doing its job, catching the overflow before it reaches the city. Thousands of birds – ducks, geese, mallards, gulls of many kind, waders – feed on the meadow when it’s flooded, making it an amazing place for wildlife watching. I have seen herons, crested grebes, cormorants, a stray pelican… there are apparently kingfishers there too, though I have never seen them. Sometimes there are empty mussel shells on the riverbank, and there are also perches, pikes and trouts in the river – not to mention the big animals, cows and horses. The time to catch the myriad of wildlife is really during the winter and spring months – once the floods recede, the meadow will turn into hot, dusty pastureland, with nothing much going on.
On a sunny weekend day, don’t expect to be alone. Sometimes it feels like the whole town (and half the tourists, in the their designer sneakers or high heel boots, trying very hard to not to step on the ever-present mud) is there. The local sailing club will host races on most weekend afternoons, and the meadow side will will be full of people training dogs, flying kites and playing with the radio control planes and drones. The Binsey side is more interesting (and with less cows), so that’s the way I tend to go.
The last leftover snowdrops, and some early signs of spring.
I am the photographer who still can’t take a continuous focus shot to save my life. The greylag geese are not very graceful birds, and they take to flight with great noise and effort, but once they are in the air, they are powerful and rather beautiful.
So. Many. Geese.
The bright, sunny day faded into perfect pink dusk, a bit of mist rising from the river. I love horses, but there’s something almost feral and terrifying about these fellas, a herd of dozens of happy, muddy ponies and heavy draft horses. In that perfect, purple evening, there was something magical about how they roamed the meadow, galloping in the water.
The perfect sunset.
Every year for about six weeks I check the snow situation in Finland hourly. I gaze at the webcam images religiously and try to determine what is going on. I message friends. I hope. I think I have even prayed occasionally. The Christmas of 2013 stands out as particularly bleak – rain, no snow – while Christmas of 2014 was a delight. This year was touch and go. I arrived late in the evening, there was four inches of snow, and the temperature was at a rather delightful -18°C. Then it got warm. On Christmas Day, all the snow almost melted away. But I got to enjoy many enough cold days and frozen toes to feel happy about winter.
Making presents. This scatter cushion cover was a last-minute idea, a gift to my godmother. This rather stretched my skills, which is good, and I liked the end result enough to buy yarn to make another. Christmas trees.
We built a fire. Christmas Eve.
…and then it got cold. On Christmas day, it rained. By 28th December the temperature had dropped so low that the sea froze over. The little speck on the horizon, just right from the centre, is another photographer, on the ice with his tripod and kit – I stood on the shore and wondered if I’m a special sort of wimp for not being brave enough even to step on the ice? Sunset.
Cold, golden winter sun.
I was going to post about my London mudlarking day today, but looking at the photos, I felt none of them really do justice to the experience. It was a cloudy, blue day, the sun shining from the wrong direction, the mid-December wind cold and bitter, and my eyes stinging, but it was a wonderful experience all the same. The tide was out and the riverbed exposed, revealing its treasures, and walking along it one of those great, poetic in their solitariness, experiences.
I went to London to do my Christmas shopping – and I did, even if Oxford Street’s lights felt a bit too bright after the delights of the river and even Liberty was a bit disappointing. This year Christmas has come all too soon, but rather than look forward to it, I’m already dreaming about January – cold winter sunlight, snowdrops, pink tulips and a sense of a new beginning.
My Christmas photos have come out all blue this year, quite unintentionally I must add. I’m surrounded by snow where I am now, the Winter Solstice sun hanging just above the horizon. Christmas Day is set to be cold, colder than I have experienced in years. But the day will longer already, carrying a distant promise of spring.