Who would’ve thought that metadata of a single unremarkable photograph of a butterfly, displayed on a tiny 2’’ glass screen, could start painting a picture of one’s life on a larger scale. As I was getting ready to leave the house for a walk with my camera I thought - how long has it been? I dove into the gallery of stored images on the memory card inside the DSLR. Time stamps of course. I should be able to actually check....

Numbers have this unique property of being able to illuminate things in a brutally honest way presenting a narrative which you just can’t evade. The initial finding completely blindsided me but then I worked up the courage to find more of these tiny time capsules in other areas of my life - various apps and notes of course have their own dates attached to them. The picture which they painted was not easy to look at but I realised that you can’t address something which you’re unwilling to face.

….15 May 2019. It’s been 895 days since I walked my local woods with a camera. The one activity and place which has always provided me with safe refuge, a thousand little adventures, enthusiasm, a sense of awe for beauty of nature, joy, engagement, a sense of competency. Two and a half years of drought with the oasis just around the corner. That’s two springs with adders and lizards leaving their winter hibernation, while I continued mine at home. Two times cuckoos have flown to and returned from Africa. Three summers and two autumns with deer raising their newborn calves and preparing for rut again. It’s been 113 days since I wrote anything for my blog, a project which sparked so much excitement at its conception, now it lies forgotten. 160 days since I abandoned any structured exercise. Now 3 weeks since my 4.5-year long relationship fell apart. I don’t mean to invoke a violin soundtrack by means of written word or wallow in self-pity. Rather for the first time in years, I'm allowing myself to draw a paint-by-numbers portrait of depression. 

On return from a two-week stay with my parents I decided to do something brave. I’m laughing at myself now for invoking big words but that’s how it felt. I zipped open the backpack with all my gear. It was a struggle just to swap a single lens - I just couldn’t work out the mount. Every button felt alien and unfamiliar again. I had to google ‘how to XYZ Nikon...’’ half a dozen times in the first five minutes. Finding the memory card alone turned into a frantic half hour search through every drawer in the house. In line with my old familiar habits, I should now allow the inner critic to grab the mic - to let me know how angry, disappointed or even embarrassed I should feel for allowing myself to become so disconnected, disorganized, rusty, weak. Isn’t this your hobby? Aren’t you supposed to know the basics by now? This time I tried something radically different - to accept it. To begin again

Another victim of mental health difficulties which has now provided me with the much-needed new perspective is my meditation. Nearly ten years of (admittedly casual) practice and yet my sits have slowly turned back into a patchy streak. Often taking on the form of one unbroken stream of rumination and incessant thinking while I’m sitting on the cushion. Amid that chaos however I re-discovered for myself one simple, fundamental truth - regardless whether you’ve been lost in thought for 30 minutes, or disengaged from your life’s passions for years. Once you realise it, in that instant, there is a choice that presents itself - you can begin again. This is not to be confused with returning to where you were before consequence free. Lose mindfulness and steep your mind in anxious thoughts for half an hour and the results of it are there to be savoured when you snap out of it. Five years away from your beloved sport and that tennis racquet or a ball at your feet is going to feel alien and unfamiliar again. Once you’re ready to accept it however, the choice does stand - you can begin again. 

With this insight in mind, yesterday I took a bus to a local wood behind Trentham Estate. On arrival I was met with an information board notifying me of conservation grazing taking place in the area. This had my destination fenced off to a great extent. I decided that unless every patch of trees and grass in the vicinity is closed off from access, I can always plan another route. Wildlife was difficult to find - time of the year and the proximity to the city didn’t make it any easier. This proved to be a blessing - it forced me to turn my eyes to all the autumn sights and wonders which don’t necessarily run or fly but rather they lay waiting right at your feet. Considering that all my camera controls are incredibly rusty - fungi proved to be a patient and forgiving subject. Soon I was rolling around on the forest floor looking for angles, face to face with a toadstool, a bolete and a woodland stream. Breathing again the familiar scents of drying leaves, warm wood and moss. Minute by minute, the chatter of my mind quieted, almost as if attempting to match the resonance of the surrounding silence. The creative process itself had me absorbed, focused. I dare even say - I was having fun! It’s quite surreal to notice that ‘having fun’ can appear out of character for oneself. Towards the end of my walk, I was blessed with a fleeting encounter with three fallow deer. It was a welcome omen, considering that since I moved to my current house in 2019, I’ve always wondered if there were any deer in the area - I have never gone to find out. They were too far away for any meaningful photo opportunities but what an invitation for future visits! A reminder of all those days which I had spent walking across Cannock Chase. On the way out I spotted two buzzards soaring thermals high above me, their peaceful gliding at times interrupted by mobbing from local crows. Again, no opportunities for pictures of birds of prey but I’ll come back soon. Hopefully better equipped - when my focus, both mental and the one controlled by the shutter button are both improved.