Points of View

The last weekend of October 2019 was incredibly wet. The kind of wet that’s been building over a season, and goes beyond the typical stereotype of a rainy UK. Staffordshire is not the only place that has faced interruption due to rain and flooding recently, but then these rambling thoughts are just a little slice of time and one small place.

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Monday, 28th October 2019

The urge to be outside with my camera was festering all weekend. Monday morning rolls around and I am up early, camera packed, battery charged, and mapping out the best way to get to Shugborough that avoids the floods.

The heavy hanging mist covers the bridleway. It’s shrouded so thick that I can’t see my breath, though I’d expect to. It’s crisp and cold, and beautiful; the sun seems incredibly lazy this morning, taking its good sweet time to arrive.

In the-not-too-far-distance, I can see the hazy bumps of the cattle. They seem oddly ambivalent to me, when I know the water must be taking up a lot of their space. My feet carry me forward, impatient to see what I can’t currently - the flood. I anticipate that it is going to be a great day for photography, and I feel guilty about my own excitement. The path splits in two:

When you find paradise on a crisp autumn morning

I make my way automatically toward the terraces, anticipation keeping my itching fingers warm enough to work my camera. The top terrace reveals a picturesque scene of ruin.

A large pool swallows the contrived Arcadia before me. The visions of a man who dared to dream of fabricating paradise on his own plot of earth are belittled by the earth herself.

She outshines him effortlessly; submerging the fruit of his patronage in water, hiding the legacy of his ideas in dense fog. These things of history that we toil to protect have been snatched away from us in a mere few days, and it’s stunningly beautiful.

The sun arrives late, but brilliantly, as if to make up for its tardiness. It burns off the mist, revealing underneath Elysium reflected on a calm mirror. This is paradise in truth, one we could never perfectly emulate.

I’m snap-happy now, there is a sort of drunkenness to having such a wealth of different views to photograph. The familiar is turned on its head which makes for the best landscape photos; a rare opportunity to be consumed by ruin lust.

When you find ruin on a crisp autumn morning

I make my way automatically toward the terraces, anticipation keeping my itching fingers warm enough to work my camera. The top terrace reveals a picturesque scene of ruin.

The ornamental river has overflowed, it has crested over the banks and fills the bottom terrace. I go through a mental checklist of the usual sights:

The tops of the urns are barely visible above the waterline, and the other monuments partially submerged too. I can see the buildup of silt and debris clinging to our structures. They will all need cleaned and inspected for stability. These things of history that we toil to protect have been snatched away from us in a mere few days, and it raises so many questions.

Taking a cautionary step forward, I strain to see the bridges which mark the way to the arboretum. They are nearly submerged as well. Will they still be stable when the water recedes?

How much wildlife has been lost? There are creatures which can't outrun the water, not only the small mammals, but the insects too. Surely this will affect the biodiversity for the following seasons.

What about the plants? Will this deluge carry the Phytophthora elsewhere on the estate? So much work has been done to defend against it, but who could stop this?

The sun arrives late, but brilliantly, as if to make up for its tardiness. It burns off the mist, revealing underneath clearer views of the destruction. I can’t see benches anywhere, but the sculpture installation in the arboretum is miraculously still in place.

As the wheels turn

I inspect the areas I can safely reach on foot, my shutter clicking away as I flit between documenting the flood and composing artful images of reflections.

I wonder grimly if this will be a frequent scene. How to know if it’s an outlier, or if it’s a consequence of our own making; a matter of us neglecting to care for our climate.

I think about the implications of this, and all the people it must have affected. It is not only those who commute through flood waters and pour their hearts into protecting this special place. And it is not only those in the neighbouring Haywoods who have had damage to their homes. It’s not only my little town with pockets of flooding, or the county, or the small island country I wish to make my home. These significant, extreme events seem to occur everywhere now.

But then, these rambling thoughts are just a little slice of time in one small place.

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