joanna paterson

birds, flowers & landscapes, in words & pictures

A Sense of Belonging

I read something the other day that started me thinking about gratitude, and belonging.

How we feel a sense of gratitude when we feel that we belong – and perhaps that we feel a greater sense of belonging when we cultivate gratitude.

A sense of belonging is, for me, inextricably tied to the earth: feeling close to and familiar with the rivers and the trees, with the patterns of fields and the curves of the land.

I think perhaps this is why birdsong can be so powerful – it’s not just that it’s beautiful but also that it reminds us: of other places and times, other songs we’ve heard, it reminds us that we’re here, and hearing, and present, a part of the moment, the listeners of the song.

And I think this is why I love the flowers so. Even if you’re feeling out of sorts and disconnected, even if you can’t see the big picture or make sense of the patterns of life, or the lack of them, there they are, fully present, fully familiar.

All you need to do is bend down and notice, say hello, pay attention.

low down snowdrop shot taken with the Hipstamatic

I’m not sure if these are big thoughts or small ones, only that again and again I come back to this moment, this invitation, to bend down and notice.

To feel not just wonder but familiarity, and belonging, and remembrance that you’re at home.


With thanks to Kim Manley Ort for prompting me to think about the power of gratitude.

Welcoming the Snowdrops

clump of snowdrops dancing in sunlight

When does a year begin?

For me it is this day, when the sun is finally shining and you walk out in hope because surely they must be here by now,

snowdrops close to the ground in half sun

and even though it’s not much of a surprise,

even though it’s become something of a ritual for you, this watching for them, waiting,

still –

snowdrops starting to emerge in sunlight

I’m not sure there is anything more lovely, more hope-giving, than the sight of these wee flowers poking up their heads through the mud, and rough ground, and glinting in the sun.

closer up of snowdrops in sunshine

Starting, Stopping, and Keeping Going

Even though we know it’s kind of artificial – just a date, just a line in the sand – there is nonetheless something hard to resist about a new year.

It’s partly that Janus thing, looking back, and looking forward, which invites us to mull and consider what might yet, even still, be possible.

I think it’s partly that we can grasp the size and shape of a year, and see how things might be, how we might be, if we committed to something in chunks of 52 times.

I too have succumbed to the lure of the new, and find myself with some lifestlye changes I want to make. The ones that are of the stopping sort seem to be the easiest (for me, just now), requiring the least effort of will, and prompted well by the change in the date (this is the time I will flick the switch, just like that).

Starting new things is appealing and gives you that feeling of a fresh start… until the necessity of keeping them going kicks in;-) (And yes, this is a week into the new year, and some new and shiny things have already fallen by the wayside here).

I think it’s in the long-term keeping going though that the real learning is to be found.

I have certainly experienced this in relation to a very long term and absurdly hard work project: to learn another language (Gaelic). For the last few months I have very much been in learning plateau stage, and however much I google it and comfort myself that this is a known part of the language learning process, and you just have to keep going. I won’t deny, it’s hard.

It pushes you up against doubts:

* why am I spending time, energy and money on this?
* is there any point to this? (and does that matter?)
* will I ever get there? where is there anyway?

Some of these are old familiar friends to anyone who’s engaged in a creative project, and I have my own ways to dodge past them (or learn to walk alongside them).

I also find myself up against more interesting and ultimately fruitful territory about how I learn – the kind of approaches and activities that allow for new connections and ahas, and those which don’t.

I’m also reminded that in some things, and language learning is definitely one, pure effort, pure will, doesn’t generate results. You need to keep on exploring gently, lightly, creatively, to find what works (what works for you.)

two trees on blaeberry hill

The reason I’m sharing this is that pretty much all of what I’ve just written applies to my journey with photography too.

I suspect it’s probably true of any long-term practice, where the rewards come in peculiar ways, perhaps not in terms of ‘results’ (and indeed, at times, your results will appear to get worse), but indubitably so in terms of what you learn about yourself, and about what seems to matter, even if you can’t say why, and about why it’s good to keep on keeping going.

The Light of this Day

One of the biggest gifts of photography, for me, is that it teaches me to notice and appreciate the light.

The way it falls, the way it moves and changes, the way it throws shadows, and the way it illuminates.

I find when I try and think back on a year I am taken instead to particular days, particular places, particular moments – watching, and noticing the light.

Although we love to love the newness and promise of a brand new year, I will keep on learning to notice the look of this day, this place, here, now.

low winter light shot low down on a river

Have a very happy New Year when it comes!

What a Gift


Ice grippers to stop me from falling.

A path from my door that leads to a nature reserve in a disused quarry.

Ten minutes walk, and no need to drive on ice.

Blue skies, and brilliant sunshine.

A camera that fits in my pocket.

It being Sunday morning.

The thickness of the frost, hanging on everything, tree branches, bulrushes, nettles, and everything drooping with its weight and glinting with its brilliance.

A path dipping through it, like entering a Christmas card.

An avenue of trees.

The aesthetic of winter.

trees in winter in mist on a frosty morning





Wishing you all all the gifts of the season – especially the free sort

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