Roots, and home, and all that that means have been on my mind lately. I’m terribly unhappy at the moment and find it hard to write anything and even harder to muster up any enthusiasm for taking photos. I feel displaced, out of tune with where I am, and almost as if I’m suffering a bereavement, but of a place rather than a person. This last weekend I hit a new low and spent much of it in tears, sobbing from a deep, deep place, remembering all the things I loved about where I used to live and missing the friends I used to be able to see. It’s hard not to see myself as pathetic and inadequate – I know of many other people who move countries and even continents and take it all in their stride. I’ve been wondering why it’s hit me so hard.
I’ve made a major move before and didn’t feel like this. But that time I was glad to be going, glad to be leaving a marriage that was falling apart and a place where I never had felt that I fitted. I grew up near Glasgow in central Scotland and lived there until I was nearly thirty, but it never felt right to me. I loved the Scottish land and scenery with a passion, but I found the towns and villages grey and austere and lacking in flowers, joy and life. I didn’t fit with the people there either – Glaswegians are wonderfully friendly, funny, helpful, and easy to chat to, but they don’t have much interest in the arts (they regard you as rather suspect and a little bit up-your-own-**** if you do) and they don’t tend towards deep thinking (something I know I do too much of, but it’s who I am). I liked a lot of people but never felt I could connect with them in any meaningful way. So moving several hundred miles south didn’t make me feel as if I was being torn out by the roots, as I do now.
After a few years in the south-east, I ended up in Canterbury where I stayed for the next twenty-five and for the first time in my life I felt at home somewhere. I put down roots there, great solid curling roots that drew in ample nourishment for my life. I didn’t seem so much the odd one out, which was a huge relief and I was happy there. It was the kind of place I used to dream about living when I was growing up. While few places can compare to the drama of the Scottish mountains and coast, I loved the gentle, rolling Englishness of the scenery and the pretty, flower-filled villages and mediaeval towns. I loved the orchards that grew everywhere and the sunnier, warmer climate. Over the years I found places that came to mean a lot to me: the green, mossy, RSPB woods at Blean; the astonishingly lovely gardens at Mount Ephraim; the wide empty pebble-filled beach at Sandwich Bay, which was always quiet even on a hot summer’s day because you had to pay a toll to drive on the road to it and where you could park your car almost on the beach; another bay at St Margaret’s where you could buy an ice-cream and watch huge ships sail into Dover harbour; Canterbury Cathedral, where I spent hours with my camera; a secret wild-flower meadow just off the main street; Jojo’s in Tankerton, probably my favourite restaurant ever; Whitstable, with its quirky shops and working harbour and promenade lined with pastel coloured houses; and the list goes on and on. It physically hurts when I think about these. It’s early days, I know, but I haven’t found anything here that I love that much yet; it’s a different sort of place here and I’m not sure I ever will.
The thing that has bothered me most is my loss of enthusiasm for photography. I’ve hardly taken any shots since I got here and have had little or no inclination to. I’ve wondered if my passion for it will ever come back, and at the weekend I even thought about abandoning it altogether. While it often helps to write about things that trouble me, photography has always been associated with joy for me and I’ve never known how to use it otherwise. I’ve taken photos because I’m happy, and what I see makes me happy, and I want to make other people happy by giving them – hopefully – something wonderful to look at. But today I went out for a walk and photographed roots.
The Wirral Way is a cycle/walking track created from an old, disused railway line. In one area the rock has been sliced into and cut away, forming a sort of roofless tunnel of sandstone. All along its length, trees and plants cling precariously to the rock and small pockets of shallow soil. Like me, they’re trying to root themselves in a place that isn’t quite suited to them. Some of them manage to flourish regardless; some of them have established a foothold, but remain immensely vulnerable to the elements; some have their roots hanging in the air, looking for something to cling to. I can identify.
This little fern looks so vulnerable. You can see the run of water that’s both keeping it alive and threatening to wash it away.
There’s something terribly optimistic about these little green ferns, managing to thrive but with their roots dangling in mid-air. They make me think of terrestrial jellyfish.