Sunday, April 20, 2014

To Roll Softly and Carry a Big Camera

Photographing by the Windmills
Easter weekend here is stretched into a nearly weeklong holiday of endless sunshine and gleeful business closures. It is quiet. Not in a hushed churchy way. But more in the lazy, sunbaked way of a backwater beach town in the waning days of August. The morning is so bright it could be mid-day. The sun does not set till nearly 9:00 in the evening. Friday gives way to Saturday, then Sunday, with a viscous seamlessness. This weather and this silence are disorienting, making me feel drowsy at random times of the day.

At an hour that could be early morning or could, just as easily, be high noon, I get on my bike and go. I have a route to follow, designed weeks prior in the unlikely event of just such a long lazy day of calm weather. And now I'm glad of it, because my brain is mush from the unexpected solar caresses. And my legs are mush from the too-fast ride done with a friend the day before. For the first time this year I have exposed my ankles and I feel giddy.

Backroads Toward Dungevin
Along the main road processions of caravans and trailers flow unhurriedly. Some head toward the seaside caravan park. Others toward the Gliding Club. Their parade is peppered with the occasional car, stuffed with children being driven to football games and egg hunts.

Cycling alongside them gingerly, I am accompanied by honks followed by enthusiastic hand waves from people I know (how did I manage to know so many people here?!), as the sun beats down on us all. And then I turn off the main road, and all signs of life disappear.

Rapeseed Starting to Bloom
On the narrow mountain lanes there are no church bells and no beach goers. No caravans and no carpools. There are no village shops, flaunting traditional Easter closures to capitalise on ice-cream sales. There is no weekday and no weekend. There is no sound, aside from the occasional hum of a distant tractor. There is only an eerie stillness, more noticeable now in the absence of wind.

The rapeseed fields, having blossomed all at once in the week prior, look now like a spillover of sun from the sky. The earth underneath them is scorched and cracked, showing no signs of the water that flooded it only weeks earlier.

Cricket Game in Progress
Half way up a hill I pass a cricket field, the first sign of activity for miles. As men in white move about a whim bush-framed playing field, Binevenagh Mountain looms in background with an almost ludicrous picturesqueness. I do not know the game, but from the vantage point of my bike I can see it involves at least 2 bat-like objects in use at once. I remind myself to look this up.

Just then a ball flies out of the field and lands on the road beside my wheel, and so I stop and pick it up. The man who hops over the fence to retrieve it pauses to thank me, then quizzes me about my comings and goings in the uniquely local manner that feels simultaneously like friendliness and meticulous intelligence-gathering. In the end he squeezes my shoulder and gives me his good wishes, warning me to be careful over the next, sharply winding, downhill stretch of road. I photograph the cricket game and get ready to take off. "Ride softly and carry a big camera, eh?" I hear a laughing voice behind me as I pedal away.

Backroads Toward Dungevin
Along roads like these you can ride with no end and no beginning, because they seem to have none. You can ride tired, drowsy, wobbly legged, half asleep. You can ride all day and not feel the bike or yourself as distinct from what is around you. The road rolls and you can roll along with it. You can roll fast. Or, you can roll softly and carry a big camera. And as you snap that photo you will feel that the still, sundrenched landscape will be here, rolling, with or without you in it.

24 comments:

  1. Great to see pictures of simple irish country roads with such beautiful sunshine. Driving some quite back roads around Limerick yesterday admiring the flowering hedges of whitethorn intermittly dotted with the occasional cherry blossom. Beautiful weekend. Regretted that I didn't pack the Brompton to use in the gaps of family activities. Hope tomorrow is more for the same. Shooting at windmills with a camera, bit Don-Quixotesque !

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  2. Love the windmills!

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  3. How popular is cricket in Northern Ireland? Is it anything like baseball in the US?

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    1. I don't think it's anywhere near as popular as baseball in the US and the culture around it is pretty different, but there are 2 fields I know of within 5 miles from where I live.

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    2. I believe cricket in Ireland is linked to the linen industry. Linen mills needed a green to dry the cloth and English mill owners introduced cricket as a game to play on the green. The linen industry was predominantly in Ulster so you find villages with cricket teams in the linen producing areas of the north west, Armagh and Down, while the game is virtually non-existent outside cities in the rest of Ireland.

      Incidently, most sports in Ireland are organised around the 4 provinces, but cricket has 5 regions with Ulster being divided into north and north west.

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  4. What's great about photographic equipment lately is how little one actually needs to carry to shoot professional images--handy indeed for cycling and shooting. An Olympus OM-D E-M1 with professional lenses is maybe a third the size/weight of a Nikon or Canon DSLR, and for anything other than huge enlargements, delivers comparable results. Generally, there's no more need for a tripod, since the best current cameras offer roughly five stops of additional capability via image stabilization. Color correction lenses went away with film; HDR capability makes it easier to balance extremes in contrast without any special equipment. Some cameras are now weatherized and no longer need to be protected from moisture. And image quality with this equipment is comparable to what used to require medium format in film. All in all, bicycling and photography are more compatible now than they've ever been.

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    1. It depends on what look you are going for, what size of images you want, and what you plan to use them for. Perfectly good HDR effects can be achieved on the iPhone these days for that matter.

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    2. V, If you're hand holding your shots that is the limiting factor, not resolution, unless it is in broad daylight. Even then, actually, not going to be tack sharp.

      Acceptable noise also varies to application.

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  5. So when does the sun set in June?

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    1. No wonder you would occasionally sound a bit gloomy in the winter.

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  6. Those images make me want to see Northern Ireland for myself!

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  7. Lovely. For me, that describes cycling at its very best. Thanks for taking us along.

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  8. The photos are well-composed, beautiful, and well-lit, and the story behind this blog -- someone going from a budding interest in urban cycling to embracing it in all its forms -- is fascinating, but the thing I like best about it are observations like "the uniquely local manner that feels simultaneously like friendliness and meticulous intelligence-gathering." There's a novel in this, Velouria.

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    1. Isn't there a novel in everything, if the writer is willing and able? : )

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    2. I mean a good novel (or memoir), that lots of folks would buy and read. Like say Annie Dillard's "Pilgrim at Tinker Creek" or Anne Lamott's "Operating Instructions", but extending from your Mary Poppins days to now, and about biking. Go for it.

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  9. I love your blog ad have read every bike review. Thank you. I need advice- if you can help me narrow down. I want an upright bike to ride about town and to ride on the rails and trails that we have- I live in Central Florida. We have some hills and I would like to ride 10, 20, 40, 60 miles or so for exercise and pleasure. I want 6,7 or 8 speeds not 3. thank you.

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    1. There are a lot of choices now, and it depends on so many factors (budget? your definition of "light"? do you plan to carry things, or children on the bike? would you consider derailleur gearing? etc, etc) this is not a question that can quickly be answered here. I am also completely unfamiliar with the terrain and town layouts of Central Florida. My suggestion would be to ask this question somewhere like bikeforums (they have regional sub-forums) and see what ideas come up. Good luck!

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  10. Quick question--what are you carrying your camera in when you ride? You had a post a while back but if I recall it was a different setup on another bike.

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    1. On the Seven I've been carrying it in a Dill Pickle saddlebag with camera insert (second one described here). However for the past week I've been trying out the handlebar bag, so been carrying it in that instead.

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    2. Thanks for the info--I love taking pics on rides, but I hate having my camera bounce around in a backpack the whole time. I like the handlebar-mounted bag in particular.

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