It was in February 2014 that I first emailed Helie Franklin, offering to volunteer with the centre. She diplomatically and gently replied that with much of the farm still under water there was limited scope for my help and encouraged me to get in touch again a bit closer to spring.
A year on, and this winter has been much kinder in that it's been rather warmer and rather dryer. For example, every single field on the farm is walkable this year. Last year you'd have needed waders and a dinghy to get onto several of the flooded fields. Even with drier fields though January is about building, feeding and waiting.
It's been a very long month in photographic terms, and I have especially cherished the visits that coincided with a heavy frost, new animals or birds or volunteers working on a specific tasks as they've provided extra variety for photography. The fields and hedges, which provided such fertile ground for photography and writing through spring and summer are almost in suspended animation. The wheat, sown last year, is holding its own in muddy fields that are still more brown than green. The hedges are bizarrely transparent in many places with far reduced foliage. I've seen one bud - on a bramble. There is no warm background hum from insects, though there is the odd bit of birdsong. On some days the traffic noise carries from the road and it's a long mental stretch to remember the bright days of summer or the golden days of autumn. I am thoroughly enjoying photographing the farm every week, even on the days when it's cold, wet and muddy and it's a real challenge to find new images to record. Luckily I've found some new pictures every week, but I'm really looking forward to spring and new growth! Since this is a family friendly blog I shall draw a discreet veil over the enthusiastic activities of the ducks who are making grand efforts to ensure the continuation of their line, but it's fair to say that I'm hoping for some duckling photos at some point. Can you imagine how cute an Emerson/Lemon cross would be?
This is not to say that the farm has been idle in January - far from it. The first month of the new year has seen animal and bird accommodation being created and refined. The inside of the barn has been cleared and tidied ready for the groups of people who will start arriving soon. Funding bids are underway. The large pond is filling well and is ready for planting on the banks - the geese love it. Ditches have been extended. Bees need regular checking and feeding if necessary. It won't be long before the weather and fields are ready for a new intake of sheep, and lambs will follow very soon after. The newest batch of rescue hens are doing well and are unrecognisable in terms of confidence from when they first arrived. As for the first batch of rescue hens - well I think you'd be hard put to guess they were ever anything other than happy feisty healthy creatures. Relationships continue to be cultivated and grown, it's wonderful to meet new people at Caenhill and then to see them come back again and again. There's a lot of work happens away from the fields and barn too - Chris is updating the website to a new version of Joomla! and also taking the opportunity to refresh and tweak the content. Helie is part-way through a one year course at the School of Social Enterprise which develops people who have social impact projects. Just between us I have no idea where she finds the time, but am very grateful that she does! She went through an intense selection process to gain her place, amidst lots of competition from candidates whose projects were more urban and city based. I think she did brilliantly and I'm sure her skills and passion will enthuse everyone lucky enough to work with her.
I'm planning to start a foundation course in photography after Easter. It seems fitting that after the project bought me to photography I'll be able to bring the project to a wider audience via photography. I'm also learning some Joomla!, along with Belinda, so that the website load can be shared a bit. After all, we all know that Helie and Chris are never short on ideas and plans, but they have the same number of hours in every day as the rest of us. If you would like to help, Chris tells me that they would very much appreciate donations of seed for the crop area, seed for the bee/flower area, fencing material and any old tools for the farm or building work. Thank you. I shall leave you with a shot of Lemon, having a good wash after a quick rendezvous with Emerson. It's shots like this that reassure me that there are always photos to be taken, no matter how frozen the ground and bare the hedges.