SeniorTimes Magazine - November/December

Page 80

Creative Writing When Tina came back to Ireland (to her hometown of Birr) in 2009 with her 18 months old son Tristan, times were tough. Her marriage had broken down, she missed Botswana and its people, the wildlife, the smells, the sounds at night. In 2011 she went for an eco walk in Killaun, her local bog, 5kms from Birr. She was accompanied by John Feehan, geologist and botanist. She had never thought of the bog as a living landscape, accepting it as a place of hardship when she was a child. A place where fuel was gathered, a place of work. But that night with John Feehan (who had given them all a hand lens); “he was scooping up mosses and lichens and we were encouraged to observe them all through the hand lenses. Their beauty was mind blowing”. From that moment, Tina found her mojo again. She went back to the bog the very next day. Tapestry of Light was born, a coffee table book of such glorious bog images, they appeal to all the senses. In the synchronistic way of the world, Tina was interviewed by John Sheahan of The Dubliners in 2013 for TG4’s ‘Imeall Arts Programme’. John had some bog poetry and before long it was decided that Tapestry of Light would include John Sheahan’s poetry as well as Tina’s stunning images. Tapestry of Light By John Sheahan Natures Eye

Africa in January 2000 and work as an assistant to Graham McCulloch who was pursuing a PhD in flamingo research at the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans. McCulloch won Bachelor of the Year Competition in 1999 in Ireland, but that’s an entirely different story! When Tina flew to Botswana, it was quite a change from her 9 to 5 job in Cork City. “I was immersed into the wilderness with Graham, in a small camp at the edge of Makgadikgadi Salt Pans in Botswana. We cooked on the fire, I bathed with a bucket shower under the stars and slept on a platform in a tall Syringa tree overlooking the outstretched pans below.” I just have to pause a moment and imagine this petite, dark haired young woman, filled with energy and enthusiasm for the natural world, living her dream under the stars. Waiting for the flamingos to descend. “The flamingos arrive at the salt pans in their thousands, to feed on the brine shrimp, tiny little invertebrates that come to life on the surface of the salt pan when the rains arrive, and they breed in the middle of the pans, producing one chick per adult pair. The vastness of the salt pans protect them from predators.” At this stage, I can see a film in the making. But the best is yet to come. Tina’s job was to fly over the thousands of flamingos with Graham and take photographs from the air to quantify the birds. “It was like starring in my own Attenborough movie”. Needless to say, the agreed time for the mission (three months) turned into ten before arriving back to Ireland, organising a photographic exhibition of her work and then purchasing a one way ticket back to Botswana. Tina’s African odyssey lasted 9 years in Botswana, having learnt and experienced an incredible amount. She was steeped in the safari world. And so worthwhile. “Botswana is known as the Land of Contrasts. I was managing camps in remote locations, from the desolate Makgadikgadi Salt Pans to the Kalahari, the largest inland delta in the world”. Tina spent the following 8 years there; living in the bush, co-habiting with the most wonderful wildlife, it was a feast for the senses, and always an adrenaline rush.” I asked her if she could define the greatest learning curve she experienced. She has no hesitation in replying: “The art of observation. I was taught how to use all of my senses. To slow down and stop. Whether getting out of a safari vehicle, or walking from one point to another. First to use my eyes, to look at the tracks at my feet and at what is ahead”. So it’s not just about a photographer’s eye? “My ears are important, to listen to the world around me. Is there a warning call? Antelopes and birds give warning calls when predators or snakes are nearby. My sense of smell. Can I smell decay? That means there is a carcass nearby, hence there may be a predator. The sense of touch, is the breeze behind you or in front? Am I upwind or downwind of a nearby herd of elephants ? And the sixth sense, my gut. If my gut is warning me, I go with that warning.” 78 Senior Times l November - December 2021 l

Silver netting of the dawn Embroidered through the silent night, Woven into dewy webs, Suspended tapestry of light. Cobwebs greet the morning air, Strings of priceless jewels glistening, Veiling gateway, bush and tree, Lending wonder to our waking. Nature’s gift holds me enthralled, Treasure of the dawning day, Till the fairy breezes call, Stealing all my dreams away. This effervescent artist also very generously gifted me the use of some of her images in a Culture Night Commission (a short film ‘Treasure’) which is available to view at the link included here. For which I’m truly grateful. She is currently working towards a new book which will further explore the magic of our beautiful bogs and will hopefully take the viewer on an “otherworldly journey through the miniature treasures at our feet”. She continues to work alongside John Feehan as part of his filming team for his Wildflowers of Offaly and Story of the Bogs series for Youtube. It’s not difficult to see how Tina Claffey has received so many awards, travelling in 2019 to New York’s Carnegie Hall for the International Photography Awards in the Nature Category (receiving an Honourable Mention). She’s been honoured with awards from highly prestigious world competitions including Fine Art Photography Awards, BigPicture, Close Up Photographer of the Year, among others. Her photography work is part of many art collections, including the permanent collection at Áras an Uachtaráin, the home of Irish President Michael D. Higgins. There’s so much more that can be said about Tina Claffey, her life’s journey, her creative inspirations. Has she any inspirational code by which she lives? “Love what you do, do what you love”. A quote that also resonates with her comes from none other than Albert Einstein: “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Tapestry of Light is available from Artisan House Editions and all good bookshops.

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