Letters from Cardiff in lockdown: Catrin Mari

Today’s instalment for the Letters from Cardiff in lockdown series comes from Catrin Mari. We’re looking for your stories, so please contribute to Letters from Cardiff in lockdown

The natural world can be a source of solace during times of crisis, Sir David Attenborough has said.

A source of solace.

Source, Soar, Saw.

During the pandemic, photographing nature has been a gentle comfort to me. I don’t even have a camera, but I’ve learnt to make the most of the camera on my phone; like I’ve made the most of what I have in the house, digging in the freezer for dinner: using what I have.

Until April, I was still working full time, playing a small role in helping to keep children safe during this strange time. After two weeks of sick leave in March, I returned to the office.  (I had  probably been ill with the virus- at one point I found it difficult to breathe. In retrospect I didn’t take things seriously enough, just assumed I’d be fine because I’m young- we now know how naive and reckless that was…)

My first day back at work  was frightening- the city centre was a wasteland, my colleagues were understandably anxious – I felt overwhelmed and afraid. How do we carry on as normal in our new reality?

I trudged each day to work and back, secretly glad that this gifted me with more time in the fresh air. Space held for spring and its light- usually heavy with sleepy commuters.

An ebb and flow formed each day,  as I retraced routes/roots of blossom trees- their flowers cheering me where I might not have noticed them before.  I began to take note of small details of my commute – the signs of spring contrasted with the undercurrent of fear that I couldn’t quite shake off. The routine of walking to work and back gave this period of time a rhythm, for which I felt tentatively grateful. I wasn’t quite sure if I’d rather be carrying on as usual…

At lunchtime, I walked to the water. Cormorants congregated there- sunning themselves and posing in the light. I took time to adjust them into the frame- hoping that they didn’t move. There was a  small joy in capturing their daily dances- wings outstretched, feet flitting, across the face of stirred water. I felt so grateful that I worked in Cardiff Bay and that nature was never that far away- it was a balm during an uncertain time.

In the evening I  discovered new routes / roots of lily pads swaying; and nature insisting its way through the city. Boys sat and cooed with joy at these tiny creatures: a cluster of ducklings, obediently following their mother. I saw how our reduced circumstances gently pressed our gazes towards tiny slivers of delight / rivers, where once we would have darted past them: between office blocks. To break the routine, I found new routes home, uncovering fresh delights in a city I thought I knew.

What I saw gave structure in solitude- a sense of rhythm- clicking, clacking- a flow of footsteps- pauses, as I took stock and watched : willing images to life. Photography had become my solace.

Unfortunately, I lost my job in April due to circumstances beyond my control or that of my employer. I spent a birthday alone – the first ever without my twin sister. Video calls with friends made me feel connected – I thought about how we may be isolated in houses, but the geography of our city still holds us together – there’s a road between my flat and my friend’s house two streets away. Small parcels arrived in the post- precious presents, linking me to loved ones.

Searching for new routes for my daily walk, I’ve uncovered new areas of my local community in Roath. I’ve captured on camera small details I usually would have overlooked- the blaring red of an ornate post box, coots tending their nest. I’ve been lucky to be able to  support local businesses- gifting the money I’m not spending on catching up with friends in cafes- cooling teas forgotten as we absorb ourselves in conversation.

In October, I will start a postgraduate course at Cardiff University. These months feel like a pause- an intake of breath before the bustle of my life in the next few years. Although the comforting paper-smell of a physical library seems so far away at the moment, having something to look forward to has helped me to remain calm.

I hope that taking photos and taking note of the small details of nature are both things that I can take with me into postgraduate life- I hope that they continue to console me, and help to remember the important things.

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