Sunday, May 24, 2009

Education and the Guelder Rose

click photo to enlarge
When I look back over my own education - both the formal and the autodidactic - I'm very clear that the things I value most were learned in primary school: that is to say between the ages of 5 and 11 years. During that period I learned to love to find out things for myself. I also first discovered the limits of formal education, from which I went on to know that it is useful for laying down a foundation of knowledge, and that higher education is especially good for securing employment but is hopeless for growing you as a person (it has a tendency to turn out clones who parrot method and content). I also discovered - though I wasn't able to explain it until many years later - the truth that Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) articulated in "Walden": "What is a course of history, or philosophy, or poetry, no matter how well selected, or the best society, or the most admirable routine of life, compared with the discipline of looking always at what is to be seen?"

In the primary school I attended we followed the usual curriculum of the time - mathematics, English, history, geography, religious studies, music, art and physical education. However, in place of science we had "nature study", and as eleven year olds we also had "current events". It was the nature study that gripped me more than any other subject. Often this involved walking up one of the narrow lanes out of our market town into the hills whilst we listened to a commentary from, and engaged in a dialogue with, our teacher about the plants and animals, as well as the man-made features (barns, drystone walls, the town pound, a reservoir, medieval terracing, etc), that we encountered. In those years the importance and pleasure of looking at, thinking about and appreciating everything around me was laid down: it is something that has enriched the rest of my life immeasurably.

It was on one of those walks that, along with herb robert, cow parsley, stonecrop, red campion, wood anemone, and the other flowers of the Yorkshire Dales, I heard the name Guelder Rose. Unlike the rest of the flowers whose names I learnt, this one didn't stick with me. It wasn't one that I could pin on a plant when I saw it, perhaps because it wasn't as common as the others. However, the other day I discovered it was the English name for Viburnum opulus, a tree that grows in my garden, and with that discovery the memories of those primary school "nature rambles" came flooding back. Today's image incorporates a device I've used before - placing an in focus bloom on one side of the frame and a more distant, out of focus flower head on the other.

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 35mm macro (70mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f4.5
Shutter Speed: 1/400
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On