Gentle Reflection

Gentle Reflection (60 x 60cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

The gentle reflection of the water, and of the mind.

Exercise has become so integral to lockdown life, with countryside walks becoming a social visit to those outside of family.

We walk for hours and chat along those canal paths, takeaway coffees and dog leads in hand. Our furry companions are so happy that we work from home, their need for affection and fresh air satisfied.

Most of us have struggled under the bizarre circumstances of a worldwide pandemic, often feeling like characters of a dystopian novel. Everyone has made sacrifices, but so rare is it that we share the same reason for doing so. There is a strange comfort in unity. Each begrudgingly slow step of the past year has now led to enormous leaps in modern medicine, and a new compassion within the community.

The end appears nigh, as we hope to throw our masks up like the graduation caps and celebrate a long, carefree summer.

As autumn returns, perhaps we should hold onto the masks from the bitter wind, and a bittersweet memory which we battled through.

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The Feeling of Neutral Buoyancy

Neutral Buoyancy (87 x 113cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

‘Neutral buoyancy’ is neither sinking nor floating.

Another world lies beneath the sea, its darkest waters as unknown to us as the unexplored galaxies. It is so quiet, your exhaled breath bubbles toward a yellow veil above the water’s surface. Each sound is muffled, so as not to break your focus. This balancing act, with your flippered feet in motion, leaves you with your thoughts.

Whilst remaining calm and focused on breathing, you also feel the silent dread of your own mortality creep into the vast ocean. But in this cushioned, anti-gravity sphere, you can fly slowly and capture your surroundings. You save the memory for later nostalgia.

The light above is safety, whilst the depths below are full of fear yet curiosity. As you continue to focus, those bubbles take with them your anxiety. You are a silent presence in a world far from security and comfort, but full of promise.

You allow yourself to explore, but with the scuba diving instructor still in your vision.

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The Secret Garden

The Secret Garden (71 x 91cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

Often in a busy and bustling city, it is hard to find quiet.

As the Earth thaws, the public flock to the parks for a day of sunshine and socialisation. Shorter lengths and bright patterns, London is awash with summer florals and blue denim. I tend to avoid the crowds, in search of my own haven.

Along the illuminated paving stones do I find a Victorian-inspired, cast iron gate. The black metal is scorching as I tenderly allow myself into the garden patio. I see an inviting bench, almost as if the sun has two weighty hands on my shoulders. Before I reach the comfort of sitting down, I am swarmed by a small animal tribe: an unlikely trio of hens, entrusted as keepers of the garden.

I hold my breath as they circle my feet and peck at my laces. I am not sure how happy they are to have a foreign invader, but my silence quickly earns their trust. Over a shared lunch, we bond even more. All three sit with their feet tucked in, their feathered bodies as dense as bread loaves.

They rise to wish me farewell, as the heat of the iron gate subsided from the cool evening air.

This garden shall remain our secret.

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Lavender-Scented Hens

Lavender Scented Hens (30x40cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

This is a scene that I hope to wake up to each morning. When my eyes are closed, I can transport myself to sunny days in the British countryside.

There are white beams of light through each window, not ceasing until late into the evening. The days are long and sleepily warm, as not to exert yourself; Whether that is from the sunbed with a book, or a picnic on the bright gingham tablecloth, or a dinner party where champagne flutes clink in celebration, you so often find yourself outside. As your skin browns, it seems as if your physicality absorbs your surroundings.

There is nothing better than that feeling of opening the door and the strong waft of French lavender, vibrant and quick to flower, greeting you. Its calming influence subdues the mind.

The hens of my garden are happy little souls, strolling up the gravel path, hoping to explore inside further. But I will be leaving my house to meet them, to follow their forked footprints from their morning venture.

I think of this memory all year round, appealing to my weary, wintery soul until the snow melts and the flowers flourish.

Coming home is so safe and familiar, but I am excited to go, to step out into the exquisite unknown.

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Reunited Once More

Paula & Chris’ Village Wedding (70 x 100 cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

A joyous wedding scene, with no masks or social distancing in sight.

A historical scene from our lives before the life-changing pandemic that has eclipsed 2020 and 2021 (so far).

The invisible enemy, which dominates all media coverage and conversation, has often left us feeling as if there is no end in sight.

England has made incredible leaps in medical science with a vaccine, the chance for the most vulnerable in society to be protected from the unpredictability of COVID-19. There is a steady progression, with the government hoping to vaccinate fifteen million people by mid-February.

A small but growing light shines in the dark.

Hopefully there is an end in sight, and with that lots of celebrations to be had. Whether that is the revival of a lockdown birthday, or a wedding without a restricted guest list. There may be no special occasion in mind, it may be as simple as hugging your loved ones without fear.

On our hands and knees, lost, our eyes have adjusted to the darkness. On our feet now, we slowly follow a guiding light to the door of the future.

Normality will no longer be something taken for granted, but something that is cherished.

**Article continues on Page Two**

Winter Wellies and Hens

Winter Wellies and Hens (30 x 30cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

I look through the frosted window of my front door, to see a blanket of snow resting on the chickens, soft but icy. Only their red beaks peak through, contrasting to the perfect white, as bright as the blank page of a new chapter.

Once the door is opened, the warm air is sucked out of my home into my glacial surroundings. The cold air pinches my cheeks, and rises in pearl clouds from my mouth with each breath. My wellies greet me at the doorstep, offering to protect my feet from the cold and slippery ground. Like Cinderella, they perfectly fit for the occasion.

The clean slate from the snow is marked with my brown boot marks, as I gingerly walk toward my velvety-plumaged companions. The hens look up and see me, with their fluffed-up feathers shielding the cold. They gather around my feet, and I lean down to pet them with my gloved hands.

I am reminded of snow days as a child, listening eagerly for news that schools were shut and the day was ours. I scoop a handful of soft snow, pressing my palms together until I have created a solid white globe. I throw aimlessly, as if in the midst of a snowball battle, and it lands in the white abyss. It is a day of quiet bliss, with only the muffled creaking of snow underfoot.

**Article Continued on Page Two**

Up The Garden Path

Up The Garden Path (30x40cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

There is nothing quite like the sheer panic of forgetting someone’s birthday, more specifically a birthday card, to truly mark the occasion.

Luckily, an artist works well under stress. As someone so often used to the pressures of meeting deadlines for clients, she quickly make haste; She grabs her art supplies and throw them down onto her work surface with an anticipatory thud.

This is no regular client, and there has been no debrief in this instance. But with her husband as the recipient, she knows him well enough to paint something of his taste.

Using a piece of paper, easily folded into a card, the artist begins to plot her canvas just in time for this important day. In her mind, she fondly envisions the summer garden.

The buzzing bees and singing birds are an orchestra in this quiet corner of the countryside. The wild flowers grow with such a vigour, they often overstep into the pathway. This is the pathway which the artist’s husband will walk after the working day. Crunching gravel underfoot, the bright bulbs are thrust forward by the wind and kiss his feet. The artist imagines his pace quicken upon his excitement of seeing balloons, or a colourful banner in the archway perhaps; His mind is animated with what surprises may be awaiting behind the front door of their home.

The artist plays out this warm and happy scene inside her head as she paints. Almost as if the mental image has been scanned onto the paper, it is complete. The artist reviews the finished birthday card, with the long, overreaching stems of the flowers and the path seemingly built around them. With dots of sapphire and rouge to imitate their swaying, she leaves the darkened doorway, as the beautiful, ambiguous end of one’s journey up the garden path.

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Rose and Sage: The Curiously Colourful Canals

Rose and Sage: 30 x 40cm

**Words by Amber L-J**

Green is the colour of rejuvenation.
Rose is the colour of gratitude.
Together, much like the stream of water, these colours slowly drift downstream with a steady sunrise to guide them. Bouncing off the rosy canal boats, the combined pigment floods the pathway. In the glistening water, I see the abundance of life and energy here.

As if admiring their reflection, the trees sway merrily above the water, with the rhythm of rustling leaves as their accompanying music. They join branches with the equally arched trees on the other side of the water, forming a natural pathway to be voyaged by the inhabiting squirrels.

I walk underneath and listen for their morning chatter across the information (and physical) highway, with their speedy commute to either side as an affectatious display of agility.

As I reach the bend of the pathway, I see the boats moored. Free from civilisation, the community on the canals wrap up warm on the decks. Their gloved hands are enlaced tightly around a mug of tea in conversation with their neighbours, or a solitary fishing rod in sport, hoping to catch their next meal. The rods animate the water, as it ripples and merges various blocks of green.

Breathing in the fresh air, we each exhale small, white clouds which soar into the atmosphere.

It is almost like living inside the polychromatic dream of a painting.

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The Hens of Homecoming

The Homecoming (30x30cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

Everyday, the hens come home to safety before dark.

I call for my hens in high whistling tones, bent down and patting my thighs eagerly. With a bucket of chicken feed in one hand, and a steaming camomile tea in the other, I wait on the pathway at the bottom of the meadow.

The yellow rose bush grows outward, distinguished from the verdant landscape. Reclining upon the railings of the fence, they welcome me back whilst refusing to be ignored. The warmth from their open petals cause my smile.

I soon see red feathers and orange beaks peak over the top of the hill. The chickens find happiness in their freedom to roam far in these fields, with the exception of feeding time.

These hens leave their haven and rush towards me. With the wind entangled in their feathers, thrust backward and creating resistance, some fall behind. However, a steady stream flows downward.

In the low sun, my squinting eyes make out dark shadows on the green pasture, with their legs strutting at such a speed they seem to disappear.

With their initial stealth achieved on the soft grass, the pitter patter of their claws is soon heard overlapping on the concrete path.

I scoop one of these hens in my arms, both of us making mutual noises of glee. Once she is placed down, I reach into the bucket.

I tentatively hold my hand out, with a pile of chicken feed cupped inside, to be gently pecked at by the hens at all directions, encircling me.

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Braving the Bluebell Woods

Hens in The Bluebell Woods (50x50cm)

**Words by Amber L-J**

Annually, the russet floor of the woodland is flooded with a sea of violet bluebells. In their most natural setting, they flourish and flower for humans and animals alike.

Where the woods thinned, a farm was awoken by the shrill crow of a small, white-feathered cockerel. The farmer sleepily approached the hen coop as the sun slowly climbed over the hills, bearing light on the locked door. Upon lifting the latch, the farmer was greeted excitedly by hungry hens. Once they were fed, the door was left open to endless possibilities before roosting at dusk.

On this day, one hen gingerly stepped onto the bluebell path. Inspired by one’s courage, the other hens trickled into the wood, clucking in low tones of caution. However, as they ventured further into the purple haze, the brood quickly fell silent.

The enchantment of the bluebell forest stole their voice, and caused the hens to pause in silent awe of their surroundings. The woodland air overwhelmed the senses with melodious bird calls and fragrant flowers.

As the hens continued, they could see an area in which the gleaming sunlight above was concealed by formidable, towering trees. Mistaking this as night-time, or risking danger ahead, many began to turn back. The first, brave hen marched to the edge, with only a few followers remaining. Looking at the path ahead, the hen glanced back to see the safety of the collective lingering behind her, unable to follow her into the darkness. Her unfledged desire to explore was quickly triumphed by the sensible majority.

Maybe tomorrow.

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