Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Repeat photography quest

A few years ago I discovered 'repeat photography' after being tagged by a friend on Facebook on a historical photo taken in the Parys area.

rePhotoSA was established by the Plant Conservation Unit at the University of Cape Town. They have  been scanning old photographs for two decaudes to have them saved in digital form. They have assigned images to geographic areas (where they have information on the general area where the photo was taken) and they ask 'citizen scientists' to attempt to re-photograph the exact scene. This gives them study material of the changes in vegetation to an area over time. 

On their Facebook page description they write:

"This project encourages you as the public or 'citizen scientist' to contribute to an understanding of how South Africa's environment has been changing and is continuing to change. This is done by comparing two photographs of the same view, taken at different times, and then recording the major changes that have taken place between the photos. This approach is called 'repeat photography'."

As rePhotoSA combines being outdoors, a bit of investigative sleuthing, good observation skills and some map work, it is like this was created just for me.

I can't believe that I haven't written about this on this blog before. I've just done a search for rePhoto and found nothing - WTF was I thinking? 

In the recent fires at UCT, the Plant Conservation Unit offices were destroyed and this is where their historical photographic collections were housed.

While they have most of the historical and repeated images in digital form, they were still busy digitising the few remaining large collections, where were destroyed and are now lost forever.

Since I've been in George, I had not looked on the rePhoto website to see what they had for this area. There are not many, but there are a few. I recognised two locations immediately. I have taken the photographs but the light really is not great and may have to wait for summer when the sun to more to the south. Of course, I'm striving for excellence.

There is a third photo that I am fairly certain of the exact location - I just need to go get it. The fourth, I'm confident of the general area and direction. I'd need to head there to look around (about 30 minutes from home).

As I travelled to Swellendam on Monday evening, I checked to see what was available along my route. I found three worthy photos. The one I have a 100% fix on but as it was off my route, I'll save it for another journey when I have more time. 

The second photo was assigned to an general area and shortly before dark, I saw it. It is visible in the George to Cape Town direction - if you're looking for it. On my return route, I snapped a photo from the side of the road but this will be one where I'll need to get further in on dirt farm roads to really nail the image.

Top photo taken by Acocks in 1968. My photo snapped from the side of the highway on 4 May 2021. Photographer position is probably on a higher hill, closer to the mountains and more to the left of where I am standing.

The third one was in Mossel Bay and just looking at it I had a fair idea of the general area and so I made for the location on my trip home. I was limited by driving a small truck with trailer so my manoeuvrability driving on small roads in an unfamiliar area, while looking at mountains, was limited. 

Nonetheless, I found a parking area and snapped a pre-rePhoto. My photographer position is close but a bit off. From the road I identified two other possible places nearby from where I should be able to get a more exact repeat. Parking and walking will give me better access.

Top photo by Pole-Evans in 1915. Bottom one by me on 4 May 2021. Mine is close but not exact. 

I have a connection to this Mossel Bay photo because it was taken by Pole-Evans in 1915. The repeat photographs that I duplicated in Parys were taken by Pole-Evans in 1919. Fascinating guy. I remember reading up about him a few years ago.

You can see my repeats for Parys on this page of the RePhotoSA website. Looking at these, I have another two pre-rePhotos saved on my computer. They were not 100% exact and so I didn't upload. For another two, I'm fairly certain of the general photographer position. I think I need to task my friends Graeme and Karen with getting these this winter (images show more of the terrain when the trees have no leaves).

Achieving a rePhoto is highly rewarding and I look forward to contributing more to this project.

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Thinking about death (and the environment)

 I think about death quite a lot. Not about killing myself. Just death.

This evening, I tuned into the ESSA monthly meeting where the guest speaker was talking about the impact of climate change of species diversity. Countries have signed declarations to take measures to limit the raping and pillaging of the environment. Some are progressing with their goals, a tiny percentage are achieving some and the rest are nowhere close.

Environmental scenario planners have five scenarios in place that, like economic and other scenarios, state that if this and that do not happen, then this is will be the outcome by that date. Or if the focus is this, then that will be the outcome.

Time frames are given. Plans look ahead to 2050, which is only 29 years away. Another - I think related to exponential population increase in Africa - looked ahead to 2080.

I turned to my mom and said, "Well, I'll be dead by then, thank goodness".

And then I think of David Attenborough. There's that show 'A Life on Our Planet' about his life in nature. The changes that have been documented in his lifetime. 

And what about that one 'Mission Blue' about Sylvia Earle and what she has observed in the oceans in her lifetime. 'Chasing Ice' about glaciers is also an impactful one.

This also applies to the changes that I've seen in my lifetime (half that of David's) - animals that have become endangered and critical, habitat destruction, urban development (even just where I've lived), poaching, population growth...

I went to India in October/November 2007 to run the Himalayan Stage Race. I was kindly hosted by India Tourism and after the event we (media group) toured a number of remarkable historic sites in Delhi and Agra. In Delhi there was a big electronic signboard with a population count for India - numbers that went up and down and up and up every few seconds. Being in Delhi and the drive to Agra gave me a wee taste of what it means for a country to have a population of 1.3 billion (at the time). I've also flown over Sao Paulo in Brazil... It was the first time that I realised that until the human population is zapped, there really is little hope for anything else to make it. 

Perhaps a fatalistic outlook. Nonetheless, I still pick up litter on the trails, do my recycling and composting, consciously reduce my consumer behaviours, strive to reduce my electricity and water usage, and overall I aim to reduce my footprint on the earth.

The changes required to save the planet are really just so massive. The thing is, we can't just give up and do nothing either. While the achievement of goals now by countries is not enough to turn the tide, some do get it right. Perhaps too, in another 30, 50, 80, 100 years, with different ways of doing things and more conscious material substitutes, it will be easier for individuals, companies and countries to reduce or eliminate impact and to rectify the wrongs?

I'm still of the simplistic opinion that people need to go. Bye bye. Gone. Exterminated. 

It will take a long time for nature to reclaim what we will leave behind. Our city ruins won't look anything like the Inca and Mayan temples covered by the jungle or the temples of Egypt covered by sand that were made by natural materials (think 'I am Legend' without the zombies). Fortunately, the planet has geological time to rid itself of us - and hopefully the creatures that will be still be impacted long after we're gone will make it.

In 1989, I read 'The Last Great Auk' a book by Alan W Eckert. It was from the school library. I remember finishing the book during at a night-time study session in the school hostel. I was 12/13, in standard 6 (grade 8). Tears were running down my face as a read the last pages of the book. This was 32 years ago and I still remember this clearly. 

Despite incredible conservation efforts, I have a feeling that we'll be witness, during the rest of our lifetimes, to something like this (strictly speaking we already are; species are already going bye-bye). There is too much inertia in the current direction and, like stopping a train, it takes a while to get it to slow and then to change direction.

Thinking about the environment makes me think about death. 

I can only say, "I'll be dead by then, thank goodness" if these evidence-based scenarios for the world in 2080 hold true.

Monday, 3 May 2021

Discovering iNaturalist

I recently learned about a City Nature Challenge from a poster stuck up on a window at my local shops. 

The challenge involves photographing any plants, insects, animals, reptiles, fish, fungi over a four or five+day period. You then upload your photo and observations (what, where etc) to Nat Geo's iNaturalist website ( 

This platform exists all the time, not just these few days, and it is global. 

Time-limited challenges are created to get people out to take photos and record observations. For this local, time-limited challenge, observations can be tagged to this specific Garden Route project.

I had not looked at the site until last night. There I discovered an incredible world. I've been looking for interesting things instead of everything-things and on this site everything counts.

I did submit two observations last night - a beautiful mountain tortoise that I saw yesterday afternoon and also a striking pocket of furry, orange Common Lionspaw (Leonotis leonurus) flowers in an area with more black wattle and bracken than anything else.

I had planned to put in some time on the trails this afternoon, now that I understand better how this all works, but ended up leaving for Swellendam for an early morning meeting. While I will miss out on contributing more sightings and identifications to this specific challenge, I can add my contributions throughout the year.

This platform is a phenomenal database for studying distribution, variations, numbers and diversity - all made possible by citizen scientist contributions. 


Wednesday, 28 April 2021

Are you languishing?

To me, languishing has been a word that relates to sitting around and purposefully doing not much. Like lying down on a lounging chair next to a pool. Or being sprawled on a comfortable couch doing not very much.

The official definition of languishing is 'failing to make progress or be successful', which fits my theme.

The Nutreat's newsletter's '9 Things To Read this Week' directed me to this NY Times article, "There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing".

"It wasn’t burnout — we still had energy. It wasn’t depression — we didn’t feel hopeless. We just felt somewhat joyless and aimless. It turns out there’s a name for that: languishing.
Languishing is a sense of stagnation and emptiness. It feels as if you’re muddling through your days, looking at your life through a foggy windshield. And it might be the dominant emotion of 2021."

This is me. This is me. This is me! 

I'm a champion snooze-button-hitter! I have long 'To Do Lists' - that keep growing and that I never seem to get close to nailing. It can take me an age to get around to things, especially those that require focus and concentration (I'll do lots of short, quick tasks instead). My attention is constantly fragmented as I juggle people and projects. I muddle through each day. I'd agree with the article that I don't suffer from mental illness, but I'm not the picture of mental health either.

The article draws its connection to COVID-lockdown lifestyle changes as the reason for this state of languishing, but I experience many of these symptoms primarily because I hold the responsibility of two start-up companies in my hands and my time in the past four years has been spent excessively more on work than living. I'm frustrated and while not completely hopeless, I give myself a pat on the back for making it through some days because I can't always see the light at the end of the tunnel. This has definitely been worse in this past year.

A link in this article took me to another on 'revenge bedtime procrastination'. I'm suffering from this too. This is when you sacrifice sleep to '"eke out personal time" or when "people who don’t have much control over their daytime life refuse to sleep early in order to regain some sense of freedom during late-night hours”. Coincidentally, I've thought about this recently. 

It is not uncommon that I'll work until 2am or 3am to complete something. I favour working from 9pm or 10pm for a few hours because it is quiet and my focus is uninterrupted. I'll only turn out my light to go to sleep an hour or more after turning off my computer. I choose to use this 'bridging' time to distance myself from always-on work. I do my biokineticist exercises, look at Facebook or read articles like these and, every night, I read the book I'm on at the time - usually doing stretches while I read. Common sense says that I should be leaping into bed and turning out the light to get maximum sleep hours, but at this time, when email, phone, messages, dogs, traffic, house are all quiet, this time is all mine. Like the people in the article, I value having some time for myself more than sleep.

The article makes a good suggestion of allowing no interruptions before noon on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. This gives you uninterrupted blocks of time to focus. I'm not quite sure how practical this will be for me but I'd like to give it a shot - to carve out blocks of uninterrupted day-time hours from a day or two a week to really sink my teeth into items that need my full focus and to give me back my nights for me.