The Plantation Loop

Flash fiction by Helen McClory, images by Karen McRae

I finished eating the cold block of Kendal mint cake and folded the wrapper up and put it in my pocket. My grandmother always sends me mint cake in the summer, which is when she wants me to be rambling. She sends little bars of lavender and rose soap too. While I prefer to eat the mint cakes in the winter when I need the refreshment. I had paused towards the end of my hike, heading off the hill and towards home as shadow was beginning to press against the steep rock flanks of the valley. The pass was straightforward even in deep snow, but there were two choices, the loop, or the direct, by which I had come. I chose the loop. Dark came and the temperature dropped, and I felt even better than I had on the summit. I put on my head torch, swung my arms and sang bits of song as they occurred to me. Then, ahead to one side of the quiet snow-blue path, I saw a figure, standing, hunched. I stopped.

It was no bigger than a child, and must have been a child, slim-built. But crooked, wrapped in heavy brown cloth like a monk’s robes, up to his knees in snow-cladding. I turned my head to one side – trying to keep the figure in the light without losing them, and saw the slope to the side of the path, where more and more of them were. The same crookedness, the same hooded, faceless features, all repeated with slight variation. On the ground, even, some lay stretched out, with others looking gravely over them. It had taken time for me to process the sight but eventually I came to realise I was looking at nothing, just a plantation of new saplings wrapped up in old jute against the cold by the park services. The soughing wind moved a few, bent them in my direction. Deep bows from the trees. I bowed back, and shaking my head, immediately sprang to walking again. WrappedTreesBW14 I had no urgent need to get home, there was no one waiting for me, and everything in my house would be clean and orderly. Dinner of game and potatoes in the slow cooker. My father’s vinyl collection to choose from for a soundtrack to the evening’s reading. But I began to walk faster. I did not seek out a reason for this. I simply no longer sang, but spent my energy following the spotlight from my head torch. I could see nothing more, and needed to see nothing more.

I could see nothing more than that light, and the path ahead which looped around the frozen lake, and this plantation, built where the old hotel had been. All down the gentle descent to the lake the wrapped trees stood, not moving, but always beside me. Keeping pace. But without moving, I told myself. The wind has music in it, and voices. Anyone who hikes by themselves often enough will tell you that. The landscape has animals in it, and avalanches waiting to powder and pound the slopes and anything that hazards to stand against its momentum. But a field of small, fragile trees, what are they, out in the dark snow – I pulled up my scarf to cover my face. Though I was still sure I could not find in myself anything like fear. I had long since overcome the ability to feel spontaneous unease, and felt no loss, as I had overcome many other losses in my quiet, homely life. It was only the chill increasing, beginning to freeze my hair and turn it white. I walked faster again. WrappedTreesBW7 It was a few more minutes, and I neared the mouth of the pass where I had parked my car that morning, leaving the note of my location, should I have come to grief at any point. I scanned the way: at a low wall bounding the car park, six trees stood, kneeling as if in prayer. In desperate, broken prayer. It was the wind, though I did not feel it, that turned them to me. It was the wind that raised their jute-covered bodies from kneeling, and lifted up, with a low sigh, their unseen, sightless heads.


Helen McClory is a writer from Scotland. Her first collection, On The Edges Of Vision, will be published by Queen’s Ferry Press in August 2015. There is a moor and a cold sea in her heart.

The Plantation Loop is a collaboration by Helen McClory and myself, Karen McRae. These wrapped tree images make me think of her uncanny stories so I sent her some photographs and asked if she’d be willing to collaborate by writing a flash fiction piece to accompany them. I’m delighted she agreed! You can find more succulent writing by Helen on her blog Schietree. If the wrapped trees interest you, you can find more here.

images © Karen McRae, 2014
writing © Helen McClory, 2014


Collaboration, Creativity and KIN Fables

fog-spiritsFog spirit, © Seb McKinnon with original photography by Karen McRae

I’m quite excited to present some amazing work by Montreal artist Seb McKinnon, starting with the little collaboration above. To create this image Seb worked by shape-shifting three of my photographs together until he conjured up an ethereal fog spirit in the landscape.

When I asked him to describe his creative process these are a few of the words he sent me, “As an illustrator, I’ve developed a personal technique that relies heavily on creating chaos in order to find my subject. In other words, I mess up the canvas in a very subconscious way with digital tools, a very intuitive process, quick actions, quick responses…”

I think this technique is illustrated very nicely when one travels through the collection of artwork on Seb’s blog, which I have had the pleasure of following for the past few years.

Back to the little fog spirit. It is part of much bigger story; Seb is no ordinary illustrator.


KIN Mask Concepts © Seb McKinnon

He, and his brother, filmmaker Ben McKinnon, have been working together on a gorgeous trilogy of short films called KIN Fables which bring together Seb’s extraordinary artistic vision, Ben’s outstanding cinematography, and a myriad of other talented collaborators. Even the haunting music score (Clann) that runs through the eight minute film was composed by Seb.

I hope you take a few minutes to experience the magic of the first film, KIN, which has already won some cinematography awards and was recently featured as a Vimeo staff pick. You won’t be disappointed!

To help support the making of the next two films, Salvage and Requiem, the McKinnon brothers have a Kickstarter campaign on the go until the end of March. You can visit their Kickstarter page here to learn more about the trilogy, and to see some of Seb’s inspired artwork made just for KIN Fables and contributors to the project.

I’m honoured, too, to have been invited to collaborate artistically! I’ll be making some photographs to support the multimedia aspect of the project, which, along with photography, includes a graphic novel, a full length music album, and paintings and illustrations.

You can watch the Kickstarter video below to find out more about this inspiring project, and you’ll “meet” the McKinnon brothers too! This where the power of community and collaboration come together and make things happen.

Places to go ~

Kickstarter: KIN Fables Kickstarter
Production: Five Knights Production
Facebook: KIN Fables

Kin Fables in the Media ~

The Concordion: KIN fables: ‘a musical, visual journey into fable’

The Main (Montreal): KIN, A Journey into Modern Fable

knight&girlKnight & Girl © Seb McKinnon

Walking on Water: A Collaboration

OctoberRefelctions1The weather has been amazing here. A lingering of summer sun and warmth, but with cool nights and the start of crunching leaves underfoot. I had to go see what’s happening at the creek.

The most interesting things I find are the reflections. I have photographed them in every way, it seems. Still, there is always something new. The surface is a wavering mirror of the seasons. A reminder that everything is in constant flux. The shifts of light and cloud, the variable movements of the water in and out of small eddys, the colours and compositions from the graceful trees. And then there is the debris that lies under the surface and how the light reaches it. Every moment is different. There is something meditative, too, about watching the lazy movement of the creek – as you shift focus through the lens you might wonder if you are watching nature’s own lava lamp.

I came to a place where the tiny water walkers were continually drawing and redrawing the surface. They agreed to allow me to photograph their brief sketches as long as due credit was given. : )

This is the art of walking on water:








WaterStrider2I have to say it looked a bit like a game of bumper cars with the zippy water striders all continuously knocking into each other. A beautiful day to play.


[These images are part of an ongoing series exploring surface reflections of water, moving and still: Surface, Submerge: Reflections in Water]

© Karen McRae, 2013

The Journey



SpringBlossoms6The spaces in-between. Not where you started from or where you are headed, but where you are. For that moment. Glimpses of passing spaces etched in your mind.

These photographs are mine but they grew from a seed that was planted in another place. Their story is here … it’s just a short train ride…


These images are cross-posted on the collaborative blog Journey of a Photograph. Please visit to learn more about the inspiration behind their creation.

© Karen McRae, 2013

Drawing on Water: A Collaboration

Smoke and Water, Elena Caravela & Karen McRae

Swimming Underwater, Elena Caravela & Karen McRae

A few weeks ago when I was editing images of water reflections, a couple of the images brought to mind the work of another artist. It’s hard to describe what specifically sparked this association but I’ll try to explain.

Partly, it was me looking at these images and already seeing things in the reflections – drawings on water. – my own perceptions. I thought these could be a starting point for something, or someone, and that someone turned out to be artist (and fellow WordPress blogger), Elena Caravela. Elena is a wonderfully accomplished multidisciplinary artist/author who does work that includes children’s book illustrations, drawing, watercolour and oil painting. I admire her work enormously.

It was something about her magical drawings that sparked the idea to suggest a collaboration with the photographs as a starting point. I sent her an email asking if she would like to work with me on a project and I was delighted that she agreed! In truth, Elena did most of the work on this project.

What I thought might be interesting is that I already had ideas about what I could see in these images and I wondered what Elena might see and how she might develop them. The drawings above are the final result with Elena interpreting them in her own wonderful way. Click on each image to see them a little larger and experience all the enchanting details.

Here is what Elena had to say about the process:

“I did not want to interfere with the images too much. I knew right away that I wanted to maintain much of the structure and color. In fact I did not introduce any new color, and used only what I found within the images. I worked digitally in layers directly over Karen’s work, not touching the original but taking my cues from it.”

“Each photograph presents its own special charm. After turning it on its side, the negative space in the “frog” piece spoke to me immediately of dreamy water creatures in motion and rippling below the surface. The “figure” piece was quite the opposite. It was its fluid line and dynamic composition that captured my attention. The swirls appeared to me as smokey figures frozen in perilous escape. The smoke alternately dissipates and collects, providing just enough presence to tell its story.”

Below are the images as I sent them to Elena:
What do you see?

Since this work is entirely digitally based I thought it might be fun to throw a few random words into this particular artist statement generator (I love that such a thing exists!) and see what would happen – An artist statement about nothing and everything:

Caravela/McRae’s work investigates the nuances of modulations through the use of slow motion and close-ups which emphasize the Symbiotic nature of digital media. Caravela/McRae explores abstract and shaping scenery as motifs to describe the idea of infinite space. Using water loops, non-linear narratives, and allegorical images as patterns, Caravela/McRae creates meditative environments which suggest the expansion of space…

Elena’s website and blog. Please check out her amazing work. 
A huge thank you to Elena for all the work she put into this! I love what has developed.

© Elena Caravela & Karen McRae, 2012