"Let's walk together and see what we can see."
That proposition is always in the back of Hilary Rhodes’ mind (HilarysView), when she’s blipping. “It is almost as though you are with me,” she says. “When I don't have time to walk, or the weather is bad, I look out of the window and watch for a nuance of light on our local mountains.”
These mountains - the Dents du Midi, (main photo), the Dents de Morcles, the Muveran Range have dominated almost all of her adult life since she came to teach in Switzerland. As a listener, rather than a talker, she listens to the sounds of nature, observes and photographs. “The words come later,” she says. “The journal side of Blip is a challenge for me, but it does give me time to refine my words, so it is a great discipline.”
Mountaineering, in its different forms as she’s aged, and living so close to the mountains, feed her soul. Integrating yoga into that lifestyle seems to be a perfect fit for her – probably having to do with body movements that then quiet the mind. She likes being in that quiet space, hence, she’s often on her own or with like-minded friends in their local mountains. And when she’s away from the mountains, that meditative side of photography comes with her, especially when she’s by the sea.
Getting hooked by documenting life
Hilary started on photography when she went on expeditions with her first husband who needed photographs for lectures and books. “We used slide film in those days,” she recalls. “It was so exciting to receive all those boxes of slides and get them onto the slide table to relive our adventures.” When her husband passed in 1982, she more or less stopped taking photos and gave all of their camera equipment away.
Then, in 2003, she took a 6-month sabbatical to teach English in a new school that had been set up for orphaned Tibetan girls in the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China. Hilary’s school in Switzerland wanted reports sent back to them and bought her her first small Panasonic digital camera so she could email photos too. “What an amazing gift! “ she exclaims, “and so I got hooked on this new form of photography. When I returned from Tibet, the habit of taking photos was established and I became the ‘family photographer’". Her second husband, David, and Hilary have seven grandchildren, all old enough to occasionally walk in the mountains too, which gives her enormous pleasure.
The world in front of you
Hilary was introduced to Blipfoto by Wendybee, her soul sister who lived in the Lake District and hardly ever travelled.
Her journal, HilarysView, was literally the views from her window with the constantly changing moods of the mountains. However, thanks to Blipfoto, her mountain obsession has expanded to include the miraculous life (flora and fauna) that survives around these peaks. “What a privilege it is,” she says “to watch the huge bouquetins/Ibex, the fast moving chamois, and to discover the tiny, colourful, alpine flowers they feed on.”
Hilary has now built up a detailed, internal mind map of her area, that includes which animals and plants can be found where, at different times of the year. It makes her feel totally integrated into the landscape.
She’s quick to add that she is very much out of her comfort zone when she has to spend time in towns and cities and she really admires blippers who live their lives in urban areas, producing such creative photos.
Walk outside the beaten path
“Weather can change,” she says “and I prefer to be in the mountains when the weather is a bit more dramatic than on those pure blue-sky days, so I always end up carrying a relatively heavy rucksack. My map, compass, warm and waterproof layers, flask and food, as well as all the camera equipment, together add up to about 8kg in weight.”
She often starts a walk in areas where there are tourists, and prefers to leave the beaten track without them noticing and following, otherwise the animals would be off like a shot!
To get into most of the areas where she walks requires a drive of 10-30 mins. So every now and again Hilary has ‘an environmental crisis’ and blips only within walking distance from home.
This past year she’s also experienced various health issues so keeping fit and walking in the mountains has not always been possible. However that has forced her to explore the immediate vicinity of home more, with some surprising discoveries: a couple of roe deer performed their rut just behind her house; forests verge on her garden and there is a multitude of butterflies in the Alpine meadows as well as several rare orchid species in secret pockets around the village. “These” she adds “are all waiting to be blipped when I am unable to roam further afield.”
Respect Mother Nature
As in all mountain situations, Hilary suggests you go easy and stay within your fitness range. Check weather forecasts and terrain, and make sure someone knows where you are going. Use a GPS tracker, especially if you are alone and there is no mobile phone network. She recently bought a Spot tracker so her husband knows where she is.
When taking pictures of wild animals and birds, Hilary stresses that you need to respect their space and try to keep out of sight as much as possible. She adds that in the winter, this is critical as chamois and bouquetins are mainly living off their fat resources and running away from you will cause them to use many more calories than they can afford.
Use common sense. “I have to remind myself,” she says “that where the animals can easily climb is probably not a place I should climb! Staying safe, as well as keeping your camera gear safe, is the no.1 priority.”
What keeps her in Blipfoto?
“Blip makes me look for beauty every day and I feel that I owe it to the people who drop by my journal.” She believes that Blipfoto is the most positive space on the web, and the proof of that is how everyone pulled together to keep it going when it almost disappeared.
She feels that there is a real sense of community and is glad to be part of that. She mentions that she said several times that she was going to blip less only to “fail” almost immediately.
“I feel like I have made real friends with several of you over the years,” she concludes “like our own alpine flower specialist, TonyG, who has taught me so much about Alpine flowers while staying here. I am very glad to have met fellow blippers in Turkey and the UK, as well as other blippers (you know who you are) while they were visiting Switzerland. To be allowed to dip into other people's lives is a privilege and, as this is such a diverse and welcoming community. It is fascinating.”
Hilary is originally from Chester-le-Street, Co. Durham, GB and now lives in the tiny village of Antagnes, in the Canton of Vaud, Switzerland . She and her husband David have 2 sons, actually Hilary’s stepsons, but they are very close, and seven grandchildren. Hilary and David both came to Switzerland to teach in an International School in Villars-sur-Ollon over 40 years ago.
Remarks collected by Michele (aka Alsacienne)
Cover photo by Hilary: les Dents du Midi