by Ted Leeming
I’ve always rather liked the concept of testing gear to its limits. To see just how good any piece of kit is. Indeed, my favourite pieces of equipment are almost always those that I have had the longest and which never seem to give up the challenge. They become a part of your outdoor identity and have earned the right of your company. Each with their own personality, stories and memories. The kit you just never consider an alternative to and never leave home without.
From “The Pollen Makers” – 2021
The Six Moon Designs Silver Shadow Carbon Trekking Umbrella was not one of those for me. As a photographer I did find it to be functional as a photographic aid to help shade a subject from direct sunlight when out in the field and for that I cannot deny its use fullness. At the time I was completing a project exploring “The Pollen Makers” - the wonderful plants that inhabit the alpine hay meadows and feed the bees and other pollinators being lost to industrial agriculture. I was working in bright intense Italian sunlight and as a tool in these circumstances I could write an entire article on the uses of the umbrella! It was faultless. But not enough to secure it a higher status.
From “The Pollen Makers” - 2021
In a separate project on the west coast of Scotland I found myself working in some ‘fine’ weather that some might reasonably accurately describe as being on the damp side. On this occasion I found myself immersed for several months of pandemic lockdown in the commercial monoculture conifer forests that are ravaging parts of Scotland's countryside as industrial investors take advantage of incentives to grow trees that sequester carbon and earn them money. In this fantasy world the umbrella helped yet again, this time shading my tripod from the icy drips descending from above, or as a wind break from the worst of the elements.
From “Conifer” - 2021
So with the above projects and others, over a period of some 24 months, the umbrella earned itself consideration in the rucksack as I headed out on almost every trip. I was beginning to warm to it and ignore some of the comments I was receiving for having what some saw as a rather unfashionable piece of equipment attached to the bag. I became comfortable (and dare I say quietly smug) with my ‘greater knowledge’ and the truth is that I became aware that the umbrella was now actually on ‘serious trial’. A handy shade when taking a break on a sunny high altitude hike in the Alps. Welcome respite from a Scottish downpour that usually leaves me scowling as drips drip from the end of my nose. A wind break when flashing up a brew on the camp stove. I slowly realized I was turning to it more and more.
The final test came at the beginning of 2022 as I commenced a new project exploring a variety of treescapes across the UK including Atlantic birch rainforests and medieval managed oaklands, immense Birch sentinels where legend has it Boudica fought her last battle and a youthfully exciting copse planted by my mother and her school kids 40 years ago on an old Cornish tin mining slag heap. This project required several organized trips on set dates that were impossible to change once arranged and everything was in place. I grew increasingly excited as the days drew near and I researched my venues with respect to their species, history and links with man, ecology and change with time. This was a tour of a lifetime (I am very lucky as a get to do quite a lot of these!).
The initial visit to the north west of Scotland in January was simply phenomenal. Beautifully dull, damp conditions, “Dreech” the local terminology used to describe it. Perfect for the umbrella and for shooting trees, with the lack of contrast adding a mystery to the individual settings I found myself prodding and poking around. I had gone through the wardrobe and found myself in a series of mystical landscape of infinite beauty, so thick the lichens that they insulated me from the winds. Rarely had I seen such exquisite beauty.
But things changed as I headed further south, with storms “Dudley”, Eunice” & Franklin” the UK’s fourth, fifth and sixth ‘named’ storms arriving hot on each other’s heals. This in itself was unusual as it was only February. Consistent (not gusts) 70mph+ winds howling across the landscape flattening trees, ripping roofs of houses, collapsing walls and being generally a ‘considerable’ nuisance. Not pleasant for being out in. Let alone to be wandering around exposed forests on exposed moors like Dartmoor in South West England, even if they are thought to be the UK’s only ancient woodland never to have been physically managed by humans. But that was precisely where I was heading.
And on that day, I forced open the car door and headed out onto the moors as the wind and rain lived up to every ounce of what the forecast had predicted. It was “blowing a hoolie” and horizontal rain lashed my cheeks as if being punctured by tiny needles. I was at first reluctant to deploy the umbrella, a product not normally associated with a lengthy survival rating in storm force winds. But as the camera got increasingly more drenched and myself more frustrated and grumpy with a job still to complete, I eventually succumbed, pointed the umbrella into the wind and pushed, quite expecting it to be the last action I would ever complete with another failed bit of equipment. But it went up. Smooth and simple. Locked into place with both camera and relieved owner hunkering down in its wake. It was as if walking into a warm bar with a log fire crackling at one end of the room, so hideous was it but inches to the left or right. For some time I just sat there. Contemplating my next move. Then I realized I could actually carry on working, such was the stability and strength of the thing. I thought it would be swept away on a gust – with me a reluctant Mary Poppins hanging on for grim death. But no. The ends squashed in with the gusts but it held firm.
A few hours later I was back at the car, peeling myself out of what might as well have been a used wetsuit in favour of dry and warm clothes as the windscreen misted over and the heater whirred away. The camera still worked perfectly which meant I was remarkably cheery all things considered, even if my fingers were still numb. I checked the screen and instantly knew I’d got the shot I wanted too, though as is often the case the viewer (other than you folks on this occasion) will never know the full story what I went through to get it. All thanks to the umbrella which held out without complaint exceptionally. The reality is that given the severity of the various storms I subsequently went out in over the next few days this particular umbrella does probably now need to be retired into a museum as it has been somewhat ‘distorted’ by its multiple adventures where is has acted above and beyond, but I will be looking to order a replacement so that I am never without again.
She (no longer an ‘it’) as a result of faultless service over time, has become (as few things do) part of my kit, with a multitude of responsibilities and an affection in my heart.