Lest we forget, a moment of silence…

and a moment of beauty in the dawn hours.

Sept 11 Aurora Borealis
Sept 11 Aurora Borealis

Silently, one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven, blossomed the lovely stars, the forget me not of angels.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

On each anniversary of September 11th I am instantly transported back to that surreal moment, watching a television display footage of the attack on the world trade center. I can remember each moment as if it were in slow motion…trying at the same time to comprehend what I was seeing. It is one of those events that never seems to lose its rawness and I feel compelled to mark its passage each year with a moment of silence.

At the time I was a member of a search and rescue team and as I watched it unfold my pager began to go off and I knew that some members of the team would be going into that massive ‘rubble pile’ in search of anyone still surviving. I knew it would not be me as I worked a bloodhound that was trained to follow only the scent of a victim that I provided to her. The dogs going in would be trained to alert on any human scent.

It was difficult to be on the sidelines waiting for any word of a positive find and at the same time being concerned for the safety and well-being of other team members and their canine partners. This many years later I still find it a challenge to articulate what happened on the days following this terror attack on American soil.

My heart goes out to the families that lost loved ones on 9-11 as well as to the first responders, handlers, and canines that later succumbed due to illnesses caused by their selfless call to duty in a toxic environment.

So I take a moment each September 11 to remember and on this morning felt some measure of solace as dawn approached on the west coast and the aurora borealis danced across the sky.

And then there were the stars…the forget me not of angels.

With every drop that falls…

a difference is being felt.

rain
forest rains

The three great elemental sounds in nature are the sound of rain, the sound of wind in a primeval wood, and the sound of outer ocean on a beach.

Henry Beston

It couldn’t have come at a better time during this summer of record-breaking heat and voracious forest fires. Finally the dense smoke hanging over the region has been blown out and tamped down by several bouts of rain and lowered temperatures. While containment of these massive and numerous fires has not yet been achieved there has been significant progress made towards that end.

There could not have been a more beautiful sound than hearing these droplets begin to fall on our metal roof. I am quite certain that I was not the only one to go outside, lift my face skywards and just take in a deep breath of the moisture laden air.

This image is a double taken at my little lake, sharing the rain with the beauty of the trees that did not come under fire this summer.

Are we out of the woods yet? No…but the view is getting better every day and for that I am grateful!

As 20 major wildfires burn 243,706 acres in Idaho…

one begins to wonder if and not when it will end.

wildfires in Idaho
wildfires in Idaho Panhandle

Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit.

Edward Abbey

In contrast to last week’s post the reality of each day looks a little more like this. As the air quality remains firmly planted in the unhealthy zone, I am quite certain that companies who sell inhalers are doing a booming business.

As an added blow, Sunday marks the closure of a huge swath of Federal and State land in the Idaho Panhandle where a veritable playground of wilderness exists for those like myself who love to camp in and explore remote areas. Emergency closures include all National Forest System lands, Bureau of Land Management lands, and all state endowment forest lands within this area. The danger of people becoming trapped by fires is too great and a week-end forecast calling for gusty winds and thunderstorms does not look like it will provide the much-needed relief we had been hoping for.

I find myself hunting for little signs of beauty within the gray pallor that envelops the landscape. With having to limit time spent outdoors breathing the smoke and ash laden air this becomes somewhat of a challenge though.

morning light on the Pend Oreille River
morning light on the Pend Oreille River

I am blessed to live in an area surrounded by vast forested land, scenic mountain ranges, and plentiful rivers and lakes. After the hottest July on record though one can’t help but wonder if this season of wildfires will become the new norm?

Kind of scary and a little more than sobering…

Tens of thousands of acres burn…

lightning ignites new fires and every evening the sun sets in a smoke filled haze.

lightning storm
lightning storm

There is no forgiveness in nature.

Ugo Betti

One can’t help but wonder when and how it will all end as forest fires consume the Pacific Northwest. Fueled by a winter lacking in snow and close on its heels a very hot, dry summer. The perfect storm… it’s enough to bring an atheist to his knees.

Smoke filled day follows smoke filled day and each evening the sun sets in a ball of fire. The colors are vivid and quite striking but it’s hard to find any enjoyment in that. Animals are rapidly becoming displaced as they search for respite from the flames as tens of thousands of acres burn, largely uncontained.

Hopes are dashed as clouds move in filled not with the rain that we so desperately need but with lightning capable of starting more fires as it strikes bone dry tinder.

20150815-DSC_9151-2

In daylight hours the sun casts a strange orange glow upon the landscape and ash drifts down upon the vehicles. Lives have been lost as the firefighters work tirelessly to get containment. We are grateful for all that they are doing as they put their lives on the line for complete strangers.

Keep them in your thoughts and the next time you see a firefighter, police officer, or veteran please thank them for their service. You never know when their actions might directly impact your life.

It was a night of stars…

twinkling, spinning, and shooting.

20150814-Startrails Aug II-3
star trails

Keep your eyes on the stars, and your feet on the ground.

Theodore Roosevelt

I felt very lucky this week to have clear and dark skies for the Perseid Meteor showers and it was quite the show!

These showers occur as Earth crosses the orbital path of the comet Swift-Tuttle and bits of debris hit the atmosphere creating these fast-moving meteors. The radiant point for the showers is the Perseus constellation.

I set up early for the event anticipating a long night and dragged a camping cot out into my pasture. Much nicer than laying on the ground and easier on the neck too for hours of viewing!

I got butterflies in my stomach as my eyes adjusted to the dark and I waited to see the first of many meteors streak across the sky. Some were brief flashes while others left wonderful trails that lingered for several seconds. While viewing my images the next day I was excited to see several shots with double meteors in them. One even had two streaking along on a parallel course.

20150812-DSC_8770-2

I was grateful that my Nikon has a built-in intervalometer so that I could set up sequenced shots and be shooting while I kept my eyes on the stars. The first image is a compilation of over 100 shots as the stars moved across the sky.

Was I tired the next day? Perhaps a little. Was it worth it? In the words of a friend…indeed!

 

Missed seeing the aurora borealis again…

or did you?!

aurora borealis
aurora borealis

The job of the artist is to create mystery.

Francis Bacon

Did I ever chuckle when I came across this quote. Busted! Read on to see what a secretive lot we photographers can be!

This is my longest blog post to date BUT if you have ever been disappointed by NOT seeing the northern lights when others have raved about or captured fabulous images of them AND you live below 50 degrees latitude…read on!

If you can tolerate the ground-work laying information in the next couple of paragraphs without your eyes rolling back in your head I will then get to why you may have seen the aurora borealis and not even known it!

Trending this past week were photos of the aurora borealis dancing in the night skies over North America and other parts of the world as well. There are people FAR more adept at explaining what these light displays are but basically it begins with a CME or coronal mass ejection. This is a cloud of gas ejected from the surface of the Sun. When these winds of charged particles collide with Earth’s magnetic field it excites those atoms causing them to light up.

For viewing purposes the important thing to know is the global geomagnetic storm index or KP number and it ranges from 0-9, with 9 being the highest. Using this number enables you to see if there is a possibility of seeing the aurora in your location. Spaceweatherlive.com is a wealth of information on this number and how to find your value.

Back to the photos…

This week I saw some very beautiful images of the northern lights shot during the early hours of June 23, 2015. The KP index was predicted to be between 7 and 8 and for my viewing purposes in Northern Idaho, I need between a 5 and 6 to give me a good chance of seeing lights. The evening did not disappoint and along with the greens I captured with my Nikon some lovely spiking pinks dance across the night sky along the edge of my pasture. I am fortunate to live in a place with dark skies and little light pollution which greatly improves the chance of seeing these.

You might have noticed that I did not say that along with the greens I saw some lovely spiking pinks.

What my eyes saw when I walked outside was this..

aurora borealis
aurora borealis

but I knew that what I was seeing was the northern lights because of a chance discovery that I blogged about in March here.

I suppose it is the job of the artist to create mystery but I have read too many comments from people bitterly disappointed after getting up to witness this altogether infrequent sight at my latitude to NOT provide an explanation and hope to those who have seeing this on their bucket list.

I grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, latitude 53 degrees, and recall seeing the aurora borealis in all of its colorful glory. After many years away in more southerly climes we moved north once again to Idaho, latitude 48 degrees.

I was puzzled and disappointed that while others were out in my same area capturing beautiful northern lights shots…I never once saw them but I was looking for color. After my March discovery thorough research into this showed me that the human eye uses rods and cones. In the retina cones perceive color, work in bright light, and are used in the day. Rods perceive light and shadow and are used at night. Camera sensors in the DSLR’s do not have these limitations so they capture the full range of color and light.

The simple explanation is as you go below 50 degrees latitude, the northern lights are weaker and will to most people be viewed more as shifting patterns of light in the white to gray range and NOT the colors that the DSLR is capable of capturing. I would expect that eyes differ so possibly and depending on KP strength some people might still see some color. Travelling further north will diminish the differences between what your eyes see and what the camera captures.

The next time the KP index is high head out away from the city lights and enjoy searching the night sky and if you see dancing patterns and sheets of light you will have watched the aurora borealis!

 

Chasing the lunar eclipse…

can be a daunting task in spring.

spring melt
spring melt

There is no certainty; there is only adventure.

Roberto Assagioli

I had hoped to be posting an image of the latest lunar eclipse but instead came home feeling a bit like I’d been on Mr Toad’s Wild Ride.

I had already covered the bases and done my homework for potential shooting sites; carefully taking into consideration elevation and azimuth. Living in an area where conditions can be quite different all over the county I wanted to make sure that I had several options plotted that varied in location and altitude but still had a good line of sight to the full moon.

Alas, no matter how meticulously you plan for a shot there is always that factor that you just can’t control and in last night’s case it was the weather. Yes, it’s Spring in Idaho and with that come days that could be filled with sun, rain, snow, graupel, hail or all of the above. All week I’d been charting the weather for the hours between two and six AM Saturday morning. Never did it look great but ever optimistic I chose to see my weather forecast as “a glass half full.”

Having packed my gear bag and laid out some warm clothes in anticipation of spending several hours outside, I set my alarm and laid down for a catnap. Moments later it seemed, the alarm went off and final checks of the weather showed very overcast skies. Not being one to choose practicality over adventure and with a chance that this would blow through I headed for my highest point, the top of the mountain.

Cruising down the highway and slipping quietly through town the rain began to fall. Not to be deterred, I pressed on and partway up the mountain it switched over to snow…blinding, mesmerizing, and blowing snow. This, I thought, does not for a good shot make and into four wheel drive I shifted. Reaching the top and feeling like I was in one of those snow globes that I loved so much as a child, I decided that the prudent thing to do would be to return home while my tracks were still visible.

Warm and dry as I write this post I’d say it was a good night. The image that I share today is a Spring one that for me captures the beauty of solitude; something that I’m sure many of you can relate to.

I will remember this lunar eclipse, not for the shot that I got, but for the adventure that came with pursuing that shot and I have to say that was almost as good!

 

 

How making mistakes…

can improve your photography.

aurora borealis North Idaho
aurora borealis   North Idaho

An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail.

Edwin Land

I have had several conversations lately that made me think about learning in general. I am a hands on kind of girl. When learning something new I will dissect it into manageable pieces, spend hours researching it, but then I have to get out and put it into practice. I rarely want to be shown, but would rather have the joy of discovering it first hand.

Others might prefer to be handed the formula which they can then duplicate without the risk of failure. It has been my experience though that one of the most important parts of the learning process is that time when you go out and work towards getting the results that you’re looking for. You aren’t sure what is possible and perhaps more importantly, what is not, so you experiment. It is my belief that I have learned far more from my failures than from those times when everything went perfectly.

Take last night for example…

I have been immersing myself in night photography as it opens up a whole new range of subject matter and uses my camera in a completely different way. It’s also a quiet, peaceful time without a lot of interruptions. Being as it was new moon time, hence darker skies, I planned a couple of seriously exciting milky way shots. I crept out of the house at 2:30 AM in pursuit of my images only to discover that I had grievously underestimated the amount of light pollution at my chosen sites. Strike one…

Being wide awake I changed plans and headed back home where I knew the skies would be inky black and star filled. I began a series of long exposures programmed with the aid of my intervalometer. I got over half of the shots completed and here comes a jet, high in the night sky, flashing lights through the entire scene. Strike two…

Giving myself a quick pep talk about how much I had learned for future shoots I turned around and was struck by an odd arching cloud like vision just above the trees. Can’t be a cloud I thought, I can still see the stars in it. I cancelled out the rest of my star trail shots, turned my tripod around, flipped the Nikon to the settings that I had pre programmed for the milky way, and shot. Can’t say I have ever been more surprised by what appeared on the LCD screen; not a cloud but the aurora borealis. Apparently our eyes cannot always see the colors in the northern lights especially when the auroras are close to the horizon but our cameras can!

Home run…