Stop, look, soak it in
While headed to work the other day, long before dawn, I looked out over the St Mary’s River river and noticed what seemed to be fog. Then I noticed a couple spikes of light and I realized it wasn’t a fog bank, but the aurora borealis or northern lights.
It wasn’t the most brilliant display and, being color-blind, I couldn’t tell you what colors were out there. But I hadn’t seen the lights in several years and so even though I was pushing the limit of getting to work on time, I took a few minutes to run down to the boat ramp and take a look.
I didn’t have time to go back in the house to get my camera, but I pulled my phone out of my pocket and tried to get some photos. I snapped a few, including some panoramic views and video. In less than five minutes, I was in the truck and headed to work. Later, I would delete all of the images when I saw that you couldn’t make out what was in them.
The same thing happened a couple mornings previously, when I tried getting photos of the moon as it was sinking below the horizon. It was gorgeous. Looking at the images on my phone later, it was difficult to tell if it was the moon I was seeing or just a spot on my lens.
I’m not a great photographer, by any means, but I have owned a camera since I was in grade school. My dad used to take a lot of photos and he passed along the shutterbug gene to my siblings and me. As a guy who tries to earn a few bucks on the side through writing, I know it helps to make the sale with editors if I have images to go with the stories. So, for the past 30 years or so, if I see something outdoors that I believe might be a good accompaniment to a story, I take a photo. For years I did that with a 35 mm camera and black-and-white then color print film, eventually moving to digital cameras and – sigh – cell phones.
I told my co-workers about seeing the northern lights. I had no photo to show them, and they didn’t have photos to show me, but every one of them had a story about the last time they saw the lights, or a time when they thought they were the most vivid. Their stories caused me to remember the first time I saw the northern lights and then, years later, the time when they were so spectacular that they were almost like fireworks. I have no photos of those occasions, and I don’t remember thinking that I should be taking photos. I didn’t reflexively reach for a camera or cell phone, back then.
On the same day that I saw this most recent display of the northern lights, I witnessed a magnificent sunrise while driving over the International Bridge in our work truck. I saw a peregrine falcon folding its wings to glide into a nesting box underneath the bridge. I saw a handful of fishermen looking for steelhead in the reflection of the brightening sky on the St. Mary’s River rapids down below, and I wondered if anyone else saw the fishermen, or if they even knew there was a river down there. I wasn’t in a position to get photos of any of those scenes, but I believe I enjoyed them just as much as if I had, and I can still see those images in my head. The thought occurred to me that I should stop taking so many photos and just soak in the sights.
After work, I drove home and when I stepped out of my truck I looked up to see a bald eagle floating slowly over the yard. Of course, I fumbled for my phone to get a photo.
Old habits die hard.