My camera and I have been angling for a date with the big fella for a long time. He’s always got an excuse.
Either it’s too windy, or there’s too much cloud cover, or it’s too cold, or it’s too late. Finally, the last time there was a full moon, I said, “This is it. Show up, on time, no disguises, and smile brightly at me.”
So, of course, I was the one who couldn’t make it. He was due to ascend over Burlington Bay around 4:10 p.m., casting a pearlized path along the water all the way to the shore. At that time of year, the sun wouldn’t even have set yet. That’s perfect. Good light for the moon, good light for the landscape, the best of both worlds.
But I couldn’t be there then. You might know he’d save his biggest-this-year performance for a Saturday night when I had to be at church. But maybe, I thought, maybe when he’s done flirting with all those other folks who’ll be there for the grand entrance, there will be time enough for him and me, backstage. I was counting on it.
I knew the rendezvous wouldn’t be at Burlington Bay, though. By the time I got out of church, at 5:30 or so, he’d be too high in the sky. He’d be smaller, and it would be darker, so there would be no surrounding trees or landscape features to enhance him. Our tryst would be too much in the open. Trysts need ambience, and we needed ours.
The answer lay south just about a quarter mile. Two Harbors’ big red lighthouse, sitting on the point of land that divides one bay from another, might make a perfect foreground. A newly rising moon would be hidden by the lighthouse, but one that had been up for an hour or so should be in just about the right location.
I had prepared. The tripod was in the van, and my camera was with me in church so it would stay warm. As soon as Mass was over, I headed out.
It was an evening made for the moon and me.
He was full of himself, and Lighthouse Point was awash with his glow. So was I. The haze in the sky only diffused his light over a wider area, spilling it onto the lighthouse and the snow-covered landscape. I could see my camera controls because of him, and I knew he was feeling photogenic.
I have no idea why I was the only one out there. The night was still, with temps in the 20s—balmy, by most of the winter’s standards. I knew that whitetail deer likely hovered just out of sight; and an owl or two probably surveyed me from some unseen perch. But human critters were conspicuous by their absence.
Those who weren’t here were inside somewhere. To them, nighttime was the dark specter pressing against their windows, the black hole that had absorbed their view of the world. To them, nighttime in winter is the end of activity. It’s the time for fireplace fires and television shows. Oh, what they’re missing.
I glanced around the deserted space and congratulated myself for having the good sense to be out there when I could have it all to myself. I looked up at the sky and saw myself reflected in a few scattered stars through the breaks in the haze. I felt as infinitesimal as they seemed to my eyes.
I fiddled with the exposure, knowing that where I metered would matter. Aim for the big guy and everything else would silhouette; aim for the dark, and he’d turn into an overpowering glow. I settled for something halfway in between. Photography is often a compromise. A graduated neutral density filter might have helped, but I’m shy on equipment and big on making do.
As I clicked, readjusted, clicked again, tried a vertical, tried a horizontal, refocused, and snapped— he kept smiling at me. This date had been a long time coming, and it sure seemed like we were both having a good time. I went home feeling pretty special.
(With apologies. This is a column from my archives, which first appeared elsewhere, back in the days when I lived in Two Harbors, Minn.)