Sometimes stuff just works out.
Last week I had an impromptu opportunity to go north to visit a friend who lives in what I call my “Happy Place,” along the shores of Lake Michigan. I haven’t been in a more than a year, but it’s still just as beautiful as I remember.
Since we’ve both been pretty careful to stay away from crowds of people we felt comfortable being in each other’s company, though we spent almost 100% of the time outside. Trust me, that is not a sacrifice.
I left lower Michigan under blue skies and temperatures in the 80s. Five hours later I pulled into her driveway and it was 62 and raining. Suddenly the shorts and Tshirt I wore seemed pretty skimpy.
Still, it was beautiful.
I was up there to introduce my friend to another friend of mine who has just moved into the community. I think they have several things in common and might enjoy each other’s company. And just by coincidence I’d be on the shores of Lake Michigan, looking northwest, where there happened to be a comet that I might be able to photograph. If the sky cooperated, and if I could figure out those pesky camera settings.
Though the rain stopped that first afternoon, the sun set behind a bank of clouds. Definitely no comet watching that night.
I wasn’t too worried, I had two more nights, and the forecast said we’d have beautiful, clear weather. So I slept my first night in my friend’s bunkhouse, a screened building with a comfortable bed from which I could hear the waves lapping at the shore and the birds singing in the morning. And during the night I could check the sky without even getting out of bed.
It was marvelous.
The next morning dawned clear and beautiful.
We went for a walk on the beach, enjoying blue skies and sparkling water.
I got to put my feet in my lake, and that always makes me smile. And of course I picked up a few stones, it’s impossible not to. In fact I think it’s a scientific fact that you must pick up stones while walking this beach.
As evening approached we noticed a bank of clouds hanging low along the horizon. But we hopefully set up down on the beach, me with my camera, my friend with her telescope.
And we waited. The sun set. It was pretty. But the clouds obscured the comet, so we concentrated on watching a freighter go by.
And then I went to bed in my wonderful bunkhouse and listened as the wind picked up and the waves crashed. I added extra blankets and had a wonderful sleep.
The next morning, my last full day at my lake, the moon came up in the pink sky and I hoped that tonight we’d get a chance to see that comet.
Meanwhile I took some pictures in her native plant garden…
…and then we hiked through one of the county’s conservancy properties where we feasted on wild red raspberries and enjoyed the dappled sun sliding through tall trees.
We saw another beautiful sunset that night. But even by 11 we couldn’t see the comet, so everyone went to bed.
I was determined to get up in an hour when it would be darker to do some star photography, even if the comet never showed up.
At midnight I picked up my camera and tripod and began to edge down the 40+ steps to the beach. I glanced to the north and there it was! A brilliant white triangle that obviously wasn’t your typical star.
I ran back in the house and got my friend and we stood there on the stairs just watching it. Amazing.
I went down to the beach and set up the camera. It wasn’t that easy to find the comet through the viewfinder, but lucky for me there was a boat out there, just under the comet and I could see it’s lights in the camera’s screen. So I pointed at the boat and shot while hoping I got the comet in the frame.
Luckily I did.
I shot for maybe an hour, sometimes straight up into the stars, sometimes toward the comet, sometimes including the big dipper. I didn’t have a wide angle lens to capture the big dipper in the same shot as the comet, but I was having fun anyway.
Eventually the comet faded and I remembered that the milky way would probably be to the south, directly behind me. I turned around and laughed out loud.
Yep. I have to say it was an amazing night. In fact I stayed up all night, taking pictures, and then laying in bed looking at them in the camera. I think I looked at all of them at least a couple times, smiling in the dark.
By the time I was finished analyzing the images (which was stupid because they don’t look that great on the back of the camera) birds were beginning to sing. And then I saw the biggest star I’ve ever seen come up to the east.
Turns out it is Venus, and of course I had to set up in the front yard and try to capture that. And then the sky turned pink, even out over the lake and of course I had to run back down the 40+ steps to the beach.
And when I finally made my way back up to the house, intent on getting a couple hours of sleep, I noticed the cat sitting in the window watching my antics.
And of course I had to capture that too. Not a lot of sleep, but one of the most fun nights I’ve had in a very long time. Thank you to my northern friend for sharing her amazing home, though I wasn’t inside it very much.
Sitting on the deck and just watching the lake is more then enough, much less a hike in the woods and a comet photoshoot…with the milky way thrown in.
And on the way home I got a couple barns to boot.
I’m smiling now just thinking about it.