Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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Stars, the first night

It’s taken me a few days to sort through the images from my two nights of photography. Looking through them I’m transported back to those warm nights again.

A place in the sand.

Before my photography friend arrived that night I spent a few minutes capturing the sky above the dunes and houses along the road. It was an image I’d had in my head since my last trip up to this area, back in May. I think it looks like an amazing painting, and I’m glad I got to go back and get it.

Once she arrived we went down to the beach to see what there was to see.

Our first glimpse of the beach.

It was a very windy night. We were pushing our tripod legs deep into the sand to try to reduce camera shake. The wind was cool, but I never felt cold until we stopped shooting. The adrenalin kept me warm.

Lighting up the sky.

The sky was stunning. The Milky Way was so clear. And when we turned around to face north the lit lighthouse was beautiful too.

The moon and several planets were supposed to line up around 4:30 that morning, so though we were done shooting the lighthouse and the Milky Way around 3:00, we thought it would be a waste not to stay and see. It was warmer up on the road, and we stood around talking as we waited for the moon to come up.

Waiting for the moon to wake up and join the party.

The moonrise was stunning, but it was rising through a bank of clouds and only intermittently visible. And in the end we didn’t see them all lined up, just Jupiter and sometimes Mars, and the moon.

The lighthouse catches me trying to grab an image of the pole and the Milky Way.

But even without planets we were both smiling when we finally headed to bed just as the sun was beginning to light up the world.

We knew we’d had a wonderful night under the stars, and if we were lucky we’d be out the next night too.

Stay tuned.


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Magic

Some of you know that I’ve been taking an online photography course centered on getting images of the Milky Way. There are many many modules, but I’ve been stuck in the first set because I haven’t been able, for months, to get that first single image. And for me it was hard to go on to the next modules that talked about panoramas and stacked and stitched images when I couldn’t get the single image.

A friend and I had a camping trip scheduled for this week. It’s been exactly one year since we camped at this same campground, with it’s walk-in sites far from the world of mega RVs with their generators and large noisy families. Yes, carrying all your stuff down a wooded path to your site is a lot of work. But once again, just like last year, we were the only ones in that section of the campground, and it was heaven.

And, coincidently, this campground is located in a Bortle 2, a part of our state with less light pollution than where I live in a Bortle 4. AND the moon wouldn’t be up to interfere with finding the Milky Way. AND there was one night out of the three we’d be there that the weather folks said would be clear.

Win/win/win

According to my Planit app, the Milky Way would rise high enough to see it over the trees by 2 a.m. But my friend and I went out at midnight, after sitting around the fire all evening waiting for it to get dark, just to check out my chosen site, which was at a park at the mouth of the Platt River, where it empties into Lake Michigan.

An image I took of the Platt River while we were waiting for the Milky Way to show up.

It is a wonderful place to star gaze, but of course the Milky Way wasn’t putting in an appearance early, so we went back to the tent to take a nap.

I set my alarm for 2 a.m.

But when the alarm went off I didn’t want to crawl out of my warm(ish) sleeping bag. The temperature was hovering around 40F (4.44C) and everything in me wanted to stay in the tent and hunker down. But when would I ever again be in a dark location on a night that was clear?

So I crawled out of the tent and looked up. Stars, thousands of stars, were there, just hanging in the pine tree boughs above me. I scrambled down the path to the car and headed out to the river, smiling.

And as I carried my camera, already affixed to the tripod, around a building to the river I squealed. Because there it was….the illusive Milky Way, in all it’s glory.

There she is, as if she were just waiting for me to get my act together.

And suddenly I wasn’t cold anymore. Suddenly I didn’t care that it was 2 a.m. I wasn’t worried about waking up early the next morning after being up all night so we could kayak down the river ending up at this very spot.

No, all I could think about were the stars, all I could see were the stars. And in the quiet pre-dawn hours that morning I shot images and grinned, and then just stood there in awe for a very long time. Alone in the quiet I listened to gentle waves lap the shore and watched the stars move across the sky and there was no place I’d rather be.

You’ll have to image that part on your own.

From the boat launch, looking out over the Platt River and then, past the small dunes, to Lake Michigan. See the big dipper up there?

But if you ever have a moment like that you’ll know….It’s magic.


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Watching the night sky

I’m taking a Milky Way photography course on-line. It’s consumed a lot of my time, as there is so much to learn. I’ve been working on improving my night photography skills since 2017 when I took a one evening class. Too bad that one night there was sleet and rain, but I learned a lot.

And now I’m learning more. I went out a couple weeks ago to a local park, in the middle of the night, just to practice my settings and see how it felt to be out there in the dark again.

It felt pretty wonderful, but that was a park close to home. We have lots and lots of light around here, and I’m going to have to go further afield to find darker skies. Still, it’s good to practice.

I need to go out again soon and practice some techniques for getting the stars in focus. But it’s raining and it’s going to keep raining…maybe right through the next new moon window of opportunity for Milky Way shooting!

So, out of frustration I went back to some images I took in the summer of 2020 when the comet was flying high and I was standing on a sandy bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. Once the comet was done for the night I turned around and saw the Milky Way.

Tonight I wistfully clicked through those pictures. They sure aren’t perfect, but they remind me of a wonderful time. But I hope to do a much better job of focusing on my next attempt!

Now if it would just stop raining.

Be warned, those of you that live in dark areas of the country, eventually you’re going to hear from me, asking to camp out in your backyard. I promise to be quiet as I skulk around under your sky.

You might even want to join me. You’d be amazed at how time flies when you’re standing in the dark looking up at millions of light years looking back at you.


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Watching the sky

I’m in northern Michigan watching the sky. This makes me smile. I lost count of the number of shooting stars I saw last night. Never, of course, while my camera was recording.

Still, it was fun.

One more night and I’ll head home. Some little short furry thing is going to be upset if she finds out where I was. I’m camping in our favorite site at her favorite park. But she got air conditioning and I slept on the ground. I think it’s a wash.

She might not feel the same.


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Starry starry night

When last I left you I had crashed for a nap inside my tent while a thunderstorm rained down and the wind blew the trees above me, brushing clouds across the sky. I fell asleep believing there would be no stars that night, my last night near the Dark Sky Park.

But when I woke, an hour or so later, the wind had stopped, the rain no longer pounded down and there was just a tiny peak of sunshine making the wet leaves glow. Maybe there was still a chance.

Yep, the sun shines to set another day.

But of course, first I had to sit through another sunset. Such an inconvenience.

Everyone was enjoying the warm summer evening.

I was not alone on the beach. Lots of families were settled in for the show, or playing in the water. They were fun to watch. I remember playing like this when I was a kid.

Did you ever walk on your hands in a lake, your legs sticking out into the evening air?

The air was warm and the sky was pretty clear. I began to get excited about seeing some stars. If the sun would ever go down. I posted on Facebook that it was the slowest sunset ever. I messed around taking pictures of nothing much just to pass the time.

I liked the way the light played on the sand filled with footprints.

And then finally. FINALLY!

The sun sighs goodnight.

Soon I was back in the car and headed six miles north to the Dark Sky Park. The parking lot was full of cars and people when I arrived. Everyone figured that tonight was the night we’d see a meteor shower. Of course that pesky moon was still up there, a half moon never shown so bright, but I was just glad there were no clouds.

Once it was dark I grabbed my camera, already set on the tripod, with manual settings appropriate for night photography, and my little red flashlight and ventured out on the walkways through the dunes. Such a beautiful night.

Amazing how many stars there are, even when it’s not completely dark.

I was hoping for lots of shooting stars, and in fact while I was shooting the image below a huge one raced across the sky just off to my right. I hoped the camera caught it but it was just outside the range. People all over the park let up a big cry and applauded. It was soooooo wonderful, it looked like something out of a movie.

The light on the fence and the shadows were created by the moonlight. See the red light over on the right? Another stargazer enjoying the night sky.

I think I saw a couple of other, much smaller shooting stars, but was never quite sure what I had seen out of the corner of my eye. In fact I wouldn’t normally show you this image, but I think it’s interesting if not perfect. You can see the branches lit up by the moon, and what is probably a satellite in the upper corner. I didn’t see any of that when I took the image. I was just practicing getting shots without shake.

Taking pictures at night, you never know what you’ll see when you look at them on a big screen later.

There were lots of people there but by 11 there were only a few of us. I thought I’d wait until the moon set, but that wasn’t going to be until after 2:30 a.m. By 1:00 a.m. I was the only one left, and I decided I wasn’t even sure where the Milky Way was, or if it would be visible and I wasn’t comfortable being there alone…so I packed it in and headed back to my campsite.

A beautiful night.

I wasn’t sure what I had captured, though I knew it wasn’t what I had hoped to get. Still, I’m so glad I went and I’m pretty happy with the few decent images I got. I had to lighten these up quite a bit to put them into WordPress. The original images were pretty dark when I did my preview. I maybe have over lightened them here. I suppose everyone’s computer screen will show them differently. I think a lot of night photography, once you figure out the manual settings on the camera, will come down to figuring out how to process them. I’m still working on that.

I had to stop and take this picture, the barn was so beautiful.

I slept well that night, and in the morning packed up and headed South toward home. Right through all that farmland. With all those barns.

Barn and hawk.

Yep, had to stop a few times on the way. I’m sure you don’t mind.

I’ll go back to the Dark Sky park again someday, preferably when the moon isn’t up all night and the Milky Way is. And meanwhile I’ll mess around with the images I have to see how I can make them even more exciting. So you’ll think you’ve been there!

But you really should try to get there yourself. If you pick the right night you won’t be disappointed!

From the old days, still standing straight and tall.


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Camping during a pandemic

I’m just home from a short 3 day camping trip in the tip of Michigan’s thumb. It was my first camping trip outside my backyard of the season and I went to spend some time at a dark sky park that’s tucked into the dune grass along Saginaw Bay a few miles up the road from the state park campground.

A pretty minimal site, but I wasn’t there for the camping.

It was a last minute decision when our local weather person predicted clear skies and good views of a meteor shower.

I wandered on the drive up to my campsite on Tuesday afternoon through miles and miles of flat farmland which was filled with….you guessed it….barns!

You can’t beat red barns and puffy clouds!

So, while you might think this post would be filled with dark skies and bright stars you’d be wrong. At least for now.

The wheat is already harvested, mostly it’s soy beans and corn waiting to ripen now.

I knew you’d want to see the barns, it’s been way too long since I did a post about barns, and they are one of my favorite things to hunt down.

This was my favorite barn of the trip up, but notice the sky is filling with clouds.

And once I arrived at my campsite I had to go check out the dark sky park, to make strategic plans about where I might want to set up for prime star gazing.

Lots of low dunes and a few trees might make the perfect place for star gazing.

It’s a pretty little park with a huge parking lot and a viewing platform. But I found the low dunes and grasses more interesting.

I didn’t notice this dragonfly when I took the shot. But I like that he photo-bombed my image.

I also noticed all the clouds accumulating and wondered whether I’d have clear skies that night. But the weather guy said I would, so I tried not to worry.

If I weren’t there for stars I’d have been thrilled with the beautiful clouds.

That evening the sun went down amid the clouds in a pretty little show.

Waiting on the sun to sink.

I sat on a platform overlooking the Bay. Last year in June Katie and I visited this park, sat right here to watch the sun set. I was missing my girl, but it was much too hot for her to go camping with me. She was home enjoying air conditioning with her dad.

A nice place to watch the sky turn colors.

I went down to the beach to explore a little as I waited. High water in the Great Lakes have turned the beach into such a narrow strip of sand you could hardly call it a beach at all.

This split rail fence used to mark the beginning of the beach. Now it’s part of the bay.

The sky was pretty, but I was impatient for the show to be over so that I could scoot up to the dark sky park and see what I was there to see.

Just a bit north of the actual sun the clouds were turning pink.

Finally the sun gave up it’s grip on the day and settled with a sigh into the water.

The end of a pretty day.


The clouds seemed to be dispersing, so I was hopeful as I headed up the the night sky park. There were perhaps a dozen cars filled with other people hoping to see some meteor action.

I was hoping for stars.

And as the sky got dark an immediate problem became evident. The half moon was high in the sky and shining brightly. I checked my phone and learned that the moon would set at 1:30. I figured I could wait it out. But the longer we all sat there the more clouds moved in until even the bright moon was obscured. By midnight I gave up and headed back to camp for some sleep, not having taken a single shot.

I had one more night there, and I just knew the sky would be clear! The weather guy said so!

Stay tuned.

At least the barns were pretty.


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When you get to see a comet you can’t help but smile

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.

I’m rarely here in summer, this is the most people I’ve ever seen on the beach!

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.

Stormy weather greeted me upon arrival.

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.

The first night there wasn’t much of a sunset. But it was pretty.

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.

The perfect guest house.

It was marvelous.

The next morning dawned clear and beautiful.

The weather looked promising early in the day.

We went for a walk on the beach, enjoying blue skies and sparkling water.

Just a touch of cloud out there on the horizon. Maybe tonight will be comet night!

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.

Modern, abstract art shimmers in the clear water of Lake Michigan.

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.

That bank of clouds might be a problem.

And we waited. The sun set. It was pretty. But the clouds obscured the comet, so we concentrated on watching a freighter go by.

I did a longish shutter speed just to make the lights blur.


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.

The moon showed up and danced between the clouds.

Meanwhile I took some pictures in her native plant garden…

Native lilies opened the next day.

…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.

Great Spangled Fritillaries.

We saw another beautiful sunset that night. But even by 11 we couldn’t see the comet, so everyone went to bed.

A cat sculpture stretches, getting ready for sleep.

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.

The lights on the water is a boat sitting out there, probably also watching the comet. And if you look carefully you can see the second tail, a blue streak to the left of the white tail and going straight up.

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.

As the comet was fading I captured either a shooting star, or more likely, the space station sliding across the sky.

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.

The milky way was waiting patiently for me to notice it.

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.

Venus welcomes me to a new day.

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.

Another amazing morning on my lake.

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.

What in the world are you doing out there lady?

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.

Can’t beat this view.

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.

Barn #1

I’m smiling now just thinking about it.

Barn #2


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Last one of the season.

I picked Katie up from camp on Monday. Can you believe the people there say she never barks at all? Me either.

She made up for it by telling me off the entire thirty minute drive home. And then barking at her dad and me off and on the rest of the day. She was pretty wound up. So after one restless night at home we set out for one last camping trip in the north.

Since it’s after Labor Day here in the United States, most people don’t think about camping and campgrounds are pretty empty, especially during the middle of the week. But it was going to be a beautiful couple of days, with highs in the 70s (23 C) and lows at night in the mid 50s (11 C). Plus the skies were supposed to be clear, and better yet, there would be no moon.

Perfect to make another attempt at taking pictures of the night sky.

I made one attempt during our drive across the Upper Peninsula last week, when we stopped along the way at an Inn right across the street from Lake Michigan. My husband was good enough to go out into the night with me even though he was tired from driving.

Natural and man made light brighten the night sky.

Turns out we had fun, though I didn’t get exactly what I was hoping for. My Wordless Wednesday post was one that I thought was sort of successful with it’s Milky Way high in the sky and the grasses in the front. Not entirely right, but not bad. And the image above was the best of what I got during our walk along the boardwalk.

So I was hoping for another opportunity as Katie and I headed north on Tuesday. Conditions should be perfect, and I had a sweet little lake in mind. With fewer people camping I had a better chance at getting a camp site right along the lake, and Katie and I scored a great site.

Do you see the little doggie back there?

There were only three other couples camping, each spaced far from the other. The weather was perfect. Katie and I went on several walks around the campground after we set up the tent. She was thrilled to be there, prancing along with her nose to the ground.

“Hey mama! There’s still wildflowers blooming over here!”

And then as evening arrived, we sat on the shore of our little lake and enjoyed the fading light.

It was a peachy kind of evening.

Still, it was a long time until the stars came out, and Katie got impatient and restless. I ended up going to get the car and parking it at the boat ramp so that she could nap while I worked. She was good with that.

Finally, after nine p.m. the sky was a midnight blue. I was hoping to get some images of stars reflected in the still water, but that didn’t really work out. I wasn’t high enough above the water to truly see many stars reflected. And the milky way wasn’t over the lake like I had hoped. But it was still pretty.

It was a pretty spectacular night.

I think if I had waited around a few more hours it might have moved on over the lake. But Katie was sleeping in the car and I wanted to be sleeping too. So after an hour of attempting to get the image I was envisioning, I settled for what I had and we went back to camp. None of the images were perfect. This one shows the tremor from me pressing the button to open the shutter. I can’t find my remote clicker thingy. And I think my tripod isn’t stable enough for this. Or maybe it’s just me not tightening it up enough.

Anyway, once back at our site, surrounded by tall dark trees, I looked up. It seemed like there were more stars right above my tent than all across the entire lake. I had to set the camera back up again.

Could have looked at this all night.

Even Katie seemed impressed. She waited quietly next to my feet as I clicked away. Sometimes she knows it’s not all about her.

And in the morning, after checking out the misty lake, watching a bald eagle snatch a fish out of the water, and happy with my nighttime experiment, we packed up and headed home.

A beautiful morning.

It was going to get warmer, and Katie’s not so good with heat these days. Plus sleeping in my own bed seemed pretty enticing. Katie did not agree and turned her back on me as I was taking the tent down.

“If I don’t look at you then it’s not happening.”

She tried to protest by refusing to get in the car after everything was packed.

“I’m not going with you mama!”

But when I asked her if she wanted a treat…well….she decided she’d come along after all.

“Well OKAAAAAY then!”

Yea, she’s a good girl, my Katie.

“No star is prettier than me mama!”