Change Is Hard

…but change is certain.


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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!”


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A New Year Begins

It’s 4:30 a.m. and Katie the dog wants to go out. Just like every morning, her timing is meticulously accurate. I shake the sleep from my eyes as she shakes the tags on her collar and together we stumble to the front door where she prances impatiently as I don shoes and coat and gloves.

And then we step out into the blackness that is early morning.

Deep silence surrounds us. No cars out on the freeway, no stirring in the neighborhood. Only the far away wail of a train intrudes on the thick blanket of quiet. I whisper to her, unwilling to pierce the silence myself, to find a good spot as we wander the yard.

Almost directly overhead is the big dipper, sitting upside down, spilling good wishes down upon us. Orion’s belt has long since gone to bed. “Hi Dad,” I whisper. “Here’s to a New Year. Another one starting without you and mom.”

And then I pause, a bit of happiness floating from me up to him. “Well, not really without you…I feel you right here. See you tomorrow morning…say hi to Mom”

Katie and I head silently back to the house. At the front porch she stands on her back legs asking to be picked up. I do, picking up her awkwardly lopsided bobble-headed cone encased self and give her a tight hug and a kiss.

“Happy New Year baby-girl, Happy New Year.”

Happy New Year mama!

Happy New Year mama!


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Elusive stars

You know I’ve been working on my night photography, right?. Well, I was lucky to be able to meet Heather, aka Snap Happy Gal, while I was up north. We met out on the beach long after sunset and she gave me a few pointers about night shooting even though the skies were cloudy and the stars were hiding.

A rock.  And too blue.  But still...

A rock. And too blue. But still…

I learned a lot, though I need much more practice before I can even begin to think I understand all of this.

But I didn’t get much time to practice night photography on this trip because, as you have seen in recent blog posts, we had days and nights filled with clouds.

Clouds rolling in.  Again.

Clouds rolling in. Again.

Lots of them. Luckily my last evening the sky cleared and I hoped there might be a chance.

I checked the sky at 10:30 and found stars! So I rushed down to the beach with my tripod and my camera and tried to figure out what there was to shoot. The milky way was directly overhead, making it difficult to include in a photo of much of anything.

Stars over trees.

Stars over trees.

But the Big Dipper, my star symbol for my dad, was out there over Lake Michigan.

Hey Dad!

Hey Dad!

It was pretty high in the sky, so it was hard to include it along with anything on the ground. But I tried.

A little trick with a flashlight...slightly overdone.

A little trick with a flashlight…slightly overdone.

I tried a lot. I struggled with the tripod in the sand. But I think I’ve almost got that figured out.

It was fun to be out on the beach late at night. Slight breeze, no mosquitoes. Not cold. Not hot. Just perfect.

Beach grass under the stars.

Beach grass under the stars.

Now I have to say these shots aren’t close to what I hope to do someday. There’s definitely a shake showing up, and I found it hard to focus on anything in the dark, but they are the next step toward fully understanding how to capture the magic.

Freighter slides through the night.

Freighter slides through the night.

I’ll be trying again, the next time I find myself outside in a dark place. I figured out a few more things about the tripod. And I’m getting more confident in the camera settings.

Thank you Heather for all the helpful tips!

Flagpole points to the stars.

Flagpole points to the stars.


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Star gazing night two

It’s getting better, my night photography. Not by much, but there’s some progress. I studied white balance and made an adjustment. I think it helped.

Still…

Once again I slept in the tent in the backyard. Set my alarm for 3:00 a.m. and fell asleep with the camera on the tripod, ready to go. It was a hot and muggy night, but I fell asleep right away and didn’t wake until the phone began it’s gentle song.

Groggy, I pushed my sweaty hair out of my eyes and glanced up through the tent roof. I almost hoped the sky had clouded over, that the stars were hidden so I could go back to sleep. But as my eyes adjusted I had to admit there was a mix of stars and clouds up there.

Enough stars to give it a try.

So I crawled out onto the freshly mowed lawn and set up what I was hoping would be a less pink version of the sky.

High thin clouds obscure the stars.

High thin clouds obscure the stars.

I think the white balance is better on these shots than those I took the night before. But I also know I should start thinking about shooting in RAW. If I did that I could adjust the colors in post processing.

I looked into that last summer, and once, out on a walk with Katie the dog, I managed to get my camera into RAW (If I remember right it’s not difficult, but I just can’t remember anymore how to do it.) and took a couple pictures like that, then changed it back and took the same shot using my regular settings. But when I downloaded those photos the RAW shots didn’t download.

So I gave up. But clearly I should be able to figure this out. I need to go out and take more photos in RAW and try again.

Meanwhile, on night 2 of the great star shoot experiment I set up an image of my tent lit up, and hoped I got a bit of sky above. It turned out OK..lots of room for improvement…but it was fun to try.

Camping in the wild back yard.

Camping in the wild back yard.

So what have I learned?

Lots of things. Like…remember to take your glasses with you when you crawl out of a tent into the night to take pictures. Because without them you have no idea if what you’re doing is working. And don’t forget to do something with the focus. Just setting it to manual is not good if you haven’t actually set it to infinity or focused it on anything. And make sure the tripod is actually locked so it doesn’t sink in the middle of a 30 second shot. And for heavens sake, go find that remote thingy where you can hit the shutter without shaking the camera.

And mostly….it’s a lot more fun spending an hour outside after midnight in the winter when there aren’t any mosquitoes. And when sweat isn’t running into your eyes.

Stay tuned. This adventure is not over yet.

Humid night.

Humid night.


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Night Light

Heather’s photography always makes me smile. Sometimes gasp. And I’ve been especially intrigued by her night photography. Some of you have seen her work. If you haven’t hop over to her website. I think you will be amazed.

I don’t know anything about pointing my camera into the night sky. But I’ve been up north for awhile, away from the city lights, and I’ve been waiting to experiment. Two weeks I’ve been waiting.

Monday night, my last night here, I took the garbage can out to the road and glanced up. I stopped in my tracks. There were stars up there. Finally a clear night!

Low dunes, clouds on the horizon and maybe a plane.  Oh..and stars.

Low dunes, clouds on the horizon and maybe a plane. Oh..and stars.

I read a few articles while I was at the lake, sorting out manual settings on the camera, though I still have a lot of things to learn about how to choose shutter speed, ISO and apertures. Monday evening, once I realized I had one night to try this, I watched a short video about camera settings and star shooting. Sitting in the warm living room I adjusted the settings on my camera and then took it and the tripod down the dark snow covered stairs to the beach.

I left the lights on in the house, hoping I could play around with a house shot, stars above. I haven’t figured it all out yet, and there was too much light. I got an odd sort of image, but in the process I learned a lot. I especially learned I should have brought a flashlight down with me. Using my cell phone to light up buttons on a camera works, but it’s not great.

I messed around with trying to do the house for awhile. Then I pointed the camera straight up at the night sky. Another thing I learned is it would have been a lot warmer to practice what all the tripod levers and knobs did while I was in the house rather than out on the beach. Live and learn. Right?

I think this is the milky way. It was obvious to me looking up at the sky…not so obvious in the shot.

Maybe the milky way.  Maybe just a bunch of stars.

Maybe the milky way. Maybe just a bunch of stars.

I had the ISO up as high as it would go, and the aperture open as far as it would go, and the shutter speed at 30 seconds. I think that’s as wide open as I can get this camera. But I’ll read more and see.

These shots aren’t anything that I really like, but I learned a ton. Now I have to learn how to get rid of the red cast. And oh so much more.

And even though it was only 9 degrees out there I was never cold, protected as I was behind a low dune, with no wind, and the sound of gentle waves lapping at the beach below me. In fact it was sort of pleasant.

Two chairs on the beach.  One of my favorite subjects to shoot.

Two chairs on the beach. One of my favorite subjects to shoot.

Maybe I wasn’t cold because I was busy doing something that fascinates me, something that I love, something that I plan on learning a whole lot more about.

Next time you’re somewhere in the dark take a venture outside, regardless of the temperature. It’s pretty amazing. Even if you don’t end up with fine art, it’s pretty amazing.

Orion's belt is caught in the tree branches.

Orion’s belt is caught in the tree branches.