It has been a wonderful time-trip to go back and review my journal entries, voice memo transcriptions, collected travel brochures, and observing notebooks to recreate these stories. Some of the material was outlined and posted on an early web site, but the impact of 9/11 a few weeks after my return from this trip, combined with the urgencies of daily life with my active family, derailed the project. My notes and artifacts have been hibernating these years since in an ignominious cardboard box.
The film that I brought home was processed by a professional photo lab and carefully organized into sleeves and folders and correlated with my observing notes. The images that stood out became popular prints that I presented at art fairs and exhibits the following year. The others kept silently in their folders in my file cabinet until I looked for supporting images for these stories. I have enjoyed scanning them and discovering pictures that deserve more attention.
My notes from immediately after my return offer some advice. Though today I do not recall it this way, my last night in the field with the windmill was recorded as a miserable experience, a disappointment of trying to reach a closure by recreating the first pictures from the outset of my trip. Maybe seeing a successful film image a few days later, erased that negative emotion. Today I enjoy reciting the story of being lost in the hayfield; at the time, it was just too frustrating.
In my notes I wrote that I took too much stuff and my plans were too ambitious. Today, I’m not so sure. My internalized boy scout motto, “be prepared”, provided the tools and materials when I ran into trouble in the wilderness– situations that could not be solved by a quick trip to the mall for repair items. There were many times that I was glad to have the resources that I had brought.
As to the ambitious plans, they might have been a setup for disappointment, but I no longer see it that way. I am appreciative for all of the experiences and opportunities that presented themselves. Maybe this is just a way of life for me; there is far more to learn than I can possibly take in. In the years since, I have learned to live with this limitation.
The road trip format– travelling every day– was not particularly good for deep sky work. Because of the high overhead for setup and alignment and focus, it would have been better to stay in one location for several days. I made the error that first-time travelers to Europe often make: trying to fit everything into a whirlwind tour.
In the end, because I couldn’t do everything, I had to prioritize. I favored shots that couldn’t be made from near home—so the startrails with unique foregrounds took priority and the deep sky shots that could, in principle, be made from anywhere on a clear night, were secondary.
Today, GPS is ubiquitous. At the time, before cell phones, specialized receivers were required. I had an early model, a gift from my mother-in-law who rolled her eyes about the whole concept but took pleasure in my delight at receiving it. The GPS receivers were quite primitive by today’s standards of localized maps that show you the nearest coffee shops and the route to get to them; instead, they displayed your numerical latitude and longitude and could record markers (waypoints). They could also show a trail of breadcrumbs of your recent route on a blank background. If a major city was nearby, the display would show a mark and a label for it. Still, as limited as it was at the time, GPS was a terrific aid to my efforts.
In the days before smart phones, there were “personal digital assistants”, PDAs, and I owned a Pilot, that hosted helper programs before they became known as “apps”. One such program, Sol-2, told me the local sunset, twilight, moonrise, and moonset times based on my location, which I could enter by reading it from the GPS unit. This was extremely beneficial for my nighttime photo planning. Today of course, all of this is available from your pocket computer/smart phone.
I have often referred in these stories to the difficulty of getting enough sleep. With the demands of cross country travelling, and nighttime photo shooting, sleep is postponed until it can’t. I learned that an hour or two nap is extremely beneficial. Even if not fully sleeping, the momentary metabolism slowdown of just resting seems to help.
The solo time on the road was a contemplative opportunity. My mind wandered over many topics as the miles rolled by. Most of those idle thoughts went unrecorded, with no subsequent loss to society; others I made notes of and have tried to convey in these essays.
The opportunity to undertake projects like this do not occur often. When they do, they are not always apparent. I am indebted to my wife Vicki, who recognized the moment for what it was and encouraged me to embark on this adventure. She saw that this was exactly the right thing for me; I encourage everyone to support the dreams of their partner.
And for those of you reluctant to embark on something that is outside of your usual style, I encourage you to push past the discomfort and seize the moment.
Consider the lesson I learned from the visit with my old classmate (Tillamook Friends…). That story was the result of wondering if I should take a tangent trip to Tillamook to meet him. The easier choice would have been to not go, to stay in my introvert’s comfort zone and get back to my solo photography. But had I not taken that normally untaken option during that summer trip long ago, I would not have renewed a friendship that then lasted until he passed away last year, and I would now be regretting the missed opportunities to have shared in part of his fascinating life.
It’s another reminder that life is short. When risky or expensive or uncertain opportunities come up, take them. Most people regret the trip not taken.
And when you find yourself under a clear night sky, take a few moments to look up at the stars and contemplate our place in this corner of the universe. We are blessed to be here, to have a life to fill with experiences and activities, and to share them with the people we love.