A Special Night on the Prairie
Tuesday, September 27, 2016, and I woke up to cloudy, rainy skies.
The astronomy website spaceweather.com was predicting a good night for the northern lights aka the aurora borealis.
My favourite weather forecast website cleardarksky.com which is usually very accurate to the hour was predicting that by late afternoon the skies would be completely clear and cloudless. The moon would not be rising above the horizon where I live til 3:41 a.m. All the ducks were lining up so to speak.
I haven’t done any night photography for a year at least. Something always seemed to come up or I would get too sleepy when it was time to head out and sleep seemed the better idea over taking photos. Tonight would be different.
To prepare for the northern lights I charged my camera batteries and put my tiny headlamp in its charger. A headlamp like the ones spelunkers use is handy for night photography. It beats fumbling in the dark to find something that has dropped or to make your way through a field and not trip on something that you can’t see.
Next thing I did was to put my two favourite night lenses in my backpack, a 14-24 f2.8 zoom and a 24mm f1.4 lens. The memory cards were formatted, the car was topped up with gas and I was ready to go, when it got dark enough.
As the evening progressed I kept checking aurorawatch.ca to see how the aurora were. Aurorawatch is great for me because it predicts the possibility of viewing the northern lights at my latitude and it kept looking better and better as time went on.
By 9:30 p.m. I made my mind up to hop in the car and head out. Only ten minutes out of town and I could see a faint band of green on the northern horizon stretching from east to west. The sky was crystal clear. Stars were sparkling and a light fog covered the road as I drove north.
Twenty minutes later I arrived at a favourite spot. There are two churches and a graveyard here. Ahead of me I could see a couple of cars parked on the side of the road. Already there were a few photographers out to see the lights.
Grabbing my gear I walked near the first old church and started taking pics. The sky was awash with the colour green. When I exhausted all angles back into the car I went and drove to the next church down the highway.
This one has much more elegant lines to it but the aurora were starting to fade so I put my camera down and just sat under the starry night sky.
Photography is so much more than taking photos. Driving out here I passed many farmers getting their crops off the fields. Lights flashing in fields of canola. Dust hanging heavily in the air and the smell of freshly cut hay was in the air.
Sitting and waiting for the aurora to appear I heard the faint honk of geese overhead as they migrated south thinking of how beautiful it must appear to them to see the stars high above and the northern lights swirling across the sky.
One coyote started yapping in the distance then another answered and then another. Soon there were the sounds of coyotes all around me yapping and howling and letting each other know where they were.
It was magical. A 360 degree Imax experience. All of my senses were bathed in the sights, sounds and feelings of the cool autumn night. And it was cool. The Toyota thermometer said that it was only a couple of degrees above freezing. Frost was forecast overnight where I was and I could already hear it as I walked on the crunch, frosty grass.
The lights magically reappeared. First in the eastern horizon then swirling and dancing west ward til they were almost overhead.
I grabbed a few more frames and head off to a few more favourite places before turning back home.
Getting home I never even looked at the photos I had taken. The dog greeted me as he always does when I take photos, sniffing all the strange scents that I bring home and in a few minutes both of our heads were on our pillows and asleep to dream.
The beauty of an autumn night on the western Canadian prairies. A dream indeed.