Another crazy thing – Photograph the Aurora Borealis

IMG_5669Photographing the Aurora Borealis, or the Northern Lights, had been on my original list of 50 Crazy things. It’s something you can’t really plan for, however, you just need to be ready for it when it can happen.

I asked friends and fellow photographers John Buchanan and Yvonne Odber if they’d like to do this one with me. We all agreed. John had shot them once before and had a place in mind in the Lac Du Bois grasslands that would work. We just had to wait. There were plenty of opportunities during the winter and lots of local photographers were very successful. The timing just didn’t work out for us.

While we waited I did a bit of research on how to photograph auroras. There is lots of information online. I also did some research on what the Aurora Borealis is. Here’s what Northernlightscentre.ca says:

The bright dancing lights of the aurora are actually collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun that enter the earth’s atmosphere. The lights are seen above the magnetic poles of the northern and southern hemispheres. They are known as ‘Aurora borealis’ in the north and ‘Aurora australis’ in the south.

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This site has a lot of great information and is worth a look.

Typically I’m not a late night person so just staying up to do this was going to be a big part of the challenge. John and I had one false start in February but the skies were cloudy and they didn’t turn up where we were although there were plenty of coyotes! I had a backup plan for a Crazy Thing to include in my list in case this one didn’t work out. I believe I now have my nose pierced because of it!

I had downloaded a few borealis apps that would indicate when the aurora was going to be strongest in our area. On a clear night, theoretically, it should work. The best app we’ve found is AuroraNotifier. It sends us a message when the aurora is at a certain level for our area.

On Sunday, March 6th, the same day I got the lynx pictures in the morning, the notifier app went off and John texted me and Yvonne – were we in? The skies were clear so… yes! We raced to meet at Yvonne’s and jumped into John’s trusty truck, Ava. We were off. I still hadn’t caught up on my sleep from the night before.

We got to the spot where it was freezing and very windy. It was just getting dark when we were setting up our cameras. Then we waited. We weren’t disappointed. Not only were the stars spectacular, a dim green haze began to show up on the horizon. This wasn’t the most spectacular northern lights show ever seen, but they were pretty good for our early photography attempt.

We started taking pictures, experimenting with exposure length, ISO, and other settings. I discovered many things. I had a hard time focusing in the dark. My tripod is old and very light. It shook a bit in the wind. We also discovered we should have been wearing snowsuits! We were freezing! Eventually we were thrilled with our early attempt and are now committed to keep trying. I am soon going to treat myself to a heavy duty tripod and some warmer clothes. Possibly a new lens too. The place we chose would also be pretty good for star trails so we’re going to be trying that as well. Our goal, as always, is to perfect our photographic techniques and expose beauty whenever we can.

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All in all I was pleased with my first attempts at shooting the aurora. My pictures are a bit shaky but I haven’t enhanced them at all. These are straight out of my camera.

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Big thanks to John Buchanan and Yvonne Odber for helping make this happen. The joy is really in the adventure and not in the results. Even if the lights hadn’t made an appearance we would still have a great time and an adventure to remember.

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More wonders of wildlife: An addendum to Crazy Thing #22.

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When I started this year’s ski season I had many goals –distance skied, covering all the trails in both directions, and photographing wildlife. My photography goals included photographing a moose, lynx, and owl. On Christmas Eve I got the most awesome Moose pictures I could imagine. I kept seeing lynx tracks, and other people were getting photos of them, but I kept missing out. As the season was drawing to a close and conditions (at the time) were not spectacular, I wasn’t holding out much hope.

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“Are you coming?”

On Sunday, March 6th, I was coming home in the morning from enjoying a great night with some friends in Logan Lake. I had been up until 2 am and I was seriously tired. I stopped at Stake Lake for a short ski. It was a bit slushy and it had been too warm to get the big groomer out so the tracks weren’t great and it was a little slippery. Still, any ski is better than no ski. I headed out on the green trails and felt myself following instinct again. I had no plan. I started on Ponderosa and thought I would turn right on Hoss but after making it about 10m on the trail I changed my mind – I almost NEVER do that. I decided to go back and finish the loop on Ponderosa. It was nice but uneventful. When I came to the other end of Hoss I headed onto it for real this time. This is not my regular way of doing these trails and I’m a creature of habit so I don’t often vary my routine. I passed some snowshoers crossing Hoss, and right after them I met an elderly man skiing toward me. I said hi and kept skiing. Right around the corner I nearly crashed – there was a lynx walking away from me on the trail, about 20m ahead of me. I could hardly breathe. I looked around and there was nobody else coming. I grabbed my big camera in my right hand and both of my poles in my left and started skiing on the slippery track. Suddenly I was less afraid of going fast or falling – I wanted those pictures! The lynx stopped and looked back at me, almost as if it was saying, “Are you coming?”

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The lynx walked on the skate lane in the middle of the trail up a hill and around a bend. I skied after as fast as I could. I got pictures from behind but I really wanted pictures from the front. The corner is a blind corner and the cat disappeared at the top of the hill. Seconds later a guy skate skiing came flying around the corner toward me  in the middle of the trail and nearly fell because he saw the lynx just off the top. I caught up and both of us watched as the lynx walked about 5m from us. If that skier had been a minute or so earlier he would have run right over that cat! That would have made for an awesome picture!

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My glasses were fogged up so I just kept taking pictures hoping they would work out.  I kept taking pictures at the top and, while I didn’t get ahead of it, I did get along side of it and took some awesome pictures. It disappeared in the trees right after that.

Again I proved to myself that magic really does happen when I let go of control and follow my instincts. I was finally on the right trail at the right time and I was given an amazing reward!

 

50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year – Recap

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With Dawn Nelson at the Polar Bear Swim – blame her, she started all of this!

The dust is starting to settle after my birthday and the completion of 50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year. I’ve heard congratulations from many of my friends, and even people I don’t know. I’ve heard of how my adventures have inspired others to try new things, and even some people planning their own list of crazy things before a significant birthday. It’s amazing how we can have an affect on people just by being ourselves, and sharing our lives.

In the past year I faced some of my fears head on. Think dating… and trapeze school! I may not have conquered them, but I stared them down and made them just a little smaller, and a little less powerful. Each time I try something that fear monster will keep getting smaller – I definitely confirmed that in the past year.

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The Scream

I did things in the past year that were just silly, or spontaneous like driving to Kelowna to do an escape room, or getting my nose pierced with Krista, Monica, and Jody – I definitely didn’t see that coming. These are the things we hear about and think, “Gee, that sounds like fun…” but then we get to busy and never do them. I’m happy to say I did them… and more! What I discovered is looking at the world in a certain way becomes a habit. If I saw the opportunity for adventure I usually took it, and I put it out there for others to join me. The cool thing is, they often jumped at it, and then we were all a little more spontaneous or silly.

When I went back to Meadow Lake, SK, in the summer with my mom I went back to the place where I was born. It doesn’t sound like a big deal. It’s not like I was born somewhere exotic. But I’d thought about it for so many years and found all kinds of lazy reasons not to do it. We went, and it was a good thing for both of us, facing the past and the future. I’m so glad we took the time to go.

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I did some things alone, and they were magical. I hiked the Berg Lake Trail, having never done an overnight backpack before. I spent time with myself and discovered not only a beautiful outer landscape but a special inner one as well.

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On the Berg Lake Trail – my first glacier

Friends and family jumped at the chance to get crazy with me, and several jumped multiple times. I had enthusiastic bridesmaids for the Rock n’ Roll 10K, a group of crazy people did the Conair plane crash hike with me. Amanda flew to Florida with me, ran her first half marathon (actually ran her first anything), and rode rides with me while risking the fact that I could very well throw up on her. Krista, Monica, and Jody (all repeat Crazy Thing participants) even ate bugs with me… that is true friendship! And I can’t even count how many people generously supported me by helping me raise an insane amount of money for Alex’s Lemonade Stand while they enjoyed “dressing the fairy”. Dawn Nelson, the crazy woman who suggested my 50 Crazy Things in my 50th year, even did the Polar Bear Swim with me and together we encountered magic we truly weren’t expecting. There were also countless people who supported me in the best way they could – by cheering me on, reading the blog posts, and enjoying my frequent episodes of discomfort. Support comes in many forms and I recognize and appreciate all the support I have in my life.

I want to thank all of the people who helped me, participated with me, and cheered me on. I love all of you.

The biggest thing I learned, or maybe remembered, is that life rarely happens when you’re sitting on the couch looking out the window. It happens out there. Habits are meant to be broken, and rebuilt as new habits. Bars are meant to be raised. Fears are meant to be faced.

What next?

I plan to continue my crazy things – just not with a deadline. I plan to live a crazy life. There were a lot of things I couldn’t fit into my year. The list is still there and it is growing. I will keep blogging about it because people seem to enjoy reading about my discomfort.

My whole reason for starting this journey was to stop the trends I saw solidifying in my life. My life was getting smaller… I’m stopping that. I was saying no more than yes… I’m stopping that too. I want a life that is richer, and one that is filled with more great adventure and more great people. My next 50 years are going to be very busy!

Oh, and to answer that question AGAIN… I am still not jumping out of a perfectly good airplane or tying an elastic around my ankles and jumping off a cliff! Crazy… not stupid!

The list

So here it is, the complete list of my 50 Crazy Things with links to each of the blog posts. Thank you all for sharing this with me. It’s been a wild ride and I’m only getting started! Who’s in?

#1 – Run the Disney Princess Half Marathon
#2 – Ride a roller coaster without throwing up
#3 – Fund raise for a charity
#4 – Run a 10K and a Half Marathon back to back
#5 – Run half marathons on each coast in the same year
#6 – Join the circus (Trapeze School)
#7 – Embrace Obstacles (Foam Fest)
#8 – Walk above the water (Suspension bridge)
#9 – The Berg Lake Trail
#10 – Return to the place where I was born
#11 – 10X up the steps to the lighthouse in Cochin, SK
#12 – Let my cousin drag me around a lake while she tries to kill me
#13 – Hike to the Conair plane crash site
#14 – Go on a date
#15 – Beat the Blerch – Get out of control
#16 – Ride on a motorcycle
#17 – Wear a wedding dress
#18 – The Moustache Miler – spontaneous mingling
#19 – Drive home in my pajamas
#20 – Night skiing away from civilization
#21 – Do a virtual run
#22 – Follow intuition and rediscover magic
#23 – Go out for New Year’s
#24 – Polar Bear Swim
#25 – Make a snow angel
#26 – Give blood again
#27 – Eat a bug on purpose
#28 – Ski the hills without putting the brakes on
#29 – Learn to paint
#30 – Climb a tree
#31 – Go ice skating
#32 – Go rock climbing
#33 – Get passionate (Passion Party)
#34 – Snowshoe race
#35 – Improve at a sport (Cross Country Ski Lesson)
#36 – Downhill Skiing
#37 – Have headshots taken by a professional photographer
#38 – Let a photographer do a portrait
#39 – Get a tattoo
#40 – Visit an Escape Room
#41 – Run a half marathon without training – just because
#42 – Volunteer somewhere scary
#43 – Ladies’ choice (get my nose pierced)
#44 – Ski a half marathon
#45 – Write a screenplay
#46 – Street photography
#47 – Photograph star trails
#48 – Take a selfie every day
#49 – Self portrait
#50 – Turn 50 with a smile on my face