“always winter but never christmas.”
― c.s. lewis, the lion, the witch and the wardrobe
"dang...." i muttered to myself. the northern lights were not materializing as forecasted. it was a potential but, as is the case for lots of things in life, they are not a guarantee. i had left after work and was at a location i hoped to view them from; a location i thought would yield an incredible viewing experience. by the time i arrived, all the factors that pointed to right conditions for the northern lights were plummeting.
disappointed, but resolute of mind to make something of the trip, i got back into my vehicle and decided to go to gooseberry falls state park. although the wind was light, it was a pretty bitter cold evening. i suspected there wouldn't be anyone out there because of the cold; as wit was the middle of the week. i drove down to the shoreline past the campgrounds to where the parking lot dead ends the road. to my surprise, there was one car there.
i got out of the vehicle and put on my ice grippers. if you've never seen ice grippers, there are various kinds. i've got one pair for relatively icy spots and then i've got a pair for where thick ice permeates the landscape. here's an image of my grippers for thick ice.
they are a necessary piece of gear for photographers who like to hike in the winter. i've been in situations where i wished i had them and didn't. two of my more memorable ones come to mind, both a few years ago.
the first was in the city. i was trying to walk across a rippled field of ice at a community park to make a sunset shot. i literally was sliding my foot one at a time, not even going half the length of my foot as the other one moved forward. it was treacherous to say the least; i almost lost my balance a few times. but, of course, an image had to be made. the sun was setting quickly and i moved as fast as i dared for not having any grippers. i finally got to the location i wanted and sprawled out on the ice on my stomach. had there been a stronger wind, i could have been the "bottle pointer" for a game of spin the bottle or perhaps done a "stephen hadeen" version of break dancing. for the record, that version would not have been pretty. then came time to get up. oops...guess i didn't think about that before i laid down. that wasn't pretty either. but the image was worth it.
the second time was along the shores of lake superior. sometimes a dumb thing has to happen to really make something sink in. this was the point that made me realize i had to get ice grippers. i was sitting down on the shoreline making some images. the ice wasn't thick at all. but it doesn't need to be thick. i don't remember what precipitated it but i suddenly found myself sliding down the rock embankment i was on. it wasn't even steep. but it was enough that i started sliding. just before i hit the freezing waters of lake superior, my boot hit a dry patch. i was lucky. it wasn't deep water as it was a gentle slope out into the crystal clear water. nonetheless, it would have been a cold and miserable 4 hour trip back home in wet winter clothes. i regret to say my camera was left behind as i slid down so i was not able to make any images or videos of said happenstance. even if i had a remote attached, i have a hunch it wouldn't have been my first thought hurtling toward the icy water. you'll just have to trust me that it happened!
ice grippers on my boots and backpack settled on my shoulders, i walked the short distance through the woods to the shoreline. i passed the owner of the other car on the way and we chatted for a minute or so. he had just set up a couple of tripods that he was "acclimating" to the cold weather (to be honest, i'm not quite sure what that meant as i didn't realize tripods needed acclimating 😂) and was headed back to his car to sit in the warmth of the heater. he, too, was waiting for the northern lights, hoping the conditions necessary would return. i continued on in the progressively colder evening.
as i was walking, i was extremely grateful for the ice grippers. thick ice extended from the water's edge up the rocky shoreline a long ways. while i can't hear the crunch of the grippers breaking into the ice, i could certainly feel the crunch. i felt like i could lean in all four directions and not fall to the ground. that's how well my grippers were working! i imagined i could have been the doll character dick van dyke portrayed in the movie "chitty chitty bang bang". here's the clip i'm referring to in case you've never seen it or want to see it again.
i arrived close to the shoreline. i stood for a bit to take in the scene looking south and west. the sun had already descended below the horizon, daylight threw its last bit of light across the landscape in front of me before it gave precedence to the night. a crescent moon was also setting in the blue hour; its soft reflection was imprinted slightly brighter than the daylight on the ice-covered terrain. jupiter hung to the upper right of the moon, also soon to be setting below the horizon. i became entranced by this rather alien looking landscape. it was rocky; it was icy; it was dappled with light and shadow; snow lurked in the dips and trenches of this landscape and it was, oh, so beautiful in its otherworldliness!
barely forty minutes later, the sky was dark and proliferated with stars. i never fail to be amazed at the grandeur of the night sky especially in the winter. stars seem to take on a deeper clarity during that time of year. i don't know if that is a scientifically proven fact as my brief research didn't turn anything up. what i did find is that the twinkling of stars are a result of disturbances in the atmosphere between us and the stars. this rational explanation does not take away from the magical shimmering of the stars in the sky at night and, particularly, stars in dark sky regions. i'm easily enamored of them and could spend hours looking up at them.
by now, i had turned around looking north and west up at the stars. as my eyes continued to adjust to the darkness, the pilings and chains connecting them came into view. the pilings and chains were completely encased in ice. what looked like railings of sort between the ice-covered pilings were actually just chains hanging in midair. ice had crystalized and hardened its way off the chain all the way to the ground. it looked every bit as formidable and solid as the pilings themselves. i was fascinated by the wall of ice rising up out of this sort of frozen tundra and extending off into the night.
i couldn't help but think of the classic book, "the lion, the witch and the wardrobe". when we first encounter narnia, it is locked in the grip of an extended winter ruled by the white witch. but whispers of spring are rumored to be on its way as the lion, aslan, arrives to undermine the white witch and her hold on narnia. the narnia chronicles are still one of my favorites to this day. i made an image of this harshly beautiful scene backdropped by stars upon stars.
it was getting colder and colder. my fingers were freezing. i had heat warmers in my mittens as well as an attached inner liner that could be exposed out of the mittens by means of a zipper. using the remote required me to expose the liner to be able to push the button and trigger the remote. but a liner only works for so long in extreme cold. once the fingers get cold beyond a certain threshold, it is painful to get them warm again. i had gone past that point. it was now going to be slow and painful in getting them warmed up again so i called it a night.
i packed up my gear and headed back toward the car. after a short distance, a bit of panic overtook me. i thought i should have hit the clearing where the parking lot was but i was still in the woods. i'm usually careful to make a note of my surroundings so i know what to look for heading back in the dark by headlamp. my fingers were throbbing from the heat warmers in my mittens trying to warm them up. however, the heat warmers only last for so long. staying outside longer was not going to help my fingers. i needed to get out of the cold. i calmed myself down and walked back in the direction of the shoreline. i verified that i did indeed take the right trail leading back into the woods to go back to the parking lot.
i headed back down the same trail again. i reached the point where i had the bout with panic earlier. something still didn't feel right as i was pretty sure i should have gotten to the parking lot. i decided to continue on the path. i hadn't gone much further when the parking lot came into view. hallelujah! i had let my mind play games and convince me that something was not right when all i had to do was go a little bit further. it's amazing how the dark can mess up my orientation and confidence if i'm not careful. my sense of direction is already messed up with my hearing loss. that's why i watch for visual clues to help me know where to go when heading back. i knew i was going the right way as i could see familiar things. i just hadn't gone far enough. seeing that parking lot never felt so good!
i walked past the other car that had been there when i arrived. the guy was in the car looking at his phone and staying warm. i nonchalantly waved my hand at him as i passed like nothing had just happened that put me in a panic. i had to maintain that aura of a well-seasoned photographer/hiker you know! back at the car, i removed my backpack, pulled off my ice grippers and put them in the trunk. i got in the car and began to quicken the thaw of my fingers by rubbing them together furiously, painful as it was. the heater in my car takes "forever" to get warm so it was of little use to warm up my fingers. after a few minutes, i started up the car, headed back up the road to hwy 61 and headed south back toward duluth. finally, the temperature gauge needle moved off the red and i cranked the heat to high. with the heat blowing, the painful finger thaw subsiding and siriusly sinatra on sirius xm playing, the drive home was full of high spirits!
i'm not fond of the length of winters here in minnesota but i do love seeing the beauty of winter through the lens of my camera. Dressing appropriately goes a long ways to ensure that love of photographing out in the winter elements. are you a fan of winter? do you enjoy any winter activities? i'd love to see you share some of your favorite things to do in the winter. it could be indoors or outdoors. put them in the comments below. i love reading and responding to them all!
i'll be adding the second and third image above to my online store as well as my winter landscape gallery. be sure to check out all my galleries if it's been a while since you last looked. i regularly try to add new images that i think are worthy of sharing. if you have any questions or comments regarding the images in this blog and/or any images on my website, use the comment section below to ask or comment. i'll be sure to get back to you in a timely manner.
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thanks again for your support! i hope you continue to find my photography journeys and musings enjoyable and interesting! i will see you next time with "more images from a quiet world"!