Through the 2017 Long Night in Three Photos of Southern Maine


I love the Winter Solstice. The Long Night, at once glorious and terrifying, marks the death of the year gone by and the birth of a new year with the return of the waxing sun.. For me it is time for reflection, as I stay up through the darkness to greet the newborn sun. One way I experience my own inner spiritual life is through art, and for the second year in a row, I decided to mark the three key milestones of the Long Night, sunset, deep of the night, and sunrise, by taking photographs.

I gave a great deal of thought to where I would experience each stage of the Solstice, venturing much farther from home that last year to be at the places that fit how the different aspects of the Solstice resonated for me.

Sundown at Timber Point

The odd wooden structures are as eerie as ever when I arrive at my sundown shooting location. I am sore, and a bit out of breath as I am getting set up, having had to rush my walk to the site after getting stuck at a train crossing on the drive over. I don't honestly know what these things are. Are they crosses commemorating a person or event, decrepit navigational markers, or something else entirely?

A short distance behind where this photo was taken is the disintegrating remains of a turn of the century lifeboat that was being restored by a young man who was called off to WWII in the middle of the project. When he didn't return, his family left the boat exactly as he had, and more than seventy years later it isn't long for this world. Combine that with the maybe-cross, and the whole area feels like a memorial.

Altogether an appropriate place to witness the unlamented dying of a brutal year.

Fuji X-T1 w/Fuji 23mm f1.4
3-exposure blend
ISO200, varied shutter speeds, f8
Processed in Capture One & Photoshop


Deep of the Night in the Cave at Dyer Cove

The true midpoint of the Long Night here in Southern Maine was eleven-thirty-nine, a time that is well past when I arrive at Dyer Cove. I prioritized a late dinner with my husband, who works second shift, over astronomical precision.

I am not where I originally planned to be for this stage of my Solstice observation. I had planned to shoot a lighthouse, with its beams of light providing a bulwark against the dangers in the dark, and did a highly successful test shot nearby the night before.

But that is not where I am meant to be in this moment. Many years ago, in the midst of another dark and scary time, the Norse god Frey told me that I had to carry my own light into darkness. After the year gone by, both personally and in the broader world, I need this light to be of my own making. Here in the cave, I know that light will be reflected back and amplified, as well as that the cave will provide a safe and sheltered space for the shot.

Fuji X-T1 w/Rokinon 12mm f2
ISO400, 15 seconds, f11
Processed in Capture One & Photoshop


Dawn of the Returning Sun at Fort Preble

The roads are already crowded as I get on the highway heading to Fort Preble for the first dawn of the returning sun, though I am all alone when I reach my destination. The sky is not promising, with heavy leaden clouds obscuring all but a small band of hazy sky on the horizon. The radio on my drive has been full of warnings that a significant storm is incoming.

This is not news to me.

Nonetheless, the sun makes an appearance, if only for a few scant minutes before disappearing into the clouds. Blazing a path through the gap of clouds at the horizon and the canon port in the fort wall, the rays of the new sun briefly warms my skin before the world is once again painted in cool shades of blue and gray.

The year once again has transitioned from waning to waxing, the eternal dance of the sun and planets a reassuring moment of continuity in an increasingly uncertain time.

Fuji X-T1 w/Fuji 18-55 f2.8-4 @36mm
ISO800, 1/80, f8
Processed in Capture One & Photoshop

Through the Long Night in Three Photos

Of all the celestial holidays, none resonate as strongly for me as the Long Night of the Winter Solstice. Poised at the cusp between the waning and waxing year, the Long Night is a pause in the flow of time. That moment between birth and a baby's first breath when all things horrifying and glorious feel equally possible, when the world holds its breath, waiting for an answer to the eternal question of “what's next?”

For several years, photographing the sunrise that ends the Long Night has been a tradition of mine. It is my way of acknowledging the return of hope and light in a dark world. This year however, I decided to incorporate my art into the fullness of my Long Night vigil. 

Part I – Into the Dark

The sun is already near to kissing the horizon when I arrive at the Camp Ellis pier for the first of my three shoots of the Solstice. The night's cold fingers are already caressing the dock when I get down to the place I've chosen for the first of my photos. Against an almost painfully empty sky, save for a few flaming clouds in the west, the dying sun's warm rays fight a loosing battle with the cool blue of fast encroaching shadows. 

Then, so fast one could blink and miss it, the sun is gone from the world; the Long Night has gripped my little corner of the world. 

Fuji X-T1 w/Rokinon 21mm f1.4
ISO 200, 1/350s, f11
Processed in Capture One & Photoshop

Part II – Heart of the Night

The midpoint between dusk and dawn sees me back at the pier, but this time I haven't come alone. Despite being unwell, my husband has elected to join me for this part of my photography-vigil. Neither of us wanted the other to be alone in the deep of the Long Night, when tradition holds that we gather with friends and loved ones to shelter against the darkness. 

The sight that greets us on arrival is part of the reason why I choose the location I did. Throughout history people have sought to beat back the night, and this night perhaps more than any other. The icy white of the pier's high-output lamps create a welcoming oasis of light, even in the Solstice's darkest hour.

As untold generations have before us, we draw comfort from that light, and from the knowledge that we are together, and not completely alone in the night. 

Fuji X-T1 w/Rokinon 21mm f1.4
ISO 250, 1/20s, f2.8
Processed in Capture One & Photoshop w/Topaz B&W

Part III – Daybreak

The sky is already lightening by the third and final time I return to the pier. The pale blue sky speaks of low clouds, though when I arrive there is a cloud break to the north that is beginning to turn pink with the coming dawn. 

Ten minutes later, as I am scanning the sky for any sign of the sun, just as my five-minute-until-sunrise alarm goes off, I notice that the promising patch of clear sky has been swallowed by clouds. Almost simultaneously, I become aware of a hissing sound familiar to those of us in the northern latitudes: fine particles of ice and snow skittering against the outer-shell of one's hood. 

By 7:11am, my first sunrise of the waxing year, the pier and I have been engulfed in a driving snow squall. I hold out as long as I can, but eventually the freezing wind forces a retreat. The sky beyond my windshield has warmed to a slate gray, heralding the return of the as-yet invisible waxing sun as I pull out of the parking lot. 

The Long Night is over, and I end my vigil having hailed the returning sun in absentia. This year of all years, when hope is a scarcity, it is tough not to see it as a troubling omen. 

Fuji X-T1 w/Fuji 35mm f2 WR
ISO 1250, 1/60s, f3.2
Processed in Capture One & Photoshop

Note - These photos, as with a ton of my landscape, astrophotography, and sunrise/sunset photos would not be possible without the amazing resource that is The Photographer’s Ephemeris