Into the Long Night - Saco Heath
Just over an hour before sunset, with my camera belt strapped to my waist and traction spikes on my boots, I set off into the fog-blanketed gloom of the Saco Heath Preserve. Unseasonably warm rain pattered on the hood of my raincoat, and for once I was all alone as I traveled the slick boardwalk that wends through the woods and fragile marshlands.
The sparse heath and leaden sky seemed to me a fitting send-off for the final daylight of a year suffused with gloom. From a global perspective, the fact that the world didn't end in nuclear fire was perhaps the best thing that could be said for 2018. While political and cultural turmoil swept across the globe, along the way battering or obliterating the pillars of order and freedom that shaped the world my parents and I grew up in, illness and death also hit close to home for my family. Few people I suspect, will be sad to see this past year recede into memory.
Yet even on a wet and miserable winter day, there are glimpses of life and beauty on the Saco Heath. Shrubs and trees that have adapted to its hostile soil persist from year to year, and even in the deepest part of winter still to come, there will be green, living things to be seen there. In that too, the Heath seems a fitting place to see out the waning year, for there were victories and triumphs in my life since the last winter solstice as well.
The fading of the light isn't blatant the way it is on a clear day. Rather than brilliant gold sun being swallowed into blue twilight, the gray filling the sky merely grows imperceptibly deeper with every moment, the steadily climbing Auto-ISO numbers on my camera revealing what my eyes don't fully experience. At 4:08pm the alarm on my phone goes off, telling me that somewhere beyond the gray, the sun is at that moment vanishing below the horizon. I turn towards where the sun would be if I could see it, and shoot this photo, capturing the moment the world around me slipped quietly into the Longest Night.
Deep of the Long Night - Personal Fire
Deep into the night, I set off for Portland to shoot what I thought could be quite interesting photos. When my first shooting location didn't pan out, I headed to what I considered my “plan B,” where, after a treacherous hour of negotiating slick rocks in the rain, I fundamentally failed to capture the shot I had envisioned. Frustrated, sore, and soaked to the bone with chill water, I retreated to my car for the return trip home.
So, because sometimes the most powerful light in the darkness is the one we create for ourselves, I decided to build for myself a tiny fire to beat back the night. I was limited in the scope of what I could make, not having yet managed to get the permits required to have even a camp fire. Instead I sawed up some fatwood/rich lighter into small pieces and built a hot, smoky little fire in an antique cast iron cauldron. The following quite enjoyable forty minutes or so of turning my camera to the heart of the fire in the deep of the longest night went a long way to soothing the frustration I felt at the failure of my grander plans for the second photo of my solstice vigil.
End of the Long Night - Rural Substation
The dawn of the waxing year came gradually, without a blazing sun rising to banish the night. Instead, the world around me slowly and evenly brightened, as behind thick shrouding clouds the sun began its march across the sky. The sun didn't even create a brighter spot against the flat, even, gray filling the world. Without the Photographer's Ephemaris to tell me where and when the sun was rising, I would have been unable to pinpoint its location or note when exactly the waxing year had begun. After a half hour past sunrise, I reluctantly returned home to finally get some rest.