The waxing moon’s been getting high and bright these nights. Direct moonlight is bright enough once your eyes are dark-adapted, but when the ground’s covered in five inches of fresh snow, the reflected light from the powder exponentially heightens the moon’s radiance. Last night, I stepped out for a short walk and noticed what looked like low clouds over Lake Superior illuminated by moonlight. With the air temperature at –5° F, I suspected it might be what we locals call it “sea smoke,” a fog that forms when colder air brushes the surface of the warmer lake. Water in the air condenses into tendrils of rising water vapor or “steam.”
Thinking it might make for a nice photo, I gathered up my camera gear and drove to a place with a view. Though only 10 o’clock, Orion was already climbing the southeastern sky, standing more than two fists above the horizon. It turned out that moonlight made constellation photography difficult (too much light), and the steam by itself didn’t rise to the level of drama I’d hoped. But after a while I noticed two large ships on the move — one into Duluth and one revving up to head out of port. If I were patient, both would simultaneously pass through my camera viewfinder.
It was cold. Really cold. I stood in the blue moonlight and waited, listening to small creatures of the forest and the hoot of a great horned owl. At 10:30, after the sky’s brightest star, Sirius, cleared the fog, the inbound ship passed under it in “conjunction,” a lovely sight. Not long after, the moment came as both ships passed one another, each a different color from their onboard lighting: one orange from sodium vapor, the other crackling white with LEDs. Curls of fog enveloped them both. As they parted, I finally listened to my freezing feet and headed back to my climate-controlled home.
Whenever the sky is clear at night, remember to go out for a look. You just never know where it might lead. An unexpected photo, a feeling of appreciation or even a breakthrough on something that’s been bothering you. You might pay in cold feet, but that’s a small price.