Mad in Pursuit Notebook

star trails over Lake Ontario

Complex Minimalist Faces the Stars

Sept. 6, 2016. 3:15 a.m. I slip into some shoes, throw on a sweater, and position the miner's lamp on my head. Grab the tripod, with its camera already set for the night sky. Out the basement door to the lake steps. Position the tripod legs on the squares of reflective tape laid down for just this purpose. Check out the bubble level on top of the camera to make sure we're not askew. Then lights out.

I look at the bowl of stars above me. The only sound is lapping water. No dogs barking, no cicadas, no crickets. Behind me, civilization crowds in, with its own twinkling lights of computers, alarm systems, chargers, and clocks. Ahead is mystery. Ahead is the universe.

I use a remote to snap my first 30-second shot.

Minimalism is boring, I'm thinking to myself. The word sounds impoverished. The YouTube gurus say less is more. Throw away your stuff. Okay, I'm in the process: 22 boxes of books to the art library, 11 file drawers of paper to the recycle plant, 5 giant bags of clothing to the donation station, and innumerable piles of trash left on the curb.

My camera takes 30 seconds to process a 30-second shot. When the result appears on the LED screen, I take a beat, then click again.

Minimalism is not my goal. But the art life is -- elegant, purposeful, productive, whole-hearted. Deeply complex. And abundant.

And I mean physically abundant -- tools, supplies, and inspirations. I'm not that spiritually evolved to draw my ideas directly from a taciturn universe. I get it about limitations and constraints being a powerful engine of invention. I'm sure some genius can figure out a way to take decent nightsky photos with her smart phone, but I'm not that genius.

I'm not a hedgehog either. You know that old expression, "a fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing." Hedgehogs can challenge themselves with infinite variations of the same tune on their instrument of passion. But foxes like me are restless explorers. It is our tools and our commitment to craft that save us from being mere dabblers.

From 3:25 a.m. to 3:43, I take 15 photos. Then back to bed till 6. Over breakfast, I import them to Lightroom, make some edits, then send the stack to Photoshop as layers, where a Lighten blend mode turns the group into a picture of our earthly waltz with the stars over the course of 18 minutes.

Star trails are usually captured with a time-lapse set-up I don't have the equipment for, so I just click-click-click and improvise. I notice that up close my 15 shots turn the stars not into streaks, but into dots. They look like a woven textile, dyed in shades of indigo.

my star trails, magnified

Hmm, it's been a while since I checked my indigo vats outside...

***


Books by Susan Barrett Price:

THE SUDDEN SILENCE: A Tale of Suspense and Found Treasure (2015) Thailand: lovers of ancient treasure tangle with international black markets. Delia Rivera pulls Martin Moon back into the game and their quest turns deadly. In paperback and Kindle editions.

TRIBE OF THE BREAKAWAY BEADS: Book of Exits and Fresh Starts (2011) Time after time, Mary asks herself: Do I go or do I stay? She finds her power in her ancestors: Smart women turn discontent into action. An illustrated memoir in paperback and Kindle editions.

PASSION AND PERIL ON THE SILK ROAD: A Thriller in Pakistan and China (2008) The twin forces of revenge and redemption drive Nellie MacKenzie and Taylor Jackson on a crazed adventure into the heart of Central Asia. They grapple with issues of ethics, trust, rage, and bitter heartbreak -- as well as the intrigue of the international antiquities trade. In paperback and Kindle editions.

 

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