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for want of a nail

A thing that happened this summer is that I went with a bunch of people to the lake to take photos at a classic car show. I am not what you call "lit afire" by classic cars but I like typography and logos, and classic cars have great names stylishly mounted all over them. Afterward, we were going to set up our cameras at the lake shore in the dark to attempt to shoot the northern lights. People say you can see auroras here in the city but I haven't been able to yet; this was going to be my first time.

My old camera was a two-year-old model  when I got it, and it was a good learning camera. It still is. I can take 85% of the pictures I want to take with that old beauty/beast. I had been wanting to upgrade, though, and the chance to shoot auroras was a good excuse to finally do it. I had been comparison shopping and reading reviews for more than a year. When I clicked "buy" I felt immediately sick, the way I did when I bought my first new car and the way I still do when I buy just about anything that costs more than a nice dinner. Snafus happened, as they do, and it looked like I wasn't going to get it in time, or if I did, that I wouldn't have enough of a handle on the menus to be able to set up the camera for long exposures in the dark. And then the snafus got unsnaffed and the day came. I put the new camera in my camera bag, with extra batteries and the necessary lenses. I caught a bus to our meeting area, jumped in with my carpool, and halfway to the little lake town, I realized that I had left the mounting plate for my tripod on the old camera, back on the top shelf of the guest room closet.

If I thought I'd felt sick on buy-date, it was a dozen times worse now. A huge part of the trip was ruined for me. You can't just hold a camera for night photos like that. The tripod is a necessity. And of course everyone was planning to stay out all night, shooting until sunrise, and then to drive back to Winnipeg after a diner breakfast. No one would be heading back before the night shoot, so I was stuck. I spent the day shooting car after car, chrome trim and tailfins and a goddamned Edsel, trying not to think about how stupid I had been, how careless. How mortifying to be in the group with a dozen people who would never have done such a thing. One woman kindly said, "Well, that's a mistake you won't make again." And this was the best and truest thing that she could have said.

We drove out to the shore and I sat down on a large rock. I considered leaving the camera in the van, but instead I brought it with me and propped it on a rock, aiming not toward the aurora display but just at the stars in general. Mostly I behaved the way I would have if I had gone to the beach just to look at the night sky. I listened to my friends and listened to the endless slapping of water on earth. I stared at the stars and thought the usual things we think when we're rendered small by the idea of the universe. I shivered, because it was cold that late at night in the lake breeze. I thought, again, about this blog and wondered if I would write anything about this night.

From time to time, people checked on me, sitting there in pitch black and not taking part. One man (very generously) let me use his tripod for a while and take some sample photos, so the night suddenly wasn't a whole loss. Every five minutes with his tripod was a photo he wasn't able to take himself and for a project like this, it was a generous gift. I munched on an energy bar and drank cold water and was eventually unbothered by the wasted time and my error and what anyone else thought of the ninny who remembered to bring her tripod and extra batteries and filters and memory card and cash and a tiny porta-pack of trail mix but not the one little piece that made the photos possible. I thought about books and Myron's parents and my family back home and at least 25% of the people I have ever met in my entire life. I thought about the nights on my school trip to Hawaii where we slept outside on the beach and listened to the water splashing all night, the first time I had ever done such a thing.

The thing I had never heard about auroras before is that sometimes (maybe all the time?), when you look at them from certain latitudes, they don't have that showy green and purple tint. To me, they looked like clouds in the clear night, not really any color at all, just grayish white and moving across the sky as if the wind were blowing them. In the photos later on, the colors reveal themselves. If this were going to teach me anything grand about life, it would be that it's okay to write about something three months after it happens instead of using it right away while it's fresh and green; it's okay to let things mellow or intensify. It's okay to recollect in tranquility, and maybe not even just okay but ideal. I'm not in any rush here, I don't think.

Next time I'll do better. (If you're reading this via email, the photo may not show up. I swear, it's there. Find the spot where your email says "display images" or click the post title to visit the page directly.)

Next time I'll do better. (If you're reading this via email, the photo may not show up. I swear, it's there. Find the spot where your email says "display images" or click the post title to visit the page directly.)