#3 Star Light, Star Bright
A few months ago, I was fortunate enough to witness and capture the phenomenal Perseid Meteor Shower as it lit up the night sky over Maui. However, as with many great photographs, there is often a noteworthy story that goes along with it.
On the night of August 13th, 2016, I sat, staring desperately at my computer. Spanning across my screen was a web cam from the PS1 Color All Sky Camera, which is mounted at the summit of Haleakalā. Every 120 seconds the image would refresh and I would get another update on the clarity, rather lack thereof, of the night sky above the mountain.
I had planned on making my way up to the summit to photograph the meteor shower hours before; however, due to a layer of high clouds in the atmosphere, there was no clear view of the night sky. I decided to stay up and wait in hopes that the clouds might dissipate and the stars would come out.
Finally, at 1:30am the sky cam refreshed for the 15th time that hour and I caught my first glimpse of a star. Two minutes later, I saw a handful of specks gleaming through a haze of gray. Finally, after a few more refreshing cycles, the sky cam was displaying a clear night sky.
I leapt from chair, almost knocking it over in my eagerness, and grabbed my camera bag. In all my excitement, I managed to forget my tripod, which I had previously placed by the door so that this exact thing wouldn't happen. After driving halfway up the road, realizing my mistake, returning to grab the tripod, and once again making my back up the road, I was finally on my way.
Just as I arrived at the top of the mountain, the waxing moon was setting, creating a faint glow about the horizon that illuminated the clouds drifting far below me. As I was setting up my camera gear in the frigid, thin air, I was constantly being distracted by steaks of light that spanned the entire sky. Brilliant shades of gold and green emanated from fiery slashes that the meteoroids left behind as they burned up in the earth's atmosphere, 60 miles above me.
As I photographed nature's awesome laser show, I couldn't help but think of my favorite comics from when I was a kid, Calvin and Hobbes. It really struck me how much Calvin's life philosophy had rubbed off on to me, especially seeing how, just the day before, I had spent the majority of my time exploring a stream, looking under rocks for the aquatic larvae of some of Hawai'i's native moths.
By the time I finished photographing the night sky, it was already 4am. Rather than drive back home to my cozy bed, I decided to stay where I was at the top of Haleakalā and wait for the sun to rise. Luckily, my past self had the foresight to pack a sleeping pad and a sleeping bag, which I laid out in the back of my truck. Thoroughly enveloped by exhaustion, I only had time to watch a few more meteors dash across the sky before my body surrendered to my weariness.
I awoke less than two hours later and dared to peak out from warmth of my sleeping bag. The frosty, early morning air had left the atmosphere free and translucent and I noticed the eastern horizon faintly blushing in the moonless sky. I begrudgingly crawled out of my makeshift cocoon and headed off down the trail with my camera and tripod slung over my shoulder.
Any minor regret that I had leaving the warm confines of my sleeping bag quickly disappeared as I began to take in the emerging sunrise. Stretching across from the north to the south were sweeping bands of red and orange and every color in between. Then, above the hidden sun, there appeared enormous ripples in the clouds. They seemed to slowly and methodically surge across the sky as the rays from the sun highlighted their peaks, exposing their dark valleys.
As the sky began to brighten and the surrounding landscape began to appear, I was witness to yet another exhibition of the morning's fantastic light. Looking south towards the volcanoes of Hawai'i Island, the cinder cones within Haleakalā Crater were being illuminated by the first, gentle rays of the new day's sun.
I sat there, at the edge of the crater atop a small outcropping, taking in the expanse long after the sun had risen from its slumber. Eventually, fatigue caught up with me and I had to pull myself away from my seat above the world. If I stayed any longer, I would likely fall into a deep sleep.
Finally, arriving home, I collapsed into my mattress, deeply satisfied. Maybe it was my sleep deprived delirium or maybe the sky and light were just that brilliant, but I certainly will not forget that sunrise any time soon.