Have you ever seen an aurora?
Prior to this month I had only ever seen them in Alaska, when I was visiting my brother who was living in Anchorage. We were camping at the time and the celestial light show magically appeared every night of our trip. It was absolutely stunning and impossible to miss…a symphony of colored light undulating and dancing across the night sky.
So I was all in when Ron (my boyfriend/partner) suggested that we join other members of our local photography club for a night of astral photography in an attempt to capture images of an aurora and the Milky Way. I didn’t even know we could see auroras from here. But we packed up our gear and drove the three + hours up to Artist Point on Mount Baker (northeast of Seattle, Washington), meeting up with the few other brave souls who were intending to stay up all night to take photos.
Holly Davison is one of the club members who loves night photography and she's incredibly good at it. She's one of the very skilled and serious professionals in our group, as is Ron (and, no, I'm not, in case you're wondering...I am decidedly amateur). Holly not only arranged the trip, she provided me my first lesson on auroras.
Image Credit: Robson Hatsukami
I don't see anything.
As my eyes adjusted to the increasing darkness at Artist Point, I began to notice things I hadn’t seen before. I think having a camera in our hands will tend to do that to us. We begin to look for art and beauty in everyday things…
Like the rivulets of water from the slowly melting glacier slithering across the gravel parking lot on their way to lower ground. They caught the light of the rising moon in a way that transformed them into softly illuminated silver ribbons.
I heard Holly say, "Here it comes," to one of the other members, interrupting my contemplative reverie. I turned around to see her silhouetted arm pointing to (what I believed to be) the south, just above the ridges of the mountains. I didn’t see anything but a slightly lighter colored sky, which I assumed was caused by the lights of a town below.
"What do you see, how can you tell?" I asked her. In response she raised her camera in the general direction of the slightly lighter sky and without looking through the eyepiece or making any adjustments to the settings she snapped a photo. When we looked at the image on the back of the camera that slightly-less-dark part of the sky was green! The aurora was on the rise.
The magic of the pause
Head lamps illuminated, I followed Ron to his favorite location, 15-20 minutes up a rocky trail to the north. From a few spots on that ridge trail we were able to see two glacier covered mountain peaks, one to the north and one to the south. As well as both the Milky Way and the aurora.
As the night progressed, I could see more evidence of the aurora expanding above the horizon and waving slightly, like it was swaying in a slow dance while standing in place. But I couldn't see any color in it, at least not by just looking at it. It still only looked like a slightly lighter shade of dark sky.
Until I used the camera.
Perched atop my tripod and with the shutter speed set at 20-30 seconds, the camera captured bright greens and yellows, purples and pinks. Amazing! It was like magic…
I don’t know all the scientific details about the difference between what we can see with the naked eye and what the camera can capture in the dark. My understanding is that the pause…the shutter staying open longer and the more wide-open aperture brings in more light, a more complete spectrum of light (like the colors in a rainbow), than we can naturally see in the dark. Our pupils can only dilate so far, after all. There’s more to it than that, of course, but that’s specific enough for our purposes here.
If you’re interested in a bit more technical information: Here is an example of what one photographer created to show the difference between what the naked eye sees at night compared to what the camera can capture. His settings were pretty close to mine. Here’s another example, with a bit more detail about some biology of the eye.
Image Credit: Sherryl Christie
What are we not seeing?
When the approaching dawn began to soften the crispness and color of our images we trekked back down to the truck (as I recall, it was about 3:40 am). While I attempted to catch a few hours of sleep before we drove home, my thoughts kept circling around the stunning contrast between the vibrancy and fullness of the camera images and what I actually saw with my own eyes.
Since I experience nearly everything as a learning lab (often to the irritation of my friends and family), I can’t help but think about how this experience relates to our daily experience of living and leading.
It leaves me considering how much I don’t see, how much information I don’t have when I depend only on what I see initially, with my naked eye and limited vision.
At the moment a few things seem to be particularly relevant as I think about our role as leaders--
- Decision-making—what other input or data, and whose perspectives would be helpful for me/us to seek out and consider when we’re making decisions? What can I do to more fully utilize the wisdom of the whole…the naysayer, the quiet one, the over-the-top one, the analytical one, the yes person, the people person, the person whose ideas seem random and unrealistic…?
- Enabling my team—what gifts and talents exist that I don’t currently see? How can I/we create environments that enable people to know and to make the best use of their unique style, interests, or ‘superpowers’?
- Identifying opportunities—what opportunities have I/we not yet considered? How can I help co-create environments that inspire all of us to look beyond the easy or typical to the truly innovative and engaging?
Time lapse video of auroras in northern Scotland, set to music...for your listening and watching pleasure?
Image Credit: Lexi Ruskell
- QUESTION ONE:
What struggle or transition are you experiencing now that might benefit from some 'deeper seeing?'
- QUESTION TWO:
What works best for you to maintain your grounding in times of transition? And how about for those with whom you live and work, what do they value most from you as they are navigating transitions?
- QUESTION THREE:
Who might value a call or letter from you? Are you experiencing any quiet internal voices reminding you of someone and perhaps nudging you to reach out?
And I am struck by how much more beautiful is the full-spectrum aurora; the one revealed by the camera. How much more vibrant, more engaging, more alive. That’s how I want to experience life. How about you?
May you continue to see the beauty around and within you, with new eyes.