Rural North Dakota is probably not the first place most students desire to recover from a grueling semester. Being fifty miles from a bustling metropolis in a state where 15,000 folks makes a city the fifth largest city means that there is little to disturb peace and quiet.
Living in a downtown neighborhood means a constant state of noise and distraction. A car alarm began sounding off when I sat down to write this article (and continued for an hour). Emergency vehicles unpredictably blare sirens. There are drunkards singing while roaming over to the park across the street.
Too often those drunkards are fighting with each other as I am beginning to relax in bed. The worst is when one person can’t be heard, like when they screaming into a mobile phone. If you’re going to make your shit known so boldly, I deserve to hear both sides of the story.
Aside from being treated to a spectacular sunrise on the unobstructed prairie in rural North Dakota, the lack of light pollution is an absolute treat. Last year, I took the opportunity to dip into the challenge of astrophotography. Unfortunately, the weather was absolutely bitter cold. Twenty below zero with sustained wind chills fifty below does not provide much opportunity for experimentation.
I hoped that it would go better on this trip but the winter solstice moon obstructed good astrophotography. The first day was gloomy but the sky quickly cleared so I geared up and headed into the corn fields.
Full moon rise over rural North Dakota
The temperature was not below zero and the mail a half mile down the road needed retrieval. I headed down that gravel road and then into the field. Apparently, I totally forgot the moon project for that astronomy class two semesters ago. The full moon rises with sunset and then stays out all night.
Scouting a good sunset location is difficult when the landscape is virtually flat. There are hills but most of them do not provide enough height to gain a higher environmental perspective. The wildlife lookout that kept me warm for astrophotography was not a great location for a sunset.
Another likelihood is perhaps that the silence and open space is disorientating to someone used to constant environmental disruption. You know, like trying to write about a trip to rural North Dakota over car alarm.
Weather thwarts shooting goals
In my disorientation, I walked to the nearest farm and silhouetted its buildings against the bright orange backdrop. Let us pretend that the corn stalk placement in the foreground is an intentional visual depth cue. Though perhaps an urban photographer not knowing exactly what to do with a rural landscape is forgivable. The now unfamiliar silence of nature and space left open too many possibilities.
The plan for the field shoot was to capture images for an article about working with outdoor lighting conditions. Proper execution requires a remote but it of course refused to work. Snagging a handheld shot from a prime moonrise location would have to suffice. The weather might cooperate tomorrow.
Mother nature refuses cooperation
Wind ahead of the post-holiday blizzard provided a lovely, if foreboding, textural depth cue. Fortunately, the nine to thirteen inches of snow predicted traveled more easterly than the model first projected. Some places in the Upper Midwest received two feet of snow.
The weather also did prevent eagerly testing out that new drone and filming cool footage without strict rules, though.
The sky is generally crystal clear following a big winter storm. Alberta clippers also seem to bring in extreme cold behind them. These are prime sun dog conditions, which is a halo caused by sunlight refraction through ice crystals.
All in all, a trip to the country was a nice contrast to busy city life. While absolutely unobstructed stargazing is noteworthy, sometimes the experience is worth more than documentation.
All photos by Benjamin Pecka.