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Outer Banks Guide > Outer Banks Blogs > Eve Turek's Natural Outer Banks Blog

Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Light at the Solstice
Winter Solstice. Longest night/shortest day. First day of winter, December 23 this year. Whatever we call it and however we mark it, astronomically speaking, the day can be thought of as the almost imperceptible tipping of the balance between daylight and dark. In our hemisphere, on the first day of winter, the highest point the sun reaches—at noon—is nonetheless the lowest high-point of the year. As of Christmas Eve, the sun begins to climb again and the amount of daylight in the day begins to slowly increase. I’ve thought of the first day of winter as all these things, over the years.

Writing in my journal, anticipating the day a few mornings ago, I had another thought altogether. The sun is also at its furthest point south in its rising at dawn. I like the fact that right at Christmas, right at the New Year, the sun can be thought of as both east and south, directions I associate with spring/summer, with new beginnings, with vision and clarity, and with connection and the heart.

Light is everything to a photographer. This time of year, when days end early and so many have morning and evening commutes in darkness and spend their days working indoors, a little sunshine goes a long, long way. So in honor of the season, this blog is all about light, late fall light, Outer Banks style.

Earlier this month, I began noticing a predominance of cirrus clouds overhead in late afternoon. I have an old story to share, before I tell you my new one! In late November 2006, after a series of northeast storms, I walked the beach looking at my feet, photographing all the neat stuff that had washed up: whelk egg cases and lots of shells and little pieces of driftwood with barnacles, you name it. I was walking a beach access in Kitty Hawk, late afternoon. There were lots of wispy cirrus clouds overhead, and it was cold. Intent on all the treasures the sea had given, I was not paying much attention to either the sea or the sky when I felt, or heard in my mind, a suggestion: look up. Well, I didn’t. As I said, the stuff at my feet was really neat! The suggestion grew more insistent, louder. Look Up! So I did. What I saw took my breath and I literally bent backwards to lift my camera and point it straight up at the clouds over my head. An upside-down rainbow was there, like some giant smile in the sky! I had to google to find out what it was: a circumzenithal arc, formed by those cirrus clouds bending the sunlight at just the right angle, in an otherwise clear sky. They form only when the sun is in a very narrow angle to the horizon, in late afternoon or early morning, and they don’t last long at all. In less time than it has taken you to read this, it vanished. I never saw one again, although I look up now every time I see cirrus clouds and wonder, is today the day?

So back to the present. Predominance of cirrus clouds overhead. I looked up every afternoon but no upside-down rainbows. But on December 6, there was a strikingly beautiful full sun halo in the western sky in late afternoon—with sunspots on either side, and with a minor arc at the top! I’d never seen all three at one time before so I ran for my camera and my wide-angle lens. And there in the sky, above the halo itself, was a circumzenithal arc!! All four elements present at one time, and over the frame shop and gallery, too!
The next day was equally pretty but no arcs in sight. I went to the ocean about 4 pm and what caught my eye again was light, a path of light that led my eye and heart right to the sea. It took me a couple of minutes to figure out that the angle of the sun was just right to shine through the railings of the beach access platform and create this pathway of light. Like the arc, it faded very fast as the sun sank and clouds moved to diffuse the light source.

On December 8 there were sunlit flailing cirrus clouds but no other optical phenomenon, at least not while I was out looking up!

Then on December 18 my Westie woke me at 4:48 a.m. Yes, precisely 4:48! Out we went—he’s such a good dog, he wakes me rarely that early in the morning, so I knew he meant Business. Taking him out meant I also had to take the 1-year-old Sheltie in her turn. By then it was after 5, and I was awake with a capital “A”. The moody grey skies of the past couple of days seemed to have brightened, as I could see stars and wisps of cirrus clouds overhead.

I decided to let the dogs crawl back in bed with Pete but I stayed up and quiet in the living room and left the house in time to photograph the sun rising well in the south, from the beach at Jennette’s Pier. By then the cirrus clouds had either dissipated or moved on, and the morning sky held mostly puffy cumulus clouds. I waited for the sun to climb above them, hoping for the glorious crepuscular sunrays that always make me smile and warm my insides, no matter how cold the weather. And it was cold! I’d left my gloves at home and my fingers were freezing—but it was all worth it to watch the sun break through the clouds. The tops of some of the clouds toward the north glowed peachy-pink for just a little bit, and the ocean was a bright silver-blue-green I’ve never learned the word for. The sun climbed higher and was completely obscured by another layer of cloud. I waited, thinking the sunrays might just be spectacular—the reward for all of us is below.

Light-light-light. On this, the eve of the winter solstice, right before Christmas and the New Year, this is my wish and hope and intention and prayer for each of you: that 2012 will be for you a year of Light.

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Sky smile, aka Circumzenithal Arc. All the ingredients were there: wispy cirrus clouds, sun low in the afternoon sky, and my attention to my inner prompting: Look Up!

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See the halo? See the sundogs, one on each side, like a dab of rainbow? See the rainbow colors at the top of the ring? Now...look up. See, near the top edge of the picture, a Sky Smile?

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Here is the halo over Yellowhouse.

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Follow the Light. Good advice in any season.

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All kinds of clouds, including some cirrus clouds, over the ocean in late afternoon.

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Flailing cirrus clouds the next day--but no more arcs.

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Dark and cold when I set out for the beach, kind of like winter often is. But worth the wait for the sun!

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The sea in filtered morning sunlight.

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I call this Morning Glories. Crepuscular Rays! Spectacular sunbeams at that! Definitely worth staying put while the sun climbed higher behind the clouds.

posted by eturek at 10:40 PM

Comments [4]

Sunday, December 4, 2011
Late Fall Light
I wrote in my journal this morning that the first day of winter is only 2 1/2 weeks away--doesn't seem real, given the long run of Indian Summer days the Outer Banks has enjoyed throughout November and now in the first part of December as well. We're having incredible sky shows, combinations of cumulus and cirrus clouds with the clearer air of lower humidity adding to the sparkle. I decided to begin closing the gallery at 4, rather than 5 now, so that I don't keep missing the sunsets---or imposing on Pete to gallery-watch so I can leave a little early to shoot, when he has so much to do in the frame shop! Next year, I think I will change our closing time to coincide with the ending of Daylight Savings Time so that I can leave before dark and enjoy late light.

Thanksgiving week was especially glorious. On Thanksgiving Day, a family of pileated woodpeckers showed up in our yard and flew noisily back and forth between our front yard trees and our neighbor's dogwood. I've never seen one eat dogwood berries before so that was a treat. The larger treat is much more personal: pileateds showed up, on a regular basis, whenever Patrick was here visiting from CT. I'd go weeks or months without seeing one, until he came. I finally told him that I thought the bird was a special companion for him, in a native American sense. How special for our family that the first pileated I have seen in months came on our first Thanksgiving without him here at table.

Earlier in the week the clouds reaching from sound to sea were amazing, beginning in early afternoon. I finally had a chance to go to the beach and watch them roll in and darken the sky about 3:30 pm. Not quite 90 minutes later, all while a spectacular sunset was making up in the west, the eastern sky glowed a deep pink-red underscored by the lingering grays of the cumulus clouds that had given a brief shower an hour earlier, and produced a pink-hued rainbow right at sunset over the ocean. Spectacular!

Cormorants are on the move now in the afternoon near dusk, huge long lines and Vs of them. I went out on Jennette's Pier to look for dolphin but found cormorants--and a loon instead! That loon was a treat, too--closest I have ever been to one. I could see the feather pattern so clearly that gives lone tiny feathers with two white dots at the tips, like eyes.

Over Thanksgiving grandson Patrick and I tramped around a bit on Pea Island. The clouds that day were amazing too, and we found all sorts of treasures, including some driftwood. The stump below was too big to haul home so I was content to take its picture to remember it, and our day, by.

Finally, I had an appointment to meet an artist at Yellowhouse 2 hours before we usually open. That put me out and about on the beach at 9:15 a.m., when the light is still beautiful this time of year, with the sun low in the south and lighting up the northward beach. While I went to a familiar location, I went at a different time--time of day, time of year, so the lighting made everything look much different than it does in late afternoon, when I usually am tramping about. Sometimes a change as simple as varying the time of day I go to a location provides enough of a different perspective to get my attention.

All these gleanings of a gratitude-filled season are below. As always, I am grateful to share them with all of you.

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Beautiful cumulus clouds racing eastward. Taken about 3:20 pm.

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Here's the cloud show a scant 25 minutes later! In another half-hour, I was getting rained on.

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Once the rain came, I left the beach to do a couple of errands, and saw the sunset looked amazing...but then I saw what was happening over the ocean. I opted to go back to the beach for the pink sky and rainbow.

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Here's a wider shot showing the combo of pink and gray clouds. The actual bow faded fast!

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Here's my different-time-of-morning beach walk. I tend to either be up for sunrise (not too often, lately) or shoot in the afternoon. This time of morning--couple hours past sunrise-- I am almost always inside, not outside. I love the lighting here!

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Our special Thanksgiving guest. Hi, baby. Pileated Woodpecker...not pecking for grubs. Feasting on berries instead!!

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Cormorants at dusk. Four out of...many tens of thousands.

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And a loon!!! I am still excited over this encounter, near the end of Jennette's Pier.

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Sometimes deliberately changing perspective means changing lenses. Instead of photographing waves with my typical wide-angle, I chose my wildlife lens because I loved the smooth patterns & colors near dusk.

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Tramping about Pea Island with my 13-y-o grandson Patrick is its own reward, so coming across this great photogenic stump in sweet light was a bonus!

posted by eturek at 11:09 AM

Comments [2]

(c) 2009-2010 Eve Turek & OBX Connection, all rights reserved - read 546512 times

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