T he jeep’s headlights illuminate the rut ted road. The moon does the rest, bathing the dunes all around in a soft glow that gives the place a nostalgic feel. Time seems to move forward and backward in the headlights’ loom. This is part of the romance of moonlight, I think. Is this here and now or perhaps there and then?
We proceed on with stunted cedar trees encroaching on either side and taller ones out in the moonglow. Grass bends in a wind which has journeyed over the Adirondack Mountains, the Atlantic Ocean, Edgartown and Cape Pogue Pond. By the time it reaches us it is gentle — and warm. A big cold front is moving down from the west which has hastened this photographic trip to the Cape Pogue lighthouse. In the next few days, the sky will cloud up and the wind will shake the camera, even on its tripod, making long nighttime exposures impossible.
I am fascinated by night photography because the light is so revealing of things lost in the glare of daylight — subtle shadows and colors, for example. When the moon is up, as it is now, it paints the clouds and they shimmer. If the moon is too bright you lose the stars so you choose an evening when it’s one quarter full — as it is on this night.
I find myself looking for the moon during the day so I can predict where it will be at sunset. I think of the planet voyaging around the sun with the moon circling it in a gigantic cycle that has encompassed the lives of my parents and will likely do so for my grandchildren.
We arrive at the lighthouse with daylight fading and the western sky rugged with cloud. I take a few photographs of the dusk scene, but I’m really just passing time, waiting for the moon to assert itself and the stars to come out.
With nightfall, the clouds disperse leaving wisps hovering around the rising moon. The western sky is clear. The stars arrive. The lighthouse pulses, once every six seconds. It is visible nine miles to sea.
I busy myself now with flashlight, camera and tripod, looking for the perfect composition. Should I include those bushes over there? Is the road an interesting way to draw the eye to the scene? Is it best to shoot a silhouette or take advantage of the moon’s frontal effect? Soon I’m immersed in these questions, mostly unconsciously, moving around, lengthening then shortening the tripod, opening the shutter and counting off time to allow the camera to soak up the reflected glow from the light house. I’m collecting photographs as one might butterflies. They are flitting gossamer things. I won’t know if they’re good until tomorrow, when, back at the computer, I pick and choose among them — coffee in hand. But, for the moment, I’m engrossed in the present as the planet spins toward daylight in its constant cycle from there and then to here and now.
Sam Low lives in Oak Bluffs and is a frequent contributor to the Gazette.