Friends of mine in Maryland ran into some serious health issues last October. Since they had no children or close relatives who could help, I became their care giver. One person died of pancreatic cancer at the end of November. The other has a serious case of dementia and can no longer be cared for at home; he is in a nursing home in Cambridge, MD. It fell to me to clear out and sell their home. Consequently, for nine months I lived in Maryland most of the time.
All was not drudgery, however. First, I became friends with a neighbor couple, who were extremely helpful. I wanted to thank them, and pondered a long time about what would be an appropriate gift. They love their land and the quiet, rural location where it is located. I also wanted to take advantage of the relatively dark skies and open vistas that the Eastern Shore provides. So, I concluded that a photo of the Milky Way arching over their home would be well-received as a gift and provide me the opportunity to improve my astrophotography skills.
Some research showed that an early-morning (that is, 2:00 or 3:00 am) would be a good time to collect images. (Astrophotography can lead to sleep deprivation.) I ended up making a two-row panorama of eleven images each. That became a rather challenging processing task, getting everything to line up. But, I did have success, and made a print 18″ wide to give to them. Here is the result:
My second astrophotography idea came when I researched about Harriet Tubman, whose home territory is Cambridge. The Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Visitor Center is located nearby, bordering Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. I read that Tubman followed the North Star (Polaris) when leading her many groups of slaves to freedom in the North. I thought it would be fun to make an image of star trails around Polaris at the Visitor Center. That, of course, meant being there at night, and a cloud-free, Moon-less night at that! Given that I wasn’t living in Maryland, just working on my friends’ house–located an hour’s drive away–it was a while before sky conditions coincided with my ability to be present. The first attempt came in April, but was thwarted by too many planes and incoming clouds. Facing North from the Visitor Center meant pointing in the direction of several major airports. The second, and successful attempt came in June. By waiting until the wee small hours of the night (ironically, June 19th) I was able to minimize the number of planes crossing the field of view. Processing this image was also a challenge. Lights at the Visitor’s Center are not friendly to photographers, as the director had alerted me when I secured permission to be on the grounds after hours. So, the star trails were stacked from more than an hour’s worth of imaging, and the foreground part of the image was made earlier in the evening. Here is the result. I had a 12″x18″ metal print made to donate to the Museum.