Moon Flower Blues
We drove to the Juniper Prairie Wilderness Friday evening with the goal of photographing white pond lilies beneath the glow of a rare “blue flower moon.”
Alex and I noticed during a recent trip that the pond lilies were blooming. Fast forward two weeks and we’re sitting on the floor of Alex’s apartment dropping LEDs into a bucket of water to test for waterproofness. Our plan was to illuminate both the lilies and the surrounding water with blue and green LEDs, hoping that the artificial light paired with the ambient glow of the moon would result in a somewhat mystical and ethereal image.
Armed with high hopes, a sense of adventure and more bug spray than should ever be required for two people, we headed for the woods.
The designated pond is just a five minute hike from the parking lot; and while it’s known to accommodate frequent campers, Alex and I were pleased to find we were its only occupants that night.
But our enthusiasm quickly turned to disappointment at the sight of the pond. What had been covered with lilies just two weeks prior was now a barren wasteland … or so we thought. Unable to accept the reality, we dropped our gear and walked the perimeter in search of flowers, buds, anything we could poke with an LED and photograph.
We eventually found some less-than-ideal yellow lily buds to photograph and decided to return to the location after dark. We went back to set up camp and wait.
Despite our initial disappointments, we did happen to find a couple other photo opportunities to entertain us while we waited.
The first came right after I set up my tent and sat down in my chair to rest. I didn’t realize while setting up that the moon was rising perfectly over my tent and peeking through a small gap in the canopy. It was a happy accident, and I rushed to set up my camera.
The second photo opportunity was a gnarly old oak tree we found sticking up from the scrub. Alex and I have been eagerly planning to attach LEDs to his drone and fly a helix around a tree; and although it wasn’t on the agenda for this trip, we decided it was a good opportunity to test it.
It turns out flying perfectly precise helixes around an imperfectly shaped tree in the dark is more difficult than we originally anticipated. The drone sustained a fairly devastating crash, and we weren’t able to achieve the unrealistic shapes we had in our minds. But I think the results are still pretty cool, and it was good practice for the future.
It was late when we finished, so we decided it was time to rig up the green LEDs and head into the swamp. This is when the trip got a little weird.
It was 1:30 a.m. when we waded into the swamp. We tried photographing the lilies, but it wasn’t working. The pond was thick with mud, frogs and mosquitoes, and the lily pad stems made it nearly impossible to maneuver the tripod legs. We decided to give up and point our cameras at the frogs instead.
I’m pretty sure the frogs thought we were mad, because they wouldn’t even move. They just stood there in a sort of paralyzed trance at the sight of two human beings trudging through their home at two o’clock in the morning. If they had ever even seen humans before, they certainly hadn’t met any like us. We were in the pond for about 30 minutes to an hour before jogging back to the campsite to dry off beside the fire.
Sleep came easy that night, and I soon found myself dozing off to the grunts and groans of the frogs, imagining they were discussing among each other the significance of what just happened.
Only a few hours passed before the sun came up and turned our tents into ovens. We decided not to linger that morning, and we swiftly packed up our things and headed for the van.
It felt good being warm and dry, and I remember thinking to myself the last thing I wanted to do for a while was to wade back into one of those nasty swamps. That was right about the time Alex said, “Matt, there are lilies in the pond.”
We did the only responsible thing and got back in the water.
I returned from this trip with two key takeaways.
The first is that flowers don’t generally open at night. I’m sure this statement sounds obvious to everyone reading, but for some reason I really expected the lilies to be at least partially open when we arrived, especially since it was still light out at the time.
The second takeaway is a big one, and that is to always check, double check, and then triple check the details. It wasn’t until after I got home and processed the media that I realized the “blue flower moon” was actually Saturday night, not Friday night. What I photographed was only a 97-percent-full moon. And although this fact doesn’t change the images I brought home, it does change the context of those images. A photo of a rare blue flower moon rising over my tent is significantly more interesting than one of an almost-but-not-quite blue flower moon rising over my tent, even if the two images look identical.
Bill Gates famously said, “content is king.” But I think he only got it half right. It is the combination of both content and context that truly is king.