Not far from anywhere on the North Coast the dark skies and solitude of nature quietly await. People travel great distances to come here to camp and hike in it, enjoying the beauty of our forests, beaches, rivers, and amazing night skies. It’s a wonderland to them, and here we are living right in it. It’s almost too good to be true.
It is easy to get used to the beauty when one lives in it and can see it any day. But how often do you visit your favorite nature getaway at night? It’s an entirely different world out there at night. We have nighttime skies here that blow the minds of the city folks I share them with. Yet we’re mostly content to stay indoors ourselves or scoot from one building or light bubble to the next, and never get away from the light. We aren’t nocturnal creatures, but I guarantee that if you can set aside a night to go stargazing away from the lights of human habitations it will be rewarding.
Throughout summer and fall the night sky is dominated by the great belt of the Milky Way. The milky band of lightness stretching across the heavens led to us calling the galaxy in which we live the Milky Way. During this time of the year earth’s night side faces toward the center of the galaxy, showing us a view through the dense plane of our more-or-less-flattened-pinwheel of a galaxy and toward its core. The core stands out in the Milky Way as the most detailed portion of it that we see. When our planet is on the opposite side of the sun, Earth’s night side doesn’t face the middle of the galaxy anymore and the detailed core is hidden to us. This seasonality to the view is what people mean if you hear them speak of “Milky Way” season.
Small beneath the stars, a friend photographs the nightscape on the banks of the South Fork Eel River. Popular in the daytime, we had the site to ourselves. Part of the Milky Way’s core is visible above the horizon, roughly that area with the greater detail and more reds and yellows. Humboldt County, California.
At night you have to yourself places that are otherwise popular in the daytime. I was stargazing on the South Fork Eel River with a couple friends when I took the accompanying photograph of one of them making his own nighttime photograph. This place was completely empty but for us, though during the day it’s a popular spot.
Soaking in the rejuvenating energy of the river and redwood forest beneath the cosmic rays of the galaxy, we stood tiny on the great stage of the universe. In between staring into the depths of the cosmos we captured images of its grand magnificence and shrunk them down to our little screens to examine with little oohs and ahhs of delight. The irony wasn’t lost… But at least there are now images to enjoy and to share, and that is special, too. And so I am sharing with you here.
Surprisingly, even on a moonless night you will eventually be able to see around you well enough to move about without light. The trick is to give your eyes a lot of time to adjust. It takes patience. But if you watch the stars, look for meteors or satellites, marvel at the Milky Way and consider your place in it, before you know it your night vision will have kicked in. You will see more stars, and you will be able to see your surroundings a little better. On the moonless night I made this image I eventually could see well enough to walk along the river bar with all its uneven rocks without a light at all.
At some point you will need light, though, and it helps to use a red light. These won’t interrupt your night vision. Ordinary flashlights or lanterns will deaden your night vision, leaving you temporarily blind again when you shut them off. I recommend one of the many headlamps that have a red light included.
To keep abreast of David Wilson’s most current photography or peer into its past, visit or contact him at his website mindscapefx.com or follow him on Instagram at @david_wilson_mfx .