Capturing the Magic

Recently a dear friend decided to invite herself to my deck to see a sunrise … providing she could pull herself from bed early enough and find some strong coffee. A comment that another friend suggested she get there early before the sun actually breaks the surface. “By then,” he said, “the magic is often gone.”

I could almost agree. For as long as I can remember pre-dawn light has intrigued me. Even as a kid walking to a catfish pond hopeful of a trotline bonanza. Yet, it wasn’t until moving here to Listening Stones Farm that I had a horizon crafted like a natural stage, and many mornings the show is worthy of an encore that rarely, if ever, happens.

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I appreciate having “edge” for definition and interest, including an occasional bird.

Each day, it seems, begins differently. Pastel hues with a softness in all colors and shades. Sometimes solitary, sometimes as a blended crowd. Perhaps blazing glossy reds and yellows, shouting strongly across the horizon like the voice of a cadre sergeant. Some days the sun is a mere peek, enveloped by ominous, darkened clouds extending 180 degrees in all visible directions. On others, an unseen choir provides a harmony of blues and purples with a just hint of yellow as the earth turns toward our star, ever brightening the sky in breathless speed.

Some days a sunrise is the only color you will see until another morning. Over these past few years I’ve made many images of both the pre-dawn colors and sunrises. And while my friend was basically right about what happens when the sun breaks the horizon, some interesting images have been made with sun balls, light glares and dawn shadows as well. Yet, it is the surprise of a coming color that captures your soul, that brings you back for more.


A sun “flair” brings added color to the yellow flowers in the home prairie.

Even before moving here to this Prairie Pothole region of the western Minnesota prairie, sunrises were my favorite time of the day. I find them much more interesting than sunsets. Years ago as we returned from a kayaking trip into the Everglades and was boating into Chokoloskee, I asked the young guide about the “widow walks” and rooftop decks on many of the houses in the small, quaintly palmed town-scape. “Sunsets,” he explained.

“So, what does one see?”

He looked at me strangely and replied, “Sunsets. You know, colors and clouds. You can see them better at rooftop. Either there, or you drive up to the coast somewhere.”

Prairie Dawninga

Although the actual sunrise often brings an end to magical hues and colors, sometimes a foggy morning brings a nice surprise.

Actually, the Florida coast and Keys are famously flocked to by sunset worshipers; folks who come to watch the sun sink into a featureless sea. I’m more like whitetail deer and largemouth bass. Give me features and edge to give definition and interest to the colors.

You don’t need rooftop decks here on the prairie, and my sunsets are nearly as free standing and captivating to the west as sunrises are to the east. To see sunsets over the summer months here on the farm you must hike down into the lower prairie, which isn’t necessarily an entirely awful experience. Especially when you flush pheasants or scare up a deer.

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My farm is blessedly located in the last remaining vestiges of the natural Prairie Pothole region, and the wetland over the hill from my bedroom window often gives me pause.

Yet, my eye gravitates to the east most mornings. My office allows me an east-facing window to the prairie where I can monitor the rise of the morning light. Often I will simply head outside to my deck with my camera before wading somewhere into the home prairie. Maybe I’ll jump into my car and head to one of several nearby restored native prairies, outcrops or wetlands, depending on the season and the types of grasses and forbs that are then growing.

My imagery is highly dependent on ambient colors for I use no filters, and I have neither the desire nor time to create something wholly unnatural with computer technology, adding fake ambiance and color. Some mornings the colors are stunning, and by that I don’t mean aiming the lens directly toward a rising sun like many do with sunsets.

Sunflower Dawn

Winter or summer, the colors of dawn are typically magical and interesting.

Often the favorable colors are off to the side, pastels over a sweeping landscape. We call this a “Monet light” and sometimes I feel as if I’m “painting the same haystacks” over and over again as I aim my lens toward the distant tree line east of my prairie on many mornings. I’m humbled when sometimes someone suggests my work is “Monet like.”


Some days, a sunrise is the only color you may see for the entire day, as was the case on the day I made my “Daybreak” image.

If there is any hint of fairness to such a comparison it’s that we both, a couple of centuries apart, were seduced by the light and hues set before us by a willing God (if you will). Perhaps it was in our collective nature, in our soft seduction, to place these magical moments of various colorful hues onto our respective medium. If our only kinship is such a seduction, I can live with that. Happily and gracefully.