Thursday, July 29, 2010

Into the Night

Junior knows when we’re on the last walk of the night. He has an uncanny sense of time and often knows what I’m going to do before I do. Standing under a moonlit sky at 1:30am we listen to crickets, cicadas, and katydids perform their summer symphony. He’s thinking biscuit and bed. I’m thinking it a good night for a ride.

The nice thing about being married to an artist is that a middle of the night ride falls within the limits of normal behavior. Kim’s only misgiving is that she can’t come along. If my employer is reading this please note I am on vacation this week.

Night stimulates varied responses among riders. For some (like me) it evokes a time of stillness and reflection. For others, it's a time for terror of deer, drunks, and unfortunate interactions. I remember a book on motorcycle technique that admonished the reader to venture into the night only in an emergency and in dire, personal peril. I believe that. The heightened risk is real and I manage accordingly.

I arrive in town as the bars are closing and people are on the sidewalk making final social decisions. With camera in hand I walk across the street to make a few pictures. Too lazy to retrieve the tripod I sit down against a parking meter and steady the camera against my knees for a half second exposure at a grain generating ISO.

Forgive my photographic indolence.

On campus the pervasive illumination keeps the night at bay and lends a theatrical feeling to the surroundings. Night is somewhere other than here.

Kneeling in the middle of the street behind a little tripod I struggle to make a picture of the Vespa and the moon. I police cruiser glides by watching me work. Law enforcement everywhere knows that photographers using tripods constitute the good guys. I thought he might question my Vespa parked on the sidewalk but he departed in search of more interesting miscreants.

It’s 2:30am as I ride out of town in search of a more suitable landscape to breath in the night. I’m transported into childhood as the scent of Queen Anne’s Lace growing along the road reminds me of playing army in the fields and woods of years ago.

Standing in a field of corn and soybeans the moon illuminates the controls of the camera. Everything is painted in a cool blue gray with deep shadows hiding any real detail. Fireflies and the taillights of an occasional passing car provide the only rich colors.

My interest in making pictures wanes quickly. A few lame attempts to use the flash and I’m done. Dew has formed on my helmet as the temperature drops. I sense a nearby skunk. In the distance a car engine moves over the road coming closer and bringing it’s bright light with it. When the car stops I wonder who’s behind the wheel – someone concerned for the safety of a man in a black and yellow riding jacket standing next to a Vespa? Or is it just someone looking for trouble and sees a scooter as an easy target?

The car slowly moves away and disappears over a hill. I’m left alone looking at the stars and thinking it gets no better than this.


Keith said...

Tonight I came out of a meeting. As I turned the Symba onto the street the moon was rising to greet me. It would have been rude of me to ignore her invitation. I let her lead. she seemed to know what she was doing. The result: A little longer ride home than planned, but with the most excellent of company.

Steve Williams said...

Keith: One of the aspects of riding that came unexpectedly was how it has trained me to be open to serendipity and not always tightly gripping my own plans.

Good to hear that you and Symba were able to take a ride in the moonlight.

Ride safely!

cpa3485 said...

Those are great pictures Steve. But they always are, from you.
I love riding at night. For one thing, this time of year, it is much cooler. And you are right about a different level of attention needed. The sights and sounds are much different and very enjoyable.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Steve:

There was a time in the not-too-recent past when I would write dee imto the night, with a cigar in an ashtray on one corner of the desk, and a glass of whiskey on the other.

And about the time you cited in this post, I'd step outside to "taste the night." I never once was able t capture the moon, or its influence in decent photograph. But I've written about it to my advantage from time to time.

Watch for the deer on dark corners.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

Charlie6 said...

Steve, great shots....I've never really succeeded in taking good night time shots.....

must bring along a tripod and learn to use remote shutter release...

Ronman said...

I'm always inspired by your photography Steve. This post didn't disappoint. I've never been satisfied with any shots I've taken of the moon.

It seems that when I feel the need to get grounded once again I can always count on you. Keep doing what you do my friend.

Ride Safe


Conchscooter said...

I'm glad nobody ever told me riding at night was not allowed. Who makes these rules up anyway? People who don't believe motorcyles make for useful transportation?

Orin said...

Now that I live in a place where where a ride like yours would be possible, the notion of venturing out of town in the wee hours has crossed my mind, too. However, my only previous experience at such a ride did result in a close encounter with Bambi's mom, which luckily didn't come to grief because I was going slowly. In town, I've ridden through residential areas at midday and seen deer snacking on peoples' azaleas...

An unfortunate number of motorized 2-wheeler riders seem to buy into a perverse notion of Original Sin, hence the idea motorcycles should be ridden only under ideal conditions. Most such believers don't pay attention to weather forecasts, so I wonder what they'd do if they encountered a sudden rainstorm... stop and wait by the side of the road until it stops raining? One year it rained every day in western Washington for six months straight. What would these people do, sit by the side of the road and wait for it to stop? The police would discover their remains by the side of the road...

Scootin' Old Skool

irondad said...

I love riding at night, but the other end. From 3:30 or 4 AM until sunrise.

Your photos are sometimes technically correct and sometimes inspiring. Often times, both. Photos are really about vision, not scientific formulas if you think about it. I think it's vision that I'm searching for these days, now that I've figured out what the camera does mechanically.

You've clearly found yours, I believe.

Peter said...

Great pictures and night ride writing.
Night riding brings a sense of adrenaline for fear of the unknown. Maybe a rabbit or chipmunk, maybe a deer or raccoon. Almost made it cross-country on a 150 scooter, mostly night riding.

Steve Williams said...

cpa3485: Holy shit, I forgot to respond to all the comments here. Sorry!

Thanks for the kind words about the pictures. I still find some fascination making pictures of the Vespa. I have no idea why.

Night is a great time and if I weren't working and had no responsibilities I could easily see myself up all night and sleeping during the day.

Steve Williams said...

Mr. Riepe: I always pegged you for a romantic with a poet's heart. I bet there is a copy of Shelley's Ozymandias laying on your desk next to the whiskey.

Keep working in the night.

Steve Williams said...

Charlie6: With a sidecar you could easily load up a lot of stuff. Do you haul stuff that way?

Steve Williams said...

Ronman: thanks for the kind words.

Conchscooter: you're right--some riders have some odd ideas about what you can and can't do as a rider.

Steve Williams said...

Orin: Bambi is a definite party killer here. She is my biggest fear at night. Slow really is the only management technique that works. In my opinion anyways.

I'll be sure to carry extra food and water for stranded riders!

Steve Williams said...

irondad: It's curious to observe how our paths crossed in the blog world and my riding experience progresses as your photography experience does. Seems like the universe is in balance.

Early morning rides are nice but I have more and more trouble getting myself out of bed early. What's up with that?

Steve Williams said...

Peter: Your cross country adventure and blog are great! I need to spend some time going through it. Thanks for stopping in here and leaving your comments about night riding!

Charlie6 said...

Steve, having plenty of cargo room is not the issue....having the presence of mind to bring along the right equipment....that's the challenge.