WQW # 23: Winter Solstice/Winter Stars

“For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me want to dream.”

– Vincent Van Gogh

Here in the middle of our New Zealand/Aotearoa winter, we have just lived through our shortest day/longest night. So instead of summer we celebrated Winter Solstice. for us, summer is a distant memory.

From late May and into the month of June, there were some exciting celestial events to gaze upon.

Firstly, there was the alignment of four Planets at the end of May.

“For those observing from the Southern Hemisphere, the ecliptic, or path of the planets, cuts sharply down toward the horizon. This more vertical alignment means that Mars will approach Jupiter from almost directly above. Around May 29, Mars slips just to the right of Jupiter and on May 30 the two are side by side. Following this date, Mars will continue in a beeline down toward the horizon”.

I am fascinated by celestial events so I went out under the starry sky in the early pre-sunrise hours with my new tripod, and my 14 year old grandson. His younger eyes were most helpful when focusing on the faraway planets. On the morning of May 30, bright Jupiter was immediately left of red Mars. Venus shone below them, and Saturn was above them. By the time Venus arose, we lost Mars in the coming light of the pre-dawn sky.

This is what they were supposed to look like.     And this is what we got.

If you like the idea of capturing planets and star clusters there are still more opportunities in the June sky.  

The strawberry SuperMoon was supposed to be visible on 14th June. Instead we had over 21,500 lightning strikes, thunderstorms and copious rainfall amidst gale force winds over several days and nights. No night sky photography for me that week. I still held out hope for the rest of the month of June though.

“From June 19-27 the planets will work toward alignment that results in a row of lights across the northeastern horizon. Expect Mercury to dip the lowest in the east, and Saturn will show the highest. While Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn should all be visible with the naked eye, a telescope—potentially, binoculars could do the trick—should also let you see Uranus a touch higher than Venus. If you’re super fortunate with a quality telescope, you may be able to catch a glimpse of Neptune, too.”

Towards the end of June, all the planets along with the moon and a waning crescent will be in alignment on the morning of June 24. The moon will then move out of alignment and continue orbiting around the earth for a few days.” 

This is all I could find in the early pre-dawn hazy sky. I was almost cured of my ridiculous obsession with photographing the night sky in the freezing early pre-dawn morning.

“Metaphor for the night sky: a trillion asterisks and no explanations.”

– Robert Breault

Secondly,  the Matariki Star Cluster (Pleiades) is rising.

Manawatia a Matariki – Happy Matariki 

This weekend, New Zealanders enjoyed the first public holiday to celebrate  Matariki – the Maori New Year. As the Matariki star cluster arises in the Southeastern skies so does the new moon. 

In Maori  culture, Matariki is both the name of the Pleiades star cluster and of the celebration of its first rising in late June or early July. This marks the beginning of the new year in the Māori lunar calendar. Matariki was made an official public holiday in New Zealand in April 2022, with the first celebration on 24 June of that year. 

Matariki is an occasion to mourn the deceased, celebrate the present, and prepare the ground for the coming year. The ceremony had three parts: viewing the stars, remembering the deceased, and making an offering of food to the stars.

This three day long weekend, we have experienced the joy of having 5 grandchildren, two of our sons and their wives, and 3 grand-dogs, to celebrate being together for the first time in such a long while. Walks on the beach during the day and building a bonfire by night (in the gentle rain) and roasting marshmallows. 

The young cousins loved spending time together. We had a mid-winter feast and several new board and card games to play.  There was some healthy competition, and hugs….lots of hugs! Great memory-making.

We had rainwater, gentle winds, a calm ocean, good food from the land and the sea, walks on the beach. Our wellbeing and health was well and truly nurtured. We remembered our dearly departed family members, sharing special memories together.

The Pleiades (Matariki) is visible for most of the year in the Southern Hemisphere (ergo New Zealand), except for approximately a month in the middle of the Southen Hemisphere, Winter solstice.

The Pleiades is also known as The Seven Sisters. The nine brightest stars of the Pleiades are named for the Seven Sisters of Greek Mythology: Sterope,Merope, Electra,Maia, Taygeta, Celaeno and Alycyone, along with their parents Atlas and Pleione.

MāoriGreekGenderProvenance
Matariki AlcyoneFemale Well-being and health 
Tupu-ā-rangi AtlasMale Food that comes from above 
Tupu-ā-nuku PleioneFemale Food that grows in the soil 
Ururangi MeropeMale The winds 
Waipunā-ā-rangi ElectraFemale Rainwater 
Hiwa-i-te-rangi CelaenoFemale Growth and prosperity 
Waitī MaiaFemale Fresh water 
Waitā TaygetaMale The ocean 
Pōhutukawa SteropeFemale The deceased 

Thirdly, and coincidentally, I have just started reading Seven Sisters by Lucinda Reilly.  

The strong female characters in each of these books are based on the Seven Sisters of the Pleiades. I look forward to reading the series.

All this I discovered by following my fascination with the stars. Like the planets, my interests are also in alignment.

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.” – Stephen Hawking

Astrophotography is such a celestial challenge.

All eyes were raised to the dark skies when the lunar eclipse was imminent. There was to be a super blood moon.

“A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon moves into the Earth’s shadow.This can occur only when the Sun, Earth, and Moon are exactly or very closely aligned with Earth between the other two, which can only happen at a full moon. The eclipsed moon appeared as a faint red disk in the sky due to a small amount of light being refracted through the earth’s atmosphere; this appearance gives a lunar eclipse its nickname of a Blood Moon.” 

Weather forecasts scrutinised.  ✅

Potential locations scoped.✅

Astrophotography techniques researched.✅

SD cards cleared and ready ✅

Camera batteries charged……   ✅

It was nearly time for the big event – the night of the lunar eclipse had arrived.

BUT THEN….  in swirled the fog and cloud cover.  Down plummeted the temperature. Desperation set in and I was so frustrated – why did I choose to stay at Twizel instead of Tekapo?

Deciding that if I didn’t at least try, I wouldn’t see anything at all, so no matter the gloomy forecast, out I went under the foggy and cloudy skies.


I wore many layers of merino jumpers and scarves, thermal tights, a good wind jacket and fingerless gloves.  I even had my hot water bottle wrapped in lambswool at the ready in the car. And my thermal mug filled with turmeric latte.


Arriving at my location, I was not surprised at all to find that no-one else was there – apparently they were all at Lake Tekapo instead.  Sigh!

Undaunted, I set up the tripod and  took a few trial pictures.  Hmmm that cloud cover was a  bit tricky but at least I could see the beautiful moon intermittently ithrough the clouds.  It was still early as yet so there was still a chance it would clear so crossing my cold fingers, I set up the intervalometer and waited.  This was to be my first attempt at capturing a lunar eclipse. As per normal, I had decided on a capturing multiple exposures of each stage of the eclipse – a tad ambitious in hindsight. 

So here are my embarassingly pathetic images. But at least I tried….!

I did manage a few photos of the penumbral and the umbral shadows stage but very foggy so focusing through the clouds was a major issue.  Then the first camera battery died (of the cold).  Changing the battery meant taking the camera off the tripod first so that ruined the continuity of focus and composition. I waited a while and tried again. 


Several images later, the moon had almost reached totality – and you guessed it – the second camera battery also died (of the cold).   Me too, I grumbled to myself. By this time the clouds had almost covered the skies and the temperature had dropped to Minus 4 degrees. I drove back to camp through the ever-increasing fog and drank a comforting glass of red wine (which looked redder thats the Blood Moon).

Bloody Moon

And the very next day:  Social media were filled with images of the penumbral shadows, umbral shadows, partial and totality eclipse. I was very envious. 

But wait – there is another almost total lunar eclipse coming up 19 November 2021…. watch this celestial space!


SundayStills Nightlights – memories

NEW ZEALAND

A trip down memory lane for me. My journey into night photography started a few years back. After a few attempts at shooting the moon, I finally managed one I was pleased with.  

Super Moon

I experimented with fountain lights after late night work meetings

Seymour Square, Blenheim,

Then I did a night photography workshop in Picton, NZ. That was a lot of fun and I learned how to cope with bright street lights – and capture the stars.

Picton Harbour – Coathangar bridge

Lockdown 2020 arrived and so did light painting fun.

Light painting in blue hour

My most exciting nights under the stars were when I captured my first Aurora Australis the night my grandson was born in 2019, and then the Milky Way under the dark skies at Twizel, Mackenzie in 2020 (after lockdown when we could travel again)

TRAVEL IN EUROPE

My travelling night photos are a little more iconic – such lovely memories of some wonderful travels. 

2013 

A childhood dream came true when we visited Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen.

Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen at night

A magical evening at Le Louvre in Paris as the sun set through the pyramid. I went wandering all alone with my camera after a few glasses of wine so it is a wonder this is in focus.

Paris Le Louvre Pyramid

2018

Out to a family dinner at the Gotha Towers in Gothenburg, Sweden  when I spied these ‘swimmers in the sky’ overlooking he Liseberg Amusement Park.

Swimmers in the sky, Gothenburg, Sweden

On our first night in Croatia we explored the Monument to the Sun in Zadar.  It was difficult to photograph as there were so many people taking selfies although that is part of the fun  of travel- people-watching. A very impressive sight to behold by day or by night.

Monument to the Sun, Zadar, Croatia

The Greeting to the Sun  is a monument in Zadar, Croatia dedicated to the Sun. It consists of three hundred, multi-layered glass plates placed on the same level as the stone-paved waterfront. It consists of a 22-meter diameter circle, with photovoltaic solar modules underneath. Lighting elements installed in a circle turn on at night, and produce a light show.  – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monument_to_the_Sun

I hope you enjoyed my trips down memory lane as much as I did – sigh – not sure when I will get to travel overseas again though my next goal is to capture a nebula – and learn to photo stack!

Thanks for the opportunity to share my night lights.

2020 – My reflections and favourite images

January  

It was all about balance. In 2020 I was determined  to find a better balance in my life. It began well when I found this balanced rock sculpture.

It is all a bout Balance

February 

The weather was warm. We enjoyed the ‘Music in the Mountains’ rally immensely. Lots of rock music to dance to, jam sessions amongst the vans, friendly fellow campers (650 caravans and motor homes)  and a swimming pool to cool off in.

March

March started off so well.   I celebrated my 70th birthday with my NZ family and friends and was almost overwhelmed by an extra special unexpected  surprise visit from my Swedish son. He travelled 4 days to stay only 6 days before rushing back to Sweden before Covid closed borders. Birthday celebrations were wonderful surrounded by family and friends. And the very next day,  I captured my WWM – world wide minute at 5.47pm  “Smile and the world smiles with you”

10 days later,  on 25th March, NZ went into Level 4 lockdown.  That was a shock to us all. Was this the beginning of the end of the world as we knew it?  2 days later, It was a very quiet 49th wedding anniversary celebration for us. Up early the very next day we drove the quiet roads to the pharmacy to queue for our flu vaccines. Our first experience of masks and hand sanitiser.

Time passed slowly in lockdown however that was not such a bad thing. It gave me spare time to think about and work on my dream to start a blog. Photographing the light,  creative writing and  life stories – it was about time to get started and stop procrastinating. 

Lightwritelife was underway – in my mind at least. It was to take a few more months to publish my first post. Many evenings were spent researching, discovering blogs to follow, practicing some writing exercises, and searching my photo archives. 

April

In the meantime, I played around with a variety of photography techniques. Light painting has often intrigued me and I have tried a few methods. This time I enlisted my friendly neighbour and her daughter as the twilight descended. Social distancing between our respective bubbles was a bit tricky at times as the excitement grew.

May 

Still life flashlight  painting whilst still moving back down through Covid-19 levels. As part of my life stories writing preparation, I had found some family treasures so I used them as still-life light painting subjects.

June 

Winter was suddenly upon us so with just one last cloudy, moody sunset, it was time to head indoors – besides which our home renovations began in earnest – no time or energy to use my camera so I took the opportunity to edit some of my photo archives in the evenings instead.

I also launched my blog – exciting and nervous times.

Moody sunset

July 

Composite editing. My  first writing prompt “The page where the heart speaks words” fitted so well with my first attempts at composite editing.

"When the heart starts beating rapidly it is time. 
Don’t think about what others might think, just speak. 
Believe that the words will come.”
Freedom to dream

August 

At last we could take a break from the hard work this building project had become and we headed off to Christchurch to celebrate the 1st birthday for our 7th grandchild. It was such a joy to be part of his dinosaur party celebrations. His sister had missed her 4th birthday party due to lockdown so  it was a double  celebration.

A feast for dinosaurs

September

Forever grateful to the ‘team of five million’ led so ably by Jacinda Adern’s government. It was time to start our delayed trip down South.

My cousin celebrated their 50th Golden wedding anniversary – I was humbled yet elated to be asked to take photos.

Bridal attire – Golden wedding anniversary

A week of dinner parties with (my) girl cousins and their partners followed. Such fun to be part of their extended families too.

We were intent on exploring in our own beautiful country – well the South Island at least. Re-discovering Aoraki/Mt Cook, Tasman glacier icebergs, Milky way, astrophotography,  caravanning and salmon fishing in the Ohau canals with (his) cousins. I was back in my happy place – camera in hand.

After an awesome 6 weeks away, we returned to find the renovation pixies had not completed our home renovations in our absence – oh well it was back to the building tools and daily struggles.

October 

Our friends invited us to Golden Bay for a few days – it was so awesome to revisit some of our favourite places, camera in hand once again. Golden Bay really is Golden and Green –  and every colour in between.

November/December

Nearing completion of the total transformation, it was down to the wire as we were still cleaning up the newly glued vinyl tiles as our family arrived on Christmas Eve.

More family arrived as did their in-laws and friends – it was tent and caravan city at ours!  It seemed by each meal-time the numbers multiplied – starting at 4 adults and 2 grandkids for Christmas dinner, until suddenly we had 14 adults and 12 kids by News Year’s Eve.


After a tumultuous year it was a good omen to witness a full moon arising at 11.30pm, News Year’s Eve – and fireworks!

And so we farewelled 2020 and welcomed 2021. 

My 2021 pledge to myself:


Capture the light  –   every. single. day….. 

Write some words –  every. single. day….. 

Life’s for living – every.single.day…..

13. Maybe in the dark

Maybe in the dark
the stars will glow
when the clouds blow away

Maybe in the dark
I will be under those stars
marvelling at the wonder
of the Milky Way

Maybe in the dark
Let me be clear
Those stars don’t disappear

Maybe in the dark
The stars are still there
despite the wind and the snow

Maybe in the Dark sky
I will find myself 
Amongst the mountains and lakes
of the MacKenzie country. 

This is a response to a Flash Fiction prompt from ‘Putting My Feet In the Dirt’, Writing Prompts hosted by ‘M’.\https://puttingmyfeetinthedirt.com/2020/09/01/september-writing-prompts