Christmas Tradition

Merry Christmas!… and a happy New Year. It is Amazing that in 5 more days 2014 will be here, and we once again will mis-write the date on our checks as many times as it takes to break a habit – a debatable number.

I’ve had a busy last few weeks of the semester and am looking into the next one. With graduate level statistics and thesis development on the docket, it will be busy for sure.

Being home for Christmas and the Holidays has been a real treat, and this more even more than others, I’ve really felt blessed to be home and back in the tradition of Christmas. The house where I grew up is adorned with lights over the doors and windows and stockings on the Chimney. Every year after Thanksgiving my brother and I would haul box after box of Christmas decorations from the basement and place them up around the house. Two balsam fir Christmas trees, often harvested from the woods around Grand Rapids, Minnesota were put up. One of them ‘belonged’ to my brother and I; it was garnished with lights and personal ornaments collected through the years. The other tree was for my parents.

One of the decorations put up in the house is the ceramic village pieces which my mom hand-painted through the years. The pieces are set up as a village lit by LED lights and represent a quiet town or village. These pieces drew me, and for some reason I have never looked at them as closely as I did this year. The detail put into them upon close inspection brought them to life. The small eyes of carolers have pupils, the tiny window displays of toys are colorful and distinct, and each house is painted uniquely and ornately. I want to do some photography of this Christmas Village and thought the results were just fun to look at and full of life!

The Boys pull a yule-log past the toy store in Christmas Village.
A group of kids get pulled by their dog past the Doctors office in downtown Christmas Town.
Carolers sing in front of the candy shop near the corner or “Ian/Sean” street – named for my brother and I.
A sleigh ride goes past the east end of town.
Throughout Christmas town our family is built into the village. The focus of this image is meant to show off “Johnson’s” Craft shop. In the foreground a couple of shoppers hall gifts in front of the candy shop.
In the Northeast corner of town, up on the hill, the church is lit up with the Nativity in front.
For some reason school is still in session in Christmas town, and it’s all lit up.

After taking pictures of the village I couldn’t help but feel more connected to it. Taking pictures up and down the alleyways gave it life meaning. I have been looking at this village for more than 15 years without ever appreciating the Christmas tradition of it. Here’s a look at Christmas town from a distance, I hope I’ve given you some appreciation of it through these close-up shots of life in Christmas town.

Christmas town from a distance.
Christmas town from a distance.

Of course Christmas Tradition is also about a Christmas tree and family. Below is the tree this year and a group shot of my immediate family. If you have Christmas traditions and stories I’d love for you to post them below. This is the best time of year!

The Johnson Family 2013 family photo
The Johnson Family 2013 family photo
The Johnson Family Christmas tree tradition.
The Johnson Family Christmas tree tradition.

In Pursuit of the Aurora : A Personal Best

Ahoy Readers!

Tonight left me speechless, and if you had seen the explosive, pulsating reds and greens across the sky, you may have been too. DISCLAIMER : Poeticism, superlatives, and lists of glamorous, stunning, beautiful adjectives will abound in this post, for this was no mere night and cannot be described with just plain words :P. If this grammatical superfulism is not your style,  I would not blame you for skipping straight to the images on this one.

The aurora tonight was viewed about  5 miles from Murphy Dome. It started out as small pinnacles of colorless light in the sky which reminded me of shafts of lights streaming through a window into a dusty room — the cosmos is indeed full of dusty rooms. At first I thought the northern lights were just lights from the town. But it was not so. The lights began to grow brighter and quickly showed their emerald sheen.  They grew into blended columns of dark green, light green, lime-green, and moss green light that filled the northern sky. The green gave way to red, but by give-way I don’t mean they were replaced entirely. Rather. the towers of green pierced through the red back drop that saturated the sky to the north-northwest. The reds acted very differently than the greens, and seemed to never pick a form. They chose to just be the canvas for the greens to dance upon. And dance they did. Flowing curtains of green morphed and changed so rapidly that remembering what it used to look like only tore your attention away from concentrating on its new shape. Because the band of Lights split the cosmos going 180 degrees from horizon to horizon, the direction that you craned your head was important to your viewing experience. I would recommend the UP -Crane because the UP-Crane allows you to view the nucleus of the aurora. Above your head, on nights such as this was one, the core of the Aurora reaches into the depths of space. The pillars which serve to block the sky in banded patterns to your left and right seem to stretch out and lengthen as you stare directly up at them. Like balancing a pencil on  your nose by its eraser and then focusing on its sharpened tip. This portal of time feels like it would lead you to another dimension if you could jump just high enough to each it. The nucleus of the aurora is often the fastest changing. It grows and contracts while sending out electric pulses which pop, undulate, and meander across this sky. The beauty of the Aurora in its complete randomness.

Getting away from some of the poetry, I’d like to talk about my next upgrade in Aurora photography. First it was know-how, second it was cold-beating insulation (still in development) and now one of the next steps in my Aurora photography is a wide angle lens. However, I’m not that versed in lenses (especially old ones) and I would love to hear opinions on wide angle lenses for Micro-four Thirds. I’m looking for anything that would give me wider than 18mm ( in 35mm equivalent) and have considered old c-mount lenses (Cosmicar 8.5mm f/1.5) as well as MFT such as the panasonic 7-14 mm f/4.0. Leave a comment if you have any thoughts!

Without further ado, here’s some pictures from the night. The images start with the low-level reds which were soon exploding across the sky. Sorry for the intrusive Watermarks on these images, but I’m being a bit more protective of these captures compared to some others. Remember, if you ever want an image, be sure to contact me!

The start of the reds overhead with my companions outside of Murphy Dome. This was just the start of something incredible!
The watermelon aurora.
The watermelon aurora.
The watermelon aurora.
The watermelon aurora.
The mixing of the reds and the greens was fascinating and differed from the distinctly separated watermelon aurora
The mixing of the reds and the greens was fascinating and differed from the distinctly separated watermelon aurora
The mixing of the reds and the greens was fascinating and differed from the distinctly separated watermelon aurora
The mixing of the reds and the greens was fascinating and differed from the distinctly separated watermelon aurora
Do you see the angel in this Aurora?
Do you see the angel in this Aurora?

Snowshoeing in the Alaskan Winter Wonderland

Ahoy Readers!

It’s the great debate. As an Alaskan, winter resident, are you a skier? or do you don the snowshoes? I think the questions really waters down to : how much do you like getting off trails? Because, although I realize cross country skis CAN BE USED for off-road style outdoor adventure, I see that happening on a very limited basis. Anybody want to chime in here? I snowshoe because if you want to explore the woods during the winter you need mobility, and besides, I fall less on snowshoes :D.

Living in Fairbanks has proved to be a far different winter than my experiences of three years in Maine and my childhood (22 years a child) in Minnesota. One of the primary differences in the winter here in the interior is the wind! I have never seen anything like it, and my friends from Minnesota won’t believe this – we do not have wind. Blizzards, the bane of Minnesotan school systems, are unheard of here. In fact, school systems in Fairbanks do not close when the mercury dip to -40, they close when the weather warms up resulting in icy conditions! Snow that accumulates on railings and fence posts is likely to be in the same pile when the spring thaw begins. The stillness of the wind creates an interesting climactic condition in Fairbanks known as the ‘temperature inversion’. During the winter, the winds are an important mixer of air and because that mixing does not happen here, strong differentials are set as you climb elevation; in short, cold air is trapped in the valleys of the Interior region. This has a couple of ramifications, the first is as a home-owner you would rather have your house high on a hillside, because in extreme cases it could mean an extra 50 degrees of warmth! ( Secondly, below the inversion the development of ‘ice fog’ ( is a pest for home-owners and can build up on your house and car. I have watched this ice fog man mornings while studying from the Margaret Murie building on top of campus- a good example picture is shown in the Wikipedia article I’ve listed. The ice fog creates havoc for humans and incredible beauty in the wilderness. The white spruce, willow, dogwood and shrub birch become encases in ice crystals and look like long-forgotten freezer burned hotdogs. As you walk through the areas of hoar frost it is not hard to imagine scuba-diving through a snow-reef; the trees the coral and the snow the sand.

I’ve had a great time snowshoeing some of the lower and higher elevation areas of the Fairbanks. I’ve been focusing on Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest and the Murphy Dome region. Some of the days have been cold and require some extra face protection, but the views and sights have been exquisite. Although I did not see any wildlife, during my last trip to Murphy Dome I followed a fresh set of moose tracks, and found scat so fresh that I made sure to keep a watchful eye for any watching eyes; I was sure I was going to walk up on a moose. Snowshoe hair tracks were abundant as were red fox, mouse, and ptarmigan.

Snowshoe hare tracks were common in the Murphy Dome region. Here you can see them, their heart shaped print is very identifiable.

The series of images below represent the two different winter types of Alaska. The first three are all from Bonanza Creek. You’ll see that the wind doesn’t blow here too often, and tree-corals abound! The the sunlight illuminates them it is snowshoe stopping, many pauses were taken to observe the beauty of this classic,winter, wonderland!

The snow here is so light and fluffy, that even a small puff of wind will send snow flying. Here, you can see the havoc as a breeze (a rare wind!) pushed snow off the branches and into my face.
Branches laden with light snow were lit up by the sunlight. Every new bend in the trail brought about new illuminated trees to focus on.
All the gear and the views! Heres a look towards the river valley at Bonanza creek experimental forest. Warm boots, gloves and jacket!

This second set of images shows life in the ice fog area. The trees here are heavily laden with icy and snow and are bent and stopped. A stark contrast to the lightly laden branches of the bottom lands! The low-lying sun cast long shadows around all the trees. This time of year the sunrises at 10:20 AM and sets at 3:00 PM. The short days are illuminated by a sun that slides along the horizon, rather than going overhead and the cold sets fast once the sun is no longer keeping it at bay.

The longs shadows of the low sun played on the snow. The warm color of the sun was spectacular! The reds, yellows and oranges you see here are completely natural.
Here I am posing in from the hoar-frost-coral-trees on top of Murphy Dome. Cold and stunning!
The shadow of the this 6-foot white spruce cast by the low-lying sun is almost 30 feet long!
Hoar frost behind, views in front! This picture was actually taken with my phone, you’ll see the selfie arm in my face mask.

I wanted to leave you all with a short timelapse video of the sunset on Murphy Dome. This timelapse is comprised of 530 shots over an 1.25 hours time and is played at 30 frames per second. Some of you read in my post about my problems with my camera in the cold shooting the Aurora. I wanted to shoot this timelapse in good light conditions at similar temps (-10 degrees F) and see how my camera reacted. It did pretty well, and makes me think that some of my issues with the Aurora shoot were due to the High ISO and a stressed sensor. Lots more to learn!

My goal of this timelapse video was to capture the changing shadows on the hillside and the sunset. Enjoy!