If something happens once in a lifetime and you don’t see it did it happen? This is the question I ask as the freeway winds whip at my hair while I watch clouds gather in my rear view mirror. Concern building as they close in on the clear blue sky ahead.
I am driving to the South Coast of New South Wales while the moon inches its way to the shadow of the earth. Tomorrow night these worn paths of orbit will turn a super sized blue moon to red. A photographer’s holy trinity that happens once every 150 years. There is no second shot. I have spent weeks pushing the edges of my mathematically challenged brain. Calculating trajectories, determining angles of the moon’s arc against the contours and edges of possible locations. Which is why I am on route to Bombo Quarry. A place where ancient basalt pillars rise from the sea and stand against its onslaught.
I have made sacrifices, skiving off work and losing a day’s pay. Camping at a holiday park where there will be children and drunkards and unnecessarily large vans crammed next to my mini camper Thelma-Louise. Noisy and nosey neighbours who will pry my antisocial soul. Picking at its preference for isolated bushland. I will fend them off with one purpose – the shot of a lifetime.
I have been imagining myself aloft a pillar while waves send salty spray into the heavens and I stand to the tips of my toes. Reaching out to touch the moon as it pours moonshine across the sea. I have charged batteries and remote triggers, lenses, tripod and drone, apps galore and a gang of fellow photographers coming to join me. I am on route to the moon.
The weather watch has been frantic. The crew trading weather maps (most of which I can’t understand) and forecasts. It has been threatening doom. New locations were proposed and the news always the same. The sky threatening to drop the entire state of New South Wales into darkness at the precise moment of lunar eclipse.
This morning I woke to blue as far as I could see, packed my little camper Jazz and headed two hours south with hope dancing in my heart. As I arrive at camp the clouds have stepped up their pace and I look forlornly at the approaching grey. Today was to be a reconnaissance mission for the big show. An exploration of Bombo Quarry for compositions and calculations. I set up camp determined to ignore the weather and stick to the plan. Then I do what all worthy travelers do prior to seeing a thing they’ve only dreamed of and take a nap.
View from camp: the sky closing in over Kiama Blowhole Headland
It is the sound of rain on metal that wakes me. I peek out the curtains and see sheets of it charging toward the car. A frenzied scanning of weather maps, updates to the crew (mostly consisting of questions as to what the maps mean) and messages willing away the weather ensue. There is no good news. The pre-shoot mission to Bombo Quarry is thwarted by wild winds. I hole up in my car and start to entertain the notion that I am manifesting my reality and if I work out the poverty of mind that created the weather then I can blow the clouds away. When that doesn’t work, because of the high level of bullshit involved, I turn to what all atheists do in times of crisis and pray.
The afternoon closes to a restless night. Rain and wind disrupt every twist and turn of my sleep. I wake suddenly on the day of the eclipse. The door opens to reveal a streak of blue parting the clouds in biblical fashion. I head off to Bombo for my delayed mission while reconsidering my religious doubts.
The short path to the quarry opens to the sea and I get my first look at the columns of stone. I understand immediately why it is photographed so often. The waves thunder into stoic pillars and crash upward sending the ocean spilling over the other side. I hop from boulder to boulder and round the corner, finding myself in a Tetris puzzle for giants. Blocks of stone worn to smooth edges are strewn around a vast rectangular cavity worthy of a Game of Thrones battle field. Closed against the sea by jagged walls of stone. I climb to their top and look down on a pounding ocean. Watching the sky making up its mind. This is a place where imaginations are invited to run wild.
Bombo Quarry rises to meet the sun
I return to camp secure in the knowledge that my shot was well calculated and will be as epic as the Colosseum I have just come from. Throughout the day I watch the weather forecast and the sky with obsessive compulsive attention that could do with some medication. It teases me relentlessly opening up shards of blue then closing them again with billows of grey. As my photographer friends back out of the trip I start to search for clear sky somewhere else. Calculating that I can make it to anywhere within four hours and still see the moon shed blood. All the apps tell the same story. Nature has followed through on its threats, blacking out the night statewide.
Word comes that there are clear skies in Tasmania. It is testament to my desire to see a once-in-a-lifetime thing at least once in my lifetime that I look up flights and locate the nearest airport. Thwarted by a diminishing bank account I await the arrival of the one remaining photographer who refuses to give up.
Zak times his entry as the weather raises the stakes. Stronger winds and thicker clouds blow us around the sites of Kiama where we potter about taking photographs of things. The skies have hours left to clear and we live in the hope of children who will not accept the reality that the ice-cream container is empty.
Light painting at Bombo Quarry
Night has fallen when I return to adulthood and realise that I will not see a super moon turn red. We head back to Bombo Quarry anyway. For its unique structures and for Zak to teach me how to paint with light. Playing with compositions we dance torches through the night while I trip over boulders in the dark. As we pack up I comfort myself with the fact that I learned a new photography technique and got some cool stormy night shots. I am OK with that, I think, I am OK that my enthusiasm was childlike despite the contrary evidence. I am OK with the glee we experienced shooting this marvel at night. I am OK with the capacity to regroup and enjoy myself anyway.
I think that I am OK with all of that. Then I open Instagram in the morning to remarkable shots of a red moon over landscapes of wonder. My heart sinks while envy seethes. And I think this, too, is childlike. The realisation that yes it did happen and I did not see it and I never will whirls an inner tantrum as I pack up camp and do my best to outwardly appear like a grown up.