We all know what it’s like, as Whitman said, to tire of the lecture room (the cubicle, the commute, the FB meme, the TV remote), to feel the need to wander “in the mystical moist night-air,” to look up “in perfect silence at the stars.”
But few have ever seen the stars as Beth Moon has seen them. For her newest book with Abbeville Press, Ancient Skies, Ancient Trees, Moon traveled to Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa to photograph the constellated canopies of the baobab and quiver tree.
She returned with “Diamond Nights,” as well as notebooks chronicling her travels. Moon graciously shared some of these experiences with the Od Review.
Beth Moon: On Gathering Diamonds
It is hard not to fall under the spell of these wildly wonderful and strange trees, each one unique and expressive in form. Setting up camp under these giant baobab trees was the best and only option and allowed plenty of time to experiment through the night.
I traveled through the countries of southern Africa in a 4 x 4 with a local guide. Most places were very remote with very few villages nearby. Many days we never saw another person. These secluded areas made for tremendously dark skies. This was my first attempt at stitching multiple exposures together to record the entire span of the Milky Way.
During the day I would decide the best angle to photograph from. This night the Milky Way was rising to the right of the tree and balanced so nicely in the frame. Just as I had waited for the best position of clouds during the day, I now tracked the temporal movement of the stars for optimal placement at night.
While traveling through Botswana, my most memorable stay was at Kubu Island, which is considered a sacred site by the indigenous people of the area, where fantastically shaped baobabs rise up from monolithic rock.
Apparently quiver trees seem to make ideal homes for nesting birds. The nest shown here actually houses hundreds of birds in multiple tiers. A family of Sociable Weavers made it very clear to me, making loud squawks of protest, that they did not want a bright light flashed on their tree during the night. I respectfully moved to another location.
Feature Image: Atlas (Great Basin bristlecone pine in Inyo National Forest, California) © Beth Moon