I recently visited the Poverty Point State Historic Site to do some night photography. Good friend and fellow photographer, Denise Fuson, traveled from the west coast (which is way different from the gulf coast) to help. We spent the night at the dorm at Poverty Point thanks to the kindness of David Griffing, site manager.
With a nearly full moon and intermittent clouds overhead, we fumbled through the darkness without our flashlights, allowing our eyes to adjust to the night. Dark shapes in the woods became bears. Sticks on the pavement became snakes. And armadillos became, well, armadillos. They really don’t look like anything else, even in the dark.
Even simple things become difficult in night photography. You can’t see to focus so you either have to guess at the distance or someone has to walk through the tall grass to shine a light back toward the camera. (There are creatures in the tall grass … mostly imagined but scary nonetheless.) Camera exposures are measured in minutes instead of fractions of seconds and tripods must be stable. Specialized gear such as intervalometers are used to control the time the shutter is open. In a pinch (and I was in a pinch) an iPhone timer can be used. When the timer goes off a marimba ringtone is played to let you know to close the shutter. I think that from now on the marimba ringtone will always remind me of the darkness at Poverty Point.
The mounds were beautiful in the dim light of the moon. Stars were few but glowed softly between the banks of clouds that kept rolling through. It was quiet except for the songs of the cicadas and the occasional whoosh of a distant car. At first our voices and laughter seemed out-of-place, like being too loud in church. But then I realized voices and laughter would surely have been part of the night of the original Poverty Point inhabitants.
Denise pointed out a moving light in the sky which she later determined to be the Genesis 1 satellite. So strange to be standing next to a structure built over 3000 years ago with dirt and woven baskets and look up to see a man-made object orbiting the earth. I can look back in Time and understand the Poverty Point culture much easier than I can look up through Space and understand my own. How can I see something that is not much bigger than a car, floating in the sky over 300 miles away and believe that it is real? How? But I can pick up a piece of fire cracked rock from the ground below and know, know, that someone walked here thousands of years before me.
Poverty Point, Mound A