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Blog: Risky Business


For two years, I’ve watched weather patterns, “KP” indeces and moon phase calendars… all with singular purpose of planting my cameras (and myself) in the very best spot to witness the Aurora Borealis. I pushed forward, even getting a new truck, just to travel with minimum risk and best chances of success September 10th found me saying goodbyes to Margaret and Tucson to travel north to meet my friends Gary Smith and Karen Peitsmeyer in Montana, to begin our search for magic in the sky.

With an uneventful border crossing, we were in Northern Alberta in two days. The nights grew cold and mist rose in the morning light, but no Auroras. My most successful previous trip netted only one productive night in five, so I knew this would be a waiting game.

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It’s not like the Aurora is the only game in town. There’s waterfalls and the Wood Buffalo National Park to keep images flowing into my laptop.

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Yet in the back of my head, my goal was clear. Emerald steaks in the sky was everything….

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During my workshops, I have been known to sing the Rolling Stones great hit: “You can’t always get what you want” when students expectations came up short. And yet that is exactly why we keep trying…to “get what we need.”

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So it was, that after four days of chasing fall color, bison, and even camp-robber jays, the weather gods conspired to provide a cloudless sky, a tiny moon and a beautiful bombardment of rays setting the sky on fire.

My muscle memory kicked in as I pre-focused cameras, taped controls and arranged tripods for easy access. My plan was to use one Sony a1 as a time-lapse camera, continually clicking off 300 images to be later edited into a video. The other Sony was designated for stills and fixed with a 14mm lens. I slept feeling ready.

Sure enough, at 11pm the sky changed. Blue-green streaks began to form as I scrambled for my boots and yelling to Gary and Karen to WAKE UP. I headed down the shoreline to a dark spot, positioning the time-lapse camera, before getting my main landscape Sony a1 to begin searching out compositions. I had made about a dozen shots before turning to welcome Karen to the shoreline and urging her to “be careful.”

Everything changed in a millisecond as my boot found a root trapping my leg. With forward momentum, I was catapulted explosively crashing to the ground. As I flailed hopelessly trying to keep camera and tripod from the same fate, miraculously Karen caught and saved the camera! I lay in a crumpled heap with feeling my right arm, yet my right arm wasn’t there! I wiggled my fingers and “finger-walked my hand from behind my back where it was bent into an un-natural position. Slowly I dragged it atop my prone body with my left hand determined to keep it immobilized. Gary and Karen leaped onto action with warm tea, a ground pad and my sleeping bag. Soon the cold and dampness took effect as the “shakes” set in. Karen woke a neighboring camper, who in turn was able to reach the rescue service. An hour and a half later, I was wincing my way in the back of an ambulance as it climbed over a rough gravel road. Forty minutes later the Hay River Hospital emergency room docs were sedating and stitching me back together. Precious morphine.

Here, I face the reality that adequate treatment must be accomplished elsewhere. Margaret, and my children Camille and Peter, are assessing the options to get me to a surgery center with expertise in complicated shoulder fractures. I DID NOT HAVE “EVACUATION INSURANCE!” (ALWAYS… ALWAYS TRAVEL WITH INSURANCE!) Together they confront me with a healthy dose of reality in the form of a $50K (I didn’t have) air-evacuation back to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. Any doubt about spending money was washed away in the tears as I was wheeled to my room and the same hospital that eight years ago transplanted new lungs into my dying body. Doctors and nurses greeted my arrival and arranged for reconstructive surgery. I just kept crying.

So…I didn’t get what I wanted. Instead, I received love and care from strangers, family and friends and the same amazing group of doctors at the Norton Thoracic Institute. I cry more these days. I know I’m blessed.

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Epilogue: While I lay on the ground enduring the pain, my Time-lapse shooting Sony a1 continued its task. A short video resulted.

  • Michael McIntier

    on November 28, 2022

    Thanks for sharing, Jack. Wishing you the best for a speedy and complete recovery. Great photos and great advice regarding travel insurance. 'McGinter'

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