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Aurora Summit heading to Two Harbors

Two Harbors will host the first Aurora Summit, celebrating the art, folklore, science and photography of the aurora borealis, today through Sunday.

Organizers say nearly 100 people are signed up for the summit. The three-day conference will feature experts knowledgeable in Northern Lights photography. Topics will include camera settings for shooting the celestial phenomena, aurora forecasting, shooting nightscapes and even the mythology of the aurora borealis.

"The aurora borealis is just one of those mystical phenomena that just strikes at the core of human consciousness," summit organizer and photographer Mike Shaw said. "It's just like, what is this thing? Where is it coming from? It's like a solar eclipse. It's completely overwhelming when you see it and it's just such a huge scale. It's mesmerizing — the colors, the shapes — and it's an item that a lot of photographers have on their bucket list."

Among the reasons organizers chose northern Minnesota as the location for the summit is Minnesota's geographic position relative to the magnetic North Pole, Shaw said. It makes the state one of the best places in the continental U.S. to view the aurora borealis.

Melissa Kaelin, an "aurora chaser" from outside the Twin Cities, said because of light pollution, fog or other hindrances, she is rarely able to see the Northern Lights from her home, leading her to go out in the middle of the night to look for a good spot to view the phenomenon.

"That's part of the fun, I think," Kaelin said. "I think when people set out on these adventures, it can just be a wild experience. You're in pitch-black darkness, it might be cold outside. You might be standing on a lake. Whether you're with a group or not, you can hear the howl of coyotes, the splash of fish or the call of loons. For some reason, when the all the wildlife is going crazy, that's when the Northern Lights just dance above you and go crazy."

One time, Shaw was out setting up his camera by himself when he heard a scratching noise at his feet.

"I had no idea what it was, and I saw this grass right in front of my eyes just disappear into the ground," Shaw said. "What it was, of course, was a ground squirrel chewing the roots and pulling the roots down into the ground. At the time, I didn't know about that. I just about passed out.

"It was terrifying because it was really peaceful and tranquil, and then it was like you were transported into some other dimension where something was fundamentally wrong," Shaw said.

Registration for the 2017 event is closed, but organizers have tentatively scheduled the next conference for Nov. 2-4, 2018, in Two Harbors.

For more information about the 2018 summit, email Shaw at mike@mikeshawphotography.com.

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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