Photographer captures sunrise over Lake Superior more than 1,000 times


January 1, 2019: The dawn of Whitefish Point that was supposed to kick off a year of sunrises, instead led to three.

ohmorning n ° 863, it finally happened. Bugsy Sailor had risen, as usual, in the blue hours before dawn, the three alarms on her phone now more confident than necessary. There is no time for coffee at this hour, no energy to brush your teeth. There’s just enough of the two to put on clothes, grab photo gear and drag each other outside for what was now the 863rd morning in a row.

Often, he’ll walk the 200 yards from his apartment in Marquette to the nearby waterfront park, or drive a few minutes to the next one. But instead, he decided that day to head to County Road 550, passing Phil’s 550 store and its spinning pun sign (“IPA LOT WHEN I DRiNK BEER”), to Wetmore Landing, a cove where a layer of sand separates the woods from the vast blue sheet of Lake Superior. And it was there: Day 863, the rising sun slaloming perfectly through the trees, to peek through a half-dollar-sized hole in a decaying trunk, like the orange pupil of one eye fixing Sailor.

It was May of this year, but Sailor, 38, had been pondering the possibility of such a just alignment of the Earth and the sun since 2019, when he noticed the hole – and thought he might be there. one day to catch it. This is the kind of picayune detail that can only be noticed – or taken into account – by someone who has seen the previous 862 sunrises, which is enough to know that dawn is not always about the sun. . Sometimes it’s a tree leaning its shadow against another, or the way the wintry waves pile icy shards on the shore like a field of broken tiles.

By the end of September this year, he had hit 1,000 consecutive sunrises with his camera in tow and turned his Instagram feed into a show of dawn – the darkest; those at less than zero degrees, snot ice cubes in the mustache; explosive pastels; and the shiny tearfuls. But as December 31 approaches, which would mark three full years of sunrises, Sailor finds herself more than ever at a crossroads: “People are now asking me, ‘should you always do this? Mentally, what’s too much? he says. “At what point is that a detriment… never taking a break?” “

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July 14, 2021: Sunrise categories have emerged for Sailor, like this one (# 926) from the “pink bouncy ball” variety.

He’s not above sunrise at all, he says, but he talks longingly about the possibility of seeing just one without the camera, or of a miraculous, momentary pause from the rotation of the Earth.

And as her streak expands, Sailor becomes anxious. He likes the idea of ​​completing a full year but doesn’t feel ready to quit or embark on another cycle. There is a line between serving and serving the streak, and he’s afraid he won’t realize it when he crosses it.

“When is the right time to call the end of a project that always feels good and is always rewarding? ” he’s asking himself.

Sailor’s journey began on January 1, 2019, as he trudged through the 1 degree wind chill to see the first dawn of the year, a seven-year tradition he decided to end in 2019 – but with a bang: he was going to see all his sunrises.

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May 12, 2021: Sunrise # 863 is seen through a half-dollar-sized hole in a decaying trunk.

This ability to pursue passionate pursuits is a colorful and twisted common thread in Sailor’s life. In 2006, he crossed the country, with the aim of being hosted by foreigners in each state; in 2010, he ran an absurd campaign to have a beer with billionaire Richard Branson (damn it if they didn’t drink four years later). He is a professional level racing skipper and has transformed into something of a patron saint of the Upper Peninsula, where he launched the peninsula pride equipment store UP Supply Co., on 906 Day on the theme of the area code and an annual “Plaidurday”, in homage to the motif, and is co-founder of the Fresh Coast Film Festival.

“We have these ideas and execute them so rarely,” says Sailor, “and I just got into this habit of [saying], ‘Well, let’s try. … How far can I go? ‘ “

He brought that mentality to that sunrise on New Years Day 2019, which went off like an atomic explosion (or looked like one in the photo, anyway) and felt like it to Sailor.

He went through that first, harsh winter to find that the right albs – the ones that still vibrate their bones at noon – have less to do with aesthetics than with being won over, showing up to get slapped. by the elements day after day. And in the ritual, he would find a sanctuary for introversion that he didn’t realize he needed to be a better extrovert the rest of the day. “It’s just become this precious time of day that I really protect and look forward to.”

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January 28, 2019: Ice collects against the shore on an otherworldly morning at Presque Isle Park.

Much of it has to do with Lake Superior itself, which at times seems to be the subject of Sailor’s photos under the fickle, half-unscrewed celestial bulb he has to contend with.

He grew up along the shore, 70 miles west of Marquette, in the village of Baraga, and the South Carolina-sized lake still exerts a gravitational pull on him. “I’ve always joked that my soul was buried in Lake Superior, and I’m totally okay with that, and I will always come back,” he said. “It is a spiritual place.” But it was also a subject loaded with fear and embarrassment: Sailor had never learned to swim.

“Basically my Lake Superior experience [was] something that I watch from the shore, ”he says. And by 2019, he had given up on the idea that it would always be more.

But after five months of shooting sunrises, he invited a new friend to join him. It turned out that she was a swimming instructor and taught him the basics. The first time he floated he “screamed and howled like a happy little child.” It was revolutionary, ”says Sailor. “I felt something so common, something I had never felt in my entire life, and it was exhilarating.”

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July 27, 2020: A tree casts its shadow on another at sunrise n ° 574

When this project ends – “and he will be end, ”says Sailor – he wonders about waking up that first morning with a sky already lit up. How does it feel to sleep? (Is he still able to sleep?) Will he be flooded with joy or regret?

Most of the time, he says, “I’ll be disappointed if I look back and feel like I haven’t grown in myself.” He thinks so, but the change may be too subtle and too slow to be measured at any interval. “At the end of the day, we’re still pretty much the same people,” he says, only now starting a slightly altered trajectory towards who knows what. But the change can also be as profound as reviewing what has always been there.


This story is featured in the December 2021 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more stories in our digital edition.

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