It was three a.m. and the northern lights were out. I had anchored the Little Dipper just off shore, slipped into my wetsuit, and swam to a flat rock off the north end of Basswood Island in the Apostles to photograph Honeymoon Rock against a backdrop of aurora. There was a slowness about things that summer night, a kind of drowsy silence. Without even a hint of wind, the very lake itself seemed to be sleeping. I set my tripod up on the rock and was focused intently on making my photographs.

I was lulled by the silence and beauty of it all into a kind of dream like state when suddenly I heard a strange sound behind me, a kind of snuffling along the shoreline. Instantly my thoughts turned to “bear.” When I photograph alone, in the dark, out on the blackness of Lake Superior at night, my mantra has always been “Everything slowly.” I can’t afford to drop my camera or lose a battery or to turn an ankle on an unseen rock so I try to move slowly. But the sound was getting closer. As carefully as I could I packed my camera into its waterproof box, slid off the rock and back into the black water, swam slowly to the boat, and pulled myself aboard.

With a flashlight, I scanned the shore. Two sets of eyes stared back at me from the dark rocks where I had just been: a pair of otters like slippery commas moving among the rocks. I dried off, pulled anchor, and pointed the bow of the Little Dipper back towards the constellation of Bayfield lights, chuckling about the encounter and marveling at the northern lights still flickering overhead.