Halloween 2003 brought what NASA described as some of the most powerful solar storms ever recorded. For Lynnwood’s Kevin Ebi, a northern lights display caused by those sun flares brought good fortune — a dazzling photo and one more postage stamp to his credit.
It was 1:14 a.m. Oct. 31, 2003, when Ebi took the picture that illustrates “spacious skies” in the U.S. Postal Service’s new “O Beautiful” sheet of Forever stamps. Twenty featured images exemplify song lyrics from “America the Beautiful.”
Ebi, a 44-year-old nature photographer, was on the east side of Mount Pilchuck when he captured a curtain of richly hued light over Snohomish County’s Three Fingers Mountain. It was the second of two nights he spent on a quest to see and photograph the northern lights.
With his Canon IDs, using a 24mm lens, it took a 20-second exposure to get the dark magenta and pale green shimmers descending on North Cascade peaks.
“It’s rare to have a couple of nights in a year where I can see the northern lights in my home state, but this was the second night in a row that they were not only visible, they put on a spectacular show,” Ebi wrote in a blog on his Living Wilderness Nature Photography website.
His work graced a U.S. postage stamp once before. In 2016, for the National Park Service centennial, his 2008 photo of a rainbow at Haleakala National Park on Maui was chosen for one of 16 commemorative stamps.
He didn’t share how much he earned for the photos, but said Monday the Postal Service paid about what he’d get for a full-page picture in a magazine.
The “O Beautiful” stamps were unveiled at a July 4 ceremony in Colorado Springs, where “America the Beautiful” was performed by the Colorado Springs Philharmonic Orchestra. The lyrics were written in 1893 by Katharine Lee Bates after a visit to Pike’s Peak.
“They’re perhaps the first stamps that retell a song through images,” said David Rupert, a U.S. Postal Service spokesman. In five rows, four images in each, the pictures illustrate “spacious skies,” “waves of grain,” “mountain majesties,” “fruited plain” and “sea to shining sea.”
Rupert said a Citizens’ Stamp Advisory Committee comes up with concepts in a process that takes about three years. “These people are a slice of America — educators, artists, historians,” he said. To have a photo chosen “is a real honor.”
Ebi recalled the chilly night he took the picture. He had gone to Mount Pilchuck the night before with his then-fiance, Jennifer Owen, who is now his wife. She wasn’t with him that Halloween.
He found just the spot on Mount Pilchuck, with unobstructed views to the north and east. His photos from the first night showed more trees. This time, he captured pillars of light aligned with the peaks. The stamp doesn’t show it well, but the Big Dipper is visible in his original photo.
A former financial news anchor at KIRO Radio, Ebi has created several nature photography books, including “Our Land,” showcasing national parks. His “Year of the Eagle” book involved three years of watching a nesting area in Kirkland. His photos have been displayed in gallery shows and published in National Geographic books.
In May, he snapped what the Journal of the San Juan Islands described as “a high-flying food fight.” In an amazing series of pictures, a bald eagle is shown trying to snag a rabbit from the mouth of a fox — but the fox hangs on and is carried 20 feet in the air by the massive bird. In the end, the fox loses its supper but survives the flight.
Ebi and his wife have more than a stamp to celebrate. Last fall, Owen had a kidney transplant. She had suffered from kidney problems for years and had been on dialysis. The call that a kidney was available came in November. She’s now doing so well they plan to walk in the 5K Night Nation Run to support Stand Up To Cancer on Sept. 15 at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field.
The photographer said his mother, Susan Ebi, of Puyallup, has been a casual stamp collector. “My mom picked anything she thought was pretty,” he said. She was thrilled, he said, to have her son’s photos on stamps.
“I don’t think she was as excited about a picture in National Geographic,” Ebi said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@herald net.com.
The U.S. Postal Service’s “O Beautiful” stamps are based on the lyrics to “America the Beautiful” and include an image by Lynnwood’s Kevin Ebi. Learn more at: https://about.usps.com/news
See more of Ebi’s photography, and read his blog about the stamp photo, at www.livingwilderness.com.