Saturday, August 26, 2017

There's A Little Black Spot On The Sun Today


A Song Cycle In Four Parts. Part One

By now you're probably aware of the remarkable phenomenon that happened last Monday: all at once, the entire population of the United States motored into one thin belt across the country, as though we were trying to snap a crease in it. I did it too, and took along my friends Linda, Max, and Peter for extra snap. There was no guarantee we were going to make it.

In fact, there was much to discourage us. We were assured that the few roads into major eclipse territory were going to be plugged with traffic ("traffic [noun]: all the cars that are not yours"). The cars might not even, technically, move. They might just coalesce into a single carbon-spewing organism of low motility, such as a barnacle, or a 40-year-old kid in his mom's basement.

We were determined to give it our best effort, though, and got a head start by driving to our cabin on Mt. Hood, from which Madras, Oregon was normally a 1-1/4 hour trip. We got up at five a.m. and gunned down some coffee (but not TOO much coffee) and then eased our way down the gravel to the highway. We were anticipating a difficult insertion into the traffic stream that might require lube and a shoehorn, but in fact the cars were coming up well-spaced, if steadily.

My own car was inadequate for the situation. It is adorably red, but that's about the best you can say for it when you're planning to stuff four adults and their luggage into it. Especially if we were expecting horrible delays at best and starvation or death by combustion at worst. So I rented a full-size car from Hertz downtown. I was afraid of a full-size car, inasmuch as I scrape my own against the curb with regularity and it's the size of a Tic-Tac. But the worst was over once I got the sucker out of the parking garage, a hellish six-floor death spiral with a two-way lane so narrow you couldn't even pass gas.

Big old Chevy proved to be quite comfortable though. We packed a cooler and put it in the trunk and everyone seemed to have enough room to wave their arms around if they got excited. Fifteen minutes into our trip it began to seem possible we were going to make it into the path of totality with hours to spare. The sun clambered over the horizon and into a clear blue sky. It was odd to see it, our old familiar star on its old familiar path. Did it even know what was going to hit it?

(At this point someone is going to get out his pencil and protractor and wave his arms around and roll his eyes and 'splain that the sun wasn't going to get hit by anything, you moron, but by now we all know that isn't true. It was going to get hit by the new moon. And we've all seen the new moon. There's a picture of it on every calendar: it's a big black circle. And that's exactly what hit the sun a few hours later. Quod A Rat Demonstrandum.)

Not only were we sailing merrily toward our goal at highway speeds, but we had an ace in the hole. We had Debbie's grandpa, and you didn't. My friend Debbie mentioned on Facebook that her grandpa lived just south of downtown Madras and we could park in his driveway if we wanted to. For miles around Madras, cars were parked in fields in quantities rarely seen outside of a casino or an air show or somewhere else that attracts the kind of people who never walk anywhere. And we shot right past them to Grandpa's house. Grandpa Melvin himself came out to greet us and show us his outstanding fossil collection. We were welcome to set up anywhere on his two acres and march right in the house to use the toilets like royalty. There were two toilets. Take that, port-o-potty masses!

So we set up our folding chairs in the corner of a field for a private viewing. I had been leery of being in a crowd that would break into mandatory and prescribed woo-hooing and hollering, obeying a dog-eared script from rock concerts and sports events. However we four reacted, it was likely to be genuine. We had almost three hours to fill, and we took them and watched hawks with them.

Seeing the moon gradually intrude upon the sun through our eclipse glasses was interesting enough, but it was taking a while, and so we found ourselves trying to identify a distant bird instead (tentatively unraveled as a juvenile second-year flatchinated hawkperson in cruising molt), which led eventually to the pathetic scene of four of us standing with our backs to the dwindling sun not even looking at a bird, but at pictures of birds in our phones, and then we came to, and turned around to give proper tribute, and then the new moon slammed into the sun, and a flaming hole in the sky opened up, and sunset became general, and a roar from an unseen crowd swelled over the hill, and Linda went all to pieces, and lo, that, all of that, it was very good.

42 comments:

  1. In Delaware, we didn't have totality, so I didn't bother viewing it. I took a nap instead. It was cool the way the light dimmed, as if sunset was imminent, but that was as dark as it got. It was a very good nap, and it was quiet around here -- probably because everyone else was in some park, looking at the sun. I love it when people go somewhere that is not here.

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    1. I love it when people write "I love it when people go somewhere that is not here."

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  2. Nice to see you got totally into this. I always heard that song as, "There's a little brown spot in my underwear."

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  3. We were way up in Maine, and it was STILL cool to see. So glad people at the campground were kind enough to lend us their special glasses!

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    1. Stay put, Darlin'. You're getting a brand new fresh one in 2024. I might join you.

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  4. 98% coverage is not 98% of the effect of totality. I thought it would be, but I was very wrong. It got dim. The cicadas began to sing briefly. The crescent shadows under trees and through the latticed pergola were cool, but the wow factor was only about 33%. More "huh" than "wow." Then I, too, took a nap.

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    1. The sun is remarkably strong even with 99% of it covered. You sure can't look at it. And then, in the fraction of a second, everything changes. Totality is worth the trip.

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  5. It was sort of like looking at a Pac Man!!

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  6. I'd seen a TIME magazine pre-eclipse animation that showed darkness at 98%, and that's what I expected, only to be admittedly disappointed that it was an oddly dimmed light at best. It was interesting, but not thrilling, as have been the experiences of totality witnesses. The crescent sun shadows were cool, though. And how many times can one say they saw a reflection of a crescent sun?

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  7. We were also in Madras. How long were you stuck in traffic going home? We stayed with family till 10 the next morning. And we watched the people across the road standing in line for up to half an hour to use the port-a-potties. My niece owns Central Oregon Cup-n-Cake. Next time you're in Madras, stop by for a treat. Mention you know me, and you might even get a discount.

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  8. I totally understand being side-tracked by birds. And pictures of birds. And love your description of the far-away bird.

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    1. Well, we'd kind of gotten an idea of the timeline on that sun, and the bird WAS doing something.

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  9. I love mimimanderly's last sentence, and intend to copy/paste it into every conversation I have about our town from now for forever. There's so much going on in our area the whole spring/summer season it drives me batty.

    ... where were we? the eclipse, yes! the part I liked beest was your Two Toilets. Never can there be too many toilets.

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    1. When I asked my parents (who were OLD) what the best invention of their lifetimes was, they both said "indoor plumbing" in unison.

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  10. Now I expect Trump's Nutters to blame Hurricane Harvey on the eclipse.

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    1. I guess that's better than blaming it on the gays.

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    2. There are those in the far right who actually have blamed us for various natural disasters. If we were that powerful I'd send a hurricane up DC way.

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    3. Hey, wait, we got friends in DC!

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  11. That looks exactly like my stepdaughter's land in Madras, where I was, also, for the eclipse. We had music, too, an odd combination of bass fiddle, accordion, clarinet, drums (snare and bongos) guitars, ukalalies, and for the lead-up time, fine world-type music. At the moment of totality, though, there was perfect silent. Even the birds were silent. It was truly (to use an overused word), awesome.

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    1. I hope you stayed put afterwards and didn't try to get anywhere. In a hurry, anyway. I wonder if you were just over the hill? (We didn't hear any music.)

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    2. Her property gate is on Culver Highway.

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  12. and to think we drove all the way to Kansas City to see it rain...:(

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    1. Aw man. There were only a few spots in the path that got wrecked by clouds, I think.

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  13. Loved this account. That is one beeeyooootiful redtail. Even though its tail ain't red. I'm so glad you experienced totality. It's my goal for 2024. Coming as close as Dayton to us!! Woot!! xoxo jz

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    1. Redtail. Even though its tail ain't red. See, that's just not fair. I have lots more pix of this guy from the front and with wings (and tail) spread but I trust you're right on the money.

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  14. I love your descriptions, Murr. We were on a hllltop field outside Silverton, and it was magic. That black disc with the redgold corona is kind of burned into my brain. And the horizon sky all the way around the edges of the field; just beautiful 10 am sunset.

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  15. Kind of nice to have that viewing all to yourselves, you could pretend for a while you were the last people on earth. Along with Grandpa Melvin and his two toilets.
    I wouldn't have wanted to be stuck in a crowd of thousands either.
    I saw the eclipse on TV, which was good enough for me.

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    1. The dimming of the light is interesting, but the suddenness of the transition to totality makes you realize just how freaky this would be to someone who didn't know it was coming. Because even at 99%, that sun is mighty bright.

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  16. We were too far north to see it. I was happy seeing the photos and video.

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    1. Too far for the crescent shadows too?

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    2. Dunno. Not that excited about it.

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  17. We watched from the Malheur forest, and were also quite distracted by a bird id. Do nighthawks fish? During the day?

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    1. I have enough trouble figuring out how they get anywhere with their heads stuck on their backs.

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  18. thank you for this your broadcast provided bright clear concept..
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