Saturday, August 26, 2017

THE GREAT AMERICAN ECLIPSE 2017 -- EPILOGUE


I guess you have to scroll down to see the 3-part blog posts I did on my Eclipse Adventure.  This post is written several days after returning home:

I've been home for five days now.  I've seen and heard of others' accounts of the eclipse and by now, as things do these days, we've all moved on to other topics of contemplation and conversation.  That whole eclipse thing is "so last week"... or nearly so.

But I'm still basking in the experience.

I've heard some say they were glad they didn't brave the crowds and were satisfied with the "partial" view they got from areas outside the path of totality.  I've heard some say they thought it was no big deal and "over-hyped".   Some observed it with thousands of other people, talking, cheering, and toasting together.  Some really did get caught up in massive traffic snarls.  Some were blown away by it.

As with anything, we all bring our own expectations and intentions to any event and then our interpretations vary accordingly.  There are as many nuances of subjective experience as there are people.  Why did it have such a profound impact on me in ways that it didn't on others?

I know that going to the path of totality days early allowed a time for shifting energy away from the hustle, bustle of every day life to a slower pace, time in nature, eager anticipation, a shared excitement with others who slowly trickled into the area.  I loved feeling a part of, and apart from, the gathering of folks at the lake -- dropping in for daily visits to see and chat with visitors from all over the area, astronomy buffs, photographers, tourists, hippie-types, families, and people whose  languages and accents were German, French, and Spanish -- then retreating to our private camp area. I know that I really did think of it as a celestial event that was beyond human interference and this was a welcome perspective at a time when my involvement with (and dismay over) the current political debacle has overwhelmed me with human concerns.

Had all the dire predictions come to pass, I might have had a totally different experience.  But they didn't.  It was nearly perfect in spite of my pre-trip fretting.  Even this relief likely contributed to my open heart, calm mind, and relaxed body on the day of the eclipse.  I also loved that my companions and I saw it as a time for silent observance and not a "woo-hoo!" party excuse.

Not to take anything away from another's experience, but I believe seeing the eclipse in totality had to be a profoundly different experience than seeing it in partial.   In my mind's eye, I still see the sun disappear, go dark, and reappear.  I can still feel the same sense of awe, of fear, of joy I felt in that meadow. I've returned to that image over and over this week to ground me, to remind me that all of our human cares are but nothing to the greater Universe.    And I also feel that vision and those emotions motivate me.

Humans, so far as we know, are the current pinnacle of evolution.  We have a responsibility to further the journey, not halt it.  How many before us have gazed at the heavens for inspiration in dark times?  I am them, finding my way by the light of the sun, the moon, and the stars.  In the moment of the eclipse I felt a death and a rebirth.  I felt an overwhelming sense of Love for this creation that pulls us all forward, ever into the light.

At least, that's the view from here...©

Photo: Sunrise from my dining room window



THE GREAT AMERICAN ECLIPSE 2017 -- PART 3

On Eclipse Morning we were up early and had pancakes on the griddle when I peeked out of the camper to see a friend's car parked just outside our "gate".  On one of my cell reception hikes I'd posted about where we were and our friend from home turned out to be very near by. He found us!  He had made the trip in the wee morning hours from his stopover in Hermiston, Oregon, 150 miles to the north.  He reported steady traffic, coffee-stop back-ups, and many cars pulled off the side of the road to sleep for the night.  That was the same road we'd traveled on Wednesday, which at that time was nearly deserted.  Things had changed since then!

We welcomed him with a cup of coffee and chatted away while gathering our chairs, cameras, cooler, and eclipse glasses to hike to our meadow to set up Eclipse Camp.  Still amazed that it was only we three there -- along with butterflies, woodpeckers, chipmunks, and a couple of shy deer we spied through the pines -- we settled in to wait.  We took photos of each other in our goofy glasses and wondered aloud what the experience might be.  We'd read and heard plenty about what to expect, but here we were...eager to see for ourselves.

Over the next 90 minutes we watched as the moon began its travels over the sun.  Hub took photos of the progress at various intervals.  We looked around the meadow to see how the light was changing.  I'd describe the nature of it as one might experience a room's lamp being adjusted with a dimmer switch...from full on bright to ever so gradually getting dimmer and darker.  At one point we all agreed that looking around the muted surroundings was rather like blocking bright sunlight with a pair of sunglasses.  There was a "shimmer" quality.  We also noted the temperature shift from mid-morning hot to slightly, then dramatically, cooler -- guessing about a 15-degree drop.  We went from shirtsleeves to sweatshirts in about a 15 minute span.

Everything grew gradually quiet.  Birdsong ended, ground squirrels stopped chirping, our industrious Pileated Woodpecker took a break, butterflies alighted, no car engines could be heard anywhere.  Man and nature were silent. (Except for the momentary annoyance of a small plane overhead, likely trying to get a closer look.)

Near the time of the totality the sky darkened dramatically from deep sky-blue to indigo.  The grasses waving in the breeze were no longer luminescent in the sunlight, but cast tall shafts of shadow.  The pines moved from green to black.  There was an eerie unreality about it, as if something had gone horribly wrong.

Watching the last sliver of sun disappear was one of the most dramatic and awe-inspiring sights I've ever seen.  On a planet dependent on that bright star for life itself, to see it disappear and all around the darkness descend upon the once bright morning was disorienting, a bit terrifying, and altogether amazing.  We ditched our glasses and looked straight on at the moon covering the sun.  Venus shone brightly above us.  It was starkly beautiful.  The corona itself still emitted enough sunlight that the landscape was reminiscent of a full moon night; not completely black, but nearly so.  I remember reaching out for Hub's arm on one side and our friend's on the other. Hub leaned over and kissed me.  Tears welled in my eyes, and I whispered, "Oh my god...Oh my god..." a prayer to whatever Universal Presence may have created the heavens.  I felt completely insignificant and blessed by this witnessing.

As we sat awestruck, that brief moment in time flew by.  In two minutes and seven seconds the very first infinitesimal sliver of sun reappeared.  It was if the lights had come back on in an instant.  We all simultaneously exclaimed, "It's back!" almost in disbelief.  Did we, like the ancients before us, think the sun had been forever blotted from the sky?  Of course not...intellectually.  But on an emotional level there was a confusion of wanting it to go on forever and also celebrating the joy of knowing normalcy was returning.

We watched the moon move away and the sun reappear over the next hour, but it felt like the light returned much more quickly than the darkness had descended.  In no time at all birds came alive again, butterflies fluttered around us, and we could hear cars, trucks, and campers traveling down the mountain road in the distance, eager no doubt to beat some of the traffic surely congealing the roadways leading out of the path of totality.  Our friend would be one of those travelers, so we soon hugged him goodbye, wishing him safe travels.

Hub and I had decided to stay over one more night, so the rest of the day stretched ahead of us at a leisurely pace.  We talked about our experience for awhile, grateful to have shared it together.   Words seemed inadequate though, and we wished for the silence we had experienced to go on a bit longer, so we sat in meditation together.  We heard the wind through the trees and appreciated the dappled shade protecting us from the suns's hot rays -- now returned fully to heat and sustain our earth, our home, our life.

I will never forget it.

At least, that's the view from here...©

Photos:  Ours.  There are more professional ones out there, many altered and enhanced or maybe just taken by more experienced photographers, but these (among many others!) are ours.  They do not do it justice.

THE GREAT AMERICAN ECLIPSE 2017 -- PART 2

To see the eclipse, Hub had scoped out a place in the Blue Mountains of Eastern Oregon, smack dab in the center of the totality swath: Magone Lake Campground in Malheur National Forest: twenty-one campsites, no reservations, first come/first served.  He figured if we got there four days early, we might snag a site in the mid-week lull.  If not, turns out you can camp anywhere in a National Forest as long as you are no more than 300 feet off the road and no closer than 30 feet to a body of water.  In a fit of overcompensation, I suggested that if four days was good, five was better....

So, we left on Wednesday August 16 and drove 8 hours to our destination.  Guess what?  NO TRAFFIC!  Hub chose a route to eastern Washington, all interstate, then south into Oregon, also  interstate, then a winding, scenic two-lane state highway that we had almost to ourselves.  I was shocked.  Where were all the back-ups?  We stopped at a little mom and pop place at a crossroads town and, as advised, "topped off" the nearly full tank in our Silverado.  The friendly proprietor was a wealth of  information, very happy to see the area make some money from eclipse tourists, and allowed that yes, her little two-pump joint would likely run out of gas with no way for the tanker trucks to get to her in time to refill her reservoir.  Still, she was good-natured about it.

We got to the campground mid-afternoon to discover it had been full since Monday, so my five days early suggestion seemed excessive since it was no better than four.  On to Plan B, a "boondocking" experience off-road somewhere in the forest.  Our truck camper is totally self-contained with a generator, a 55 gallon water tank, propane-fueled fridge, stove, and heater; we also have an air conditioner, microwave, oven, and even a little toilet/sink/shower bathroom. We can go about anywhere as long as the propane and water hold out and can run the generator occasionally.

We weren't sure where to head, so we drove down the paved road leading out of the campground, on the lookout for a likely spot.  I was sure we'd end up on some narrow, dusty logging road in the middle of nowhere, but in only about a mile we saw a turnoff that seemed perfect.  It was a big gravel pull-out in front of a gate blocking vehicle access to an old fire trail road.  The site was perfectly flat, partially shaded, and plenty big enough for our rig, plus our canopy, table, and a couple of camp chairs.  And...it was FREE!  We very soon realized that we had the very best off-road spot for miles around and it would have been snatched up within an hour of us finding it, judging by the slow-moving, envious gawking we witnessed as other campers drove slowly by as we settled in.  I was back to being glad we'd left a day earlier than the original plan.  I took full credit for our good fortune.

Once set up in our sweet little haven, we decided to explore.  Well, no.  That's not accurate.  First I started to worry.  It all seemed too good to be true.  For the first couple of days I was sure there must be a reason the spot was open -- as in "not legal to camp here."  With every car or truck that went by, I was sure they were either: A) Forest Rangers who would tell us to move or,  B) one of those road-raged travelers who would insist on sharing the site with us because, by god, they were tired and hungry and had to pee and we were taking up a space that another could easily squeeze into with us.  I envisioned gun-totin' Eclipse Pirates ready to storm our camper, demanding to be let onto "our" property -- or else!

One remedy I thought to address this concern was to create a "gated community" of one.  Reasoning that no one would drive over or around a felled tree, I cajoled Hub into helping me move a dead, bare-branched 30 foot tall pine tree, that was lying next to our truck, to a spot 20 feet in front of the truck, thus blocking entry into our space.  This is what worrywart introverts do to feel safe.  I credit this smooth move with keeping the pirates at bay.  As for the Rangers, they all smiled and waved as they drove past and the one who did stop to inspect a nearby dry streambed agreed that we had the best spot going.  No problem.


Now on to explorations.  The morning after our arrival we walked up the road to the lake.  The campground was full, but midweek all was quiet.  The whole area was actually a delight of silence.  Living in the city, I'm accustomed to ambient light and ever-present noise.  But in the forest there is darkness and silence.  The only sounds were winds moving through the trees, a rustle in the underbrush, birds chirping and calling; at night a blanket of stars reached across the nighttime sky.  At the lake we noted the splash of a muskrat, a few ducks quacking, the occasional car door slamming or someone slowly driving through hoping for a spot to land.  The people camped there were quietly going about their lazy afternoon business of reading, setting up solar panels, or opening their hoods to discourage ground squirrels from entering under cover of darkness to gnaw on electrical wiring.  (Learning this, we were eager to get back our truck and open the hood!)  We walked the quiet trail circumnavigating the 40 acre no-motor lake.  It was peaceful personified.

I basked in this respite with my book while Hub did a side hike that I assumed would mean some elevation gain that I didn't want to tackle.   I watched the few people near me and noted the unusual scene of folks NOT looking at their cell  phones.  They spoke quietly, took in their surroundings, lay in the sun, snapped photos.  As for me, we had lost cell service 24 hours previously and I was feeling the effects of withdrawal.   Then Hub returned with amazing news....

He found cell service!  The trail he was on was not long, nor very steep, and about halfway up his phone started dinging and voila!  I was glad for this opportunity, given that the political situation had been on full-boil when we left home.  I know I should sing the praises of being off the grid, but really, not so much.  Over the next few days, I found that the two-mile hike from our campsite to the hillside near the lake where we found cell service served as as both a carrot and a stick.  It was sort of just right, actually.  I couldn't check my phone compulsively, but I got to look forward to doing it once a day.

Back at camp Hub, the intrepid, decided there had to be a way to get to the lake by route of the back-country rather than up the asphalt road.  He took off to explore.  Just when I was about to finalize my plan for walking a mile up the road in the dark to get the campground hosts to call in the Search and Rescue team, he showed back up at the camper delighted in his success.  Yes!  We could get there from here!  From that point on, we no longer walked up the road to the lake, but went "the back way" through the forest.  We never saw another soul on these journeys, heard only the sound of bird call and the crunch of pine needles and cones under our feet; also the occasional expletive I uttered every time I scratched my calf on another log I had to step over.  After four days of this route, however, I was able to anticipate the thorniest of obstacles and with my hiking poles for balance, mostly made it through the thickets unmaimed.

The fire trail road ended up being the entry to other grand adventures in National Forest Service hiking.  Surrounded by pine forest, thick with birds, ground squirrels, and deer, but no sign of cougars or warnings of bears, even I (a city girl who thinks nature is rather malevolent) felt safe on the trails.  We discovered enormous Ponderosa pines, felled trees blocking our way that we had to navigate over or around, hidden meadows, and a crisscross patchwork of other trails intersecting here and there.  It seems like it would be super easy to get lost in the forest.  I hear that happens...everything really does look alike.  Our best find was a private meadow only about 100 or so yards from our camper.  Surrounded by sheltering pines, this open area of tall grasses afforded an unobstructed view of the sky, which given our whole reason for being in the forest at all, was essential.  We went there to be sure the sun was completely visible between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m, the hours of the eclipse viewing with totality to be at 10:24 a.m.  Sure enough, the sun shone brightly overhead and we had our viewing spot all picked out.

It's funny how quickly a routine is established, but then Hub and I are creatures of habit.  We got up each morning at a leisurely hour, drank coffee, made breakfast, did dishes, talked, meditated, walked to the meadow for Qigong, came back and packed a lunch, hiked our private back route to the lake, ascended the trial to our "cell spot" where I sent texts from Eclipse Central to friends and family.  Hub generally took a dip in the lake (too cold for me) and then we walked back to camp, prepped supper, ate, read, star-gazed and/or watched a movie in the camper. (Yes, we have a TV and DVR too.  Roughing it.)

For a woman who bemoans camping, hates hikes, and is generally an "indoors girl",  I was surprised to find I was having a more than pleasant time.  Perfect weather.  Lots of exercise that was just the right amount of challenging.  Delicious, healthy meals.  Long meandering conversations; important insights.  Cozy confines; comfy bed.  Complete privacy.  All shared with the man I love. What could eclipse all that?

I'd find out...©




THE GREAT AMERICAN ECLIPSE 2017 -- PART 1





Officials Across The US Are Issuing Emergency Warnings About Massive Eclipse Crowds

From emergency declarations to deploying the National Guard, states, counties, and towns along the path of the total solar eclipse are preparing for the worst.
Posted on 
It was Hub's idea to go; not mine.  In fact, until he mentioned it, I had no idea a total eclipse was even happening in our area on August 21st.  Since COSMOS went off the air, I've not followed astronomy closely.  But Hub thought it would be an amazing sight, and so close to home that we should be sure to be there.  So a few months ago he started researching the path of totality and where we might find a place to camp away from the hordes, how soon to go, and how long to stay.  I basically left the logistics up to him...as I am wont to do.

As the date grew closer, I became less and less enamored of the whole plan.  Do NOT put a person with anxiety disorder anywhere near Armageddon!  To heed the considerable caution the media started to broadcast would cause any rational person to have some concern.  An anxiety-prone person would want to get as far away from the path of totality as possible!  Here are some of the dire warnings that started to keep me up at night:

1.  Traffic woes: Fifty mile back-ups on the interstates and state highways as people make their way to their preferred viewing destination (a 70-mile wide swath of the United States, arcing from the Pacific coast of Oregon to the Atlantic coast of South Carolina).  Cranky drivers all hoping to get a hotel room or a campsite, possibly devolving into the worst road rage riot in history.

2. About those campsites and hotel rooms: FULL.  People who pay attention to such things had booked their accommodations years ago!  And enterprising capitalists would recall something about "supply and demand" from their Econ. classes and skyrocket rates into the cosmic stratosphere:  camp sites reputedly going for $300/night; Motel 6 charging more like $600; farmers harvesting their crops to clear the way to opening their fields to RV-ers, charging who knows what fee for a side-by-side parking space under open skies.  Love your neighbor.

3.  Gas shortages:   Many millions of people descending, on rural communities especially, would put a strain on resources.  Warnings were issued to be sure to top off your tank every time it started to dip much below full.  Motorists were sure to be stranded, running on empty.

4.  Food and water shortages:  Those highway back-ups would mean being stuck in your car for hours, not daring to leave the roadway (and in rural American, or in mountain passes, where would you go anyway?)  Pack plenty of extra water and food for the road.

5.  No ambulance:  Be in good health and take care not to break a leg or have a heart attack.  Those clogged roadways would also mean emergency vehicles would not be able to get to  you.

6.  Fire:  Speaking of emergencies, here in the great and very dry eastern regions of Washington and Oregon, August is wildfire season.  Forest fire danger would increase exponentially with the millions more heading to national forests and big open high desert grasslands.

7.  No cell service:  Some places in the path are off the grid on a normal day; others would be so overloaded that cell reception would be compromised and partitioned to use by emergency first responders only.  (Apparently this is a thing...who knew?)

8.  Also, not on the news, but I wondered...if I'm stuck in our truck for hours on end, where would I pee?  Just askin'.

9. Blindness:  Reports of Amazon having to refund mega dollars to folks who bought from a rip-off vendor on their site had people terrified of having obtained ineffective eclipse glasses the would not offer the requisite protection needed to avoid permanent eye damage.  Everyone was warned DO NOT TO LOOK AT THE SUN EXCEPT AT TOTALITY!  Duly noted, but still...pretty scary.  I checked and double-checked our vendor's reputation and ISO registration number.

10.  Just stay home:  Some heeded all warnings and rolled their eyes and shook their heads when I said I was going.  The event in Seattle would be 92% complete, which most said was fine for them.

It all had the makings of a Lord of the Flies experience and being averse to chaos, conflict, and confrontation, I started to wonder if it was worth it.

Hub, for his part, began to tire of my constant warnings and forwarding of dire prediction articles on the internet and finally told me to just stay home...but that he was going.  Non-Anxious people make these kinds of adventure decisions with an optimistic outlook that all will be well.  I don't get it.  But I did decide to go along.

Let the adventure begin....©

Headline Credit:  BuzzFeed online story 8/3/17




Sunday, August 6, 2017

WHAT DO YOU DO TO KEEP BUSY?

I'm on a mission.  I feel I need to figure out once and for all what the hell I do with my time...my life.

Hub and I had dinner the other night with folks we don't see too often, so of course I was asked, "What have you been up to?  What do you do to keep busy?"  This woman is recently retired and working to find a new rhythm and purpose to her life, so naturally she is wondering what people do with their days when they are not in the paid workforce.  For some reason I never wondered that.  I always felt like I had about ten times as much "to do" than there were hours in the day when I was working for money, so when I retired I felt liberated, not lost.  But it's a valid question nonetheless.  What do I do?

Actually, when she asked me this, my mind went almost blank. What DO I do?  I stammered out that I go to Yoga two-three times a week.  I write my two blogs.  I watch our little granddaughter two days a week.  That's all I came up with.  Weird.  Because every day whizzes by and I guess I don't have much to show for it.  Not much "accomplished".  No one thing that summarizes my everyday life.

I love my time with friends -- lunches, breakfasts, coffee dates, art museums, craft fairs, movies, and marches.

I love scrolling through Facebook -- the introvert's favorite social connection to those near and far.

I read online articles and commentaries and blogs in a variety of publications.  I have new glasses now so I can go back to reading actual books and magazines.

I watch TV with Hub at night.  A lot.  Done apologizing for this.  Love it.

I take a shower now and then.

I clean my own house, although I'm about to ditch that because it's tedious and one of my friends has a great housecleaner I plan to contact.

I host our family for dinner once/week, but Hub does the cooking, so not sure that counts.

I do laundry, but how hard is that?  It's not like I'm beating my jeans against a rock.

Hub does the grocery shopping, but I do all the gift shopping when gifts are needed, which isn't that often, but still.

I go to occasional classes and workshops.

My doctor tells me I have to do more aerobic exercise, so that's popping up to the top of the list, along with the regular yoga I mentioned.

I balance our accounts, pay all our bills, and keep a spreadsheet of our expenses.  That takes a few hours twice a month; could be less if I didn't have a math disability and number dyslexia.

I volunteer for a few hours at my old job monthly and in my granddaughter's classroom weekly.  I crochet baby blankets for a social service program that provides layette supplies for moms-in-need.  And of course there is my two days/week of Granny Nannying, chasing a two-year-old around.

I plant stuff in the garden and stand and watch for it to either die or grow.  I mostly insist it all thrive on benign neglect.

Sometimes I wander around the house visiting all my years-long-in-residence house plants, as if they are old friends, and being amazed at how healthy and happy they are; this now seems like a weird thing to do and to admit.

I am also currently trying to save the Republic from ruin, so all those phone calls and letters and rumination (mostly rumination) take time.

I don't know what the hell I do.  Certainly not anything that can be summarized in a simple declarative sentence.

And maybe that's the beauty of retirement that she will discover.  You don't have to "do" anything!  You just have to "be" in the world  -- alive, curious, open.  You can say "yes" or you can say "no".  Your life becomes one you can control and create, if you have the health and means to be the master of  your own fate in whatever way that manifests.   She will find there is plenty to "do" and even better, hopefully, will learn the art of how to "be".

What do I do to keep busy?  I stay alive.  I live.  I just am.  It all unfolds and I watch with wonder at how my life and choices shift with the changing tides of need and opportunity.  And I realize how content I can be with long days of doing absolutely nothing of consequence.

At least, that's the view from here....©