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Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Solar System Revealed

Watching the top of Mt. Saint Helens disappear in 1980 made geology abruptly real and relevant and not the least theoretical or gradual. Blam! Yup, that's geology. Watching this eclipse did the same for astronomy. Forget the left-brain physics--this was giant objects and forces doing what they do. Human desires and powers are irrelevant to the cosmos, sci-fi writers to the contrary.

We dithered about leaving Portland for somewhere south and maybe east to see the full eclipse and were saved by an invitation to a Portland Audubon fund raiser. A family named Bridges (Bridges Foundation) recently bought a property near Turner, Oregon, south of Salem, to preserve an oak forest. They offered the place for a camp-out and the ace volunteers of Audubon jumped for it. (Thank you, thank you.) So about 100 of us straggled in to Oak Haven on Saturday and pitched our tents.

We lacked water faucets, showers, and picnic tables, and porta-potties were in short supply, but we had a surplus of people delighted to see each other, brown creepers and peewees in abundance, and dogs, kids, sunshine, and oaks. This event was organized to the nines and any hitches were invisible. Everyone pitched in, nothing caught fire (a distinct possibility) and I believe we left the place spotless. The peewees called and called, morning and evening, with the odd towhee pitching in, delicate trills contributed by the creepers. Turkey vultures passed overhead now and again, but I slept through the late-night coyote chorus, alas.

People led bird walks, meditation walks, dragonfly walks, and so on. We had a sing-along and a dessert potluck and long arguments discussions about the very best place to view the eclipse.  Audubon's executive director flipped pancakes for us.

Monday morning we hauled camp chairs to a grassy meadow with our special glasses, dogs, kids, and cameras and sat down for the show.

The sun is just painful to look at without the viewing glasses and half or one third of a sun is nearly as bright as a full sun, so I would guess that in pre-physicist years, people didn't really notice eclipses until they were well under way. But with the glasses, I could see that the moon was a huge thing crossing the sky, somehow much more 3-D and more intimidating as a big dark sphere during the day than it is as a yellow one at night. The sun seemed to hover motionless as the gray moon slid across it.

Even a sliver of sun is blindingly bright. But twilight slowly set in. Close to totality, the air temperature dropped and people pulled on sweaters. The dogs and birds and horses nearby didn't do anything unusual that I noticed. You couldn't read a newspaper, but you neither would you need a flashlight. When the sun was completely occluded, peach-colored sunset ran all around the horizon. As agreed, we were silent.

Totality is not at all like almost-totality. The sun disappeared completely--only darkness. Until I pulled off the glasses. Then I saw a flaming ring, the sun's corona around the dark moon. The corona is always there, but too faint to see without the sun's disk entirely masked.

I have had the privilege of seeing that unlikely beauty.

Then the moon slid on and we sighed and got up and began to pack for the tedious struggle home through traffic.

Thank you, universe, for our eyes and ability to take notice. We won't forget.

Totality pancakes by Nick Hardigg


Digi-scoped moon (thanks, Dan, for the help)

1 comment:

James Orr said...

Talking about St. Helens disappearing reminded me that totality was supposed to include Mt. Jefferson, and that it was going to go dark while the surrounding mountains were supposed to retain some degree of solar illumination.
Here's a YouTube video:

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