By Jerry Mooney
It had been planned for months, Lila (my girlfriend) and I were going to travel to John Day, Oregon and take in Pandy Fest which would culminate in the watching of the solar eclipse, 2017 in the sweet spot of the totality. We bought our tickets, I ordered eclipse glasses, there was nothing left to do, but wait for the event.
Always Be Prepared
Ordering the tickets far in advance as well as the eclipse glasses gave me a sense that we were well prepared. However, nothing could have prepared us for what unfolded. Like good little preppers, we had lots of food, water and an extra gas can. We fueled up for the trip, called gas stations along the way to see if we would run into shuttered fuel stops. Everything was a go. We were both filled with the sense that good preparations cosmically eschew trouble.
When we hit the road we were emotionally and logistically ready for bumper to bumper traffic and long periods of impromptu parking lots. We gave ourselves all day to travel a distance that would normally take three hours. As long as we got to Pandy Fest in time to set up our tent and get some sleep, we would be content. Surprisingly, we experienced zero traffic despite the news broadcasts warning of apocalyptic levels of mayhem and chaos. We arrived mid afternoon with a shrug and a sense that, Hey, that was easy.
Star Gazing With Ginger Marionberry Cocktails
We set up and basked in our efficiency. Our early arrival justified an early excursion to the beer stand. Having ten drink tokens each, we decided to party even though the real music festival didn’t start until the next night. People with exotic nick names like Molka and Gxx trickled in and joined us in our early bird beverages and philosophical star gazing. The Perseid showers were still on display and provided a magical backdrop for contemplating the meaning of life, the universe and everything.
We eventually hit our respective sacks, I knowing I had a relatively early shift, pouring drinks at the beer booth in the morning. We awoke to the welcome knowledge that the coffee was free. This made my four hour shift much more welcome. Hours of pouring beers and cider mimosas blessed me with the opportunity to meet many of the hundreds of participants, organizers, band members and eclipse enthusiasts. This ostensible work was entertaining and I enjoyed my position as bartender for most of the morning and part of the afternoon. Then the call came.
No Amount Of Preparation
Lila approached me with a forlorn look. It was obvious from her face that something was concerning her beyond having to take over in the beer booth soon. She informed me that she used her friend’s phone to check her messages (neither of us had coverage) to discover that her mom was in the hospital and in critical condition. SHIT!
Have you heard the saying from Mr. Rogers, “In a crisis, look for the helpers?” This was a great example of that. Not knowing exactly what we should do, many people got on their phones to see if it would be possible to charter a flight out, borrow a car or whatever was needed. After much deliberation, Lila and I decided to drive back to Boise and get her on a plane to Detroit, so she could be with her mother in Ohio (yes, I know Detroit is in Michigan, but it’s the closest airport to Toledo, Ohio smartass).
The Regretful Drive Back
The hosts of Pandy Fest (P)atrick and M(andy) were very gracious, and even though we insisted they didn’t, they refunded us the money we paid for entry. With many hugs and well-wishes and people offering condolences for missing the festival and best wishes regarding Lila’s mother, we returned to the road. The trip back was less spirited and more filled with concerns over the health of Lila’s mother and challenge of getting a flight on such short notice.
We got home Saturday evening. Sunday early morning I dropped Lila off at the airport. After several hours she was by her mom’s hospital bedside. Caught up in the fervor of the eclipse, I took to learning where I could best witness the eclipse the following morning. Once again I was confronted with warnings of traffic armageddon. Preferring my location in the fields of Oregon, I knew I had to devise a new perch.
Boise was 99.6 percent in the totality, but all indications were that the totality was where the show would be. I traveled north, about ten miles north of Idaho City and found an empty pullout area off of the highway. I was about an hour and a half from the total eclipse. I tested out my glasses and saw that the moon had just taken a small bite out of the sun. This was getting exciting.
Soon after, a mother and her son pulled into the same area. They were very excited about the eclipse and shared with me helpful tips about viewing. For example, when you take a picture, you can see a small reflection in the photo of the shape of eclipse in that moment. There was also the play of the shadows, that seemed to dance in high def, creating the illusion that your shadow was 3D. They were so enthusiastic I couldn’t help get caught up in it. I was moved by how effusive the boy was. Even if the eclipse were underwhelming, listening to the boy’s excitement was well worth the trip.
In the tree you can see the moon shadow that is the shape of the eclipse at that moment.
Silver Flash Paper
Wearing my eclipse glasses, I could look at the sun and watch the smile thin out. Through the edges of the glasses I could see a that the daylight had become dawn in an instant. It was if someone hit the switch, but left the night light on for visibility. Then it happened. There was a diamond shaped flash at the bottom of the sun. Once that flash erupted, I could remove my glasses and stare straight into the sun without danger.
There are no words to explain the magical vision that was created from that flash. The sun was blocked by the moon, but the moon was surrounded by a silver lining. This all happened in a celestial dance that is beyond my ability to express, but it was emotional as well as beautiful. It was unique and ethereal. It filled me with a sense that there is order in the universe and that many of my concerns are small. I knew, in that moment, that there was meaning to life and that forces greater than Donald Trump were in charge. The boy said it well, though, when he said, “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
Math And Poetry
It challenged the reasoning behind not requiring poetry in the sciences, because, even though math could predict this event precisely, it couldn’t express the human experience from witnessing it. After about a minute and a half (far too short), the totality ended. At that point, there was still a smiling sun, beaming down to earth, almost as if to say, “I told ya, right?” And that was still awe inspiring.
But there was a sense of loss once the totality ended. It was rare and beautiful and I wanted to hold on to it. But I suspect that is part of the wisdom of the higher forces as well. We live in a world of impermanence and accepting that allows us to appreciate the magic more and release the losses easier. We can better accept that things don’t have to be perfect in every moment, because that moment will pass and those imperfect moments may even house perfection if we could perceive them. Sometimes the magical dance obscures the light, but unless we’re in the direct path we can’t perceive it and even if we can, it’s fleeting.
Watching the eclipse was something that gave me greater depth of understanding. It didn’t necessarily change me, but it reminded me of all of the things that I know, but often lose track of: life is beautiful. Things change. Enthusiasm is contagious. Not everything that darkens our lives worsens them. This too shall pass. And the best laid plans of mice and men...