One Final Eclipse Post: Journal Entries

Evening of 20 August

The eve of the Big Show. Or will it be the Big Cloud-Out? There has been a disturbing trend towards more cloudiness over the past few days. Weather forecast for tonight is “mostly clear” and “sunny” for tomorrow, but that has been the general word in forecasts for the past few days.

Oh well. Traffic woes make any location change impractical. “You stakes your claim, you takes your chances” — as I have said for the past month or more.

21 August, 9:11 AM

Skies clear. First contact noted. Probably started a minute or two ago.

Traffic on road, which has increased by a factor of 20 or more in the past week, is strangely absent this morning. Other campers are doing what we are — awaiting the big show.

9:34 AM

High thin clouds are becoming evident. Bah. (Sun still visible.)

9:42 AM

Dimming becoming increasingly evident. Still less than 50% obscured.

The feeling of anticipation before it (first contact) began was virtually palpable. The quietness of the road added to it.

9:54 AM

50%, maybe more. It’s not getting warmer any more. At this stage on a normal morning, it would be. Actually it seems to be cooling.

10:03 AM

Horns [of solar crescent] now at halfway point. Estimate 65 – 70% obscured.

10:04 AM

Several aircraft audible. Air traffic is way up today. Balloons being released from the other camp for the past 20 minutes or so.

10:08 AM

Birds are in “evening chorus” mode. Feels more like 7:00 PM than 10:00 AM. 80%? Dimming is very evident.

10:15 AM

More than 90% gone. Really darkening fast now. Very eerie atmosphere. Getting cooler and cooler.

10:18:30 AM

Just a thin sliver left. Not taking pictures any more. Just focusing on the experience.

Shortly after Totality

Totality lasted from 10:21 to 10:23. Darkness came very fast. Quite cool now. Saw diamond ring. Missed Baily’s beads [wrong; see below]. Clouds thinned [then vanished near the Sun] just before the show.

10:32 AM

Nighthawks came out shortly after totality.

10:42 AM

The exodus is underway. Two cars so far….

10:48 AM (estimated)

Sunlight is starting to feel warm again.

11:37 AM

Basically over. Like it was at 9:11. Tiniest bite. Aircraft all gone.

I Did Actually See Baily’s Beads

I recognized totality was ending because I could see the landscape backlit by the Sun on the Moon’s trailing edge. That is how I interpreted the scene in my mind, not as “Baily’s beads,” because it looked so very much like just that.

Of course, that is exactly what Baily’s beads are. The impression was so strong in my mind that I didn’t even associate what I had seen with the common term for it until well after totality had ended.

Think about that for a moment: the eclipse allowed me to view, with my naked eyes, for a brief fleeting moment, the topographic relief an alien landscape that wasn’t even fully mapped until the Space Age. We’re talking about a relief of perhaps a kilometer or two at a distance of about 385,000 km.

More on the Eclipse

If there was one theme to the whole experience of the trip to see the total eclipse it would be one of the pace of events gradually but persistently accelerating from slow to fast.

I arrived at the site (selected based on extensive study and a carefully drawn-up list of criteria) a week early. I had initially planned on six days early but moved that up by one day due to the Malheur National Forest ranger station in John Day informing me that the day I was going to arrive would be one of their biggest arrival days; I did not want the site I had selected taken by someone else.

Nobody was in the general area when I arrived; it was the same quiet, out-of-the way part of one of the nation’s more remote and least-visited national forests that it was back in early July when I surveyed it. Nobody passed by on the road for the first 24 hours.

In the next 24 hours, a few cars did. A few more in the next. By Friday and Saturday, that formerly almost-unused road was quite busy. I was glad to be camped somewhat away from all the clouds of dust being kicked up by the vehicles traveling it. Sunday was busy, but distinctly less so than the preceding two days.

Monday, the day of the big show, comes. Absolutely no traffic on the road whatsoever. Everyone is in place, viewing the Sun.

There were four of us on this camp-out, and our nearest neighbors were at least a half mile away. We had an entire meadow, perhaps five acres in size, to ourselves for viewing the sky. Despite all my planning, I had neglected to print out and take a timetable of the major events of the eclipse (start of eclipse, start of totality, end of totality, end of eclipse). I knew the eclipse would start sometime after 9:00 and totality would be some time around 10:20 or 10:30, and that was as specific as I could remember.

So we made regular checks using eclipse glasses, No. 14 welder’s glass, and the image of the Sun as projected by my cheap thrift-store binoculars onto a piece of paper. At about 9:08 someone other than me reported that there was now a small bite taken out of the Sun.

That bite grew larger very slowly. It took a long time for the ambient light level to be perceptibly affected, and then the light level decreased only very slowly. Then the pace picked up a bit, then a bit more.

The temperature, which in that semiarid climate had as normal been rising rapidly after a chilly night, stopped rising, then began falling.

The clouds played tease. The first few days, there were none to speak of. Then, high clouds became more and more evident. By Sunday, the entire sky was covered by a thick and worrisome layer of high clouds.

The weather forecasts promised clearing, and it happened overnight. Despite the forecasts, I kept nervously awaking every few hours and looking up to verify the stars were still clearly visible.

The day of the eclipse dawned clear, but thin high clouds came in almost as soon as the eclipse began. I could still see increasingly eclipsed disc of the Sun through them, but they promised to compromise the view during totality. Then, about ten minutes before totality, they almost miraculously parted.

The final bit of crescent Sun disappeared astonishingly quickly. I quit taking pictures of dappled shade and binocular projections when I estimated totality was 10 minutes away, opting to just be in the moment and watch the show. It turned out that totality was at that point only 3 minutes away.

I lied down on the ground and alternated between looking at the Sun through my welder’s glass (purchased decades ago as a teen for eclipse-watching purposes) and looking at the now rapidly darkening world around me. The light was now perceptibly declining from moment to moment.

The final thin green arc in my welder’s glass rapidly shrank to a point. I glanced around me and saw the “platinum print” effect that Anne Dillard spent paragraphs waxing eloquent about in her essay in The Atlantic Monthly. It lasted about twelve seconds; far less time than I took to read about it in her essay.

The point disappeared; nothing but darkness was visible through my welder’s glass. I put it aside and beheld a world utterly changed in a moment. I looked at my watch. 10:21.

No photograph does the corona justice. It was irregular and multi-limbed, far larger than any photograph shows. The longest limbs were at least twice as long as the diameter of the Moon. It had a unique bluish-white color, and a three-dimensionality to it.

It was cast against the firmament of a sky of the darkest blue, but still blue and not black like the disc of the Moon. All around the horizon, there was a point where the sky rapidly graded into the colors of the sunset. Mercury, Venus, and some of the brightest stars were visible overhead.

I then notice some extremely brilliant white areas on the trailing edge of the Moon. Baily’s beads. Then, diamond ring. Look through the welder’s glass and see a rapidly growing crescent. It’s over, after what feels like a mere 30 seconds. I glance again at my watch. 10:23. It was probably the shortest two minutes of my life.

“It’s over,” I write, yet there’s more than another hour of partial eclipse to go. But, really, it’s over right there and then. As a friend remarked to me today, the difference between a 99% partial eclipse and a total eclipse is the difference between night and day.

The exodus soon begins on the gravel road. Everyone else thinks “it’s over,” too. The four of us stay to avoid traffic and mostly spend the rest of the day talking about what we just saw. As I wrote earlier, the experience was so otherworldly and brief that it was hard at first to believe it actually happened.

Back from Totality

Executive summary:

It started slow, then sped up. The changes in ambient light were really slow at first. It was just like a normal, partial eclipse that you have to use equipment to look at the sun safely with to verify there was indeed an eclipse in progress. The pace of change kept inexorably increasing. I quit taking pictures when I estimated it was 10 minutes to totality; it turned out to be 3 minutes. The final bit of crescent vanished astonishingly fast. While that happened, you could see the light level (at first) and color quality (final moments of light) change from moment to moment.

The most noteworthy thing were the colors. Inky-black disc of the Moon, bluish-white corona, deep midnight blue (not black) sky above which abruptly graded to the reds and yellows of the sunset across the entire horizon.

The corona was far larger (and a different color) than I had expected. It had five limbs, three of which were long, the longest at least twice the diameter of the Moon. As mentioned, its color was an astonishing (to me) bluish-white. No photograph I have seen accurately reproduces either the color or the full size.

Totality was so otherworldly and brief that it’s hard to believe I really experienced it. It’s getting easier to believe and integrate the short memory after watching other videos and photos of the event, particularly one probably taken within a mile of where I viewed it from.

I Expected This

I lived in New Mexico as a teen, and learned early on that if there’s a spell of abnormally warm weather in the cooler months of the year, it typically ends abruptly. Two days ago, highs were in the 70s.

Flying back to the Pacific Northwest this afternoon.

Cloud from Fraser Outflow Upslope Wind


Cloud formed by cold outflow winds from the Fraser Canyon.

Something told me that I should go to the Grand Forest Hilltop and look at the Olympics this afternoon. I didn’t expect to see this cloud formation, but when I saw it it was no mystery why it is there, while the rest of the sky is cloudless under dry high pressure.

Were having cold outflow winds this week. As the dry interior air from the BC interior exits the Fraser Valley and crosses the Salish Sea, it picks up moisture from the relatively warm (about 50 °F) salt water. When that wind hits the Olympic Mountains, some of it is forced to rise and cool, causing the moisture to condense and form that cloud. Sometimes the effect is profound enough to cause an area of snow to fall on that region.

Worth a Read

This. (It’s not the best-designed web site. Click on the three dot-dash symbols at upper left if it seems to end mid-work without showing the whole thing.)

Yes, Derrick Jensen is something of an asshole (check out some of his rants about anarchists and transgendered people if you don’t believe me). No, I don’t buy his claim that the only viable alternative to civilization is stone-age tribalism.

But, that said, the guy (and his co-authors) does have some valid promises about this civilization being so destructive that it must be ended, the sooner the better, in part because the official mechanisms of power are pretty much useless for the purpose of arresting and reversing the destruction.

Update: Note that this endorsement of the book with the title Deep Green Resistance is not an endorsement of the organization by the same name. The latter appears to be dominated by a cult of personality around Derrick Jensen as much as the Revolutionary Communist Party is by a cult of personality around Bob Avakian.

More Snow

About three inches fell overnight before changing to rain and starting to melt. Judging by the extended forecast outlook, I may well see more scenes like one below in the coming weeks.


The view out one of my rear windows this morning.


The first snow of the season fell yesterday. Just a few flakes at the tail end of a band of showers that started as cold rain and changed to snow then ended. Didn’t even stick to the ground.

Now it looks like there’s a decent chance for more snow on Thursday, maybe as much as 7 inches. Which is an exciting possibility because it would be very big news if it comes to pass; snow is not very common here. We haven’t had 7 inches total in the three winters I’ve lived on the Island.

Extended forecasts are all generally hinting at below-normal temperatures with continued chances of lowland snow. Maybe this winter will make up for the past several ones, which have been unusually skimpy in the snow department. (There was no sticking snow at all last year. We don’t get much snow, but we do usually get at least one storm per year that turns the ground white.)

Judging a Book by Its Covers

I spend altogether too much time on You Tube and when I ran across a channel called The Texas Snake Hunter, naturally I thought the worst. Imagine my pleasant surprise when I discovered it’s exactly the opposite sort of channel I feared it was.

The truth about rattlesnakes is exactly as the linked video shows: they are by nature shy and unaggressive to humans. They are deadly hunters of rodents, but what is the point of a rattlesnake biting a human? That venom is metabolically very expensive to purchase, and a human (even if it dies from the bite, and odds are it won’t, most snake bites are not fatal) is way too large for even the largest rattler to swallow.

Biting and envenomating only makes sense for a snake (a) if the creature being bitten is small enough to be swallowed after it dies, or (b) as a last resort defense measure. As to (b) the snake is much better off if it can slither away and escape without biting; it keeps its precious venom and can use it to invest in a nutritious meal to further its growth.

That’s why rattlesnakes evolved rattles in the first place: to warn away large animals that might trample them before a situation degrades to the point where a bite in self-defense becomes necessary for survival.

I’ve been in rattlesnake country many times, and doubtless passed within feet of them dozens of times without my even noticing them. I’ve only actually seen a wild rattlesnake twice. Both times the snake was completely unaggressive and just wanted to be left alone.

Naturally I obliged, and thus was in no danger. The two most common causes of snake bite are:

  1. Person being bitten doesn’t even notice the snake and steps on it.
  2. Person being bitten wants the snake to act stereotypically (coiling up, preparing to strike), starts teasing it to that end, and ends up getting more than he bargained for.

Back from Wyoming

More precisely, back from a nearly 2-week road trip that went as far east as western Wyoming. It involved seeing a part of the country I had always wanted to see, revisiting the place I finished up my college degree, helping a friend collect environmental sensors from the field, a quick swing through Yellowstone National Park, seeing a significant chunk of Montana for the first time, and visiting some of my companion’s friends in rural Idaho.

I had always wanted to see the Malheur basin ever since the area caught my eye on highway maps as a teen. Alas, it’s been a dry year, and the Federal government is still (understandably) jittery that right-wing extremists will try re-occupying the refuge headquarters, which meant that:

  • The area was nowhere near as lush as I imagined it; water levels were sufficiently low that many of the wetlands had dried out, and
  • It was impossible to see Malheur Lake itself, because the only road providing access to it passes through the headquarters compound, which is still very much off-limits.

Before we got there, I was studying the DeLorme Atlas of Oregon while my companion drove and noticed a place called Glass Butte that our route would soon skirt. I surmised (correctly) that the name alluded to obsidian deposits, so an impromptu side-trip was scheduled in the hopes that it might prove to be the place where one can find the rare red-and-black obsidian I’ve seen in collections from Oregon (as opposed to the more common plain black kind). Indeed it was.

I did then visit a real oasis in the desert: the Cache Valley of northern Utah and southern Idaho. It’s an area I’m very familiar with, having attended Utah State University for two years. It was a nice surprise that the valley was still very much rural and had not filled in with houses. The extensive wetlands in its bottom were, in contrast to the mostly dried-out ones at Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, very lush and green.

The college campus had of course changed a lot since I had visited, but I chose to focus on what had not changed. The administration has done a good job of preserving the integrity of the more historical parts of campus, focusing on putting the new buildings where large parking lots used to be, so many campus views were precisely as I had remembered them.

It’s little-known except by locals, but that region also has some of the most spectacular fall colors in all of North America: in the surrounding mountains, the red and oranges of maples and the clear gold of the aspens contrast with the sombre green of firs. Nowhere else I can think of has all three elements (northern New England comes close, but doesn’t have the large numbers of aspens). Alas, it’s a short display that comes early, and true to form a storm and cold spell the week before had already left the trees mostly bare and blasted, despite it being the first week of October.

Then it was on to western Wyoming to collect the data loggers. That’s a place I visited a few times on day trips in my college years, so I got to see what Kemmerer (not much different) and Jackson (lots of new construction) looked like after about thirty years. That involved learning the hard way that my partner will call just about anything a “pretty good road,” even a rough track only suitable for four-wheel drive vehicles (my truck is only two-wheel drive and not suited for such routes). No lasting harm was done, and he did readily agree to cover the resulting towing bill. The weather was cold with snow flurries.

Then a short trip through Yellowstone. We spent a day watching geysers and saw about ten different ones erupt. They were all frequent performers. I can’t really be disappointed that it fell short of what I saw thirty years ago. That involved a simultaneous display of four major geysers (including Giantess, which erupts only irregularly) jetting hundreds of feet into the air.

I wish I had studied the maps more on the following day. Had I known we were going to pass through Butte, I would have scheduled a detour to some labor history sites, including the grave of Frank Little. My efforts at trying to do something impromptu were frustrated by it being both a Monday and a holiday; both the visitor information center and the labor history museum were closed.

We camped just east of Lolo Pass and that night were treated to the heaviest snowfall of the trip. That may sound dramatic, but even that just amounted to a light dusting. There was actually more snow at our campsite than there was at the summit of the pass! Highway 12 west of the pass has to be one of the loneliest highways in the lower 48 states; we drove for hours through forested mountains before we finally reached the small town of Lowell. Traffic was very light, maybe one vehicle every five minutes.

After spending the night with my travel partner’s friends near Riggins, we resumed driving west. It was a relief to see the sign welcoming us back to Washington as we crossed the bridge from Lewiston to Clarkston, even though it was the opposite side of the state and many more hours of driving lay ahead. It was nice to see things get progressively greener and greener with each passing mile from The Dalles to Cascade Locks.

My travel partner lives in Portland, where I had planned to spend the night. After hearing about the series of storms due to hit (high winds, heavy rain) I changed those plans and decided to rest a few hours then press on and try to beat the worst of the weather. I’ve been unpacking and tidying up since and after spending over a day doing so, it was time to type in this post.

It was fun, but it was also time to end when it did.