Why Am I Not There?

“Eclipse” Chalk, Blackboard 42″ x 70″ 2009 Adam David Brown

I’m not at the totality today, and it’s been gnawing at me. Between 1 and 7 million people are estimated to witness this swath of darkness across the middle of North America from coast to coast. I live about an eight-hour drive away, and I’ve heard totality is a mystical experience, once in a lifetime. Your inner picture of the earth, possibly the entire cosmos can change. I’ve driven eight hours for far less.

I did see a minor solar eclipse once. I was in the bare boned desert of southern Utah, and at first I thought my eyesight was failing. As half-light settled, I realized it wasn’t me. It was summer…or at least a warm month…and I remember lifting a hand to block the sun. There was not a cloud, not a visible reason for this shift, buttes and palisades losing their sharpness around me. It had to have been an eclipse. The light was almost silvery. Even though I knew the basic science, how the moon casts its own shadow onto Earth, I still thought a little bit of the world was ending.

After several minutes, the white light of the sun was back to its blinding self. My sublime sense of dread had faded, replaced by a magnificent sense of motion on a scale far beyond my body on the ground.

With that experience behind me, I’d drop anything to experience totality eight hours away. I was born for this event, every cell of me made to feel the path of spheres through the sky, practically dizzy from the revolutions of my planet underfoot on a daily basis. When the moon rises, do you gasp, too?

So, why am I not there?
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The Last Word

August 14 – 18, 2017

Jenny watches the married, loving mourning doves. Then Jenny’s all-but-feral dog kills the dove wife.  The dove husband perches above her grave and calls and calls, no answer. So then what? Well what do you think.

And with Erik’s post, LWON begins Eclipse Week.  Erik polls the ancient Vikings, Maya, Mexica, Hindus, and Christians, and not one of them had anything good to say about eclipses. My personal favorite is the Vikings.

I’ve never seen a total eclipse and won’t see this one either.  I get only a partial one and I’m not even going to look up, I’m going to look down.  Because last time I did that, I had a flat-out epiphany.

Christie and her dad have neither one of them seen a total eclipse.  But they’re going to be together and right in the path of this one.  And they’ve got some good reasons to be doing likewise.

Richard, on the other hand, is an old hand at total eclipses.  The last one he was on a cruise ship in the Black Sea, poor guy, taking notes. What he chiefly remembers was the fast shadow, the chill, and the silence.


Redux: There Goes the Sun

On Monday the world gets another look at a total eclipse of the Sun. Viewers in the United States will be especially fortunate. See the map immediately below…and then please continue to scroll to a map showing the path of a previous solar eclipse—one that I witnessed for myself in 1999. I wrote about that eclipse here a few years ago; I’ve adapted that essay now for current circumstances.

Total Eclipse of August 21, 2017:

Total Eclipse of August 11, 1999:

That’s me in the Black Sea, lower right, waving. (You might have to squint.)

During a total eclipse of the sun, the landscape darkens. But you knew that. What you might not know—what I didn’t know, anyway, when I observed a total solar eclipse on August 11, 1999—is that the experience comes with a lot of other sensory overload.

I found myself thinking about that eclipse while anticipating the one that will be happening Monday, beginning at 15:46 GMT over the Pacific Ocean and then barreling across the United States. In 1999, the path of totality cut across the heart of Europe and the abdomen of Asia; I saw it from the deck of a cruise ship in the Black Sea, courtesy of a magazine that paid all expenses—round-trip air to Athens, cruise passage, ground transportation—in exchange for an 800-word article. (Plus the fee for writing the article.) (Those were the days.) While I clearly remember the sight of the moon’s disk slipping in front of the sun’s—somewhere I have a tape recording of my on-the-scene musings, which, as I recall, consisted mostly of “Wow”s—I also can conjure, just as vividly, memories of what I didn’t expect.

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Eclipse Week: Why the last eclipse mattered and this one will too.

You may have heard that there’s a total solar eclipse happening on Monday. I have known about this event for at least five or six years, which is how long my dad has been planning for it. Dad already had me pretty excited for the eclipse, but after reading David Baron’s delightful book, American Eclipse, and interviewing him for our FiveThirtyEight science podcast, I’m all in. (Listen to Baron’s Story Collider or TED talk, and you’ll have eclipse fever too.) I’ll be meeting up with Dad and Mom and numerous friends in Casper, Wyoming to witness two minutes and 26 seconds of totality. In advance, I called up my dad to get some last minute thoughts.

CHRISTIE: Why is this eclipse such a big deal?

DAD: Well, number one, it goes all the way across the U.S., so a large part of the country is eligible to see it. Two, it’s a mid-day event, so people don’t have to get up early or stay up late to see it. Social media has helped it get much more publicity than it might have had in the past, and many more people are taking advantage of this to make money and all that.

It’s also an event of the universe outside of our political world. There’s nothing controversial about it; nothing not to like about it. And so many people live within a three hour drive of totality.

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Eclipse Week: Not Even Looking Up

So, LWON is eclipsing, on into next week.  And if the internet is to be believed, half the country will be pulled north and the other half south and they’ll converge in the middle, on the path of totality.  It’s charming, how a population that normally lives at arm’s length from earthly reality — milk in cartons, bears in zoos — is moved to get up close to this few minutes of celestial reality.  I’m moved too, but I’m not in the path and I’m not going anywhere.  And I’m not even going to look up, I’m going to look down.  Because last time I saw a partial eclipse, I had an epiphany. Continue reading

Eclipse Week: Seen Through Every Lens

There’s been a lot in the media about eclipses this year. In fact, it’s fair to say that America has gotten a little eclipse crazy over the last couple months. (For those of you who just got back from a year stranded on a deserted island, we are expecting a total solar eclipse to cross the country next week. Oh, and Donald Trump is president now. Seriously.)

In fact, some are saying this might be the single largest human migration to see a natural event. You might be wondering, why are people going so nuts over a slightly darker minute and a half? The answer to this is simple: Because we always have.

Eclipses have always been a big deal for humans. Like, a really big deal. Sometimes they were a sign of end times, other times they were a blessing. And others, my personal favorites, were something in between.

Take the vikings. The ancient Norse people believed that eclipses were caused by a pair of mischievous wolves with a penchant for chasing celestial objects. When they caught them – and I assume swallowed them – the sun would disappear for a moment until all the vikings got together and screamed loud enough to chase the wolves away.

You have to love that about the vikings. The believed that a wolf big enough to swallow the sun was still scared shitless of a pack of angry vikings. And can you blame it? Vikings were scary. Interestingly, another Norse tradition holds that demons are fond of attacking a bride on her wedding day but are deathly afraid of spoons. For this reason, among others, I married a woman with tiny spoons on her head.  Continue reading

Eclipse Week: Welcome!

Hello readers of LWON. Your dutiful scribes would like to welcome you to LWON’s Eclipse Week. I know, you probably think you’ve heard as much as you want to about the eclipse. You have your eye gear, the family suburban is all gassed up and ready to go and there’s a better-than-average chance that you have not yet made hotel reservations and are just going to sleep in the parking lot of a Gas-N-Sip with your family in order see this historic(ish) event.

It’s a little known fact that the contributors of LWON are pretty big science nerds. And for the next five days, those of us who will be sleeping in that parking lot right next to you wanted to take a beat and share our enthusiasm for a silly little thing like the moon passing in the way of the sun. So sit back, put on a pair of impermeable shades and enjoy!

And I know, most weeks start on a Monday. Take it up with whatever steering committee scheduled this year’s eclipse.

Mourning the Dove

There’s great dignity in the mourning dove. Rarely does one demand attention. A pair’s gentle cooing is a pleasure, the whisper of parents trying not to wake the baby. The whir of their wings in flight (called sonation) recalls a wind-up toy. A couple of them, in velvety gray-brown with daubs of black low on the wings, has kept me company this summer—maybe the same pair that nested here last year. It’s been a warm season, which could support up to six two-chick clutches if a pair goes whole hog on reproduction. (The species is that prolific because mortality is high. I’ll come back to that point shortly.)

They’ve been so easy to get along with, these two, like neighbors you’d invite to come sip iced drinks through the hot afternoon. Though I startle them regularly—each time I open my back door into their territory—they hold no grudges. They may hop up a few branches or fly to the roof or a more distant tree, wings whistling, but in three shakes or so they’re back home. Continue reading