The 2017 eclipse from Eastern Oregon

Michele and I went to Eastern Oregon to watch the eclipse. Our theory was that it is the closest place that would most likely have no crowds and clear skies. Actually, I didn’t go to watch the eclipse as much as to watch people, especially Michele, watching the eclipse. My experience is that people who are interested in something like this are also usually very interesting themselves. Getting ready to go, our biggest worry was that it would be so crowded that the local gas stations would be sold out of gas and we would not even be able to get near a place to watch.  

Our plan was to get as high as possible so we could see the moon’s shadow race across the landscape. Several months ago, Michele called Peter and  Ophelia in Boise Idaho, near the Oregon border, and asked them what their plans were. That prompted Peter to make a couple of recon runs and he thought the best place would be Lookout Mountain near Lime, Oregon which was right at the center of the Totality. We were going to a wedding in Napa on Saturday evening and the eclipse was on Monday; Lime is day’s drive away so it seemed perfect. Then we started reading about the expected crowds and the campgrounds being sold out and all motels and Airbandbs in Oregon being sold out a year in advance and we started worrying that Lookout Mountain would be a magnet. Michele began to say things like “Well if we can just get to the Oregon border on Interstate 84, near Ontario, we’ll be in the Totality Zone and that will be a win.”

Pre-eclipse Sunday, as we were getting close to our destination – about two hours out – we switched into desert survival mode, getting gas every time the tank dropped down to 3/4s. The first station had pretty long lines, partially because it was Oregon which doesn’t have self-service, but also because the traffic was getting denser. But when I asked how busy it was, the attendant said it was terrible, they had 795 cars yesterday; when I asked what a normal day was, he said about 200. That translates to four times normal and normal for Eastern Oregon is almost empty so our too packed to move fears were much assuaged. A couple of hours later, we drove up an empty washboard dirt/rock road to a ridge below Lookout Mountain and it was astoundingly deserted. 

We found a wide spot in the road that was wide enough to park and set up a table, had a can of fine wine, cold chicken barbecued the Friday before, an Asian salad kit from Whole Foods, and watched a memorable sunset. After the sunset appreciation period, a couple of guys – that were parked at the next wide spot in the road – came over for a drink. It turned out they were rocket engineers from NASA – JPL, actually – and they had spent months pouring over topo maps of the Western United States before deciding that the hill by our car was the best place in the United States to watch the eclipse. By sheer luck on our part and stellar reconnaissance skills on Peter’s part, we had ended up at a superior location.  

Below is a gratuitous picture of Michele enjoying a lazy morning by sleeping in. We were on a ridge and it was windy all night so we used our cooler, “camping box”, and table, as a wind break. Behind her is the hill from which we watched the Great American Eclipse. The light was already getting dim by the time we got to to the top of our viewing hill and the temperature was noticeably dropping. There we ran into the biggest crowd, sixteen by actual count, that we saw all day. It seemed to be all NASA or NASA related and it was the kind of crowd that, during totality, when Michele, looking at a very dim Mercury, said “It’s dark enough that I can see a star.”, six people said “planet” together; it was the kind of crowd that wore their dark glasses even as it got darker, to improve their night vision; it was the kind of crowd that laid out a piece of paper to watch for Shadow Bands, although, all I ever saw were crescent-shaped patterns.   As the moon moved across the sun, cutting off the light, from 1% to 95%, the change was slow and not noticeable without actually stopping and consciously looking around. Yes, it was getting colder and the shadows were getting softer but it was still very much daylight even if it was slightly green. We stood along the ridge, in the cold air, watching for the distant mountains to disappear in a dark shadow traveling at something like 2000 miles per hour, then – suddenly – it got dark, and a NASA guy near me, who had been wearing two pairs of dark glasses, quietly said “Look at the corona without your eclipse glasses and let your eyes adjust to the corona, look at how soft and delicate it is.” I looked up and it seemed huge; a giant black hole surrounded by a lacy corona reaching way out into the night sky. A night sky that was dark but only dark enough for us to see Venus and tiny Mercury almost swallowed by the corona.

This was my second eclipse, the first being in Fatehpur Sikri, India and what I most remember about that eclipse was looking around and seeing bright light off in the distance….in every direction. About the time I got focused enough to get several pictures of the light around us, the double glasses guy softly said, “Five seconds to the diamond ring.” I looked up again and the moon seemed to be close enough to touch, black and silent in the cold night sky, surrounded by a lacy corona. Then a speck of light shown from the upper corner of the black moon, instantly – seemingly – the spec became a bright light and, then exploded into The Sun too bright to look at even though it was probably 99% of totality. It was daylight again, dim and cold and slightly green, but daylight. The Great American Eclipse of 2017 was over.   

….all men are created equal….

Painting, by Kerry James Marshall, who was born in Birmingham (Alabama) and grew up in South Central (Los Angeles), at a show at MOCA

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...Thomas Jefferson with Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston.

If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention, Heather Heyer, killed in Charlotteville.

We are a racist nation with the bigotry of slavery in our DNA. For a long time, it seemed that that racism was in remission but President Donald J. Trump has both stirred up that racism and given it permission to come out of the muck and into the light. I don’t know if Trump is racist, but, in the end, it makes no difference, he has used racism to get elected. But we are also a nation trying to overcome that despicable past and it is worth noting that Heather Heyer, the person killed by a demented terrorist in Charlotteville, is white. May she Rest In Peace and may we find new Outrage by her death.


Reflections on War in a Silver Spoon

“Men my age made this war.” Mr. Dawson in Dunkirk

Every man was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Miguel de Cervantes

I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, either, but, growing up, there were a lot of silver spoons on the table. Now Michele and I have some of those silver spoons and we use a couple of them every day. While I was polishing one of them last week, it got me thinking about where they came from and that lead me to think about our constant wars. My parents got divorced in 1956 or ’57 and my mother got the silver. When she died, in 1985, I got the silver. Sometime between those dates, my mother told me it was originally a wedding gift from a vendor who was a supplier to my Grandfather’s restaurant.

My Grandparents originally came to San Francisco from Hungry in the late 1890s and, in my personal family myth, at least, my grandfather, who was a tailor when he got here, always wanted to own a restaurant. He got the chance when an almost defunct restaurant, across from the Ferry Building in San Francisco, was put up for sale. When the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge was finished in 1936, Ferry traffic had dropped way off and the businesses – like that restaurant almost across the street from the Ferry Building – also lost most of their traffic, allowing my grandfather to get a good deal. It was a good deal on a restaurant just limping along but then the world changed.

Again, in my personal mythology,  when the war started, ship yards all around the Bay Area started up and workers used the ferry system to get to the various shipyards that were now working 24 hours a day, every day. Bethlehem in Alameda and South San Francisco as well as San Francisco, Kaiser in Richmond – where they once built a Liberty Ship in five days, assembled from pre-made sections – the Navy Shipyards in Vallejo, in total about 60 ship yards that employed about 244,000 workers at their height of production. Many of those workers took the ferry boat to get to their jobs and business boomed at Stern’s Coffee House. Now, polishing the spoon, I began to think my timeline was off. My parents got married on New Year’s Eve, 1937 and a complete set of silver was a big present. Somebody, or several somebodies, must have been doing a lot of business with Stern’s to be able to justify a very expensive silver set as a gift. Business must have been very good even before the war; a lot of people must have been already working in ship yards around the bay.

That got me thinking, we have been taught – maybe not today, after all, people aren’t even taught about Dunkirk anymore, but when I was in school in the 50s – that the United States was foolishly isolationist, even though Roosevelt and other wise people wanted to go to war, they couldn’t talk the people into it. We were told that the war, for us, didn’t start until Pearl Harbor, but biz was good at Stern’s before that. What if it were today and I was not looking at it through the lens of knowing what will happen? I probably would have been against going to Europe again. It seems to me that, then when people didn’t know what we know now, the people who were at risk of dying in the war were much less interested in doing so than the people who send them and were going to profit from it. After all, in 1939, it had been just twenty-two years earlier, that over 116,000 Americans died in Europe and it didn’t seem to change a thing. But the elites, the people who owned ship yards and airplane factories, were already gearing up for the war. In the end, more than 180,000 Americas died fighting Hitler and very few people would claim it wasn’t worth it, certainly not the much smaller number that got silver spoons.

As an aside, Hitler was a good thing for war makers. First, Hitler justified every and any thing we did during the war; our strategic bombing campaign killed over 600,000 German civilians including an estimated 47,000 children with almost no drop in German production but that was lost in the greater horror of the Holocaust. Hitler justified our going into the war; today, nobody, with a straight face, can say that we shouldn’t have fought the Nazis. And, most disturbing in my book, Hitler justifies every war ever since. Anybody we don’t like gets compared to Hitler sooner or later and we have already agreed that fighting Hitler, saving the world from Hitler, is not an option. End aside.

On being old and getting sick w/ some pictures of Superbike Racing

Last week, I walked out of a movie, feeling nauseous. By way of background, I have a cow heart valve, well, not exactly a valve, more of a valve part. It was installed in 2002 when my aorta started to give out. The valve leaflets had started to get calcium deposits and they were replaced with parts from a cow. As an aside, it isn’t really a cow valve, what I have is a valve part that has been manufactured from the cow’s pericardial sack, which is the tough tissue that encases the cow’s heart, by Edwards Lifesciences. I’m told that cow parts are used because the tissue is very similar to the tissue in a human valve. I’ve also been told – I don’t know for sure as I was anesthetized at the time – that the remanufactured valve parts arrive from the manufacturer, arrayed by size on some-sort of flesh like tray. I got the 25mm model. End aside.

Anyway, I was feeling nauseous and because of my cow valve, I started to low-grade panic. We ended up going home early, I went to bed, and the panic abated. The next morning, I felt punk but much better, then I had a piece of toast and a soft boiled egg and the nausea returned reinforcing my hope and belief that it was my stomach and not my heart. The next day Michele looked up nausea epidemics and said that there were bouts in New Hampshire, Yolo County, and Chipotles – I mentally added Portola Valley – and they usually ran for 24 to 72 hours. Now, at last, here is the point: I used to consider myself as having an iron stomach and, if it said 24 to 72 hours, it meant 12 hours for me, now I think, Oh, I’m on the 72-hour side of this time frame. It reminds me of a flue warning when they say “Be especially careful with children and old people.” and I realize I am the old people they are talking about. In this case, when the nausea ran past 72 hours, I started to panic again and, then, it was gone. I felt great, it was like a storm being pushed through by a warm front and after the storm everything is clear and bright. 


The whole experience has left me thinking about growing older and the differences between my reality and my expectations. Not in the main arc, I suppose, but in lots of little things. For example, every now and then, I mis-swallow, gagging slightly, I never did this when I was younger or, for the first time in 65, 70, years, since I was a young child, I now occasionally, accidentally,  bite the inside of my cheek or my lip. Now, my balance sucks but, when I was young, my balance was so good, I could walk the 2×4 top plate of a stud wall. Strangely, as I have gotten older, my sense of smell has increased and my eyesight has gotten better, two things I would not have predicted.

I want to end this post and am at a loss for a good ending, so I will leave it with a poem from the great Billy Collins:

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.