Major Earth processes can happen quickly

Most of us have a hard time seeing things on a geologic time scale.

We get all excited about USGS diagrams and GIFs about, say, how earthquakes happen.  Then we look out the window and can’t see it.

“Those hills and plains aren’t moving at all,” we think.

But they will.  And the geologists can see it all playing out in slow-mo every time they look out the window.

It’s easier to see Nature’s sudden transitions in a fluid medium like water or air.

Like this satellite image of Hurricane Harvey suddenly tightening up just before landfall.  Those two images are only 30 seconds apart.


Fire Smoke East of Us

Glad we’ve got onshore breeze this morning (yes, it reaches Corvallis, which is inland a ways).  The image above is facing toward the east and those aren’t clouds; it is wildfire smoke being pushed back by the west wind.

I didn’t realize there were so many fires in the Willamette National Forest right now – we’re due west of the top two clusters on this map (live interaction here):


It’s nowhere near a BC-wildfire situation, but it’s the largest local fire outbreak I’ve seen since arriving here three years ago.

You can follow Oregon’s wildfires at Inciweb.

PS:  Firefighters were watching the eclipse closely, too.

Texting the Eclipse

Tuesday, August 22, 2017, 11:29 a.m.: The sun came up this morning (in the east). Work has kept me too busy to note that reassuring little/big fact until now.

4:09 p.m.:  Took a break from work (there will, hopefully, be two cat posts tomorrow, though none today).  The day has become hazy, though there are no clouds up there, and it’s a hot August afternoon.  I was looking at the light on the grass in the backyard; the haze made it look a little like this morning’s partial-eclipse light.

Something primeval in me whispered, ‘It’s coming back.’  Yes, I can see how this must have affected early people, living in a world full of dangers, uncertainties, pain, and sickness.

They likely took that vague but worrisome feeling and went in all directions with it: ‘Feed the sun god with blood!’  or ‘We have done something wrong and we’re all going to die!’ or ‘Our god was angry at us but has shown mercy; we’re righteous now, unlike those people over there.’

The relatively few of us who have ever seen the eclipsed sun’s corona from a darkened world and understood what it was through science are lucky not to be part of that long line of humans who were really shaken up by a major change in their world that they could not understand.

Like all people, they worked their minds over it but just didn’t have enough good information available.

We do, and so we get to say, ‘It’s beautiful!’  That does help to prevent howling at an internal dark sun long after ordinary daylight has returned.

2:19 p.m.:  I slowly got back into my daily routine (though I don’t know that it’s possible to get a 50 Facts cat post out today).  Around noon, I went to the store, which wasn’t too crowded.  The clerk asked me if I’d seen the eclipse and we talked about it a little, but not in any depth.  There was a strong subtext in both of us, I think, that was all “Did that really happen?” and it was too recent to deal with in a normal setting.

I’ve been around since before the Sixties, so I know you do get a little of that when some big public event happens.  This was different, though.  We probably both were still processing having lived through an event that looked like a classic paperback cover from the Golden Era of silent fiction back in the Fifties, minus rockets and space suits.

It was only then that I realized just how much of an impact a total solar eclipse has.  You really can’t look at the world the same way, at least not two hours after the darkness.

I can’t bring myself to say “dark Sun” now.  Huh.  I’ll bet the sight of that fiery corona and black round “face” founded some religions back in the day.

10:21 a.m.: The light outside was weird when I went out into the yard right after that last note. The shed doors are open, and you could easily see the lights were on, although the Sun was still shining The red clock in there glared more and more as the seconds went down.

The shadows of tree leaves were that circular impressionistic dancing shape you see sometimes on the wall after the Sun has gone down, like dancing glints of sunlight off a breezy lake.

But if you looked up at the trees, they were still in sunlight, bright against a darkened blue sky.

There were at least three generally east-west contrails up there, which you never see here normally – the traffic is usually north-south.  Special eclipse flights, probably.

I went out front, and having heard of the all-horizon sunset effect, I stood and waited. I did not expect to see the curvature of the Moon’s shadow in the western sky (that’s “western” as in somewhere between south and north, not due west). It looked like a terrible rain-hidden storm advancing, though there was no wind.

Then, almost simultaneously I saw a post-sunset light sky all around (about fist high or a little more, if you stretched out your arm a la Tom Hanks and his thumb in Apollo 13, not particularly colorful, just light blue and maybe a little faint orange/yellow), the Moon shadow disappeared, I looked up safely, and everybody in the neighborhood – who is outside, and it’s a fair crowd – started howling, including me.

Also the morning star appeared almost directly overhead. (PS: I noticed very thin stratus clouds near the horizon during totality, too, best seen to the south from where I stood; didn’t note them down at first as I thought it was weather, but the sky is clear at 11:01 a.m. as I write this postscript – an eclipse cooling effect on the moisture-laden atmosphere, I guess.)

The sky doesn’t turn to night; the sky darkens and at totality a black Sun shines.

That corona! It looks just like the astronomy photos but it’s a real thing in your own sky overhead. Until you see that for yourself, you don’t realize just how powerful our star is.

That was the fastest minute and forty seconds I’ve ever spent. I kept looking around whenever I could tear my eyes away from the dark Sun. The twilight effect was all around and then, almost simultaneously, the sunset effect went away, the sky lightened where it had been darkest, and I glanced up at the Sun for a split-second just as the light came back.

Probably would have seen Bailey’s beads if I’d had glasses.

In that dim apocalyptic light that is so much like ordinary sunlight I could probably get used to it if I had to, I then came back inside to write this.

I was going to blog the rest of the eclipse, but after seeing that haloed black orb up there, and the effect it had on me and all around me, I don’t feel it’s necessary.

A little emotional recovery is in order. I have howled at a dark Sun.

10 a.m.:  Life in nature (here meaning the natural world out there and this particular human’s subjective feelings) is stilling down.  It feels like I should go to bed.

Of course, you have to watch perceptions.  I just learned that the dog may have been whining because her owner was outside; she was fine when he was in here.  That may or may not be relevant to the eclipse.

The breeze has died almost completely down – an eclipse “gust front” as the denser cool air moved with the shadow?  It does feel a little cooler, though I can’t say much about that as I wasn’t outside after finishing my morning coffee and so have nothing to compare it to.

Totality is due at around 10:17, so I may just wait until after that to post again.  I did shoot a quick glance up at the Sun as it peeped out from behind the maple branches and leaves, and it does look mostly dark.

We get about 1 minute and 40 seconds of totality.

9:54 a.m.:  Crickets! We have full-on nighttime crickets, though the Sun is still obviously shining brightly.  I have had to turn on the room light, but the stellar glare is still brighter in the patch than shines in.

One jay is complaining but I haven’t heard any animal movements in the brush in quite a while.

9:47 a.m.:  Awe begins.  The whole bluish-white sky looks like it is in shadow – okay, Captain Obvious, I know, but I’m not talking about the eclipse.  I’m saying that the whole sky is darkening.  No more planes. No more animal noises.

The breeze seems to have lessened.

9:45 a.m.:  The light is now exactly what it is during the last few moments of sunset, but you can tell it’s not normal sunlight.

I think, if I were a pre-European-contact native, this is about the time I’d head inside.  As it is, I’m going to step out and look around (but not up – I don’t have glasses).

9:38 a.m.:  Just had the first “hey, it’s getting dark in here” sense – I’m in my room, which faces East, because this is where I normally work.

All these are feelings, not intellectual stuff, which is focusing mainly on typing this post and observing.  Even the unruly little kid somewhere in the neighborhood has finally quieted down.

There have been a lot of planes flying overhead – well, maybe a 30% increase from usual, as Oregonians do like to fly.  They were quite frequent about five or ten minutes ago and then they went away.  Coming back now, it sounds like.

9:36 a.m.:  Had my first feeling that can best be described as “the time is out of joint.”  The dog is whining a little bit.  It is totally quiet in the natural world again.  There’s an odd reddish quality to the light (this effect, which I’ve noticed during lunar eclipses, too, must have made some old-timers associate blood and the sky.

The breeze is stronger.  It’s coming from the north-northwest, as near as I can tell direction without a compass.

9:30 a.m .: OK, there were a few little chirps right now.  I’m not sure if the birds were really puzzled or if I was just reading it into the sounds.

A breeze did start soon after I heard someone say “You guys, it’s begun,” around five past.  Didn’t mention that, for once, the air was totally still this morning.

9:27 a.m.:  The natural world is totally quiet now.

9:22 a.m.:  There is a late-afternoon quality to the sunlight now.  The birds have quieted – the neighbors went silent about ten minutes ago.

9:15 a.m.: Per my eclipse app, the partial eclipse began at 9:04 a.m. Haven’t noticed anything in the sky yet, but people near the house who likely can’t see the eclipse because of tree limbs, etc., are excited. Thus far, for everybody, it’s just a mental thing.

8:34 a.m.: I was reading eclipse news online while waiting for the Moon’s shadow to get here and, in a good article, someone talked about how awe-inspiring solar eclipses are.

That resonated with me, since I haven’t been able to get the theme from Apollo 13 out of my head today, even though I didn’t go see the free screening outdoors at OSU Saturday night.

This morning does feel similar to the anticipation we (the public in America) had during the time leading up to an Apollo launch.

That may be why the media here calls this “The Great American Eclipse” – we really haven’t had such a unified public excitement to a major space-related event.

Many people missed it when NASA launched two Voyager missions in the late 1970s. They sent up Voyager 2 before Voyager 1, but they knew what they were doing. Voyager 2 is now about 16 light-hours away – and it is very cool to use that term is something other than science fiction – while it takes light an extra three hours to get to Voyager 1.

How do they know that? Voyager 2 is still on the job, collecting data and communicating with the only station on Earth, down in Australia, that can reach it now.

Not bad for a 40-year-old craft (its anniversary was yesterday) whose onboard computer memory is only big enough to handle one of today’s JPG images.

Then, in 2006, rocket scientists flung a spacecraft off the Earth so hard –

– it broke speed records and also got to Pluto quickly, in rocket-travel terms.

Finally, I think it is absolutely awesome that, last year, Queen’s former lead guitarist – who is now an astronomer – became the first human being to make a stereoscopic image of a comet nucleus during ESA’s Rosetta mission.

Brian May is definitely an overachiever!

Monday, August 21, 2017, 7:48 a.m.: Well, here we are. The Sun has come up (my roommates and their guests not so much just yet), the birds have settled into their daily routine of randomly hopping around a little bit and calling to each other from cover and, about an hour ago, when I stumbled into the back yard to the picnic table and imbibed coffee sip by sip, there was an unusual rumble of traffic to the north along the main drag.

This little field of houses is behind a development and the ground is flat like you often see in hilly country, so I can’t see what the traffic looks like. I’m very glad I don’t have to drive anyway.

You see,the day has dawned perfectly clear, though there’s a whitish quality to the blue sky from a lot of Pacific water vapor that could condense quickly into clouds if conditions were right. But I don’t think that’s going to happen – it’s still summer in the Pacific Northwest.

Yesterday the dog was in a constant anxiety state because of all the extra people and strange dogs walking in the road. It’s not at all crowded, though. It’s just that things are usually very quiet here and you can feel the difference.

Those were the lucky ones; today all the people who couldn’t get a place to stay Sunday night are coming in, as well as news crews, I imagine, and various other kibitzers.

OSU haas opened up one of its sports fields, and they’re giving away eclipse glasses to the first 6,000 people who show up. Seriously. I’m not stirring from the house/back yard today unless I must.

Sunday, August 20, 2017, 7:05 a.m.: I just watched the Sun come up indirectly, perhaps not the way NASA advises people without glasses to watch the eclipse, but the way most of us do casually sometimes.

I was too lazy and comfortable to get out of bed right away and just watched the bright spot on the western wall opposite the window slowly fill in with what’s basically a stellar glare.

Or as we call it, sunshine.

It’s powerful stuff. Of course, right now everybody is aware of how harmful it can be to your eyes because of all the warnings, but I’ve turned on the room light, and even as an indirect blotch on the wall, the Sun is brighter.

That’s no surprise, of course. Our puny efforts to replace sunlight during the hours of darkness can’t begin to measure up to real daylight.

They, too, are indirect even though our fear of the night – based on real dangers as well as unrealistic ones – has made us very creative.

For hundreds of centuries we unleashed the stored solar energy of plants to manage darkness, augmenting it with the the products of beings – plant and animal – whose lives depend on the Sun, just as ours do.

I guess that’s what we still do now, if you include living beings from the past whose remains have turned into coal and petroleum.

And that brings me back to Corvallis in the summer of 2017. Yesterday while gadding about (as much as you can do this on a city bus), I looked for sights other than crowds that you might expect to see at a big event. There were only two: food vendors in unusual but high-traffic places and people making political statements.

The activist was photographing some kids up on a traffic overpass who were holding a sheet sign about how keeping oil in the ground was our best chance for a good future.

I didn’t agree with her, but to each their own.

A mile or two down the road, I got off and while walking by a little strip mall saw fairly well preserved old-time farm implements that somebody had arranged along the side of the lot.

Better farm equipment possible with trim-480x640
There were no signs or any other indication why these things were here instead of in a museum or an old barn somewhere.

Given the rural history of this part of Oregon, and OSU’s origin, I think, as an agricultural college, it probably has something to do with the university’s 150th anniversary, of which the NASA event is just a part.

The tractor and whatever the other implements are called will be indoors again, I’m sure, before the rains come – obviously someone loves them very much.

But juxtaposed with seeing the “keep oil in the ground” sign a little earlier, this farm tool display reminded me that taking petroleum and coal out of the ground has kept us fed and brought us as far as this advanced technological point today.

I’m not saying it will, but it does seem likely that using fossil fuels will overall continue to improve, not worsen, our future, too.

Of course, we’ll argue about it. That’s a human thing to do. Arguments are okay as long as we can manage them, like darkness.

There is something very dark in us, which is why we first used our newfound control of an actual solar process in another August, seventy-two years ago, during war. But we do try to stay turned to the light, as all life on Earth probably does. We’re trying now to use solar light and nuclear processes for safe, renewable energy.

Maybe we will succeed. If the past is any guide, more likely we will learn something along the way that will take us into even more helpful directions.

The Sun is part of literally everything we are and know.

And NASA says it is going to fade into blackness in 1 day and 40 minutes from the time I’m posting this.

How is that going to feel?

10:57 a.m. Well, here’s one possibility:

More on HiRISE here.

Saturday, August 19, 2017, 4:40 p.m.: I had some errands to do downtown today and set off by bus, which I normally do but would have done today even if I drove a car frequently.

Actually, the bus, the streets into town, and the downtown area seemed rather deserted, though there were more young kids around than usual. I didn’t stop at OSU on the way in, as I’ll be visiting their eclipse events tomorrow; it was early morning, too, and people were still setting up speakers, fences, and such stuff in the Memorial Union quad.

But downtown filled up quickly. It was like the tide: you don’t really notice it coming in until suddenly you’re hip-deep in water.

The parking was a clue. Summer Saturday mornings here or in any small college town don’t look like this:

cars and crowd-480x640

That street should be almost empty.  Down at the end of the street a few blocks,  by the Willamette River, is the usual Saturday morning farmer’s market, but there was a huge crowd down there even after closing time – probably some eclipse-related events, but I stayed away from the hip-deep-in-people stuff.

Basically, Corvallis today seems totally deserted in some parts, with intense but reasonably sized crowds in other parts.  The planners certainly knew what they were doing.  It’s not hard at all to walk around Corvallis, if you want.  CTS (Corvallis Transit) is also running a shuttle from downtown to OSU’s events and to the parking lots at the local fairgrounds. I imagine local driving isn’t too bad, either.

While on another bus at the downtown transit center, I happened to get a halfway decent picture of the shuttle driver just after he got off his bus, probably for a break – got the tip of the iconic Corvallis court house clock tower in it, too.


Sunny, temperature about 80, and there’s a decent onshore wind that makes the day very comfortable for hanging around outdoors.

That’s not the shuttle bus in the background; the eclipse shuttle is a regular city bus.

The downtown transit center is compact, with two separated lanes that each have multiple stops.  A very nice feature of Corvallis living is that the buses are fareless.  OSU and probably other agencies/donors take care of the costs.

Here’s one more sidewalk shot.

This town must have been insane in the Sixties, but now they have preserved only the best of the psychedelia.

Note the bicycles on the left.  That’s what I noticed most frequently while doing my errands in various parts of town – there are a lot more bicyclists than usual.

There are also more Washington State auto license plates, and in South Corvallis, at least, there seem to be a lot more cars parked in yards than there were last weekend- eclipse visitors, I’m thinking.

We’re having a few eclipse guests come in, too.  They’re the friends of one of my roommates, from up north somewhere, Washington or perhaps even British Columbia.

He (the roommate) knows the people down the street and that group will watch the eclipse from those neighbors’ driveway.  I suppose Andre the Cedar and the maple will block out the dramatic scene, which is due to start around 9 a.m. and hit totality, they say, around 10:17.

All the celestial bodies are zipping around up there at tens of thousands of miles/kilometers per hour, but from down here it appears to happen very slowly.  That makes me realize for the first time just how big the Moon really is.

I’m concentrating on the effects this eclipse will have on life in the backyard, including me (and perhaps also the dog), so I’ll just hang out here.  Might go out to the road at totality to see what the shadowed Sun looks like.

Friday, August 18, 2017, 9:11 a.m.: The sun was rising in a clear blue sky this morning around 7 a.m. when I got up. It was just like a movie sunrise – a sunrise I would choose if I were making a film about this solar eclipse.

But the event is almost three days away. Who knows what conditions will be like then.

However,people carry on no matter what the weather. And the pattern is different this morning. I’ve noticed no morning rush hour sounds. Instead, there has just been a sparse but business-like vehicle flow, mostly cars and pickups, that was ongoing even at 7 a.m.

I’d say that means Corvallis is ready for the invasion.

Thursday, August 17, 2017, 8:07 a.m.:  We’re in indirect-lighting mode this morning; the sky is a pane of gray shadows intermixed with whiter bands that leak a little sunlight.

It’s what the forecasters call marine stratus – a cloud deck that forms overnight in the very stable air over the ocean near the coast.  During the recent extremely hot spell, the mets mentioned it a lot in their discussions, as it brings some coolness and a little moisture inland.

According to this morning’s discussion, it most likely won’t affect eclipse viewing here.  I wonder which is more disconcerting to the unwary: the general fading of light under a stratus layer or whatever the Sun looks like when it is fully blocked by the Moon.

The apples on the small tree east of Andre the Cedar are reddening.  There is also an incredibly productive little pear tree out there.

The oldest resident among us (three years in this place) says that the land between the roads here used to be an orchard.  However, these trees aren’t in their late fifties – they’re much younger.  It looks like someone went around the fence line planting fruit trees about fifteen years or so ago and left them on their own.

Planting fruit trees can be a big fail in many places without a huge investment of time, water, fertilizer and hard work, but the land here is incredibly fertile.  I used to live in Albany, Oregon, about twelve miles east of here, out in the valley, and I’ve never seen such huge fields nor ones that deliver crop after crop after crop during a single growing season.

Only after I moved here did I begin to understand how people in the agrarian US of the 19th century literally killed themselves to get to Oregon.

What with the climate west of the Cascades, a soil fertilized by volcanic ash and glacial rock powder, and that enormous forearc basin called the Willamette Valley, just about anything you stick in the ground does well.

I think there was a total solar eclipse in the region in 1802, a few years before Lewis and Clark arrived.  Local people, whose ancestors had survived the last great Cascadia megathrust earthquake as well as various big volcanic eruptions, including the one that formed Crater Lake, probably went indoors until the darkness passed.

European settlers in the 19th and 20th century likely were just as excited as us to experience solar eclipses (I don’t know how many of them locally may have been total).  Natives probably followed tradition and avoided the darkness.

And next Monday?  Older people may stick with tradition, but according to this story in The Oregonian, 13 teams of mostly Native American children in Oregon and other states in the region will be releasing balloons to conduct experiments with NASA.

Welcome to the 21st Century!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017, 9:08 a.m.:  This is one of those mornings that’s nice but quiet, the sort of day you remember as typical when you think back on a place. It’s a good one to use as a baseline for the unusual morning coming up next week.

Let’s see.  The work traffic has been gone for a little while.  The Sun is currently tangled up in the branches of Andre the Cedar and throwing pretty shadows from the fence line saplings and bushes about halfway across the yard.

There’s some construction going on nearby, judging by the motor sounds, but it’s not loud.  Various stealthy sounds show that the animals aren’t asleep yet.  I don’t recognize any of the bird sounds except a mourning dove and a chickadee.

The temperature is quite comfortable indoors and out.  The reason for that, and the reason why we’re not crisping in solar radiation (as we would be on the Moon), is probably the same reason why the sky – a dark, clear, beautiful blue just an hour or so ago – has gone all white and light-diffusive: water vapor.

It could be wildfire smoke, I know, but it has more of a blue hue to it.  That’s how the usual atmospheric gases scatter sunlight.

As I understand it, vaporized H2O is the biggest greenhouse gas of all, and it’s that greenhouse effect from all the gases that protects us by keeping just enough solar warmth in our atmosphere to provide a decent living space for all sorts of Earth life.

And “just enough” has been a different quantity down through geologic time.  That’s led to some incredible swings in climate, even though the same Sun powers the heat engine behind it all.

You can go a lot of different ways with that statement.  What I’m trying to say here is that our lives, our Mother Earth, and the Sun have many intimate connections.  And in just under five days from now, per NASA, the most powerful member of that trinity is going to fade away.

Intellectually, it’s fun.  Bun I wonder what it will feel like, deep inside.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017, 7:36 a.m.:  To paraphrase Samuel L. Jackson, the sun rises in the east.

Well, it did so a little over an hour ago and is now high enough in the sky to be above all those fence-line trees and shrubs as well as out from behind Andre the Cedar’s trunk (but below the lowest branches – seriously, this tree is gigantic).

I don’t really need to know where the sun rises – it’s enough to know where the bus stops are, and how to get out onto the main drag from here.  You know, the usual modern location clues.

But it’s good to have this natural confirmation that, yes, the street on one side of the house runs east-west, while the other is a north-south route.  It puts you on the map and equal to the mapmaker who put a big “N” on the original drawing.

And, of course, it’s also practical if you happen to be piloting a helicarrier that, for some reason, isn’t breaking the sound barrier plunging straight down after losing power.

Or if you’re piloting any of the LA-Seattle-Vancouver flights that constantly leave contrails overhead whenever the weather conditions are right.

Or just quacking along piloting a flock of Canada geese on spring and autumn migration (though I’ve heard a magnetism sense is involved in this, too).

The sun’s direction probably even helps guide those small critters, looking for a meal in the shrubs, that the pit bull is currently listening to with ears perked up and back legs ready to launch a charge. (She never catches them, but it’s good exercise.)

And next Monday, for an hour or two, that light in the sky will fade away into darkness . . .

Eclipse weather forecast:  Mostly sunny, high around 81.

Almost directly overhead right now is the Moon, a little less than half full.  I’m going back to my childhood habit of capitalizing the names of both of these celestrial orbs.

Monday, August 14, 2017, 10:38 a.m.:  It’s a fairly sunny day, with high stratus clouds showing patches of faint blue in between just to prove that they are clouds, not Canadian wildfire smoke.

The marine air from the Pacific is keeping that smoke away from us in the current weather pattern.

To set the scene for next Monday’s eclipse, the backyard I’ll be watching it from is large, squarish, and fenced off with sturdy wire mesh.

The fence must be sturdy (and high) because we are on the outskirts of Corvallis – a college town surrounded by rural hills and fields – and there are deer in the neighborhood that aren’t afraid to approach houses and sheds.

That’s outside the yard.

Inside the yard with me is a beautiful blue Staffordshire pit bull who has been owned and trained with loving firmness, with corresponding good results.  There are neighborhood cats and other pets nearby, though, so it is good to have a sturdy fence to keep her territory clearly marked out for her and for them.

We’re great friends – she hasn’t any idea that I’m writing about cats.

This yard is attached to a good-sized one-story house that’s almost as old as I am, where I live with two roommates.  Housing prices are insane here and most students live this way, so it’s appropriate to mention that I’m in my sixties, one of the roommates is in his fifties and the other in his thirties.

Apart from the somewhat advanced ages, though, I’d say we’re a typical bunch of Corvallis renters.  I’m retired and can work at home, but the other two have full-time jobs.

So it’s me and “the pup,” as the four-year-old pit bull is called, and next Monday we’ll probably be sitting here pretty much as we are now.  The pup is on her bed out on the step next to the open door, while I’m at the table near the open door, observing and typing.

I’ve only been at this address for a month and a half, but I’ve been in this part of Oregon since 2014.  I hail from the Northeast – New England and upstate New York – where there are cedar and maple trees . . . but the cedars are shrubs or small swamp dwellers, unlike the giant about 15 feet away from me now that dominates and shares the yard with an enormous maple that would garner a lot of attention if it wasn’t so close to Andre the Cedar.

Together, the two giants shade the yard nicely, and our grass stayed green enough not to need watering during the recent hot spell.  Along with a ragged line of bushes and saplings along the back fence, they support lots of birds, squirrels, and probably other wildlife.

I’m not an outdoorswoman and can’t identify all those animals, but I’m familiar with their noise patterns and expect things to quiet down during the eclipse darkness.

Around mid-morning, things are usually fairly quiet, but you do hear individuals moving around and birds occasionally call to one another.

There may be a change in human noise already.  I get up early and love to sit outside with coffee.  Going-to-work traffic during summer in this college-town neighborhood seems to peak around 7-8 a.m., and then again around 9 briefly, but this morning, for the first time since I’ve been here, it kept rumbling straight through.  Seemed a little louder, too.

Could be more people in town to prepare for this weekend and next Monday.

Let’s see.  That’s about it.  There are neighboring houses and yards all around, and a development, but they’re either without students just now or their people are all at work/day care.  You see a few hikers bicyclists or walkers during the day over by the complex wall, where there is a nice public sidewalk/path, but it’s pretty deserted here except on weekends.

That could change next week, though – I’ve read that OSU is renting its dorm rooms for the eclipse, and even two months ago people were advertising for an eclipse room on Craigslist.  Surely some homeowners in this neighborhood have gotten in on the eclipse tourism opportunity.

Eclipse weather report: Today, the National Weather Service has only forecast out to the 20th, the day before the eclipse, but that is expected to be mostly sunny.  (Of course, no forecast beyond a day or so can be counted on.)

It’s raining this morning, Sunday, August 13, 2017.  What that has to do with the solar eclipse, eight days from now, will become clear in a little while.

In case you have been out of circulation recently, on August 21st the Solar System has arranged to send this eclipse’s path of totality across one of our planet’s biggest media centers for the first time since 1979.

And if you live outside the US, you may have heard that the eclipse is also coming to Canada, the Caribbean, the countries of Central America, Greenland, the UK, Iceland and most other Atlantic island nations, as well as parts of South America, Africa, Europe, and Russia.

Path of eclipse trimmed
Eclipse map/figure/table/predictions courtesy of Fred Espenak, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center, from

But, to no one’s surprise, we Americans are taking it very personally.

Indeed, I’m going to call it the Oregon eclipse from now on, both because the first totality on land will happen here and because I live here, in Corvallis.

But I won’t forget that my experiencing temporary darkness next Monday is a coincidence, not an award for personal excellence.  I didn’t even have anything to do with the Apollo missions (although the first petrological thin section I ever saw in school was from a lunar rock).

It’s also not a curse or punishment, which must be how most people took it in preindustrial days.

You see, I’ve been through an eclipse before – when and where I forget, but it was out on the fringes of the shadow.  Even so, when the light faded a little bit in midday, insect and bird sounds in the back yard faltered and the nature/human connection deep within that is part of everybody’s hard wiring alerted me that something unusual and potentially dangerous was happening.

Intellectually I knew what it was, but even that miniscule fading of the light felt wrong.

A solar eclipse really has nothing to do with hoopla, although that’s fun.  It is something very primal.

So I thought about live-blogging the eclipse from my back yard, as I’m planning to avoid the crowds at Oregon State University (this coincides with their 150th anniversary celebration and eclipse-related events are absolutely wild over there).

But what can you say that isn’t obvious a week ahead of time?  “The light is fading; oops, there it goes . . . ”

Then, this morning I got up, opened up the back door, and saw it was raining.

If you’re not familiar with the Pacific Northwest and have only heard that it rains all the time up here, you won’t understand how delightful the sight and smell and sound of that drizzle was this morning.

We have a “Mediterranean climate.”  Sure, it rains a lot in winter, but summers are almost rain-free.

People switch over to Seasonal Affective Delight around May, and on this side of the Cascades, there is a conifer rainforest. (Evergreens can handle the summer drought better than broad-leaf trees.)

But it hasn’t been delightful lately.  We’ve been on a really long dry stretch, with three-digit temps at times and the sky shrouded with smoke from local and Canadian wildfires.

So today’s rainy drizzle feels wonderful.

It’s a lifesaver for the plants in the back yard, too.  The lawn is greening up, but there is still a crackling sound when raindrops hit those desiccated maple and shrubbery leaves.

This little bit of water won’t help much, but it can carry them a little farther toward October or November, when the really heavy rain begins.

And as I was thinking about all this and sipping that wonderful first morning cup of coffee, I saw how to live-blog the eclipse.  It should be in text, not pictures.

There is going to be image overload of this eclipse anyway. More importantly, only words can reach that inner connection between nature and human being that even a partial eclipse can upset.

We Oregonians will be among the first people on land to go dark.  That’s life and a 2017 astronomical coincidence. Anyone can experience it by just sitting here.  However, it is our privilege also to be able to send early confirmation to others in the path of darkness that the light does return.

I’m a Theravadan Buddhist, so light and dark alike are just conditioned things to me, but as a human being I understand this gut response to the loss of sunlight.  It’s the biggest human impact of a solar eclipse and the one that’s easiest to overlook in a technological world.

Starting tomorrow, then, just to make the back yard familiar to readers, I’ll blog a bit here, adding from the top, about what it’s like between the hours of roughly 9 and 11 a.m. PDT, which is when the drama will happen on the 21st.

There will be no images.  This eclipse is being texted.

Featured image of eclipse path in Oregon is from NASA, slightly modified by me.

My New Blog, “50 Facts About Cats”

I’ve started a blog called “50 Facts About Cats” to help me focus and also to promote the books as each takes shape.  Just posted the last of the first facts for each category: wild cats, big cats, sabertoothed cats, house cats, and fancy-cats.

So far, there are only five facts up, but I’m trying to do at least one fact a day.

The books, of course, will be in a series of 50 facts each, offered separately and in a bundle.

The fate of Robin Huntingdon

For now, I’m going to leave this Robin Huntingdon blog as it is, making occasional posts and book updates.

I’m thinking about making it a general platform for a variety of science writers in the future, if the cat writing goes well for me.  Time will tell.

The origin of the name Robin Huntingdon

By the way, did you ever wonder about this (since my name is Barb Beier)?

It’s based on my favorite Douglas Fairbanks silent movie!  Not science, but a creative fleshing out of the old Robin Hood legend.

Here’s Doug as Robin Hood (the former Earl of Huntingdon):


Book Photo: Domestic Cat Lineage

This will be in 50 Facts About Domestic Cats and Where They Come From:

Felis lineage
Clockwise from upper right: Sand cat, jungle cat, black-footed cat, and African wildcat (F. s. lybica). It’s easy to see which one that tabby domestic cat in the middle is descended from!


Photo credits:

Sand cat:  Tim Vickers. Public domain.

Jungle cat:  Artemy Voikhansky.  CC BY-SA 4.0.

Black-footed cat:  Zbyszko.  GNU Free Documentation License.

African wildcat:  Bernard DuPont from France.  CC BY-SA 2.0.

Tabby cat (center):  Alvesgaspar.  CC BY-SA 3.0.