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.
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.