Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Eclipse Addendum

Teach your children well

~~ “Teach Your Children” by CSNY

When I wrote about the eclipse in my previous entry, I mentioned that one of the coolest things was seeing the awe on the faces of kids (and even adults!) in various pictures.

My friend Jillian posted these photos of her and Neal’s daughters on Facebook and I was so charmed by them that I asked her permission to share them. This is exactly what I was talking about.

Seeing this fascination and delight on their faces is something that we can all hold onto and rejoice in. Jillian was a student in the lab where I worked and it was a pleasure to be a part of her training; we went on to become colleagues and friends and she is one of the finest techs I have ever worked with. Knowing that she is fostering a love of science and a curiosity about the world in her daughters just does my heart good.

I wonder how many youngsters, female or male, watched that eclipse on Monday and decided that they want to pursue a career in science?

The future is now.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Under the same sun (and moon)

Peeking through a pinhole, the eclipse has begun
The shadow tag of sun and moon washes over us and everyone
Lives that overlap without ever seeing that it's so
And you say hold me close
Don't let me go

~~ “Eclipse Has Begun” by The Rainmakers

Like millions of others across North America today, I spent my afternoon watching the eclipse. We were not in the 70-mile swath of totality, but we did okay at 86%, which still promised to be a helluva show. I recall seeing other eclipses over the years, but none that were this extensive. I was genuinely excited about this.

I got my glasses a few weeks ago, thank goodness, when they were cheap and plentiful! It was amazing to hear that they were selling out and the ones that were available were going for ridiculous prices. I guess price-gougers will never stop plaguing us, huh?

I knew the exact time I needed to be outside, so I got my necessary chores done well before that. I got my chair and my table all set up and made my eclipse cocktail, which I decided to call a Nutwood Nocturne. Two parts orange juice with one part dark rum poured on top so that the darkness floats on top of the orange juice. A similar drink is called a Cuban Screw or simply a Rum Screwdriver, but I liked my variation with the dark spiced rum. So I sort of made it up. It didn’t look as pretty when I mixed it all up, but it tasted really good!

The Nutwood Nocturne
I settled down for the long haul and got my glasses on. It started exactly when they said it would, to the minute, because science! It was thrilling to see that first little bite taken out of the side. The moon’s movement was almost imperceptible to track but that shadow kept getting bigger and bigger.

I had no idea that it would be as fascinating as it was. I was almost mesmerized. It was a hot and humid day and I was sitting right in the sun, so it made me feel drowsy...but I was still wide awake, if that makes sense. The glasses gave the sun an almost sepia tone, so it felt very dreamlike. We have some tall cottonwood trees that the sun had to pass behind, just the tops of the branches, and I remember looking at those cottonwood leaves fluttering against the disc of the sun and thinking how lovely it all was. I also remember thinking, “I feel like I’m tripping.” Haha!

A couple of times, the scene almost seemed to skip, like a movie frame catching on the reel for a split second. It was surreal and somewhat disorienting, especially to watch the entire thing happen so slowly and gradually. The birds were very active around me, with hummingbirds checking me out, and a downy woodpecker even brushing against me as it flew from one deck railing to another and I happened to be in the way.

Eclipse CentComm
Because we still had 14% sun remaining, it didn’t get dark at all. I was amazed that only 14% of the sun still cast shadows. But the quality of the light changed. I made sure to look around me to see if I could notice a difference, and I definitely did. Things had an odd, flat tone to them, and although there were still shadows, they weren’t as definite. The colors of things seemed somewhat washed out.

The birds did get quiet for a while as we reached the peak and it was amazingly quiet. I could hear a few birds chirping in the distance as well as a squirrel chattering, but even the sounds seemed muted, too.

Because it was so hot and humid, the biggest difference I noticed was the drop in temperature. It felt very comfortable during the peak time and I cooled off considerably. It was hot in the sun and I think I even got a bit of an eclipse burn!

Our mail carrier, Chris, came by to deliver some packages, and it was right during the peak of the eclipse. He saw what I was doing and said, “Hey, you’ve got the glasses! Do you mind if I take a look?”

I said, “No, not at all!” I handed the glasses down to him (we have a raised deck) and said, “This is exactly peak time, too!”

He put them on and stood in the yard and looked up. “WOW.” He looked for a moment and then handed them back. “You know, I wasn’t sure this was going to be any kind of a big deal, but that is really cool.” He said, “Thirty years from now if someone asks me where I was, I’ll remember that I was delivering packages at your house!” So it was a genuinely nice moment. We bonded over the eclipse.

And that is the main thing that I took away from this. I mean, the science of it all is mind-boggling, to think of how many miles away this was and how fast the moon was moving through space, but how slowly it encroached upon the, that just blows my mind. But as I lay there watching it, I thought about all the people who were watching the same thing. Family, friends, strangers...they were all watching the same moon and the same sun, sitting on the same planet Earth as I was, at that very moment or at some point during the day.

It made me feel small, but in a good way. A small part of this vast, amazing universe, someone who can still be awed by its beauties, its wonders, and its mysteries. It made me think that we are all small parts of this immense machinery but that doesn’t mean that small parts can’t make a difference. Small parts can work together to make big changes. Those changes can be good or bad (think climate change...or the efforts to mitigate it). I know what side I want to be on.
Or maybe I just thought about it too much. But when you’re laying back staring at the sun for three hours, your mind does start to wander! I also like to think about things. There are always lessons to be learned and things to ponder.

Some people say that seeing an eclipse is a life-changing experience for them. I wouldn’t go that far (although I might feel differently when I see totality in 2024), especially because I have pondered these things before. But I will say that it was an emotional experience for me and seeing the photos of people—especially kids—watching with smiles and awed expressions on their faces was pretty damn cool.

It’s dismayingly hard to find things to agree upon these days. I think today we all agreed that the universe is really freaking awesome.