Monthly Archives: August 2017

Solar Celebration

Hello from California!

I had planned to stick to my quarterly holiday publishing schedule, but then came the total solar eclipse on August 21, an event of unsurpassed holiday-ness.  And the path of totality passed a mere fifty miles from my mother’s and sister’s homes in Portland.  To view the sky from the famously cloudy and rainy city of Portland was a gamble, but worth it for something I’d wanted to see for my whole life. Indeed, August 20th was depressingly cloudy.

But the morning of August 21 dawned cloudless, with only a hint of wildfire haze. My sister and I piled into the car and headed south into the countryside.  It had been tempting to just stay in Portland. After all, at our houses there, the moon would cover 99.3% of the sun.  99.3% of anything is pretty good.  But why not drive out to view completeness, when it’s only fifty miles down the road?

We took country roads, avoiding the freeways.  They were not too crowded. We made good time, and even stopped for breakfast at a Subway. We found two other parties inside — one from Arizona, the other from England. When we told everybody that we had just come from Portland, they laughed and said that’s okay — locals count, too.

Tents bloomed on every roadside within the path of 100% coverage. How long had they camped there? How far had they traveled from home? That part of Oregon is full of evergreen trees, the perfect habitat for camping tents, alternating with farmland. In fact, some Oregonians meld the two and farm evergreen trees, to be harvested in December as Christmas trees.

We happened upon a broad swath of recently-parked cars fronting  a vineyard. Joining them, we discovered one of my sister’s friends from work, who actually lived nearby.

We walked up the hill from the vineyard, to a knoll with views into the distance in all directions. The field next to us was not vegetables, not fruit, but grass. Oregon grass is exported throughout the West as turf. This field had recently been harvested, and so had been burned to cut down on weed seeds. Across the street was a Christmas tree farm, complete with farmhouse and shed!

The eclipse began around nine o’clock. We had obtained the requisite sunglasses from Kaiser Hospital for free, and they worked great — at least for human eyes. They didn’t work at all for my cameras.  But luckily, some paper and a pinhole could project a solar image to record the event.

Totality was scheduled for 10:17 am. As the time neared, the light dimmed. But it still wasn’t dark.  At 10:15, it remained dim, but not dark. It was a very strange dimness, though, with a brittle quality. It felt somehow thin.  But “dim” was not “dark” – it wasn’t even “shaded.” Wasn’t an eclipse approaching?

Temperatures slowly fell by about ten degrees Fahrenheit, and we were happy to have remembered to bring jackets. But still it was dim, not dark.

Suddenly, it was dark. We had hoped to have spotted the shadow sweeping towards us from the west, but it pounced suddenly and caught us unawares.  And all around us, people’s voices erupted in cheers.

There in the sky, where the sun had been, floated a little glowing Cheerio. A few seconds before, the sun had been too bright to view directly. Now, it just floated in the sky like a life saver. The glowing circle, of course, was the sun’s atmosphere, the corona, which still shone brightly enough to overwhelm my camera’s sensor, making it appear thicker than it did just to look at it.

No stars appeared in the sky. Perhaps the wildfire haze reflected too much light into our area. Or perhaps our location wasn’t close enough to the very exact center of the path of totality.

And then, as the moon slowly uncovered the sun, a shaft of unimaginable brilliance peeked out over the top and pierced the air. It was instantly too strong to gaze upon. When I looked down, my surroundings were suddenly dim once more, and no longer dark. And somewhere in the distance, a rooster began to sing.

And like rock fans leaving the stadium during the final tune, cars began moving north. I had not realized until that moment that nothing had moved during the darkness.

Well, the roads were now backed up everywhere, as the crowd that had gathered over several days all rushed out at the same time.

So we stopped in the nearby town of Mount Angel, which attempts to be German. They even had a newly-constructed German-style building complete with an animated Glockenspiel and a restaurant on the first floor. Elsewhere could be found a Biergarten (of course) and colorful displays of potted window-flowers.  The essentials of German culture.

The restaurant seemed to be enjoying its busiest day ever. But we were happy to stay and enjoy a cheese fondue.

Afterwards, we toured the downtown area, all six or eight blocks of it, and hit the road again.  The driving time back was easily twice as long as for coming out. And when we reached home, our mother reported that it had just gotten dim and cold, but never dark.  It’s surprising that 99.3% coverage was just not good enough.

Well, I spent quite a bit of time in Portland this summer. I did a bit of gardening, and helped clean out a garage that could easily have passed for an archeological site. In fact, I collected an antique hand drill and brought it home to California with me. Those things are hard to find these days!


I also went boating with my brother in law on the Columbia River. This photo of Mount Hood comes from that foray.

The Columbia near Portland is lined with cliffs of what appears to be worn columns of volcanic basalt.  The photo depicts a train tunnel drilled through some of them.

Some of these cliffs have spectacular waterfalls, which, because it’s Portland, don’t often dry up.

I also snagged my traditional bird picture — a nesting pair of ospreys with  two chicks.  They’d set up house on a tower in the middle of the river. In fact, someone seemed to have constructed a platform for them to build on. Maybe they were expected to guard the tower. In fact, almost every such tower along the river supported some nesting ospreys.

I snapped a second “traditional bird picture” later back in town. This is a Savannah Sparrow, closely related to a song sparrow, in my mother’s garden.  For weeks, it sang for several hours each day.  Why would anybody want to have a bird in a cage, when this beautiful voice is available for no upkeep cost whatsoever?

Of course, I did attend a Fourth of July parade on national day. This one, located in Vernonia, Oregon, was the briefest ever.  That’s most of it captured in just one photo.

Well, Vernonia is a pretty small town. It’s known for its lake, and . . well, just its lake. But some in-laws lived in town, which brought us out there.

Finally, one of the more unusual sights in Portland, located just a few blocks from our house, is called “The Grotto.” Located both above and below a cliff, it’s a meditation garden, associated with the Catholic Church.  About a hundred years ago, a young man wished to express his thankfulness to God. All the money that he possessed merely amounted to a (low) down-payment on the property, but the difference was made up by the church and numerous contributors.  It truly is a peaceful place, and the rest of my pictures were taken there, starting with one of the actual “grotto” itself.

My health continues to improve as evidenced by the fact that I started writing this yesterday and finished it today, and I got other chores done, too. In contrast, my note last winter took a month to compose, and not much else was accomplished.

My traditional Chinese medicine practitioner in Oakland and my Physical Therapist in Portland were able to see what no  other doctor could. Which was that, even though my spine is kind of messed up, the problems actually come from  my shoulders and hips. Years of high stress had exacerbated posture trends that probably started with saxophone playing and computer operation.

I still think that I have some sort of food allergies, but simplifying my diet doesn’t seem to help. But my neck pains have decreased to the point that a couple extra-strength Tylenol can lower its intensity. And my increased strength is self-evident.  My memory continues to recover as well. Still, I’ve got a ways to go to achieve complete health.

And then there’s the tinnitus, which has abated somewhat, but can still drive me crazy. In case anybody’s curious, I recently heard a sound almost exactly like it coming from insects in a tree. I recorded it and put it here: bug sound. This is a quieter version of the noise that has plagued me for months.

I don’t think that my tinnitus is simply an ear malady, but there’s still no clear path towards diagnosis and elimination.  Some sort of mental feedback mechanism must be involved because just listening to this recorded sound amplifies it in my mind so that it persists when I’ve stopped listening.  It’s an interesting phenomenon, but it would be more so if I could view it from a disinterested perspective.

Anyway, an article was recently published in the news about how much people are affected positively by even short messages from time to time, which caused me to consider the friends who have written me during this past year, the most miserable and needy year of my life.  Particularly I need to thank my friend Arlene who’d kept steady track of my progress all year.  Finally I’m emerging from it all.

As far as all the other things going on in America these days, <sigh>, my thoughts are too complicated to express it all in a few thousand words. It’s funny, but when I first moved to China, I set a goal to write at least 2000 words every week. In the end I wrote about 103,000 words over 42 weeks, for an average of almost 2500 words a week.  Now my goal is to never cross 2000 words at one go, no matter what.

But honestly, sometimes I think I should just move to Germany and pull a “reverse Thomas Mann.”  Many of us in America are in mourning. Never had I imagined such an attack on the heart of America within my life time. Nevertheless I remain optimistic for the long run. So yesterday I started writing a list of topics that could be expounded.  But there’s no space to write about even one of them here — thankfully so, some might say —  so I’ll just list them in an easily skippable  paragraph.

truthiness . . . mafia . . . fake . . . monarchy . . . AntiAmericanism . . . antidemocracy . . . neonazi . . . rule of law . . . ethnic cleansing . . . high crimes . . . antiscience . . . health care . . . nuclear catastrophe . . . climate devastation . . . multiculturalism . . . fox in the hen house . . . serial lies . . . divisiveness . . . enhanced violence . . . hollowed-out EPA . . . dementia . . . P.T. Barnum . . . bullies . . . alternative facts . . . hollowed-out state department . . . the stable background . . . elite misdirection . . . inequality . . . nationalism . . .

Well, I could go on, although I think that the root of the solution is trust and verifiable information — well, that and control of our money.  And hopefully the above list of words won’t block this email from entering China.  Meanwhile, as mentioned before, Christians can place their hope in a better place than politics.

At the end of my sojourn in Portland, I had a dream in which I walked into an elementary school and, without fanfare, promptly went to work.  I’m taking that as a good sign for the future.  I just hope I won’t have to wait much longer for the strength to pull it off.