Eclipsed

Nearly a year ago, when we first learned of the solar eclipse, most motels in the Northwest Totality Zone were either booked, or charging up to $750 for a room.  So we reserved a B&B in the Eastern Oregon town of Moro, a forty minute drive to Totality. As the day approached, epic traffic jams of eclipse chasers were reported.  We left a day earlier than we’d planned, taking two days to travel 270 miles, with emergency gear: food, water, sleeping bags, gas can, read-aloud book and our Kingston Trio CDs.

Traffic on I-5 was heavy, but we traveled east over the Cascades, cruising the speed limit, and sighting only the occasional RV heading to the Totality Zone from Yakima.

All the guests at our B&B were eclipse chasers.  There were two couples, first-time viewers up from California, and a German couple, first-time visitors to the US, who had crossed an ocean and a continent for a ninety second peek at a natural phenomenon they’d seen many times before.  I took that as a good sign.

Moro’s population is 316.  Its only cafe had gone belly up, and the tiny market closes early on Sundays, but the local history museum was open.  We picnicked and were playing board games in our room when Thom discovered on Facebook that college friends were also staying in Moro at the only other accommodation in town, just a five minute walk away. Lona and Scott were as enthusiastic about the eclipse as you’d expect a science teacher and a librarian to be, and they had spent the last two days scouting out the best view spots. They invited us over, pulled out their maps and notes, and suggested a viewing place just south of Shaniko, for its off-road parking and territorial views.

Taking no chances, we allowed four hours to travel the 38 miles into the Totality Zone. Rising at 5AM, we learned that the other guests were long gone. But the roads were clear and we were halfway there before the sun rose.  At least sixty people were camped at our viewpoint, with more arriving all the time. The buzz of excitement filled the air, though the eclipse was still two hours away.  One youngster kept a faithful watch, but I dozed, catching snatches of conversation between friendly strangers.

Finally the moon’s shadow began to pass over the face of the sun. Through protective glasses it looked like a sky cookie, with a bite taken out of it.

There was a drop in temperature and a subtle change of light.  We couldn’t tell over the noise of the crowd whether the birds stopped singing, but the people-watching was superb compensation.  For an hour, the moonshadow inched across the sun, its effect hardly noticeable, except through protective glasses. Without them, even with just a sliver of the sun peeking out from behind the moon, its light was blinding.

All at once, darkness eclipsed the world.  It was as if a one-eyed sleeping giant had suddenly awakened, and the sky was staring back at us.

The crowd erupted into wild cheers, and Thom and I shared their exhilaration.

I’d seen it depicted on canvas, demonstrated in planetariums and National Geographic specials. But seeing a total solar eclipse with my own eyes was like hearing ‘Ode to Joy” sung by a heavenly choir after seeing only the musical notation on paper.

(Ivan Generalić: Solar Eclipse, 1961, CMNA )

Our dear Sol had pulled off his glasses and shirt to reveal his Superman costume. Ninety seconds later–it felt like the blink of an eye–the sun emerged from the shadow.

We took a deep breath, hugged each other, and hit the road, hoping to beat the crush of outbound traffic. We were elated as we drove north, verbally processing the experience. We both questioned whether we’d used our few precious seconds wisely. Ironically, Thom regretted not taking a single photo, while I wondered if I’d made a mistake by placing a lens between myself and an awesome once-in-a-lifetime-celestial event.  Thom knew just what to say.  “Argentina in 2019.”  Yes, please!

A friend asked, half joking, if the eclipse had changed my life. Maybe. Especially if we go chasing the next one, which will appear in the Argentine sky in 2019.  Meanwhile, there is a whole lot of Awesomeness right here on the mother planet.

I read that awe is the emotion created by an extraordinary encounter that drastically affects one’s assumptions of the world.  Experiencing this emotion can make us feel small, yet connected to something larger outside of ourselves, especially when the experience is shared by others. This was borne out in Shaniko, where traffic bottlenecked at the crossroads with the only stop sign in town. Traffic on the big road had the right of way. I feared we’d be at a standstill for hours waiting for an opening.

Then some generous soul hit the brakes and gave cuts to a person who was stuck at the stop sign, before continuing on.  The next person with the right of way also stopped to allow a car through.  They were still graciously taking turns when we reached the intersection, and were also waved on.  There was a mile of backup, but not a single horn honked, no one hollered, everyone was patient and polite, and we all moved forward together.  It was an awesome display of human nature.



There are other kinds of Awesome that sneak up on you.

These days we live under a dark shadow that has eclipsed our country, and the planet too.  Instead of chasing shadows, it feels like we’re trapped in the dark, fumbling for the light switch. I found the light when I accompanied family and friends to the Women’s March in Seattle last January.

I was awestruck.

 And I was not alone.

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The solar eclipse did not move me to tears.  But at the sight of 135,000 people speaking up for equality and compassion, and speaking out against oppression, bigotry and hatred, I couldn’t hold back tears of relief.

Tears flowed again.

And again.

And again.

If it’s a solar eclipse that fills you with awe and purpose, you need only wait a year or two, and somewhere on this planet there will be a next time, another chance.  But in the United States, if you’re looking for an extraordinary encounter, or want to feel a part of something larger than yourself, if you want to be more than an observer, you’d better start now.  Because in a year or two, who knows what will be left to save.

We can’t sit on our hands hoping no one will get sick, or disenfranchised, arrested, abused, deported, or thrown into a concentration camp for no good reason. Our national parks, our environmental protections, our healthcare and social safety nets are being systematically carved up and sold to the highest bidder. Our politicians and our elections seem to be for sale as well. Our civil rights, our human rights, our right to protest in our own defense–these too are endangered by the deranged sociopath in the White House. We can only hope he won’t get into a pissing match with another tyrant and launch us into nuclear war.

We have no protective glasses for this unnatural phenomenon, but we can’t afford to look away.  It’s time to invoke our inner superheroes.  Our superpowers will be to speak for those who have no voice. To protect those who cannot protect themselves.  To organize, educate, donate, speak out, rally and march.

Again.

And again.

And again.

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And again.

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And again.

And again.

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And again!

This isn’t a solar eclipse; there are no do-overs.  I’m keeping the glasses, because I want to be prepared for the next big event.  2019 will be here before we know it.

And so will 2020.  

All images and text ©2017NaomiBaltuck.

That Was Then. This Is Now.

When traveling in Italy, we took the kids to the Florence Museum of Science, now the Museo Galileo.  It housed a collection of early scientific instruments, old maps, and, of course, the history of Galileo Galilei.

Galileo was the genius who invented, among other things, the forerunner of the thermometer and an improved military compass.  He discovered The Galilean Moons of Jupiter.  His theory, known as The Galilean Invariance, provided a jumping off point for two other scientific geniuses, Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein, to form their revolutionary theories regarding motion and relativity.  Galileo is regarded as the father of observational astronomy, the father of modern physics, the father of the scientific method, and he even made it onto the list of the top ten people in history who changed the world.  But he’s probably best known for proving the Copernican theory of heliocentricity, which states that the Earth revolves around the Sun, rather than the other way around.

And that was his inconvenient truth.

The highlight of the Museo Galileo–at least for our kids–was the mummified finger of Galileo, resting in a fancy glass jar like a holy relic.  I suppose it’s appropriate for the revered patron saint of science.  Galileo was a pious Catholic and a martyr.  Ironically, it was the Church that made a martyr of him for Science.

In 1633, Galileo was summoned to Rome and brought to trial by the Roman Inquisition on the charge of heresy.  His crime was contradicting the Bible, which states that the Sun revolves around the Earth.

When the Inquisition threatened to extract a confession through torture, Galileo recanted, was found guilty, and sentenced to life imprisonment.  His sentence was commuted, and he spent the rest of his life under house arrest. He continued to write, although the Church slapped a gag order on him, banned his books and censored his writings for another 200 years, when even the Pope could no longer hold back the tide of scientific advancement.  When Galileo died in 1642, they weren’t even going to allow him a burial in consecrated ground.  It was thirty years before they inscribed his name on his burial place.  But in 1737, ninety-five years after his death, they brought his body out of the bad boy crypt and reburied him in a fancy marble tomb in St. Croce in Florence, across from Michelangelo’s tomb, because it was believed that Michelangelo’s spirit leapt into Galileo’s body between the former’s death and the latter’s birth.  Then, in 1992, Pope John Paul II did sort of apologize for wrongfully persecuting Galileo.

The wealthy have always had a place at the table, between religion and science, as patrons, enthusiasts, or opponents, but now Big Business sits at its head.  Big Business has bought and paid for a president that doesn’t believe in anything but the Almighty Dollar.  The Republicans sold their souls to secure their power, dropping any pretense of morality or family values, and they bought their majority by pandering to the far right, that thirty percent of America that interprets the bible as literally they might an instruction manual to the dashboard of a new car.  Science has suffered for it on both counts.

Texas is producing textbooks that not only disclaim evolution and pitch Creationism as its own brand of science, but it has cut out any reference to Climate Change.  Even the conservative Fordham Institute calls it a “politicized distortion of history.”  Texas is spoon-feeding its children claims that Moses was a Founding Father of America.  There’s a lot of money to be made in the textbook business, and the privatization of schools, not to mention the prisons.  If politics and religion, power and money are twisted into a huge tangled knot, Big Business still knows which strings to pull to get what it wants.

Civil Rights, equality, justice, education, and immigration are hot topics, but Climate Change is the new subject of denial by the Powers That Be.  A few years ago I’d have said the advancement of earth science was moving at a glacial pace, but that’s not so apt an analogy any more, because glaciers are melting at an alarming rate.  98 percent of the global scientific community now recognize climate change as real and caused by human activity, but the Republican party is in complete denial.  They stick their fingers in their ears and sing loudly to avoid hearing what they know is true.  Again, it’s all about money.  Environmental protection means restrictions, restrictions mean less profit for Big Business, and Big business gives politicians huge payoffs to deny Climate Change.  This has been an ongoing struggle for more than fifty years. The damage might already be irreversible.  A rapidly warming Arctic could loose a methane climate bomb resulting in widespread extinction in as little as nine years.

 You may be sure that history will judge them, just as it has judged the perpetrators of the Galileo affair.

But there is one huge difference in this particular power struggle.  It took 200 years for the popular tide to become too strong to resist, at which time the Church bowed to reality and accepted Galileo’s proof of a heliocentric Earth.  But in the case of Climate Change, we don’t have 200 years.  We don’t have ten years.  We can’t wait for the next Newton or Einstein to show up, and we don’t need them to.  Our climate scientists have already done the math, and it might already be too late.

And that is our inconvenient truth.

Copyright 2016 Naomi Baltuck. Photos of Galileo courtesy of Wikipedia.

 

 

The Beginning of the Rainbow

My son Eli and I met up in Taiwan last week.  He was eager to visit The Rainbow Village while we were in Taichung.  Several reviews suggested it was too far off the beaten path to be worth the trip, but most people were highly enthusiastic.

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I did a little research; sometimes the story of a place or object can imbue it with meaning.  This story goes way back, and knowing the story made a difference to me.  Huang Yung-Fu was born in 1924.  During the Chinese Civil War he fought for Chiang Kai-shek, and in 1949, he followed their defeated leader to Taiwan.
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Hundreds of villages sprang up throughout Taiwan, providing temporary military housing for the veterans like Huang Yung-Fu and their families.  Some of the military villages had a thousand units or more. The temporary concrete houses became permanent homes for many. 

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They were small and drab and time took its toll on the buildings.  Cities grew up around them, and the property became more valuable than the dwellings.  Developers started buying up the land. Residents were offered compensation and relocation if they would agree to vacate.

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 Most veterans submitted, but Huang Yung-Fu resisted; he would not leave his home.

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The old veterans’ community was gradually reduced to only 11 residences.

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They wanted to tear down Huang Yung-Fu’s home too.  So he picked up a paintbrush and began to paint…

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…and paint…

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…and paint.

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Bit by bit, wall by wall, his colorful murals expanded to beautify all the remaining residences.  

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Local university students discovered Huang’s work and campaigned to save the village. What was left of the place became known as The Rainbow Village.  Authorities eventually agreed that it should be preserved, and it has since become a designated cultural area.

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Mr. Huang, referred to by many simply as Grandpa, is now 94 years old. At a little table you can purchase post cards, magnets, and other products based on his work, the proceeds of which must surely provide a good living.

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Grandpa was napping when we got there, but we’re told he often touches up his work, keeping it fresh and bright.

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I am in awe. With the help from local students, through his art, a fragile old man rescued his home from destruction and urban decay.  He transformed his home into a vibrant tourist hotspot that also provides a good living.

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Huang Yung-Fu has worked a kind of magic, real and powerful.  He has turned this…

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…into this.

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As surely as Huang Yung-Fu was going to lose his home, we are going to lose ours.  Imagine what would happen if writers and storytellers, visual and performing artists everywhere were to unleash their passion, channel their creative talents, and fearlessly use their superpowers to advocate action for environmental protection, humanitarian aid, civil rights and social justice.  Artist Favianna Rodriguez says, “Change the culture, change the world.” She quotes Abraham Lincoln, who said, “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it, nothing can succeed.”   It has happened before.  Sinclair Lewis, Pete Seeger, Miriam Makeba, Elie Wiesel, Anne Frank, Diego Rivera, just for starters.  It can happen again.  And it’s now or never time.

All images and words ©2016 Naomi Baltuck.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Magic.