Actually we are in Hines, Oregon which is just a stone’s throw from Burns. In fact it is hard to tell where Hines ends and Burns begins. No matter, we had a good steak and some local brew at The Pine Room Restaurant and now we are kicking back in our motel room. On the way here (via US-97 and Klamath Falls) we had lunch in the mini-burg of Dairy on 140 on the way to Lakeview. The place was called O’Connor’s Bar & Grill! From Lakeview it is US-395 to Burns. Talk about wide-open country. Lots of sagebrush and juniper and some imposing volcanic buttes. Lake Abert is huge but singularly uninviting as it’s alkaline. Figures. You are out in the high desert and you get to a 60-square mile body of water and it is undrinkable and can’t be used for irrigation.
I kept thinking about the pioneers who came this way. “Well Jethro, I think this looks like a good place to graze us some cattle!” Seriously? Of all the places to pick, these characters decided the prime real estate was bone-dry and hot as hell. I suppose if you are the first people to settle a place it might look good. But my goodness it’s some seriously bleak country. And it’s huge. The distances are staggering. It’s one thing in the age of the automobile and the interstate system, it’s another in the age of the covered wagon. Those folks were either nuts or totally hard-core. Most likely both.
Tomorrow we head out to the forested regions to look for camping spots. We are scouting potential locations for our eclipse trip. It’s a month from the event and we need to get some boots on the ground so we’ll have a workable plan of attack for then. I have a feeling that this part of Oregon will not experience the crush of travelers that are expected for the more accessible areas like the coast and the I-5 corridor. Madras, just north of Bend, is sort of eclipse central, and we are far from there. I’m hoping the famously clear and dry summer weather that bakes the arid wastelands to a crispy golden brown will mean good viewing for those of us prepared to swelter for science.
So what’s the allure? Why drive hundreds of miles out to the middle of some godforsaken scab-land for a two-minute event? I don’t know. Maybe I’m the one that’s nuts. I have air-conditioning and hot showers. I’m choosing to forgo them. I suppose it’s the scale of the thing. After all we are talking about the sun and the moon. They are really big things and really far away. The moon is about ten earth-circumferences away from us. To travel a quarter of a million miles you’d have to circumnavigate the globe ten times. That’s a long way. It’s miniscule compared to the sun’s distance—over 90 million miles away. Forty trips around the equator will get you a million miles. To get to 90 million that’s 3600 trips!
Astronomical distances are of course on a much larger scale. The nearest star other than the sun is over four light-years away, that’s about two dozen trillion miles. So this solar system stuff is pretty damn small by comparison. But on a human scale it is pretty damn big. The deep space stuff is so massive (there are stars so large that if placed where our sun is they would fill the space all the way to Jupiter) and so distant that our feeble mammalian brains can barely grasp the numbers. So a solar eclipse is a local phenomenon. It’s happening in our own celestial neighborhood.
That makes it more dramatic. The moon will actually cast it’s shadow upon the earth and I intend to stand in the middle of it. I’ve looked through ‘scopes at deep-sky objects like galaxies and whatnot and it’s pretty cool shit. Now that we have the Hubble up there peeking into the void we get great pictures of amazing and bizarre structures, and with X-ray imaging and other magical technologies we can “see” things that we never knew existed. All of that is pretty damn groovy.
Maybe that’s it. Eclipses have been experienced by humans since they could look up. For many they were of great cosmic and cultural significance. Predicting—not just observing—eclipses goes back to antiquity. In fact eclipse data are still predictions. The measurements of the actual events are necessary to check and fine-tune the models used to describe these heavenly motions. It only seems like the NASA geniuses have this stuff all figured out. More like they are always figuring. Things are complicated out there and they are always tweaking the formulae. Eclipses, particularly total solar eclipses, are something humans have looked on with awe and reverence for a long time. In our fast-moving special-effects 24/7 info-tainment world an eclipse may no longer have that cachet. I know I’ll be missing a few baseball games and Law & Order re-runs. Guess I’ll just have to suck it up!
I’ll report back in a few days when we are on the return leg.