It was just a week ago that we were bathed in the shadow of the moon. They say these things stick with you. Uh, yeah. I’ll go with that. We live on a big ball of rock hurtling through space. Another big ball of rock got exactly between us and the sun. And I mean exactly. Eclipses, occultations, conjunctions, and syzygies happen all the time. Perhaps “regularly” would be more precise. But a total solar eclipse, especially one visible across a large swath of inhabited space, is an infrequent event.
The apocalypse of crowds and traffic and shortages of essentials did not really happen as many expected. Sure, there were car jams and lines and empty gas tanks. But for the most part, people got to where they were going, got to see the eclipse, and got to go back home. It was amazing, really. Oregon and the many agencies and organizations involved did a hell of a job, I think. I feel fortunate that we experienced none of the chaos that was predicted. The small towns along our journey looked no worse for wear afterwards. I saw a semi-trailer loaded with port-a-potties awaiting a tractor in Prairie City on Wednesday morning. In John Day there were swarms of tourists but we found a parking spot on the main drag and got a table at the brewpub at lunch time. There were rooms at the inn in Burns. It was busy, but not so different than most summer days in a recreation-oriented place. I sent a note to the District Office thanking the USFS personnel who obviously stepped up big-time to handle the influx of campers. We even got a visit from Ranger Dan at our campsite!
Here’s a bit from the Malheur NF website:
As visitors depart after their Great American Solar Eclipse experience on the Malheur National Forest, officials would like to thank users for their cooperation. With the great influx of forest users in the past week, few illegal campfires and no human caused wildfires were reported. The vast majority of users abided by regulations in place, providing for an extraordinary eclipse experience to be had by all.
This seemed to match our own adventure. We encountered other people but folks were pretty cool overall and determined to have a good time. There was enough space for all of us and we didn’t burn anything down. I love a good campfire, but you’d be nuts to light one this time of year. It seems they will be extending the no-fires policy even into hunting season, and they are also restricting off-road travel. That’s a good idea. There were plenty of excellent roads up there—access was not a problem.
I shared the eclipse with a gang of good friends. And made some new friends as well. Things that happen on an astronomical scale are both humbling and eye-opening. Quotidian concerns slip away. The trick is to keep that outlook going. Packing up and heading home and re-joining the world makes some of the magic rub off. I don’t want that to happen. I want to keep that place that I found myself in with me all the time.
We are all in this together. We are on the Ark and we have no place else to go. We can go around arguing and complaining but that won’t get us anywhere. The only thing that matters is that we work together to solve problems. Perhaps the right thing to say is work together on possible solutions. No one has all the answers. We are a social species. We have to have each other to survive and thrive. We won’t get there if we don’t listen to each other and try to get past our differences. The things we share and have in common far outstrip the things that separate us.
It’s the great existential dilemma: we crave uniqueness and individual autonomy but those are impossible without a society. Our rules and regulations herd us together and force us into compliance and conformity. But it is that very stability that gives us the opportunity for creativity and personal expression. We want freedom but we can’t get it all by ourselves, we have to have laws and social order to claim that birthright. I suppose the anarchist will argue it differently, but history suggests that people have to come together and make compromises in order to have liberty. It seems oxymoronic, but the longer I live the more I accept and embrace contradictions and seeming absurdities.
I find solace in the mountains and the forests. Camping is so oddly complicated, all the goddamn stuff you need just so you can simplify and get away from it all seems crazy. Why does it take all that energy and effort to learn what ought to be easy to grasp? I suppose when you are in the maelstrom of things you are just paddling to stay afloat. It’s only when you beach the boat that you can reflect and learn. And it seems like we have to re-learn the same things again and again. Nothing really meaningful, I suppose, is truly simple. It may be simple to express, but not simple to put into practice.
After I recovered from my moments in the moonshadow I told myself not to forget what I found out. But it doesn’t work like that. You have to keep at it. It’s like muscles—once you build them up by working out you have to keep working out or they won’t be built up anymore. In those two minutes the sun was eclipsed I knew everything. But that can’t last, and it didn’t. But I got a look. And I can remember.
We’ll see what sticks.