Eclipsing the Rainbows
by Bruce Patterson, July 5, 2017
“Darkness at the break of noon, shadows even the silver spoon.
The handmade blade, the child’s balloon.
Eclipses both the sun and moon,
You understand, you know too soon,
There’s no sense in trying.”
—Bob Dylan, It’s Alright, Ma, 1964
Good thing there’s a total eclipse of the sun coming here this August 21st. With the local media feverishly pitching The Path of the Total Solar Eclipse soon to be flying over our Central Oregon home as our Event of the Century, the news about the internationally famous/infamous Rainbow Family Gathering for Peace getting going about 100 miles east of here at a high-country opening called Flagtail Meadow is almost, but not quite, sneaking in under the I’ll-be-damned, spit and holler, foot-stomping, finger-wagging, Concerned Local Citizen (CLC) radar.
As if to prove that even God’s an underachiever, during its rotation around the sun, the earth wobbles on its axis. Also, because of our planet’s spin and its tilt relative to the sun, we show it constantly changing faces. So getting yourself properly positioned directly under the Path of Totality virtually always requires some serious traveling, and you’d think not many folks would have the time, money or inclination to spend on anything that lasts, at its peak, for only a minute or two. And so it is that, when the Path of Totality comes directly over you just sitting there in your backyard lawn chair whistling Dixie, it’s a rare gift indeed.
The last Total Solar Eclipse (TSE) to pass over Oregon happened 99 years ago and it never even winked at these parts. The last time a TSE passed coast-to-coast just over what now is the Lower 48 was 241 years ago: back in 1776, to be exact. Makes you wonder if that all but forgotten Celestial Lack of Light Show helped inspire our American Revolution. If the moon can blot out the sun then maybe that mad King George ain’t so tough after all… Seeing eclipses as omens is as old as human imagination.
The leading edge of the shadow will arrive on the west coast of Oregon just south of Lincoln Beach at a place called Fishing Rock at 10:16 am PDT. Advancing from the beach at 2,414 mph, when the shadow crosses the Snake River and enters Idaho nine minutes and three seconds later, it will have traveled 336 air miles and slowed to only 2,078 mph. At the beach, the Path of Totality will be 61.1 miles wide and it will have fattened to 64.1 miles wide when it crosses the Snake. Oh, longest duration of the TSE over the bullseye in these parts: two minutes and two seconds.
But what’s really interesting is how its “imminent arrival” has opened up more business opportunities than anybody could’ve imagined before news of the coming bonanza spread like a trumpeting tweet. Now it seems everybody with some time on their hands, and/or money to invest, is trying to pin down every last one of them opportunities. Especially when it comes to writing books or articles, or delivering lectures, on how to properly spot and “capitalize” on them. The more rubberneckers, the better, says Expert Opinion, and that’s sure the media’s consensus. One result is that nearly everybody’s licking their chops in anticipation.
Must have been about a month ago when I picked up my morning newspaper and learned of this summer’s Coming Cosmic Attraction. Just up and down the straight-shot federal highway 28 miles northwest of here in the TSE’s bullseye is a town called Madras (pronounced MAD-razz). Having just under 7,000 residents, a third of them Mestizo and Native American, the media says it’s going to be the best town in all of Oregon for basking under the Path of Totality (vacation homes thereabouts will be renting for as much as $3,000 per night). Lying in a low round valley just south of the fertile tablelands named the Agency Plains and, further north, across the deep, wedding cake canyon of the lower Deschutes River, climbing up the wrinkles to the Cascade Crest and cradling the worn-down and sprawling Mutton Mountains, lies the Warm Springs Indian Reservation with its year-round population of about 3,600. And now in those parts they’re expecting upwards of 100,000 people, and at least 45,000 motor vehicles, to be in and around Madras/Warm Springs come that glorious morning of The Totality—the best seats in the solar system’s house according to the chorus of local Boosters.
Just who came up with those numbers—who cares? Nowadays, the news is proclaimed by a conveyor belt of nameless and interchangeable personalities and you’re supposed to accept or reject what they say as you please, or don’t please, while waiting on the next one rattling up the line. Surely they’d never flatter plain old folks like us plain old folks resolutely occupying our couches and working our remotes.
At any rate, 100,000 is a nice, round number: purdy, even. And, if the prognosticators miss by five or ten percentage points plus or minus, nobody’s bothered. If they miss big time, nobody remembers. But here’s the rub: supposedly a million or more foreigners from all over the world are coming to Oregon for the show. If that ain’t scary enough, they’re predicting at least one million resident Oregonians are going to be inside their vehicles and heading for the Path of Totality when the time comes. And, whether foreign or native born, I don’t think many of them are going to bet on clear blue skies out yonder on the Oregon Coast, or anywhere west of the Cascade Crest, for that matter. Given the kind of money they’re laying down, the outsiders are going to want as close as they can get to a sure thing. Which ain’t the coast with its ocean fog rolling in and out nearly every day, rising and falling like bread dough aboard ship, and not with the Coast Range’s rainforest clinging to the clouds, and not with a North Pacific wind so powerful and near-on constant that the sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks whistle as the seagulls flying overhead tumble. Since there’s hardly anybody living under the Path of Totality’s bullseye east of here (you’d hafta travel all the way to St. Joseph, Missouri to find a KFC), it ain’t too difficult to imagine two million, or even three million, rubberneckers stampeding our way. (I believe the estimated number of Californians—they’ll be heading this way from the Klamath Falls—expected to come for the show got tossed in with the foreigners since I’m unaware of any mention of them).
Many questions arise, of course. Ain’t often that folks in these parts get overrun. If it’s cloudy west of the Cascades and a flood of people come this way, will there be enough gas and diesel to re-fill all of the cars, trucks, SUVs and Winnebagos? Will there be enough motel rooms, camping spots, RV parking slots and BnBs? How’s our restaurants and fast food joints supposed to handle so many customers? Will McDonalds run out of Big Mac patties? Will our entire Tri-County area (total pop: 245,000) run out of ice, booze, pot and sody-pop? And, when the magic moment finally arrives, will there be gridlock on our roads and thoroughfares? Will everything grind to a halt while people get out of their cars to behold the Event of the Century? (Yes, some stars will appear). Will people faint? Will tempers flare? Will ET phone home?
Towering above all of those legitimate questions stands these here: are Oregon’s inter-agency Emergency Services coordinating with each other? Do they have a thoroughly adequate Plan to handle such a mass migration in and out along such treacherous mountain passes with so many “choke points?” How about wildfires? As the Path of Totality passes over our Great State of Oregon, will the mobs of cosmopolitan rubberneckers be sparking wildfires? In the moment of truth, will thousands of disoriented visitors wind up getting chased away by spreading walls of wind-whipped flames? Will everybody living out here wind up suffering under clouds of smoke? Dare we speculate? How dare we speculate?The first banner headline that caught my eye wondered aloud if there were going to enough port-a-potties available for rent to, well, cover and conceal all the expected visitors. The article took that angle of the story so deep it made me wonder if any of the local port-a-potty rental outfits are publicly owned. If so, I might want to buy a grand or two of their stock. Hold it till ten days before the Event of the Century, or till it’s appreciated 14%, whichever comes first. Raking in $280 on a phone call and a few taps on a keyboard ain’t too bad for a single day’s work. And, come to think of it, getting people like me speculating like card cheats is what today’s newspapers are really good at: offering us the stuff that dreams are made of is one of their specialties. And so, when the sky finally darkens, the birds shush, the wind quiets, the air chills and stars appear, how many mug shots will get taken with phones? How many people will be “live-broadcasting around the world?” How many more people will miss it? How many will never even hear about it? Is there any end to the story lines if all you’re after is an “Aw, gee” and a “How sweet is that?”
For what it’s worth, we’re not planning to miss it. With the spider web of Forest Service Roads lacing the wide open public lands just north of us, we won’t have to worry about getting ourselves gridlocked (while hauling horses I got big-city-gridlocked a few times and I swear it weren’t fun). We won’t hafta worry about running out of gas or water, either, or suddenly finding ourselves lacking a port-a-potty (every decent Auto Survival Kit includes a roll of toilet paper and a trowel. I mean, if city folk can stoop to picking up after their dogs, we can make like house cats and bury our own).
Speaking of playing the angles of a story, how’s this for a Headline: “Officials: Eclipse is dress rehearsal for a disaster like Cascadia quake.” (The Bend Bulletin, 6/25/17) Yup, if it makes perfect sense that scientists should be chasing the TSE, then naturally the great quivering mass of us rubberneckers should be put under a microscope and eyeballed. Too good of an opportunity to take a pass on, you’d think, and you’d be right.
While it seems there’s absolutely nothing controversial about a million foreigners plus a million rainforest webfoots leaving their footprints all over our homeland, that’s not the attitude when it comes to welcoming thousands of “street people,” “Counter-Culturals” and “aging hippies” calling themselves The Rainbow Family now illegally occupying “our” national forest. Their major ceremony will be to praying for peace on—the gall of these people—the 4th of July. Since we “stakeholders” are not obliged to extend our hospitality to the likes of them, we ain’t gonna.
(Next: Out Back Invaded)