The Bonanza Goes ‘Phew’

by Bruce Patterson, August 30, 2017

“What? It only lasts two minutes and two seconds?”
—A T-shirt commemorating Central Oregon’s Great Eclipse of 2017

Last month in my bit “Eclipsing the Rainbows” I mentioned how, according to the Univoiced Booster Media, the Path of Totality of the Solar Eclipse coming this way on 8/21 was going to put on the map Prineville and plenty of other backwater towns situated inside the POT all the way eastward to Charleston, South Carolina. Nationwide, it was promised, the Celestial Un-Light Show was going to get cash registers feverishly kah-chinging, as well as provide virtually unlimited commercial opportunities to those best equipped to meet and greet, wine and dine the curiously curious hordes.

Why, just the other night on the Eve of the Event on TV I saw this broccoli farmer living up on the Agency Plains offering campsites situated dead in the center of the double-yellow line marking the Path of Totality for $1,500 per night (supposedly vacation homes located near Lake Billy Chinook were going for twice that). Although the farmer didn’t mention whether or not she’d be gifting her guests with heads of fresh-cut broccoli.

To kick off Central Oregon’s Production of the Century, the media let it be known that the smart overseas customers had booked their accommodations months ago and, given that incoming tide of private jet-setting humanity, if any Oregonians wished to get a motel room or campsite anywhere inside the POT then they’d best reserve it pronto and be ready to pay a hefty premium. And, just prior to the event, plenty of Germans, French and other kinds of pearly-white Europeans actually did appear in Prineville strolling the sidewalks like they was window shopping. Oh, by the way: since they’re rednecks sporting bush hats, Bermuda shorts and sunburns, the Australians made an especially positive impression on the locals, especially on the high school girls working their summer jobs.

“Why I’ve never seen so many dreadlocks in my life,” declared one homegrown teenaged fast-food deckhand who’d spent last Thursday afternoon looking out the window and watching the caravan of stopping and going vehicles pointing east on the main drag heading for the 7-Day Symbiosis Solar Eclipse Music Festival featuring 7 stages and 300 acts (more on that later).

All told, hereabouts there were at least a dozen Music Festivals held in honor of the POT, a sample of the more interestingly named ones being Solarfest, Moonshadow, Wine Down and Funk’s Solar Observation Celebration.

Come to think of it, there was about every kind of  “festival” you can think of that goes with an Eclipse: Beer, Wine and Art Fests, Astrology Seminars, Feng Shay orientations, yoga classes, poetry classes, investment conferences, Astrologer conventions and, as you’d expect, Astronomers, pro and amateur, galore.

Of course, the all-media-all-the-time hype never stopped but kept building up like a Tsunami coming ashore until, when it finally hit, bounced backward off the seawall, collapsed on itself and swam away with the fishes. Over the course of the month, the Booster’s initial predictions of maybe two million rubberneckers invading Central Oregon had been very quietly whittled downward until, the day before the Day of the Century, they guessed that maybe, just maybe, there’d be 200,000 spectators all told. This while you can bet that all the local Civil Defense Agencies, their trainees and auxiliaries got lots of training in how to handle just about every conceivable contingency.

“A Wiccan Prayer Circle gets struck by lightning. What do you do?”

By the way, I’ve always wondered: If you remain conscious in the immediate aftermath of wrecking your vehicle, how is it you don’t qualify as the First Responder?

Anyway, the Booster media is the Booster message. Yet now their Mr. Day of the Century, forced to stand in a police lineup between Professor Scientific Projections and Sir Cold Hard Reality, is taking the Fifth Amendment.

Some memorable newspaper and magazine headlines published during the Promotional Blitz: Eclipse sends gas sky-high (regular: $2.59 9/10s per gallon). Bend Beer Festival cancelled to make way for Eclipsers. Artisans rise to the occasion. The best Golf Courses for Eclipse watching. Crook County smashes its record for the most Porta Potties ever rented all at once. Small towns await big crowds: “we’re ready, let’s do this,” barks the Captain of the Tick Crick High School Cheerleading Squad. (OK, that last is just me wildly exaggerating in the spirit of the occasion).

I should mention that Prineville did make the national TV news the other day. The humongous traffic jam during Day One of Symbiosis stretched for a dozen miles both east and west of town, and TV viewers got treated to a maybe two-second-long aerial view of them looking like a single column of army ants stuck in molasses.

There were so many vehicles making their way up into the wild green yonder that, in desperation, our local contingents of Public Safety personal created a roadblock east of town so they could divert half the traffic up and over the Pup Mountains and then up to the festival using the wash-boarded Forest Service roads out that way. Learning this raised my eyebrows, since not many outsiders can navigate their way through that ragged spider web of either unsigned or crazily-numbered FS roads—obsolete logging roads—up to a pinprick of land situated way up atop sprawling Ochocos. Reading further, I saw that the authorities had positioned volunteer personal at the junctions of the roads to keep the flow heading right and I thought: gee, that was mighty generous of them.

“Big Summit Prairie,” was the advertised location of the Symbiosis, although that was another little white lie broadcast in the name of executing an effective Marketing Campaign. A mile high, Big Summit Prairie actually is—how refreshing—what it’s called. Although, out West, it’s more properly known as sub-alpine meadow. But it is a genuinely big one. It’s a giant meadow, really, among the scattering of giants in those split-level parts, a rare patch in a king-sized bed quilt made entirely of patches. When I first laid eyes on the place some years ago, I was reminded of the lush meadows of the Kaibab Forest lining the highway between Jacob Lake and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I half expected to spot up ahead a white-tailed Kaibab Squirrel making a kamikaze dash across the road in front of me.

Big Summit Prairie is also a 150-year-old “In Holding” ranch operation that’s butted up against others. Yet, around here, finding out who owns what, how much and for how long is like trying to pull the teeth out of a barnyard rooster: not worth the trouble seeing how he ain’t got any. Still, once I learned that Symbiosis was expecting 30,000 paying customers to find their ways up in there and still I hadn’t heard even a peep of protest or anybody raising any questions, my curiosity was tweaked and I decided to go to the Symbiosis website to find out more.

As I expected, the Festival was being held east of the meadow along FS 4210 in the rolling rooftop forests that quickly dive off into the canyon of Bridge Creek in the John Day River watershed. Living up there is a good-sized herd of mustangs plus plenty of Rocky Mountain Elk, white-tailed and mule deer, brown bears, cougars, maverick cows, wooly sheep and game birds, and I wondered how all those people, and all that loud music, bright carnival lights and noisy wandering Festivees were going to effect the wildlife and the fall hunt.

All and all the website was, I don’t know—weird. I pushed the “Get Directions” button on their Homepage and the information offered seemed deliberately vague. As if: don’t worry, folks. You get this far and we’ll guide you the rest of the way in. You’re in good hands.

As always, I went for the “About Us” button but there wasn’t one. “Wow,” I thought. Are “About Us” buttons going the way of merchants who stand behind what they sell?

After I checked out their long list of lunch wagon eateries I finally got an idea of who these people are. Featured front and center was international vegetarian and vegan cuisine, listing after listing of exotic gourmet meals of a certain kind, 1st Class graphics complimented by alluring prose: real pros these. Think Fellini with his riot of colors. Think Burning Man except the pilgrims have expense accounts and refined tastes. Think grassy green Ochocoan hilltops and swales dappled with ponderosas replacing Burning Man’s vast naked salt pan with its dust devils and shimmering mirages, flashlight moons and storms of shooting stars. Think the Bohemian Grove without the redwoods and the dirty old men; Bohemian Grove spotted with young men, women and frolicking little children.

I halted my investigation there. People and organizations that like hiding out in plain sight are rarely very interesting anyway. When I learned that not 30,000 people but double that number had bought tickets to the event, it struck me as a “Red Cape” but I refused to charge it. Being able to pull off something like that in these parts without anybody in the media asking any questions already tells me more than what I wanted to know.

Of course, the two minutes of Totality truly were sublime. Trish and I wheeled it about 15 miles up the Madras Road to the wide saddle between Grey Butte and Grizzly Mountain. We turned left on the wash-boarded rocked road leading over to Haystack Butte and then parked our Cobalt Bullet among the widely spaced pickups, SUVs, Jeeps and such. The views of the surrounding scrublands and distant mountains are huge up there, and I was hoping to see the shadow race across the landscape and blot out the glacier-streaked east face of Mt. Jefferson (10,497ft). I did see it, too. It went very, very fast. Not as fast as a speeding bullet—they make tiny little sonic booms as they crack past your ear—but still fast like a flash bulb. Seeing the sun’s golden wedding ring around the moon matched by the golden ring of terrain glowing beyond the totality was a fabulously unique experience. If there was one thought that entered everybody’s head, it was that it hadn’t lasted long enough. Regarding Prineville’s sudden fame, I predict it’ll be very short-lived. The next time Prinevillians will find themselves conveniently located inside the Path of Totality will be in the year 2,792. So all these surplus memorial baseballs caps, T-shirts, sweatshirts, medals, medallions, jewelry, snow-globes, antler buttons, cedar coasters, commemorative shopping bags, buttons, booklets, decals, bumper stickers—best sell them now for whatever you can get since there’s no sense in putting them in storage.

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