CORVALLIS, Ore. — “Twenty five hours and 10 minutes until totality,” says the giddy astrophotographer leading our class on building solar filters for our cameras. “I’ve been waiting for this for 22 years.”
On Sunday, the day before our little moon blots out the mighty sun for a precious 1 hour and 40 seconds of eerie daytime darkness, the mood on the campus of Oregon State University is high-spirited and anticipatory, like the thrill you felt as a kid the night before Christmas.
So far the feared traffic jams haven’t materialized, the sewers haven’t overflown, and the gas stations remain happily supplied. There’s plenty of local beer at Safeway, and avocados, too. We even found an easy parking place on campus this morning. Perhaps chaos will break out tomorrow and society will collapse when the skies go black, but so far the fear and trepidation associated with eclipses throughout history has been happily absent, at least in this laidback university town.
Oregon State is going all out on Eclipse Weekend as tens of thousands of visitors are expected to flood into Corvallis, which is in the sweet spot known as the “path of totality” for Monday’s eclipse. While much of the continental United States will enjoy a partial solar eclipse, those in the 60-mile band of totality will experience for a little over a minute and a half the same level of darkness you’d expect on a moonlit night.
There’s an art exhibition, science lectures, live music and a pretty line of blue and pink Porta Potties quietly waiting for the thousands expected to converge on campus tomorrow for totality. Yesterday I even went to a “meteorite petting zoo.”
Here are some highlights from my visit so far:
Tom Carrico, the astrophotographer teaching the solar filter class, truly has been waiting for the eclipse for a couple of decades, ever since he moved to Corvallis. This will be the first total solar eclipse visible in the continental United States for 38 years. He’s one of those eclipse fans who have chased them around the globe, and to have one literally in his own backyard has consumed his to-do list him for months.
The solar filters we make are like a version of those ubiquitous eclipse glasses you keep hearing about, except for camera lenses. (Obligatory safety warning: Whatever you do Monday morning, don’t look at the sun through your camera lens or binoculars without an approved solar filter. Blindness can come in just a second.) If you photograph the eclipse, you’ll have to use the solar filter through the entire partial phase leading up to totality. Only when the moon completely covers the sun for that magical 100 seconds will we be able to take the filters off our cameras. Then the filters have to go back on.
“Totality is the only time in your entire life when you can look at the sun without special glasses,” he says.
As for the mood of the masses during that moment of darkness, Carrico can attest to the uniqueness of the event. Some folks whoop and holler. Others are shaken by the spirituality of the experience. Craziness, introspection, goodwill, intense philosophizing — it’s all there.
“People change during totality,” he says. “And sometimes they don’t change back.”
At the moment of totality, he plans to be with his wife, grab a Dr. Pepper and pop some M&Ms: his version of happiness.
“Right after it’s over, you’re going to look around and say, ‘When’s the next one?’ ” he says.
And then perhaps you’ll make travel plans to be in the South Pacific, Chile or Argentina in 2019.
Eclipses and art
The university’s art department has been providing a robust schedule of events on this eclipse weekend, including a special exhibition curated by Julia Bradshaw.
Fresno art fans might recognize that name: Bradshaw was a photography professor at Fresno State and an enthusiastic member of Corridor 2122 before moving to Corvallis to teach photography at Oregon State.
The exhibition, titled “Totality,” isn’t specifically about eclipses, but explores a broader question: How do artists respond to the universe?
“I wanted to show that artists are not one-dimensional in talking about the cosmos,” she tells a large group of people at a Saturday gallery tour.
The exhibition is a vibrant exploration of the theme. It includes works by Penelope Umbrico, Vija Celmins and a fascinating series by Julie Anand and Damon Sauer examining space as a surveillance tool:
They have spent three years photographing the concrete calibration markers initially installed in the 1950’s as part of the government’s Corona project to enable orbiting satellites to calibrate their devices. They then mapped the GPS coordinates and altitude of the satellites orbiting the earth at the time they take the photograph and draw arcs onto the photographs representing each satellite’s trajectory; making the invisible, visible.
I attend a fascinating lecture by Dr. Liena Vayzman, an art historian who introduces me to some eclipse-related works. Matthias Grünewald’s “The Small Crucifixion,” for example, below, replicates Luke’s account of “a darkness over all the Earth” when Jesus was put to death. Grünewald witnessed a full eclipse in 1502. His murky, even frightening, depiction of the Crucifixion carries through the theme that eclipses are something to dread.
Egon Schiele’s 1970 painting “Crucifixion” was inspired by the Mannerist style. Note the balances between the halos of the eclipsed sun and Christ’s head.
This portrait by Diego Rivera of the poet Ramon Gomez de la Serna, painted during Rivera’s Cubist phase, uses an eclipse as an eyeball. (Vayzman’s interpretation: A poet is one who blots out rational explanation in favor of the imagination.)
This politically charged work by George Grosz, which reminds me of a political cartoon, uses an eclipse as a symbol of greed, despair and Germany’s military-industrial complex following World War I. “Eclipse of the Sun,” painted in 1926, was a reaction against the military, bourgeoisie and the coming power of the Nazis. The eclipse is used as a dollar sign:
And here’s the earliest known recorded solar eclipse, found at the Loughcrew Cairn Megalithic Monument in Ireland. Because we know so much about eclipses and can pinpoint past ones with tremendous accuracy, we know it’s an eclipse that occurred on November 30, 3,340 BCE, making it the earliest known specifically recorded event in human history.
Though poetry is not my strong suit, I do sit in on a workshop led by Oregon State’s Qwo-Li Driskill, who asks us to think of a list of 10 celestial terms, then work them into a poem in 10 minutes. Here is my effort:
You dance like a dervish whirling into the dark, cold space beyond
You fling off your fingers
You shoot tendrils into the heavens
Why do you leap so high and so far?
Why do you leave your warm home behind?
And I include a “professional” poem for you as well, by June Jordan, titled “The Eclipse of 1996”:
Everybody out of the house!
Everybody up on the roof!
Run to the top of the street!
Pull back the branches of the trees!
Abandon all cars!
Do you hear me?
Bring the children!
Carry your babies into the night!
THE LIGHT IS ABOUT TO GO OUT!
We’ve finally managed to shut down the shining of the
And you wouldn’t want
to miss that
One of my favorite speakers is Dr. Randall Milstein, astronomer-in-residence to the Oregon NASA Space Grant Consortium and an OSU physics professor. Tomorrow’s eclipse will be the most viewed natural phenomenon in the history of the United States, he tells us. It will become a shared common cultural experience. Even more important to consider: It is a natural phenomenon that is a benign, and even beautiful, event. It isn’t a hurricane or earthquake. We aren’t sharing a disaster. (Though ancient people might have thought otherwise.) It is, in fact, a chance for a grand, nationwide moment of introspection, with all the people who have flocked into the totality zone able to serve as ambassadors of reflection to those of us who weren’t lucky enough for the complete plunge into darkness.
“No matter how much we disagree about things, this is a common bond that we will share,” Milstein says.
And finally: Goat Yoga
Goat Yoga is not on the list of official pre-eclipse activities at Oregon State. But here I am on a Friday afternoon, prone under a canopy on a borrowed mat covering a thin scattering of straw, listening to a yoga instructor direct me into a “downward dog” as a brown and white domesticated farm animal named Jim nuzzles on my elbow.
Say what you want about Goat Yoga, but one thing’s for sure: It certainly is an example of truth in advertising. The experience delivers on both of its promises: You get a full (if somewhat giggly) session of yoga, and you get to experience it with an authentic flock of friendly goats. The amiable critters spend the time wandering from one contorted human to another, snuffling up a bit of hay here, plopping down and demanding a scratch on the back there.
“Be sure you don’t wear any dangly jewelry,” our instructor tells us before the session begins. “The goats might eat it.”
The gimmick got its start in Corvallis and has gone viral thanks to CNN, which explains why there are only three locals in the class of 20 or so, while the rest of us are from out-of-state. (Two of those locals pretty much skip the yoga poses and spend the class session in full-on goat petting.) As for me, I try to keep up with the yoga part of it while making sure the goats don’t do their business in my personal space.
“When a goat poops on your mat, you shake it off,” our instructor tells us. “Now if the goat pees on your mat, that’s a different story.”
Glad she cleared that up. Glad the goats only nibbled.
At one point, an assistant wanders throughout the class dispensing special goat treats, rousing the animals from their contented slumbers and creating a mini-stampede. I’m torn: part of me has some serious hygienic reservations about the practice and the other keeps trying to entice the goats to come over and snuggle. I’m not sure I got much yoga in, but I certainly have a new respect for a goat’s brisk little hooves. Back massage, anyone?
The goats will get a day off for the eclipse, too.
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