How much wood would Chuck Todd chuck?

The blind woodchuck spent most of the last year huddled in a fetal position in her burrow. Save for that one magical day of August 21 when she acquired her new moniker as well as a collection of necessary sunglasses (she swears the weasel told her it was okay to look at the sun), she found the results of November 8, 2016 to be too depressing to even contemplate.

But something told her she should at least check out the world above and see if anything had changed. As she crawled out of her cozy burrow, she could hear birds singing. Not a lot of birds, mind you, but enough to let you know that perhaps the end of the world hadn’t actually happened. The sun was warm on her whiskers as she heard another woodland creature scampering by and she called out to it. “Hey, what happened? Did Trump resign?”

“No such luck,” squeaked the chipmunk. “But the Democrats won two governorships and a bunch of House delegates in Virginia!”

“Is that a big deal?” asked the woodchuck. She didn’t really know anything about the south.

“Well, not according to Fox News,” said the chipmunk, “but I hate foxes so imma have to believe that they are lying. Nate Silver says we can be cautiously optimistic but not to assume we can take over the House in 2018. A lot of us were really happy about how big the win seemed but the press keeps telling us that we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves. And then they interview white Trump voters to see what they think about it.”

“But that’s the first positive thing that got me out of my burrow all year!” exclaimed the woodchuck. “Everyone must be so happy! I’ll bet Bernie Sanders is thrilled that our candidate won!”

“Bit of a glitch there,” smirked the chipmunk. “Turns out he endorsed the guy who primaried the eventual winner Ralph Northam, and then refused to work for the actual candidate. But Chris Hayes keeps having him on his MSNBC show anyway to speak for all Democrats.”

“But he’s not a democrat!” The woodchuck was confused. “What does Donna Brazille have to say about that? As a former head of the DNC, she must be furious!”

“Rumor has it that Donna was bitten by a rabid racoon and has lost her mind,” replied the chipmunk. “Sad!”

“Oh, dear. This is all so upsetting. Is there anything to be happy about?” The woodchuck could feel her depression enveloping her like a chemical fog unleashed by toxic waste set loose during a hurricane.

“Well, of the fifteen delegate seats that were won in VA, eleven of the winners were woman! And every single person they will replace was an old, white man! Not that I have anything against old white men, but you have to admit that this has not been the best year for them.”

“Why would you say that?” fretted the woodchuck. “You have brothers! Don’t you want to defend them?”

“Well, I would, but Alvin and Theodore are both in prison now for inappropriately touching that porcupine who lives under a log. They tried to bust out with the help of that Pepe LePew guy but got caught. They actually made a movie about it  – The Shawskunk Redemption. It will be on Netflicks this month.”

The woodchuck crawled back into her burrow,  cheered up because of all the gains made by her sisters. She was still a little sad, though, because she had given up cable and would not be able to watch the movie. She could only get NBC and she hated Chuck Todd.

chucktodd

Part Two: Taking Umbrage

path

Our Wise Old Owl house was 150 miles away from where we needed to be for Totality, so on Monday, August 21, we set our alarms for stun and got up at 5am. The drive was long but thankfully traffic was not the gridlock we had worried about. Not yet, anyway.

We arrived in Hopkinsville around 10am and found our reserved spots on a sun-bleached field that had been chalked into a grid. The lingering morning fog we had encountered as we entered Kentucky had burned away, promising a full day of sweltering and squinting at the cloudless sky. The atmosphere was festive, the crowd giddy with anticipation; Hubble-sized telescopes were set up next to amateurs who hadn’t even brought sunscreen. NASA was supposedly roaming around somewhere, answering questions. Our group had shelters and chairs and a buffet table, because if you’re going to bear witness to a celestial event, you don’t want your stomach growling while it’s happening.

The temperature was already in the 90s, a fact we knew for certain because my niece had arrived with a variety of activities to measure the temp drop for when the moon slid in front of the sun. We sat on blankets as we wove ultra-violet sensitive beads together to make ankle bracelets. The beads were pink and purple when exposed to UV rays, but would turn white when the sun and its’ beams were in shadow. That was how we would know that we were in totality; that and the fact that thousands of people would be screaming and pointing up in the dark.

Two hours away and people started checking the sky. Everyone had eclipse glasses, because they obviously had heeded the warning of the woodchuck, or possibly seen a million articles online in the past week about not staring at it with naked eyes. The tiniest bite appeared in the blazing white sun and a cheer went up from the crowd. Viewed through the filtered glasses, the sun was a perfect circle of orange. It looked like a logo design created with graphics software, the edges crisp and clean as the black crescent shape moved across the surface.

It was still full daylight, but something weird was happening to the light. It seemed to flatten, sharpening shadows and causing strange angles that were unfamiliar and foreign, like I imagine Bizzaro World would look. There is a filter in Photoshop that allows you to polarize an image and it felt like the entire landscape had been run through it. Tiny crescent shapes appeared on different surfaces as the splintered sun beams pushed through leafy trees. As the light drained from the sky, the air cooled and a chorus of cicadas woke up and began to sing. It was dusk to them and they were going to have sex no matter what time their phones said it was.

We were now just minutes from totality but not at full dark. Venus was a brilliant bright spot in the sky, but the horizon was still lit. I had expected complete darkness, but I realized that I could still see a thin band of sunset in front of me. Confused, I turned around and saw the same rosy glow behind me. To my astonishment, the sunset was everywhere! We had reached totality and the moon had blocked the entire star, creating a night sky on top of a perfect circle of a 360 degree setting sun. The effect was thrilling and surreal at the same time; it felt like we were on a different planet, one with more suns or a couple of extra moons. My bracelet was completely white, with zero UV rays reaching my ankle. For the next two minutes and forty seconds, I could throw away my sunscreen!

It’s hard to come up with an adjective that adequately describes what it felt like to be in the middle of that darkness in the middle of that day. A chill ran through me that had nothing to do with the temperature drop, and my eyes filled with tears. One would expect to feel insignificant in the midst of an extraordinary moment where it’s clear that our existence is barely a blip in the lifetime of the universe, but I didn’t. I felt connected, with the earth and all the people around me and all the others standing in fields across the country, staring up at the sky. It felt powerful, and unexpectedly hopeful. I haven’t felt hopeful in a long time, specifically since November 9. Chaos and confusion may be ruling our daily lives, but the universe is going to continue to do whatever the hell it wants. There is some comfort in that thought.

 

 

Part 3: The Really, Really Dark Side of the Moon

And then we got in our cars and drove home. All several million of us, at the same time. On the same road.

Talk about harshing your buzz.

We were filled with wonder and inspiration from this remarkable event that we had borne witness to as a community. We were not filled with common sense, for it did not occur to us that trying to drive home that night might also be on the agenda of everyone else in said community. It looked like we were evacuating Florida.

We tried small country roads where amused farm folks directed traffic through the lone stop sign, but cars still backed up for miles. The entire world used the Waze app and we all ended up at the same Dairy Queen for dinner in a town of 200 people. It took a really long time to get our Blizzards. Darkness fell and we were still barely a third of the way through Illinois. Torrential rain and non-stop lightning lit up a gridlocked I-57 North, where two lanes merged into one in a completely unneccessary construction zone that added at least two hours to the journey. When cars finally emerged from the single lane nightmare, every single one of them got off at the next rest stop. It took a really long time to pee. Fourteen hours after we had held hands and sung Kumbaya as a nation, we finally made it back to Chicago. It took a really long time to get my knees to bend into a standing position.

After the butt-numbing commute memories began to fade a bit, I was reliving the event on the internet and saw disappointment expressed in online forums about how unimpressive the partial eclipse had been; the word people used was “meh.”  I can understand why people weren’t that impressed because they were doing it wrong. Any fool could get up from the couch and walk out into the yard with a shoebox on their head and see the partial eclipse. But to really experience the whole phenomenon, you’re going to have to leave your living room. You’re going to have to commit.

Kelly Clarkson says some people wait a lifetime for a moment like this, but she’s wrong. You only have to wait seven years! On April 8, 2024, the Path of Totality will again cross the United States, this time starting in Mexico and going north to Maine. The center of the big X that started in 2017 will be the same place – Carbondale, IL, with many other towns along the Path where you will have a perfect view.

It’s hard to predict where we might be in seven years. We could be speaking Korean or living the script of Waterworld or, as I may have mentioned before, ruled by robot overlords. The robots might show us some pity, or I suppose they could tattoo bar codes on the back of our necks. But at least we can count on the universe to keep doing what it does, with the moon playing chicken with the Earth. As long as scientists can project real data and true facts that will give us lots of information about how and when to get ready, we can all experience this again together.

Or we can just pretend the whole thing is fake and kiss Uranus goodbye.

 

Part One: Barbie was Right*

Planning for the eclipse weekend had started almost a year ago. My oldest sister Kathy was the first to alert us all to the importance of the event, and months ago discovered that many houses and camping sites in the Path of Totality had already been booked. But my youngest sister Karen was persistant enough to find a huge log cabin-ish farmhouse in southern Indiana that would sleep the entire family. While not directly in the Path, it was close enough that we could get there before the eclipse.

(As is fitting for her profession as a psychiatrist, Karen is pragmatic and practical. But as a sign of her committment to this event, she had dressed the statue in her front yard as an eclipse enthusiast. Karen calls the figurine Georgeanne and she has an outfit for every holiday. I warn my sister that this is one step away from decorating a concrete goose and I mock her accordingly, but damn, the old girl looked good.)

geaorgeanne

So we gathered on the Friday before the event at the Wise Old Owl cottage, where every surface was decorated with either an owl or a moose, but sadly, no woodchucks. My other sister Carolyn and I were the last to arrive from Chicago, as we had been led down the wrong road by an arrogant, disembodied voice from Google maps. In my phone, the voice is known as Joyce, and she insisted we turn at a place we had no business turning. We had been warned that cell service could be spotty and had printed out two different sets of directions, neither of which matched the way Joyce urged us to go: yet still we followed her instructions rather than our own instincts. She gayly led us down winding, unmarked roads and then abandoned us in a field. I believe this was a test by the robot overlords to see if people would blindly follow the voices coming from their phones and may be the precursor to the robot uprising, as we did exactly what we were told and then pleaded for Joyce to come and save us. When they instruct us all to drive our cars into quarries, we will  join all the other lemmings at the bottom, holding up our iphones and searching for bars.

Eventually we came upon two gentlemen and a chihuahua sitting on a front porch and they gave us directions back to the main road in a bemused tone, as if we were not the first fools that the voices had led down their road. The chihuahua, however, was furious and had to be restrained, no doubt angered by the clear and present danger that no one except him seemed to understand. It was a weird beginning to the trip.

The house was huge and supposedly slept 20, if your idea of sleeping is two bedrooms on the top floors and then sixteen assorted bunk beds, double beds and pull out couches in one big basement room. It was very cozy down there with all the nieces and nephews and aunts and owls and squirrels. It was also very cold and completely dark, or as I call it, perfect vacation sleeping weather, with none of that pesky natural light to wake you up. I felt like Kevin in Home Alone when I woke up in the dark silence and realized that I had no idea where my family had gone.

The next two days were a whirl of activities, with some people participating in everything and some not moving from the porch swing. I like a vacation where no one judges you for inertia. There were fabulous meals and many bottles of wine, and games and a fire pit and a funtoon boat with a slide, but always lurking in the back of our minds was the event on Monday. We became obsessed with finding gas, stopping at every tiny station to top off a tank in a car that had only driven 2 miles since the last time it was filled. We worried that there would not be enough ice for the coolers and ended up with enough to fill the back of a station wagon. One of my favorite finds out in the middle of nowhere was an ice ATM. You fed two bucks into the slot and it dispensed 16 pounds of ice, no clerks needed. You could even get it unbagged and let it flow right into a cooler. Clearly this is once again the robots looking to catch us off guard as we complacently let them control the flow of cubes, but I’m willing to let them have this one. You can just never have enough ice.

Sunday was our last evening at the house, and after another amazing meal with lots of wine to wash it down, the core four sisters sat down to try to figure out who owed what. We are all smart women; some of us hold advanced degrees and at the very least, all of us can use a calculator. So we were amazed and chagrined when the simple task of dividing up costs turned into an SAT math problem, one that assured that none of us were getting into college, not even a community one. For over an hour, we subtracted and divided and swore and multiplied and could not come up with the correct sum. A spread sheet was created and abandoned, amounts were rounded up and down and the final amount owed was furiously scratched out in order to begin again. One by one, the grown nieces and nephews left the room, completely embarrassed by their algebraically impaired mothers. At one point, my brother-in-law begged to let him eat the cost of the whole trip, just to get us to stop. I’m still not sure the number we came up with was correct, but it was such a relief to move on that I don’t even care. There is no place for math on a vacation, especially when combined with a nice red.

*Math is Hard.

Next: Part Two: Hopkinsville

Gold Llamaé

There is nothing I like better than a good theme party. It gives you a nice hook to base your decorations on and will often suggest ideas for snacks and party favors. So the first thing that came to mind when my family decided to gather to observe the eclipse was that we would need a signature cocktail. All the best hosts are hiring mixologists to create a drink for their special events, and what could be more special than something that hasn’t been observed in totality for almost one hundred years?

Full disclosure: I am a bit of a lightweight when it comes to alcohol. I like a glass of a nice red wine, but by the time I get anywhere near a refill, my face has gone red and my fingertips numb. I laugh so hard at my own jokes that no one can understand what I am trying to say; then I fall asleep. So I am not exactly an expert when it comes to creating something that will taste delicious and not require someone to hold your hair back the next morning. However, I am a graphic designer by day, so the most important thing to me was the visual.

Picture this on Youtube: a glowing ice orb to represent the sun, floating gently on a sea of cloud like crushed ice. At the moment the music swells and Bonnie T. sings “total eclipse of the heart”, a shot glass full of a dark liquor is poured over the spherical orange sun and blots out the color and metaphorical light. I could picture it in my mind and it was breathtaking!

With the help of my sister, I started experimenting a few weeks ago. I found silicon ice cube trays to create the sun, with versions of spheres made of orange Fanta, orange juice or water with yellow food coloring. The pale cloudy liquid it would float on was either sparkling ginger lemonade, sparkling pear cider or ginger beer. The shadow of the moon would be rum, Kahlua, or bourbon. While we made some interesting combinations, we never conclusively finished because we stopped to take three-hour naps.

Knowing that the big day was nearing, I decided to finish up the recipe by myself. I lined all the bottles up on the table and tried each one with a different mixer. I documented the tasting by art directing each shot and imagining these as high quality liquor ads in Esquire magazine. I also added a plastic gold llama to the tableaux for scale.

Sometimes what you want and what you get are two different things; all of my cocktails with the glowing sun orb looked like they had an egg yolk floating in the middle of them. The sparkling lemonade and bourbon was pretty good but the Jim Beam wasn’t dark enough to blot out the yolk; the pear cider was undrinkable and the ginger beer and rum might have been delicious, but when I was trying to video the effect, I accidentally poured the rum over the llama instead of the sun. It’s really hard to do slo-mo when your depth perception is gone.

I finally gave up, knowing that my family was pretty much going to guzzle gin straight out of the bottle anyway. I’m sure there are fabulous drink recipes available online that you can use to toast the sun blockage; me and the llama are sticking to Corona.

*******

 

VSL* vs. VPL*

There is a well-known tradition that if you are traveling on a car trip, you must announce it when you drive over a state line; hence, the shout of “Two States at Once!” as we left Illinois and headed south into Indiana. (If you have never heard of this tradition before, you must immediately start doing it whenever you take a long drive. Maybe it isn’t so much a “well-known tradition” as it is “something we only do in my family, ” but I would encourage you to participate in this ritual. It is enormously satisfying and when this goes viral and sweeps the country, I will get credit for creating it.)

The journey south to the Path of Totality followed a meandering interstate through Mike Pence country all the way to the bottom of Indiana. The whole northern hemisphere is excited about the upcoming eclipse, and nothing illustrates that better than people trying to figure out ways to use this remarkable once-in-a-century celestial event to sell stuff. We encountered Mooncakes at Denny’s, MoonPies at Cracker Barrel and Dark Side of the Moon bikini underwear at Target. (I thought about buying the underwear but realized I had passed the part of my life where I can get away with wearing a Pink Floyd logo on my ass. This realization made me sad.)

mooncakesmoonpie

pinkfloyd1pinkfloyd2

The first part of the weekend is being spent at a big old farm house near French Lick, IN. Most of my family has gathered at this spot to share their excitement about the eclipse, play board games and drink lots and lots of gin. We have a variety of professions represented here who know a lot about many things and also a number of people who know nothing about anything but are very good at making you believe they do. (I place myself in the latter category).

We will relax for the weekend and prepare our stamina for Monday, when we will get up reaaaalllly early and drive south to Kentucky, where we will shout “Two States at Once” as we cross the border. But the unknown awaits: Will there be an autopocalypse? Will the gas stations run out of gas? Will we be able to post on Facebook?

This excursion has been planned for over a year, long before the general public became aware that there was going to be an eclipse and everyone decided to go to the exact same spot we are going, damn it. I like to think we were the first ones to come up with the idea of going to Hopkinsville, even though there are some scientists claiming that they knew about this years ago. (Ha! Like they could know that.)

Hopkinsville is the Point of Greatest Eclipse, where there will be a solid 2 minutes and 41 seconds of sun blockage. We have six reserved spaces in a field there, guaranteeing us at least a 15 x 15 foot area per space.  We have paid actual money to reserve grass, which makes me admire the entrepreneurial spirit of America.

Our little eclipse piece of real estate is quite roomy, but the spaces are end to end so we will have to stand shoulder to shoulder in a line and stare up. We will bring our own snacks and shade, but they have promised us there will be bathrooms and the National Guard. Our group will number 13, which could be a potent symbol of something menacing as the dimming begins and the wolves start to howl. Maybe we will, too.

*****

* Visual State Line

*Visual Panty Line

It’s Not Plagiarism if I Admit I Didn’t Write It, Right?

If you’ve ever expressed a fondness for something whimsical—let’s say, ceramic figurines of llamas—you are probably now the proud owner of an entire collection of the little Peruvian porcelains. When people find out you’re a collector of something, it makes buying a birthday present so much easier.

And so it follows that when you mention that you are jotting down a few thoughts about a specific astronomical event, that people will start sending you links to articles about said happening. It is both gratifying and annoying at the same time, because most of the articles are far better than anything I’m going to write and thus make me feel sad and inferior. But I soldier on!  And rather than pretend that no one else had the unique idea to write about the eclipse, today the woodchuck will share with you the best of the internet. Think of these fascinating articles as way to fill your thirst for knowledge with actual research and facts so that you won’t be disappointed when I get back to quoting Werewolves.com.

fake glasses

These Are Not Going to Work

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The Best Picture Ever Taken of People Gathered Together to Celebrate the Eclipse

*****

CU bear at Williams Village

Cranky Bears and Other Pissed Off Deities

*****

Bonnie Tyler Died For Your Sins and other pop culture stuff

******

Do We Really Think This Is Going to be Worth It?

******

*******

Tomorrow: The Journey to Hopkinsville Begins!

You Light Up My Life

You’re going to need a playlist.

Not for the actual event – that should be two minutes and forty-one seconds of quality silence, orchestrated by freaked-out birds and chilly cicadas who stop swiping left when the temps drop because they don’t have enough body heat to look for a date. You definitely need to be unplugged and present for that.

But there will be a lot of travel time to fill up as people make their way towards the Path of Totality, and for that you’re going to need tunes. My own journey starts on Friday, August 18 and will involve many hours in the car. Every now and then I get a little bit tired of listening to the sound of “Hamilton”, so here are a few ideas on what to look for in appropriate music.

1) It should contain factual information, and no song gets that better than “Brain Damage/Eclipse” by Pink Floyd from the album Dark Side of the Moon.

One side of the moon is always lit by the sun, but the lit side isn’t always facing the Earth. This is how we get the phases of the moon. For a solar eclipse to occur, it needs to be in its “new moon” phase. During the new moon, the dark side of the moon is directly facing the Earth.

Brian Resnick vox.com

Nobody puts the lunatic in lunar quite like Pink Floyd, and their lyrics perfectly illustrate what it will be like if it’s too crowded or the weather doesn’t cooperate:

And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear
You shout and no one seems to hear.
And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.

Monkey
The album “Dark Side of the Moon” syncs up perfectly with “The Wizard of Oz”. Start the record right after the MGM lion roars at beginning of film. Here I am as a winged monkey.

I am going to be so mad if it rains. I know I shouldn’t worry about that but every now and then I get a little bit nervous that the rest of all the clouds won’t go by.

2) It should reference all parties involved, so anything mentioning the sun, the moon, or a shadow are acceptable. Easy enough, as there are a million songs that touch on all these things. “Here Comes the Sun” will be great as it emerges from behind the darkness. “Moonshadow” is a twofer! If you’re a Smashmouth fan (and who isn’t!)  “Walking on the Sun” can merge right into “Walking on the Moon” by the Police. I’m putting together a mashup of “Big Hard Sun” and “Moondance” – it worked perfectly when I sang it in the car this morning so I just need a sound editor to mix it together for me and maybe add some reverb and autotune my voice. (Fun fact: I always thought the song was “Big Hot Sun” until I googled it just now. One of those “someone ate my wife tonight” situations.)

3) It should probably be something pretty obvious that everyone can sing. Come on, you know what I’m talking about! “Then you flew your Learjet to Nova Scotia, to see the total eclipse of the sun”.

In the 1970s, a small group of astronomers used the first prototype of the Concorde to pursue a total eclipse across the Sahara at twice the speed of sound.
                                                                                     Chris Hatherill/Motherboard.com

When I read about these scientists who chartered the Concorde in order to follow the Path of Totality across the earth for 70 minutes, I actually thought it was this episode that Carly Simon was referring to in “You’re So Vain”. But apparently this happened in 1973 and the song was written in 1971, so I guess not. Unless . . . the plane went fast enough to reverse the spin of the earth and turn back time so that Warren Beatty could go with them!  Turn, earth! Turn around!

It’s so easy to find the correct info on the internet. And I’ll only be making it right, ‘Cause we’ll never be wrong together! We can take it to the end of the line –
this blog is like a shadow on me all of the time (all of the time).

Um… sorry.
I don’t know what to do and I’m always in the dark.
It’s like I’m living in a powder keg and giving off sparks.
Nothing I can do.
But let’s just return to the start . . .

You’re going to need a playlist.

 

Note: Here are some songs you should NOT add to your iPod
A Whiter Shade of Pale
On a Clear Day You Can Nazi Forever
Waitin’ for the Robert E. Lee
Springtime for Hitler
Tomorrow Belongs To Me

#Charlottesville #fuckinnazis