Sitting in the shadow of the moon

Two years ago I knew that a total solar eclipse would happen in the United States on August 21, 2017. By last summer I had already calculated which communities accessible to me and my family were on the path of maximum totality. By Christmas I was making plans to contact a church in one of those communities to see if my family could bring a picnic and watch the eclipse from their property. I was already surveying the communities through Google Earth ™ checking to see which of them was best suited for watching the sky and the surrounding landscape and also contained a church that might accept my request to borrow their property for part of a day.

I shared my plans with my extended family during our Christmas celebration. One of my relatives replied, “My home is on the path of the eclipse.” At first I demurred—the house in question was near the edge of the totality, not at the center. Besides, I would rather host the event than merely be a guest there. By the start of this summer, I scaled down my expectations and accepted this relative’s invitation.

The family gathering was diverse, including a boy almost one year old and a man almost ninety years old. Several people had assorted ideas about where best to watch the eclipse. In the end, we selected the porch and front yard of a member of the family—not the same member who made the initial invitation. We knew that the young children could be indoors part of the time, and also knew that some of us could walk or drive about a quarter mile, as the moon’s umbra approached, to see the shadow move over a wider landscape than could be seen from the house.

The group was equipped with enough eclipse glasses, although two of the women did not dare to look in the direction of the sun even with proper protection. I showed how to make a pinhole projector to monitor the progress of the moon across the sun. Once the eclipse surpassed fifty percent, sunlight filtered through the leaves of the trees also began casting crescent-shaped shadows like those of the pinhole. As the eclipse progressed, we noticed the changing colors of the sky and the foliage. Finally, in the deepening gloom, three of us walked the quarter mile to the better viewing area. We could see clouds in the distance already darkened by the shadow of the moon. Observed through the glasses, the sun appeared only to be a sliver of light in the sky.

Yet we could see each other and the surrounding area quite well throughout the event. It was never darker than the dusk of a sunset, even when we could remove the glasses and look at the corona of the sun surrounding the moon. Only a star or two was visible in the sky. Then, after a minute, it was over. The sun was again a sliver as seen through the glasses, and daylight conditions gradually returned. No nighttime animals came out of their homes, although daytime animals did quiet for the peak of the eclipse.

Only one member of the family claimed to feel disappointed by the experience. My excitement was increased by that of two young women in the family—one in her early twenties and the other in her mid-thirties. They were awed and interested by every step of the process. Most of us were very glad we took part in the experience.

The next total solar eclipse in the United States will be in April 2024. I don’t know where I will be living then, but I know that I will again do whatever is necessary to be in the path of the moon’s shadow. This time I will be more assertive about choosing a location near the center of the path rather than on the edge. J.

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Waiting for the shadow of the moon

I’ve never made a bucket list. I am much more inclined to live in the moment, to take one day at a time. However, if I had composed a bucket list, right at the top would be viewing a solar eclipse like the one happening next Monday.

I’ve been fascinated by astronomy since I was a boy. I watched the Apollo space program on television and wanted to be an astronaut. I learned about the planets in our solar system (back when Pluto was still a planet) and read about comets and meteors, stars and galaxies, quasars and supernovas, and all the other fascinating things to be found in the heavens. Part of the appeal of Star Trek and Star Wars is the dream of interplanetary travel, although the reality is likely to be far closer to 2001: Space Odyssey. I have seen a comet, experienced several partial solar eclipses, and watched lunar eclipses from beginning to end. I’ve gotten out of bed at 4 a.m. to watch meteors. The coming eclipse will round out years of watching the sky and marveling at God’s creation.

No doubt many Christian writers and speakers are trying to find spiritual metaphors in the eclipse of the sun. A few are even making apocalyptic predictions based on this perfectly ordinary event. Aside from the classic contrast of light and darkness, I don’t see that the eclipse has much to tell us about redemption or new life in Christ. On the other hand, such an eclipse does speak of the wonder of God’s creation. Our Earth is the only known planet whose moon appears to be the same size as does the sun from the surface of the planet. An eclipse with a much bigger moon or with a much smaller moon could never be the marvel that this eclipse will be. The entire arrangement is beautifully planned.

Needless to say, I have long since been sure to be on vacation for this event. I will have to drive several hours, but I am blessed with family living right in the path of the totality. My room there is already reserved. The only problem is the question of the best location for viewing the eclipse. Some of the family is content to relax in the back yard; after all, the sun and the moon will be overhead—what else would anyone want? My father and I already understand one factor that the other members of the family are missing—the arrival of the moon’s shadow will be dramatic as it soundlessly roars across the landscape at a speed faster than sound.

Every shadow has two components—the entire shadow, and the core of the shadow. Generally we see shadows projected across a surface that is near the object causing the shadow. Therefore, we do not observe the two components. When a more distant object casts a shadow, the blurred edges of the shadow are outside the core, but they are still part of the shadow. The moon is about 239,000 miles from the earth. A dramatic difference exists between its entire shadow and the core of the shadow. A partial eclipse happens outside the core, in the rest of the shadow. At ninety percent or more, the partial eclipse can still be spectacular. But as the core of that shadow arrives, everything changes. My father and I want to be sitting where we can see that shadow tear across the landscape toward us. Yet we do not want to oversell the experience (or give away too many secrets), so we are looking for a compromise that will give us some chance to see the shadow approaching without straying far from the property.

Thinking about shadows, and light and darkness, leads me to another random observation. We see with our eyes. In the back of our eyes are two sets of receptors, called rods and cones. With rods we sense light and darkness; with cones we perceive colors. The cones require more light to work than do the rods. Therefore, in dim light we see things in black and white and in shades of gray. In brighter light, we are able to make out more colors. As the Moody Blues remarked (“Nights in White Satin”), in the nighttime and early morning, “red is black; and yellow, white.” Or, as I tease my children, one sees many yellow cars on the road during the day, but hardly any yellow cars are noticed at night. Do people who own yellow cars only drive during the daytime?

Here is my spiritual take on light and darkness. We see and comprehend many things about creation now, but as the Bible says, we see in a glass dimly. In the new creation, we will see and know things more fully. Other bloggers that I follow have been speculating about heaven in the last few days. I think that the contrast between the lives we live now and the lives we will live then resembles the contrast between what we can see early in the morning before sunrise and what we can see when the sun is high in the sky. Much more will be revealed to us in that new creation than we are capable of perceiving today. What puzzles us now will make sense then, and the harmony of creation will resonate in our lives in ways we cannot even picture or describe today. J.

A charming wedding

Earlier this month I attended the wedding of my friend Mary to Walter Aznoe, a funeral director she has known for the past three years. It was his second wedding and her fourth, but it still was a beautiful ceremony for all involved. About three dozen people were there, all of us family or friends of Mary or of Walter. Afterward we had cake and punch in the church basement and assured the bride and groom of our best wishes.

Mary was born to Edna Hatter and William Little. William (usually called Bill) was a local businessman who dabbled in politics. Edna was an attorney who kept her last name for professional reasons. Mary and her two brothers hyphenated the two names, creating somewhat of a tongue-twister for their teachers.

When she was eighteen, Mary wed Elliott Richard Lamb, the richest man in the state. The marriage gathered a lot of attention, since he was sixty years old, more than three times her age. They had ten happy years as husband and wife—at least they both seemed happy—before he passed away, leaving his entire fortune to his young wife.

She then enjoyed an active life, attending concerts and plays, becoming acquainted with many of the younger public figures around town. Eventually she caught the eye of Johnny Fleas (real name, Claude Itzfliesvas), a semi-famous jazz pianist. Both thirty years old, the two remained in the public eye throughout their marriage. They had a son and a daughter. After seven years, their marriage burst apart with great acrimony. Public shouting matches and rumors of worse in private, as well as infidelity on his part, led finally to a split. Mary retired from her public life to raise her children.

Five years later, she was walking up the church aisle once again, this time to wed the Rev. Hezekiah White. Pastor White, a Methodist minister, professed astonishment to family and friends that after decades of bachelorhood, he had found a woman with whom he wanted to spend the rest of his life. Alas, he had only five years left to him before a heart attack robbed Mary of yet another husband.

Walter handled the funeral arrangements for the minister, as he also handled arrangement for most members of the congregation when they passed away. Within a few months, the mortician and the minister’s wife were an item around town, as they say. Walter’s first wife, Ruth, had died about a year earlier. All of us who knew them urged them to tie the knot, but Mary resisted. Having been twice widowed and once divorced, she was content to leave things the way they were. It took two years of courting (with many a wink and smile behind their backs) before the couple finally agreed to make their marriage legal and respectable.

The point of this story? There are actually two points to be made. The first is this: Mary Hatter-Little Lamb Itzfliesvas White Aznoe. The second is this (rim shot, please): It’s one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready, and four to go. J.

Good morning, Colonel!

I waved to the Colonel again this morning, and he waved back. He is a retired colonel of the United States Army. He probably does not know who I am—I am just a face behind the steering wheel of a car. But we frequently cross paths in the morning. He walks west on the sidewalk, part of his morning routine, walking for his health. I drive east on the street, on my way to work. We do not see each other every morning—neither of us has a routine so precise that one could set a watch by our passing. But when I see him, I wave, and most of the time he waves back.

His wife and I have spoken a few times. She represents our part of the city in the state legislature. Last year she and her staff helped to unravel a difficulty my family was having with a state agency. To the state agency, we were just another family in the system, to be passed from desk to desk and phone to phone with no resolution in sight. Once the agency heard from an elected official, though, they were able to produce the paperwork my family needed, and they did so quickly. They say that you can’t fight city hall, but if you know how to go over their heads, even the most powerful government agencies will respond.

Therefore, it is partly out of gratitude to his wife that I have started greeting the Colonel with a friendly wave. At the same time, I am grateful to him as well. I don’t know all the details of his service, but a little internet research tells me that he spent thirty years in the army, including two tours in Vietnam. He has risked his life fighting for his country. He deserves no less than a friendly wave from a passing stranger in the morning.

The Colonel and I have never spoken to each other, and possibly we never will. We don’t even smile when we wave to each other. I know that he waves to other drivers when they wave to him first. Our greetings are part of the morning routine, part of being neighborly. I like to think, though, that they are a little more than that. I like to think that my anonymous greeting is a thank you to the Colonel and to his wife for their faithful service. J.

 

Secrets Revealed: 10 Things Bunheads Do When They’re Not Dancing…

I am certain all of you will enjoy this. J.

Clara's Coffee Break

Pointe Shoes Image Pink 1.pngYou’ve always wondered…Here’s the truth… 😉

1. Daydream About Dance

All the time. Everywhere we go. When you would never suspect it.

(Via Giphy)

2. Choreograph in Our Thoughts

If we’re listening to music, there’s a good chance we’re mentally creating, staging, or restaging ballets.

(Via Giphy)

3. Binge on YouTube Ballet Videos

Oops, 6 hours just passed? Oh well…

(Via Giphy)

4. Read About Ballet

As difficult as it is to remain still (if we’re not watching dance), we suffer through it for articles, books, and blogs about ballet…

(Via rebloggy)

5. Sew Our Pointe Shoes

It must be done—like it or not. But listening to ballet music, a ballet podcast, or a ballet advice video helps pass the time…

(Via Giphy)

6. Cross Train!

This is why you watch/listen to TV, right?

(Via youbeauty)

7. Look at Social Media Accounts of…

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Patriots Celebrate America, They Don’t Denigrate America!

The always readable Dr. Lloyd Stebbins with some anecdotes appropriate for Independence Day. J.

Dr. Lloyd Stebbins

Parade

Once upon a time, when our politicians did not tend to apologize for our country’s prior actions, here’s a refresher on how some of our former patriots handled negative comments about our great country.  These are good:

JFK’S Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, was in France in the early 60’s when DeGaulle decided to pull out of NATO.

DeGaulle said he wanted all US military out of France as soon as possible.

Rusk responded, “Does that include those who are buried here?”

DeGaulle did not respond.

You could have heard a pin drop.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~

When in England , at a fairly large conference, Colin Powell was asked by the Archbishop of Canterbury if our plans for Iraq were just an example of ’empire building’ by George Bush.

He answered by saying, “Over the years, the United States has sent many of its fine young men and women into great…

View original post 476 more words

Seven at One Blow

I vividly remember a story I read several times when I was young. It was called “The Brave Little Tailor,” or sometimes “Seven at One Blow.” The story is in the collection of folk tales gathered by the Grimm Brothers, and it also is in the Blue Fairy Book collected by Andrew Lang.

The story begins with a tailor fixing himself a sandwich. His jelly draws a swarm of flies, which he swats, crushing seven of them with one blow. To celebrate the achievement, the tailor makes himself a sash adorned with the words, “Seven at One Blow.” He then sets out upon a series of adventures, during which people frequently assume that the sash refers to seven people rather than seven flies. With a combination of fast thinking and deception, the tailor is able to increase his reputation for strength and daring. Finally, completing a series of seemingly impossible tasks results in his marriage to a princess. When the tailor talks in his sleep about sewing, the princess realizes that she has married a commoner and plots with her father to have him killed. Word of the plot reaches the tailor, and the next night he pretends to be asleep and talking; he lists his exploits and announces that he is not afraid of the men hiding behind the door. By this final deception, his life is spared.

I remember the story vividly because the opening premise always seemed improbable to me. In my experience, houseflies are rapid and elusive. Generally, when trying to kill flies with a swatter, my experience has been one in seven blows rather than seven at one blow. Sometimes I get lucky and squash a fly with a single blow, but that success is rare.

Sometimes a fly gets into the house during the day and becomes annoying while I am reading at night. In response, I create a trail of lights to the nearest bathroom, turning them off one by one to draw the fly into the bathroom. Then I close the door and the match commences. Sometimes I manage to knock the fly out of the air with the swatter, then crush it on the floor or in the bathtub. Other times I deliver the killing blow after the fly has landed on a wall or on the mirror. I don’t give up until I have won, but seven blows or more are not uncommon in these battles.

This spring a bag of potatoes spoiled in the kitchen. Before we realized what had happened, a family of small flies had bred in the bag and were scattering throughout the house. I don’t know how momma fly and poppa fly arrived; perhaps they had already visited the potatoes before they were bought and taken into the house. It took several days for us to locate the source of the flies inside the house, and meanwhile we were taking several measures to try to reduce their population without threatening our health or that of our cats.

One of our precautions was to try to keep the kitchen as clean as possible. We wiped down counters, rinsed dishes if we were not immediately ready to wash them, and tried to keep food packages sealed. Where they found moisture, though, the flies gathered, and if the liquid was sweet they were especially interested. Sometimes I would walk into the kitchen, see a group of flies gathered on the counter, and give them a swift swat with my open hand. Soon I was matching that fabled tailor, and then even exceeding him. My proudest moment was when I eliminated twelve at one blow. “Bring on that wimpy tailor,” I said to my daughters.

After we removed the potatoes, the fly population diminished, although it took some weeks before the house was finally fly-free. Since I am not a tailor, I did not make a sash to boast of my accomplishment. But at least you know now that I am capable of twelve at one blow. And I am not afraid of those men hiding behind the door. J.

Bigfoot–fact or fiction?

This week Rob Lowe announced that he feared for his life while camping in the Ozark Mountains as he heard the sound of a Bigfoot approaching his campsite. Lowe was in the Ozarks, oddly enough, filming a television show about Bigfoot. While Lowe’s announcement is probably nothing more than promotion for his show, this news tidbit sent me wandering far and wide across the internet, gathering information on Bigfoot (or Sasquatch) in the United States.

My family and I live in a developed suburban community—not an environment where Bigfoot is likely to be seen. Yet open wilderness areas exist quite close to our home. Many nights we have heard the call of coyotes, and some evenings the hoots of a great horned owl. To my surprise, I discovered credible reports of Bigfoot sightings within a few miles of my home. They took place in densely wooded areas and included both deer hunters and off-road vehicle drivers as witnesses.

I am convinced that the vast majority of Bigfoot sightings are spurious. Some of them, I am sure, are pranks, and others are the result of wishful thinking. Many reported sightings of Bigfoot probably were actually bears, and others were tricks of the light reflecting off foliage, tree trunks, and rocks. Reclusive people—some of them escaped criminals—probably hide in wilderness areas and are mistaken at times for Bigfoot. Taken together, these false sightings most likely account for the vast majority of alleged Bigfoot sightings. Yet some descriptions of Bigfoot sightings are not so easily dismissed. Enough credible reports can be found that I am willing, for the time being, to maintain an open mind.

The ivory-billed woodpecker—a large and unique bird—was assumed extinct for decades. A few years ago, evidence emerged that a small number of these birds still exists in remote wilderness areas of the southern states. If they have survived without being detected for several generations, why couldn’t a reasonably intelligent species of mammal also remain hidden in scattered wilderness areas around the continent?

No dead Bigfoot has ever been found in the wilderness. But how many bear carcasses are reported each year? Aside from those deliberately killed and preserved by hunters, the rest of the dead bears disintegrate through natural causes. No one has ever captured a live Bigfoot. But how many people have tried to do so? If it exists, Bigfoot is much more intelligent than a deer or a bear. Being also much rarer than those animals, it is unremarkable that none has yet been captured.

Three years ago a scientist called for collections of hair thought to be left from a Bigfoot so he could conduct DNA tests. He received thirty samples. When tested, half of them proved to be from bear, and the rest from smaller mammals. One, from China, came from a polar bear species that was thought to be extinct for thousands of years. If a rare polar bear colony can still exist in the mountains of China, why not the Yeti as well?

Every time a convincing argument is proposed against the existence of Bigfoot, further reasoning or evidence appears to swing the opposite direction. The Patterson-Gimlin film of 1967 remains controversial. Too many people have confessed to taking part in a hoax involving the film for all of them to be believed. Too many experts have analyzed the film, only to reach conflicting conclusions, for me to be convinced one way or the other.

I have no personal experience connecting me to Bigfoot. Nor do I care enough to hunting for Bigfoot. I probably would have spent much less time considering the possibility that Bigfoot exists if I hadn’t read accounts of possible sightings near where I live. The world is too big and too complex for me to insist that Bigfoot is impossible, yet the evidence is too vague and too suspect for me to insist that Bigfoot exists. For the time being, I intend to keep an open mind. J.

Powerless

One day earlier this month a powerful thunderstorm swept through the neighborhood. I knew it was coming, having checked the weather online. It was late in the afternoon, and I had a casserole prepared to go into the oven. The winds ahead of the storm were just beginning to blow when I sat down at the computer and opened a program. Just as it opened, the computer and lights flickered and went out. I was left in the dark.

Rain started falling a few minutes later. The clouds were so thick that I needed to light a candle to be able to read a book. I thought of the repair team that was probably out in the wind and the rain, clearing a tree from the road and stringing a new power line. My cat was unsettled and wanted extra attention. The rain continued to fall.

After a while the downpour eased to a steady rain, and I decided to drive to the mall. One of my daughters works in the kitchen of a restaurant in the food court. She is currently without a car, so she generally calls home when her work is done to ask for a ride. With the power out, the phone would not work. Besides, I would rather eat a hot sandwich at the mall than dig into a cold tuna casserole in the dark at home.

The dropping air temperature and rain had cooled my car, and water had condensed on all of the windows. It required several minutes to clear the windows, using the defroster on the back window, blowing air on the windshield, and toweling the side windows. Then I was able to drive safely. A mile from home I came to an intersection with a traffic light. The power was out there too, but a police officer was directing the traffic. The other traffic lights beyond that intersection were working, so I felt confident that the mall would also have power.

I arrived, went inside, and ordered my meal. My daughter was surprised to see me, since she was not done with her work and had not called for a ride. I told her the power was out at home, and joked with her and the other employees about hanging out at the mall for the air conditioning and the lights. They gave me my meal, and I sat down to eat.

About five minutes later, the lights went out in the mall. Oddly, only half the mall was darkened; the other half still had power. The restaurant was in the dark. The workers were surprised when power did not return quickly; they had experienced power interruptions before, but usually power was restored in less than a minute. My daughter and I remembered the post I wrote for April Fools’ Day. We were happy to see that no one was stranded on the escalators. Some customers came into the restaurant hoping to buy food, but the evening manager told them they could not sell any food while the power was out. The manager did not want to close for the night, but food was cooling as the blackout continued. The manager eventually had the employees take the meat back into the kitchen to try to keep it warm.

My daughter finished her work in the kitchen and I drove her home. The power was still out at home. When I left for the mall, I had left a flashlight by the door. I guided my daughter to her room, then found the thermostat and switched off the air conditioning. Then I went around opening windows. For a while I read by candlelight.

Power was restored about 7 p.m. I blew out the candle, reset the bedroom clock and the alarm, then returned to my reading. It occurred to me that evening that it would been ironic (and sad) if the storm had damaged the new shed being built behind the house. The workmen had finished the main body of the shed; it was still waiting for shingles, siding, and electrical work. I would not have wanted to contact the insurance company and the general contractor to report a tree lying on the shed, but that did not happen. J.

Catching up again

The last two weeks have been busy. I’ve hardly had time even to look at WordPress, let alone post anything. So let me share some quick highlights:

  • I attended a four-day conference. While I will not be discussing it directly in this space, it has inspired some thoughts that I will share in the coming days.
  • I continued working with the burnt shed. The first contractor to look at the shed was also the first to send a proposal. However, the contractor got our email address wrong. A phone call the following week fixed that problem. Meanwhile one contractor wanted to see how much the insurance company is paying before writing a proposal, and a third promised to save us money by fixing only the part that was burned—ignoring the burn damage that stretches to the back of the shed in the rafters and the scorch marks on the outside of the back wall. (“You can paint over that, and no one will be able to tell that you had a fire.”) Others failed to return phone calls; one promised to come and broke that promise. So obviously I signed a contract with the first company. Demolition will begin in about two weeks. Meanwhile, we are working on identifying which contents were destroyed and which can be restored. The first cleaning company we contacted played phone tag with us for a week. Tiring of that, I called a different company, and they sent out a representative the same afternoon. Cloth items have already been picked up for cleaning. Wood, ceramic, and glass items will be picked up next week. More on this as new developments occur.
  • I got one book to the publisher, even as I have made progress on this summer’s writing project about the parables Jesus told. Later this month I will share portions of that book.
  • Dim decided to clean and restain her deck, something which she last did four years ago. That time she did the work in July, getting to work at six in the morning before the day was too hot to work outdoors. At least this time she is starting later in the day. Her first step was to get a power washer and use it to remove the old stain along with any dirt that has survived her daily blowing. That required days of work. While she had the power washer, she decided to polish her driveway. Another man was helping her—I think he owns the washer—but she was not happy with the speed of his work. With great attention to detail, she scrubbed every section of her driveway. Then she did it again. Then a third time. Then a fourth and then a fifth. The racket continued for days. After power washing, she discovered that she had damaged the wood of her deck by washing it too hard. So for another week she has sanded every piece of wood she washed, using (of course) a power sander. Upright pieces were removed and sanded in the garage, which allowed her to keep on working even while it was raining. She is almost done sanding and will soon use another power tool to apply the stain and sealer.
  • During the conference I attended, I discovered a large used-book store. In the history section I found five out-of-print books that are frequently quoted in other books I own on the same topics (President Nixon and Watergate). Of course I had to buy those books, and now in my spare time I am reading one of them.

Memorial Day weekend begins the social season of summer in the United States, even though the solstice is on June 21. I am on my summer schedule, and I have already heard my first cicada of the summer. I’m still waiting for the lightning bugs to appear. J.