The memory’s a jumble. We lived in the woods, at the end of a long driveway. It was already dark. And raining — cold April rain.
But we were inside when the news came. Our early evening habit was to watch “The Huntley-Brinkley Report,” NBC News’s nightly national broadcast, which aired in the Chicago area at 6 p.m. Before the show signed off for the evening — the show’s closing credits would roll while a passage from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony — there was a bulletin from Memphis: Martin Luther King had been shot. His condition was unknown, but one report suggested he’d been shot in the head.
Dad wasn’t home yet. Mom was out shopping. I had to tell someone. I saw Mom pulling into the carport, and I ran outside to tell her that King had been shot.
She had taken us to see him speak once, less than two years earlier, at Soldier Field. The beginning of a long, bitter summer of fair-housing protests in Chicago. That same summer, I think, Mom had gone to see King at a church on the South Side. I remember her saying she was in a pew on the aisle of the church and that King brushed past her as he walked up to the front of the church. She was surprised he wasn’t taller, but that as he spoke he seemed transformed — to grow not only in intensity but in stature and command.
Now something terrible had happened. Martin Luther King had been shot.
As it turns out, I was an enthusiastic participant in the eclipse experience but sort of a lousy observer. My one idea for recording the event visually — to shoot a movie of the oncoming darkness and return of daylight — misfired because I apparently didn’t hit the record button when I thought I did. Oh, well.
But Kate was on the job. She caught the images below, looking west from our Casper golf course ridge. The first image was less than 10 before totality, I think. The second just after totality began.
Well, just under over three hours to T-Time. T for totality. The sky is clear but a little smoky here. Off to the north, a bank of high clouds is visible. Is it headed this way?
From the final, very complete forecast discussion published at 2:48 a.m. by the Riverton office of the National Weather Service:
“… Natrona county, including Casper, will lie within the other good area to view the eclipse as it will likely be mostly clear and sunny to begin the day with high clouds not making it into the County until after totality, through the afternoon. There is also one additional caveat to this astronomical event – smoke cover. The forecast area will see another frontal push through the area later this morning perhaps bringing in more wildfire smoke and causing or continuing some visibility decrease (keeping the sky a bit hazy side even without the clouds). Again, none of these factors will keep the eclipse from being viewed – but may somewhat limit how it/what can
be seen around the eclipse itself…especially near/at totality. On the other hand, the colors associated with this kind of filtering could be quite dramatic.”
Meant to publish this Saturday morning. But here it is at the tail end of Saturday night — we did make it to Valentine after an amazing drive through the Sand Hills (above) — instead:
Don’t have time to say much, because we’re late getting on the road, but: We spent the night in Jackson on Wednesday; Thursday morning, we had breakfast with the parents of our son Thom’s roommate at Oregon, Barb and Tom Dillon, who live just south of town. They invited us to stay Thursday night, so we did — using the daylight hours for a leisurely drive up past the Tetons to Yellowstone and back.
Friday, we drove across Wyoming to Sidney, Nebraska, a town where our family has roots, sort of, that go back to the 1860s. Less than 10 miles outside town, the a tire-pressure indicator light went on in the car. We pulled over and discovered we had picked up a nail and had a leak big enough I could hear it. Since the tire wasn’t too bad yet, we jumped in and made it the rest of the way to our motel, just off Interstate 80, where the tire quickly went flat. I changed it (a chore in a vehicle as large as the 4Runner, but do-able thanks to the aid of a passer-by, a Seattle-ite named Michael). In any case, we got it done.
This morning I drove into Sidney to have the punctured tire fixed. It took a while, so I strolled through town, where a parade was forming up as part of the town’s contribution to Nebraska’s sesquicentennial. Chatted up some of the participants, went back and got the car, and now we’re getting ready to head out with a tentative destination of Valentine, which is a good piece up the road (we’re not far from the Colorado border, and Valentine is close to South Dakota).
The eclipse weather forecast in western Nebraska is not great right now. So we’ll see where we wind up Monday morning.
Once upon a time — at least 20 pounds and a decent quantity of decent muscle mass ago — I used to do long, long bike rides. The kind where you’d be out all day, sometimes all weekend, sometimes longer. A natural obsession attached to these rides: Would it be raining? Would it be hot? Would there be unfriendly winds. None of those factors would typically dictate whether you’d do a ride or not, but it was an important factor in planning and indulging your worst bad-weather anxiety.
So now, we’re driving across the western United States with the idea that we’ll see the August 21 eclipse in the general area of Nebraska Sand Hills. We’re about halfway there now, and we’re starting to take the weather forecasts seriously. And while I normally wouldn’t care about the weather in a place I’m visiting — It’s cloudy? Is that a problem? — the forecast for Greater Western Nebraska isn’t so sunny right now.
In fact, if you read the forecast discussions for the four National Weather Service offices handling forecast for the area from the Idaho Rockies to the west-central Nebraska, the word “pessimism” has crept into the several-times-daily notes. Three examples (and about the jargon: GFS, ECM and European are all forecaster shorthand for supercomputer-driven numerical weather models; 12Z (or other numbers) refers to the time the most recent model run was completed in UTC (universal) time (Z stands for Zulu, and apparently comes from military usage):
Pocatello, Idaho: GFS and European continue to offer up different
solutions. GFS is more pessimistic for us. It monsoonal moisture into the region Sunday. This could produce viewing issues for the eclipse in terms of scattered areas of clouds and showers. The European on the other hand keeps the monsoonal moisture south of us for Sunday and Monday and provides much better viewing for the eclipse. The forecast favors the pessimistic solution and includes partly cloudy skies with slight chances of showers and thunderstorms. At this point, we do think the eclipse will be viewable, but there may be a few clouds in some areas. However the consensus models are leaning more towards the European solution so hopefully the GFS will move into that direction as well within the next couple of runs. Forecast for Tuesday and beyond continues to look unsettled. Even the European draws monsoonal moisture into our region for midweek.
Riverton, Wyoming: For Monday, Eclipse Day, the 12z model runs still indicate that a weak surface cold front is progged to move into the northwest portion of Wyoming and will bring with it some mid to high clouds into the region during the morning. The models seem to indicate that the frontal boundary should weaken and become diffuse during the day as it attempts to move southeast into the state. The low level southwest flow ahead of the boundary should also result in more low/mid level moisture and partly to mostly cloudy conditions expected across the forecast area from the morning into the afternoon. It is expected that there should be some isolated showers/storms over the western mountains due to expected slight instability.
Cheyenne, Wyoming: It continues to be a tricky cloud forecast for Eclipse Day (Monday) with west-southwest flow aloft and decent H7-H3 [upper atmospheric] moisture. There are still considerable differences though in the RH [relative humidity] fields, so opted to maintain a partly cloudy forecast for most areas.
North Platte, Nebraska: The cloud forecast Monday continues to evaluate the potential for high cloudiness which could partially obscure the eclipse.
The ECM and GFS shows subtropical moisture aloft moving across the Rockies which could produce scattered or broken high cloudiness around noon Monday. The GFS also indicates substantial low level moisture and stratus across Wrn/Ncntl Neb leftover from heavy thunderstorms across Ern Neb Sunday night. The ECM produces the thunderstorms across SD but shows the same moisture in place like the GFS. Thus, it is possible significant cloudiness will occur Monday.
As a result, the sky forecast for noon Monday has been increased from 35-40 percent yesterday, to 40 to 60 percent with the forecast today.
Important to remember: While the forecast models are sometimes shockingly good, they also miss. We’re more than 100 hours out from the eclipse right now, and there’s plenty of time for things to evolve. Right now, though, I’m rooting for monsoonal moisture to keep its ass parked well clear of the eclipse zone; the same for stray moisture and frontal boundaries and all other atmospheric interference with OUR EVENT OF A LIFETIME. You listening, cloudmakers?
Anyway. Isn’t this supposed to be a road trip?
We started out in Twin Falls, Idaho, today, walking through a mall to the Petco with, guaranteed, the most scenic view in all of Petco World. Or, it would be the most scenic view if the entrance was at the back of the store, because that’s where you can look down into the Snake River Canyon of Evel Knievel fame.
Alas, Evel is pulling his cheap stunts in the afterlife now (and maybe still getting upstaged by Richard Nixon). But there were base jumpers leaping, one after another, from the big beautiful steel arch bridge that carries U.S. 93 across the canyon. Here’s a video — watch it full screen — that sort of conveys what that was about:
At the visitors center, near the Petco and overlooking the bridge, I had a talk with a guy who arrived with a daypack and a longboard-style skateboard who confided early on, “I’m a bum. I live down in the canyon.” But what he really wanted was to talk about losing a camera over the side of the canyon rim earlier in the week. He also confided he was an old time base jumper who had gone off the high bridge outside Auburn many times (OK — he said 1,000 times).
After that, we headed up 93 and saw lots:
An aqueduct that a bunch of kids — wearing personal flotation devices, all of them — were getting ready to jump into for a 20-minute trip downstream.
A memorial to a guy who crashed in February off U.S. 26 on the edge of Craters of the Moon National Monument; the debris field from the crash was still present, as was a memorial to “The Highwayman.”
Lava. Lots of lava.
Arco, Idaho, which advertises itself as the first place in the world to use electricity generated by atomic power (circa 1955). The proprietor of the Lost River Valley espresso shack served us a latte and a cappuccino. We talked eclipse, since Arco is in the path. Was she bringing on extra help? Her sons would be there, she said. “I started this business for them — they’re both autistic. They’re home today. … They’re anxious about all the people who’ll be showing up. …”
Idaho Falls. Bought gas there. By the way, the mileage on a Toyota 4Runner — the only car Hertz had to give us after I asked for a small SUV — sucks.
The towns of Shoshone, Richfield, Carey …
The Snake River. Swan Valley. The Grand Tetons. Jackson Hole. And that’s where we are tonight.
Tomorrow? We have a reservation in Casper, Wyoming. We’ll be looking at the weather.
We had some heat today. We’ll call the high here in the refined northern reaches of Berkeley 91. The official Berkeley record for June 18 is 90, set in 1895. Because one must turn cartwheels to get the data from the official station, which is on the UC Berkeley campus and overseen by a Department of Geography employee who has heretofore ignored my queries about getting data from the station, I don’t know whether that 122-year-old record was broken or not. I’ll try to remember to look for the number when it becomes available in a month or so.
But other high-temperature records were broken in the Bay Area today. To wit (data by way of the National Weather Service):
The quality of Bay Area heat is different from what I remember of Chicagoland heat: It can be scorchng if you’re out in the sun, but it’s not so bad if you can find some shade (and stay there). My recollection of hot days growing up was that there was no getting away from it; the humidity just draped the heat around you. Great if you’re looking to get a good sweat on, though.
Anyway. When the heat broke early this evening, I took The Dog out for a walk. We went to his favorite pet food store — his favorite because he gets treats every time he walks in the door. The place was closed — I knew it would be, but it was a nice walk with the evening started to cool down.
On the way home, a mockingbird was putting on a show; enough so that several passers-by, including The Dog and I, stopped. That’s the little audio clip above. In addition to the bird, there’s a siren and the sound of the dog panting. Real street sound.
OK — so that arachnid above got my attention when I went into our backyard shed this evening in search of WD-40 (exciting scenario, right?). I didn’t know what it was, and I’m always thinking I’m going to bump into a brown recluse. If you know what those look like — well, the specimen above isn’t remotely similar.
But it was dark and shiny, sort of like a black widow. Our neighbors believe they spotted one of those in their mailbox late in the autumn. But this spider tonight lacked the black widow’s distinctive red marking.
With that one photograph, I went online to see if I could find a match. This UC Berkeley page suggests it’s a false black widow, Steotoda grossa (you need to scroll down at that link to the seventh species listed).
For my birthday earlier this year, one of my kids gave me what probably qualifies as an antique film camera. It’s a Canonet — a little rangefinder camera made by Canon in the mid-1960s through the late ’70s.
I haven’t shot any film in years, and while the camera is fairly simple to use, I had no idea how pictures would come out. After ruining a couple rolls that I apparently failed to advance or rewind correctly, I finally managed to shoot some color slide film, extract it from the camera, and get it processed.
The results are fun and gratifying — here’s a Flickr slideshow of images that the lab digitized and transferred to a CD. I’m ready to go out and shoot more.
Here’s a story that made the rounds in the midst of this week’s unpleasantness: a piece from the CBC on a township in the southwestern corner of Manitoba that offers cheap house lots for those willing to build there.
Well, the story isn’t really about the township — the Rural Municipality of Pipestone. It’s about a half-dozen calls the municipality got from Americans in the days after the election asking about the lot purchase program.
Try as I might, I can’t find details about the lot sizes or locations (yes, I’m curious). But the RM of Pipestone website lays out the deal: You put down $1,000 for a lot, with the promise to start building on it within 12 months, and you get $990 back when your dream house on the prairie is finished.
You get a little bit of the flavor of the community from one of the local papers, the Reston Recorder (the online edition is a little out of date).
You can get a little more from a virtual trip through Reston via Google Streetview (that’s Danny and Angie Vanderberghe’s place, with the Canada and Manitoba flags, on the right):
And here are a couple more nuggets:
This is oil country, just north of the North Dakota border. On the plus side, the Rural Municipality of Pipestone was in the news a few years back for using some of the oil revenue it’s getting to fund a annual $500 grants for residents. The municipality is also funding the $10 lot program with its oil windfall.
Some have seen a downside. In addition to the wear and tear on local infrastructure — shades of what’s been seen south of the border — there have been complaints in the area about oil spills and provincial regulators’ failure to take action.
Anyway, you would-be Trump exiles, that’s waiting for you north of the border.
I’ve got my own little Great Plains rural fantasy — Benkelman, Nebraska — and was wondering how the elections went there.
Among Benkelman’s many claims to attention, beyond the fact I drove by in 2007, is that it’s the birthplace of Ward Bond. You know — the actor. “Wagon Train.” Sergeant Tom Polhaus in “The Maltese Falcon,” the character who sets up Humphrey Bogart’s last line.
The town’s in southwestern Nebraska, in Dundy County along U.S. 34 near the Colorado line. So how did the county vote on Tuesday?
Of 949 votes counted in the presidential contest, Trump got 823, Clinton got 89, Gary Johnson 31, and Jill Stein 6. I would like to meet the Stein voters in Dundy County.
Also of interest in the county returns:
The region’s Republican congressman ran unopposed. He got 841 votes.
Tammy Buffington won the race for Benkelman’s East Ward City Council seat.
“I suppose I don’t really care why the Cubs have such a plethora of devotees, I know only that I am one and that I find it impossible — inconceivable — to give my heart to another, however talented or untalented, bunch of ballplayers performing in whatever city in this country or any other.”
(Having cited the above, I will freely confess to what some witnesses saw at the Oakland Coliseum in the summer of 2013. I cheered against the Cubs and their sloppy, incoherent play against an exciting, inspired Athletics squad. Then — go ahead and call me a front-runner — I was back in the stands this past season cheering for the Cubs against the not-quite-up-to-the-challenge A’s. I just need to say that for the completeness of the historical record.)