To­tal­ity in Ore­gon

Colum­nist vis­its Pa­cific North­west to view rare as­tro­nom­i­cal event

Siloam Springs Herald Leader - - FRONT PAGE - David Cater

As I have al­luded to in past ar­ti­cles, I have wanted to see and pho­to­graph the eclipse of 2017 in per­son and I wanted to do this with my brother, Mike, a physi­cian in Tustin, Calif. He and I be­gan to plan a trip to see the eclipse about two years ago.

My brother and I live about 2,200 miles apart. Thus one of us would have to travel to the other in or­der to see the eclipse to­gether. Our first con­sid­er­a­tion was weather. It would have been easy to drive about 200 miles north of Siloam Springs to see the eclipse in the mid-west, but there was a greater than 50 per­cent chance of rain or clouds for Au­gust.

My brother care­fully ex­am­ined weather data and he found that east­ern Ore­gon had only a 15 per­cent chance of ob­scur­ing weather at the time of the eclipse. I flew to Orange County, Calif., met up with him and the great eclipse chase be­gan. My brother’s wife, Rosie, de­cided to ac­com­pany us and that was ab­so­lutely won­der­ful! She was fun­da­men­tal in help­ing us stay or­ga­nized and her cook­ing helped Mike and I avoid eat­ing beef stew from a can for 10 solid days — yuck!

When Mike and I go on a trip to­gether, it is al­ways a laugher! We are very good at mak­ing jokes and the ad­di­tional hu­mor con­trib­uted by Rosie was a spe­cial de­light. She is a nat­u­ral ex­pert on the zinger and the one-liner. We laughed all the way to Ore­gon and back!

Our cho­sen site to see the eclipse was the tiny town of Hunt­ing­ton, Ore. It is lo­cated very close to the bor­der be­tween Ore­gon and Idaho. My brother and I had time for a short trip to view the Snake River while we were there and it was a won­der­ful, calm­ing sight.

We had seen Hunt­ing­ton from Google Earth and my brother se­lected an RV camp very near the line of to­tal­ity. He con­tacted the owner more than a year ago and they had been in com­mu­ni­ca­tion sev­eral times over that year. We both knew we had found a very good site, both be­cause of the lo­ca­tion of the site and also be­cause the own­ers, Larry and Diane Mar­shall, were some of the kind­est and most help­ful peo­ple ei­ther of us have ever met. They are the own­ers of Snake River RV Park. We rec­om­mend this camp whole­heart­edly to any­one who wants to visit this re­gion of Ore­gon.

Hunt­ing­ton, Ore., is set in a nat­u­ral bowl of low, rounded, hills. It has a pop­u­la­tion of about 300. It was founded in the late 19th Cen­tury and was a ship­ping point for the many va­ri­eties of fruit that were grown in the area at that time. The town then had a pop­u­la­tion of about 10,000. How­ever … Hunt­ing­ton has seen bet­ter days. The rail lines are still quite busy at the north end of town and we heard freight trains pass­ing at all hours of the day and night. There are only a few streets, many homes are lit­er­ally fall­ing down and many back­yards and front yards as well are piled with junk and the rem­nants of past dreams that will never come true. It is also ex­tremely dry — the sur­round­ing hills are brown, with few trees. At this time of year, the dan­ger of wild fire is on ev­ery­body’s mind. Mule deer are ram­pant and wan­der un­mo­lested all through the town. We must have seen 30 or 40 of them even dur­ing our short stay. The area is still a very rich hunt­ing and fish­ing area.

The town’s cit­i­zens were in the midst of a late sum­mer fes­ti­val when we ar­rived, com­plete with sev­eral bands and ven­dors of such things as pet­ri­fied wood and hand-crafted leather goods. We also dis­cov­ered that Hunt­ing­ton is a main sales point for mar­i­juana in Ore­gon so the smell of ‘grass’ wafted its way through the fes­ti­val, rid­ing on the con­sid­er­able breeze present through­out our stay. At times there were gusts rang­ing to 30 miles per hour or so.

There was some ex­pec­ta­tion that thou­sands of peo­ple would con­verge on Hunt­ing­ton. This did not hap­pen. At most, I es­ti­mate only a few hun­dred saw the eclipse from the town and from our site, there were per­haps 25 peo­ple. We re­ally had no sense of crowd­ing, and we did not have to nav­i­gate through end­less lines of traf­fic. It had been more than 50 years since I had been to Ore­gon and Idaho. The lack of traf­fic al­lowed us to pay at­ten­tion to rolling ranches and farms where hops, fruit, cat­tle, and soy beans are still main crops. It is very peace­ful in this part of Amer­ica — re­mind­ing me of the area around Siloam Springs!

My brother and I brought our so­phis­ti­cated imag­ing equip­ment to the eclipse site we had cho­sen. We both used 18 megapixel dig­i­tal cam­eras and we both had pho­to­graphic tele­scopes of 600 mm fo­cal length. We both took sev­eral hun­dred images, all in the two min­utes of to­tal­ity. We were both very busy be­hind our tele­scopes, click­ing our shut­ters as fast as we could, hop­ing each to get at least one good pic­ture. We did a lot bet­ter than that and I have in­cluded some of my best images in this ar­ti­cle.

The night be­fore the eclipse, the very cor­dial peo­ple near our site gave a potluck. Bar­be­cued ribs, deep fried chicken, corn on the cob and too many deserts to re­mem­ber were brought to the potluck, many by mem­bers of the site owner’s ex­tended fam­ily and their friends. I was asked to de­liver a short pre­sen­ta­tion about the eclipse and I had fun do­ing this, be­ing a teacher at heart.

When­ever I have had an open pre­sen­ta­tion of any­thing as­tro­nom­i­cal, I know I can ex­pect some un­usual, even strange ques­tions. I got sev­eral informed ques­tions which I think all con­trib­uted to our un­der­stand­ing of the event, but one odd ques­tion stands out.

A rather large and pon­der­ous mem­ber of the au­di­ence, whom I knew to have im­bibed heav­ily of a va­ri­ety of al­co­holic bev­er­ages avail­able at the potluck, asked, “If I threw a rock up in the air dur­ing the eclipse, what would hap­pen?” (Sev­eral peo­ple at the gath­er­ing sug­gested, un­der their breaths, that the rock would come down and land on his face…). This was one of those mo­ments where I had to pause and think care­fully about how I would answer this. I didn’t want to of­fend any­one; they had all been very kind to me. The only thing I could think of say­ing was, “The laws of physics will not be changed just be­cause of an eclipse.” No one tried to run me out of town …

Mov­ing on to the eclipse it­self, we had a lot of ten­sion about the weather. It had clouded over the evening be­fore but sev­eral re­ports said the weather would clear about 1 a.m. We were sleep­ing on cots in the open air and we could see the night sky clearly. True to weather re­ports, the sky cleared and by the time of the eclipse at about 10:25 a.m. PDT, we had a won­der­ful clear blue sky — our dream of good weather had ma­te­ri­al­ized! We were all con­vinced we had cho­sen the ideal spot to view and pho­to­graph the eclipse.

As the eclipse ap­proached, a feel­ing of very high ex­pec­ta­tion filled the view­ers. All were du­ti­fully wear­ing their eclipse glasses. Most had come to view the eclipse with­out the aid of equip­ment, a few brought pho­to­graphic equip­ment and one per­son video­taped the whole eclipse through his tele­scope. Mike and I had set out an area for our tele­scopes by plac­ing over­lap­ping can­vases on the ground, stakes at the cor­ners, yel­low warn­ing tape be­tween the stakes. I had con­structed fo­cus­ing shrouds for both of us be­cause it would be dif­fi­cult to read our ‘live-view’ screens with­out some way to block light that would creep into the sides of the screens. Both of us were now hud­dled be­hind our cam­eras, ready to click our shut­ters with re­mote de­vices so we wouldn’t shake our ‘scopes. We had both re­hearsed what we would do but I whis­pered to my­self, “This is it, don’t blow it, don’t blow it!”

To­tal­ity ar­rived with a great shout from ev­ery­one. Many clapped; chil­dren jumped up and down. One man cried.

Rosie made an au­dio-visual record­ing of the crowd and while I don’t re­mem­ber mak­ing a sound, there is a dis­tinct record of me shout­ing, “To­tal­ity!” about as loud as I can yell!

Mike and I had planned to col­lect images for one minute of to­tal­ity it­self and to spend one minute visu­ally view­ing to­tal­ity for the re­main­ing time. I came pretty close to this but prob­a­bly pho­tographed too long into the sec­ond minute. When I did see to­tal­ity visu­ally, tears came to my eyes, too. There are many ac­counts of what the corona looks like. Most agree that the corona is a sub­tle pearly white. When I saw it, it was in­tensely shiny white with very high con­trast with the sur­round­ing sky. The Moon cov­er­ing the sun was as black as black can be and the whole visual pic­ture was stun­ning. I could also see a small, red, flame-like promi­nence on the edge of the Sun. This promi­nence ap­pears in some of the pho­tographs I have in­cluded with this ar­ti­cle.

To­tal­ity only lasted a bit over two min­utes. How­ever, there is an im­age in my mind of the fully eclipsed Sun, with ex­tended corona, that I will never for­get. The pho­tographs I have in­cluded do not look ex­actly like the visual images in my mem­ory — how­ever, they are close. I hope you en­joy them!

We left our site as quickly as we could, fear­ing dense traf­fic — which did not ma­te­ri­al­ize. The re­main­der of our trip was spent as tourists, mov­ing through Ne­vada cities Win­nemucca and Reno and trav­el­ing on to Bishop, Calif. I had been to Bishop and sur­round­ing ar­eas many times be­fore mov­ing to Siloam Springs and it was quite spe­cial for me to see places all along the High Sier­ras that my fa­ther, brother and I had fished or camped at from my ear­lier life. I cer­tainly hope to re­turn to the Sier­ras and fish again for trout with my brother.

All in all, it was a magic trip I will al­ways re­mem­ber. I want to give spe­cial thanks to my wife, Janet. She had to stay be­hind and care for one of our daugh­ters who had just had ab­dom­i­nal surgery. Bless­ings upon you, Janet!

— Dr. David Cater is a former fac­ulty mem­ber of JBU. Email him at star­bug352@ya­ The opin­ions ex­pressed are those of the au­thor.

David Cater/Star-Gaz­ing

This shot was taken as the corona reached its max­i­mum at to­tal­ity in Hunt­ing­ton, Ore., on Aug. 21.

David Cater/Star-Gaz­ing

In this shot of the eclipse, taken in Hunt­ing­ton, Ore.. on Aug. 21 an early corona with promi­nence is vis­i­ble.

David Cater/Star-Gaz­ing

As the eclipse neared to­tal­ity on Aug. 21, ef­fect was vis­i­ble. a di­a­mond ring

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