I had traveled to the high desert of Oregon to see the annular eclipse. The October sunshine highlighted the yellow leaves on trees among the tall timber on my drive across the Cascades pass. As I traveled down one of those long, lonely highways in what is known as the Oregon Outback, for good reason, I questioned why I had made this decision.
Then I drove into the playa, the mudflats left from an ancient Pleistocene lake that is part of the Great Basin. There couldn’t be a better place for watching a solar eclipse — as long as nature cooperated. We were close to the center of the path of totality, although that is a relative term in a ring of fire eclipse.
The whole sky is visible looking east, across the mud flats. The cabins here front a little lake, an oasis of wildlife. The landscape and distant hills change color with the light of the day.
The first night here, I stepped outside and thought I could touch the Big Dipper. Although there are retreats and workshops here, I come for inspiration — seeing the stars in the dark sky, watching the sunrise, watching the colors shift. Oh, I participate in the event, too.
The forecast was for a mostly cloudy day on the Saturday of the October 14 annular eclipse. We were hopeful, those couple dozen gathered. An astronomer with his telescope was on hand. All day yesterday the back roads of this desolate county — with 8,183 square miles and about the same number of people — were humming with cars, people camping and visiting family or staying in the few resorts/motels out here.
Yesterday, I couldn’t get warm enough and went to the bar in Paisley, population 250. It is the oldest bar in Oregon, and just about everybody stops there for a burger and a beer.
I walked in behind a man about my age, and we sat at the two seats left at the bar. “You together?” the bartender asked. “Not yet,” I responded, and my neighbor laughed. We passed the time with some general conversation (he was camping to see the eclipse) and then he picked up my check. “I was just teasing,” I protested. He fist bumped. “Good karma.”
The Paisley Bar was built in 1883 and is advertised as the oldest bar in Oregon. The wooden bar itself was built in Boston in 1906, and then came by ship and a team of horses-drawn wagon to Paisley. The bar and grill attracts bikers, people heading to and from Burning Man, locals, truckers, and campers. A little bit of everybody, hippies and ranch hands, or people who are both.
This morning dawned clearing and we were all excited for the main event at the retreat center, but then the clouds rolled in again. The stratocumulus clouds — wavy, with patches of blue sky — didn’t ruin the eclipse, though. Instead, they provided a natural filter as the moon moving across the sun was visible in peeks, until we could see the full ring of fire. I missed Johnny Cash’s song Ring of Fire at that point. The Paisley Bar wasn’t open yet but I’ll bet they’ll play it today.
When it looked like gray clouds were going to block out the eclipse, the astronomer told us that overcast skies often interfered in Oregon, and there would be other opportunities.
Maybe. Maybe not.
During the last solar eclipse, in 2017, I had to work, and envied those I heard talk about it. North America will experience another eclipse next year, and then not for a long while. I may not have a long while.
So, this is one of the joys of retirement. There will be a path of totality in driving distance? Let’s go!
We might not fall into a burning ring of fire anymore. Passion is replaced by patience, disappointment by resilience. But time isn’t on our side.
Maybe it’s a fair trade.