Total Solar Eclipse

I’m nine-years-old and in the third grade. This was the year that we learned about the three states of matter: gas, liquid, solid. It is also the year of the partial solar eclipse. We head outside on Tuesday, May 10, 1994. In our hands, we have simple pinhole projectors to view the eclipse. On the sidewalk, we can just make out the eclipse through our trembling third grade excitement.

742 miles away and twenty-three years later, my colleague has picked up my excitement over the total eclipse. He’s even deeper than I am, eagerly watching videos and talking to me about the four stages of an eclipse. He grew up on just the other side of the mountains from me and I find it funny that we both landed in the same location all these years later. He sends me a video and I dawdle watching it. When I do, I cough up the $1.99 for the app they recommend. The app will ensure that I find totality and it’ll talk me through the eclipse itself. I had began planning for Monday, August 21, 2017 back in January, but now I was preparing for the big day. As it approached, my colleague flew to the western end of Tennessee. I picked up my two best friends and drove to the eastern side of Tennessee.

I’m nervous, so I cough up $50 for three tickets to Castleton Farms in Loudon, TN. Upon arrival, I pay another $10 for parking. I wanted to ensure that we had a good place to settle while we wait.

The roads were empty until half an hour before we arrived. We take turns smothering all our exposed skin in sunscreen and bug spray. Then we lug ourselves across the rolling green lawn to the bag inspection center. They’re looking for alcohol. Just as we’re signing the liability waivers regarding looking directly at the sun, my app drily countdowns to the first contact. The lady looks concern for a second until I tell her what it is. After getting our non removable-without-destroying wristbands, we eagerly tear open the eclipse glasses I had purchased. We turn and seek out the sun. Though it has been just a moment, the moon has moved fast. It’s impressive.

We wander around the dips and hollows of this wedding farm. Food trucks make up a square off to the side. As sweat runs down my back, my friends pick up lunch. We nudge into an already occupied table to wait for the order. The couple moves on leaving us with the table for the rest of our wait. Throughout the next hour or so, people periodically put on their glasses and look up. We lean back from our umbrella to watch. The moon is eating away the sun.

The Phenomenon We Witnessed
* The light dimmed and flattened. Holding your arm out, it was like viewing the world through an Instagram filter. Maybe a sepia-tinged one.
* The temperature dropped noticeably. It was about 86 degrees when we had arrived. Halfway to totality, I stopped sweating.
* About 10 minutes till totality, the insects awoke and began to talk. Cicicadias? Katydids? No idea.
* A few minutes before totality, I pulled one of the white lawn chairs out from the table to expose it to the sunshine. Yes, shadow snakes/bands were visible. As my colleague later said, they were almost more like a mirage. They appeared again immediately following totality.
* 360 sunset — very subtle, but there was a band of color wherever we could see the horizon.
* Venus and a couple stars shone brightly in the darkened sky.
* Viewing the eclipse thrown by plant shadows and within my own finger lattice. At that point, they were just little crescents.

The Dream
As totality approached, my phone beeped before reciting the current phenomenon. I eagerly dragged my friends’ attention out from under the umbrella and directed them to get ready. The darkness fell like a curtain. Swift. Sudden. Dark. Not the dark of night, but of a blue-gray dusk. I watched eagerly for the wedding ring/diamond or any other cool corona effects. It was too fast and my human eyes too weak to see. Then when the app said it was safe, I tore my glasses off and looked upwards.

Later when we drove away, my mind looped the words “black hole sun” while I tried to process the vision of the blackened sun. From my camera’s perspective, it was a bright light with a tiny black dot in the center. To my human eyes, it was the reverse: a black sun with white glowing tendrils radiating out. Playing it back in my mind, it was all so dream-like. I gaped upwards then looked around for the other highlights such as the 360 degree sunset. I held my phone in-hand, recording throughout the event. But when I think on it, I just “see” my eyes jerking up, seeing this impossible black sun, the blue-gray sky, and again, feel the goosebumps that shudder through my body. It was like every apocalyptic anime I’ve ever watched. It didn’t seem real then. And even 20 minutes later, it had already melted in my mind to a dream-like status.

The light returned as swiftly as it had left. My camera captures it from a few seconds before to a few seconds after the light returns. I’ve universally found in eclipse videos the same sound — that of cheering. People whooping, clapping, and sometimes screeching their astonishment. It’s a unique shared experience which I highly recommend. My words here do it so little justice. As I said, it’s so surreal that your mind has trouble processing what you witnessed.

We left shortly afterwards. A band was going to play on the grounds, but we had a long drive back to our lodgings. A bit later, my phone reported that the fourth contact was coming to an end. I was heading to a red light. The eclipse was completely over.

New Zealand: The Stars are So Bright

Milford Sound -- 360. Click through to experience it.

Milford Sound — 360. Click through to experience it.

The above 360 degree sphere isn’t perfect. I’m guessing somewhere between Samsung and Google Photos, they didn’t line up the images correctly. You’ll get a taste of what it was like to be there. Just watch out for the sun — it is so bright. And the wind will occasionally blow so hard that you stumble a little in staying fully upright. The dreaded sandflies that everyone talks about? Mysteriously, they were almost non-existent. I got bit on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere instead of this legendary biting grounds. The tour guide sounded baffled as to why they and the endangered kea birds were missing. A drought was going on as the winter snow has been slight.

The foothills reminded me of Iceland.

The foothills reminded me of Iceland.

I posted some of my favorite daily shots over on my private Instagram account, so I’ll try to avoid posting them again here. In the above photo, you’ll note that the caption mentions Iceland. If you check out the image from that post, you’ll hopefully see the resemblance as well.

What can I say about New Zealand? My colleagues cheerfully asked me about my trip when I returned last week. It’s hard to say. Yes, it was beautiful. The biomes are so drastically different. One hour you’re driving through a temperate rainforest, then it shifts to glaciers, then you’re driving along an impossibly blue-green Tasman Sea, and before you get to that night’s lodgings, you are back in scrub and pasture land. It’s all so different. But I liked Iceland better.

Click through to see the photosphere. Mountains and ocean at once!

Click through to see the photosphere. Mountains and ocean at once!

My favorite parts? Kaikoura is a couple hours north of Christchurch. I don’t know who tossed it onto our list of destinations, but I’m thankful they did. It was possibly my absolute favorite place. The photosphere above shows you how wonderful this place is. On a clear day, you can see the North Island. Out beyond that ocean is Antarctica.

We parked the car mere feet above the water line. When you stood in front of our car and walked two steps, you could then hop straight down into the ocean. It was choppy and I was disappointed that it never sprayed the car. There was lots of great information about the Maori who built defenses on those terraced hills. Seals were resting on the rocks below. We kept trying to see a whale, but none showed up. We then spent the night in an authentic yurt on a farm. It was awesome.

Oh! There was also a big classic car show going on, the Kaikoura Hop, so the streets were packed with awesome cars. Every sidewalk, hotel, and house on the main strip was lined with people watching the cars go by. On our way up, we couldn’t decide if Kiwi were just obsessed with old cars or not. It was thanks to this event going on that we got forced to stay in the more expensive yurt.

Cool tunnel-cave.

Cool tunnel-cave.

Near the Franz Josef glacier, we tramped through a rainforest to get to a cool tunnel-cave. It was so hot walking up there. My NZ uniform consisted of a tank top, a t-shirt, a hoodie, a thin snowboarding coat, pants, and a ridiculous red hat which I bought for Pokemon Go-ing. I left the coat behind and traded it for a big poncho which I had purchased from Ikea. Across my back, under the poncho, was a camouflage tripod tube. Inside it I had shoved my bottle of water and red hat when it was time to go into the tunnel-cave.

The walk through the cave was boss. My new (and expensive) waterproof boots did a fantastic job. Well, until I was trying to be cute and avoid stepping in the three inches of water by going up onto stones. My ankle twisted too far to the left and water hit my sock as my foot slid. Otherwise, my socks were dry. My spouse on the other hand had the exact opposite experience. At the end of the walk, I gave him my thick hiking socks and wore just my liners back.

What can I say about going through the cave-tunnel? It was damp. My spouse had brought only one flashlight and carried it up front. My best friend walked behind and I brought up the rear. I was trying to document the trip on my phone, but I needed the light more. I aimed it at my best friend’s feet so I could follow where she stepped. My other hand kept touching the wall for balance. Since I don’t care to touch odd things, this was a little distressing. But when we got to the middle and could no longer see either end of the 300m tunnel, we turned out all the lights. Then we saw the glow worms.

They’re hard to see. They’re a beautiful light blue color and as a light, they’re not really distinct. You can’t trace the edges of them. If you look too hard, they go very fuzzy just like attempts to look at meteors straight on. Later that night, we came back to the same rainforest trail to see the glow worms that lived under the leaves. The sky was so bright with stars and the Milky Way, that my best friend commented that she thought she was seeing the stars still when she looked at the forest. Interestingly, the glow worms were only on the right side of the path, not the left (aside from a sole straggler).

The stars were so bright that I could read my spouse’s hoodie. Our faces were hard to view, but we could see the chalkiness of them. So picture this: a bright, starry sky with a wave of the galaxy running through, a forest black, a rocky path under your feet which you can almost see well-enough to walk on without a flashlight, and blue twinkling lights under the leaves. This was the best night.

There’s more to write about this trip like how we saw a whole palette of water colors as we circled the South Island. This post will be your teaser for now.

Weird fruit sculpture outside a farm/store.

Weird fruit sculpture outside a farm/store.

What is this?

Travel: Day 4

Thomas and I arrived at his mother’s apartment on Saturday to find her quite ill. She spent the whole day in bed, dozing and refusing to eat due to her stomach. The rest of us went out to the flea market to see the sights.

My MIL says that the flea market is very popular with the French who cross the nearby border to come sell and see the wares. The market takes place surrounding the edges of a green park. The unusual items I encountered were a Lenin pin, Hindu icon pendents, and local old coins. I had my eye on leather bags after seeing the swell one the conductor of the funicular had carried the day before. My FIL and spouse indulged me, letting me look, even as they themselves indulged in things that interested them. We purchased nothing.

In the center of the market was the Children’s Market. My FIL read the sign which said that this was where the child were the sellers and their parents were to stand back and supervise. This is so the kids may learn to handle money. However, I noticed that most of the kids had gone off and it was their parents running the show. An exception was this one industrious boy who was determined to sell old toys and clothes that had probably fit him once.

My main impression/experience though was that people were much more likely to run into you than back home. Every few feet, someone would thump into me.

After the market, we went to the grocery store. I walked around a bit as the boys tried to find a Mother’s Day present (I suggested a cake which my spouse then purchased). However, I was weary and left to go stand outside the checkouts. My bones felt so heavy and it was difficult to move.

When we got back, we spent the rest of the day resting, reading, and keeping a low profile. The bells rang for what felt like hours but in reality were 10-15 minutes around 6 p.m.

Other impressions:
Bicycles are everywhere. Hundreds of them. If there isn’t a bike rack, people put their U-locks through the frame and the back wheel. Sometimes two bikes will be daisy-chained together.

A metal shoe scraper can be found on the first step of many houses. They must be relics since there is no dirt or mud streets.

The lower windows of many houses in my MIL’s ultra quiet neighborhood are barred. I asked why when it seems so safe and my MIL thinks they’re from another time too.

It’s expensive to throw out trash here. A single bag costs upwards of $8. So we gather our trash and then take it out in small increments throughout our stay to put in public waste cans. My MIL says this is how people are taxed for garbage here. The bags are blue — though the recycling bags are a lighter blue, but I’m not sure if people get charged quite so much for them.

Basel is the city of purple flowers. Around 90% of all the blooms are purple. The others are yellow and white. Faintly, a blush of pink or red roses can be found. But purple dominates throughout the city.

We walk nearly everywhere. When we can no longer walk, we ride a bus or tram. It’s expensive at 6.80 Francs for two.

Add small gardens

sewer smell
Lots of graffiti
Dirty national landmark buildings
Lots of public transport

Travel: Day 3

We went on an adventure! My spouse and I conquered our fear of heights and sailed high above a mountain side. The funny thing about that story is that I’m the one who felt brave.

After a very frustrating experience, we managed to figure out exactly where we’d go on a train ride to go see the Swiss Alps. It was complicated because the official Swiss train site was not written in perfect English, so we discovered that some of the translations are off. My husband checked the site in German and solved the translation error.

We woke at 6 a.m. and rode the tram down to the main train station. After getting there, Thomas got our tickets and then we paced around outside till it was time to go. On the train, there was some wonderful user experience: four seats faced each other with a table with leaves for the two passengers by the window. Then the ailse people have tables they can flip up. Power outlets were between the seats. We had plenty of leg room — I even fell asleep on the way back.

The further bathroom adventures continued. At the train station, the bathroom (water closet) cost $2.00. On the train, after much searching, I realized that the flusher was above the sink!

The view was spectacular. I gave myself away as a first timer as I gawked around looking at the mountains, the green-green-green countryside, and the buildings which called out “European!” to me. My cheap web provider doesn’t support uploading large photos or I’d upload photos of the scenes I saw. So I’ll share that later.

We arrived in the southern tourist city of Locarno around noon. To the left was a great lake, snug to the right was a mountain we’d go up, and surrounding us was the city. The climate is very Mediterrian — so I read — as palm trees grew in gardens, on the mountains, and about town. My mother-in-law had been worried that we’d be cold, so we had dressed warmly and brought along extra layers. However, as the train pulled into the station, I spied people in shorts. We bundled our coats into Thomas’ bag and set out to see the lake shore. It was beautiful but nothing much to describe at that point.

Next, we wandered about until we agreed upon a place for lunch. Thomas ordered me pizza. It was Italian style with little sauce but oh, was the cheese soft and white! Thomas ate some kind of flatbread wrapped around cheese and Italian ham. Why all this Italian with a waitress speaking it to Thomas? It was because we were within spiting distance to northern Italy! Thomas struggled to speak Italian (he’s a native German speaker) in what he called “Cave Man Speech), but our lunch was successful and delicious. A thing to note: the waitress carried a black wallet out to the table for the money transaction part. Our luch was a bit expensive at roughly $25 USD.

It’s difficult to describe the rest and I’m getting tired now. What we did was take a funicular, a cable car, and a chairlift to the top of a 1360m mountain. Each part was exciting and I behaved like such a tourist taking photos. I was overjoyous running about taking photos, wanting to try out the swings high above the town, and pestering Thomas to death to pose for photos. He was nervous going on the chairlift, but finally relented. I was scared too, but felt that we had come so close, I needed to make it to the top!

I have video I can share too of these experiences, so I’ll skip describing. The view was fantastic with the lake seeming to lift up towards us. The lake was also massive. In the lap of another mountain’s crown, there was a small lake. The mountains around us rose up frozen and we shifted back into our coats by the time we were at the top of the mountain.

I was a little disappointed in the Swiss Alps. I had envisioned them taller, more imposing more frozen. I feel the same disappointment at how short NYC buildings are, so perhaps my imagination is just too big for the real world.

At the top of the summit, we were on top of this small part of the world. Suppousedly, we could see Switzerland’s lowest and highest point at once, but I noticed nothing. The only signs at the top were for showing mountain heights. Unfortunately, the drawing was not quite right so it was hard to tell the difference. A group of Asian teens showed up a few minutes after us and they took turns pretending to fall off the top for photo opps.

We rode all the way down again and went back down to the lake shore, shedding our coats, to wait for our return train. Ducks, a swan, and pigeons moved about us. Thomas and I observed mating habits of the male pigeons (always turned down) and tried to figure out which pigeons were male. This was actually one of my favorite parts of the day because….SCIENCE.

We arrived back around 10 p.m. in Basel. The mountains was shrouded in mist on our way back after such a beautiful day. The city turned into a haven for twenty-something youths clusering on street corners, waiting at the tram station, and outside clubs. Many guys dressed in a style that I recognize from The Jersey Shore as “guido” and hung out in groups. Girls tended to be in 1s and 2s. Many females wore scarves and dressed like Ellen Page’s character in Inception — i.e. big scarves. A few older people were about, but stood out amongst all the youth. Many people smoke cigarettes — lots of people do here — and one older man dressed all in denim was smoking a pot cigarette!

Travel: Day 2

I’m writing this as a reflection on Saturday for Thursday. The pattern appears to be to go on an adventure and then take a day of rest. Day 2 of my trip was restful. I had pretty bad jetlag still, so I was just exhausted.

My spouse and I walked from our AirBnB apartment to join his parents for breakfast. We decided to go visit a local art museum. On the way there, we got waylaid by a fantastic church whose initial founding had been in the 9th century. Over time, additional pieces had been added. While the front doors no longer open and you need to go in a side door, Donna told me the history of the region. She said that after the Protestants took over, they kept the Catholic churches but removed evidence of the saints. Therefore, what I was looking at was a church stripped of it’s original furnishings. My father-in-law pointed out that the stain glass windows were all new. Back then, the glass would not have been made out of many smaller pieces. One of the church windows featured a Star of David in front of the stained glass which Ithought was unusual.

I walked around and saw the ….effigies? Stone carvings of people from the early to mid-14th century “sleeping” on the outer walls. I’m curious as to why they were usually standing on dogs. These huge wooden rows of seats were joined at the back. My father-in-law said they were for monks and other important people to sit while everyone else stood. Outside the church before we went in, my FIL told us about the statues. One male had his hand out, offering the Foolish Maiden the world. But if you look behind the man…he was made up of snakes, lizards, monkeys and other creatures. He was’t real.

Connected to the church walls was a set of halls that surrounded an inner green courtyard. The walls were hung with heavy plates and tablets listing people who had paid to be buried at the church. The open place behind the church by the oldest section overlooked the river. It was beautiful and many people were there for lunch.

I need to add here that before the church, we walked to the local marketplace and I saw a strange tomatoe. I can’t even describe it, but its top was shaped more like a pumpkin with deep groves radiating from where it grew on the vine.

Across from the market was City Hall. The building is a deep red with frescos of the Middle Ages painted on. Once you enter the inner coutyard, there are two statues together of men bound together under a sheet and ropes. Each statue stands on “wooden” legs. I overheard someone say that it is meant to represent that we are all unbalanced and must work together.

Otherwise, City Hall’s insides were painted with more frescos and a woman was touching up a door. One of Donna’s students says that visiting Basel is like visiting Disneyland — nothing is real. Too clean, too painted to be real.

Speaking of a side note — buildings appear to compete as to who has been here the longest. Under each building’s name is a date. At first, I wasn’t sure if it was the street number or not, but my in-laws confirmed that its “first built here on” date for the current building.

At the art museum… well, I don’t have much to say. I was exhausted and it was some of the ugliest paintings I’ve ever seen. The artists had apparently never seen naked women (or men!) before. What the artist excelled in was drawing people in various states of agony. My MIL said it’s very strange to see art that she had seen in the 1970s. Back then, the art had not been restored, so they were all dark. Now they appear to have garish colors (original or not?) And are very bright. The Jesus paintings were especially guilty of having too much gold that gleamed enough to lose the meaning of the paint in the lower half of the paintiing.

What I did appreciate were the few Monte and Van Gogh paintings. My favorite art movement is the Impressionists so this was a treat. In a self-portrait of Vincent, his mustache is painted in long, curved strokes. Each stroke is multi-colored orange-pink-white with no two strokes holding the same color combination.

After the art museum, we made our way back here because I was attempting to sleep in public and my FIL’s foot was hurting him. We rode the tram back. You can only buy tickets in coin or credit card and there’s a machine at every stop. Then the tram arrives and you hop on — quickly. No one ever checks your tickets which makes me wonder if official just rely on the honesty of the people.

Once we were back, I napped, everyone watched the informericals on TV, and then we had dinner. It was a quiet day.

Trip to Utah and Back Again

Sunrise in Greensboro

Sunrise in Greensboro

I left for a trip to Utah on Thursday, March 7th and then returned on Saturday, March 9th. In order to make it across the country, I had to be on the plane before sunrise. This leg of the trip took about 75 minutes. My plane took me to Atlanta for the rest of the trip (4.5 hours). It was a pretty uneventful ride. I sat between two native Utah residents. One was on his way to a wedding while the other was going to her granddaughter’s college graduation.

I spent my time academic skimming two books on emerging technologies in academic libraries, which was the topic I was presenting on. When I finished with that, I pulled out my netbook and discovered that Delta was having a special where you could tweet for free. My tweets from this part of the journey:

  • Nice: this flight has free Twitter access. I’m flying over the Rockies right now. :-)
  • Aww, I just took a photo but realized that the default Twitter website won’t let me upload photos.
  • So far I’ve academic skimmed two books, ate 3 snack bags of fruity chewy things, 1 teeny bag of pretzels, and paid too much for a sandwich.
  • Uh oh. We’re hitting turbulance! I’m above Utah right now.
  • Quite a bit of turbulance now! >___<
  • We’re beginning our downward descent. We’ve dropped about 3000 feet so far. I see a big river out the window.
  • Lots of shaking. We’re in the clouds. We should be there in a little over half an hour. I can feel the descent. We’re dropping rapidly.
  • And by rapidly I mean the angle is enough to make me queasy. I’d rather continue to be climbing high…
  • We’re at 30k altitutde and continuing to drop. The clouds are too thick to see beyond the wings.

(I’ve left my misspellings in. Ah, the internet/modern browsers have completely spoiled me.)

Waiting for Shuttle

Waiting for Shuttle

When I landed, I rushed outside in order to meet the shuttle that would be taking me on the rest of my journey. Unfortunately, there were some issues with this plan:

  • I had not caught that the name on the shuttle bus would NOT be the same as the one printed on the ticket.
  • The shuttle was an hour late anyways.
  • I had spoken to the shuttle operator about 3 times. He knew I was there and waiting. I did not dare to go inside in case I missed it. So, when the shuttle did come and the driver did not ask if the shuttering, teeth clattering girl was the one who had been calling the shuttle, I got quite upset. The reason for this being that I witnessed several other shuttles where the driver would ask people for their name to confirm that they were not suppose to be on his shuttle. It seemed to be pretty standard.

So, by the time that things got worked out, it was two hours after I had landed. I had stayed outside in 43 degree weather and watched it rain, then hail, then lightening as I waited for the shuttle. Thank goodness that my boyfriend had told me to wear long johns and that I brought my feather down coat and wool gloves.

It all turned out for the best. I got to ride the shuttle up with some great locals: a professor, a chatty hair stylist, and a father and his daughter who were returning from a hunting trip. They pointed out landmarks, told me that no really, the mountain is right there but we couldn’t see it thanks to the thick snow. They were great! So while things were off to a rocky start, the locals totally made up for it. :-)

Going into mountains

Going up into the mountains

I’m not sure what all I can/should say about my presentation. I did not hit the 45 minute mark, but was told that it worked out perhaps better that I did not. Instead of 15 minutes of Q&A, there were 25 minutes. The bad thing about my presentation was that this library was already kicking butt and taking names. At least I’m current with what should already be being done in most libraries… I enjoyed my visit though a great deal. The people I met were fun and more importantly, easy to talk to. That is always a blessing when you’re shy like myself.

Window View

Window View

It snowed nearly the entire time I was there. Everyone complained about it while back home, it was in the 70/80s. I was pretty excited about it since I love snow. Only later back on the plane did I realize that I never stepped foot on Utah soil. I was always on asphalt/concrete. When there was a break in the storm on Friday evening, I got one tantalizing glimpse of the further valley and maybe it was the sunset colors, but it looked like Heaven.

Clouds Caught on Mountains

Clouds Caught on Mountains

My planes were late returning me home. The first because it was snowing pretty hard in Salt Lake City, so the plane had to be deiced. Then in Atlanta it was because the plane had to be rerouted due to a big storm in North Carolina (both of my mom’s skylights were broken due to the hail. My grandma said her car was dented!). My boyfriend was very patient waiting for my plane to arrive. He then took me to my favorite restaurant for dinner then presented me with these:



Fall Trip to Asheville

Get the flash player here:

Candid Laugh

Three on a bench
My friend’s five year old daughter tried her best to take a photo but the camera is to sensitive so I came home with overexposed and/or blurry shots. This was the best of the lot.