We all walk ancientrails. Welcome to the journey.

Daily Life

Fall                                                                                Harvest Moon

Ruth and me destinations

Destinations with Ruth (planetarium in Boulder and Sweet Cow, an ice cream place in Denver) The Rav4’s purpose.

Into Stevinson Toyota yesterday for a Rav4 oil change. Stevinson’s West on the western edge of Denver. The big yellow signs with their dire steep inclines, tight curves warnings go past me now unremarked, except for the occasional realization that I’ve acclimated to mountain driving some while ago.

Stevinson is about 35 minutes away, but the Toyota approach to service appeals to me enough to make the trek. They do what needs to be done to keep the vehicle in good shape. That’s what I want. And, it works. The next oil change will be at the 100,100 mark. Can’t say I like the Rav4, but it gets us from point A to point B, even in winter in the mountains. I do sense an electric car in our future.

Kate, Ruth and Ruths bff, Wilson

Kate, Ruth and Ruth’s bff, Wilson

Family business meeting at Brooks Tavern over lunch. We’re still absorbing some financial strain from Jon’s time with us, so the budget’s a little tight, but that won’t last forever.

Kate’s doing well with the substantial burden Sjogren’s places on her daily. Though the dryness that is Sjogren’s signature symptom, especially mouth, throat, eyes, is definitely bothersome, the most difficulty for her comes from fatigue. It makes her self-defining upper middle class get’r done energizer bunny approach to life just not possible anymore, except for short periods of time. That imposes a psychological burden that is worse, I think, than the fatigue itself.

Finished the installation of the weather station. It looks great, to my eye, on the loft’s deck. I’ve reacquainted myself with some of the buttons and whiz bangs of the console, but it will require some rtfm to get back to facile with them. The internet connection might be harder because I purchased the link for it back when Vista was the most recent Microsoft OS. We’ll see.

20171016_165812Been trying to get Boiler Medics, the guy who installed our new boiler, out for a seasonal check of the system. Something’s happening there because they’ve ghosted me for the last few days. This behavior is the mountain way for tradespeople in our stretch of the Front Range; it’s frustrating.

Get my new workout today from On the Move Fitness. I’m enjoying getting a new workout every 6 weeks or so. It’s easy to get in a rut with fitness and Deb, owner of OMF with her husband Dave, seems to have a good grasp of my needs. The workouts she devises challenge me, but are not onerous. Lower back pain and my left shoulder pain have largely disappeared thanks to them. Not to mention that knee. I can now get up from a chair using only my legs, an accomplishment that seems small unless you’ve spent a good deal of time unable to do it.

In A Techno-Desert, Thirsty for Human Interaction

Fall                                                                             Harvest Moon

5:20 am on Shadow Mountain. 43 degrees. 12% humidity. Pressure 22.60. No wind. Crescent moon. All the same without knowing these data points, I know. Still. I like to know them anyhow.

naisbittThis week Thursday I get to see Joe and SeoAh. I’m excited just to see them, to have some high touch in this high tech age. Remember Alvin Toffler? A futurist, he posited that the more complex and sophisticated our technology becomes, the more necessary direct human interaction. (Toffler preceded Naisbitt by at least two years with this idea, but Naisbitt made it a corporate buzz phrase. I find his notion of balance between our physical and spiritual reality an interesting idea.)

True. We exist, at least many of us, especially those younger than a certain age, in a cloud (pun intended) of virtual data. This blog, for example. Facebook. Instagram. Snapchat. Email. Text messages. Twitter. I see, regularly, information and pictures about high school friends, old college friends, friends in Minnesota, family. I don’t use Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, not enough time in a day, but I’m on Facebook at least daily. I send and receive many e-mails, text messages. All this keeps me up to date, to some extent, on people I care about, a gratifying level of connection available, in yesteryear, only to voluminous letter writers.

1954-09 Galaxy Magazine by Ed EmshwillerBut the connection is, of course, partly, maybe mostly, illusory. We get only snippets, usually disconnected snippets. No hugs. No careful listening. No smiles. No touch on the hand during a conversation. No walks. No meals. The further out from our fleshly world, the less real information about another we receive because the context for what we know is very limited.

I don’t happen to see this as bad. I’m grateful for the chance to learn about even parts of the lives of people who once belonged to my fleshly world. But it does create a longing for in person moments, to embrace Joseph and SeoAh, for example. Or, to attend a 55th high school reunion, or show up at a Woolly Retreat in November,which I will not be able to do this year.

High Tech High TouchAs we age and travel becomes more difficult, I imagine this will become an even more poignant issue, extending even into our fleshly world. There’s promise, yes, in telemedicine, for example. We already meet with our financial planner over Skype. How many of our now daily or weekly interactions will become virtual? The key issue here, the one I think Toffler alluded to, though he may not have named it outright, is isolation.

We are on the map of the future where a cartographer might write in florid typescript, “Here there be dragons.” We just don’t know what the combination of high tech and increasingly low touch world might mean. Isolation is deadly, killing the spirit and ravaging the soul. Will we end up in a technological desert, thirsty for real human interaction, seeing it in the shimmering illusions of social media, but not being able to reach it? If so, what can we do about it?


The Weather on Shadow Mountain

Fall                                                                       Harvest Moon

20171015_071504Jon put brackets around the pole for the Vantage pro2 weather station. Secured to the deck now with the anemometer up maybe 20 feet off the ground, I’ll attach the weather station itself to the pole this morning. It’s out there right now though and functioning, sending information back to the console.

These are the conditions at 7:20 a.m. this morning, October 15th. Temp outside, 35. Humidity outside, 15%. Barometric pressure 22.60. No wind. No rain or snow.

Next step is to set up the console so I can toggle various data points such as wind chill and dew point. That requires digging back into the manual. After that comes linking the weather station to the internet so I can both share my data and collect it in files for future reference.

tornado-risk-mapThis system is not as important on Shadow Mountain as it was in Andover because we have no orchard or a garden, but it feeds a lifelong interest in the weather, a hobby of sorts. Alexandria, Indiana, where I was raised, is in tornado alley, as is my home state of Oklahoma. The weather could get you.

A group of Twin Cities’ residents shared weather data and commentary on the Minneapolis Star-Tribune website for a couple of years. I used my weather station for very localized weather reporting. That was fun, but it got onerous. It made me realize how much work it is to forecast or even comment on the weather each day, throughout the day.

Vantage pro

Vantage pro

Here in the Rockies our weather changes from valley to valley, from altitude to altitude, mountain to mountain. Many, many microclimates. That means weather reporting and forecasting is often too broad in its sweep to accurately predict what’s going to be happening on, say, Black Mountain Drive.

The weather itself here, unlike the tornadoes of Indiana or the deep, dangerous cold of Minnesota, is not so severe, but the local effects of the weather can be devastating. When the humidity is low, winds are high, and there’s been no moisture for a while, then we get red flag warnings. Wildfire danger goes up and down with these conditions. Since winter is our humid season, it’s usually less worrisome in that regard.

It’s fun to have the console up and the weather station functioning.


Before the Storm

Fall                                                                            Harvest Moon

Wow. Barely into October and I pushed about 5 inches of fluffy, but still wet snow off the back deck just now. The snow began before midnight last night. Thanks to winds blowing from the east, an upslope storm, we’ll get the bulk of its moisture. We’ll probably be on the upper end of the 7-10 inch forecast. This is a relatively rare event where the eastern Front Range gets more snow than the ski areas further west. Still snowing. Will continue, according to the forecast, through late afternoon today.

by Jeremiah, of Sarah, Kates sister

by Jeremiah, of Sarah, Kate’s sister

The weekend had that urgency before the storm feel to it, the first big storm of the season. On Saturday the fines got mowed and I worked on uncrating our Jeremiah Miller paintings. He’s my brother-in-law and an excellent artist. If you remember our Andover house, these are the two very large paintings that hung in the living room and our bedroom. A1 Movers crated them in December of 2014 and they’ve been in their specialized shipping containers since then.

The crates, very sturdy, are taller than I am and heavy. They were clumsy to move. I could maneuver the smaller one onto a small table made of saw horses and a slab of plywood, but the bigger one was too heavy. Jon helped me with that yesterday. Until I opened them, we had no idea how the paintings had fared. The smaller one is in good shape. I plan to open the bigger one today. The dry air here helps, at least in the short run. Over time it might advance the drying out of the paint and cause craquelure, something I’ll have to look into.

The energy surge I get when the air cools down kicked in a couple of weeks ago. It’s reinforced by 20 years of early fall gardening work in Andover. This was the time when the garlic got planted, the last of the leeks, onions, kale, collard greens, beans, beets, lettuce harvested and flower bulbs dug in. The raspberries were ripening constantly and the apples, too. It was also the time of wood cutting and splitting for our fire pit.

I got out the chainsaw and decided to cut stumps left standing from the fire mitigation work a couple of years ago. An Iraq vet, Julie, who heats with wood, stopped by on Friday and asked if she could have the bucked wood. Kate said yes and Julie carted off all of it, front and back. We still have a few dead trees that need to come down so we’ll have firewood. That left just the stumps and they stood out even more.

 a good and trusted tool for over twenty years

a good and trusted tool for over twenty years

The Jonsered I’ve had for twenty plus years, the one I used to cut down the large stand of black locust to clear the way for our gardens and to keep the woods cleared of snags, is past its usefulness. I should have had it rebuilt several years ago apparently. Chainsaw Bob said it’s not fixable. It’s hard to start and dies suddenly. Frustrating. Got four or five stumps cut close to the ground, difficult to do since it involves bending over and holding the saw level with the soil, as close as possible to the surface. Then I noticed I’d been too close to the soil and the saw blade had gone into it. Instant dullness. Gonna go see Chainsaw Bob and see if he has a rebuilt Jonsered I can buy. I’ve got many stumps to cut and those few dead trees.

Also hung the Arcosanti bell Kate got in Arizona years ago. It tolls when the wind blows and we decided long ago that its peeling memorializes our dead dogs. Noticed that the small diamond shaped windcatcher that makes it toll had fallen off, but couldn’t find it. We’ll have to create something in place of it.

typhonIt was a week of this sort of activity, getting ready for the storm, catching up on errands. My exercise, Jennie’s Dead work suffered, but my choice. This week I’m back at all of that, going to On the Move Fitness on Thursday for a new workout.

Jennie’s Dead is going well. Not sure what I’m doing with it, at least not completely. I’m retelling versions of certain myths and those retellings have become extended. I find them great fun to write, but I’m wondering now if they’re overwhelming the main story line. The Typhon/Zeus fight for control of Olympus has a lot of nuance.

Ancora Imparo. I’m still learning.


Lughnasa                                                                                       Eclipse Moon

OzymandiasThe last night of the Eclipse Moon, a disastrous month for North America from the eclipse to its waning moment. The wildfires are still burning in the West from the state of Washington to California, in Oregon and Montana and Idaho. Harvey and Irma related disaster cleanup has only begun. The same in southern Mexico for the victims of the 8.1 earthquake. Jose is still pounding around in the Atlantic and Maria, now a category 5, has just shattered Dominica, Guadeloupe, and is headed for Martinique and Puerto Rico. It’s not the apocalypse, no, but for those whose homes and forests are on fire, under water, battered by wind or destroyed by the movement of the earth, it may as well be.

Awe is not confined to the benign, the amazing and wonderful. Each of these disasters, both in their gestalt and in their particulars, and as a collection of events, is awesome. They show the limits of human preparation, of human intervention. We are not, even with our nuclear weapons and our space station and our icebreakers, more than bystanders when these acts of earth strike us. We even have a name for them, force majeure, enshrined in insurance policies.

Nations and civilizations rise and fall, but earth, air, fire and water continue in their eternal way, or, at least as long as the earth herself lasts, to do what they want, when they want, where they want.

We are, in the end, Ozymandias, look on our works, ye Mighty, and despair.

Exhaled from the abyss

Lughnasa                                                                    Eclipse Moon

Say awe. My focus phrase for this month’s middot: yirah, or awe. (middot=character trait)

CamusAlbert Camus. One of my favorite theologians. It occurred to me that the abyss Camus mentions may be what gets crossed when we experience awe. Somehow we let the absurd in, or the mute world gives us a shout.

“For Camus … [our] astonishment [at life] results from our confrontation with a world that refuses to surrender meaning. It occurs when our need for meaning shatters against the indifference, immovable and absolute, of the world. As a result, absurdity is not an autonomous state; it does not exist in the world, but is instead exhaled from the abyss that divides us from a mute world. ‘This world in itself is not reasonable, that is all that can be said. But what is absurd is the confrontation of this irrational and wild longing for clarity whose call echoes in the human heart. The absurd depends as much on man as on the world. For the moment it is all that links them together.’ …” 

Here’s another way of thinking about awe from Alan Morinis, a mussar guru:

“Awe is the feeling of being overwhelmed by a reality greater than yourself and greater than what you encounter in ordinary life. A curtain is drawn back and the little human is overtaken by a trembling awareness that life is astounding in its reality, vastness, complexity, order, surprise. Experiences of awe awaken a spiritual awareness.”



Immanuel Kant used the phrase ding an sich, the thing-in-itself, to name that from which our senses separate us. We experience the ding an sich, the mute world of Camus, only through our senses, through our sensory experience of certain qualities, qualia, that the thing-in-itself presents. We do not, in other words, experience that which has the qualities, but only its qualia and then only those within the very limited range of qualia accessible to our senses.

The ding an sich, the abyss, a reality greater than yourself all name a something beyond ordinary experience. There are many ways of articulating the gap between us and the ding an sich, the things in themselves.

Here’s one I like.  Bifrost is the rainbow bridge of Norse mythology. As in this illustration, bifrost connects Asgard, the realm of the Aesir (Odin, Thor, Freya), and midgard, or middle earth, the realm of humans. Awe could be a brief moment when we stand not on midgard but on the rainbow bridge, able to catch a glimpse of the realm beyond us.

Or, we might consider the Hindu concept of maya. Among other meanings maya is a “magic show, an illusion where things appear to be present but are not what they seem”” wikipedia

heimdallWhat all of these ideas suggest, I think, is that a gap exists between an individual and the really real. An important religious question is what is beyond that gap, or what constitutes the gap, or what is the significance of the hidden for our spiritual lives.

I don’t know how to answer that question. Camus’ notion of the absurd makes sense to me. If that’s not an oxymoron. What I do know, for sure, is that the only tool we have for answering it is our experience. Awe may help us. It may allow us a momentary peek into the abyss, or place us on bifrost, or pierce the veil of maya.

What has awed you this day? This week? This year? In this life?

End Times?

Lughnasa                                                                 Eclipse Moon

Earth's CirculationEnd times. Remember Harvey? The really big hurricane that hit Houston. Last week. Nope, neither do I. I’ve only got eyes for Irma now. Tracking her path north, a bitch goddess of mother nature’s fearsome pantheon: hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, torrential rains, drought, wildfire, volcanic eruption, tsunami, avalanche is an exercise in awe. So big. She’s so big. So powerful. So demanding and unyielding.

Wider by double than the state of Florida, Irma will make landfall in the Keys as a Category 5, the highest number in the Saffir-Simpson scale. Its winds are higher even than the criteria for Category 5, but as an article explaining why there would never be a Category 6 hurricane said, “Once you reach catastrophic, there’s no more damage more intensive winds and rains can do.”

The Ellis side of my family is basically in Texas and Oklahoma. We have relatives in the Houston area. Joseph and SeoAh are in Macon, Georgia. The cone of Irma’s path north has Macon in the center. Of course, she will have diminished in strength considerably by the time she reaches mid-Georgia, but high winds and torrential rains are definitely coming to Robbins AFB and Macon.



On August 21st we went to Idaho to observe eclipse totality. I wrote then that these events may be a key to humility, that our assumptions about the way things are may be fundamentally wrong. The sun does not go dark on a cloudless day. The sun. Oh, wait. It just did. No wonder an eclipse could strike real fear in our ancestors. That fear is similar to the one experienced, but in slow motion, at the Winter Solstice.

The night has overtaken the day. The earth is cold. Will it ever warm again? Will we ever have a spring? This question of the sun’s return, whether light and hope can emerge from the dark, is a sort of abstraction, a conclusion or a fear based on the sun’s apparent disappearance. It makes us philosophical, scientific.

Storms like Harvey and Irma are blunter instruments. They come screaming at us from the world ocean, hurricanes in the Atlantic, typhoons in the Pacific. There is no question about their intent, about their results. Devastation and havoc follow in their wake. Some will wonder why. It is our nature to ask these questions, but our answers too often obscure rather than reveal. Take, for example, Rush Limbaugh who thinks reporting on Irma and Harvey is a plot to convince us about climate change. Or, a pastor who believes the hurricanes are a direct response to homosexuality.

Wild Hunt, Caceria Salvaje

Wild Hunt, Caceria Salvaje

No. These are answers that reveal our fears, take our own Rorschachian temperature, but the why is not about us. The why is the delicate, yet sometimes fragile balance of temperature and humidity added to a whirling planet’s churned up atmosphere. Hurricanes like Irma are goddesses in the oldest sense of the word, creatures of nature beyond our ken and propitiation. We cannot pray to them and expect changed results for their ways are not our ways.

We are, in their presence, revealed as weak and defenseless animals whose only recourse is to flee. Look at the news footage of evacuation traffic out of Florida. Look at the devastation of our burrows and other shelters built on Caribbean islands. Look at Houston in the aftermath of Harvey.

The divinities of this earth are not human, not anthropomorphic and not separated from us by a sacred veil or a hidden world. They are very much of the earth. And they are neither evil nor good. To paraphrase Matthew 5:45, …she (mother earth) makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

So, no. These are not the end times. These violent storms are part of our planet’s readjusting of water and heat, seeking a balance between the frigid polar atmosphere and the heated tropics. Oh, yes, we have meddled with that balance, throwing more heat into the equation. We have increased the fury and power of these earthly beings and in that sense we have brought a kind of judgment on ourselves, delivered by the impersonal forces we do not and can not control.

As for me, I’m in awe. We move out of the way of Irma as the mule deer and elk of the mountains flee human presence. On the days of hurricanes the mountains are a good place to be. When the wildfires come? Not so much.

Igniting the Inner Teenager

Lughnasa                                                                  Eclipse Moon

ChallengerDown the hill at 8 a.m. yesterday to deliver the Rav4 for detailing and air conditioner help. They pay for a rental from Enterprise so I took the shuttle over there. “Is a Challenger, o.k.? Looks like you lucked out.” Yep. Got an all white chunk of Detroit iron, a real muscle car. First time I’ve driven something with a V-8 in a very long time.

It ignited my inner teen ager. I called Kate and asked her if she could find her poodle skirt, “I’ll take you over to Sonic and we’ll cruise the drive-in.” Poodle skirt’s apparently long gone, so I came home and had breakfast.

Pushing the Challenger around the curves on Brook Forest Drive seemed apposite to what it wanted to do. This car begged to have the hammer down on a quarter mile stretch of back country asphalt, a hair band wearing girl jumping up and dropping a handkerchief. It was a clumsy car, typical of what I remember from my dad’s Fords I drove as a kid. Even so, that responsive power, available with a flick of the foot, sure brought back memories.

Tulip FeverKate went in with me to pick up the Rav4. She looked tiny in the Challenger’s passenger seat. A movie and dinner after picking up a cleaned up, cool vehicle.

We saw Tulip Fever, a costume drama, and a reasonably bad one. Alicia Vikander and Christoph Waltz were excellent, but the overall flow of plot was alternately too fast and too slow. Too, I made a disappointing discovery. I couldn’t hear about a quarter or more of the dialogue. That was no fun. I need to watch movies, especially ones with dialects, tv as well, for that matter, with closed captions. Otherwise I miss a good deal.

Today the rhythm returns to normal. Write, exercise, mussar. Late nights, or my version of late nights these days, Tuesday 9:30 p.m, last night 8:45 p.m., plus days too busy for exercise or writing drain me. No chance to recharge.

Recharge coming up. Starting now.


Colorado School of Mines: Space Resources

Lughnasa                                                                      Eclipse Moon

Want to know how far we are into the Buck Roger’s world? Read below.

Our Mission, Vision, and Expertise

The Center for Space Resources (CSR) is a research and technology development center dedicated to the human and robotic exploration of space and the utilization of its resources for the benefit of our society through the joint efforts of academia, government, and the private sector.

The Center for Space Resources (CSR) pursues the study and utilization of space and planetary resources by developing technologies for prospecting, drilling, excavation and extraction, materials processing and manufacturing, and spacecraft and habitat life-support systems. In addition to the many practical uses of space exploration on Earth, the greatest achievement bringing benefits to humankind would be to develop in-space commercial applications of space technology and planetary resources. These applications will one day form the basis for new space industries that will include:

  • Harvesting of solar energy outside the Earth atmosphere
  • Development of an in-space reusable transportation infrastructure carrying payloads from Earth to geostationary orbits, the Moon, Mars and back
  • Servicing of satellites and orbiting spacecraft to extend their useful lifetimes and reduce the costs of space operations
  • Processing of value-added materials in Earth orbit based on planetary resources
  • Utilization of resources for in-situ planetary applications, such as energy, propellants, manufacturing, and habitat development

Following the distinguished tradition on Earth resources curriculum and research programs at the Colorado School of Mines, the Center for Space Resources is extending the expertise of the School outside our planet, by supporting the human and robotic exploration and utilization of resources in space, the Moon, and other planetary bodies in our Solar System. The Center pursues these objectives by establishing joint education, research, and technology development projects with other academic institutions, government agencies, international partners, and companies in the private sector in the following areas:

  • Lunar and martian regolith properties
  • Planetary soil drilling and excavation
  • Extraction and processing of volatile and solid planetary material
  • In-situ resource utilization (ISRU) technologies
  • Advanced manufacturing with planetary materials for equipment and habitat construction
  • Lunar and planetary dust characterization, management, and mitigation techniques
  • Sensors for trace-species and biogenic gas detection on the Moon and Mars
  • Life support systems on spacecraft and planetary habitats, including fire suppression, environmental monitoring and control, water processing, and energy generation from waste and fuel cells
  • Advanced materials for in-space repairs and thermal protection
  • Technical and economic analyses for identifying potential commercial developments in space

Our Own Personal Idaho

Ruths polariods in the RV

Ruth’s polariods in the RV

8/21/2017         Lughnasa                                            Kate’s Moon

A saga of small proportions, but a saga nonetheless. After a late pickup of the RV due to the previous renter breaking a large outside storage container door, we were cramped in getting stuff into it. Ruth and Gabe slept in it in our driveway on Friday night and we finished packing Saturday morning.

We left around 7:30 am. Due to dire traffic predictions I picked a route that would minimize traffic though it would take a while longer to get there. I don’t mind using time on my own volition, but backed up bumper to bumper on an Interstate? Not so much.

Being a little bleary from the previous day I ended up missing the route I had chosen and finding the exit for an alternate instead. Instead of taking the turn for Empire and Granby, right next to Rocky Mountain National Park, we drove to my first idea, a routed going north out of Dillon on Co. 9. Some of the driving was on roads with narrow to no shoulders and I was still getting used to the hippotamus like wallowing of this big beast. One slight run off the road scared the bejesus out of me.

In an attempt to get back to the Granby route I took off east on Co 14. This was fun because it took us through the vast high plain known as North Park. There are three parks, South Park, Middle Park and North Park. South Park is in Park County, close to our home. We turned north again at Walden, a quaint little town that calls itself the moose viewing capital of the state.

Ruth, above the cab

Ruth, above the cab

Somehow though, after we passed into Wyoming, I missed Wy 130 and in the process took us off through the Medicine Bow National Forest. This was also beautiful, but much further south than I intended. This meandering took us about 100 miles out of the way. All good from a not all who wander are lost perspective, but it had a negative effect later on.

By the time we made it to Jackson, after a trip through another National Forest with mountains blued out as the sun sat behind them, a river flowing north beside the road, it was dark. Both Kate and BJ recommended against taking the Teton Pass at night, so I listened. We found a temporary home for the RV in the Jackson KMart parking lot.

For about three hours. At 12:30 pm a knock on the door and very bright lights outside announced the Jackson police department. Contrary to what we had heard KMart does not welcome overnight stays and “Jackson has an ordinance against illegal camping.” Oh. Well. If you put it that way.

So, again bleary eyed, this time after 12 hours or so of driving I put on pants and shoes, started the hippo and we moved away from KMart. Kate suggested we try the Motel 6, a place Jon stays when he comes to ski. $63 a night. They said rooms were $248 a night, a special rate just for the eclipse. Ha. However, the desk clerk kindly said we could stay in their parking lot for free. We did.

About 7 o’clock Sunday morning we fired up the hippo and drove to, wait for it, McDonalds for coffee, potato type food and an egg mcmuffin. We wanted to get out of Jackson and onto the Teton Pass. Which we did.

It’s not a difficult drive in the light, but it would have been treacherous in the hippo at night. Again, beautiful. Natural beauty surrounds us here in the West, especially following the Rocky cordillera north as we did. Sort of.

Once down the Teton Pass we passed into Idaho at Victor, then turned north toward Driggs. BJ, Kate’s sister, lives a half hour out of Driggs, up the side of the bowl that the mountains create here, a small version of a Park. Her home is rustic with wood flooring, weathered porches and an outbuilding that includes a sauna and a greenhouse. It’s quiet here, the opposite of Broadway and 78th in NYC, where she lives in the Beacon Hotel.

Tomorrow is the eclipse. We’ll see it from a meadow near here. More after that.

Losing the Sun


8/22/2017                                    Eclipse Moon

Kate, Jon, and BJ. On BJs deck.

Kate, BJ, and Jon. On BJs deck.

A black sun. Coronal flares shooting out, white against a blue-black sky. No birds flying, a sudden cool silence. Two minutes and twelve seconds passing fast. At 11:35 am, against a clear, just moments before hot blue. Gasps and exclamations came over these lower hills of the Big Horn Range, the ragged Tetons across the Tetonia valley, mute.

A moment of the occult revealed by darkness. The sun always moves across our spinning planet with those vast, hot flames reaching for the edges of the solar system. Unseen. Even the sun itself, except at a quick glance, or in the periphery of vision, stands hidden in its own brilliance. Not yesterday. Not for two minutes and twelve seconds.

A sight reminiscent of a secret society. Only initiates can see the truth. And it is so. It may be a secret society of millions or billions, but it is exclusive, often, as for me, happening, if at all, only once in a lifetime.

Six Olson/Johnsons: Jon, Ruth, Gabe, Anne, BJ, Kate and one Welsh Teuton sat on BJ’s east facing deck, eyes covered in glasses dark enough to make walking with them on impossible. At first we baked, heat from a late Idaho summer crackling down from the sun, naked and fierce as it can be at midday.



A small pinch of black intruded on the faded yellow globe we could see through the eclipse glasses. Baily’s beads, sunlight bouncing through valleys created by lunar mountains, shimmered for just a second then disappeared. The small pinch became a bigger one as our usually nocturnal moon, and a new moon, usually invisible, at that, showed up, its shadow cone moving at hundreds of miles an hour, racing across the U.S. from Portland to Charleston, passing us here just across the Big Horns from the vast potato fields of southern Idaho.

That image, black sun, coronal flares across the deeply bruised heaven is now a permanent resident in my memory. Brief though it was, its violation of the natural order so consistent over my life time, much like an earthquake disturbs our sense of the stability of the earth on which we walk, was so intense that it will stay available to me.

How often in a life do we get to shock ourselves in such a way? The sun shines in through the window of the RV as I write this, back to its old dangerously luminous self, too shiny for my eyes. “There are more things in heaven and on earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.”

Our common sense philosophy allows us to move through our days without recourse to constant surveillance. The earth is solid. The air breathable. Night follows day. Our heart beats. During the day the sun shines unless obscured by clouds. When our experience deviates from these home truths, our inner world shakes. Can’t get enough oxygen? Heart pauses? Earth moves. Night comes near noon on a cloudless day. Even if we know the why, the empirical fact of such an insult to the received wisdom of our lives alters our confidence in what we believe. Alters it in a deep and profound way.

Alpine glow during totality, looking toward the Tetons

Alpine glow during totality, looking toward the Tetons

Perhaps such events are the key to humility. What we assume is true may be mistaken, mistaken in some fundamental way. Once one pillar of our inner temple is shaken, we may need to examine them all.


August 23, 2017   Lughnasa            Eclipse Moon

The day of the eclipse has come and gone. Jon, Ruth, and Gabe left that day for Colorado. The eclipse was on the first day of Gabe’s fourth grade year and Ruth, though already in school for a week or so, missed classes on Monday, too. They had to get back. It took Jon 11 and a half hours to get home.

BJ, Kate, Anne at Kates birthday party apres eclipse

BJ, Kate, Anne at Kates birthday party apres eclipse

Later that day Kate’s two sisters, Annie and BJ, Kate and I, drove into Driggs for a post-eclipse return to this earth. Traffic in that small Idaho farm town was heavy, a traffic jam slowed us down getting to the art fair which was our destination. There were mumblings about how the expected 100,000 people had ended up being only 10,000 and artists seemed disappointed in their sales.

Since we never left BJ’s deck to see the eclipse we escaped any traffic getting into place for a viewing and the traffic coming up from Conifer was never heavy, even on I-80, so that small Drigg’s experience was it for us. Fine with me.

Annie and BJ put together a birthday party for Kate with a happy birthday banner, glow in the dark bracelets, flowers and color changing small candles. We had salmon, potato salad, baked beans and fruit for dessert.



The next morning we had breakfast up at the big house. (what Kate and I from the RV perspective called BJ’s place) Kate ended up feeling crummy and left early to spend the morning resting. I wrote a bit, read, talked with Annie and BJ.

In the afternoon Annie, BJ and I drove 15 minutes over to Tetonia, a smaller town than Driggs, with the same name as the county. As you drive east away from the Big Horn foothills where BJ lives, the Tetons dominate the horizon, especially four jagged peaks that have a distinct alpine feel. The tallest and most severe of the peaks is Grand. Between the Big Horn foothills on the west and the Tetons in the east is a flat plain dotted with fields of wheat, alfalfa and pastures with Angus and horses. There are barns with hay lofts, Harvestor silos, grain elevators and farm equipment dealers on the main road. If you bracketed out the mountains, it could be a location in Iowa or southern Minnesota.

We visited a small shop in Tetonia, a show case for Steve Horn, who makes furniture, carves wood into whimsical fire place mantels with dancing bears or curious elk. The quality of his work is high and the prices reasonable. There were also other local crafts such as white turquoise jewelry and woven pine needle baskets, various rugs of a rustic cabin sort and a few scattered antiques.

Ankole-Watusi Horn, an African breed of cow

Ankole-Watusi Horn, an African breed of cow

There were also four horns, two smaller and two larger, that made me wonder what animal could possibly have worn them. So I asked. The owner came down from her office area above the store. “You know, I’ve been meaning to look them up. Give me a minute.” I did. “Come on up here, I’ll show you.” These were the horns of a central African cattle breed called the Ankole-Watusi. The largest horns of any cattle breed. The pictures she pulled up showed large cattle, perhaps oxen size, with enormous horns.

BJ wanted to eat lunch at the Badger Creek Cafe, a Tetonia restaurant a couple of blocks beyond Steven Horn’s place. “Put together by two chefs from NYC. Really good food.” Also closed on Tuesday and Wednesday. We all liked the name of a small woodworkers shop nearby, Mortise and Tenon.

Because BJ’s realtor and friend, Bobbie, had invited us over for dinner, we went back into Driggs to pick up some dessert. The Austrian pastry shop was closed as was Cicerolls, so we went to Broulin’s, a local supermarket. While there, I told BJ I liked it. For those of you familiar with Minnesota supermarkets, it would have been between a Lund’s and a Bylery’s, nicer than Colorado’s King Sooper.

from Bobbie and Barney's deck

from Bobbie and Barney’s deck

Turns out the locals, Bobbie for instance, view it as an intrusion by Jackson Hole prices and tastes into the area over the Teton Pass in Idaho. Probably so.

Later we met Bobbie and Barney at their home which overlooks the large agricultural plain with the craggy Tetons on display on its eastern edge. A very peaceful place.

October 2017
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