Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Solar/Lunar Event

Beginning of August 2017 Solar Eclipse in Beatrice, Nebraska
photo by Michael Farley


Solar/Lunar “Event”
memoir
by Gregory E. Larson

           In today’s cycle of internet and cable news, the 2017 solar eclipse of August 21st is now ancient history. I’m sure that millions of the protective glasses have been thrown into the trash. How sad. I can only hope the eclipse caused most of us to pause and contemplate the magnitude, the precision and the beauty of the cosmic display.
Crowd awaits solar eclipse at Homestead National Monument
photo by Gregory E. Larson
          Thinking the odds of it being clearer and drier in Beatrice, Nebraska, than in Kansas City, I jumped at the chance to go there, but in the end we barely saw it through the skin of the raggedy clouds which hung above the Homestead National Monument west of Beatrice. Everything seems to be considered an event these days, including the weather, and the gathering of over 10,000 people on the edge of the Great Plains to witness the eclipse was definitely an event.
James inspects Michael's camera
photo by Linda Anneberg
          Our group of relatives included an astronomer (Richard Henry and spouse Judy), a photographer (Michael Farley and spouse Linda), myself, and my Grandson, James. Richard answered the scientific questions. Michael set up his Nikon camera and big lens to record the eclipse.
          Every cloud listed in meteorology textbooks was visible that morning. We nervously watched a stalled front float ever so slowly towards us from the south. An hour before the beginning of the eclipse, a low, dark, ceiling of clouds parked above us and blotted out the sun. Totality of clouds is what I called it. After inspecting the horizon to the south and west, I predicted the viewing would get better as the moon began to slide in front of the sun.

An untimely low ceiling of clouds arrives
photo by Gregory E. Larson
          The crowds cheered each time the sun became visible. The edge of clouds snaked above us, and there were several ten-minute periods of viewing while the countryside reflected a dim translucence. Just prior to the total eclipse, a portion of the cloud blocked our view, and the waiting became unbearable.

        I listened to a couple from Beaumont, Texas, who sat near us. With a pronounced drawl, the wife said, “Sweetheart, we drove all the way from Texas to see this and what do we get? CLOUDS! Was it worth it to come here? I don’t think so.”
          The husband responded, “Hon, it is what it is. Just enjoy the outdoors and relax. I can’t do nothin’ about the weather.”
          Just two minutes prior to the total eclipse the clouds parted, the crowd cheered, and then we all started acting a bit crazy. Everyone experienced the darkening and the aurora in their own way. We looked like we were in a drug-induced stupor, turning every which way and saying, “Wow!” and, “Unbelievable!” It seemed as if God used a giant dimmer to turn off the sunlight and throw a sixty-mile diameter pancake of darkness on top of us. We were able to see bits of brightened sky on the horizon.
A pancake of darkness slides over us during the total eclipse
photo by Gregory E. Larson
          Crickets chirped. Birds became quiet. Headlights shone on the highway.           We removed our protective glasses and were able to safely look directly at the full eclipse and the corona. James and I stood in awe, while he referenced his mom, dad, brothers and sisters who were at a different location and said, “I hope my family gets to see this.”
Total eclipse viewed from Beatrice, Nebraska
photo by Michael Farley
          Then came the spark of the diamond ring, at the point in which the first part of the sun peeks around the edge of the moon. It was a white-hot light of utter clarity — something akin to the spark of an arc welder. We clearly saw our shadow outlines on the ground, and the light continued to grow in its intensity.
White-hot spark at the end of totality called "the diamond ring"
photo by Michael Farley
          The crowds cheered again, and the birds in the Osage orange trees chirped their morning songs. The mellow softness of the light on the countryside continued to brighten and passers-by talked excitedly. The Texas wife was elated and shared with all of us, “I am SO glad we came! It is indescribable. You have to see it to believe it.”
          That summed up the importance of seeing the totality of the eclipse. My limited words don’t do it justice. All I know is that anyone who has stood and looked at the corona will never forget it.
The light returns to the Nebraska countryside
photo by Gregory E. Larson


Monday, August 14, 2017

Sicilian Fishermen

Harbor in Siracusa, Sicilia
photo by Gretta Larson
          Preface: The best times during travels are when you discover something unexpected. That was the case in the city of Siracusa, in the summer of 2012 at the far southeast tip of Sicily. All of the elements came together for a great moment on a trip: quiet time with the one you love, anticipation of a big day, good food, and discovery of the unfamiliar. It was a brief point in time I'll never forget.

Sicilian Fisherman
travel memoir
by Gregory E. Larson
Accordion player in Siracusa
photo by Gretta Larson

           I sat up in bed after the short night of sleep, running fingers through my hair and rubbing my eyes. The vivid memory of the last evening returned in the sights and sounds of the seafood restaurant. Wine, laughter, and clapping to the accordion music of Sicilian folk songs  was combined with visions of endless plates of steaming pasta and seafood — everything imaginable from tender calamari the size of onion rings, to scallops and a variety of fish from anchovies to swordfish.
          But there was no time to waste, as Gretta and I packed our bags and prepared for an epic day ahead on the bicycles. It was necessary to begin a mental focus on the proposed route that would put us in morning rush-hour traffic and eventually take us to the countryside where we would traverse over mountainous ridges along the eastern coast of Italy’s largest island.
          As the sunrise was breaking, we were the first to arrive at the breakfast buffet on the rooftop of the Grand Hotel Ortigia in Siracusa, at the harbor’s edge.  We ordered our cappuccinos and filled our plates with powdered pastry, fruit, and cheese, then sat out on the rooftop deck of the hotel to appreciate the cool, quiet moment before the long hot day began. I put the scene in my memory to recall it later in the day when it was hot and the climbing was difficult.
          The town was barely waking and the pastel colors of the sunrise on the sea at the city’s edge painted a serene picture from the rooftop deck. That’s when I noticed a fishing boat entering the harbor. It was but a speck about a half-mile away. Other boats of various shapes and sizes were lined up behind the first boat, all spaced about a quarter-mile apart. It made me think of the airliners cueing up to land at an airport. What’s going on? My interest was sparked and I stood up at the railing to get a better view.

Fishing boat in Siracusa Harbor
photo by author
          I looked down at the stone quay at harbor’s edge and noticed two men standing by a white van, peering out to the horizon. My guess was the boats were arriving at the prescribed time to sell their overnight catch to the men in the van, who would then distribute the seafood to the restaurants in town. It was a simple scenario that I’m sure had continued in some fashion for as long as man inhabited the island.
          Being a Kansas man, I wondered what it was like to go fishing on the ocean at night and complete the day’s work at dawn. Did the men swap stories and a bottle of grappa while the stars shone overhead? What kind of fish did they catch? Were their wives happy or sad when they returned home after sunrise? These were a few of the questions that popped into my mind. I assumed the small boats were collecting mussels or other creatures from traps, because there wasn’t much space or equipment on board. The larger boats probably brought in the bigger fish.
Sicilian fishermen in small boat - June 2012
watercolor painting by author
          From the railing, I was able to photograph a few of the boats as they approached the inner harbor. My favorite boat was the tiny, three-man craft with the bright yellow and black stripes. The scene was so simple and worthy of a painting: three men in a boat. One man steered the motor in the glassy harbor, the second man wrote on a note pad (probably calculating the money they would receive), and the third man leaned over a tank, checking the ‘take’ for the night to make sure it was still fresh. It was a scene from the Hemingway era, one that was played out day after day, year after year. 
          For a few brief moments, Gretta and I stood at the railing to watch the discussion between the fishermen and the market men — then it was back to thinking about the big day ahead.
          With words unspoken, we sipped our cappuccino and enjoyed the quiet of the morning, happy to have witnessed a simple ending to the fishermen’s workday, and wanting to savor the moment just a bit longer before our journey continued.