The Amazon Trail: The eclipse is coming! The eclipse is coming!Commentary, Online Only, Section 4A, Top Highlights Sunday, August 20th, 2017
Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, all of North America will be treated to an eclipse of the sun.
In North America, the total eclipse of the sun starts here. It’s Woodstock for everyone. Local and state governments are doing their best to avert chaos. Everyone in law enforcement and emergency services will be either on duty or on standby, many sleeping where they’re stationed because it’s projected that traffic will be at or near a standstill. The national park up the road, which might normally see 400 to 500 visitors at a time, is expecting 2,000 to 5,000 all at once. They’ll be limiting the number of vehicles allowed in to protect the fragile natural treasure and its wildlife.
The National Guard will be deployed.
Our small, local hospitals and their clinics have been planning for months, adding emergency facilities. On a normal low traffic day, it takes well over an hour for an ambulance, with lights and sirens, to drive to the nearest trauma center. Helicopters are sparse, but ready. Pregnant women near their due dates are being urged to stay near medical facilities. The Coast Guard can expect any number of boats to get into trouble. And always, always, there are tourists falling off cliffs, being swept out by riptides and sneaker waves, or getting stranded on rocks when the tide’s coming in.
The motel rooms and condos around here have been reserved for months—some for years. The state parks have added temporary new campsites. The RV parks are already full, their hulks on wheels lined up side by side, patient placeholders until the great day. Grocery stores are prepared for a siege, stocking up on goods and temporary employees. My friend the hair stylist said, “It’s already started.” She told me stories of desperate women looking for bathrooms—the whole state of Oregon is out of porta potties.
We coasties are checking our tsunami supplies and hunkering down till the tide of sky-watchers ebbs, which is expected to take days. That’s how the county emergency services have been planning too, as if preparing for a disaster. Our quiet little neighborhood is on a hill, filled with quiet 55+ neighbors. I expect to find strangers in our narrow strip of backyard, packed together and looking up. I’m thinking we’ll raise the rainbow flag to signal which strangers are most welcome.
A friend from California us planning a trip up here just after eclipse day, and my sweetheart had to break the news that the Oregon Department of Transportation is pleading with the sun peepers to be prepared for traffic to be slowed to a crawl for days, not hours, and advising travelers to pack food and water. One spokesman predicted traffic like “…a football day on I-5, where the Ducks and Beavers are both playing at home, but multiplied by 10.” Believe me, that would be a disaster.
There will also be increased risk for wildfires. All it takes is one vehicle on or near dry grass and vegetation, one cigarette tossed away, one carelessly tended campfire, and watching the sun’s burning corona will be no fun at all.
Cell service is expected to be even spottier than normal with more visitors using networks. Drivers will be busted for parking on highway shoulders to watch the eclipse, although there’s an even greater fear that people will simply stop right on the road. Forget last-minute high price tickets to fly into Portland; the airlines are booked and, once here, there are no rental cars available near the airport for days before and after.
Inland, there’s a chicken farm offering campsites for $275 per night, and other private landowners are charging as high as $1,750. We’ve heard of people in Casper, Wyoming renting out standing space at a good viewpoint. Here, we have one beloved art deco era bridge to handle traffic over our river, one lane north and another south.
Up to one hundred thousand visitors are expected in this area. With a sixty percent chance of zero visibility because of fog, overcast skies, and a chance of showers, I’m thinking this is all a tempest in a teapot on the coast. Still, between Trump goading North Korea, the smoke blowing down from wildfires in British Columbia, and the expected masses, I’m flashing back to a combination of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the East Coast blackout of the 1960s, and Y2K. I’m apprehensive, excited, sure the world is about to end and equally sure the world is about to transform itself, as happened at the end of the sixties, when the Stonewall riots changed everything.
Whether we have clear skies or not, whether the predicted 100,000 people, including 10,000 gays, show up in our county or not, I’m looking forward to having my sweetheart home from work for several days, to listening to the birds go quiet for their short night, and hoping for a chance to see a wonder greater than any human can produce.
Live video streams of the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse, from NASA Television and locations across the country, will be available here.
Lee Lynch wrote the classic novels The Swashbuckler and Toothpick House. Her new novel, Rainbow Gap, is now available at women’s and gay bookstores and at boldstrokesbooks.com. Most recently she was made namesake and first recipient of the Golden Crown Literary Society Lee Lynch Classic Award for her novel The Swashbuckler. A three time Lammy finalist, she is also a recipient of the James Duggins Mid-Career Award in Writing and many more honors.
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