On a Monday, Time Stood Still.

It began as an ordinary day. The sun rose early, before most of the people. Birds began their dawn songs. In the cabins, humans started to cook their breakfasts. Some rushed out to make their tee time.

But there was not a single soul on the mountain who did not know today was an extraordinary day and that this normally predictable golf resort was in an extraordinary place.

NASA has calculated the date and location of every solar eclipse since 2000 BCE and they have predicted every eclipse coming for the next thousand years. And yet, knowing that there have been so many instances and that there will be so many more did not change the feeling that were both observing and taking part of a singular, momentous event.

The day before the eclipse, we made our way to Garden Valley Idaho, to a mountain golf resort called Terrace Lakes (not one lake, never mind more than one). The sharing economy pulled through for us when in July I found what I firmly believe to be the last reasonably priced accommodation on the edge of the path of the totality. It just happened to be a two bedroom cabin- rooms of our own!

We stocked up in Boise. Upon arrival, the resort was in party mode. My highly romanticized dream of a quiet moment shared between us, the moon, the sun and the forest was immediately dashed. A live band played rock and country into the night, cycling through the same set at least twice. But since they were pretty good, one could forgive the Fleetwood Mac repeats.

As a location to watch the eclipse, we picked a perfect spot.

The morning of, we set our blanket down on the edge of the green of the first hole and settled in. Around us was a carnival. A DJ played sun-themed music. Children ran around. Eclipse themed craft beer was sold out of a tent. T-shirts for sale read: I blacked out during the 2017 eclipse.

Indeed, I was surprised by the number of people who, having made the special arrangement to be at this particular place on this particular day to see this once in a lifetime event, proceeded to drink their way through it. Much like my notion of spending the morning alone in a forest clearing, I should have known better.

We sat, watching the sun (with our solar viewers- yes, they were legit. Thanks, Amazon, for the refund, though) from thirty minutes before contact until just before the moon was completely separated.

Plenty has been written about the phenomena on Earth that happens when the moon blocks the sun. There are the physical effects: the temperature drops, the sky darkens. Humans and animal behavior changes. And there are the social effects: in 585 BCE, the Medes and Lydians were fighting in modern day Turkey. An eclipse occurred during the battle which had reached a draw. When the sky darkened they halted fighting and negotiated a peace treaty.

Even knowing that this day was coming, viewing the eclipse was a fundamentally life-altering event. In the moment just before totality, the sun flashed, suddenly winking out and just as suddenly light reappeared as a corona around the moon. Knowing what was to come had no effect on the stupendousness, the freakishness of it all.

Some people around us began howling. A teenage boy, live streaming, previously too cool for school, was in rapture.

I sat there and put my hand out, reaching for mom. “What?” I repeated, again and again.

Day was night.

True to character, I had decided going into the day that I was not going to take any photographs, that plenty of people with far better equipment and more experience would take care of that aspect so we should just savor the moment and really feel it.

And then the moon covered the sun and I was on my feet taking pictures with my cell phone. Bad pictures and okay panoramas.

 


 

When totality ended, the DJ came back. And that was that. Party time again.

For Wolf Mom and Snow Crane, it was the end of our adventure. The next morning we left while it was still dark and drove straight to Sacramento. It was a long drive, too long of a drive. But when you have just been witness to an event on the astronomical scale, what else do you want to see?

Midland Review.

Wolf Mom & Snow Crane at Cahokia

Cahokia Mounds State Park

In current day Collinsville/East St. Louis, Illinois at the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri, and Illinois rivers is the remnant of the center of Mississippian society, which we tag as emerging around the year 800 and declining around 1600. French explorers met a people named Cahokia living in the area but the creators of the city had long left it behind. Still, those people are today called Cahokians because it’s impossible to know exactly what they called themselves (the museum doesn’t quite address this.)

The current site, an Illinois State Park, covers just a fragment of the city that in the year 1050 exploded in population and size. Around 20,000 people (some higher estimates, some lower) lived there in 6 square miles, not including the suburbs. For perspective, Cahokia was larger than London at the time. No city in North America would be bigger until Philadelphia reached 40,000 people in 1780.

But for many reasons, namely the “myth of the mound builders” (European disbelief that a Native American group could have created such large monuments and complex, centralized societies) and subsequent land development, most of the 120 mounds have been destroyed. At the park, you can take a turn around the Grand Plaza, past a mortuary mound and small temple mounds. The Cahokians leveled the terrain of the Grand Plaza to fit thousands of people who could gather before the largest temple mound of the city. Monk’s Mound, as it is called today because some Trappist monks used to live near it, is 100ft tall and covers just under 14 acres. A temple and other buildings stood at the top, making it even taller while in use.

Monk’s Mound was a sacred space. A political place. During our visit, Monk’s Mound was a gym. But better a great place to get in those steps and stairs than bulldozed.

Mom’s rating: 4 out of 5.

 

Kansas City

The Bodyguard The Musical: Deborah Cox and the cast delivered. Our souls were uplifted by song and dance.

Mom’s rating: 5 out of 5

The Bodyguard at the Starlight Theater

The Steamboat Arabia Museum: This was a really interesting museum. In the 1980s, a group of friends excavated a steamboat that sank in the Missouri river in 1856. The museum is designed well: historical context, excavation and preservation context and artifacts on display as if in A department store. Stories abound. A family run operation, their passion for the find is clear. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I applaud the independent spirit that drives the whole outfit but I still can’t help but wonder- if this is the largest collection of pre-Civil War artifacts in the country, what is being done in terms of analysis? Does anyone else have access to it? Is the data being examined? But these questions shouldn’t get in the way of enjoying one of the best museum experiences in the country.

Mom’s rating: 5 out of 5.

 

City Market and River Walk: Lunch at a trying to be authentic Chinese restaurant and a walk along the Missouri River. It was hot.

Mom’s rating: 3 out of 5.

 

Kansas

The Oregon Trail at Alcove Spring in Blue Rapids, Kansas: It’s swale. A turn off the highway onto a dirt road. No other automobile, houses, or people. “You’ve arrived at your destination,” Mrs. Garmin says as hills rise on either side of the road. But around the bend and there she is: Alcove Spring, another state park. This time in Kansas, this time on the Oregon Trail. From the parking lot, a short walk along a meadow takes you to a natural spring where many travelers stopped to rest, including the infamous Donner Party  (a member of whom carved his name into a rock). Supposedly the spring has never gone dry but it was pretty near done for when we arrived.

Across the road and a few steps up the hill, a swale, or the ruts in the ground from a road long disused, is visible. This is the path of the Oregon Trail.

Mom’s Rating: 5 out of 5

On the Oregon Trail

 

Denver

All about the food… and altitude sickness. We stayed at the Lumber Baron Inn in the North Highlands area which was a great neighborhood. We ate at Bar Dough, an Italian restaurant, one night and a ramen shop the next, Uncle Ramen. Both were delicious.

Mom’s Rating: 4 out of 5

Hit the road, Jack.

Rusted Root sent us on our way. Rhiannon Giddens empowered us on the Mass Pike. The Sound of Music carried us over the Catskills and Yo-Yo Ma brought us into Williamsport, Pennsylvania where we find ourselves for the night at the City Hall Grand Hotel.

Read more Hit the road, Jack.

Meet Wolf Mom.

Red Wolf Pup & Mom
Photo: Brooke Gilley taken June 2014

 

The dynamic between Chinese mothers and their American daughters is well explored. I don’t have any insight that hasn’t been expressed in an Amy Tan novel so I will not delve further except to express my gratitude that with my own mother from the Middle Kingdom her individual traits and personality outweigh some of the more restrictive cultural expectations.

The ferocity of her love manifested not in a highly regimented daily life or plans for my future carved in stone á la Amy Chua but in cultivating traits that would support a person no matter where she ended up. It was important to my mother that I experience an American childhood: summer camps of countless variety, slumber parties (where my friends were treated better than I ever was), school plays, etc. Whatever I was interested in, she found a way for me to explore it, spending a day at a Robin Hood event at Hammond Castle in Gloucester, MA for her medieval era fixated 10-year-old  and checking out every book tangentially related to the middle ages from the library. Too bad for any other kid who wanted to read about knights and castles and kings and queens during the summer of 2002.

Read more Meet Wolf Mom.