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The Best Day Ever

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Eclipse morning, August 21, started off partly cloudy and warm and beautiful. I went out to document the "Flying Saucer" morning glories that are giving me such a charge as more and more open.

Pearly soft against the pearly soft sky.

The amount of blue on them seems to vary by plant. Two of the plants have flowers with more blue. This is an hypothesis I need to test. I had thought that one plant could have variable flowers, some with a lot of blue, some with less, but it's looking like the amount of blue in the flowers is fairly consistent within a single plant.

Naturally, I like the ones with more blue. Mmmm. As a variety, this one is fun, but I miss "Clark's Heavenly Blue" and wish I'd planted some along with "Flying Saucers." The main complaint I have with "Flying Saucers" is that the flowers don't last much past 10 AM, even on cool days. They're more diaphanous than Heavenly Blue, and they pack it in very early, wilting to nothing. Bah to that. A good "Clark's Heavenly Blue" will last two, even three days in cool weather. These dazzling divas are done mid-morning.

Plus, "Flying Saucers'" blue is cooler, more toward ultramarine than cerulean. It's that sky-cerulean I'm such a sucker for. Next year: "Heavenly Blue" will be interplanted with "Flying Saucers." 

I worked my way down to the back gardens and watched the sun come up through the trees. He doesn't even know what's going to happen to him at 2:30 this afternoon, I thought. He's just up there bloviating, sending out the hot gases, doing his thing. And all the while, the moon has plans. Just you wait, Mr. Big Stuff. Moon's gonna throw some shade, shut you up for awhile. 

The evening before Eclipse Day, Phoebe and I had ridden our bikes to an abandoned farmstead where I had found a peach tree in heavy fruit. And these are not just any peaches. They are white-fleshed! Sweet as honey, if a bit small and pitty. We picked until it was too dark to see, then rode home with my backpack loaded down with fruit. A Most Excellent Adventure, it was.

We got enough to make a pie, maybe 8 pounds or so. They're small, and the stones are large, and it takes a lot of them to make a pie. We thought it would be awesome to celebrate the near-total eclipse with a nice lunch of chicken chickpea tagine, followed by an orgiastic slice of Eclipse Peach Pie. I came home from the store with two Pillsbury crusts, because where pie crust is concerned, that's how I roll. Phoebe objected and said she'd make the crust. She'd make the whole pie. I was happy to concede, since I've never made a pie in my life other than quiche and chicken pot pie. Which aren't really pies.

I am a good peach peeler, however, so we peeled a shtun of peaches together.

While we were peeling, I heard a small cry, like that of a bird in pain, from right under the kitchen window. I looked down to see what I thought was a chipmunk running in a wobbly way across the lawn, toward the weeds. My situational awareness, turned up to 11, sent me flying down the stairs and outside to see what was going on. 

In the grass next to the house foundation, I found this: 

A black rat snake, in the process of subduing a baby cottontail. The snake's white throat is just to the left of the rabbit's face; its nose is on the snake's back. Woof. What a thing to see.

It was far too late to do anything to help the rabbit, and I wouldn't have, anyway. We have plague proportions of rabbits. The snake has to eat, too. 

You can see the shredded brown grass that constitutes the rabbit nest in the loop of the predator's body. This snake has found the nest, nosed down in and taken the rabbit out of it. The little creature I'd thought was a chipmunk, that was toddling across the lawn toward cover, was a baby bunny that said, "I'm outta here!" and got away.

I was so fascinated to see this smallish (under 4') rat snake tackle and swallow such a huge prey item that I brought my cameras, my bowl of peaches and knife down to the bathroom window so I could watch the whole process. I made some videos, but I'll spare the non Science Chimps among you. The cool thing that I figured out only upon looking at these photos closely is that it seems I found the snake working on its second rabbit. See the reddish, stretched out length of snake in the upper loop? That's the bunny I saw being swallowed.  The first one it swallowed is just a thickening in the lower loop of the snake in the picture below. So there were at least three rabbits in that nest. One that got away, and two that went into the snake. Rabbit mothers being what they are, I figured she'd find her runaway bunny that evening. And if she didn't, its eyes were open, it was fully furred, it was able to run, and it may have been ready to start eating solids anyway. One thing that bunny knew: lying terrified in its nest as a snake swallowed its siblings no longer worked for it. It decided to use, for the first time ever, the legs it was given to get the hell out of there. Good move, baby bunny.

Upon viewing a total solar eclipse, the Ancients thought that a snake was swallowing the sun. The unexpected, serendipitous harmonic of watching a snake swallow a rabbit even as a solar eclipse was occurring was not lost on me. I'd been doing a little reading and thinking about the significance of a solar eclipse in Leo (my astrological house). As a roaring Leo, I'm powered by the sun, by light, warmth, living, growing, thriving things. This eclipse in August turned out to be a pretty big metaphorical deal for me.

It's all stretched out from swallowing the rabbits. The second rabbit is just a thickening in its waist now.
The astrologists agree on the significance of the eclipse. 

Something must die so something new can be born. 

I like that. It works for the snake/rabbit; it works for lots of things. I've been working very hard to make a new beginning this summer and fall, to shed what is no longer working and throw my considerable energy into what does work. I'm creating something new for myself. 

On the eclipse's significance, from

Without endings, there could be no beginnings. When you are touched personally by an eclipse, that is essentially your situation. In your life, something must die so that something new can be born. One trick is to take it on faith that something is being born even though you can’t yet see it.  Recognize that whatever is dying needs to get out of the way. You can take comfort in that perspective now – or you can take comfort in it later.
The dying part is no fun at all. And not knowing what might lie ahead isn't easy either. But Uncertainty has been my constant companion for years, and I'm a bit more comfortable with it now.  I know what Stasis feels like. We're even older friends than me and Uncertainty, and Stasis has nothing to offer. Right now, I'm like a tree growing in deep shade. There's a big, neglected half of me that's not getting enough light, sun and sustenance to leaf out at all. I'm hanging in there, but there's so much of my energy that has nowhere to go. Clearing the way for a better future, however difficult it may be, is the only thing I can do. This eclipse in Leo was speaking to me. Could there have been any clearer sign than that snake, those rabbits, that dimming sun?

Why don't we celebrate? 

Phoebs started in on the pie crust at about 12:30, and was finished at about 45 minutes to totality at 2:30. Perfect! She popped it in the oven and we headed outside to revel in the celestial event.

We all wore our glasses to look at the sun being swallowed.

Elena came over to experience the eclipse with Liam, Phoebe and me.
 Bill was flying back from England and had to miss the whole thing. Bummer!! We hated to celebrate without him.

We climbed up in the tower to take in the darkening landscape.

The air was festive, excited, jittery. A cool wind sprang up when the sun went dark. What would 89% occlusion look like? We just kept digging the dusky half-light of the occluded sun.

Taking pictures seemed to be the thing to do, since this was light like no other we'd experienced.

Thanks to our friend Tim Winship for the boffo solar shades. He also sent, probably at horrific expense, Baeder solar film to cover the ocular of our spotting scope, and I fashioned a homemade film holder from foamcore that worked great. But I never managed to get the sun in the scope despite trying from about 8 AM - 2:30 pm. Humbling. If Bill had been here he'd have had it in the scope in seconds. I just stink at finding the largest star in our galaxy in a spotting scope. I tried until I got a huge headache, and gave up. But the day was saved. We had our specs, plus some awesome solar binoculars sent to us by Celestron that brought the event so much closer! Thanks, Celestron! And thank you, Tim. Lord knows you tried.

89% occlusion. Pretty dim out there. The shadows were so black, the sky a dusky gray-blue.

We loved the intensity of the zinnias' hues in that melancholy light. We noticed that the larger butterflies kept foraging as if nothing was happening, but the birds left the feeders, and the mourning doves, an ever-growing herd that now numbers 44, circled several times, then all flew north in a bunch. The best wildlife thing I saw during the beginning of the eclipse was four blue jays sitting close together in a dead treetop, all preening like crazy. I couldn't say I'd ever seen communal preening in blue jays before. (Jemima was not among them). 

The greenhouse roof at near totality. 

Pinhole projections of the crescent sun, under our Japanese maple. The trick is to hold the cardboard up close enough to the leaves to get the images in crisp focus. There is an optimum distance. 

Pink zinnias glowing against the deep shadows near totality. 

 So dark, so dim.

Phoebe, gamely trying to get the sun in the scope. Nope. 

To be fair, the solar film covering the scope is jet black and you can't see anything at all until you are right on the sun--not any hint of brightness. And I'm told it's darned hard to get any scope on the sun with no points of reference. Plus, you can't look at the sun while you're trying to find it and...ugh. It's just hard.


All in all, it was a superfun, awe-inspiring, cosmically significant excuse to lie on the grass or stand in the tower and stare up at the sun. We're already excited about 2024, when totality will be as close to us as Dayton, Ohio! I want to see the stars and planets come out at midday. I want to see sunset 360 degrees around me. And I reserve the right to burst into tears when I do. 

To some, it's just a shadow crossing the sun. To others, it's the death that makes a new beginning. 
Let it be whatever it is to each person. I personally think that anything that gets people outside and looking up, wondering and feeling small is fabulous. 

When we got in, the fragrance knocked us over. The Eclipse Peach Pie was done!! Perfect timing, Miss Phoebe!

However. We needed vanilla ice cream to go with the hot pie, and my Carb Smart vanilla ice cream had been judged inferior. My kids call it Carb Shart. So Phoebs and I mounted an expotition to the Dalzell Variety to get some. On the way there, we saw an elementary school classmate of Liam's walking down the middle of the road, shirtless, wearing a welder's helmet. That was a precious moment. On the way back I swung down Dean's Fork to see what it looked like in eclipse light (the light was growing, but still far from full intensity). 

It looked smashing!

Down on Dean's, Ironweed Festival 2017 is in full swing, the colors of the flowers glowing against black eclipse light shadows. Joe-Pye weed adds its soft mauve, and now wingstem is painting vivid daubs of gold absolutely everywhere. It's all too beautiful. We were so glad we took the time, even with the vanilla ice cream melting, to see it in its glory. We made a full expotition on August 25. It was incredible. 

The peach pie was beyond glorious. It was amazing to me, who has never made a fruit pie, to think that my girl can do this marvelous thing. She's learned from the best.

I looked out in the now-bright evening sun and saw RedRabbit lounging.

Made me want to paint that lovely model.

I like RedRabbit, but naughty fatbottom Notch still has my heart.

Eclipse Day was winding down to a close. We didn't want it to be over. We decided we needed more peaches. That pie was so good that the four of us almost finished it by ourselves. It was hell trying to save out a piece for Daddy when he got home.
We did it, but we kept trimming the ragged edges. That piece of pie had extremely clean edges by the time he finally got it the next morning.

So Phoebs, Chet and I set out for the farmstead on Eclipse Evening. We drove and parked about 3/4 mile from the place because we had to carry the picker and we'd have a lot of peaches to haul home, too, and it was getting too dark to make it by bicycle. We parked way up off the right hand edge of the photo, so we still got some nice exercise.

Too much exercise if you ask me. Whew!

I was mesmerized by the sight of Phoebe making her way up into the sunset sky.

Behind me was a sweet sight, too.

These days are so rare and precious, when I can hike together with my elderly dog and my blossoming daughter. Each one, a limited time only offer...she'll be off to her last year at Bowdoin tomorrow. And Chet, at 12,  is growing weary of my wanderlust. We're picking our walks now.

Inkblot, check.

 When we got there, it looked like all the peaches were gone. Au contraire. All the easy peaches were gone. There were still plenty in the highest branches. In the gathering dark, Phoebe wielded the apple picker.

A fine haul. Maybe 20 pounds? We made TWO pies last night, because we killed one for dessert, and it's always better the next day anyway, when the flavors have mingled and you have a cup of tea or coffee to go with it. Imagine. All you can eat peach pie!!

As we walked back to the car, a woodcock came to circle low over us, not once, but three times, looking curiously down at us, its wings twittering sweetly. Well. Hello to you, too! We appreciated the portly little messenger. DOD loved peach pie. So did Ida. Hmmm. 

We drove up our driveway slowly, headlights on now, the day truly and finally done. And a dark brown form materialized out of the weeds. A short twisty tail, long, rabbitlike hind legs...a baby bobcat!! Phoebs and I both squealed, "That was a BOBCAT!" at the same moment. It trotted along in front of the car, then dove into the weeds again. Could Eclipse Day get any sweeter?

Click on this one to see her crazy beautiful face.
It looked like this one, only about 2/3 this size. This one,  a smallish female, has been spotted five times in our yard since June.  I saw her kill a squirrel on this very spot.  I photographed her at last on August 17, 2017. This is not James. It's a new one.  Yet to be named. Yahoo!! How lucky can you get???? Lightning strikes twice! 

Bedtime neared. I was washing up a few dishes, listening to the kids talking in the other room, when I noticed a katydid doing something odd on the kitchen window. The video speaks for itself.

I literally didn't want to go to bed on Eclipse Day. I was afraid I'd miss something. It's been hard to find the time to write this blogpost, and it's taken me three days, in between studying Jemima, writing, cooking, running, and hanging with the kids, but I wanted to record it for them, for me, for Bill, for forever.

"Just to live in the country is a full-time job. You don't have to do anything. The idle pursuit of making a living is pushed to one side, where it belongs, in favor of living itself, a task of such immediacy, beauty, variety, and excitement that one is powerless to resist its wild embrace."

by E. B. White, who oughta know. My italics. It's how I read it aloud. Flying saucers and heavenly blues, rat snakes and bunnies, solar eclipses, flars and birds and bobcats; roses to be smelled, peaches to be picked and pies to be made and eaten. All that.

 xoxo jz


Quietly taking in your life here, taking note. If you go out of a quiet evening and don't hear anything, that's me.

A beautiful, beautifully lived day!

Read this post with as much pleasure, maybe, as eating a fresh peach pie. I loved reading every last word! And taking in every photo! I'm also delighted that you quoted from forestastrology! Steven Forrest is an old and true friend of mine. In the late 70s we and 2 other friends performed locally (Chapel Hill, NC) in our ascoustic band, Silkworm. He gave me my first birthchart reading, back before he was an international author and teacher. Now I keep up with him in his Southwest home and various travels through facebook and blogs on his website. He remains wise and humble, despite all the fame he has accrued. I revel in his success and in finding him touching into the lives of wonderful people like you.

What a pleasure to read this is. The star,we only saw the evening star, was a highpoint of my eclipse viewing in SC. The way back to MD was in awful traffic, but worth it.

Delightful! To me, you and your family exemplify "a life well-lived". I took enormous pleasure in reading about your pleasure in doing simple things and taking in all the beauty that surrounds you. Bless you all!

Posted by Anonymous August 26, 2017 at 6:30 PM

I saw the eclipse in York, Nebraska, which was in the band of 100% totality. Such an amazing sight, being able to look directly at the sun for 2 min. The sky was beautiful, and the colors were eerie. I would go anywhere to see it again. Would have been nice to have pie with it!

For you, Chet.

For you, dear Chet.

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