Eclipse-o-Mania hits the Oregon coast

IMG_20170817_111230377_HDR[1]I drove cautiously to the edge of Highway 101 as if driving into a war zone. Would I see an impenetrable line of cars? Would tourists crowd the roadsides, strewing trash and lit matches into the salal and blackberries? Could I possibly get to Newport in one piece? Judging by what I was seeing on the news and reading on my computer, no.

But yes. Yesterday, already suffering from cabin fever, I ventured to the post office and the jetty, and it was fine. The gulls and cormorants bobbing in the blue ripples of Yaquina Bay did not know or care that the solar eclipse is coming on Monday. The surf lapped against the rocks, fishing boats cruised in and out, and the sun peeked shyly through the morning clouds. The only unusual sight was a truck delivering portable toilets to the area where the jetty meets the beach.

Eclipse-o-mania. Depoe Bay, just north of here, is supposed to be the first place in the continental U.S. to see the moon completely cover the sun when the eclipse happens on Monday morning.  The “path of totality” will continue southeast through Oregon and on across the country. Over a million people are expected to come to this state, thousands of them to the coast, to see the eclipse. Officials predict traffic jams and shortages of food, gas, and cash. Eclipse-watchers will stream onto private property looking for places to camp. We may lose electricity and cell phone coverage. Or not. Will this be like y2k, when nothing really happened?

For weeks, we have been warned to stock up on supplies and plan to stay home from Aug. 17-21. The roads will be impassable, we’re told. Businesses and government offices are planning to close on Monday. Stores, restaurants, and motels that serve tourists are putting their employees on extra shifts and urging them to sleep over so they won’t get caught in traffic. Police and firefighters are working overtime. The National Guard is on standby. The county has declared a state of emergency.

It’s as if a tsunami, a snowstorm and Woodstock were all happening at the same time. The eclipse will begin at 9:04 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time. Totality, starting at 10:16, will last for two minutes. It will get dark. The birds will hush. Night animals will come out. And then it will start to get light again. By 11:15, it will be all over, except for the traffic jams.

Meanwhile, life goes on. When the moon slides over the sun, my dad will be on his way to Kaiser Hospital for a doctor’s appointment. Other people will be at work and not even see it. Me, I’ll probably retreat to my office and write.

We don’t really know how many people will come to the coast for the eclipse. If I were traveling to see it, I’d go somewhere else. We have a 50 percent chance it will be too cloudy to see anything. Whatever we can see, I’ll be able to watch from my backyard with the eclipse glasses I picked up at the community college. Don’t look at the sun without them, ophthalmologists warn. The glasses are so dark the sun is the only thing you can see through them. It looks like a little orange dot.

My father can’t understand why people would travel great distances to see the eclipse. Neither can my 96-year-old friend Doug, who says he’s seen them before. No big deal. The next eclipse will be in 2024, and it won’t be here. I hope to see it, but I’m not making any extra trips out of South Beach. I vaguely remember a previous eclipse in 1970. It got dark, it got light. No big deal in San Jose, not like the craziness happening here. I don’t even know if we got out of class to see it.

The mania had already started last week when I went to the Fred Meyer store to buy groceries. It was a madhouse, jammed with people stocking up for the big event. Yesterday, a friend posted pictures on Facebook of empty shelves where the milk should be. Did I stock up? I have bagels, grapefruit, tea and cookies. Annie has two boxes of Milk-Bones. We’re ready.

I have seriously thought about walking to town if I can’t drive. Four miles to the bridge, three more to church. News outlets are showing photos of bumper-to-bumper traffic, but not here. Not yet. Maybe not at all.

The eclipse will happen. But whether the crowds will come and whether it will be cloudy or clear, we don’t know. The human show may turn out to be more mind-blowing than the one in the sky. Meanwhile, the gulls bobbing in the bay and the dog at my side don’t know or care.

Has eclipse-o-mania hit where you live? Would you travel to see the eclipse?

Celebrating Twenty Years in Paradise

Annie at South Beach 22315C

We are gathered here today to ponder me being in Oregon for 20 years.

On July 26, 1996, Fred and I left our home in San Jose, California to start a new life in Oregon. He drove a Ryder rental truck, and I followed in the Honda with the dog, my guitars and my Chatty Cathy doll in the back seat. We had no idea what we were getting into.

I had never lived more than an hour away from my family. I had never lived in a small town. I had never lived where it rains 80 inches a year. If we had not moved, I would never have known that the whole world is not like San Jose. Attention suburbanites: There’s a whole other world out there.

For years, we had vacationed on the Oregon Coast and batted around the idea of moving here. After Fred retired from the city and his youngest son graduated from high school, it seemed like we were free to go.

It happened so quickly we didn’t have time for second thoughts until it was too late. Our house sold in five days. We’d expected it to take months. Suddenly we were quitting our jobs, packing and saying goodbye. If I had to do it again, I probably wouldn’t. Certainly if I had known everything that would happen—my mother’s death, Fred’s long illness and death, me ending up alone—I would have stayed on Safari Drive amid the smog, gangs and traffic roaring right behind us on Santa Teresa Boulevard.

I loved my newspaper job and our house. I loved the music groups I belonged to and the church where I played guitar every Sunday. I had finished my term as president at California Writers and had just been elected vice president of the Santa Clara County chapter of the National League of American Pen Women. Life was pretty good. But the money we made at our various jobs wasn’t enough and the Oregon coast called to us. Up here, we could live by the beach in a more affordable house. I could write and play music. Fred could volunteer at the aquarium. As for the rain, we’d buy raincoats.

So, 20 years. Nearly one-third of my life. If we divide it up, the first third was growing up, the second being a young professional, and the third starting over in Oregon.

Let me toss out a few more numbers:

We lived in Lincoln City one year, Newport one year, and South Beach 18 years. I have been walking dogs along Thiel Creek for 18 years. Six days a week, 1.5 miles a day, times 18 years=2,496 walks and 3,744 miles or all the way across the U.S. and partway back. Add the miles we walked in Newport and Lincoln City, and we’re at least back to Utah.

I have made approximately 50 trips back to San Jose, mostly by car. At 1,400 miles a trip, say 45 trips, that’s 63,000 miles and about 90 overnight stays at the Best Western Miner’s Inn in Yreka, California. I should get a gold plaque or something.

I was 44 when we arrived. Fred was 59, younger than I am now. Later this year, I have to sign up for Medicare. What???

Oregon has given me a lot. Six published books. My MFA degree in creative writing. Twenty years as a church musician. I get to spend my days writing and playing music, which has always been my dream. I have a house with a large, private yard only a block and a half from the Pacific Ocean. I can go to the beach or walk in the woods whenever I want. The air is clean, the traffic is minimal, and the temperature rarely gets over 70 degrees. Of course, we don’t have a shopping mall, serious medical issues require a trip to Corvallis or Portland, and full-time jobs are hard to find, but there’s online shopping, I don’t mind a trip to the valley, and I don’t need a full-time job. I’m already working full-time at work that I love. In other words, we got what we came for.

A week ago Sunday, I attended a concert at Newport’s Performing Arts Center. Walking through the lobby, I kept running into friends from music, writing and church. Lots of smiles, lots of hugs. We knew just about everybody on stage as well as in the seats. I have spent many hours in that auditorium, in the audience and on the stage. I felt this huge sense of belonging as my friend Pat and I settled into our seats. I would not get that kind of feeling in San Jose in a massive venue where everyone was strangers.

Fred and I lived together here for almost 13 years. He spent two years in nursing homes and died five years ago. He absolutely loved Oregon, never had a moment of regret. Over the years, we have lost many family members, including my mother, both of Fred’s parents, Aunt Edna, cousin Jerry, cousin Candi, cousin Dale, Cousin Irene, Uncle Bob, and more. We have also welcomed Candace, Courtney, Riley, Peyton, Keira, Clarabelinda, Kai and Kaleo, Eddie and Wyatt, and more. The cycle of life includes our four-legged loved ones. We lost our dog Sadie in 2007. We gained Chico and Annie in 2009, then I lost Chico in 2010.

My dad, now 94, has survived heart surgery, a broken wrist and a broken hip. My biggest regret of this Oregon journey is not being close to him all the time instead of just a few days or weeks when I visit. When he complains about crime, traffic and heat in San Jose, I encourage him to join me up here, but he is firmly rooted in the city where he was born.

Over the years, I have thought about going home. I miss my family. I get tired of the endless cold, gray winter days. Why am I in this big house alone now that Fred is gone? Most widows seem to move close to their families, usually their children.

But I stay. Why? The opportunities for connections with writers and musicians are huge here. I am allowed to play, sing and lead the choir every week at church even though I have no music degree and I am not a concert pianist. Yes, there are more opportunities in big cities, but you’re one of a crowd.

I might have better luck finding a new man (do I want one?) somewhere else, but when I sit writing on my deck with the dog sleeping at my side, warm sun on my face and a light breeze tousling my hair, I don’t want to leave. It’s peaceful here.

Lots of other people have moved to the Oregon coast since Fred and I came. I’m an old-timer now. California retirees are still falling in love with the place and moving in. But we are unlikely to see our population grow to the point that it’s a problem. Our weather is too challenging, and there’s no easy way to get to the rest of the world–tough roads, minimal bus service, no plane or train service. Also, jobs and housing are scarce. Good. Keeps the riff-raff out.

I like this place where I know lots of people, where the rain has dirt to sink into, where strangers wave at me and Annie as they drive by in their pickup trucks, where I hear the ocean at night instead of freeway noise and sirens, where I can slip away to the beach in five minutes if I feel like it or doze on my loveseat with the dog sleeping beside me. Driving over the Yaquina Bridge into Newport, I look down at the blue waters of the bay, the white boats bobbing there, and the green hills around it and am still awed by how beautiful it is.

On our anniversaries, Fred and I used to ask each other if we were willing to stay together another year. We’d click our wine glasses and pledge not just a year, but forever. It’s time to ask myself that about Oregon and this house. I can’t pledge forever or even a year. Things happen. But for now, I’m staying. It’s home.

***

You can read the story of our journey to Oregon and what followed in my book Shoes Full of Sand. Follow this blog to continue the story.