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July, 2022:

53 Years Side-By-Side

Jeffand Carol - 7-31-2022 - 500 Wide.jpg

Carol and I met 53 years ago today, in my church basement in Chicago. Our mutual friend Jackie Ropski introduced us (she was in my grade school class and went to Carol’s high school) and what I now call slow magic happened. We didn’t hurry. We were smart kids (Carol had been double-promoted past fourth grade) and we had the crucial intuition that love grows out of friendship. So we became fast friends, and then let the slow magic do its work at its own pace.

You who have been reading me for a long time know the story of hoiw we met. I won’t repeat it today. What matters is that the magic continues. The photo above was taken last Thursday, at a sizeable air B&B house we rented so Carol’s family could come down for a week and not try to cram eight adults and two little kids into our own quirky but hardly enormous abode. We had not all been together since the end of 2019. It was the first time I had met my nephew Matt’s younger daughter Kate, now almost two. His older daughter Molly is about to start school. Conscious of the passage of time, Carol’s sister Kathy hired a professional photographer to come out to the house and do a photo shoot. In groups, couples, alone, and all together, we took a collective snapshot of the family as it stands now in 2022.

A quick aside: The photographer was terrific.She is Teresa Thalaker, and Arizonans who need a photographer should consider her.

We splashed around in the pool, celebrated both our birthdays, ate maybe a little too well, played Scattergories, laughed a lot, watched Disney movies with our grand-nieces, and reveled in the magic of a family reunited after a period of our history that most of us, I suspect, would like to forget. I saw love at work everywhere around us, among us, and between us.

And that ol’ slow magic is still at work, as I know every morning that I open my eyes and see Carol beside me as though for the first time. We have never been closer, now 53 years on our way to forever, as I like to say. Thanks to Jackie, who helped strike that first spark between us that set the magic in motion, and all those who have since shared our journey with us, including those who have now moved on to God’s ineffable realms. Love works and love wins. Take our word for it. We’ve been there, are there now, and will always be.

The First Total Solar Eclipse I Didn’t See

Fifty years ago today, I didn’t see my first total solar eclipse. And thereby hangs a tale.

I had just turned 20. I was a college sophomore. Although I tinkered with electronics now and then, my primary passion (apart from Carol) was astronomy. (Ham radio was another year off.) I don’t remember at all who in my inner circles originally had the idea, but as ideas go, it was huge: We would all convoy 1200 miles around the south end of Lake Michigan, across the State of Michigan, and then across a great deal of Canada, to reach the path of totality, which was damned near at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River.

We called it Project Moonshadow, under the influence of the well-known Cat Stevens song of the same name and era.

Some of my friends had cars. I had a car, but it was a 2-door sedan that didn’t lend itself to lugging my ginormous telescope anywhere. I prevailed upon my parents to do a temporary car swap: my 1968 Chevelle for my father’s 1970 Rambler station wagon. We’ve become a lot more cautious as a culture since then. I doubt I could have pulled it off had it happened today.

But happen it did: Four cars carrying ten hapless amateur astronomers and a lot of handmade gear got underway before the crack of dawn on (I think) July 7. I had discovered CB radio earlier that year, and persuaded my convoy colleagues to equip their cars with radios and antennas. So it was Sundog, Houston, Gaspain and…I forget my friend George’s CB handle. I was Sundog. I believe Gaspain was a play on Gaspe, the name of the peninsula that the Sun’s umbra would cross a few days later. Houston, well, I’m pretty sure it was because of that evergreen catchphrase: “Houston, we have a problem.”

That name was…peculiarly…appropriate, as I’ll describe a little later.

Five of us had belonged to the Lane Tech Amateur Astronomical Society as high schoolers. One was my best friend Art, whom I’d known since kindergarten. One was Ellen, a girl Art and I knew from our church. The names of the other three I’ve simply forgotten.

Moonshadow Group Cropped 1972 - 500 Wide.jpg

On our first day on the road, we made it to the outskirts of Toronto. I was nervous about passing through Canadian customs with a huge aluminum tube strapped to the top of the Rambler, but the officer had evidently seen a fair number of telescopes heading east already, and grinned as he waved us through. We camped, we cooked, we slept, and the next morning we roared off again, this time to (I think) somewhere near Quebec City. The final leg took us to a campground in Cap Chat, Quebec, where we had reserved a few campsites. There was lots of room, good facilities, and gorgeous summer weather. The landscape was rolling hills and pine forest, and down a gnarly slope, the St. Lawrence River.

Cap Chat Campground 1972 - 500 wide.jpg

I boggle that I have as few photos of the adventure as I do, and how crude those photos are. (How quickly we have forgotten the Age of Film…) I also have to admit that most of them will not let go of the sticky pages of the photo album they’ve lived in for the last thirty or forty years. So the ones you see here will be the ones I could pry out of the album.

The morning of Monday, July 10 dawned bright and clear. The telescopes had been set up the day before. We tinkered and aligned and adjusted and got everything ready to rock. After that, we simply sat around and waited. First contact came, and we cheered. Solar filters and cameras were ready. As minutes passed, the bite out of the Sun’s disk grew larger and larger.

Jeff and scope at Cap Chat 1972 - 500 wide.jpg

But then–damn!–clouds began to roll in from the west. We saw most of the partial eclipse. We had, however, already seen a partial solar eclipse, right at home in Chicago on March 7, 1970, when we were still high schoolers. This time, totality was the whole point of the adventure.

By 45 minutes before totality, the sky had almost completely clouded over.

We got some photos of the partial phase. And we saw a strange thing as totality happened: The undersides of the clouds got very dark. Once totality was over, we sat around and moped. The next day we packed up for home.

We went home by another way, to borrow from an excellent James Taylor song of the same name. I was so annoyed by missing totality that my memories of the trip back are sparser than those of the trip out. We crossed the Gaspe Peninsula, bored our way south across New Brunswick, and then drove the entire length of Maine. I believe we stopped at a beach just north of Boston, where I touched the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. Sparse, except for when we were burning our way west across Ohio, and one of the ball joints in Ernie’s venerable early ’60s Chrysler New Yorker gave out. Ernie got the vehicle off the pavement and out of traffic. Then he keyed his CB mic: “Houston, we have a problem.”

Weirdly, I don’t recall in detail how we solved the problem. We got a towtruck to pull the Chrysler to a service station, and they replaced the ball joint. The rest of the way back to Chicago occurred without incident.

We did our best, and the failure of Project Moonshadow was no fault of ours. I consider it a coming-of-age adventure, since we got four cars and ten people to the mouth of the St. Lawrence and back, and didn’t lose more than a ball joint.

And an eclipse.

Ahh, well. I’ve since seen three total solar eclipses, including the fabulous one down in Baja on July 11, 1991. Win a few, lose a few. The trip was fun, and had other advantages: I got tired enough of CB that I started working on getting my ham radio license. I enjoyed the company of my friends. And I began learning how to deal with adversity. That may have been the biggest win of all.

But damn, the fifty years since have gone fast!

Good-Bye Guidestones

Somebody blew up the Georgia Guidestones last night. “What the hell are the Georgia Guidestones?” you might (reasonably) ask.

Ha! Exactly the point I’m about to make.

Ok. Here’s the short form: Back in the late ’70s, some rich person or group managed to persuade the premier Georgia marble quarry and monument builder to cut out five 19-foot-tall marble slabs (plus a capstone) and carve a sort of New Age Ten Commandments onto the stones in English, Spanish, Hebrew, Hindi, Arabic, Chinese, Russian, and Swahili.

This was no small project. The point man behind the Guidestones was one Robert C. Christian, a pseudonym that he demanded never be connected with another name. He had truckloads of money and spent it liberally. In 1980 it was complete. The land had been purchased from a local farmer and was eventually deeded to Elbert County.

Here’s what’s on the stones, in case you (reasonably) don’t care enough to google it:

  1. Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
  2. Guide reproduction wisely – improving fitness and diversity.
  3. Unite humanity with a living new language.
  4. Rule passion – faith – tradition – and all things with tempered reason.
  5. Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.
  6. Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.
  7. Avoid petty laws and useless officials.
  8. Balance personal rights with social duties.
  9. Prize truth – beauty – love – seeking harmony with the infinite.
  10. Be not a cancer on the Earth – Leave room for nature – Leave room for nature.

It was in the news for a little while. ’80s New Agers went nuts for it. Then, little by little, the Guidestones were more or less forgotten. I read about them in the early 80s in one New Age book or another, then didn’t see anything significant about the stones until I read this morning that somebody tried to dynamite the damned things, and mostly succeeded.

There’s more details on the stones themselves here, if you’re interested. I did enjoy the somewhat goofier entry in The Creepy Catalog a little more.

Like most weird things, it has a low-profile fanbase who have been endlessly arguing about whether it was the Freemasons or the Rosicrucians or the Priory of Sion or maybe Ted Turner or Shirley MacLaine behind it. It’s been called satanic. It’s been called Roman Catholic, mostly because of the name R. C. Christian. Reaction to the stones in some quarters has been spectacularly unhinged–read the Creepy Catalog article to see what I mean.

The obvious thing to be taken away from the history of the guidestones is that they have accrued a lot of enemies, and eventually, one of those enemies would be tempted to strike back. The inscription is the sort of syrupy New World Order nonsense that was very hip back in the ’80s. Sure, it’s all upbeat and idealistic in a let’s-all-sit-together-and-sing-Kumbaya sort of way. Everybody be everybody’s friend, ok? Let’s all abandon our native languages and join our high school Esperanto club! Let’s all guide our reproduction…er, wut? There’s a word for that: Eugenics. Been tried. Millions died. Balance personal rights with social duties? This means, historically, that there are no rights, and social duties are forced on ordinary people by some ruling elite with all the guns.

In other words, the usual deadly Marxist claptrap. That, I think, is why the stones have been mostly forgotten. Reading the inscriptions again made me groan. Easy for you to say, Mr. Christian. If I were to read them too often, I would giggle.

Now, some odd thoughts:

  • Keeping secrets is hard. Especially huge, expensive secrets. I find it suspicious that the responsible entities have never been outed. There are theories, mostly tinfoil-hat stuff, but no hard facts.
  • Supposedly, Mr. Christian and the banker he worked with communicated via mail. Letters from Mr. Christian were always sent from a different place. So…where did the banker guy send his letters to?
  • This was all done during a period now 40+ years in the past, and according to Mr. Christian, planned 20 years before that. My guess is that most of the insiders are long dead. Who’s keeping the secrets now? There are either second-generation insiders keeping secrets, or they took the secrets to their graves.
  • Or…was the bombing a publicity stunt?

Think about it: Just like your elders, you spent your life and all your heavenly idealism putting this thing together without revealing whodunit. 40 years later, the whole shebang is an asterisk in some book on the backroads of Georgia. Honestly, I think more people have heard of the Mystery Spot than the Georgia Guidestones.

So what better way to get people talking about the Guidestones again than to create a conspiracy to knock them down? #guidestones is trending on Twitter now. Supposedly local government knocked the other stones down a few hours ago to keep them from falling on feckless tourists. Also supposedly, the cops fingered a perp, though about that I see nothing firm.

But here’s the deal: People are talking about the Guidestones again! Social media is making its message immortal. I consider it a terrible waste of good granite, but it’ll be in the news for a few days until the next mass shooting or Congress impeaches Trump again. Given the silliness of the whole business, that might be the best that the shadowy Guidestone conspiracy can hope for.

BTW, the Guidestones were not the American Stonehenge. That honor goes to Carhenge, which I visited with Carol and some friends when we drove to Alliance, Nebraska for the 2017 total solar eclipse. I’ll tell you this: Nobody is gonna knock that down anytime soon!