Idiots doing idiot things because they’re idiots

So when we went camping for the totality on Sunday night, there was one bit in the experience that got me a little ranty as I recollected attempting to stargaze the night before the eclipse– a night of full-dark, no moonrise.

The experience honestly would have been far more breathtaking sans any light pollution at all, but unfortunately, light pollution there was, and not due to passing traffic, as you might expect, or campfires, or even the other campers– at least, not the majority of them. There was some eclipse traffic that night, but not much. The bulk of eclipse traffic was from campers who arrived around 4 p.m. – 6 p.m., then local totality seekers the following morning. There were a few cars after nightfall, but they turned out not to be as big a problem as I initially thought they were. There was a well-posted fire ban, which (so far as I could see and smell) was thoroughly respected by the other eclipse campers, and the majority of the eclipse campers (at least, those within my sight and hearing range– and we’re talking arid desert-type scrubland) were quiet, respectful of those around them, and generally well-behaved.

It is a truism of car-camping, unfortunately, that there’s always, always, a group of self-centered, dickish assholes who think the entire trip (and camping area) is all about them and their trip, even though there are usually anywhere from 50-150 other campers– families, youth groups, and tired travelers– attempting to quietly use the premises.

I can’t state for certainty, but I’m pretty sure it was only one group out of all the disparate campers there, who I’m calling the Hillwalkers. It seemed to be a group of about 10-15 people in about their early-to-mid-20s (I am notoriously bad at judging age ranges). Earlier that day (long before nightfall) they’d already trespassed onto the private ranch property across the road, despite the clearly posted no-trespassing signs, and clambered around in the hills for some reason.

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© J. Dresow

Watching them, we-all (our camp neighbors and us) hypothesized the Hillwalkers were looking for a cellular signal, since they kept holding up one hand as though to check their phones. If so, it was a fruitless exercise: earlier conversations ascertained that regardless of phone model or service provider, no-one was receiving service. We had nothing but our imaginations, books, and one another to entertain us.

As an aside, there are three separate frowning-upon incidents (daytime trespassing, dusk bongo-playing, and nighttime trespassing) that I assume were all perpetuated by this one particular group, but (to be completely fair) I don’t absolutely know for sure it was this one specific group of miscreants. There may well have been several (unrelated) poorly behaved groups of campers. I’m inclined to think it was the same group for each incident because:

  1. The daytime Hillwalkers (seemingly looking for cell signals) came from a section of camp downriver from us and stuck to a certain section of the hills.
  2. The nighttime Hillwalkers came from a section of camp downriver from us and stuck to the same section of the hills.
  3. The noise from the pipe-and-bongo-playing group (at dusk) came from that same section of camp downriver from us; beginning after hills emptied of daytime Hillwalkers and ending before the commencement of nighttime trespassing.

The pipes/ bongos I mention not because I have an inherent issue with campsite music– there are many times I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying the strains of a mystery music rising across a campsite as some talented, unseen musician who’s face I’ll never see calls forth a medly of tunes to tug the heartstrings and make you want to weep or dance or laugh or cry. I’ve listened to campsite instruments from fiddles to guitars, bagpipes to harmonicas, guitars to finger-harps, and usually when I hear the skirling strains of campsite instruments, my heart lifts in anticipation. The problem here was not campsite music; the problem was that whoever was playing these particular instruments was simply not good.

I don’t know if it was a lack of talent, skill, practice, or all three, but they just … weren’t. And I can’t carry a tune in a bucket, honestly. I’m not snobby or picky about music, I promise. That’s how out-of-rhythm they were– the bongos so arrhythmic and the accompanying pipes so atonally monotonous that even I wrinkled my nose in unimpressed distaste at the resultant cacophony.

Moreover, the combined length and volume of their ongoing musical attempt indicated (to me) they had either no self-awareness, or no sense of concern about their lack of skill. In either case, this seems to indicate their musical attempt was entirely self-indulgent; that is, with no concern in regards to how those hearing the music might be affected; only how they (the players) are affected by the physical act/ pleasure of using the instruments, regardless of their skill level (or lack thereof).

Think of the childish pleasure of coloring a picture, or banging a drum– sometimes doing something simply for the sake of doing it is its own pleasure, and that’s fine. However, generally, by the time most of us pass the age of, say, 5 years old, we have either been taught (or learned because we were firmly banned) that although some things can be fun and fulfilling for one person– such as, perhaps, banging a wooden spoon loudly and arrhythmically on a metal pan to produce a satisfying clang– they are not so pleasurable to anyone else in the vicinity, and the community-minded individual who wishes to continue such pursuits chooses one of two paths: They either endeavor to shape their preferred activity into more socially-acceptable results (learn rhythm, become drummer), or they only arrhythmically bang pots with wooden spoons when they’re alone and cannot bother anyone else.

But some kids are just assholes, or maybe they’re never taught to consider the needs/ concerns of anyone else, or maybe it’s something else altogether– who knows? Whatever it is, there’s always that one kid who (metaphorically or literally) will arrhythmically bang that fuckin’ pot with a spoon right out in the middle of a crowd, just because they like it. They don’t care if anyone else hates it (or loves it), they like it, and that’s all that matters to them.

That is the sort of self-centered and non-communal/  “not-thinking-of-others” mindset I heard in the pipe-and-bongo playing, and that was so thoroughly displayed later that night by the Hillwalkers roaming shouting through the hills as they waved flashlights so carelessly, so I am inclined to think they’re one and the same group. 

Anyway, after nightfall, the Hillwalkers went trespassing, for unknown reasons. They later claimed stargazing, which really makes no sense to me, as the stargazing by the river was excellent– or would have been, if it weren’t for their goddamn flashlights.

They trudged around up there for a good hour, the high-lumens brilliance of their flashlights lancing down in cutting swathes across the low hills and scrubland to blind carelessly through the thin tent walls and car or RV windows of their fellow campers down below by the river, as the trespassing Hillwalkers shouted and hallooed merrily back and forth to one another, heedless of the disturbance to they were causing to this hastily convened and temporary riverside community.

Down by the river, campers nestled in for the night, seeking protection from the biting, blood-sucking pests of night in their tents and cars and RVs, and we all tried to distract ourselves from the hungry insects, subtle press of shared space with strangers, and stifling heat by focusing on the sky above. In our tent, my husband tossed and turned, unable to settle in the heat. Whenever it seemed he had finally found a position that worked, a bright beam of light or burst of laughter would slice through the night, disturbing one or both of us and starting the whole cycle over.

We weren’t the only ones– in our car, parked next to the tent with its windows unrolled, I could hear our dogs, Azura and Sirius, shuffling uneasily; the low murmur of our son’s voice sleepily reassuring them that all was well. Our pups weren’t the only ones disturbed by the activity of the trespassing Hillwalkers– there was a frequent, nervous, yipping whine (I’d guess from the chihuahuas we met when we first arrived) from upstream, and the occasional deeper-throated, unhappy responding bark from further downstream, I think from a golden retriever I’d seen passing by.

I could hear, too, about two or three car-neighbors downstream, the low fussing of a young child; no doubt having trouble settling in the stifling heat, and the exhausted pitch of its parents’ voices as they soothed it to near-silence, only to have to pick up the task when the poor thing was frustrated awake again by a passing beam of light or burst of ill-time hilarity from the Hillwalkers. Add to this the occasional high-beam headlights and roaring engine of passing cars, and it was shaping up to be a frustrating night. The end of this torture was heralded by the roar of a loud engine, the bright floodbeam of headlights, and voices raised in disagreement.

I rolled out of my tent to see what fresh hell this was.

It seemed the rancher anticipated just such an eventuality (or perhaps actual camps on his property) and had been riding the perimeter of his property on his ATV, leading him to catch the Hillwalkers. Despite the sternly worded sign, he didn’t shoot them, instead opting for a firm talking to/ warning. According to Sam (who went over to talk to the rancher), he told the Hillwalkers they had this one warning and no more to get off his land and stay off, and the next warning wouldn’t be written or verbal. They whined about it– even I could hear them from across the road, voices climbing in indignation at the warning as they tried to defend their trespassing: “We were trying to get a better look at the stars!”

Eye. Roll. 

First: Look, no matter what you personally think of private property/ trespassing laws, you gotta take the surrounding/ extenuating circumstances into account, and always always leave where you have stayed in the same or better condition than you found it. Pick up trash. Step lightly. Don’t disturb others. In this situation, with that many people? It’s simply not possible, so don’t do it.

Second: Wandering around at night, in foreign lands, in mostly untamed nature, in the hills, is fuckin’ stupid.

Third: Wandering around at night, in foreign lands, in mostly untamed nature, in the hills, on somebody else’s property, is not only fuckin’ stupid, it’s creating a liability issue for them. OF COURSE they’re going to come up and kick you off. Don’t whine at them for protecting their interests!

Fourth: Wanna know a good way to look at the stars? TURN OFF YOUR GODDAMN FLASHLIGHTS.

So the rancher chased the Hillwalkers off, and Sam went to talk to the rancher for a bit. From Sam’s buddy, I learned some of the other ranchers up and down the valley had opened their land for eclipse camping, for a charge– they had stopped and talked to one on the drive down, but turned down her offer– $75/head to camp in her field, no meals included ($225 for his car alone). He didn’t clarify whether bathrooms were part of that deal. One hopes they were, or those ranchers are cleaning up a lot of shit this weekend. He told me the rancher claimed it was $50/ head last year, and he’d be lucky to find it cheaper anywhere else that night. We had a good chuckle over that, as the camping by the river was free (except for those who lingered– after the eclipse, we drove about three miles down to a rest area, then turned around to head home. As we passed the area we’d so recently camped, John noted there were park rangers descending on malingerers, apparently ticketing them).

I just don’t get it. That wasn’t even a dedicated camping area– it was a special allowance, next to private land. It was a special occasion. When you’ve got a situation like that– a special allowance, a large, crowded camping area, a mix people/ families of all ages and types– what kind of special, selfish, self-centered, dickish jerk d’ya have to be to think any of that behavior is appropriate? Trespassing, unskilled instrument playing, hollering through the hills, shining high-powered flashlights at one another (and incidentally into the tents of other campers)? There are people trying to sleep. There are kids. There are babies. Why? Why do people do that?

This is a general gripe I have about car camping. There’s always one group of people at car camping/ drive-up tent site (usually in their 20s) who act like being loud, rowdy assholes is totally appropriate for the venue, even though the majority of people there are families or youth groups trying to quietly enjoy nature, or exhausted travelers trying to bunk down on the cheap.

I honestly wish there was an “asshole” section of campsites these entitled dickweeds could be funneled off to, where they could be noisy and assholish and shine their lights at each other without bothering the rest of the campers, I swear to gods.

 

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August 21, 2017: Totality

Our plans were up in the air until, pretty much, earlier this month. I’d picked up some eclipse glasses handed out at Obee Credit Union on a whim, but my husband wasn’t sure he’d get time off work. Then things worked out that he had excess vacation to be used up, and was scheduled for a week off starting 8/20/2017. Of course we had no way to get lodging, but with the path of the totality within driving distance, we packed up our camping stuff, kid, and dogs, and headed out.

We camped by John Day River in Oregon, just outside of Umatilla National Forest; a spot my husband chose specifically because it’s so rural, with patchy to non-existent cell/ GPS service. We figured the long-term planners probably aimed for lodging in the cities, and dispersed camping in the open spaces of the national forest outside the totality would give us the chance to drive down the next morning (about an hour) into the totality range.

We ended up scrapping that plan Sunday night, after we drove into the totality region to check out the rest stop we planned to watch it at. Well, it was marked as a rest stop in the atlas, but it was actually a John Day National Park ranger station. Just before the ranger station, where the John Day river wound along the right side of the road and private ranchlands carved off into the hills on the left, there were cars and RV’s parked along the pull-off by the river, with room still to park. I don’t think it’s normally a camping area (maybe, possibly, for dispersed camping, but not in those numbers), but an exception was being made for the eclipse. Park rangers and state officers drove by occasionally, keeping an eye on the ad-hoc campsite, but weren’t disrupting the activity, so we decided to skip the morning traffic and just camp there for the night.

John Day River

Our GPS coordinates: 44.620142, -119.637936

I’m glad we did– we were awakened around 5 a.m. by a steady stream of traffic streaming by as people who either lived or camped right outside the totality drove past, and we were in no rush to fix breakfast, clean up our campsite or pack our car as we waited for the totality. Laziness ftw!

The other cool thing about camping out there was the unexpected camaraderie. We met some cool people, our “eclipse buddies,” and had some good conversations– even ended up exchanging contact info. To one side, we had campers who ride motorcycle and run a skeptic podcast, so we had a lot of fun conversations, and to the other side was a super cool software developer with a lot of interesting travel stories and excellent taste in books (he was reading Freakonomics). I didn’t think to ask if it was okay if I used their names, so they’re getting assigned pseudonyms: Skeptic Sam and Software Dev Taylor.

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The heat was pressing, down there in the valley– about 92 degrees when we arrived, just a little before 6 pm. It didn’t seem to abate much over the next few hours. My husband and I often joke that I’m like a lizard, or a vampire or an ice queen– it’s as thought I don’t produce my own body heat, but instead lounge around on warm, sunny rocks and curl up against sources of heat to soak up warmth. John, on the other hand? He’s like a werewolf or minor god of the forge; all hot-blooded mammalian heat-source with fire in his veins and sweat at his brow. So, obviously, I was fine, but my husband was in a little more discomfort. He spent quite a bit of time splashing about in the water with the dogs, and gawked in disbelief when I shrugged on a long-sleeved shirt and flannel pj pants as full dark came on. He also found a praying mantis!

Full dark in the desert comes with a star-strewn sky; the type of sky I’ve seen only once before, when I was 17 and on a camping trip/ trek for church. The Milky Way splashed a bright path across the sky, and constellations that are easy to pick out in the city, where all the others stars are drowned by light pollution, take a longer moment to locate in the vast dark blanket of a sky shimmering with an unimaginable expanse of glimmering points of light. It was breathtaking. I do not, unfortunately, take any photographs, but a google search produced this excellent (if slightly more colorful) example from @Joe Parks on Flickr:

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Some of the campers– about 10-15 sucky ones– trespassed on the private property nearby, and the rancher came by to yell at that them, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post (at my husband’s suggestion). The arrival of the ATV and raised voices of the rancher and the hillwalkers drifting over the campsite spurred me out of my tent to see what the situation was, and I ended up talking to Sam for a while under the last, trailing meteors of the Pleiades as they arced here and there in conversational punctuation across the blue-black sky. We finally ending up heading to our camps around 9 or 10 p.m., and I guess it must have been between 3:30 or 4 a.m. when I woke with a powerful need to pee. The sky was lighter at that point– hard to describe.

It was still clearly night, and it wasn’t the dawning glow of warmth that precedes sunrise, or the cool silver wash of moonlight. The moon hadn’t risen yet, apparently (Google tells me moonrise was at 5:55 a.m. at that location), but it was definitely noticeably lighter. Google search, again, provides an approximation of the experience, thanks to the talents of a photographer by the name of Brian Pasko:

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When I’d gone to bed a few hours earlier, I’d had to use a camper lantern simply to pick my way across the flat 10-12′ of even ground from Sam’s vehicle to our tent in the velvety blue-black night, but by 3 a.m., the brilliant silvery-azure sky and starlight alone provided more than enough light to make my way along much more treacherous paths.

I went back to bed, but slept uneasily, only drowsing, and got up around 5:30 a.m. It had cooled down to about 53 degrees overnight, and we had to wait for the sun to get over the hills for things to start warming up– it got up to about 76 degrees before the eclipse, I think? By then, it was getting fairly warm, even for me. I’d shucked off my jacket, then my sweatshirt and long-john shirt one by one, and was in my tank top by 9:30 a.m.

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I looked for a pic of me on the trip to put in here (or failing that, another of John or even the Kid), and found we’d only taken nature photos. So, um. Enjoy this artistic rendering of me in a tank top.

We saw the first nock in the upper edge of the sun about 10:05, 10:06 a.m., PST. Just a tiny little subtle dent, heralded by shouts and exclamations up and down the river as campers in newly-minted friendships called the news from one to another. My husband had a camera on a tripod with a remote, while Sam was recording his own video, presumably for his skeptic podcast.

My son, myself, and Taylor left the recordings up to them, and focused on experiencing the experience. I did try a few pictures/ video on my cellphone, but uh … yeah. I suck at photography. I had no idea what ISO even was, or what I should set it at — see example:

So, I’ll settle for trying to describe it instead. It was pretty amazing. I actually want to travel to Canada or Mexico in 2024 in order to be within the path of totality for that eclipse, because there are certain things I wanted to be on the lookout for just around totality, but everything happened so fast, and I was so focused on the actual eclipse, I forgot to watch for them.

I’ll add a quick note: Taylor’s eclipse glasses had been printed with a warning not to look at the eclipse, even with the glasses for longer than 3 minutes, but ours had no such warning. Part of me was inclined to discount the warning (especially as he’d been worrying aloud about the efficacy of his Amazon-purchased glasses)– I wanted to believe the 3-minute warning might have been added as a self-preservation measure by one of the notorious scammers– but, then again, it sounds pretty common-sense, and I’d read an article about the history of eclipse glasses and retinopathy on the drive down which mentioned something about how we’re normally protected from sun-damage because our eyes start to water/ hurt when we stare directly at the sun for too long, and I vaguely recalled something about sun damage being caused within 2 minutes on the naked eye, so I was also inclined to err on the side of caution.

Despite all that, I found it difficult to tear my eyes away from the fascinating progress, and I do have a slight headache today (but no vision spots, so fingers crossed I’m okay).

So. As the moon crept across the sun the temperature began to noticeably drop. By 10:15 a.m, the sun was half-covered; a thinning crescent flame the inverse of our familiar new moon, and our shadows stretched long, fat, and fuzzy on the ground.

Confused night birds began their trilling cries, while the frogs and crickets who had chirped a twilight lullaby along the river at dusk the previous night began to falteringly take up the chorus once again. Taylor observed that he could see why, in eras past, people thought an eclipse was the sign of angry gods– the calling wildlife, the sudden chill in the air, the abruptly darkened sun. It is indeed eerie, and I have no doubt the vast swathes of population stricken with blindness didn’t help matters, either.

A swift and sudden gloaming descended with totality as the moon covered the sun completely, leaving only the platinum-white brightness of the ring around the darkness, and an eerie flat greyness of dusk-not-dusk/ night-not-night down here below that stole the daylight and flattened the landscape in an unearthly way.

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© J. Dresow

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© J. Dresow

I took off my eclipse glasses to look at the totality naked-eyed (the only time it’s safe to do so), flanked by my husband and son and new-made friends, as cries of delight and stunned exclamation echoed in my ears from up and down the river– a community of strangers brought together by this rarity of experience, wedded by that ring in the sky.

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© J. Dresow

The moon began to slip, sun breaking dazzling free in a diamond prism of light, and I turned away, putting my eclipse glasses back on (perhaps a half-second too late– that might be the source of my headache).

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© J. Dresow

And that was it.

We exchanged contact information with our new friends and said our goodbyes. Jokingly promised to see each other in Mexico in 2024, and went our separate ways.

It was … amazing. Exhilarating. Beautiful. Stunning. Indescribable, and something that pictures and video cannot really capture. It has to be experienced– the temperature drop, the animals, the feel of community (however temporary), the buzzing excitement in the air, the racing shadows, the changing scents on the breeze– it’s just something that has to be experienced. 

John and I talked about that on the drive home; how as beautiful and stunning as the photographs are, there is simply no substitute for the experience of it.

It reminded me of my first experience of a warm ocean– I’ve grown up in Washington, with the cold Pacific ocean. I’ve seen photographs of Hawai’i, and people have told me the ocean there was as warm as bathwater, but even though I intellectually understand the words they were saying, I didn’t viscerally “get it,” until I went to Hawai’i and actually fucking experienced it.

Some things, you just have to experience to really understand. You can tell people who’ve lived in the city their entire lives about what light pollution does to the night sky until you’re blue in the face; show them photographs in an album and try to express it– but there’s no replacement for the horizon-to-horizon cap of a true-dark night lit up with the brilliance of the Milky Way. There’s no replacement for experiencing the totality. We have too many senses to try and replace such an experience with a mere video or photograph– it’s far more than just that.

It is so much more.

Read This: Another Side Of The Evergreen State College Story | HuffPost

There’s a great piece about the Evergreen State College situation up on Huffpost– a site I normally wouldn’t recommend due to their payment practices— but this is a valuable and necessary perspective that’s not, unfortunately, being covered widely or in depth.

I read another excellent post the other day on tolerance being a peace treaty, not a moral absolute, because tolerance is about respecting others beliefs even when you disagree with them– but respect (tolerance) does not require one to sacrifice their own safety, security, and freedoms because someone else wants to silence them. Or, as my dad used to say (a saying I was gleeful to see the blog author incorporate), “Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins.”

To equate the attempts of anti-bigots (LGBT, POC, feminists, progressives, etc) to protect and/ or gain safety, security, and freedom of movement to the attempts of bigots to remove and restrict said rights is not a lack of tolerance; it is an attempt to enforce the peace treaty of tolerance we call the Bill of Rights.

Find it kinda something (GOT s7e2 spoilers)

So that episode where Euron attacked Greyjoy Ironborn fleet and took Yara prisoner, then taunted Theon to save his sister and Theon jumped over the rail?

That was … interesting to me.

Recently I read something which summed up the debate of whether GOT is feminist or not as the result of inherent contradictions between the author of the source material– who explicitly identifies as feminist– and the showrunners, who have been equally clear about their lack of concern for feminism. This is how consensual-yet-icky-and-morally-ambiguous book sex scenes get translated, onscreen, to what is unambiguously non-consensual, icky, and morally grotesque. The showrunners lost the nuance and motives of the women involved, and presented them as objects of shock value and titillation.

This is an interesting theory to me, and one I tend to agree with. I’ve heard the arguments that the source material itself is sexist, and personally I disagree. I’ve never gotten that vibe from it, even when I go back and read specifically cited passages. (Legend of the Seeker— now that’s some disturbingly sexist source material, like wtf dude).

Anyway, I thought of the author-vs-showrunners thing with the whole Euron-Yara-Theon face-off, because at this point we’re pretty firmly into showrunner territory– there’s no (known) source material to refer to.

Why does that matter? Because Yara believed in Theon. She always has. The backstory– show and book– makes it clear that Yara has always defended her brother’s right to return to the Ironborn. That she resisted him being fostered to Winterfell, that she fought to launch rescue missions when their father gave him up for lost, and that she believed he could recover even from the trauma and torture that made him Reek.

Yara’s support of Theon is a large part of his recovery from Reek to Theon, warrior of the Ironborn. And off all the Ironborn– against all doubts– Yara chose her brother as her bodyguard.

Now, yes– some of Yara’s behavior around Theon is less than kind or considerate. But personally, I didn’t read her sexual antics as the unmitigated cruelty most people were interpreting them as.

At first I did, don’t get me wrong. I mean, it’s pretty gross that she’s openly and obviously engaging in foreplay in front of her brother, and looking at him with those smirks that are hard to read as anything but taunting– until it occurred to me that Yara is basically presenting herself as a cock-less man. She drinks and swears and sails and fights and fucks alongside her men– same ale, same seas, same battles, and same brothels.

She wasn’t taunting Theon; she was trying to show him you don’t need a cock to fuck women. He’s moping around feeling like he’s half a man because he’s got no cock, and Yara’s trying to show him it’s not the cock makes the man, its the action.

Grey Worm could teach him a lesson or two.

In any case, the damaged pieces of Theon seemed to be going back together, and it looked like Yara’s faith was well placed.

And then Euron attacked, and took Yara prisoner. Dared Theon–her make bodyguard– to rescue his sister (suddenly, with a knife at her throat, a damsel in distress)– and Yara’s face visibly collapsed in disappointment as Theon flung himself overboard rather than face a threat.

They both survived into Ep3, with Theon rescued by the surviving Ironborn and Yara a prisoner of her uncle. I was surprised about that. Yara seems more the type who would go down fighting, and while Ep3 explained the other two captives of that raid, thus far there’s really no explanation for Yara to be alive.

I suspect Theon may have yet another opportunity to redeem himself– maybe in an echo of Yara’s long ago foiled attempt to rescue Reek. But since this is GoT, even if he attempts a rescue, I doubt it will go well. I think Theon had his last opportunity to be a hero, and failed. And the moment Yara looked to a man to return her support was the moment she was doomed.