Monday, August 21, 2017

Breakfast with Turkeys -- Solar Eclipse

Breakfast with turkeys?  I bet you think I’m going to write about the hoards of people who came to Oregon for the eclipse.  Read on…..

I was thrilled when I heard Oregon was going to experience a total solar eclipse just eighty miles north of us.  I ordered a packet of cheap eclipse glasses and started making plans.

I happened to have my annual eye exam just after I ordered my eclipse glasses.  My doctor frowned and said he wouldn’t trust any glasses.  Bah Humbug!  I researched on the internet and assured myself I’d ordered good ones and I promised myself I’d just take very quick peeks.

‘Where to go’ was the next bummer.  Reports started pouring in of a million people making plans to come to Oregon for the event; of porta-potties being imported from Idaho; of traffic jams; of concerns about where were all these people going to stay; bring your our water, toilet paper, etc.....

I settled on ‘Plan B,’ i.e. just go high in the Cascade Mountains near the path of totality and see what totality looks like from a distance.  We could scout out a spot where Mt. Jefferson is visible from somewhere much nearer to us, but.......

But wildfires started.  The highway we needed to take has been closed for days, and even if it was open, it just didn’t make sense to wander the back roads of the Umpqua National Forest when we are in the midst of a severe fire season.  By now I suspected Oregon wasn’t going to offer that pristine view into the Universe that one hopes to see during totality – too much smoke in the air. 

My heart soars when I think of a sparkling clear moonless night at Lava Beds National Monument (northern California where we are far from lights and the air is dry). There we can look far into the heavens, with binoculars even farther; and with our spotting scope even farther. Space is endless when looking up into that starry sky.  I get it when people rave about the eclipse; but the prediction of crowds and smoke just didn’t appeal to us.

Finally we decided to just stay home for the eclipse.  At 10:26:35 AM we’ll get 96.3 %  totality.  That sounds good.
Monday, Aug 21
Time is scrambling by this morning.    A little bite is already out of the sun when we return from our morning walk.   I hurry to make breakfast and start my first sketch.  I’m juggling eggs, eclipse glasses, sketchbook, and trying to ignor the TV.  I want to enjoy my experience.

By 9:30 we’re out on the deck enjoying our breakfast.  The sky seems just a little darker than usual – dull gray.  It is hard to tell how much of the dulling is smoke and how much is caused by the moon slipping over the sun. 
 A pair of chickadees is still talking to each other, but it is seven turkeys that provide the treat I was hoping for.  One by wild turkeys fly over the neighbor’s fence and up onto our roof.  Recently we’ve been seeing them on our street, but not in our back yard.  The turkeys are discussing these odd events.  We hear a whistle-like call that doesn’t sound like an alarm call; more like a ‘What’s up?’ call.  It’s a new sound for us. 

Four of the turkeys are on the house roof and the rest are on the deck roof over our heads.  They watch, but they don’t watch us.  They are very alert.  I can just see their little grey cells going round and round – what is going on? 

Finally, one by one, the turkeys drop off the roof and slowly wander across our back yard.  I don’t know where they roost, but I can’t help but wonder if they are heading for home.  The air is very still.  All we can hear are the turkeys talking to each other and some traffic.  Spooky quiet.
Our ‘totality’ (96.3 %) isn’t as dark as I expected.  I think thick clouds at midday are just as dark, but this sky has a dull, even darkness.  Not a cloud in the sky.  It feels cooler and a little eerie.  

At totality we watch the thin sliver of sun slip around the moon.  For about two minutes it inches along before the sun finally starts to slowly come back.  In about an hour life will be back to normal.

I probably shouldn't have put two moon on the same page ... one during our darkest time; and the second when the sun starts to come back.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Well Watched Wildfire

I’ve been on a long hiatus, haven’t I!  But life is good, just busy. Plus at this time of year most of our ‘discoveries’ involve insects and I don’t want my bug blogs to wear out their welcome.  The subject for this blog has been building over the past couple of weeks, and then a couple of days ago we got photos to go with it.

Note: Dale retired from the Umpqua National Forest and we still live slightly west of the forest.  The Umpqua National Forest is 983,129 acres – larger than Rhode Island.  It rises up to the high Cascades. 

It is fire season in Oregon.  It a guarantee we’ll have some wildfires during Oregon’s summer.  Whether it will be a bad season or not varies from year to year.  Until a couple of weeks ago we were subjected to smoke from out of state fires, especially British Columbia.  Oregon stayed relatively calm – our forest, the Umpqua National Forest stayed relatively calm.

In late July lightening started a fire on the western edge of Crater Lake National Park.  We had planned to be up there for the full moon, but ended up cancelling our reservation.  Some days the Crater Lake web cam up there showed we couldn’t even see the far side of the lake.

In early August a nasty heat wave hit Oregon, plus there were a few high county lightening storms.  I thought it was pretty bad when 15 fires were started on the Umpqua National Forest last Tuesday.    But that was just the beginning.  By yesterday the news was reporting 75 active wildfires on the Umpqua National Forest plus ’52 additional smokes’ – that sounds like more fires to me.  The pity of it is we don’t have anywhere near enough manpower to fight all these fires.  Priority is given to fires near structures, and a great many fires are unmanned! 
Two days ago, Friday, we headed upriver, on Highway 138, to the Umpqua National Forest, not realizing fire season has started in earnest.  Not far into the forest we spotted this smoke high on a slope and on the other side of the river – small enough we felt comfortable continuing on to were we planned to photograph insects that day. 
Spotter plane is in the upper right -- hard to see because of the smoke.
We did pause along the highway long enough to take a few photographs of the fire and to see a ‘spotter plane’ fly over – a plane that searches for fires.  In early years most spotting was done from fire towers, but now planes do most of the spotting. 
Note the bucket of water the helicopter is carrying.
We spent about 5 hours ‘bugging’ a few miles farther upstream.   No sign of a fire near us but we were very away that helicopters were carrying buckets of water to a fire somewhere nearby …. And probably not to the fire we had driven past. 

When we came back out onto the highway we realized more was going on than we realized.  ‘Road Closed’ signs were already parked next to the highway, but not yet in use.  That didn’t bode well. 

No sign of fresh smoke until we got back down to Fall Creek, the area where we spotted smoke this morning.  The smoke was pouring out of the old growth forest and obviously inching its way down the slope towards the river.  Still no sign of anyone fighting the fire! 

We parked in the logical parking area at Fall Creek trailhead and started taking more photos.  Soon officials from the Umpqua National Forest, the State Police, the County Sheriff’s Department, and even the Oregon Department of Transportation turned up.  Lots of talking and watching, but still no fire suppression.  We leaned the slope is considered too steep to put a ground crew on and all the helicopters were in service elsewhere.  Basically all they could do is wait and watch …. And be ready to close the highway if necessary.  There are four houses in the area and they had already been put on alert.  I’m not sure if they were on Level 1 (get ready) or Level 2 (Be ready to level on a moment’s notice).  When Level 3 is called, people must leave immediately. 
Mostly we watched smoke from a ground fire pour out of old growth forest.

For a while watched it inch up a dry exposed slope,
occasionally flaring up when it hit dry fuel.

When we headed home, the fire was well watched, but still no sign of helicopters.

Update:  As of this morning the fire we watched is still burning, but hasn’t crossed the highway.  The other fire near highway 138, near Dry Creek Store, has triggered an evacuation notice.