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A funny thing happened on the way to the eclipse

May 25, 2012

It was supposed to be a quick run up to the White Mountains to watch last Sunday’s eclipse, then another quick run down the mountains and home to Mammoth in time for Monday morning’s work deadline.

I wasn’t expecting much—just a few hours away from home, a good campfire and meal, and a glimpse of the eclipse.

But along the way that day, a drunk and aging hippie camped out semi-permanently in the sage-blown Grandview forest service campground at the base of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest on the other side of Westgard Pass. He sold me a pair of eclipse glasses straight out of eBay off the hood of his equally aging Jeep Cherokee (he had expedited shipping to meet his expectation of the dozens of us up here that would want the glasses at $5 a pop, honor system, he said). He then made bad and ribald jokes about the Dallas cheerleaders while I metaphorically plugged my ears and tried to watch the eclipse through my $5 paper glasses.

Along the way, I met Sage, a geophysicist from Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in Berkeley who lent me his much better eclipse glasses to cover my camera lens—which I did—and ended up with a pretty sweet photo of a pretty sweet eclipse that I could otherwise not have taken, not without burning out the light sensors in my camera.

I met Jeff, a just-retired Los Angeles Department of Water and Power water operations manager, who drove up from Tehachapi a few days befdore with an eight-foot–long telescope that was covered like a bride in white against the wind and sun and through which later that night, I watched galaxies 30,000 light years away spin into the dark universe and Saturn turn in its diamond rings.

Jeff had wired the telescope and his laptop and his camera and his soul to the search for beauty and perfection and he came here, he said, almost every new moon night in the spring and summer to chase both.

We talked of stars and universes and the fact that there were millions, perhaps billions of both and how could you not, looking into the sky that night after the eclipse, not believe that somewhere, out there, someone or something was looking back?

Jeff said he and Sage, and often others with similar obsessions for the span of night and light and distance, come to Grandview every new moon to follow their bliss. It’s become something of a meeting place, he said, this little, primitive Inyo National Forest Service campground located a few miles before you reach the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest a few thousand feet above the campground.

“We love sharing it with people,” he said. “We love seeing other people light up when they see Saturn for the first time with the naked eye, or Venus or an named galaxy 30,000 light years away. Not seeing it with through a photograph, but really seeing it.”

So go on.

Get out there.

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