Monday, August 14, 2017

The Carbondale Enigma

I just discovered that a rare celestial confluence of events (of sorts) is about to happen at a spot on the earth not too far from me. I think I'll dub this event The Carbondale Enigma. (Shout out to my many reader in Carbondale, Illinois)

To be technically correct, I guess I should call it The Cedar Lake Enigma, but I'm not sure anyone has heard of Cedar Lake. In fact, I had never heard of it until tonight as I was clicking around on Google Earth. Honestly, I'm not even sure this discovery qualifies as an enigma, but if not, the word has an awfully high bar.

Also I am not sure I discovered it, but I haven't seen it mentioned anywhere else. This was research I did on my own.

I'll start with an interesting fact: If you're sitting at any given spot on the globe - for instance, your house - and a total solar eclipse happens, the average wait time for the next one is around 400 years. That's a brief tick of the Great Celestial Clock by which things like the sun and moon operate, but it's a fairly long time in human terms. Roughly five lifetimes, in fact.

You'd be born, complete school, get a job, raise 2.1 kids, survive 1.5 divorces, burn through 12 vehicles, retire at 64.7 years old, take up pottery and bingo to show the world you've completely given up, and die at around age 80... five times before the next total solar eclipse happened at your house.

That kind of data intrigues me, but it also motivates me to find the exception. That's how I noticed The Carbondale (OK, Cedar Lake) Enigma.

In this seemingly well-ordered cosmos, even the slightest bit of scrutiny will expose imperfections. For instance, the moon revolves around the earth in an irregular ellipse, not a perfect circle. Its orbit deviates 5 degrees from the solar plane. Earth's axis has something called the Chandler Wobble. The planet's rotation is gradually slowing. The moon is slipping several centimeters further from Earth every year. These imperfections and deviations from 'the norm' can cause odd irregularities through the amplification of an epoch scale. For instance (and no, I don't know this for a fact), there are probably places on Earth that have never experienced a perfect total eclipse, and others that get way more than their share.

I discovered a place like the latter a few miles southwest of Carbondale, Illinois. It's an unassuming spot along the bank of a small inlet on Cedar Lake, and can be reached via short hike from S. Poplar Camp Road. That spot, at 37°38'30"N 89°16'16"W, is in the exact center of the path of the August 21, 2017 North American solar eclipse. Not such a big deal - it's a bi-coastal eclipse with countless similar spots along its path. But as I was scouring maps of future eclipses, I noticed that same lakeside spot is also in the exact center of the path of another eclipse set to occur April 8, 2024, only seven years later.

That may seem like nothing to you, but it's the equivalent of an acid trip for geeks like me. Seven years, not four hundred. Statistically significant. Sure, it's just a coincidence, an artifact of a non-symmetrical universe. However, I'm the kind of guy who appreciates such things. Maybe you are, too.

I'm taking my family to Jefferson City, Missouri, also in the center of the moon's shadow, where we will experience this incredible event together. Most humans never witness a total solar eclipse in person, so I'm excited to share this with my wife and kids. I've heard it's a soul-shifting experience. For a few brief moments, the winds calm, the temperature drops, and shadows sharpen. Then, suddenly, the sky goes dark and the stars come out. Crickets start singing. In every direction, low along the horizon, a 'sunset' appears. Above, as the moon blocks a raging inferno, the whispy, feathery ring of our local star's corona dances silently.

Everything feels calm and peaceful.

Moments later, the moon moves on and the sun comes back. The world returns to normal, as if nothing ever happened. Except, as I understand, those who witness it are changed somehow.

Weather permitting, August 21, 2017 will be that kind of event. Still, part of me wants to be at that spot near Carbondale, Illinois on the bank of Cedar Lake, to take it all in from that unique place. Then, to return in seven years and watch it all happen again. To stack some stones on that spot near the water as the sun disappears - a sort of makeshift monument to the rarity of the experience and the special perspective - in hopes that sometime in the distant future, say in 400 years, someone will find my monument and understand.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

The Things We've Handed Down

Since the death of my parents, I've been on a mission to find my roots. This song by Marc Cohn has been a catalyst, lyrics dancing in the background like Trevor tugging on my shirt sleeve. I'd be hard pressed to find more poignant words to describe to my children who and why and how they are.
___________

Don't know much about you
Don't know who you are
We've been doing fine without you
But, we could only go so far
Don't know why you chose us
Were you watching from above
Is there someone there that knows us
Said we'd give you all our love

Will you laugh just like your mother
Will you sigh like your old man
Will some things skip a generation
Like I've heard they often can
Are you a poet or a dancer
A devil or a clown
Or a strange new combination of
The things we've handed down

I wonder who you'll look like
Will your hair fall down and curl
Will you be a mama's boy
Or daddy's little girl
Will you be a sad reminder
Of what's been lost along the way
Maybe you can help me find her
In the things you do and say

And these things that we have given you
They are not so easily found
But you can thank us later
For the things we've handed down

You may not always be so grateful
For the way that you were made
Some feature of your father's
That you'd gladly sell or trade
And one day you may look at us
And say that you were cursed
But over time that line has been
Extremely well rehearsed
By our fathers, and their fathers
In some old and distant town
From places no one here remembers
Come the things we've handed down



Sunday, May 21, 2017

Uncle Ronnie

My uncle, Ronald James Dickson (stage name Jim Dickson), was part of the cast of a TV documentary called "Primal Man" in 1974. The cast and film crew were all killed in a plane crash on the return flight from the shoot at Mammoth Lakes area in California.. This makeshift memorial, made from wreckage, is near the crash site, on top of the mountain, with the airport in the background. They were aloft only minutes before the crash.

I was living with him when it happened. I remember waking to the sound of my aunt crying in the living room after having seen news of the crash on television. We lived in Hollywood CA at the time.

Aunt Laura Dickson, if you Google yourself and see this, email me. I would love to see you and catch up.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

The CliffsNotes version of my relationship with Barry Morris (an adventure in self-therapy)

A search of the phrase 'unconventional parental relationships' might return a link to this blog. I've always marveled at (and been envious of) healthy, normal, consistent familial relationships.

My father died this week. My mother passed two years ago, so Dad was my last direct mooring to this planet, and my last-best-hope to truly understanding why I'm here. The unconventional aspect of our relationship stems from the fact I met him for the first time at age 31. The past 20+ years have literally been an attempt to catch up.

Absent the day-to-day mental history most people co-author with their parents (as divergent from reality as they often are), I've managed to learn in bursts everything I know about my Dad and family. We exchanged letters at first, in which I described the first three decades of my life, and he gave me a peek into his world. He also described the circumstances which influenced decisions my parents made about their relationship and its fate.

I was heartened by the similarities in my parents' stories. Both admitted to playing a part, and accepted their roles in their relationship's demise.

Upon our first face-to-face meeting I witnessed the profound impact of genetics. As much stock as we place in the formative influence of environment, I am convinced more than ever our primary constitution is based on DNA. Facial expressions, body motions, stride, all were uncannily similar. If there was any reason to be suspicious of our genetic commonality, our matching smiles removed all doubt.

My new connection to Dad also came with bonus connections to other family members. I have a half-sister and step-brother, both of whom have children and families who are now part of my life. I have a great uncle who is quite an extraordinary and even historic figure, who has also been very kind and welcoming. Dad's wife, who had every right to treat me with skepticism, has done the opposite. I consider her a great blessing, and look forward to maintaining a relationship with her as long as she'll have me.

Unfortunately, the act of building a bridge to my father also served to build a wall between my mother and me. Her life was very difficult and the work of raising a child alone was often more than she could handle. She had a very tumultuous childhood which ill-prepared her for challenges ahead. She did the best she could and was lucky to have a father she could depend on for help. I spent about half of my childhood with my grandparents, who I credit greatly with my personal balance. (Many would say the word 'balance' is a gross mischaracterization.)

On the other hand, my father's life was more traditional and comfortable. He had the benefit of both parents, was involved with their family business, and had a healthy childhood and head start. My mother couldn't help feeling bitter about that. Despite my attempts to balance my attention, the more time I spent with Dad, the more she pulled away from me. When she died we hadn't spoken for several months. Needless to say, I was devastated.

My mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer a short time before her death. She made the decision that she lacked the will to fight the disease, and took her own life. She consulted no one, she allowed no attempts at dissuasion.

Dad had always considered suicide an act of cowardice and an affront to god, and when I told him of Mom's death he made no effort to conceal those feelings. Although he had softened his stance recently, his original reaction made a mark on me that would never fully heal.

Similar marks exist in every relationship. We had less of a foundation than most, but over time we managed to work through it. In the end, things were better. Over the past 20 years we had both invested much time and effort in building family bonds. Given another 20 years, who knows...

I do know this. I'm thankful for the family I inherited through meeting my father. I'm thankful for my wife's extraordinary family, which has become a loving and important part of my life. But yesterday I opened my phone and saw Dad on my 'frequent calls' list, and the thought of not having him, and those calls, made me feel profoundly lonely.