Total Eclipse of the Sun

Magical. Almost supernatural, and yet Nature at its most astounding. In an instant, the world was turned inside out. The blazing corona around the darkened sun took my breath away. (And this was viewing through a thin layer of cloud. I can only imagine if the sky had been clear.) Just before totality, the horizon glowed with a 360-degree sunset. The air turned cold. Transcendent might not be too strong a word for the feeling when the sun winked out and the corona appeared.

This was my first-ever experience of a total eclipse. (Once, in the 70s, I was on the wrong side of a half-mile band of ocean separating me from the view of totality. Sorry, man, what a bummer.) It made totally worthwhile getting up at 3 a.m. to drive—ahead of the rush of thousands of others from Massachusetts—to Burlington, Vermont to watch the event. We arrived plenty early and found parking. We had the Mothership, and our dog McDuff, and we relaxed in comfort while we waited. Well, aside from shortness of sleep. But you can sleep when you’re dead, man.

The closest I have come to this in the past was our viewing in person of the launch of space shuttle Atlantis, in 2010, along with a group of fellow SF authors. In that event, the most memorable single element was the nova-like blaze of fire under the tail of the spaceship. That, like this, could not be conveyed by a photograph, much less my amateur video. In this case, I couldn’t even get a picture that registered what we were seeing at all.

Here’s a NASA photo from Dallas, TX, that did a better job (NASA/Keegan Barber):

When I watched the shuttle launch, I was in spine-tingling awe of the power of human striving against the bonds of the Earth. In this case, I was in transcendent awe of the majesty of our life-giving sun and our moon, and the stupendous coincidence or design of our Earth/Moon/Sun system boasting the perfect geometry of lunar size and distance such that the moon precisely covers the disk of the sun. What magnificent art is that astonishing corona, if art it is. Either way, it is breathtaking. And humbling.

I now understand why people say once you’ve seen a total eclipse, you want to keep on seeking them out. Even after surviving the two-hundred-mile traffic jam returning home (oh, for a flying car!). The next one on U.S. soil won’t be for twenty years, so maybe I have some international travel to look forward to! Zounds!

Ironically, this event was visible from my hometown of Huron, Ohio. If I’d been in the house I grew up in, I could have stepped out into the backyard. Same for my mom, God rest her soul, who grew up on a farm in Wooster, Ohio. Sometimes the spacetime continuum is in need of a little tweaking.


The Ponce Chronicles 2024 — Part 12 (Season Finale)

Crash. That’s what we did upon arriving home in Arlington this week. Despite our best efforts to get everything wrapped up, cleaned up, and tied up ahead of time this year, we were still up until 3 a.m. the night before our flight home, getting things squared away. But we got a ton done on the place, and left it in better shape than it’s been in many years. Here’s a shot of the ponds, partially filled with rocks.

Arriving home, we pretty much crashed and burned. Allysen got started on rabies shots, because of the dog bite, and I got started on an antibiotic because of a persistent ear infection. Even our daughter got to go to the docs for a toe infection. So for the last few days, a great deal of time has been spent with us apparently lifeless in front of the TV, staring unblinking at the flickering screen, empty pizza cartons strewn about the place. We are hoping someone will come along and water us and bring us back to life, like a house plant that’s been ignored for too many weeks.

We’ll leave you with this idyllic seashore memory, from Rincón.

The Ponce Chronicles 2024 — Part 7

Oddities are always fun, and we found a few in Rincón. On the way into town, we passed these humongous gears in a field by the side of the road. We don’t know what they are, or what they’re from. They seem to have been placed there as a sculpture. A truck parked nearby had the word “crane” on it, and that got us wondering if these were taken from some old, enormous crane. The big one was probably 15-20 feet high. Edit: I later learned that these were left over from now-defunct sugar cane operations.

The second was botanical. It was a tree right next to our hotel balcony. It had a very odd trunk, splitting into multiple, curving sections just above the ground. Rather alien-plantish, actually. The thick, smooth branches appeared to be bare when we arrived, and also when we headed out for dinner. When we got back, it was stunningly transformed—filled with beautiful magenta-pink flowers, with very fine filaments. The next morning, most of the flowers were on the ground. The second evening, the scene was repeated.

An internet search revealed it to be a Pseudobombax ellipticum, also called a shaving brush tree, or a Dr. Seuss tree. Proof that nature has a sense of humor?

Here’s one of the flowers.

The Ponce Chronicles 2024 — Part 6

Rincón is a charming seaside town on the west end of Puerto Rico. It’s known for its surfing and gorgeous beaches. Allysen had always wanted to see it, so we visited for a couple of days to celebrate her birthday. The beaches lived up to their reputation. The character of the town was a lot like parts of Cape Cod, but warmer. Lots of seaside hotels and eateries. Here are some pix from our stay.

This is Dome Beach, named for the dome of a decommissioned nuclear reactor, visible in the trees. It’s a favorite surfing location; we watched some surfers enjoying the swells, including one fellow zooming on a surfboard with a hydrofoil under it, which levitated the board above the waves.

At the same location is the beautiful Punta Higueras Lighthouse, surrounded by a park.

Our hotel, Rincón of the Seas, was right on a long, lovely beach, perfect for walks. It also had a pool featuring a swim-up bar, which was fun. (I ordered a daiquiri, which was totally forgettable, but the ambience was enjoyable.)

Rincón attracts a lot of English-speakers; in fact, we chatted with folks from Texas, South Carolina, and Utah. We also had brunch with a childhood friend of Allysen’s, at a delightful café called the English Rose, which we reached by driving a narrow, winding road with truly alarming roller-coaster ups and downs. At one point, while approaching a crest, I croaked—with feeling and total sincerity—“I really hope there’s a road on the far side of this incline.” I could well imagine pitching off into space, and that would have been that.

And finally, while waiting for dinner at another restaurant, we got into selfie mode. Here’s what we looked like.

The Ponce Chronicles 2024 — Part 4

Not wanting to spend too much time in one place, I got on a plane yesterday and boomeranged back to Puerto Rico. A lot of families with kid on this flight; I guess it’s a vacation week. Climbing out of Boston, I was treated to these views of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket.

Allysen and a friend were there to greet me in San Juan.


My laptop and my Android tablet, left behind over a month ago at the LAX security checkpoint, have come home! Welcome, you prodigal devices! Let us feast and celebrate. You will always have a home here.

Kudos to the LAX Lost and Found department, the L.A. Airport Police who actually do the work to reunite 5-7000 items with their owners every month, and the shipping company that handles mailing the items home. Eridani and Tabula Nova were very well packaged and sent out promptly after I paid the quite reasonable $35 for Priority Mail. Hey, kudos to the USPS, as well!

Thank you, thank you, thank you, all.


Tanglewood 2: John Williams 90th Birthday Celebration!

Last weekend, we made our second pilgrimage to Tanglewood—to attend the BSO’s sold-out celebration concert for my favorite composer John Williams’s 90th birthday year. It was magnificent. Guest performers included Yo-Yo Ma on cello, Branford Marsalis on sax, Jessica Zhou on harp, James Taylor with his voice, and surprise guest Itzhak Perlman on violin.

John Williams greets old friends (

Most of the music was by Williams, most of it not the well-known film scores. One film excerpt that they did play was new to me, from Catch Me If You Can. It was mesmerizing, with Marsalis on sax and other guest performers on vibraphone and double bass. The surprise performance of the evening was the haunting theme from Schindler’s List, with Itzhak Perlman in a wheelchair reprising his performance of the original film recording.

Yo-Yo Ma and James Taylor celebrate John Williams (

We camped out in the lawn area with a picnic dinner this time—great sound, following the orchestra on big video screens. (With our binoculars, we couldn’t see much of the orchestra directly over all the heads, but the binocs were useful in bringing the video images closer.)

Williams sat in the front row of the audience, taking it in. There were stirring tributes from directors and musicians he has worked with through the years, including Yo-Yo Ma, and ending with a video tribute from Steven Spielberg. The concluding number was the finale to Star Wars, and after all we had heard, that unexpectedly brought me instantly to tears. Truly, truly beautiful; I cried through the whole thing. Williams came to the stage afterward, and the assembled 18,000 people sang Happy 90th Birthday to him. (That brought Allysen to tears.) Finally, he was handed the baton for an encore, and he conducted the Boston Symphony in the theme to Raiders of the Lost Ark. Not a dry eye in the house, or on the lawn. It was a truly magnificent time.

My one regret is that he is close to retirement. I must accept now that there will never be a film adaptation of one of my books with a score by John Williams. There are worse fates, but that is a dream I now willingly let go.

Sunday at Tanglewood

The keynote event of our trip to the Berkshires was a Sunday-afternoon concert at Tanglewood with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Andris Nelsons conducting. Now this is the way to hear music. I had only been to Tanglewood once before, decades ago, sitting on the grass out in front of the music shed, and that was great.

Here’s Allysen, standing in front of the shed. The crowd was just beginning to gather.

This time, I decided that I was a grownup and it was time to spring for seats inside the shed, where I could see the orchestra. It was fabulous. (Although I still couldn’t see the wind instruments, which were completely hidden behind the strings, which frustrated me a little.)

The program included Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise, Opus 34, No. 14, as well as his Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Opus 44. I say that as if I know something about it, but I’m just telling you what the program says. Sandwiched between the Rachmaninoff works was a premier performance of a contemporary-classical piece by Helen Grime: Trumpet Concerto, night-sky-blue, featuring Håkan Hardenberger on trumpet. I should note that the Rachmaninoff symphony featured virtuoso tweeting by birds in the rafters of the shed. They seemed totally in touch with the feeling of the final movement. Bravo!

Now, I have about as much business reviewing classical music as Fred Flintstone has reviewing one of my books. But should I let that stop me? As a point of reference, I might note that my absolute favorite orchestral works are Dvorak’s New World Symphony, John Williams’ various themes from Star Wars and Close Encounters, and Richard Rogers’ themes from Victory at Sea.

My favorite of this BSO performance was Vocalise. I can’t say why, just that it was lush and lyrical and swept me along. I need to find a recording of it to listen to again.

The Helen Grime concerto was…interesting. Cerebral, often dissonant, many musical voices speaking at once. The trumpet part was extraordinary in the playing ability demonstrated, but not exactly something to make me hum inside my head. I wanted to like it. I was excited to see a young composer have a new work premiered by the BSO; I felt I was in on something special. And yet… if there were melodies or themes, I was unable to pick them out. It was written during the pandemic, and it felt chaotic in a way that reflected that birthing. It felt like Stravinsky drenched in Jackson Pollock. No doubt this is my lack of understanding of classical music speaking.

The Rachmaninoff symphony began with an exquisite thread of clarinet and/or oboe, then segued into energetic full orchestral motion. I was unfamiliar with the piece, and I frankly couldn’t follow the musical themes for long, although there were passages I found quite beautiful. Unlike my reaction to the Grime, I was aware of the orchestra working together to craft themes I could hear, even if only for a few moments at a time, even if I didn’t follow where they were going. I want to listen to this again, also, though I doubt that any recording will feature the chirping of the birds nearly as effectively as in this performance.

All in all, it was a gratifying conclusion to the weekend. We now return to our regularly scheduled dimension.

A Weekend in the Berkshires

With Allysen, I drove the Mothership to western Massachusetts and the Berkshires this past weekend. We stayed at the Mt. Greylock Campsite Park, somewhere near the base of Mt. Greylock, the tallest peak in Massachusetts. Before taking on the mountain, however, we set off for Stockbridge and the Naumkeag Public Garden, to view a collection of kinetic sculptures by George Rickey. The sculptures were fascinating—all stainless steel, and (I think) most of them in motion from wind energy. This is a double-triangle, slowly twisting in the wind:

The grounds were beautiful. This is a great place to visit if you are in the area. Here’s Allysen and the moving circle sculpture. Except that it’s a still photo, and you can’t see it moving. Use your imagination.

And a tree-lined lane with a shifty-looking writer trying to be inconspicuous:

After the garden closed, we hightailed it back to Mt. Greylock, in hopes of driving to the summit on the scenic parkway. Alas, we arrived at the gate to find a sign prohibiting all vehicles over 22 feet in length from the parkway. At 24 feet, they were looking at us. Undeterred, we parked at the visitor center and set out on an easy walking trail loop on the lower part of the mountain. Easy, my aching feet! Easy for the young’uns. In truth, it was a beautiful hike through the woods, maybe four miles or so; it didn’t feel like more than ten, what with the uphill slopes. (Note to self; buy some decent hiking shoes.) Here we are, cheering ourselves on:

Oddly, we never did get a view of the mountain. You know, as a big, well, mountain rising up before you. Its 3,489-foot height, from where we came in, was pretty much obscured by a sea of forest. Nevertheless, it is the highest point in Massachusetts. Next time, we’ll have to come by car, so we can drive to the top. Yes, I know you can hike it. You can hike it. We’ll pick you up at the summit.

Here’s a lovely fern meadow:

Next stop, Tanglewood.

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