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Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


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   totality east of Tupper Lake
Monday, April 8 2024

location: 940 feet west of Woodworth Lake, Fulton County, NY

I was up maybe two hours before the other two humans in the house. I was drinking coffee, checking my usual websites, and trying to get a read on what the weather would be doing in the nearby part of the arc that totality would be tracing across the United States today. The forecast for Tupper Lake at the time of eclipse was still "mostly cloudy." But what exactly did that mean? At some point I made myself one of those Honest Weight Co-op everything bagels, and it was so thick that I had to cut a slice out of the middle of it in order for the two halves to fit in our cabin toaster.
When the others got up, Gretchen put out some baked goods for Kate, who still hadn't quite figured out where she would be going for the eclipse. I'd given her two eclipse glasses so at least she'd be prepared for wherever she ended up. Meanwhile, Gretchen was so dispirted by the forecast of conditions being "mostly cloudy" throughout the Adirondacks that she kind of didn't want to go drive to the swath of totality at all. Gradually, though, we spiraled into the idea of going at least as far as Tupper Lake and then heading northeast toward Saranac Lake in case conditions were too cloudy, since the forecast for the northeast Adirondacks were the closest to ideal of any place in the swath of totality that we could reasonably get to by car.
Kate headed off to wherever she would end up a little before 10:00am and then, about 45 minutes later, Gretchen and I loaded up the dogs and headed on out on our big eclipse adventure. As we had yesterday afternoon, we made a rare right turn out of Woodworth Lake Road onto Route 309 and then headed northwestward via Route 112 to Caroga Lake and then north on Route 10 through what was for us a never-before-seen landscape. At some point Gretchen stopped at a trail head with a little parking pull-over area so we could walk the dogs up trail. There was another car pulled over there with two guys wrestling gear out of their Subaru Forester. They had a little toddler waiting for them over on the trail, presumably so he wouldn't wander into the road. Gretchen asked if it would be okay for us to turn our dogs loose off-leash, and they said sure, no problem. She then asked if they were going to see the eclipse, that we were driving to Tupper Lake. They said they were hoping to see it from whatever mountain that they were hiking up (perhaps Kane Mountain) and that they expected conditions to be cloudy and crowded up in the swath of totality. We hiked up the trail a little less than a half mile through wet snow and lots of melt puddles (good thing we'd brought our rubber boots) and then turned around and came back. As we walked down, the two guys were carrying huge backpacks, one of which included the toddler.
The Adirondacks are big and unpopulated, with the occasional hamlets along lakeshores, connected by long empty two lane roads. It's a beautiful landscape of chaotic mountains and lakes covered with boreal forest (and, at this time of year, a fair amount of snow here and there). The highest peaks were all capped by snow, making the landscape seem even more wild and rugged. Initially we were the only car on the road and I could drive pretty much as fast as I wanted to. The routes (10, 8, and 30) are well-engineered, with good banking and nice straight-aways. But as we approached Indian Lake (my initial idea for a destination back before I knew exactly where totality would be best), I joined a line of cars. That line ground to a halt before we passed the Stare Overlook/Rest Area, which was already jammed with cars and people setting up to view the eclipse (mind you, it was around noon at the time, more than three hours before totality). Soon we were moving at the pace of pedestrians, which meant anyone walking a dog would be walking alongside us for hundreds of feet. With any other dogs this might not have been a problem, but Charlotte would freak out the whole time, bouncing around the Forester (sometimes even into the way-back) and barking in that piercing bark she has. It was amusing for people waiting around for the eclipse, but it wasn't pleasant for us.
Finally we got to the main intersection in the Town (and it is a town not a village or hamlet) of Indian Lake, where we (and most of the traffic we were moving with) had to make a left at a stop sign whenever there was a pause in the traffic coming from the east (our right). But since that traffic was so heavy, there were few such pauses, and that was what had led to the congestion. Had a human been present to direct traffic, things would've been moving much more smoothly. After that, though, the traffic speeds picked up to normal town speeds, and once we were out of town, we were driving at normal Adirondack speeds. Sure, there were a fair number of cars behind and in front of us, but we were moving nicely.
Meanwhile Gretchen was in communication (via the spotty cellphone network) with our friends Jeff and Alana, who had rented a place in North Creek or North River, just barely inside the swath of totality. They'd decided to improve their eclipse viewing by driving to Indian Lake. We probably passed within a couple hundred feet of them as we drove through town, but by the time we were aware of this, we were making good time to Tupper Lake, so we kept on driving.
Starting with Indian Lake, the central Adirondack lakes tend to be so long that they present real geographical obstructions. The hamlets along them seem more mature and visually appealing too, looking less like the ramshackle summer retreats for the enthusiasts of four wheelers, macrobrews, guns, and date rape one sees crowding around the smaller lakes (like Caroga) to the south. As we passed Blue Mountain Lake, we reminisced about the summer Gretchen had a poetry residency at Blue Mountain Center, when I drove up to visit her there. Further on was another long lake blocking our trajectory (it was named Long Lake), though it had a bridge across a narrow part permitting us to continue on our way to Tupper Lake. Each of these towns was more crowded than the one before, though at least now there were jar-headed State Troopers at the major intersections directing traffic, so congestion was never too bad.
The lake at Tupper Lake is especially big and partly filled-in with sediment, creating a large plane that looks a little out of place in such an otherwise rumpled landscape. Our navigation routed us around the center of the village, past a large whitewashed institution for people with developmental disabilites, as it is now fashionable to say. Tupper Lake lies only about 17 miles from the center of the swath of totality, so a lot of people had thought like we'd been thinking and mobbed the village. Our plan was not to experience the eclipse with other people but instead to find some piece of wilderness where we could have it all to ourselves. Fortunately, the clouds, though plentiful, were mostly high, thin cirrus and a lot of blue sky was showing between them. So the plan now as to head east out of town (somewhat away from the center of the swath of totality) and find a trailhead we could park at. We passed one such trailhead (probably Panther Mountain) with a lot of cars parked at it and considered possibly stopping there, but ultimately we kept driving. Ultimately we took a right onto Coreys Road about seven miles east of Tupper Lake and then headed south hoping to find an obscure trailhead some app on Gretchen's phone told her about. The road passed a few houses and then turned into a mess of thawing mud and I became concerned that the Forester might get stuck. Then we saw an older couple walking an adorable pit bull (Charlotte was, of course, losing her mind about that), and Gretchen asked (through the piercing barks) if there was a trailhead somewhere down this road. They said there was, and so we kept driving on the muddy road. Eventually we came out of an old pine plantation and were back in the wilderness, where we came upon a bridge across Ampersand Brook, a small tributary of the swampy, meandering Raquette River. There was a place for us to park, so we put the Forester there and got out our eclipse stuff. Gretchen had packed food and I'd packed cameras and a tripod. On the other side of the bridge was a tent across the muddy road from an outhouse. This was all state property, and there was a conspicuous sign over the tent reading "no camping," so we didn't know what was going on. Nobody seemed to be in or around the tent. So we shrugged and walked south along the east bank of Ampersand Brook to a place where it widened out before entering the Raquette River. There we found a nice open place to put down our jackets and shopping bags so we'd have a dry place to sit for the eclipse (44.200974N, 74.317051W). We'd tried our eclipse glasses and confirmed that the Sun was just a normal orange ball. But then I gave the Sun a second look through the eclipse glasses and could see a little piece of it on the west side being blocked by something, a something I happened to know was the Moon. Wow, our timing was perfect!
I set up a tripod with a cheap video camera (too cheap, it turned out) to record the darkening skies. Then I made myself a faux chicken salad sandwich and snapped a few pictures of the crescent sun through my eclipse glasses. As the sun dwindled down to a thin fingernail clipping of a crescent, the light seemed to diminish and develop an eerie quality, though not as much as you would expect considering that more than 95% of the Sun's disk was blocked by the Moon.
At around this time, the people whose tent we'd seen arrived in a vehicle. We never actually saw them, but we could hear them as they stuck around briefly to watch the totality. They were laughing and carrying on as if they might've been drinking, which we were definitely not. (I'd been drinking kratom tea, but its effects, if any, were weak.) The dogs reacted to the strangers by barking at them from afar, though we told them to stop and they did.
And then it was as if a switch had been flipped in the heavens and totality arrived. I'd been hoping to see it sweep in across the cirrus clouds to the west at the 1500 mph it travels, but that didn't seem to happen. It's impossible to describe totality in any way that does it justice, but it was much more intense than I either of us expected. The Sun was blotted out perfectly, so there was no longer a strong source of light where it was in the sky. Instead there was a weird glitchy glow extending out from around the Moon, the Sun's corona. In some places the glow extended quite far, along lines that I understood to be magnetic. But the glitches around the disk of the Moon where some of what the Sun was doing broke through. In particular, there was a bright red dot on the bottom left that looked like stuck pixel in the sky. Gretchen remarked that she could understand why seeing such a spectacle, particularly when it was unexpected, would be a religious experience. But I was struck by how messy and organic it was; it seemed to have more in common with, say, testicles than say, a photo of Saturn or the Andromeda Galaxy. If I was to be scared into a religion by such a phenomenon, it wouldn't be to one that believed that God resembled a human in any way. It would be to one more like, say, the Aztec religion, where unspeakable horrors are regularly required to keep the rains coming and the gardens growing.
Further out, the sky looked like night, with two prominent planets shining brightly (probably Jupiter and Venus). They'd otherwise been lost in the glare of the sky. Meanwhile, the dogs had gone into the woods to snort around, perhaps hoping to take advantage of the unexpected arrival of night time. We'd been so hot at first that Gretchen had taken off her boots and socks and stripped down to her bra. But as the sun dwindled away, it had become cold enough for us to put all those clothes back on again. The cold persisted even after totality ended, so much so that I was happy to get back into the Forester and run the heat. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. When totality first showed signs of ending (at our location, it lasted three minutes and twenty five seconds), we put on our eclipse glasses again. But of course somehow we both managed to get a glimpse of the mostly-eclipsed sun without them. But it was just a glimpse, and all the hype about the danger of looking at an eclipse is exaggerated.
As we drove away from our first-ever experience of totality, I said that one of the things that had made it so profound was that we'd had it all to ourselves in a completely natural wilderness setting. Had there been buildings, cars, and other people (well, people we could see), it would've detracted from the raw naturalness of it all. I don't think I've ever seen a natural spectacle so awe-inspiring. But I wouldn't exactly call it beautiful.
On Coreys Road, we passed people out in their yards still watching the eclipse through their eclipse glasses. As we entered Tupper Lake, it looked like the after party had begun. When Gretchen was briefly stopped in traffic, she put on her eclipse glasses to look at the sun, and it was now a fat crescent.
The Adirondacks is not really equipped for a once-in-a-lifetime spectacle that lasts three and a half minutes and is over. There are only a few roads and no side streets (except maybe in the larger villages). So when the spectacle is over and everyone wants to leave, they all are forced to do so on the same few roads. This was how we ended up stuck in traffic somewhere southbound on the way to Long Lake. The cars were moving, but only at about two miles per hour. One entrepreneuring young woman had set up a stand on the side of the road to sell $5 beers to people crawling past (evidently she'd foreseen that this would happen). I looked at her and smiled and she shrugged her shoulders as if to say, "come on, what else do you have to do?" But we kept crawling past.
At some point we had a good cell signal, so Gretchen called Kate to hear what she was up to. She said she was on the I-87 heading south at about thirty miles per hour, which was maybe ten times as fast as we were going at the time. She said she'd ended up at Schroon Lake for the eclipse, which must've been fairly brief, since only its north half lay within the swath of totality. She's been with some strangers and had had a good time. Evidently there is a real sense of community around such spectacles, and we'd completely missed out on that aspect of it.
We got stuck in traffic again as we approached Indian Lake from the north. We stopped at the Stewart's on the main corner to refuel and then kept going, wanting to take advantage of the lack of congestion we experienced. But by then we were no longer on a road connecting the swath of totality to a large population center, and driving would be easy all the way back to the cabin. But we still had a ways to go (70 miles!); as I remarked to Gretchen, things in the Adirondacks are far apart, like in Montana.
As we approached home, Gretchen made the observation that we'd driven for ten hours today. I said that was likely the longest day we'd ever spent driving since we drove that non-street-legal punch buggy across the country from Los Angeles to Brooklyn.
Back at the cabin, we ate leftover peanut noodles and I uploaded some pictures from the day to Facebook. This included a photo that Gretchen didn't find very flattering, and she was kind of mad at me about it.

Stuck in traffic northbound to the swath of totality just south of Indian Lake. I think that snow-capped peak is Mt. Marcy, the tallest mountain in New York State. If so, it's 28 miles away. Click to enlarge.

Neville on the bridge across Ampersand Brook. Click to enlarge.

Gretchen stripped down to her bra before the eclipse in the place where we watched it. Click to enlarge.

The crescent sun prior to totality, taken through my eclipse glasses. Click to enlarge.

Totality taken without any filter. It's a little out of focus, but Gretchen was yelling at me to live in the moment. Click to enlarge.

My boots soon after totality ended. Click to enlarge.

Stuck in traffic north of Long Lake. Click to enlarge.

Stuck even worse in traffic north of Long Lake. Click to enlarge.

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