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May 21, 2012
Lunar eclipse

The 2012 annular lunar eclipse, as viewed up at our mountain home

One of the joys of our mountain home is that we get a great view of astronomical events when we are up on a mountaintop away from civilization. In our last letter, we wrote about the “supermoon” – the biggest full moon of the year. May 20 featured a second astronomical event: a rare annular lunar eclipse.

Naturally, Gail wanted to be up on the mountain to see it. Russell is in the middle of earnings at work, but our son Joss is already out of school (he’s on the semester system, while our other son Cameron is on the quarter system). So Gail and Joss drove up on Wednesday, May 16. They were also joined by Joss’ school friend Charlie, who lives in the nearby Gold Country town of Pine Grove.

Gail set herself another impressive marathon of tasks to complete. With hardwood floors now installed in the upstairs sitting room and hallway, she began on Cameron’s bedroom. She had salvaged some wider floorboards, but she didn’t have enough to cover an entire bedroom floor. She designed a layout that alternated wide and thin floorboards. The result looked great. Gail also had the chance to try out a new planer she picked up.

Cameron’s bedroom, before and after hardwood floors

The pattern on Cameron’s bedroom floor alternates wide and narrow floor strips

Once again, Gail had to bring in floorboards that had been stored outside in the gazebo. Her security wasn’t helped when our friend Steve emailed a photo of a rattlesnake he had recently seen in the gazebo. Gail’s solution – with Joss’ help – was to completely clean out the gazebo, which had become a gigantic outdoor closet over the past several years.

The gazebo, before and after cleaning

A week before Gail cleaned out the gazebo, Steve had been up on the mountain and snapped this rattlesnake with his cellphone camera

While they were working outside, Gail also decided to completely rebuild the small shed that holds our step-up water pump. She encountered a “rather large lizard” and a “rather large rat.” (This was better than her luck inside the house, where her traps had not caught a single mouse.) Gail also re-sprayed the weeds around the property.

Gail rebuilt the water shed into a much more solid and useful structure

Charlie was also eager to help out, so Gail put him to work installing a temporary porch outside the back door. The three workers also had time to drive out to the annual “Jumping Frog Festival” in nearby Calaveras, as immortalized by Mark Twain.

Charlie re-purposes an old scrap platform into a back porch

But the big event of the week was the lunar eclipse, which transpired on Sunday afternoon. While it would be a 100-percent annular eclipse further north of us, we would see a good 90-percent-plus of the moon covering the sun.

The full annular eclipse would be farther north (we’re south of Sacramento), but we would still see some good coverage. (Graphic from www.lunarplanner.com)

Our challenge would be in how to view it. Looking directly at the sun can destroy your eyes, and it’s no less dangerous when it’s covered by the moon. So Gail and the men devised a variety of ingenious ways to watch the progress of the eclipse. They made “pinhole viewers” out of cardboard that projected an image onto a piece of white drywall. They used binocular lenses to create a similar projected image. Joss spent hours devising an elaborate viewer out of scraps of cardboard.

The eclipse, as projected by a pinhole viewer and a binocular lens

Joss spent several hours constructing an elaborate viewer. (Note all of the crescent-shaped shadows on the wall behind him!)

It was a fun day, and a great historic event to be a part of.

Gail and Joss returned on Monday, May 21, to celebrate Russell’s birthday. On Tuesday, Russell will have a dentist appointment. On Wednesday, Russell have his hernia surgery. He is hopeful that he will get to spend part of his convalescence up on the mountain.

Gail enjoys the great outdoors… with a weed sprayer on her back


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