Sunday, November 19, 2017

Isn't He Supposed To Be Asleep In A Cave Or Something?!

Some ice like stucco on the walkway Friday morning.



Those boards are 2 X 6s. Which means those paw prints are 9 or 10 inches long not counting the claws. Glad we lock the doors. Don't want to share my breakfast with this guy.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Movies vs. Novels

I've often noticed that people go to see the next Hollywood blockbuster and get enthralled and excited.

I also often notice that when someone writes a review of a book by one of my favorite authors (or even one of mine), I'll see comments suggesting that the book stretched credulity.

When that happens I sometimes wonder if those same readers watch movies with the most ridiculous scenarios and never question a thing.

Writers care. Really. We want readers to "buy in" to our story, care about the predicament in which our poor characters are stuck, and enjoy the ride.

However, it's hard to constantly be held to a higher standard than that grandest of story vehicles, the movies.

I'd guess that the root of the problem is "seeing is believing." When we watch a character on the big screen get into more outlandish situations than any 16 script writers can dream up, and yet we still get invested in the character's problems, the writers out there can't help but notice that if it were a novel, the audience would be in an uproar of protest. "That's not believable!"

Maybe some readers dismiss movies as unbelievable fluff and go along for the unbelievable ride because movies are, well, unbelievable by nature. Or, maybe some readers simply hold writers to a higher standard because novels are a higher art form? I doubt it.

Movie makers certainly get a pass of sorts. When the audience sees stuff on the big screen, they tend to buy in and get invested. Why? They saw it with their own eyes.

I don't need to bore you with examples. Suffice to say, the next time you watch an action/adventure/mystery/thriller movie, imagine if it were a novel. Would you pause and question the creator for telling such an out-sized tale?

Enjoy the next book you read!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Winter 7 Months A Year

Where would one think winter lasts 7 months a year? Greenland, Lapland, the northern parts of Alaska and Russia, the high Alps, Andes, and the Himilayas.

Oh yeah, and Tahoe.

As I write this from the Sacramento Fine Arts Festival where I'm exhibiting my books, Tahoe is getting a winter storm. Before the storm started, the prediction was 1 - 3 feet total accumulation above 7000 feet of elevation before the skies clear. (What we get at our house.)

November 4th, Winter's Back In Tahoe


So when we get home, we get to start shoveling again. I last shoveled about two weeks ago (we had two small snowfalls in October). Before that, I cleared about 6 inches in the middle of June. We did get some snow on August 23rd, but I didn't bother shoveling.

That means that the only months in the last twelve when it didn't snow was July and September. Then again, maybe it did snow a little in September.

Discounting the summer months because the snow melts almost right away, that means actual winter-like weather only persisted much in May. So add it up... November through May. Seven months of winter.

Don't get me wrong. Snow is beautiful. And snow is fun to play in. And snow on the mountains is California's water savings account.

But shoveling? Again? Already?

If I have free time at this exhibit, I'm going to look at pictures of Hawaii.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Great Dane Meets Spiderman!

In the foothills near Jackson, CA lives a woman named Marjorie. She's come to some of my talks, and we've struck up an enjoyable correspondence that dates back to when she and her husband acquired their first Great Dane.

The current one is a sweetheart named Daisy.

I've very much enjoyed reports from the front lines as Daisy has grown up. But I never would have guessed this next installment.

I asked Marje if I could share, and she said yes.

Enjoy!

 "On our morning walks we get down to the local street, meet and greet cars, businesses opening up, etc, and on our way home we pass the dumpsters in front of Hospice Thrift Store. This is Daisy's biggest thrill - she looks forward to bringing home a stuffed toy. She sniffs each one (when there are some, not always) then decides which one to take. The other day she chose Spiderman. She put it in her mouth and began walking away, toward home when all of a sudden Spiderman began talking. Daisy jerked sideways, jumping and looking to her rear to see if someone was there, then turned the other direction. It was hard to calm her down. She just knew someone was behind us. Then she dropped the toy and it kept talking. That was when she realized what was happening. After a few moments, she picked him up and proceeded to 'take it home.'

She turned five on July 1st, got her down to a good weight of 153. She brings so much joy and laughter each day."


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Left Coast Crime Coming To Reno Mar 22 - 25, 2018

Left Coast Crime mystery convention is the biggest literary event to come to Reno in a very long time...

I'll be writing more about the Left Coast Crime in the coming months. In the meantime, here's a bit of a travelogue to whet your appetites...

As regards our host cities of Reno and Sparks, you should know that in addition to Left Coast Crime gracing Reno with its presence, there are many cool aspects to the Reno/Sparks/Tahoe area. (Note, every time you hear anyone refer to the more famous Reno, you can quietly mouth the words, “and Sparks” to give sister city Sparks her due. Our host hotel, the Nugget, is in Sparks, after all. As for Tahoe, it doesn’t need any due, as it is glorified by the annual crush of millions of visitors already.)




Reno’s Cool thing #1 - ART


Reno is known as Art Town for a good reason. One is that it has the Nevada Art Museum, with as serious an art collection as you’ll find in any comparably-sized city, and it is housed in a very modern, custom, arty building.

Nevada Art Museum


Reno is also home to multiple art galleries. As for the literary arts, Reno is well-anchored in the word firmament by Sundance Bookstore, one of the all-time greatest independent bookstores anywhere.

One of the world's greatest bookstores


There are other literary events such as the Reno Literary Crawl that takes place multiple times a year. (We writers are used to groveling, so crawling is a step up…)





Cool thing #2 - TAHOE


Reno is just down the mountain from Lake Tahoe, in many respects the most fantabulous, high-elevation, super pure, super deep, amazing gorgeous awe-inspiring body of water in the world.

Lake Tahoe - A View To Kill


Okay, for you sticklers, we’re talking 22 miles long by 12 miles wide, 6230 feet in the sky, (i.e., the lake is 1000 feet higher than mile-high-city Denver), 1630 feet deep (10th deepest in the world), with water that passes many official standards for distilled water (you can see down 70 feet). (Yes, there’s a lake in the Andes that is bigger and higher, but it ain’t deep and pure like Tahoe.) Tahoe has over a dozen major ski resorts, every kind of boating, and many of the most beautiful hiking and biking and cross-country ski trails found anywhere. There’s a reason why Reno changed the name of its airport to the Reno Tahoe Airport. Tahoe is simply, by any measure, one of the world’s most beautiful places. And Reno is its number one access point. When you come to Reno, everyone advises that you schedule an extra day or more to drive up to Tahoe and see for yourself what all the fuss is about. If the weather is decent, I recommend going up #431, the Mount Rose Highway. Take it over the summit. At about 9000 feet, it is the highest year-round pass in the Sierra. Then drive down at least to the overlook above Incline Village. The view from that overlook alone will stay with you forever. Way better is to drive all the way around the lake. When you see Emerald Bay, you are likely to agree that it is near the top of the all-time-most-amazing places. (Can you tell I’m a Tahoe enthusiast? You may have noticed that my book titles all begin with Tahoe…)

Tahoe astonishes from every angle

Cool thing #3 - TECH


Reno is the new hot tech magnet, and as such is experiencing a tech boom like no other city. You’ve probably heard that Tesla’s Giga Factory, a facility that also has Panasonic investing major bucks, is currently setting up shop in the Reno area. They followed Amazon, which built a giant fulfillment center in Reno a couple of years ago. Apple is investing $1 billion in a cloud-storage data center just east of Reno. Apple also just bought an entire city block near downtown Reno to build another facility. Then there is that search company called - let me think - oh yeah, Google. Google just bought 1200 acres in the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center. Yes, you read that number correctly. What does Google plan to do with that much land near Reno? Stay tuned to find out. Then there’s Microsoft, which has only three regional operations centers in the world, and one of them is in Reno. Even Berkshire Hathaway has built a power plant in the Tahoe Reno Industrial Center.


Wait, I just mentioned Apple, Google, Microsoft, Berkshire Hathaway, and Amazon in one paragraph. Measured by market cap, those are the five biggest companies in the world. And they are all investing heavily in the Reno area. I guess we better sit up and take notice...


Cool thing #4 - NEW HIP


Reno has a hip thing going that is far beyond its gambling history.
*Did you know that the world’s tallest and largest climbing wall is on the outside of Reno’s Whitney Peak Hotel? It is 164 feet high.
*Did you know that during the spring you can kayak whitewater on the Truckee River in downtown Reno? If you want something more tame, walk the Truckee River Walk through downtown Reno. It is a beautiful stroll along the Truckee, down which all the water from Lake Tahoe flows.
*How about Reno’s vibrant live theater scene with multiple acting companies? For example, the Reno Little Theater is featuring a murder mystery play called Death By Design in the weeks before and during Left Coast Crime. How perfect is that? http://renolittletheater.org/events/event/death-by-design/  

Reno Little Theater


*Reno also houses the University of Nevada’s Reno (UNR) campus, with over 20,000 students. Compared to the university’s Las Vegas campus, UNR is the harder school in which to get accepted, but its graduates make more money. And it isn’t thirteen thousand degrees in the summer!  
*What else? The Reno Aces is a Minor League baseball team that’ll take you back to old-time baseball. Their stadium is right near downtown. Listen to the crack of the bat on a fastball, smell the hotdogs, lick the beer head off your upper lip. This is classic, old-time baseball. When it comes to the essence of the sport, the Yankees got nothing on the Aces.
*And if you’re a flying buff, there are few things more exciting than the Reno Air Races. You can’t get airplane races just anywhere!


Cool thing #5


The old stuff is still strong. The National Car museum will delight you whether you are a gearhead or are merely into old classic cars as modern art pieces.

The coolest cars ever at the National Car Museum in downtown Reno

Considered the Taj Mahal of tenpins, Reno’s National Bowling Stadium is world-class. And if you want to visit a casino, there are many to choose from, including the Nugget hotel and casino where Left Coast Crime is taking place.


One more thing, long-time Reno literary presence Sundance Bookstore will be at Left Coast Crime to provide books and literary gravitas. How can this mystery convention not be great?!






Sunday, October 15, 2017

Once Again, The Talent Question...

At the Candy Dance Festival three weeks ago where I was exhibiting my books, I spoke to a woman who has read all of my books and been supportive of my work for years. This woman is also a professional singer. Our conversation veered toward artistic skills. Immediately, I sensed a frustration that I know well.

She said that people have always made statements to her along the lines of, "Oh, it must be so wonderful to have such singing talent." And, "How great to have been born with such a voice!"

Before I could respond, she added, "While I'm so pleased and flattered that they like what I do, I want to shout, 'It isn't talent! And I wasn't born with my voice! It took decades of constant, never-ending work to develop my voice and singing skills.'"

I told her about the common experience of writers hearing people say, "I'd love to write, if only I had the talent."

I used my oft-repeated example of the figure skater. Writing (and singing and painting and dancing and acting etc.) is not something you are born knowing how to do. Nor can you learn just by studying. Studying is of course great. Classes and how-to books and support groups and critique circles and youtube videos are all smart to pursue. They are very useful and well worth the time. But learning to write is only accomplished by doing it. Just like figure skating.

You can be born with excellent bio-mechanics. And you can be born with a well-made brain and nervous system to control your muscles.

But all the natural abilities in the world won't make it so you can strap on a pair of skates and go out and do a triple-twisting leap.

You have to put in 10,000 hours on the ice, practicing over and over. That is the only way to learn to be a competent figure skater.

Or singer. Or actor. Or painter. Or musician. Or dancer. Or writer.

It's true that you can't succeed at these things if you don't have some basic brains or motor abilities. But the professional singer talking to me at the Candy Dance festival is right. It isn't talent. It's many years work.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

I'm Teaching A One-Day Mystery Writing Workshop

Have you ever had the urge to try writing a mystery novel and wondered just how you would start? Or maybe you've already started but could use some help structuring your plot and creating fascinating characters.

I've got just the workshop for you.

On Saturday, October 21st, I'm teaching a one-day workshop at the Truckee Meadows Community College in Reno. The workshop is called, How To Map A Murder, and it runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Imagine writing your own murder mystery, full of intrigue and thrills,
and a whodunnit puzzle that will keep readers up at night

The workshop will be held at the college's Meadowood Center near the Meadowood Mall. The cost is only $59, and in addition to learning the basics of mapping a murder, you will have the opportunity to ask any and all questions about writing.

Here's the link to sign up:

https://truckee.augusoft.net/index.cfm?method=ClassInfo.ClassInformation&int_class_id=24261#

Come join us! It will be fun!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Reno Literary Crawl

Two weeks ago, on September 16, I participated in the Reno Literary Crawl. What a great event!


There were dozens of authors who gave talks and readings and participated on panels. I didn't get a count of how many readers attended, but it seemed like hundreds.

The events were scheduled three at a time, at multiple venues around Reno, from the Nevada Museum to Sundance Books to many of the old mansions that stretch north from downtown Reno toward the river.

I sat on a panel about publishing and I also participated in a reading about suspense called "Things That Go Bump In The Night."

The keynote talk was by Pulitzer Prize winner Adam Johnson, Stanford professor and author of the The Orphan Master's Son. Johnson spoke at the Nevada Museum.

The closing party was at Sundance Books, which went all out with music in their large yard and poetry performances up on the mansion's deck. There was a food truck, and the place was strung with festive lights.

The vibe among some attendees was, "All this in Reno? Who knew?!" Other attendees seemed to take it for granted, as if they have known for years that Reno is a literary hotspot.

This impressive gathering celebrating the written word was put on by the Nevada Humanities. Here's the link:
http://nevadahumanities.org/programs/nevada-humanities-literary-crawl

I highly recommend you make plans to attend next year. I know I will.

A large crowd in the yard listened to a poetry reading up on the balcony of the Sundance Bookstore mansion, just behind the Nevada Museum.


Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Real Reason To Lock Doors In Tahoe

People in law enforcement will tell you to lock your doors. They know better than to think, "My neighborhood is so safe, we don't lock our doors." They know the standard upside/downside aspect of door locking. The upside is, locked doors may save your life. The downside is that you have to turn the knob. Pretty clear choice, right?

In Tahoe, we have another reason to lock doors! Bears know how to open doors. House doors. Car doors. 

Do you want to walk in on this guy as he goes through your refrigerator?
My wife and I stood on the other side of our slider and watched a young bear - probably two years old or less and only 150 pounds - carefully hooking his claws onto the edge of the glass. He didn't mind that we were just inches from the glass telling him to go away. My wife banged pan lids together like cymbals. Maybe he thought the percussion meant a party was going on, a party with party food. Had the door been unlocked, he would have come in even though we were there. Fortunately, the door was locked. He eventually gave up.

Some neighbors down the street woke up to the barking of their dog. They went downstairs and found the living room slider open and a bear in the kitchen. The bear didn't mind the dog. It had more important things on his mind. Like mint chocolate chip ice cream.

A woman we know was camping with her boyfriend. They woke up to the honking horn of their pickup. When they shined flashlights, they saw that a bear had gotten inside the truck and managed to close the door while it was inside. Panicked, it ripped the inside of the truck apart. And every time it spun around, it bumped into the horn

Of course, just like human burglars, bears can enter a house or vehicle even if it's locked. But, also like humans, bears tend to take the easiest targets. A potential food source that isn't locked up is the most attractive.

Takeaway? Lock your doors.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Warning, Charities May Be Stealing Your Money. Here's What To Look For.

As some of you know, my new title, Tahoe Payback, has a backstory about scam charities.

I expected to get a lot of blow back from people protesting the very concept that not all charities are squeaky-clean good. I also expected to get trolled from people who are in the scam charity business and don't like that I'm bringing some attention to issue.

Instead, I've gotten many emails from people who have worked for and seen the inside of charities, both good and bad. Every person has supported what my book reveals. Some have been very vocal about how important it is to inform the public about scam charities. Some have seen fraud up close and are outraged.

It occurred to me that I should offer a few points about how to tell a good charity from a bad one.

First, let me explain that there are, in my mind, three major categories of charities.

1) The first category is small charities, often local to a single area, that are run by volunteers. These charities, whether they provide soup kitchens or homeless shelters or college scholarships for local high school students or literacy programs for poor kids or rescue organizations for abused animals or shelters for refugees are almost universally good. The key, to me, seems to be that they are run by volunteers. When no one is being paid by the charity, no one seems to look at the incoming revenue as a potential personal bonanza. Add to that a requirement that two people have to sign off on every expense and you end up with a clean non-profit that is run by people who only want to do good stuff. I could add that my limited research suggests that these charities nearly always have annual revenue under $1 million.



2) The second category is large charities with a nationwide or even international footprint.  These are the names we all know. Because they have a high profile, there is a fair amount of oversight from not just their board of directors but also from the press. Yes, their CEOs make very large salaries. And yes, the charities have huge revenues (often in the billions of dollars a year) that allow for an enormous range of expenses that are hard to track. And yes, when you take a close look at their 990 form filings (that by law are public) you often see uncomfortable things, like no fundraising expense listed on the "fundraising expense" line. We know they hire telemarketers to fill our mailboxes with solicitations and call us at dinnertime. But they bury those expenses in categories like "program expenses." Why? To make it look like they spend a greater proportion of their revenue on charitable activities.

When a huge charity fudges the numbers, it makes for a lot of discomfort. Why not just be honest? We are trusting them with our hard-earned donations. Why shouldn't they just tell the truth?

The bottom line is that while the huge charities do good work, they also engage in shady reporting. But in the end, they are probably worth supporting.

3) The third category of charities is the mid-sized ones, with annual revenues from $1 million to $100 million. These are the ones that seem to be fertile territory for fraud. Why? They aren't big enough to get lots of scrutiny from the general public or the press or the state attorneys general. The directors on the boards are often friends of the person running the charity. Those board members may share in the benefits that come to the management of an unscrupulous organization. The charity is small enough that there aren't a lot of employees who might get a good sense of what's going on and report it to authorities. Like any small or medium sized business, there is often just one person who is "in charge" and who really knows what's going on. And every other employee just does as they're told. If the person or people in charge manipulate the revenue and the required IRS 990 filings to produce a huge personal benefit to themselves, who's to know? A charity that takes in $1 million plus each year can send along a majority of the revenue to "business expenses" that ultimately end up in the manager's pocket.

How, you ask? While my book Tahoe Payback explains some of the ways, I'll just mention one here. A charity can hire a fundraising company to raise revenue. The fundraising company can charge a huge percentage of the incoming revenue as a fee to raise the money. The charity might end up paying 85% to the fundraising company, justifying the expense by saying that keeping only 15% of the money is better than nothing. So, even if the fundraising seems an excessive expense, is that wrong or is it just unfortunate?

Consider this: What if the fundraising company is a for-profit company owned by the manager of the charity? Or maybe it's owned by the charity manager's brother-in-law or son. However unethical that seems, it's legal. And it happens all the time.

If you have no ethics or moral code, you can set up a charity that claims to help kids with cancer, and you can send out mailers with pictures of seriously ill children. You might collect tens of millions of dollars from people who think they're improving the lives of sick kids. But most of the money those hard-working contributors send in goes directly to the fundraising company, which, in actuality, is your own bank account.

Outraged? Me too.

How to tell if a charity is like that? First, notice the solicitations they send out. If they are garish mailers with little windows showing cash or check inside, if they have lots of scary writing on the outside of the envelope, if the letter inside shows heart-stopping pictures of starving children or wounded veterans or old people with dementia, consider the charity very suspect. These are tactics you'll recognize from supermarket checkout tabloids. If the solicitation makes a bold play on your emotions and your sympathies, look out. Next, Google the charity's name accompanied by the words, 'legitimate or scam.' Spend some time reading the links that Google sends you to.

Another educational approach is to Google 'Worst charities' and see what organizations like CNN or Forbes say about them. Go to those 'worst' charity websites and notice the tactics they use to solicit money. This is your primer on what to watch out for.

One more thing: There are many agencies that rate charities. Most of them are non-profits themselves, and some if not most of the rating agencies are run by the charities they recommend! Yes, it's appalling.

So my recommendation is this. Find small, local charities that benefit your community. Charities that are 100% run by volunteers. Fund them. Don't fund any charity that comes to you with a fancy sales job. Whether you have $100 to donate or $1 million, if you send it to a company that tries to coerce you with pictures of people in great stress, your money may go to pay for the private airplane of the person running the charity. Instead, use your money to pay for, as an example, the local soup kitchen's grocery bill. Because the kitchen is run by volunteers, you can visit and actually see what you are funding. If the charities you choose to support provide services that you can personally see, and no one is getting paid with your donation, you are a thousand times less likely to waste your money.

There are thousands of good non-profit companies out there doing good work. They are mostly run by dedicated volunteers. And they almost never use slick sales brochures and over-the-top, hence revolting solicitations to hustle your emotions.

Good Luck!


Sunday, September 10, 2017

Bears Like A Morning Walk, Too


Life in Tahoe...

I was out early on a recent morning, before any cars or dogs and joggers had appeared. Along came a nearby resident. He stopped and turned toward me and took a long look, wondering, I suppose, if my presence might represent any opportunities. A fresh-baked apple pie I'd left out to cool? Groceries forgotten for a moment in the open back of the car? He obviously decided that I was boring, and he turned and strolled down the street.  

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Beyond Astonishment, Solar Eclipse 2017

Like everyone else, we'd seen partial solar eclipses. The moon moves in front of the sun, and, looking through special really dark glasses you can see it. But when the moon completely blots out the sun, you can take off your special glasses and see the sun's corona. It is Magic.

In all of the solar system, and, probably, in all of most other solar systems, there is nothing so amazing as a perfect, total solar eclipse. Many people probably just think that a solar eclipse is a curiosity, beautiful to see if you get the chance. But the fact that our moon is the perfect size and distance from us to occasionally block out the sun, is amazing. For you geek wannabes, the moon at 2159 miles in diameter is about 1/400th the diameter of the sun (864,576 miles in diameter). And the sun is about 400 times as far from us as the moon. So line them up, and they take up, from our viewpoint, an equal size in space. How amazing is that?


This photo was actually after totality, i.e., the moon began to nibble at the sun at the 1 o'clock position on the dial, moved from upper right to lower left, and exited its passage at 7 o'clock on the dial. The actual time of passage where we were was from a bit after 9 a.m. to a bit after 11:30 a.m.

My wife and I had never seen a total eclipse. So when I first became aware of the eclipse, I started doing a little research on the most reliable cloudless weather in the path of totality. A year ago, I made hotel reservations in Boise, Idaho, which wasn't actually in the path of totality but was a mere 70 miles down the interstate from not just totality but the center of totality. For those of you who aren't closet science geeks, the reason that mattered to me was that the total time of totality varies from slightly over 2 minutes in the center of the path to just seconds near the edge of totality. I figured if I were going to drive for the better part of two days each way, I wanted to get the maximum effect. 

After all, a four-day round trip to see a two minute show that might not even happen due to cloud cover, was a bit of a gamble. How did it turn out? It was astonishing! 

Here's why. In a partial eclipse, even one with as much as 99% coverage by the moon, the portion of the sun that is still visible shines at its full power. So even though there is just a tiny bit of sun showing, it is still like having a super bright spotlight shining down from the sky. The overall world darkens a lot, and the birds start flying around trying to figure out what's going on. But you still can't look directly at the sun without your super dark glasses. 

But when you upgrade your eclipse from 99% to 100%, it feels like upgrading from the concept of God to actually sitting down with her in the flesh and sharing a beer. 

This is known as the Diamond Ring effect. A moment before totality and a moment after totality, you see what looks like a brilliant gem. This is the sun's light just barely bursting around the edge of the moon.

Totality is something difficult to describe. Here's how it played out. 

We left our Boise hotel at 5 a.m. and drove west into the most eastern part of Oregon, a place called Huntington. Along with Madras a couple of hundred miles to the west, Huntington has a weather history that places it in the most reliably sunny places in the country for this time of year. 

We pulled off the freeway at a marvelous place called Farewell Bend State Park, a beautiful, grassy, place on the Snake River, which flows all the way from Jackson, Wyoming to the Columbia River. Farewell Bend has a deep history involving all of the settlers traveling the Oregon Trail beginning back in 1843. Some paused in Eastern Oregon and decided to make a new life farming the dry rolling hills. Other said their goodbyes to fellow settlers and headed on down the Snake River on their way to the West Coast.

We waited, along with hundreds of other eclipse watchers, as the moon slowly ate into the sun. It was cool to see, but it was nothing that any of us but the children in the crowd hadn't already seen before.

As the moon covered most of the sun, we began to notice that the landscape was less bright. The light was whiter and harsher as if the sun were a very bright parking lot light. As the moon covered more and more of the sun, the speed of change seemed to increase. The temperature dropped from quite warm to cool. I pulled on my sweatshirt. Birds started taking to the air as if suddenly realizing that their evening ritual had fallen behind. The total time it took for the moon to reach totality from after it first began nibbling on the sun was a little over an hour. Totality where we were was 2 minutes and 9 seconds.

As totality approached, it seemed that the moon's movement sped up further. In a moment, the coverage was nearly complete. The tiny bit of direct sun that still appeared was brilliant, far too bright to look at without the special glasses. Then, the culmination of the long wait came, and the magic moment happened, sooner than maybe anyone expected.

It was almost a shock. The last bit of direct sunlight shut off as if someone had flipped a switch. In a moment we went from a very small bit of very bright sun to a not very dark night. 

We saw a bright glow at the point where the last bit of sun had been. This is the effect that many describe as looking like a diamond ring. In a moment, that glow also disappeared. Then the dominant feature in the sky was the corona of the sun, larger for us than in the picture below. It stretched out twice the diameter of the sun. It was one of the more amazing things I'd ever seen. Everyone gasped. Some made awe-struck whoops. Then there was a hush.

Think of the corona as the undulating atmosphere of the sun. It extends millions of miles above the sun's surface. And, in one of the great mysteries of the sun, the corona, at a million degrees or more, is much, much hotter than the sun's surface, which is relatively cool at less than ten thousand degrees Fahrenheit. 

The entire crowd was transfixed at this sight.

After our first astonishment, we took a moment to look around. Venus and another planet were visible in the dark sky. A few stars shown. At the horizon in all directions was a sunset-like glow coming from the surrounding land - 35 miles away - that was outside of the band of totality and still in sunlight.

Totality is beyond description. The entire crowd gasped in unison.
How would I rate this experience? I've never formulated a bucket list of things to do and experience before I die. But if I did, this would be near the top. How would I characterize a two-minute event that I spent four days driving to see? Absolutely worth it.