Eclipse 2024 in Vermont

two pairs of legs and feet of people laying down next to each other, feet, one in hiking shoes and one in boots. There is a pond viewable in the background
I wasn’t sure until Monday morning that I was going to venture into the totality area of the total eclipse. Despite it being literally two towns away and me never having seen one before, I was just feeling iffy on it. Jim was ALL IN and we had gone back and forth on what our plans were going to be. Our 16th anniversary was on Friday and I didn’t want to spend a day on our anniversary weekend stuck in traffic. Jim cared less about traffic and very much wanted to see the longest possible total eclipse. We’d both had a fairly hectic set of months in the lead-up which probably affected both of our outlooks. On the night before, our loose plan was “Drive to someplace lovely in Randolph and see the partial eclipse.” When we woke up after a good night of rest on Sunday and it looked like traffic wasn’t yet a disaster, we changed our minds and decided to hop into the car.

We drove north on Route 12 and stopped a few times feeling out possible vantage points, pulling out the gazetteer when our cell signal dissolved. After somehow running into no traffic we scooted sideways and went to one of our favorite outdoor places, Berlin Pond. We parked the car at around 2 pm, took out the weird blanket I keep in the car for no reason (no, not the Emergency Winter Blanket, more like some fake sheepskin thing I keep meaning to get rid of) and sprawled out in the grass and listened to music, watching other people arrive. We got up every now and again to marvel at the traffic on I-89, just a few dozen yards away, which was thickening up quickly. We took some goofy photos.

The first sign that things were starting was the temperature dropping. We could see the moon’s shadow moving across the sun with our eclipse glasses–thanks local library!– but without them it still felt like broad daylight. We could not have had better weather. There were maybe 30-40 people there all told. The last thing that happened before the total eclipse was a group of people showed up and started looking at the sun, sounding dejected that they’d “just missed it.” We got to tell them “No you’re just in time, keep watching!” They’d driven eleven hours from Maryland. We counted license plates from twelve different states either parked or driving past there. I’ve seen three more in the 48 hours since.

I was surprised just how cool the total eclipse looked and could see why Jim was really pushing to be in the place with the longest totality (we weren’t, but we had a good chunk of time in the dark). It was truly amazing, seeing the little coronal ejection areas, the diamond ring thing, the Bailey’s beads thing, the weird quieting of the birds, the cheering of the people around us all of whom seemed equally delighted. Some people started driving home pretty soon after the sun started re-emerging. The weather was still good so we decided to hang out for a while. I remembered that I had my goofy bear head in the car and so Jim and I stood next to the highway–what had been nearly-stopped traffic going north turned into nearly-stopped traffic going south within thirty minutes–taking turns wearing the bear head and waving goodbye to the people on the highway. People honked and waved and took our picture and yelled “We love Vermont!” out the window; it was a joyful event.

After about ninety minutes of this, we had no more arm strength left and hopped in the car to go home. We took a series of back roads ending up on Route 14 which was mostly smooth sailing all the way to Randolph. We stopped in at the pizza place which was slammed (thank you Village Pizza!) and got some dinner while talking to a lot of people who were clearly in from other places. We discussed the merits of staying an additional overnight in the woods just to have a maple creemee with some kids from New Jersey (we were supportive). Got home, ate some food, looked at our photos, looked at other people’s photos. My phone rang and it was the local police (?!) saying that I’d apparently left my wallet in the pizza place and someone turned it in. I offered to go get it but our police chief said he was out and about anyway and would drop it off. When he rang the doorbell around 8:30 I chatted with him about how the day had gone. I guess Waze routed a LOT of people through the center of town and traffic was snarly but people were generally in good spirits and his day hadn’t been too bad. My wallet still had all the money in it.

Jim did go home Monday night and hit the wall of traffic we’d all been hearing about but he was in pretty good cheer about it and his trip home was only about 45 minutes longer than it would have been. I spent some time chatting with local and internet friends about the whole event. I realized, at some point, that I’d fractured my telling of this story across maybe five different platforms, so I figured I’d put it here as well. Thanks for coming to Vermont, people who came, come back soon! Here are a few more photos.

a woman in a bear head stands by the side of a highway waving at traffic

old memes

Sometimes I see a thing which hits me in a very specific way but it’s not a way that makes sense in a tiny social media post, depending how much you know about me. This image is one of those things.

screenshot from the website for Jan which shows the name of their newsletter which is Soul of a New Machine

This is a screenshot from the web page of a robotics company which has created a standalone tool called Jan that enables you to run a large language model (LLM) on your personal computer. This allows you to mess around with chatbot-type stuff without your interactions with it becoming part of the “training” for those things. I don’t want to be training an AI. I don’t have much use for chatbot/AI-type stuff in my life and work currently, but I feel it’s important to know a bit more about it than I do. So I downloaded and installed this thing and have been messing around with it. As I was reading its (scant) documentation, I scrolled down on the company’s home page and saw that their newsletter is called The Soul of a New Machine. This is funny.

It’s funny because The Soul of a New Machine is also the name of a Pulitzer Prize-winning book published over forty years ago about a computer project my dad led, back in the mainframe days. It was a big deal at the time. It was a big deal in my family and my dad got well-known for it for a while. A lot of people I know who are about my age considered it formative. Tracy Kidder went on to write a bunch of other terrific books. After growing up in a household where computers were considered “normal” even back in the 1980s, I’ve brought that information forward with me to my library, technology, and community work and I think it’s helped me to be better at what I do.

I’m now what folks might consider later-career. I’m faffing about with this newfangled technological stuff knowing both that it’s a big deal and also that I only sort of care about it (at my peril? perhaps.) and to come across this blast from the past in an “everything old is new again, huh?” way made me laugh.

the count, how we do small-town democracy

a piece of paper with a few lists of numbers handwritten on it. Some are circled.

We’re revving up for town meeting day (Saturday) and as someone on the Board of Civil Authority (the chair, actually) there are a few little pre-voting tasks. Voting is on Tuesday. One of them is checking the tabulator. This involves sending sample ballots through and making sure the machine counts correctly and operates correctly. It’s a bit of a slog but also kind of interesting. Our town has four main ballots which everyone votes: presidential (pick a party), local (i.e. the school region which includes three towns), and the town. The town staff fill out fake ballots including stuff like slightly under- or over-filled circles, a few write-ins, and then they go through the tabulator. This is pretty straightforward though there is a bit of “Check to make sure this number on this little tag is the same as I’m writing in the book when I unlock this part of the machine” stuff which feels a little performative but maybe that’s because we’ve been really lucky to not have people angrily contesting any of our elections.

The next part, however, is to hand count the ten ballots in each category. This seems like it would be simple but in point of fact, it’s weirdly hard. The candidate ballots are straightforward. But then there are local funding issues, questions similar to “Should we give $1000 to the food shelf?” and similar. This is a two-sided ballot in which the numbering starts at 2, continues to 3 and 4, and then hops to eight, and then counts up to 25. So twenty-one separate items on which people vote yes or no. I count them. A representative from the “other party” (I am registered as a Democratic candidate as a JP, I’m planning to run as an Independent this year) also counts them. If our numbers don’t match–and in this picture you can see that I’ve boxed the ones where our counts did not match–we count them again. Only one of these non-matching counts was mine, but I was really hoping for zero.

Meanwhile there is an adorable child nearby doing adorable (but noisy) child things and it’s like my kryptonite “Count these numbers while you hear random noises.” Also it’s late, not in relative terms but late in the day for me to be doing brain stuff. It takes about ninety minutes, time that is definitely after the town clerk’s usual work day would end and he’s remarkably gracious about it. At the end of it, we’ve checked that our numbers match both each other’s and the ones the machine spits out. The sample ballots get locked in some special place where they sit for sixty days in case someone wants to check our work.

I’ve been dialing back a little bit of my participation in non-work stuff lately. Having a new job has made me want to carve out my volunteer time differently. I’m stepping down after my term on the American Library Association Council–a little more about that here–and I’m stepping down from my position on the Conservation Commission after eight years. I strongly believe that small towns only work, only get to keep working, because of the many volunteers who do the small jobs that in other, larger places would be done by paid staff. Whenever I meet new people in town I’m one of those people who asks how they’re going to get involved with the town. If they don’t have ideas I can usually suggest some. I look forward to voting day(s) every year. Not only am I usually running for Justice of the Peace (that happens in November) but I get to see most of my neighbors and do some quick catch up with them. Town Meeting Day and Voting Day show us in all our winter gear, not quite used to being around people or being outside our winter dens. I get to wear a little name tag and help make democracy easier for people. I’m glad to be able to do it.

wraps up V

the same plant as from the previous few years still has purple flowers, has many fewer leaves

The wrap-ups of the wrap-ups are now their own thing! You can view past wrap-ups here: 2019, 2020, 2021, 2022. Here’s what was up for 2023.

  • libraries visited – no new libraries which is probably fine
  • books read – fewer books is a better outcome
  • places stayed – I’ve been enjoying not really going anywhere, though I was happy to get a chunk of time in Westport
  • I stopped keeping track of “other events” which I think is fine. Like I did until February and then for some reason I just stopped.

I’ve now completely moved over to Mastodon and I like it there. I have an account on Bluesky which I use a lot less often.

Big news this time around is that I have one new regular job which is that I do community management for the Flickr Foundation, working with the folks in Flickr Commons. It’s tricky work because most of the organizations which have accounts there have been left on their own for years. There are a lot of accounts which are dormant or in some cases not really known about by the people who currently work for the organization. We’re trying to meet with those folks and talk to them and also bring in new people. It’s challenging work but also enjoyable. Thanks for reading.

my year in cities and towns, 2023

An antique bed with a lot of blankets on it and two folded comforters. There is a small black cat sleeping on it.

I am enjoying staying put. No hotels at all. I did spend ten days down at my dad’s place (which needs a better name since my dad has been dead since 2011 and if I tell people about it who don’t know me well they think I’m going to go and see my dad and that is not what is happening) doing some unpacking of my mom’s stuff. What a journey! But useful. Saw my sister a few times which was great and she came up here which was even maybe a little bit better. I hope you got out as much as you wanted to last year. RIP Hank, you were a great cat.

Past years: 2022, 2021, 2020, 2019 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 2007, 2006, 2005.

skunk haiku

snowy ground with some skunk tracks lightly on it

Skunk in snow, black stripe
moves to driveway, turns into
two furry white stripes.

well well well

Photograph of a piece of paper from a three-ring binder showing the location of the house's well.

I was going to title this “The kid is back!” because I have now successfully been away from my home for more than just one or two overnights, first time since 2019. Not sure this is a huge accomplishment but it feels huge to me because I’ve not only become a bit of a homebody but also, like many people, experienced a real change in how my life works both since COVID started but also since buying a house. I haven’t been down to my dad’s house for more than a day or two in far too long. There is some deferred maintenance there, putting it mildly, and also the boxes packed from my Mom’s house, a house which now belongs to some nice family who seem to be taking good care of it. How nice.

So it was a holiday week and then a work week and then a “work on unpacking those boxes” week. In one of them, I found an old three-ring binder that had a story. And after reading this recent blog post about Writing Documentation For Your Home I decided to write that story down.

I assume people know but in case you don’t: my mom passed away in 2017. We sold her house, the house I grew up in, finally in January of this year. This was mostly fine. She was always like “Eh live your life, don’t keep my house if you don’t want it.” and we didn’t, so we didn’t. One of the things we needed to do in order to sell the house was get the water tested. To do this we needed to find the house’s well. NO ONE knew where the well was. We had a vague idea but no specific notion. No living person remembered. No documentation existed anywhere obvious. We just Paid a Guy With An Excavator to figure it out. It went fine. We had to do a bunch of other work and I know Kate and I are very happy that’s all behind us.

But back to this week. I am at my dad’s place, the house we DID keep (he died in 2011) and as I’m unpacking one-of-many boxes I find a three-ring binder completely FULL of documentation. It had maybe been in the basement of my mom’s house, it had all the early plans for all the renovations my dad did back when they lived together up til about 1981 or so. She just put that stuff in a file cabinet and, I presume, forgot about it. All that stuff got moved to my dad’s and slowly unpacked. I found it about 18 months too late.

I bought my own house in August 2022. I have all the manuals which I keep in a folder or as PDFs on my computer. I have a list of all the major fixit work I’ve had done, and who did the work. I’m still maybe not cut out to be a homeowner but I do feel like I’m at least doing that part well.