August 21, 2017

Like a lot of people in the United States, I’ll be making a trip to see the great 2017 eclipse.  I remember being 11 years old, and I’m looking at a chart in Patrick Moore’s, the Amateur Astronomer, and seeing how the path of the solar eclipse that would happen on that date snaked across the United States.

I remember thinking there’s no way you’re going to Wyoming to see that. It was out of the question. I was 11 years old, and when you’ve grown up in a place like the San Luis Valley, the world begins and ended at the mountains. To most of use, the world was a far away place glimpsed only in television sets. The stars over our heads seemed nearer to us then places like New York, or London, or Paris.

I didn’t have a car, and I was certain it would cost hundreds of dollars to drive that far (something I didn’t have).  when you live in a place so remote they have to pipe everything in, to include sunlight, the distances are staggering.

I remember looking at it though, and saying, “Somehow . . .”  I remembered though looking at it and thinking, Will, your universe is just too small. It needs expanding.

Now, at 11, I already knew the universe was expanding. Galaxies were dashing away from each other at mind boggling speeds, but I couldn’t imagine that my personal universe ever would.

It wasn’t until almost six months later I got see my world to expand a little.

As part of the Altar Boy Society in our parish, we sold raffle tickets to raise money to go Yellowstone National Park. Talk about seeing your universe double in size.

We went in the church bus to Denver, stayed overnight at the seminary there, and then the next day made it to Yellowstone. I saw incredible things. Geysers, and waterfalls. There were bears. There were elk.  There was the effect of geological forces that I had little understanding of, but still left me floored.

But what it taught me was the location for this awesome event was no more than a days drive or so. It got me thinking that just maybe, I’d be there.

After that, there were some occasional big trips. Mostly we went to Denver with the church, or across the pass to Durango to the James Ranch where we purchased the bulls for our ranch. It was in Durango that I first ate Chinese food, and found it to my liking. I’d heard of Chinese food, but had never eaten it (fourteen years old, and I’d never eaten Chinese food). I began to appreciate that other cultures outside my traditional American/Western/Spanish/Lebanese culture had to offer.

College brought a few long distance trips, mostly me and my roomies headed someplace, often times with just money for gas in our pockets and no clear destination in mind. We went hungry a lot on those expeditions mostly due to every nickle having to go to fuel.

But it wasn’t till the Army that I really got to travel. Flying out to Ft. McClellan, Alabama, was probably the longest trip I ever had up to that point. Then flying to different military bases or events just expanded the universe greatly for me. I got to see awesome things with Uncle Sam paying the way. I got to live in Germany for three years with the Army making sure I had a roof and food. I flew out to Ft. Irwin California, where I was positive I’d found the middle of nowhere. Then flying from Europe to Saudi Arabia and driving two hundred plus miles to find out I’d been totally wrong in that assumption.

I flew across oceans, visited cities that had just been pictures in books. I got to eat at the tables of people with whom I could barely converse, and experienced incredible hospitality, and the warmth of their cultures.

All that to discover what I’d once considered an almost impossible task at 11, is now nothing more than a little drive to go see one of the great spectacular events of nature.  On August 21st, my wife and I will be sitting at table in a vineyard, drinking a glass of wine, and experiencing something I’ve waited fifty years for.

Funny how the universe gets bigger.  And it’s funny how what was a staggering trip is nothing more a couple of hours away.