Monday, August 28, 2017

Music, fiction-out-loud, and the company of friends add to Eclipse Day 2017 in Casper

I joined a million-plus people watching the eclipse in Wyoming on Aug. 21.

I almost missed it. In 2015, when Casper began promoting Eclipse 2017, I thought it silly to plan so far ahead for an event that lasted two minutes.

I see now that Casper had the right idea. Wyoming’s “Second City” was right in the path of totality. Cheyenne, the Capital City, was not. When the eclipse passed my house in north Cheyenne, it would be 97 percent of full. As it turns out, that three percent meant a lot.

On Memorial Day weekend, Chris, Annie and I journeyed up to Guernsey State Park to find a good spot to view the eclipse. Campsites were already booked for eclipse weekend. We got on the waiting list. We also bought a day pass for Aug. 21. That was enough, I thought.

In June, Carolyn Deuel of Casper’s ARTCORE called and asked me to participate in the Music and Poetry series held at Metro Coffee Company. I was set to appear with a young musician, Ethan Hopkins, known around town as The Ukulele Kid. That sounded fun. I planned to read a chapter from my new novel set in 1919 Colorado. The Roaring Twenties was a boom time for ukuleles. Maybe Ethan would know a song from the era. Then Carolyn dropped the bomb, asking me to come up for the evening of Aug. 21. A new opportunity presented itself.

ARTCORE would put me up in a hotel as it always did. The bad news was there was no room at the inn. No room anywhere. She suggested that I arrange a home stay with one of my old pals in the arts world. I made many trips to Casper in the past 15 years. Many were planning sessions for the Casper College Literary Conference and the Equality State Book Festival that grew out of it. I grew close to many fine people in Casper who loved the book and the written word and an occasional beer at the old Wonder Bar. It takes a village, as a noble Democrat once said. It also takes a village to plan a big event such as a literary conference or book festival. I knew that, which was why it was such a treat to find a group who wanted to launch an event that would involve years of planning and last for only a few days. You know, something like an eclipse festival only with books.

This story has a happy ending. Chris and I stayed with our old friend, Liberal Twit of Casper. That’s not her real name, but one we use because she is a private person who spent most of her career at a college library and now spends retirement reading, studying history, and cooking.

I am Liberal Twit of Cheyenne. A Republican librarian gave us both that name when we objected to Lynne Cheney headlining our first book festival in 2006. Lynne is a Casper native who writes children’s books. She once ran the National Endowment for the Humanities in the noted swampland that Donald Trump threatened to drain. Dick also is from Casper. I think he wrote a book, “Into the Quagmire,” or something like that. The federal building in Casper is named after his federal self. So is the playing field of his old high school. We should name Iraq War Two after him too.

We two liberal twits have been causing trouble almost as long as the Iraq War has lasted. We believe we have worked in the fields of the Lord while Dick & Co. labored in one – or maybe all -- of the circles of Hell. That’s just the kind of thing you would expect a Liberal Twit to say.

Chris and I watched the eclipse in Liberal Twit’s backyard. It was very quiet. The moon gobbled the sun bit by bit. We watched through our ISO-approved eclipse glasses. The morning grew quieter as it grew darker. When the moon blotted out the sun we knew it was a cosmic event and not some sign of God’s wrath.  That’s what you get from working in libraries and arts councils and reading lots and lots of books. I am not a better than anyone else because of it, just different. I value that difference.

After the eclipse passed, we were all a bit bedazzled. It was cosmic, yes, but also spiritual.

That afternoon, I set out for downtown. My goal was to buy a Zak Pullen eclipse T-shirt. The festival was still humming downtown. I parked blocks away and walked to the new Daniel Street Plaza. A band played. Vendors vended. Beer purveyors purveyed (it was too early for me). I found Zak’s T-shirt but the vendor only had small sizes. Someone told me to go to the Nicolaysen Art Museum’s gift shop. I walked the six blocks on a hot afternoon. The Nick was closed for a private party – it’s usually closed on Mondays anyway. I returned to my car by way of the Second Street festival. The new plaza is a great spot for concerts and gatherings. Designers put in artificial turf instead of grass. It’s comfortable enough, but doesn’t the artificial stuff absorb heat during hot summer days? People were having a good time – that’s all that matters.

A band played at the Yellowstone Garage, a restaurant bar that I’ve never been in. This area is called the Yellowstone District. Old warehouses are now sites of bistros and ART 321, among other venues. Casper seems to be making more headway with its downtown than Cheyenne is with ours. Its work-in-progress seems further along than the one we got going on.

Ethan and I drew a good crowd for that night’s performance. Ethan’s entire family was on hand. They are a lively bunch and gave the show a jolt of energy. Ethan’s original music is wonderful – he’s already blazing a trail as a songwriter. He did some covers too.

All the chairs were filled by the time I got to the stage. Thirsty people wandered off the street and stuck around for music and poetry. Or prose, in my case. I read the first chapter of my novel-in-progress. The chapter has been worked over by me, my writing group, a writing friend, and me again. I even timed the delivery on my smartphone which, indeed, is very smart. People paid attention – that’s what you want, and all you can ask for.

After a beverage break, in which the espresso machine got rolling again, I read a short story from the anthology, “Blood, Water, Wind, and Stone: An anthology of Wyoming Writers.” The story, “George Running Poles,” is set in Riverton and features two Rez teens skipping school. One of them has a dark secret. You can find the anthology at your local bookstore or order it online from Sastrugi Press in Jackson.

The next morning, I dropped Chris off at the YMCA for a workout and I proceeded to The Nic to get my Pullen T-shirt. I got the last extra-large size. I then saw Aaron and Jenny Wuerker's exhibit of landscapes. I got a chance to meet them, too, as they were on hand to take down the show. Some of the big canvasses were going to exhibits in Denver; others return to the Wuerker's studio in Buffalo. 

It was a long drive home, but at least we avoided the gridlock on Eclipse Day. These were mostly day trippers from points south (Colorado) and many had to get back to their routines on Tuesday, which I did not. Over the course of the last week, I’ve heard tales of people taking eight to ten hours for what usually is a three-to-five-hour drive. Even those folks said that the eclipse was worth it.

And it was. 


RobertP said...


Very nice, I had been wondering how your eclipse day went in Casper. Sounds like a nice event and good move to go to where you could see totality. Debbie and I watched totality from our back yard and got a few good pictures. Had pouring rain until 11 and then the skies began to clear for the eclipse and then cloud back up as it passed. Perfect timing. But many in the area were not so lucky. St. Joseph was in the center of totally and had thousands of people from out of town, some of whom booked their trip over a year ago. St. Joe had heavy clouds and disappointed crowds for totality Sam and his girlfriend went east to Columbia to miss the storms and also had a good, clear view

George Running Poles is a good story, time for me to go back and re-read.


Michael Shay said...


Thanks for your eclipse report. My sister was in Nashville and had a similar experience of the clouds parting just in time. Glad Sam made it to Columbia for the big event. And it was big.