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UO professor suggests a Willamette River view of the eclipse in Portland

Story originally published in the Around the O.

Millions have their certified eclipse glasses ready for Monday’s solar event, but the UO’s Leah Middlebrook is recommending another eclipse essential for people in Portland: a flotation device.

Middlebrook, a professor of comparative literature and romance languages, is organizing a “splash mob” to watch Monday’s solar eclipse from the surface of the Willamette River. Interested participants can join the group with their favorite inner tube, standup paddleboard or lifejacket and catch the solar show while floating on the river.

The event will start at 8:30 a.m. Monday at the East Bank Esplanade, below Portland Fire and Rescue Station 21.

The Portland area is just outside the path of totality, but will get a 99.4 percent view of the eclipse.

The unconventional viewing party was inspired by the work of the Human Access Project, an organization that aims to transform Portland’s relationship with the Willamette River and to inspire people to cherish, preserve and enjoy the waterway.

Middlebrook is a member of the organization’s board of directors and regularly participates in group-swim outings through its River Huggers Swim Team, which hosts dips in the Willamette River every weekday. The group is open to all ages and all abilities. Their main goal to have fun and raise public awareness that the Willamette River is safe for swimming.

It was at one of these swims that someone first floated the idea for an eclipse water party.

“We were swimming together on this gorgeous sun-drenched morning when someone suggested a group float for the solar eclipse,” Middlebrook said. “As soon as it was out there, it was so obvious that it should happen because it will be such a fun way to simultaneously enjoy the river and the eclipse.”

Event organizers hope that people will see this event as an opportunity to catch the eclipse in an environmentally friendly way. They are encouraging folks to skip the heavy traffic and bike, walk or skateboard down to the river for a fully human-powered eclipse experience.

“We want to help people see the eclipse without burning gas,” Middlebrook said.

Middlebrook promises the river is currently at a comfortable temperature and is quick to confirm that it is both safe and amazing for swimming.

“Once you start using the Willamette River, you’ll keep going back,” she said. “The river is Portland’s largest public space and there are so many great beaches and docks to access it. I hope the eclipse helps some new folks realize what an amazing resource the Willamette River is.”

Middlebrook’s academic specialty is poetry, which she believes offers another great way to enhance the eclipse experience. She encourages eclipse enthusiasts to peruse some poetry before Monday to enrich their sun and moon gazing.

“Spend a little time looking for a poem about the sun or the moon and keep that in mind while you’re watching the eclipse,” she urged. “This phenomenon has created a lot of new excitement for us but poets have been reflecting on the sun and the moon for a very long time.”

A few of her personal favorites include William Shakespeare’s “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,” Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The face of the moon,” Emily Dickinson’s “The Moon was but a chin of gold,” Henry David Thoreau’s “I am the Autumnal Sun,” Lucille Clifton’s “Raccoon Prayer” and Denis Johnson’s “The White Fires of Venus.”

—By Emily Halnon, University Communications



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