I remember her waking me up while I was in my sleeping bag. My mother sat on the edge of my motorhome bunk and looked out the window with a cup of tea in her hand. She told me the lunar eclipse had started. I peered out and saw a blurry red shadow move over the face of the moon. In her company, she showed me the rocks that came back from the first mission to the moon, Comet Kohoutek, Halley’s Comet, and many partial, but never full eclipses. My mother opened the sky to me.

I had known about the total eclipse of 2017 for what seemed like all of my life. On that date, I knew I would be there to see it, no matter the cost or the struggle. I was hesitant to make any reservations prior to the week before August 21st, because I didn’t want to be sitting under a sky of clouds while it happened. Last Thursday, I was made aware of a rancher who had cut up his fields into lots for cars, tents, and recreational vehicles. His property included an extinct volcano that provided excellent views of not only the sky but the horizon. I wanted see as much as I could when it happened. The location in Menan, Idaho had a forecast of 1% chance of cloudiness in the days before the eclipse. I secured my reservation on Thursday the 17th.

The 1973 Superior Motorhome that I used and painted for my 2006 campaign had reverted back to its sky blue color and was mostly functional. I had taken it on trips to Moab and Zion National Park and aside from a broken water heater, which had since been repaired, it fared well. Although the drive from Salt Lake City to Menan was only 3.5 hours, I planned to leave 24 hours in advance to make certain nothing was left to chance. Frankly, my biggest fear was congested traffic. My fears were misdirected. Outside of Brigham City, the mothorhome transmission started to slip. I pulled over to the side of the road and my sister and I went across the freeway and loaded up on transmission fluid. As I was walking back, I noticed the drip and splash of fluid on the road leading up to the back of the vehicle. It was as if the beast had been harpooned in its underbelly. Nevertheless, I filled the transmission with fluid and an additive that supposedly stops leaks and it shuddered back into service. Ten miles later, it gave up again.

I stayed with the motorhome until the tow truck arrived, while the other adults went back to Salt Lake City to fetch cars to make the journey. Six hours later, we were all back on the road to Idaho again.

The next morning, I packed up the tent in anticipation of a quick evacuation. As soon as the the moon started to move over the sun, we all started the hike up the side of the volcano. At the top, we found a secluded edge overlooking the valley with a prominent view of the sun. Then over the course of an hour we counted down and took pictures.

In the final ten minutes, the northern part of the valley had an ominous darkness that was closing in on us. The temperature dropped, and the birds stopped flying. From the top of the volcano, we couldn’t hear any insect or animal activity. The sun went from a crescent to a sliver to an edge. In the final ten seconds, the crowd of about a thousand people started to count down. We looked through our solar glasses for the Bailey’s beads and watched the sun disappear into darkness. With the glasses on, it was as if we were blindfolded.

As I lifted the glasses to view the total eclipse I gasped. The tears streamed down my face and I grabbed my gaping mouth. Never had I witnessed such beauty. The sky was an alien blue grey, and the horizon was illuminated with a sunset-like glow in all directions. I saw no stars, and Venus was the only planet that peeked out of the firmament. I was transported and transformed. Like I was staring into the sun’s soul and it was staring back at mine. All the complications, heartbreak, struggles, and complaints of life gave way to simply being alive. Simply feeling the amazing fortune of being on an isolated planet, in an isolated solar system, in an isolated galaxy that has the perfect mathematical ratios between its moon and the distance to the sun to present such a spectacle. The audience on that hill had similar reactions as you could hear them joyfully proclaiming their astonishment along the mile long ridge. Their humanity was palpable and overwhelming. For a short period, we were one, not only with each other, but with the planet and the universe.

I continued to watch until the sun exploded out of the edge like a diamond ring. The earth regained its normal appearance quickly.

There is no comparison that a total eclipse has with a partial eclipse. Yes, you may have seen 90%, but the totality is not 10% more, it is a million, billion times more. The light of the sun’s corona left my spirit opened and bare.

My mother died in 1990 having never seen a total eclipse. If you are reading this and you are alive, you had a chance that she didn’t. People told me they weren’t going because of traffic, work, school, and that they had a bad week prior. These aren’t reasons, they are excuses. After what I witnessed, I would walk the 200 mile distance sick and naked to see it again. If you didn’t see it this time around, and you get another chance, don’t let it slip by. It will stay with you forever.

The Electroregeneration Society

Some years ago, XMission held a computer parts “recycling” event in cooperation with Salt Lake City. We were permitted use of a parking lot on the corner of State Street and 400 South, near our offices, for people to bring their household electronics for proper disposal. This disposal consisted of cosponsoring the hauling, destruction, and recycling of raw materials through a local company, GRX.

Although GRX recycles the raw materials in an environmentally friendly way, I was dismayed to see the quantity of usable gear head straight for the chipper. There was literally a football field of electronics at the end of the day, and I would guess that 80% of it was still in functional condition. Because I have long used Linux for the majority of my business at XMission, I knew that older PC’s can serve many people’s Internet and computing needs just fine.

An organization in California, the Alameda County Computer Resource Center is a model for what I envision for Utah. Although they have subsisted by taking state sponsorship for recycling, my experience with non-profits makes me believe an organization could be viable with donations. Thusly, I am proud to announce the formation of The Electroregeneration Society. I recently moved into a larger warehouse to support one of my other passions, and in addition to sharing it with the embryonic Computer Graphics Museum, there is space for this project.

Here is the draft mission statement: The Electroregeneration Society is a non-profit dedicated to the reuse and repurpose of household and industrial electronics, primarily computers. Low-income, educational organizations, non-profits, and disabled individuals may receive fully functional computers for free. Hobbyists and enthusiasts may purchase hardware or volunteer their time in exchange. Hardware is received in donation as a write-off from businesses, government, organizations, and individuals.”

Tonight at 6pm there will be an initial meeting. The address is at 555 S 400 W in Salt Lake City. Please consider contributing however you can!

Bill Orton

Bill OrtonIn January of 2005, I had a meeting with Bill Orton. My campaign for U.S. Senate was in the exploratory stage, and I had heard through the grapevine that Bill was considering running. I had never met Bill before, but he worked nearby and came in to talk with me without even knowing what the subject was. We talked for over two hours that afternoon. He detailed how he had tried to negotiate with President Clinton and Bruce Babbitt before Grant Staircase Escalante was declared a National Park. They overrode his concerns and left him out of the process. He exclaimed to me the concern of his constituents, “If you’re a Democrat and your own President doesn’t listen to you, then what good are you?” He said, “And you know, they were right!” Bill Orton was the last Democrat to represent Utah’s third district. If President Clinton had listened to the Democratic congressman from the region in question, and made Utahns stakeholders in the process of creating a National Park, Bill Orton would have continued to be elected every time he ran.

I asked Bill why he considered himself a conservative Democrat instead of running as a Republican. “Because I couldn’t live with myself!” “I couldn’t get out of the shower each morning because I wouldn’t be able to get clean!” he laughed.

Bill told me that he was considering running for U.S. Senate, but the pains due to his back injury were preventing him from doing so. He told me that unless a miracle cure happened, he couldn’t do it. I waited until March before I realized that miracle wasn’t coming.

When it came time for the 2006 Democratic State Convention, it was necessary to select a party member to put forward my nomination. Bill Orton was my first choice and I was deeply humbled when he accepted. In spite of losing his written speech, he gave a fantastic, firey, and fluent oration that had the crowd cheering. He was a hard act to follow.

I ran into Bill a few times after the election. Last year, at the Salt Lake Valley Science and Engineering Fair he was especially proud of the work his son Will had done for his entry. It demonstrated the gravitational attraction between bowling balls and was far beyond what standard science fair entries cover. Bill beamed when he told me that a University physics professor had said that the entry was beyond the level of what his graduate students were capable of. It was apparent to me that Bill was a committed and loving father, even if it meant clearing out the garage for a month for a science fair experiment.

Bill Orton died this weekend in an accident at the age of 60. He was the very model of a Utah Democrat — honest, forthright, connected, and capable. He was my mentor and my friend. I will miss him.

Waiting for Tickets

I set my alarm this morning for 7:00AM planning to get up and get out to collect my tickets to the inauguration. A foreign bed and sick kids conspired against me and left me groggy when the alarm went off. For some reason I figured that there probably wasn’t going to be that big of a crowd when I managed to get down to the congressional office buildings, so I went back to sleep.

Standing in the subway at 10:00AM, I fully realized how wrong I was. In the dimly lit D.C. Metro, you realize the precariousness of your situation when there are thousands of others packed into a small space waiting to get out. I eyed possible escape routes (jump off the railing? parkor up the walls?) while I held any traces of claustrophobia back. Eventually I emerged from the Capitol South station into the bitter cold air of a Washington January day.

The lines snaked around the respective congressional office buildings to get through security. Due to security or scalping, there was a decision somewhere that ordered the majority of 250,000 tickets to be distributed on one day. Although I have never waited in longer lines, what was odd about the spectrum of people standing with me is that everyone had a big grin on their face. Nary an angry or impatient comment was heard. I had been waiting the past eight years for this moment, another 24 hours wasn’t going to hurt. What I realize now is that others had been waiting decades, if not the entire history of the United States for the affirmation of equality and freedom that will occur tomorrow. I am fortunate to be present.

Governor Cal Rampton

Robin, Cal, & PeteWhen I was eight years old, I was walking in downtown Salt Lake City with my mother. As we crossed a street with my hand in hers, she stopped to talk to a man who I didn’t recognize. I don’t remember what the conversation was, just that it was complimentary. As we left the stranger, my mother turned to me and said, “Do you know who that was?” I shook my head. “That was the governor of Utah.”

Cal Rampton was my first contact with the political world. He remains an inspiration to me. In early 2005 when I was just finding my sea-legs as a candidate, I was introduced to a group of longtime Democrats who met regularly for lunch. Cal Rampton was among them and as they questioned me and told stories of their own, I found a well of courage to draw on. It was stunning to me to find out that Cal was a Bountiful boy too and that he had a friendship with my grandfather’s brother.

I had to leave early to catch a flight to a Western Caucus meeting in Montana. Cal shook my hand and told me, “Whatever I can do to help, please let me know.” Whether he realized it or not, Governor Rampton had already done enough. Along with my own efforts, I know that many other people have been inspired by Cal’s tenacity and the legacy he gave Utah.

Governor Calvin L. Rampton passed away last night, Sunday September 16th. I will remember him always.

Alive and Well

Just over a month has passed since election night. Sitting next to my son reading him a bedtime story is a pleasure that rarely happened while travelling over 25,000 miles campaigning in Utah. Doing it now makes the past two years seem like a faded dream.

A relaxing Thanksgiving trip to a beach in Costa Rica helped clean the slate. About the most notable thing that happened between attempting to surf, fish tacos, and sleep was seeing luminescent bugs for the first time in my life. I was emptying the garbage one night and had a hard time digesting why there were blinking Christmas lights over the small hill behind the can.

Right now I’m catching up on emptying the detritus of my life and trying to archive the rest. It is slow digging.

Being a candidate also presented many opportunities where it was apparent the government was failing in a spectacular fashion. I didn’t even have a chance to lick my wounds from the door that just slammed shut before another door opened before me. This new opportunity is equally exciting, but not public. However, if you’ve got a couple million kicking around, I’d be happy to give you a preview.

Little Baby

Greta Dagmar Ruth Ballard On the evening of October 10th, my wife Robin began to have her contractions start to close in frequency. Our baby was not due until the 21st, but somehow we had the feeling all along that she was going to be a little early. I timed the contractions with my cell phone’s timer and figured we would head to the hospital when they got to be a minute apart.

“You didn’t read anything did you?”

“Oh sure, of course I did. I read a lot.”

I recognized my wife’s growing fangs from the last time she was pregnant. I apologized, then immediately apologized for apologizing. Then realized it was probably just best to keep my mouth shut as we closed in to the arrival.

Reading the owner’s manual by the bedside, I found that it was best to go to the hospital at five minutes apart. At around 11:30 PM, she was at three minutes apart. I called the hospital. Yes, they wanted us to come in. No, the jacuzzi room was occupied. I packed up Madeleine, Henry, and the numerous bags and accoutrements, then helped my wife get from the house to the car.

Robin’s first labor with Madeleine was 48 hours and an utter misery. Henry came in a comparative flash, about two hours after we got to the hospital. It looked like this one was in a sprint too. When Robin got on the bed, she said she wanted to push but didn’t know if she should wait for the midwife to arrive. The nurse said to push, the midwife was on her way. Robin was dilated to 8 cm.

Robin was on her side and our friend Dana was behind her. Dana pushed on her back when she had a contraction. I made sure that the cameras were operational and properly documenting. The midwife arrived and checked everything out. The water hadn’t broken yet, but the baby was definitely on its way. Robin continued to have a severe pain in her back every time she had a contraction. This made me realize my one contribution to the evening. Something that I learned in the birth classes was that it was actually easier and more natural to give birth on all fours than on the side or back. I suggested Robin get up on all fours and the midwife agreed. Robin didn’t want to, but as soon as she did, the midwife broke the water and our baby started to come out.

My five-year-old son Henry had been busily engaged with his Gameboy up to this point. I went over to him and said, “Henry, Momma is having the baby.” I think this is probably the one thing that can tear my boy away from the middle of a game. He put down the Gameboy on his own and his face lit up with awe as the birth happened. Immediately he exclaimed, “I love that baby!”

I am always broadsided by the swell of emotion a birth gives. Like a tidal wave it comes rushing in and drenches everyone in the room. I gave my wife tear soaked words of encouragement and looked over to my 11-year-old daughter Madeleine to see that she too had tears rolling down her face. Politics, work, all of that seems so petty as this moment gives a glimpse to the infinite.

Greta Dagmar Ruth Ballard was born on 1:29 AM, October 11th. At 7 lbs, 2 oz, she is a healthy 20 inch long baby girl. Robin and I have an agreement that instead of using hyphenation or my name for our children, girls get the Ballard name and boys get the Ashdown name. “Greta” was my mother’s name, “Ruth” was Robin’s grandmother. “Dagmar” is Madeleine’s contribution, a Danish name meaning “queen” that she fell in love with.

Momma and baby are doing well.