I can’t stop thinking about the eclipse.
I thought I pretty much knew what to expect from the 2017 solar eclipse. I understood the science. I had already witnessed a few partial/annular eclipses. I’ve been anticipating the event for a few years now and had read about the sensory changes I could expect to witness. I had a few good viewing locations scoped out with choices depending on the cloud coverage or crowds we might run into that day. My 3 1/2-year-old twins had plenty of food, water, sunscreen, eclipse glasses, and excitement. We were prepared for the event. But I soon learned that nothing could prepare me for the experience.
We had a perfect location on a ridge near Muddy Mountain Wyoming that provided 360 degree views. We were away from the crowds. And most importantly it was cloudless with 2 minutes and 18 seconds of anticipated totality.
We spent an hour watching the partial eclipse and eating a picnic lunch in the shade provided by some old, scraggly, Limber Pines. Eventually, the temperature began to drop slowly. Soon our surroundings dimmed and crickets began to chirp. I found myself caught off guard by the strangeness of my environment. The landscape appeared rosy and dimmed – as if I was wearing sunglasses. My stomach flipped with anticipation and anxiety caused by the surreality of my surroundings.
Quickly, much faster than I anticipated, darkness descended on us. The disorienting passage of time was head-spinning. I took my eclipse glasses off to see if I could see the umbra race toward us from across the valley below. But it happened too quickly. It was with a ridiculous suddenness that the moon’s shadow had shrouded us. I quickly turned around and looked up and saw the eclipsed sun glowing in the sky and my brain turned inside out.
My fingers fumbled around for my camera phone and I somehow managed to capture the image above. I tried to take a video of the “sunset” that surrounded us in every direction, but I only managed to catch these three seconds. I was overwhelmed.
The corona was much more bright and lustrous than I envisioned. It shone bright white and with a jaw dropping brilliance. We were all bewildered with its beauty and absolute strangeness. To look up into the sky and see a sparkling shine, unlike anything I have ever seen in my years of looking at the heavens. To share this with my wife and children.
And then it was gone. And now I can’t stop thinking about the eclipse.
Jeb Stenhouse says
Thank you for sharing such a beautiful write-up of your amazing experience. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about that mindblowing eclipse either. I spend a lot more time each day looking up at the sky and marveling to think about the corona that is always there, yet impossible to see outside of the moon’s shadow.
Here is my family’s experience, at the other end of the country from your perch! Where are you going to see the 2024 totality?
47 years ago, my dad drove several hours only to miss a total solar eclipse due to cloud cover. On August 21, I stood next to him as we made up for that missed opportunity with a spectacular total eclipse of the sun. It is an extraordinary experience that makes me wonder how the universe could be so astonishingly beautiful, whether or not intelligent life is around to gape in awe at its displays.
My family and I drove three hours from suburban Atlanta to join a small-town-American crowd at Pitts Park in Clarkesville, GA. We packed a picnic lunch that spared us the long lines for roast turkey legs and alligator-on-a-stick (seriously). We took up spots in the center of a clearing near the stage that graced us with a truly on-the-nose eclipse playlist; I sang along with Cat Stevens that “I’m being followed by a moonshadow, moonshadow moonshadow!”
Approaching about half past two on that hot August afternoon, the daylight dimmed and the temperature dropped several degrees. From the speakers Elton John begged “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me,” but he had lost the crowd, which was beginning to buzz eagerly in anticipation of totality. With two minutes to go, the inevitable and entirely appropriate voice of Bonnie Tyler told us to turn around for a Total Eclipse of the Heart. People across the park began to whoop and holler in excitement; as the music died away, I watched the last sliver of the sun wink out.
I took off my glasses and looked straight up, only to involuntarily shout OH MY GOD at a dark moon on fire in the sky. An electric jolt of pure shock coursed through my body; my hands started to shake as I felt pinned to the Earth by the very sight. The sky was a gorgeous violet on which the bright pinprick of Venus suddenly popped into view. The glade around us was dusky but not quite night; I could trace every detail of the darkened playground in the otherworldly glow of the corona. It was a science fiction tableau out of time, lasting from my perspective far longer than the couple of minutes I had been promised.
I looked over at my mom and husband Mark to barely voice the words “can you believe this?!” Their faces radiated the silver light of the impossible corona. Mark tried to respond but was on the verge of tears; my mother’s shocked eyes were all the answer she mustered. I choked out a thank-you to my father for bringing us to see this incredible sight – he nodded but was unable to speak. A young girl behind us exclaimed “this is the strangest thing I’ve ever seen!” as a beautiful punctuation on the peaceful silence of the park. All of us stared in awe at the halo of sunfire dancing around a dark disc in the sky.
After that awesome break in time, a gloriously bright diamond burst onto the upper-right edge of the moon, and the crowd in the park roared in approval at the celestial performance. I remember feeling both enormous happiness to have seen it, and some sadness at seeing it go, as I put my eclipse glasses back on to watch the sun re-emerge from behind the moon. Daylight rapidly returned to the clearing and the spell was broken. We packed up our things and joined the throngs of people streaming back onto the streets of Clarkesville, to think on the majesty of the interstellar clockwork we had just witnessed.
That was beautiful Jeb. Thanks for sharing. An involuntary “OH MY GOD!” seems like a very common and natural response to witnessing a full solar eclipse. I am hoping to catch the 2024 eclipse in Austin.
Jeb Stenhouse says
Yeah, the Austin/Waco region seems like a great choice for a hopefully clear sky in 2024. I can’t believe that eclipse will have over four minutes of totality (we had “only” 1m36s in Clarkesville, GA for this last one). Aaagh, I cannot wait!