The Great American Eclipse is over, but the memories are sure to last a lifetime. I know…we’ve all heard a lot about the eclipse lately. Some of you are probably thinking, “This is so two weeks ago,” or “Big deal, it didn’t look that amazing to me.” Well…my guess is, if you are one of those people, you must not have witnessed the eclipse in its full glory.
I first learned about this particular eclipse a year or so ago, when the girls and I were studying the sun (and eclipses) in astronomy. Curious, I looked up when the next solar eclipse was. At the time, I don’t think I noticed that the path of totality would be passing relatively close by or considered what it might be like. But as little reminders popped up on my Facebook feed over the following months, I began to realize that this was a really cool opportunity if we could make it work.
One week, my husband happened to be working out of town in a location I discovered was right in the path of totality. I asked him whether he might have work there again around the time of the eclipse. He barely knew what I was talking about, but said it was a possibility. Little did we know that every hotel in town was already being booked up, but we were able to find a rental house on AirBnB close to our desired location.
Then came the saga of the eclipse glasses. I made sure to order some thrifty pairs on Amazon soon after we decided to go, about a month in advance. All set, right? Hah. A week before our planned departure date, I received an email telling me that our glasses were possibly no good. My money was refunded, but by then, the approved glasses were selling for upwards of $10 a pair. Yikes. I drove around town looking for replacements, but everyone was out. Finally, I managed to locate some on eBay for closer to $4 a pair and called it good.
I had also ordered a 6”x6” sheet of solar filter paper to make a lens filter for my camera. The week before we left was busy and my husband was already working at the location, so in the preparation frenzy, I didn’t have time to actually make the filter. As I scrambled around gathering everything for the trip, I made sure to pack the supplies for that project. I also packed our special eclipse shirts we had made a few days before. And I packed supplies to make pinhole viewers just for the fun of it. I brought everything we needed…
EXCEPT THE %$@&$% GLASSES!!!!
We were about an hour and a half into our 4.5-hr drive when I realized it. I screamed. The kids were freaking out. I called my husband. After he talked me down off the ledge, I mentioned that I still had my little sheet of solar paper. Maybe there was some way I could make that work.
Mercifully, it did. I spent several hours concocting glasses frames and gingerly cutting that precious 6”x6” square into tiny pieces, but in the end, we had six pairs of glasses and still enough material to make the solar filter for my camera. I don’t know that I’ve ever been quite so thankful for my knowledge of geometry, but I’m definitely telling this story to my kids one day when they’re complaining about learning it.
The following day, armed with our custom eclipse glasses, our family headed over to the most enviable eclipse-watching destination ever: the local water plant. … What, that’s not what came to your mind? Okay, it may have been a little unusual, but it’s one of the places my husband works around there, and it was nice and secluded. We had a little bonus field trip as my husband showed us around the plant, and then we found a nice spot to park outside and watch the sky.
It wasn’t all that exciting at first. Just a tiny little nibble of black out of the sun with no noticeable difference if you weren’t wearing your glasses. Soon that little nibble became a full bite, and then the sun began to look like Pacman, but still it didn’t look that unusual down below. As Pacman’s mouth grew wider, however, we began to notice that the sun didn’t feel as hot. The clouds came in and out over and around the sun, but even in the full sunlight (which was still quite strong), it felt as though we were somehow being shaded from the usual waves of heat.
By the time the sun had become a crescent, the light was starting to look a bit different. It was as if someone had adjusted a dimmer switch. Then, in the last 15 minutes or so before totality, the light began to look legitimately strange…like twilight, but without the usual reddish glow of sunset. It was more blueish and shadowy, like how daylight appears in a dream. I suddenly remembered something I’d read about shadows appearing sharper at this stage of the eclipse. I turned around and could distinguish in my shadow the individual flyaway hairs on the top of my head. The light continued to wane. Maybe it was just the “eclipse headache” starting from looking at the sun a little too long, but I started to feel a little dizzy in the half-light, like that groggy stage after waking up from a late nap.
The girls, however, were plenty awake and getting more excited by the second. One of them kept asking if she could scream yet. I told her to try to wait a few minutes longer.
And then, suddenly, it was dark. We told our screaming children that they could take off their glasses and they screamed even more. I leaned toward my husband and remarked, “That’s probably about the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.” You can look up much better pictures than those I have here to see what it looked like, but I don’t think they can compare to actually seeing the darkness around you, looking straight up at the sun and realizing that a huge, dark, heavenly body has just come between it and you. I’ve seen several lunar eclipses, at least one or two of them total, and watching the shadow of the earth cover the moon is pretty cool…But to me it was infinitely more cool to realize that I was watching not just a shadow but the actual moon completely blocking the face of the sun. Such a perfect, dramatic astronomical alignment is rather breathtaking to behold.
I regret to say that I spent a good portion of that awe-inspiring 85 seconds fiddling with the settings on my camera. My “diamond ring” pictures of the sun peeking out on the other side didn’t turn out too badly, but I wish I’d spent more time just watching rather than worrying about pictures.
And then, just like that, the shadow of the moon passed over us and was gone. The sun shone back on us, timidly at first, with gradually increasing intensity. The kids soon lost interest. I watched a while longer, glancing up several more times over the next half hour or so, as a sort of farewell to the grand spectacle I had just witnessed.
The traffic was a little crazy on the way home, but this and all the time and effort we had taken to get there was 100% worth it. I’m very thankful that God worked out all the details to allow us this experience, down to the cloud cover clearing enough that we had a good view. His creation is truly amazing. Now to start planning for 2024!
Photo Credit: Jessica Cole