The Great American Eclipse 2017 is past, but the memory burns brightly for those of us that made the trek north to fully enjoy this greatest of natural spectacles.
You really don’t “see” an eclipse. You “experience” an eclipse.
In that magical moment when the lights literally “go out,” you have a sense of wonder, awe, disbelief – all this and more seem to engulf your senses.
I have talked to dozens of friends and strangers alike who have tried, and failed, to put into words what they felt when totality overtook the last moments of sunlight.
And, none have been able to adequately express what they felt and saw at that moment.
My daughter Alisa and I were eclipse veterans. We had traveled some 3,500 miles in 1991 when she was in high school to view the total eclipse near La Paz, Baja California. Now she stood alongside my wife Teresa and me as we once again focused on that last brilliant ray of sun poking through a moon canyon a quarter million miles away.
That bright final burst is called “the diamond ring” and no earthly gem every glowed with the intensity of that moment. Two minutes later we were rewarded with a repeat of the diamond as the sun made its startling reappearance.
Most of the people I have talked with had the good fortune to stay in the vicinity of the eclipse for a day or so, avoiding the monumental traffic jams heading north and south on I-5. A fellow who works for our real estate sales company had to get home and spent 16 hours in slow bumper-to-bumper traffic getting back to Modesto.
We avoided the crowds, drove up through Winnemucca and then north through the Nevada and Oregon desert to John Day, Ore.
Lacking a confirmed place to stay, Alisa did some research and discovered that you can do “dispersed camping” on any public lands. And all around John Day is national forest. So it was a simple matter to find a dirt road heading into the forest, high on a mountain, and simply make a tent camp alongside the road. We saw no more than a dozen people in our 24 hours at our campsite, with an awesome clear view to the north and east where the show took place.
Eclipse morning Venus was rising at 5 a.m. and I was up with coffee and a clear view. Sun was up in an hour and precisely at 9 a.m. the first little bite was noted in the corner of the sun, as the moon began its 90-minute trip to full coverage. In fact, just minutes before 9 there was considerable angst in our camp.
“Nothing happening, Dad. Did we get the right day?” And then, the show began.
Thirty minutes until totality the sky clearly began to dim, temperatures began to fall, the breezes died. Suddenly, just yards away, a family of deer, a buck, doe and two fawns, jumped the fence near us and ambled into the trees. Coincidence? Probably. But still a meaningful moment.
Then to the west the sky rapidly darkened, the horizon turned a deep dark color and totality was just moments away.
Two minutes passes so quickly when you are trying to see everything at once. Venus is bright overhead. Other stars and planets show through the trees behind us. The glow around the moon pulses with heat and energy from the hidden sun. And then it’s over.
We stood arm in arm, all of us with tears in our eyes and huge emotions running throughout. Alisa looked at me and said, “Definitely we are going to Chile in 2019!”
The trip home was a breeze. Taking the high desert route we were in heavy traffic for a few miles, moving quickly, then all the traffic turned west and we headed back to the desert. Exactly 653 miles, home in 10 hours flat including stops. OK, 75 and 80 mph speed limits helped.
The next total eclipse in the U.S. will swing from Texas to Indianapolis in 2024. Anyone want to come to Chile with us in two years?
Dick Hagerty, an Oakdale real estate developer active in non-profits. Send comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.