Total Eclipse

The total eclipse was amazing.

I learned more than a year ago that there’d be a total solar eclipse from coast to coast in August 2017, and I saw that my inlaws’ house was just within the path of totality, so I’d thought for a while about going down to visit them. In the last few weeks I started to think about it more seriously, and I decided that if the weather forecasts a few days beforehand for the big day looked good, I’d do it. Last week it seemed like there might be thunderstorms on Monday, but as it got closer to the day, the forecast turned clear. Finally, on Thursday morning, I bought a plane ticket to Chattanooga. I flew down on Sunday afternoon. Matt couldn’t make it because it’s a busy time of year at work for him, and at any rate, he didn’t think it was a big deal!

My inlaws live just north of Chattanooga. Last week they scoped out Dayton, TN, which is about 20 miles north of their house and would get 2 minutes and 21 seconds of totality. So yesterday morning, we drove up there, beating the traffic, and set up a standing tent in a ballfield around 10 a.m., along with chairs, a table, and a cooler full of food. I was with my inlaws, my brother-in-law, and some close friends of my inlaws who I’ve gotten to know over the years. Only one other car was there when we arrived, but as the morning went on, more people showed up. It was never crowded – we were on the edge of a big field with plenty of empty space.

The weather was perfect: a totally clear sky, with just a few clouds only at the horizon. A puffy white cloud did pass overhead at one point as the partial eclipse progressed, but it went by pretty quickly and never covered the sun.

We walked around a bit and got to chat with some of our fellow viewers. There were some locals and some people from farther away. One woman had driven up by herself from Mississippi, and she called herself a “weather nerd.” She had chemo last year and had decided that if she survived to this year, she’d come up and see the total eclipse. There was a couple who came with a tripod and camera and recorded the whole eclipse from start to finish.

The eclipse was an awesome experience, literally.

At around 1 pm, through my eclipse glasses, I could just barely make out a concavity in the sun, so subtle that I thought maybe I was imagining it. But then it became more visible and more defined. For the next hour-plus, the chunk got bigger and bigger.

Totality was scheduled to begin at 2:31. About 15 minutes beforehand, the quality of the light around us started to change. It got dimmer, but in a way I’d never experienced before. I felt like I was on another planet, under an alien sun. As the light continued to grow dim, I began to feel like I was wearing sunglasses, even though I wasn’t.

The sun had been beating down on us all day, but now it wasn’t very hot at all.

The strains of a bagpipe played in the distance. It added to the contemplative atmosphere.

It got to be 2:30. Through my eclipse glasses, the visible sliver of sun in the sky got smaller and smaller, until suddenly it disappeared, and we were in a total eclipse! Everyone cheered. We all took off our eclipse glasses.

I looked up and a black circle had blotted out the sun, just like in all the pictures I’d seen. I could see the corona very clearly. I tried to take a quick photo, but it didn’t come out well at all.

I looked around me. It was twilight, with a 360-degree sunset. A bright star or planet was visible to the right of the sun. The lights in the nearby parking lot came on. A couple of cars on the road drove by using their headlights.

We began to hear crickets. A radio played “Sunglasses At Night” and then “Dancing in the Moonlight.” In the far distance, I saw fireworks.

I lay down on the grass and looked up at the eclipse. Just looked at it.

And then, too soon, the Baily’s Beads and diamond ring began to appear and the sun started to re-emerge. I put my eclipse glasses back on. It was over. The 141 seconds had passed by so fast. It all happened too quickly. There was so much to see and experience and feel and not enough time for it all.

Slowly the sky began to grow lighter, the crickets began to stop, the daytime bugs started up their songs once more, and the air gradually grew warmer. About half an hour later, things felt sadly normal again.

It was an amazing day, and I’m so glad I got to experience it. I’m ready to see another one!