Sunday, April 14, 2024

Dispatches from the Eclipse

The news was giving so many warnings. Make sure you have a full gas tank and pack snacks and water in case you get stuck in traffic. Print out a paper map because you might lose cell service. Whatever you do, don't take off the eclipse glasses and look at the sun for even one second or you'll get permanent retinal damage. And then there was the possibility of clouds. The whole thing was looking like it might be a bust. Should I even bother to go? 

I went. 

The nice thing was that I didn't have to go far. Columbus, Ohio, where I live, was right outside of the 100 percent totality path, but if I drove ten minutes up the road, I'd be right there in it. I didn't understand what In It actually meant. But I was taking the advisements seriously because a more science-y friend told me that the difference between 100 percent and 99.9 percent was everything. (I didn't understand what Everything meant either.) 

The problem is I am lazy--the prep work (what route should I take? Where would I park myself to watch?), and prone to anxiety (what if I got stuck somewhere, cellphone-less and with damaged retinas?!) Adding to the issue: my husband was out of town for the week. He was the one who was all gung ho eclipse in the first place, and now because of a last minute work thing, he was going to miss it. He was so upset about this, that I felt a responsibility to go, if nothing else, so I could tell him about it. 

Here is what I told him about it:

I found a public park off the beaten path that seemed to be in an area where there would be thirty seconds of totality. I printed a map and packed water and a snack. I walked the dog under a sunny, cloudless sky, tucked her safely in the house, and then started the 4.6 mile trek to the park. There was no traffic. I made it to the park in ten minutes. Only a handful of other people were there.    

I sat in my car and looked at the sunny, cloudless sky and was immediately bored. I remembered that I have a friend who lives nearby. I invited myself over to her house. When I arrived three minutes later, I found her and her husband sitting on their patio, passing a pair of eclipse glasses back and forth. 

I said, I should've brought an extra pair of eclipse glasses with me! (Fun fact: the Columbus libraries gave away 100,000 glasses in the weeks leading up to the eclipse.) But my friends didn't mind sharing. I put my glasses on, and I have to say this was my first AHA moment. The sky was completely normal, the sun, simply "the sun," but through the glasses, there was the moon quite clearly making its way across the surface. So, that was cool. 

The total eclipse was supposed to happen at 3:11 pm. Meanwhile, I was texting my son who was watching from a farm in the far north country of New York. He was in the path of totality too. What are the animals doing? I asked. He said someone was offering balloon rides to see the eclipse and the balloon was floating over the farm and the cows were more interested in that.  

I kept putting my glasses on to see the slice of sun behind the moon growing smaller and smaller. And then I would take my glasses off (don't worry, I did NOT look at the sun) to see if the sky was getting darker. It was not. 

I remembered I had my sunglasses on and I took them off and what do you know, it really was dark outside. I put my eclipse glasses back on. 

A white splinter of sun. And then it was gone.  

I took my glasses off and there it was, the black circle, the white rim, sparks coming out at the edge that my son told me later were solar flares. I said, Amazing. It was the only word I could think of. People in my friend's neighborhood were exclaiming and whistling and clapping. 

The birds in the yard quieted. Time slowed down and sped up again. The thirty seconds passed and the splinter of light grew again as the moon continued on its way. Did I keep my glasses off for too long? Did I get permanent retinal damage? I hope not!

I drove home in the dusky light, fast, to beat the crowds, my headlights on, the roads mostly deserted, as if I was the only one who had gone anywhere, the only one heading home. 

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