The total solar eclipse knocked my socks off.
If I’m totally honest, I wasn’t expecting that. I mean…I’ve seen and done some pretty amazing things in my life. This blog is full of tales of those adventures. For better or for worse, at this point I feel like I am hard to impress.
I figured the ubiquitous narratives about the total eclipse being a “once in a lifetime experience” and something I “couldn’t afford to miss” to be exaggerated hype.
I figured the people that regularly travel all over the world to see total eclipses were just a handful of zealots that had a bit too much time and money on their hands.
I figured that venturing out to join the apocalyptic hordes of people predicted to descend on my city (Portland, Oregon) and head to the areas of totality was probably going to be something I would regret.
I figured that my friends that decided to stay home because “99.4% coverage is good enough” were probably right.
I was wrong.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
For me, the total eclipse was a jaw-dropping (literally!), teary-eyed, goosebump-filled total body experience. It is something I will never forget and that I find myself desperately craving to experience again.
At the time of the total eclipse I had been camping for 5 days in a semi-remote area of the Malheur National Forest in Eastern Oregon. There wasn’t a soul around besides my family and I had absolutely no cell service.
I was in a perfect camping spot off a rarely used forest road, surrounded by towering trees and on the edge of a large open meadow. I had spent days immersing myself in nature – hiking, looking for wildlife, napping in a hammock that swung gently in the breeze.
I felt totally disconnected from the day-to-day world and deeply connected to my immediate natural surroundings. I was attuned to the sounds of the animals, the marching shadows cast by the trees, and the rhythm of the rising and setting sun. It was all very Zen, to say the least.
That morning I had moved my camp chair out to the edge of the meadow for a perfect, cloudless view of the eclipse. I could feel the anticipation building. I was finally nearing the culmination of months of planning and days of waiting.
I nestled into my camp chair with a glass of Tang at my side. Glenn had decided we should “drink the drink of astronauts.” He held firm to this desire, even though I tried in vain to explain that an eclipse has nothing to do with 1960’s space travel beverages.
I slathered myself with sunscreen, shielded my face with a sun-hat and complained more than a little bit about the agony of basting in the full heat of the sun while waiting for the eclipse.
Gradually, as the moon began to creep across the surface of the sun I started to notice changes. Subtle at first. The sun became a little more comfortable to turn my face up to. The lighting began to shift ever so slightly. My anticipation continued to creep higher and higher.
Tick, tock. Tick, tock.
With each passing minute I felt myself drifting deeper and deeper into an unfamiliar universe.
The change in the lighting became impossible to describe. It didn’t look like the darkness of shade…or of the twilight of dusk or dawn. It was more like someone had turned the dial to adjust the tint. It just looked…well…wrong. I could feel my brain frantically trying to make sense of this visual shift.
The forest became eerily quiet. It was as if a hush had passed over the entirety of nature. Sort of like when you are in a big gathering of people and an awkward silence emerges that causes everyone to stop talking and look around to see what is wrong. There was a reverence to the silence for both animal and human alike.
The rapid drop in temperature was not only noticeable, but it was downright uncomfortable. I was tempted to run to my tent to quickly grab a jacket. Instead, I decided to embrace the chill that crawled across my skin and made goosebumps dot my arms.
The eclipse had now become a treat for all of my senses.
Tick, tock. Tick, tock.
Gradually, the sun became the tiniest of slivers. Shrinking, shrinking, shrinking until poof…it was gone. I reached up and removed my eclipse glasses and felt my heart drop through a trapdoor in my chest.
I have never beheld such a beautiful, yet entirely foreign, sight. The sky had gone dark – a deep, deep shade of indigo. The horizon – in all directions – was aglow with the faintest of pink light, almost like the very first glimmers of dawn after a cold winter’s night. Several planets and a few stars became visible, twinkling proudly and happy to be part of the grand show.
At the center of it all is what I can only describe as an otherworldly midnight sun.
It was as if light had become dark, and dark had become light. A solid black disc, surrounded by a wispy halo of blue-white light, had replaced the blinding bright sun that had been there only seconds before.
My heart was racing and I found myself frantic to take it all in as I knew it would be over in an instant. I caught my breath as little tears dotted the corners of my eyes and a huge grin nearly split my head in two. Wow. Just wow.
Until that moment I had never really understood how truly fragile life is on Earth. Apparently, I have always taken the sun for granted. It always rises; it always sets. Even if the sun is obscured by clouds, it still lights the sky. Even if it is on the other side of the Earth, it still lights the face of the moon. It is constant. Until…poof…it is suddenly gone. The feeling of its absence, ever so briefly, was visceral and it rocked my world.
Tick, tock. Tick, tock.
Suddenly, an intensely bright spot of light appeared on the edge of my midnight sun. This phase, aptly named the “diamond ring,” was like the grand finale to what has to be the most spectacular show on earth.
I sat back down in my camp chair and reveled in the experience as I watched the moon continue its march across the surface of the sun. I welcomed the warmth as it gradually crept back into my bones.
I welcomed the sounds of nature that gradually returned to my ears.
I welcomed the vibrant hues of blue skies, golden grasses and green trees that gradually returned to my eyes.
I welcomed that familiar blinding orb of gas as it gradually returned to its dazzling brilliance.
Chris made this AMAZING video that chronicles our eclipse experience, including the darkness that descended on our forested valley. Be sure to have the volume turned up and prepare to go on an epic ride that will make you feel like you were there. (Video credit: Christopher Crim)
Tick, tock. Tick, tock.
Before I knew it, the moon had said farewell to the sun as it continued on its journey. The sun once again shown brightly in the sky and everything returned to normal, as if nothing of any consequence had just happened.
As we packed up our camping gear and prepared to make the return drive back to Portland with the masses of other total eclipse viewers, I couldn’t help but feel profoundly changed. Once again, Mother Nature reminded me of how fragile and insignificant I am, while also giving me an amazing gift that made my soul take flight.
You must see it to believe it.
All I can say is if you ever get the opportunity to see the full totality of a solar eclipse you must take it. Absolutely, positively, unequivocally…take it. I can guarantee you that 99.4% coverage isn’t good enough!
For those that hoped to see the totality but were foiled by clouds (sorry Scott and Laura!) and fog, or even noisy neighbors and swarms of bees (sorry Desiree!), I hope this post makes you feel as if you were there with me – at least until you can get out to see the next one.
In the meantime, I am totally hooked and can’t wait to travel to see many more total eclipses in the future. Argentina, Spain and even Texas, here I come!
Special thanks to Glenn’s brother, Chris, for letting me use his pictures and videos in this post.
You should visit his blog where he has more pictures and videos of the eclipse – including of the elusive eclipse “shadow snakes” – as well as lots of other fun adventures!!