August 21, 2021

IN THE PATH OF TOTALITY

The excitement and planning for watching a total solar eclipse four years ago today started long before the date!  When we learned that Nashville would be one of the best viewing spots, we encouraged Patrick, Julia and the boys to drive up to watch with us.  Of course, I ordered the four cousins t-shirts commemorating the eclipse.  I bought a colorful galaxy tablecloth, decorated special eclipse cupcakes and made sure everyone had the appropriate protective glasses to wear.  

In this photo, we’re at our handpicked viewing spot two hours before the total eclipse—on the grounds of the beautiful Ellington Agricultural Center a short drive from my house.  Quite a few other families had the same idea but the spacious lawns accommodated everyone without crowding. It was like a big picnic—with lawn chairs, blankets, food, and even a little softball game.  When we first arrived it was slightly cloudy—and there was some anxiety that we might not get the full effect.

I kept a log of our conversation and what we saw and heard over the next two hours.  The gradual changes we’d read about began to happen—the temperature dropped, songbirds grew silent, and the sky began to darken.  We could hear excited voices all around as we gazed skyward through our glasses.


Ezra (7) exclaimed, “Something’s eating the sun!  It looks like someone took a bite out of it!” Then Eli (12) said, “Pacman is opening his mouth wider and wider!” Sam (12) wondered, “How can we wait another 25 minutes for totality?”  Soon afterward, Charlotte (almost 11) said, “The sun looks like a crescent moon now!”

When totality came, there were screams of delight all around us—and really no words to describe what we saw happen—for one minute and thirty seconds. 

And then the total eclipse was over and everyone around us started packing up to leave.  There was still a partial eclipse going on but it wasn’t compelling enough after seeing the total eclipse.  In an essay she wrote after watching a total solar eclipse in Washington State in 1979, Annie Dillard said seeing a partial eclipse “bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.”  

Before we left for home, I asked everyone to give me one adjective about the experience of watching the Great American Eclipse together.  I wrote them in my log.  Overwhelming (Heather), awe-inspiring (Patrick), beautiful (Julia), indescribable (Sam), historical (Eli), amazing (Charlotte), like the sun burned out (Ezra) and spectacular (Sally).  Paul watched the eclipse with an astronomer neighbor of his parents—with them and his brother David.

Annie Dillard closed her essay, “But enough is enough. One turns at last even from glory itself with a sigh of relief. From the depths of mystery, and even from the heights of splendor, we bounce back and hurry for the latitudes of home.”

August 21, 2017, was an unforgettable day, especially that 90 seconds of totality. 

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