Today was my first time being in the moon’s shadow. I say that because I’m now sure that it won’t be my last time.
I don’t know where to start this post. I could start by talking about the young adult novel I read years ago, where three kids witness a full solar eclipse – and how reading that book convinced me that I need to be in the path someday. Or I could start by talking about Harriet’s connection with the moon – and how realizing that this would be her birthday convinced me that we all needed to witness it. Or I could talk about how our house was in 99.6% totality and how I knew – I just knew that wouldn’t be enough. I could start with all the hype around how Oregon was going to be a madhouse and the traffic would make getting to totality impossible. I don’t know. I guess I’ll just tell the story of how we we ended up in the shadow of the moon for over a minute and a half.
A couple days before the eclipse, I mapped out how many different ways we could get from our home in Eugene, to totality in Corvallis. I figured it would be the best bet since there were so many roads in and out of Corvallis, and having gone to college there, we knew lots of the back roads that we could take. First contact was to start at 9:05am, and we left Eugene around 8. We figured we’d get as far north as we could, and just pull off into some farmer’s field if needed. I pictured traffic backing up through the small towns, and as we approached Corvallis. No such luck. We hit absolutely no traffic the whole way up. None.
As we drove up the highway, and entered the zone of totality, a great weight lifted. I was there. I knew I was in the path. The further north we drove, the better it would be, but if we stopped where we were, we’d at least get a few seconds of shadow. But further north we went. We saw people sitting along side country roads with telescopes set up, waiting. The more people we saw, the more the anticipation grew.
We parked by the football stadium, and walked to a field next to the dorm where we met. The moment we set out our blanket, a cheer broke out. First contact. We put on our glasses, and sure enough, a little bite had been taken out of the sun. Harriet was enthralled. She sat silently gazing. She would have watched the whole eclipse if we had let her, but I wanted her to rest her eyes. Even with the glasses on, I knew it was important to give our eyes a rest.
For the next hour or so, we checked the sun, chatted with other viewers, looked through pin-hole viewers, noticed that Jesse’s hat was a very effective pin-hole viewer, sending hundreds of little eclipsed suns all over his arms and face.
At 9:45 it got cold. The Californian next to me commented how how the cool breeze felt good. It took me a moment to realize it was more than just the breeze. The air had shifted. The light had shifted. It looked like twilight, but different. The shadows were crisper. The light was silver instead of gold. Our shadows were short instead of long. It was very strange and very awesome. The earth was changing and we could all sense it.
At 10:11, we all put our glasses on and I told the girls that we should just keep watching until totality. Cheers were going up all around as the sliver of the moon got smaller and smaller. The energy of the crowd made me so happy that we were experiencing it with hundreds of other people. It was a human experience and we all witnessed the world change for a moment, together.
The sun got smaller and smaller then it was gone. I heard Jesse say, “Look at it! Look at it!” and I took my glasses off. I can’t describe what I saw. What I saw was magic and huge and small and unreal and more perfect and real than anything I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I wanted to laugh, scream, cry, dance, and never stop seeing it. I wanted to see it everyday for the rest of my life. I wanted to burn the image into my mind and never forget it. I tore my eyes from the glowing moon to look around at the earth. It was dark and strange. I laughed out loud at the fact that it was as dark as night. Streetlights flicked on. Venus shone down at us. Everything glowed with a silver sheen.
It was the longest, and the shortest, minute and forty seconds of my life. I looked back to the moon, and saw that it was brightening. As I put my glasses back on, I saw a flash of the diamond ring effect. The crescent of the sun grew bigger and bigger.
As we packed up our things and left the field, I knew I was surrounded by hundreds of people who were changed, like I was. Harriet asked if we could do it again tomorrow. If only, my little luna girl, if only. I know that it was worth the risk of traffic. It was worth so much more than that. I know now that I would brave hours of travel and traffic to be in the moon’s shadow again After we ate lunch, I put my glasses back on and saw a sun that was back to normal. I knew that the moon was out there, somewhere, invisible to my eyes, but I knew it was there. That moon, that powerful, graceful moon, when I see it again in our sky it will never look the same. It will be the normal shape, normal size, it will wax and wane like it has forever, but to me, it will be forever changed.