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Total Eclipse of the Sun

Sun, 15 Oct 2017, 08:48 PM (-06:00) Creative Commons License

1. The Plan

I’ll be honest. My real interest in going to see my cousin and her family was not the eclipse. It was spending time with them. And when I realized that Somerset was in 98% totality, I was starting to tell myself, “That’s pretty darned close. Do you really want to drive two hours south for a measly two percent?”

The clincher was 2024, when there will be another total eclipse, this one passing directly over Austin. “It would really be cool,” I told myself, “to be able to say that I’ve seen two total eclipses in my life.” 

Ken’s plan was to drive west toward Bowling Green and head south from there. I had no intention of getting anywhere near Bowling Green and the traffic that the interstate highways might bring as hoards of astronomical onlookers streamed south. So we split the difference and chose a tiny town in Tennessee somewhere in between. We had a plan for the next day.

2. Changing the Plan

Late that night, after everyone else had gone to sleep, I began to doubt our plan.

In truth, there wasn’t much of a town there, and although just pulling off the highway would have worked just fine, it seemed like a city park was more what we ought to be looking for. The only green areas on the online maps in this town turned out, upon inspecting satellite view, to be cemeteries. Hanging out in a cemetery wasn’t appealing, nor was just pulling off the road.

I sat up and reached for my laptop.

Certainly there was a town with a park or something similar nearby — and sure enough, there was. Just north of our planned destination, was a slightly larger town, and although its green spaces on the map also proved to be cemeteries, the city web site alluded to a memorial gazebo, complete with photographs of it and a nearby concessions stand provided by the Chamber of Commerce.

It just took a little googling, including some virtual walking up and down the town’s streets to find the park. There on Park Street was the concessions stand. And there was the gazebo. There was even a swing set. All these were along the edge of an oval-shaped path that went around a green park-y looking place.

The next morning, I proposed Westmoreland, Tennessee as our destination. Ken was game.

3. Getting There

The bonus in this deal for me was that Ken did the driving. I was navigator, but to tell the truth there wasn’t much navigating to do until we got into town.

“Turn around,” I said after I realized we’d missed our turn.

“Are you sure?” Ken asked. Evidently my voice didn’t radiate confidence. 

“Yes, turn around.” Which he did in the Fred’s Store parking lot.

We drove a few blocks, and I said, “The next street will be Jefferson, turn left there.” 

“It’s not Jefferson,” Ken said.

“It’s ok. Turn left.”

“Are you sure?” Ken asked. Evidently my voice still didn’t radiate confidence.

“Yes. Turn here.” 

This was the Park Street that I had walked up and down last night. I knew exactly where I was.

“Turn left and go straight for a block. There will be a swing set.”

And ahead of us we saw: a swing set.

“Turn into this gravel parking lot,” I said. “And drive around the end of this building. There will be a place for us to park on the other side.”

Which there was. We had arrived.

4. Totality

The park was a lush green field surrounded by a jogging trail. There were a few large trees throwing down nice shade — perfect for the sitting and the waiting. And (bonus) there was a public restroom.

There were a few people sitting in the shade under a Sweetgum tree near the parking lot, which is where we put up our folding chairs and had a peanut butter sandwich lunch. Except for two women on a blanket, the folks were from out of town — they had found Westmoreland, and this park, in the same way we had.

At the other end of the field, there were a few people under the gazebo. And there were a dozen or more under a large Oak tree. Everyone was in a good mood. The green grass and blue sky (and our peanut butter sandwiches) put smiles on our faces. We sat. We talked with the folks around us. We waited as the moon, which we could not see but which we knew was there, approached the shining sun.

And when the moon began to cross in front of the sun, the heat of the day diminished, and the light grew gradually dimmer. At about 20% totality, it was cool enough to move out of the Sweetgum shade into the sunlight. I put my welder’s glass in front of my eyes and leaned back in my chair.

When totality approached, odd things began to happen.

Streetlights came on. And dogs on the hill started barking frantically. Later, Ken said that the crickets started to sing. And then came, what I confess to me is the best part of the eclipse. 

As the moon passed completely in front of the sun, and the light of day darkened. As Venus shined in the sky near the sun and Jupiter became visible further to the east. The roosters started to crow.

Roosters. Crowing at mid-day. Because it was like dusk. And roosters crow at dusk.

We all gasped in unison, finally able to look directly at the sun. A total eclipse really is something that defies description. And no photographs do it justice. (Oh what a mistake I came so close to making when I thought 98% would be good enough.) There were wisps of corona extended out from the sun. I remember three of them. And there were little bright specks at the margins of the black disk, specks that I saw later on photographs were actually solar prominences extending out behind the disk of the moon. 

It lasted two and a half minutes.

And then came the diamond ring — the brief moment when as the sun begins to show again, there is only a tiny, tiny piece of the sun which sparkles like a diamond on one edge of the ring of sunlight surrounding the dark disk of the moon. We saw it only for a brief moment, and then the sun was bright again. And daylight began to shine. And the roosters started to crow again.

Roosters. Crowing at mid-day. Because it was like dawn. And roosters crow at dawn.

© jumpingfish by David Hasan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License