I’m nine-years-old and in the third grade. This was the year that we learned about the three states of matter: gas, liquid, solid. It is also the year of the partial solar eclipse. We head outside on Tuesday, May 10, 1994. In our hands, we have simple pinhole projectors to view the eclipse. On the sidewalk, we can just make out the eclipse through our trembling third grade excitement.
742 miles away and twenty-three years later, my colleague has picked up my excitement over the total eclipse. He’s even deeper than I am, eagerly watching videos and talking to me about the four stages of an eclipse. He grew up on just the other side of the mountains from me and I find it funny that we both landed in the same location all these years later. He sends me a video and I dawdle watching it. When I do, I cough up the $1.99 for the app they recommend. The app will ensure that I find totality and it’ll talk me through the eclipse itself. I had began planning for Monday, August 21, 2017 back in January, but now I was preparing for the big day. As it approached, my colleague flew to the western end of Tennessee. I picked up my two best friends and drove to the eastern side of Tennessee.
I’m nervous, so I cough up $50 for three tickets to Castleton Farms in Loudon, TN. Upon arrival, I pay another $10 for parking. I wanted to ensure that we had a good place to settle while we wait.
The roads were empty until half an hour before we arrived. We take turns smothering all our exposed skin in sunscreen and bug spray. Then we lug ourselves across the rolling green lawn to the bag inspection center. They’re looking for alcohol. Just as we’re signing the liability waivers regarding looking directly at the sun, my app drily countdowns to the first contact. The lady looks concern for a second until I tell her what it is. After getting our non removable-without-destroying wristbands, we eagerly tear open the eclipse glasses I had purchased. We turn and seek out the sun. Though it has been just a moment, the moon has moved fast. It’s impressive.
We wander around the dips and hollows of this wedding farm. Food trucks make up a square off to the side. As sweat runs down my back, my friends pick up lunch. We nudge into an already occupied table to wait for the order. The couple moves on leaving us with the table for the rest of our wait. Throughout the next hour or so, people periodically put on their glasses and look up. We lean back from our umbrella to watch. The moon is eating away the sun.
The Phenomenon We Witnessed
* The light dimmed and flattened. Holding your arm out, it was like viewing the world through an Instagram filter. Maybe a sepia-tinged one.
* The temperature dropped noticeably. It was about 86 degrees when we had arrived. Halfway to totality, I stopped sweating.
* About 10 minutes till totality, the insects awoke and began to talk. Cicicadias? Katydids? No idea.
* A few minutes before totality, I pulled one of the white lawn chairs out from the table to expose it to the sunshine. Yes, shadow snakes/bands were visible. As my colleague later said, they were almost more like a mirage. They appeared again immediately following totality.
* 360 sunset — very subtle, but there was a band of color wherever we could see the horizon.
* Venus and a couple stars shone brightly in the darkened sky.
* Viewing the eclipse thrown by plant shadows and within my own finger lattice. At that point, they were just little crescents.
As totality approached, my phone beeped before reciting the current phenomenon. I eagerly dragged my friends’ attention out from under the umbrella and directed them to get ready. The darkness fell like a curtain. Swift. Sudden. Dark. Not the dark of night, but of a blue-gray dusk. I watched eagerly for the wedding ring/diamond or any other cool corona effects. It was too fast and my human eyes too weak to see. Then when the app said it was safe, I tore my glasses off and looked upwards.
Later when we drove away, my mind looped the words “black hole sun” while I tried to process the vision of the blackened sun. From my camera’s perspective, it was a bright light with a tiny black dot in the center. To my human eyes, it was the reverse: a black sun with white glowing tendrils radiating out. Playing it back in my mind, it was all so dream-like. I gaped upwards then looked around for the other highlights such as the 360 degree sunset. I held my phone in-hand, recording throughout the event. But when I think on it, I just “see” my eyes jerking up, seeing this impossible black sun, the blue-gray sky, and again, feel the goosebumps that shudder through my body. It was like every apocalyptic anime I’ve ever watched. It didn’t seem real then. And even 20 minutes later, it had already melted in my mind to a dream-like status.
The light returned as swiftly as it had left. My camera captures it from a few seconds before to a few seconds after the light returns. I’ve universally found in eclipse videos the same sound — that of cheering. People whooping, clapping, and sometimes screeching their astonishment. It’s a unique shared experience which I highly recommend. My words here do it so little justice. As I said, it’s so surreal that your mind has trouble processing what you witnessed.
We left shortly afterwards. A band was going to play on the grounds, but we had a long drive back to our lodgings. A bit later, my phone reported that the fourth contact was coming to an end. I was heading to a red light. The eclipse was completely over.