Tuesday, August 22, 2017

And … There Goes the Sun

The “Great American Eclipse” as seen from Salem, Oregon, on August 21, 2017. (Photo © 2017 by Karyl Freese Rice)

Over this last weekend, my wife’s family and I traveled from Seattle, Washington, down to the adjacent state of Oregon, where we planned to watch the “Great American Eclipse” of 2017. After staying over in Portland, we all rose very early on the morning of Monday, August 21 (I think the first text message I received on my cell phone from one of our party came in a 4:10 a.m.!), and began wheeling still further south to the tiny but historic Polk County town of Dallas, Oregon, which lay in the “path of totality” (where we would be able to see the full progression of the eclipse, rather than just part of it). Dallas is right outside Salem, the capital of Oregon, and to drive there from Portland usually takes about an hour. On Monday morning, however, as we chugged along Interstate 5 with what were reportedly hundreds of thousands of other people wanting to experience this same astronomical event from the vicinity of Salem, the trip took us more than twice that long.

Every eclipse-goer seemed to have a slightly different destination in mind. For our part, we congregated on blankets and fold-out chairs in Dallas’ charming City Park, unpacked bags of snacks (because most of us hadn’t found any other breakfast along the way), and then waited for Earth’s moon to slide slowly in front of the sun, blocking it completely for a notably short period.

The last time a total eclipse was viewable from America’s Pacific Northwest was back in February 1979, and I remember watching that one from a college football stadium in Portland, using a handmade pinhole projector. On this latest occasion, though, I came prepared with NASA-certified solar viewing glasses, which like every prospective eclipse watcher (save perhaps for Donald Trump), I understood were necessary to protect my eyes from retinal damage.

My wife’s family and I (on the far right) ham it up in our eclipse glasses, preparing for the fiery festivities to commence.

As the eclipse began, shortly after 9 a.m., our environs grew noticeably colder, the birds in the trees quieted, and through our glasses we could see the edge of the moon seeming to take larger and larger bites from the sun’s fiery disc. The day moved with extraordinary swiftness from morning to twilight to darkness, the crescent of old Sol becoming thinner and thinner.

At around a quarter past 10, when the moon finally covered the sun, save for a bright surrounding corona, cheers broke out all over the park, and we could safely remove our darkening eyewear to appreciate the eclipse through its two-minute duration. We had taken a very long excursion to this spot to see a very short phenomenon—and it was entirely worth it! After all, the Pacific Northwest won’t be in the path of another total solar eclipse until the year 2169.

READ MORE:A Total Solar Eclipse Leaves a Nation in Awe,” by
Henry Fountain (The New York Times); “More—and Less—Than a Raisin in the Sun,” by Andrew Kahn (Slate); “5 Winners and 3 Losers from the Total Solar Eclipse,” by Eliza Barclay (Vox); “Solar Eclipse Fiction,” by Janet Rudolph (Mystery Fanfare).


Karyl Rice said...

I consider this a bucket list event! It was amazing to be part of the event and the community aspect of the event. Glad you were there to see it, too!

TracyK said...

That is a wonderful account of your trip to view the eclipse and sounds like a fun experience. Thanks for sharing it.