Eclipse Thoughts

Eclipse Write-up, August 21, 2017. A few hours after the solar eclipse of the same day.

I live in the American Mid-West. That probably isn’t a surprise to many people given the setting of Void Domain. However, I didn’t live right in the path of totality. My family dragged me away from my computer as they tend to do on occasion.

I should preface everything by saying that I absolutely hate leaving my house. The only place I go is a daily trip that takes less than ten minutes across town to get to my workplace. Restaurants, my bank, grocery stores, and gas stations are the only other places I visit and those are all between my workplace and my home. Since I started working, I haven’t once taken a vacation away from home. I find the interruption to my routine far more stressful and tedious than any enjoyment I might get out of a vacation.

When I was younger, I was a Boy Scout. We went camping one weekend a month minimum, including winter months. Sometimes those camping trips were longer than overnight, with a week at Scout Camp being the longest. My parents would take me and my siblings to Disneyland or other fun places.

Now that I am an adult, I can honestly say that I have no desire to ever go camping again. Or other vacations. It’s just not my thing. Maybe I got camped out from the frankly excessive amount of times I went. I don’t regret any of the experiences of my youth, Disneyland was fun at the time and at least a few of those camping trips were fun, but I just don’t have any desire to repeat them.

Back to the continuation of the first paragraph: My family will try to drag me off sometimes. Normally, they’ll show up and be like, “Hey, we’re going to New York and see the sights and sounds. Want to come?” To which I’ll respond, “Nope! Have a nice trip.” Not that I’m ungrateful or anything. I love my family. But I try to get out of traveling as much as possible. I’m much happier at home.

So this eclipse, which has been on the calender for at least a year now, I didn’t argue against going at all. I figured a short trip for less than a day would be a good way to get them off my back for a few years.

The original plan was to travel for roughly two hours. That would have gotten us deep enough into the path of totality for almost a full minute of totality. More like forty-five seconds, but close enough right? We left extremely early in the morning, figuring that there would be a lot of traffic. In addition, we stuck to back roads and places we figured non-locals wouldn’t know about for the most part.

There wasn’t any traffic at all.

So we made it there with about three hours to spare before first contact began, let alone the actual totality. In the end, we drove for another hour or so and wound up with a decent spot in the parking lot of a Mormon church building of a town probably smaller than Brakket City; I would be surprised that such a tiny place had a church, but it was a Mormon church. Mormons have churches everywhere. Quite literally.

It was a nice place and had a minute and a half of totality. Almost a full ninety seconds. The parking lot of the church had a large grassy area where we could sit and picnic. Other people showed up, locals and a few others, but never enough to really crowd out the grassy area.

My family, thinking it would be funny, brought along about four rolls of aluminium foil and made hats out of them. We took pictures. Other people came by and commented on the hats; some people wanted to borrow a hat for their kids to take a picture with, others just had a good-natured chuckle or comment about them. Every single person who came up to us ended up walking away with their own foil hat. As it turns out, four complete rolls of aluminium foil is far too much for only six people, so we had plenty to spare.

I imagine the entire parking lot looked incredibly silly to anyone outside. A bunch of Mormons thinking aliens or other conspiracy theories were trying to get into their minds. It was all a bunch of good fun though, nobody took it seriously.

Eventually, the app on my mother’s cellphone alerted us to the start of first contact. We all donned our protective glasses and stared up at the sun as the phone counted down.

It hit zero and…

Nothing.

After five minutes, we finally saw the tiniest of slivers being eaten out of the sun.

Really, it was incredibly underwhelming. My sister and brother stopped watching after a few minutes more and pulled out books. I pulled out my laptop and tried to write a little. Didn’t get much done with all the distractions. My family and I talked a little and every few minutes, we would press the protective glasses to our faces and look up again.

Half an hour after first contact, it started getting noticeably darker. Still obviously daylight, but it was like someone had tweaked the saturation values of everything. The sun was about half covered, but still not really that interesting.

Ten minutes later, forty minutes after first contact, things started getting weird. At this point, I had given up writing entirely—too many distractions; not necessarily distractions involving the sun, just the people about—and just watched the surroundings with the occasional glance at the sun. The saturation values continued to drop. It wasn’t quite grayscale, but all the warm hues just vanished from the landscape.

We all started wandering around a little bit. The trees cast little curly shadows through their leaves and, holding up a paper plate with a pinhole punched through it, you could clearly see the shadow of the moon. Looking down at our own shadows, it was weird. They were fuzzy on one side while smooth on the other and slightly distorted.

Eventually, it started to get really dark. The lamp posts flicked on in the street—thankfully they were dim lights.

My mother’s cellphone app started counting down to second contact, the beginning of totality.

I might have removed my protective glasses a second too early, but it was totally worth it.

Watching that last bright ray of light get blotted out… It was amazing. I don’t even know how to properly describe my feelings. The faint ring of light and the wispy corona surrounded this hole of absolute black. I won’t waste time describing the eclipse, I’m sure everyone has seen a picture of it.

But seeing it in person is something else entirely.

Everyone in the parking lot made some kind of noise. Oohs and awing, inarticulate shouts, cries of ‘that’s awesome’, and such. My dad, a fairly stoic army officer, actually made a few loud laughs.

Me? I just stared. I couldn’t stop staring.

The app announced that third contact was starting and it was time to don our glasses again. I didn’t. Not right away. I stared until the thing rays of the sun peeked around the side of the void. I could still see the dark side of the moon for just an instant before the sun washed it all away and I had to look away—I really don’t have any desire to go more blind than I already am, after all, but I figured a half a second of staring at the sun was less than I happened to catch while driving home in the evenings.

Then, from there, the light came back. The saturation effect didn’t seem to be there afterwards, but that might have just been an illusion because I had been momentarily used to total darkness. And it was totally dark during totality, just as if night had fallen.

From there, we sat around for five minutes just discussing the eclipse. The actual exit transit wasn’t that interesting, just a reversed edition of what had happened before the total eclipse.

We packed up by ten minutes after and headed home immediately, hoping to get out early and beat the traffic. We didn’t quite succeed, but it wasn’t seventeen hours. Partially, probably, because we once again stuck to back roads.

In the end, I think there was one thing we all agreed on. We all wished we had traveled another two hours for the maximum of approximately two minutes and fifteen seconds that we could get of totality.

Luckily for everyone currently alive, eclipses aren’t actually a once in a lifetime event. Especially not if you’re willing to travel. If you live in North America, there will be another eclipse passing through in only seven years, this one from mid-Mexico, up into Texas and on to Maine.

If you live outside North America, you might have to go and find out if there are any eclipses coming.

Even if there aren’t, consider traveling. Save up and find an area with a good amount of totality. At least a minute. If you live anywhere near 2024’s North American eclipse, take the day off work and drive up into the path of totality. Seriously. It is one-hundred percent worth a day trip even after mentioning how much I dislike leaving my home. Longer than that and I can’t say for sure for me personally. What it would be worth for you will obviously be something you’ll have to decide, but it is a genuinely awesome sight.

I’ll tell you this much though. A 99% eclipse, I wouldn’t even open my blinds to look out my window for, but 100% could get me to travel for at least a day. Pictures on the internet do not do it justice in the slightest.

It’s kind of strange. People will sit down at a restaurant and eat a hamburger or watch their friend do a neat trick on a skateboard. They’ll proclaim that it was awesome. I’ve had to have heard that word a thousand times in high school alone. At least.

And yet, I think I’ll refrain from using it from now on. Just to give the word a little more oomph if I do find something as awe inspiring as the eclipse.

Oh man, does that sound pretentious? I hope not. Maybe I’m making a slightly bigger deal out of it than I should. Maybe I’ll wake up tomorrow and look at this file and think, “I wrote 2k words on this terrible eclipse essay when I could have been doing something like not delaying Ziz or working on some other project?”

Anyway, I think above the dash is a pretty good place to end this. It sounds like the kind of ending I would have put on an essay in high school. I got no real writing done today which I’m sure I’ll regret tomorrow, but I don’t really care at the moment. Future me can deal with that.

Incidentally, I think I got a little sunburned. It’s strange. You go to the beach or a theme park, and you think “Oh, I need sunscreen.” But you go to stare at the sun for an hour and… “What sunscreen? Why would I need that?”


6 responses to “Eclipse Thoughts

  • The Aimless Passerby

    I really, reaalllly wanted to see the eclipse, but living in Boston meant that I would have had to travel rather far. I watched the NASA livestream on and off during some of the totality but frankly I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I would be. I couldn’t even see ANYTHING from home because of all the clouds. After reading your essay, I’m definitely going to go see the next one in seven years.

    Hey thanks man, I felt strangely down that I wasn’t impressed/awe-inspired by a literal celestial event. I’m also a bit of an indoor cat and struggle when the family wants to go out to Niagara Falls or NYC or wherever. I’ve traveled much internationally as a kid, and now that you mention your camping situation, I think it kind of parallels. Maybe that’s why I don’t enjoy traveling. Once again, thanks mate.

  • Dragrath

    Wow you really put effort to try explaining how a total solar eclipse was I couldn’t have explained it that well but the primal reaction of the mind to seeing the sun we are wired to set our lives around is absolutely amazing. During totality it seems as if you are in another world the view of the corona, the red glows of the three active prominences at the edges of the blocked sun, the darkening of the skies and the “impossible” 360 degree sunset surrounding the moons shadow.

    There is no comparison between a total eclipse and a partial they are as different as night and day.

  • Allknight

    Eddie Izzard on Awesome

    As one comfort lover to another, Glad you enjoyed yourself and the trip wasn’t too long.
    I think I’ve skipped 3 trips to Italy at this point xD

  • tornadominds

    Darn clouds :*(

    Thanks for the well written description though, I can kind of imagine it vicariously through you.

  • Marcel Popescu

    I’ve seen the total eclipse in August 1999 in Europe and it was every bit as awe-inspiring as you’re describing.

  • glassgirlceci

    It’s somehow weird reading a creator’s commentary about a real-world event you remember while going through a web series that’s already finished.

    Anyway…I just had to say thanks for this. Maybe if I’d read something like this before, I would have taken the day to drive a few hours in order to see it, but now that I know, I’ll make time to see one in the future. Something about this captures the awe and surreality of the event better than anything I’ve ever heard, read, or seen, and that’s REALLY saying something as someone who is into astronomy/physics/etc. You shouldn’t have worried about sounding pretentious, I thought it was a lovely piece. So just know that you’ve reached at least one person with your thoughts 🙂

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