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  • Tim Murray

The Great American Eclipse

Almost by accident, I traveled with my father in May of 2012 to Albuquerque, NM to watch the total annular eclipse of the sun. It was a wonder I'll never forget.

We liked it so much we started researching the next one, and found it would be a total eclipse in August of 2017. At the time, I lived in Colorado, so we planned to travel north to watch it.

Over time, I and my family moved to Pennsylvania, then Alaska, and we almost forgot about the eclipse. Almost. We altered the plan to watch it in Salem, OR, then picked some alternates, such as Jackson, WY and Kansas City, KS. Finally, I moved to Houston, where I reminded my family of the eclipse. We started planning in earnest, and picked Douglas, WY as the place to watch it.

We ran into more obstructions. School start dates, work schedules, and even illnesses looked like they could cause us to miss it. Regardless, we persevered, and set up our tent in Douglas.

On the date, I was giddy with excitement. All my batteries were charged. I had the bracketing script all set up in Camranger, and had those batteries charged. I set up my focus (or at least thought I did--age and astigmatism has taken it's toll, and I need to learn to focus with glasses) and solar filter. I tried to set up a running timelapse, only to discover I couldn't put the camera on the sliders. The bullhead I needed was on the tripod supporting the camera and lens I needed for the closeup. "No problem," I thought. "I'll set up the GoPro." Only the GoPro didn't work. (I've got to figure that one out.) Still, I had the main camera, and it worked.

If you asked me to describe the ocean to someone who hasn't seen it, I'd describe the colors of the water, the sound of the waves, the feeling of the sand in my toes. I might remember to share the taste of the sea water. Inevitably, though, I'd forget something. And to some things, the person wouldn't have an experience in which to relate. Besides, how to your relate all these things happening all at once, or how they relate and interact with everything else?

The eclipse is like that. It's not just the area getting darker. It's the slow loss of contrast. It's how shadows take on a knife edge as the light becomes more coherent. It's the slight drop in temperature. It's the view through your glasses or camera as the moon moves over it. It's the excitement of the people all around. Then, suddenly, the light drops to night time levels. Look around, and there's a sunset in 360 degrees. There's a last burst of light, and the sun--the brightest object in humankind's experience--is gone. And then, the corona glows all round the dark circle of the moon, as your heart jumps to your throat, and you see something so few others have ever seen. There, at 2:00 on the circle, is a red solar prominence. You jump up and down with excitement as everyone else is doing the same. You hug your loved ones there with you. Short that, you hug anyone in arm's length. Starts become visible. If you're lucky, so does Mercury. Crickets chirp. It's amazing! Then, as suddenly as it began, there's another flash of light in the famous diamond ring, and it's time to put your solar glasses back on. The event is over.

I've had more incredible experiences: my wedding, and the birth of my daughters. But this one is definitely third. I'm hooked. I'm already planning the next trip in 2024.


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