Maybe just a tiny bit sorry.
A total eclipse is something so strange, so seemingly fictitious, so Old Testament-esque that I didn't fully understand what I was getting myself into until well into our fourth hour of sitting in a collapsable lawn chair along a once deserted stretch of highway in the middle of Wyoming. I realize now why I didn't fully understand what the eclipse was about even after the 7 hour drive. I realize, not due to a lack of interest, or preparation in the days leading up to the eclipse, but because (and this is going to sound very corny) the experience of seeing a total eclipse is one that escapes any sort of description. Words don't do it justice, photos and videos won't either. And that leaves me here, someone who witnessed something so utterly surreal and only my words, pictures, and a video to try and share a piece of what I felt. I know full well that explaining the experience is a futile attempt, but I'm going to try anyways.
|Front Row Seat|
At 2:45 in the morning my alarm went off (thats the first 2:45. There's a second one, one at a completely acceptable time too. That's not the 2:45 we chose) and by 3:00 we were packed up and on the road. The theory behind this early start, was that the tiny city of Casper Wyoming is too small for the impending flood of eclipse enthusiasts and scientists that would be on their way to clog the highways by the crack of dawn. We still had a considerable drive ahead of us, so we figured that we would rather beat the crowds and wait rather than catch the event while stuck in traffic.
According to the selfie I took upon arriving at the local Starbucks, it was exactly 6:09 when we made it into town. The town was just starting to wake up, but our crew had been burning at both ends for hours by then. So we get some coffee, we pick up some supplies at the Walmart-
A quick thing about Walmart: I have never seen so many questionable people all congregate in the same area before. And I mean weird, strange people, and that's even after visiting Trinidad. Half the parking lot had been taken over by some sort of pseudo-tailgating community of busses, trucks, and telescope waiving tourists. The line for the Walmart bathroom was overflowing with barefoot children brushing their teeth and the line was over ten people long. It was terrible.
Here's where the story really begins. We get our supplies and head back out of town to get "The Perfect Spot" to view the eclipse at. Notice that "The Perfect Spot" is both capitalized and in quotations. There's so much importance placed on the spot we were to view the event because -as I found out- to witness an eclipse at even just 99% totality is like not witnessing it at all. It's true! If you're not within the line of totality, then you might as well have closed your eyes completely during the entire thing.
By now it's like 7:00, which means we have literally almost 4 more hours until anything remotely cool happens. I'll spare you the details, but it was a a lot of sitting and waiting (and throwing rocks into empty Starbucks cups in a ski-ball style carnival game I made up).
|Our Devo cover band album|
The sun slowly sizzled into a thinning crescent shape. When it was nothing but a bright yellow toenail in the sky the atmosphere started to change rather drastically. The lighting in our campsite was dramatic, I remember looking at the other people's faces and thinking that they looked off. It was like our skin was so pale that it seemed to be fake or synthetic. The air chilled so quickly that I had to layer up with a hoodie and jacket. It honestly felt like a 35 (F.) degree temperature change. The light and temp worked to make the entire scene feel erie. It also helped that the collective group of well over 100 observers fell deafly quiet. Traffic along the highway seised, except for the occasional unfazed trucker.
I think it's the contrast that makes the experience such a memorable one. Of course the sight was amazing, but it's the blistering heat followed by the sudden chill and the use of both sunglasses and eclipse glasses before it getting too dark for either that I think back to. These changes happened within minutes, which is truly something amazing when you're talking about appreciating nature. As humans, we don't have the context to truly appreciate all the time that went into things like mountains and oceans. They're massive natural monuments that take eons to shift at all. But an eclipse is like watching nature be it infinitely unbelievable self in a frame that we can fathom. It's probably what observing the cosmos would feel like if we only had the patience to watch them churn.
And as the moment approached, I knew that it was important. I knew that I would never forget what I was about to see. Piece by piece, the rest of the sun was swallowed and finally saw what all the fuss was about.
And for the record, I totally agree. Words and pictures do not do it justice. So I wont even try.