It was strangely quiet last night as 10,000 hopeful humans settled in to their campsites early to enjoy some serious stargazing. Five miles north of the limited light pollution from downtown Madras we could gaze clearly at the constellations, planets and even the center of our own Milky Way galaxy. We were treated to a stellar cosmic preview as a ‘shooting star” fell across the handle of the Big Dipper. Questions whispered around us were focused on reviewing the eclipse basics we would need for success in the morning … “What time is first contact?” “Is the Diamond Ring effect before or after totality?” “When can I safely remove my eclipse glasses?”
I woke up a little before sunrise so I could greet the sun in all its unsuspecting glory.
It seemed incredulous that this blinding star 333,000 times more massive than the Earth, would be blacked out in a few hours by our meager moon.
Before breakfast and before the overloaded cellular towers crashed, I was able to make a last contact with the outside world. I FaceTimed out to my new first block sixth grade science class seated in a Texas classroom far far away.This one call will forever be a high point of my educational career. Seeing my curious students on my tiny iPhone screen with their eager hands raised with questions about the total eclipse I was about to experience in Oregon will forever be a special memory.
They could see me too; in the farmer’s field flanked to the west by the volcanic Cascade mountains and backdropped by the rising sun. Curious fellow eclipsters looked on. One of my more observant young scientists asked about the clouds spotted to the south. “What direction are they moving towards Mrs. Caldwell? Will they obstruct your view of the corona?” Another… “Will you see Bailey’s Beads? “. They had done their eclipse homework and showed off the cereal box pinhole viewers they planned to use hours later when the sun would be 67% eclipsed on their playground. When I hung up I hoped to be able to call back to my other classes through out the day. Unfortunately AT&T was ill-prepared to support the thousands of us trying to call, text and stream as the day unfolded.
Eclipse day breakfast was amazing. Camping neighbor Amirah made us a feast of French toast, scrambled eggs and sausage! Goodness I wish I had photo of that memorable meal!
After breakfast everyone scurried around in preparation for the partial and total phases of the eclipse. We stretched out white sheets on the ground and put a sheet of white poster board across the car wind shield all to serve as a screen for pinhole projections of the sun as the moon moved across its face. We readied our cameras and binoculars by taping solar filters over the lenses and made sure our eclipse glasses were handy to grab.
At 9:06am PDT cheers and clambering broke out as the disc of the moon made “First Contact” with the sun. We were entering into the penumbra’s shadow. As the eclipse progressed all ages frolicked about the campsites sharing telescopes, viewers and various pinhole projection techniques.
Like my sixth graders back in Texas I monitored the temperature from just before the moon started to traverse across the sun until just after totality. I was shocked by the dramatic change. The thermometer read 79 degrees Fahrenheit at the start and had dropped to 62 degrees after totality.
The dry high desert air was not holding heat as the sun slowly disappeared.
The exciting build up to the eclipse and the sense of community with others humbled by the natural world made totality when it at last happened all the more powerful. Words still escape me and unexplainable tears flowed at the moment our sun disappeared. Where the sun once shimmered a “black hole” now sat above me in a deep indigo sky. An otherworldly glimmering white halo surrounded the hole. Bright Venus emerged in the sudden darkness to the south. Barely able to glance away I quickly scanned all the horizons to witness what resembled the dawn I had seen earlier. The view below from my school’s Ricoh Theta S 360 degree camera shows everywhere sky and land met. It was like a 360 degree sunrise.
The cool air and surround sound shrills of excitement made this much more than the simple visual experience I had anticipated.
“Fleeting” was the one word Mr. Caldwell could mumble when the two minutes of totality had passed. Sadly, I must agree his word was fitting. Gripped in the two minutes of totality you hoped it would never end but of course knew it must so photosynthetic life could continue on our planet.
Umbraphile? Yes. I fell in love with being in the darkest shadow of the moon. Will I seek it again? Absolutely ! The bigger question is will you? Where will you be in 2024 when the opportunity to experience totality comes again to America