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I have never seen a total eclipse. I probably never will again. They happen about once every 12 years, and presumably I have at least 12 more years on this earth, but they are uncooperative bastards and don’t always happen over land or over land you can actually get to or during a convenient time of day or year or when the weather is conducive to viewing one.

I had never thought much about them, until two years ago when Ralph announced that there would be a total eclipse on April 8, 2024, and we needed to go see it.

Two years in advance is a long time to plan something. To put that in perspective, this morning I planned what I was going to do tonight and by 4pm it had been completely upended.

So when he made that declaration I entertained it in the usual fashion.

“Uh huh.”

Then somehow two years went by. And he sent me links. And he sent me maps. And he sent me paths. And he sent me stats. And I started to look into this whole eclipse thing and it seemed pretty cool, actually.

The last time there was a total eclipse in the United States, there was a half-million car backup in the middle of Wyoming. If you’ve never been to Wyoming, I can tell you this much: it’s a lot of empty space. You can drive for hours and not see so much as a shrub, let alone a human. So for there to be a half million cars means something really interesting had to be happening.

I started to have a little FOMO.

So I started looking into places to go and view this phenomenon, probably the most amazing life-changing thing I’d ever see in my whole life and I needed to see it from the most perfect location.

The only problem was that ANY location, let alone the most perfect one, was pretty much booked solid, right down to the lawns of people’s houses where they were renting out space for you to park your camper. True story.

Ralph had some crazy idea that we could just drive to a convenient location the morning of the eclipse, see it, then drive home. We could, if we wanted to get a glimpse of it, scoot a couple of hours to the very western edge of Kentucky.

I reminded him of the half million cars and kept looking.

After finding yet another solitary room in a Super 8 under a highway for a mere $800 a night, I began to wonder if we could sleep in our car. How bad could it be? We could rent someone’s lawn, drive up, put the seats down and unroll a few blankets in the back.

You’d be surprised what doesn’t sound like such a stupid idea anymore when you’re desperate.

I had a great map of the path of totality, where you could zoom in on every single little town along the center line, every one of which I searched for hotels, campgrounds, rowboats.

From Texas to Arkansas, Illinois to Ohio.

Things you learn: there are a LOT of little towns.

Other things you learn: two weeks before the biggest event since the moon landing is probably not the best time to start looking for a room to stay in one of those towns. I bet most of them were booked two years ago.

I got very serious about my search, determined that if I had to sell a kidney, we were going to see this eclipse. Just not from a Super 8 under a highway. I stayed in one of those in Amarillo, Texas once, and was not convinced my car would be there when we woke up.

I bookmarked maps, and saved Airbnb listings. I found popup tents and made spreadsheets. I became a data-analyst-meets-travel-agent for two weeks.

And then by luck or karma, I landed on Nashville, Indiana, where there was a golf resort with one lone room remaining. It wasn’t inexpensive, but it wasn’t Super 8 levels of stupid, and it was at a price point I was willing to pay.

The discovery came with a couple of sunbeams and a few angels singing, so I did something I never do. I booked it immediately. Do not pass Go, do not look at the refund policy, do not even ask Ralph for his opinion.

In other news, there is a Nashville in Indiana. And next to it, there is a Franklin. I also discovered a Nashville, Arkansas, right next to another Franklin. We’re nothing as Americans if not repetitive.

I couldn’t have been luckier with my find, though. Nashville, Indiana is in the middle of not much of anything, had the benefit of being a straight drive north-ish, and it was sitting almost exactly on the center line of the eclipse path.

We would get a full four minutes of totality.

See Franklin on the center line? And Nashville just a bit south. It really exists!

I watched the weather report for the next two weeks, and it kept showing clouds clouds clouds. Some days it showed a chance of rain. I even went back through decades of weather reports to find typical weather for the date, and the prospect was dim: mostly cloudy and chilly.

That’s the thing about eclipses. Even if you can find a place to view it that isn’t a Super 8, you are not guaranteed to see it.

I fretted.

Then maybe a day or two before, the weather report predicted a mix of sun and clouds. Every other day cloudy, but a little sliver of sun on that Monday.

I felt hopeful.

We arrived in Nashville on Sunday, checked into our fairly fabulous room, then went out to explore the town a bit. I’ll tell you about it some other time, but it, too, was fairly fabulous.

Optimism crept into my repertoire.

Then it downpoured.

There are two types of eclipses, the total eclipse like the one that was about to happen, and the annular eclipse, which is when the moon is farther away from the earth, so while it covers the sun it doesn’t block it out, so you see a halo around the sun.

Which would be cool, but also not the same.

Then lo! Monday dawned crystal clear and sunny, not a cloud in the sky, a brilliant 75 degrees. I couldn’t believe it, I mean I wouldn’t have been surprised if the sun melted and fell out of the sky, that’s about how things usually work. But it was so perfect I don’t even know how it happened.

Things I knew because of the absurd amount of research I did:

– Total duration: 2hr 32 min
– Totality: 3m 57s
– Partial start: 1:51pm
– Totality start: 3:06pm
– Totality end: 3:10pm
– Partial end: 4:23pm

So at about 1:30 on that glorious day, we packed up the gimbal we’d bought just for filming the eclipse, our little lawn chairs, some water and a few snacks, and went down to the 17th hole of the golf course where it was clear and open and not a human soul in sight.

Then at 1:51 like clockwork, I put on my super duper highly researched solar glasses and looked up.

And there was the sun. And there was this tiny little notch down on the right corner, like a little bite was taken out. But that’s not even right because it was a perfect curve, a perfectly smooth curve.

See that teeny piece missing in the lower right? That’s how it all started!

That got me all excited because I don’t even remember seeing THAT much before, even though I know I did because when we were in Arizona there was a partial eclipse and I know I looked at it somehow, but I honestly don’t remember it except for it existing.

So I watched the moon eat the sun a little at a time, putting the glasses on, taking the glasses off, looking up, looking down.

And I kept waiting for it to get dark, because in my brain I thought the moon will move over the sun and it will get darker and darker until it’s totally dark, then it will get lighter and lighter until the end.

Except… apparently the sun doesn’t work that way.

It was just… sunny.

An hour went by. The sun got half eaten. It looked WAY super cool and I spent a chunk of time trying to get a good picture of it with the glasses in front of the camera lens which was a lot more obnoxious than it sounds, but ended up with some similarly fabulous pictures anyway.

One of my early not-so-great shots. To be fair, Ralph got all the really good ones.

But every time I took the glasses off, it was still…. Sunny.

An hour and a half went by. The sun was really getting chewed up but it was…. sunny.

It was, in fact, still perfectly sunny at this point.

And I’m looking around like HOW is it possible that most of the sun is now blocked, and yet if I was not looking up at the sky and seeing this, I would probably never know?

I swear it wasn’t until maybe…. a half hour? Maybe not even? Until totality that it even started to look vaguely dimmer, at which point you might have thought it was a cloudy day.

But not really. It wasn’t like a cloudy day. It wasn’t like sunset. It wasn’t like anything I had ever seen. I was this weird non-light, this desaturated, strangely ethereal light.

The thing I noticed, too, was that there were a lot of shadows, like a LOT of shadows, like the more the sun got blocked, the more the shadows were like, we support you! We will show our solidarity by being even shadowy-er!

I would have thought everything would dim out but…. Really, no.

It just got shadowy-er and then desaturated-er until about five minutes to totality when suddenly it was like a dimmer switch that got darker darker DARK.

And friends and neighbors, that was when you got to take your glasses off and stare directly at the sun and be utterly f#@&!^$ amazed.

This perfect black disc, with just a haze of light around it, and this 360-degree sunset glow around the horizon, like the sun had set in every direction at once.

Four minutes of pure bliss, of seeing how big the universe is and how tiny we are and how incredible the whole turning of the wheel is, and this HAPPENS, and there we were witnessing it. It happened with no help or input from us, and we had no option but to watch in awe.

It’s hard to explain how utterly infinitesimal it makes you feel, at the same time that you feel like you are part of this remarkable universe, just a bit of stardust in a grand master plan.

It was one of the most awesome, in the literalist sense of the word, things I have ever seen.

Then at totality plus ten seconds the sun came out all bright and sunny again like nothing ever happened.

I mean… the MOON did that. Everything aligned so perfectly that the universe DID that.

I can’t even.

Even Venus was up there at the lower right looking brilliantly bright and very pleased with itself.

The total eclipse, looking directly at the sun without a filter. It was black as night by this point even though the camera tried really hard to compensate. You can see the tiny pinpoint of Venus down towards the right.

The other thing I noticed is that the moon and sun do not respect text books. You see diagrams of an eclipse in text books and the sun is a circle on the page and then it is a quarter black and half black and so forth. But the actual moon started eating the sun way down in the bottom on the right, and then it moved kind of diagonally, and eased off somewhere on the top. Not like the diagram at all.

It’s funny when your only expectation of a thing is the sanitized version you heard about and probably studied for a test, and it doesn’t work that way in real life, and the mere fact that the moon didn’t go left to right straight across was so befuddling and shocking and interesting and exciting.

And the SUNNINESS. I mean, the sun is so impressive that it can be 90% covered and still shine the heck out of everything.

And then it was sunny again…

Still other thing I noticed: the temperature most definitely dropped. I kept looking at the temperature on my watch, expecting it to show it going down, but it never budged. And yet somehow over the course of two and a half hours I went from sitting in a short sleeved shirt and feeling somewhat fried, to putting on a sweatshirt because I was cold enough to get goosebumps.

It was incredible. And beautiful. And I’m so glad I got to see it, so glad the universe was cocky enough that it wanted to show off and gave us a sunny day.

I just want to remember the glory that is the universe.

The universe is amazing. It’s really mind boggling, I cannot wrap my head around the most minute part of it. What a shame science class was so terrible in school.

We also took an hour of video and it’s hilarious because it just captures the sun sitting there shining, since the camera was not behind a filter, and the thing just kept shining. Then for a couple of seconds before totality it started shrinking down to a pinpoint, and there it stayed for four minutes until it grew back a couple of minutes later.

So fascinating to see how this massive wild natural phenomenon looks to your eyes, to your camera, and how it really manifests.

I want to run around the world chasing eclipses now. They really are uncooperative bastards, the next one is going to hit somewhere off the frozen coast of Greenland where I am not sure a human has ever actually gone.

So I will have to be satisfied with my once in a lifetime experience.

To say something like this is life-changing sounds melodramatic and exaggerated. But when you’re standing in an empty field during the middle of an otherwise sunny day and for four minutes the sun just… disappears… you realize what a tiny human you are, how grand and magnificent the universe is, how our little brains with our iPhones and our road rage and our spoons that fall off the counter are so inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

You realize how very mortal and transient your entire existence is, the entire existence of every human who has ever walked the earth is.

And this is not a frightening thought, or even a depressing one. It’s a startlingly beautiful one. How inconsequential the $800 rooms and the half million cars. How fleeting the opportunity to experience these things, to exist on this planet at all.

How miraculous.

I’m not sure my tiny human brain has done it justice.

There is a high probability that I will never see another total eclipse again. And yet I got to experience it. And I got to feel, for four minutes anyway, like I was part of something much bigger and more complete than myself.

It would serve me well to remember this feeling the next time a spoon flies off the counter. In spite of itself, sometimes the universe provides.