In 1918 a total eclipse visited Idaho, and the path of totality was just a few miles south of our own 2017 phenomenon. My Great Grandmother Just wrote about it in her diary. The family had traveled to be with friends for the occasion. The eclipse arrived late in the day. She wrote simply: “A jolly time, all were so happy.”
That’s a fine description for our 2017 experience as well. Nearly 100 years later we gathered at my cousin’s house which has a good view of the mountains and the Snake River Valley below. It was a festive atmosphere. As we waited and watched, I ran in and out of the house tending my crock-pot potatoes, losing my eclipse glasses often, only to pick up random pairs that were lying about for just such an emergency.
As the time neared, we saw that the dappled light coming through the trees had turned into a sprinkling of crescents. The light turned the color of honey, the air cool. We put sweaters on over our summer clothes. At seven minutes to totality my sun-sensitive glasses went clear. And along the horizon behind us a “storm” of violet-grey appeared.
As the slide to totality commenced, I couldn’t sit still and climbed over the fence to the horse pasture. Seth and Leah followed. Then we were caught up in the wonder of it. The moment our glasses went black, we threw them off to see the moon surrounded by a halo of light. Totality is a 360 degree experience. Stars appeared and we threw up our arms and turned in circles and cried and whooped. I agree with someone who called it a “primeval thrill.” It was grand!
Then, oh so quickly and much too soon, the “diamond ring” appeared as the sun gleamed out on the opposite side, and within seconds the impalpable half-light was back and the lunar march across the sun continued.
We immediately felt a kinship with those around us who had experienced the thrill as well. We shared the day with family and with strangers from Minnesota who had been planning the trip for three years and by chance ended up in Idaho.They were delighted to have found the perfect hillside for viewing the excitement. We’ll never see them again, but we are strangers no more.
When we returned home, an unexpected line of traffic, no doubt helped by Google Maps, sped past the ranch on our own country road in an attempt to bypass the interstate and highway.
That evening I lingered outside at dusk to see if the rays of the setting sun resembled those of the eclipse. Was it this dark, I wondered? How about now? But day by day, nature doesn’t replicate the ethereal light of a total eclipse.
Some called it God’s handiwork. I can buy that, but let’s not forget the lowly human scientists who predicted the eclipse to the minutiae of detail. It’s science that figured out the moon is 400 times smaller than the sun. And the curious fact that it is 400 times closer to us, which means the two orbs are the same size when viewed from Earth as their masses overlap.
I can only imagine Grandma Emma’s eclipse experience. They did have "solar" eyeglasses in 1918 and smoked glass for viewing, but who knows if the aids made it to rural Idaho. I do know they didn’t get home until 11:30 pm that night so would have traveled home in the dark, perhaps by buggy. And surely with a newfound sense of awe. She also said they used their first ice of the season on that warm June day. Cut from the river during the winter and stored in the ice house, then brought out for just such a celebration. Imagine!
Since the eclipse, I have been appreciating our dawns and dusks anew. Our planet spins on its axis to create day and night. It orbits the sun to create the seasons. And all around us an incredible diversity of life has evolved in sync with those cycles. Bats and owls and nighthawks soar in the darkness. Nocturnal mammals, the raccoon, badger and cougar prowl, as we homo sapiens on an opposite cycle, sleep. And seasonally, grasses drop seed and go dormant, squirrels and bears hibernate, insects burrow, and songbirds and whales migrate. Let’s not forget this feeling of majesty and mystery we were lucky enough to witness, and step back in honor of a solar system that makes it all possible.