(timelapse video above)
I happened to be in the right place at the right time (after sifting through last minute weather forecasts) to experience the total eclipse at nearly the maximum length: 2 minutes and 33 seconds. In our case, we ended up outside an old graveyard in the rolling sandhills outside Arnold, Nebraska. A perfect place, perfect time, perfect company of family and strangers becoming friends bound together by extraordinary phenomona.
How to recap this experience so I remember it, and others can can get a glimpse of it? Maybe a series of impressions:
- Perfect location: First, it was the clouds, and finding a place within driving distance that would be mostly clear of clouds around 11:30am (start of the eclipse) and especially 12:54pm (total eclipse). The Clear Outside app got me there (though I’m not sure how often the data is updated). And the second factor: finding a location connected to nature that would be inspiring to be in and experience the eclipse. The old Powell Canyon Cemetery, in the rolling sandhills outside Arnold Nebraska ended up being an amazing place.
- Perfect company: The total eclipse, such an extraordinary event, is a social phenomenon as well. I feel so fortunate to be there with family — my parents and son — and with 20 or so strangers who felt like relatives drawn into relation by the sun and moon. A friendly retired couple from Colorado in the car next us, a naturalist (or more precisely “naturalistic pagan”) couple with their sons, filled with tips about observing and experiencing the eclipse, photographers, and more.
- First contact: that initial moment, when I look up with eclipse classes and see — a small corner on the upper right seems to be missing…seems to be…yes, it is!
- The presence of the moon: I wasn’t anticipating this, but was struck by what a difference it is to experience the moon between the sun and me, rather than just reflecting the sun. The moon is so tangible, and it has a presence that seems to be hovering just in front of me. As it moves into view, I feel like I can reach out and touch the moon. It is there! In front of me, moving between me and the sun. The moon has a presence that I’ve never felt before.
- Crescent projection from trees. Our naturalist friend pointed out that in addition to the pinhole projection technique so many people used colanders for, even the spaces between the leaves of trees can project the crescent image of the eclipse. He laid a white towel on the ground, and as the eclipse progressed the crescents appeared, even more obvious when you drag the towel to reduce distraction of the surface of the towel.
- A strange light. As the eclipse got closer to totality, I noticed the strange quality of light around me. It seemed brownish, and surreal, the way light is sometimes after a big storm where the setting sun on the bare horizon casts a tint to the world. Do the shadows seem crisper? I look at a changed world, and am standing in a new world.
- A narrowing narrowing crescent. Anticipation builds as the crescent grows narrower and narrower. Looking through the eclipse glasses (still novel) as the thin line of light gets smaller and smaller until…
- Nothing. Dark black eclipse glasses nothing. I remove the glasses now, and…
- Astonishing sight and I shout out: “Oooooohhh!” I hadn’t anticipated what my eyes saw next. Something so unusual…that powerful sun, now totally blocked and black, with radiating corona. Dark black and radiating, and with the near presence I felt of the moon — now suddenly the sun also with a near presence. Astounding!
- 360 degree sunset. The landscape during the total section of the eclipse wasn’t totally dark — it was like deep twilight, I could still navigate around me. But what struck me there in the rolling sandhills of Nebraska was what seemed to be a sunset on the horizons 360 degrees around me. There was one section or darker clouds, but otherwise, all the hills I looked at had the glow on the horizon that I usually see just after the sun goes down. “360 degree sunset!” I shout out.
- Bright beam returns. At the end of totality, suddenly, a burst of bright light from the corner of the sun. Growing growing…time to put on the eclipse glasses again.
And there we were. Sunlight returned, and although it would remain a partial eclipse for the next hour or so, we all basked a while in the experience and gradually started returning to our homes over the rolling sandhills. Goodbyes, exchanges of email addresses, and off we go, after an experience of a lifetime.