“Is it at 95 yet?” I ask. The Alabama college student peers through the sun-filtered reflecting telescope to estimate how much of the sun the moon has gobbled up. I look through the spotting scope fitted with a filter while others in the gathered crowd gaze skyward with nifty cardboard solar specs.
“Yes, I’d say 95 percent,” he replies. Our surroundings have already taken on an ashen hue as if I am looking through gray-tinted sunglasses.
“What’s the temp?” I ask, just out into the air, and a girl from Cincinnati steps under the tarp to check the thermometer.
“Eighty five degrees” she chimes. “Eleven degrees less than when we started.” She bends to record it on the temperature chart.
Her brother works the controls of the drone that is already in the air poised to record the moon’s shadow racing toward us from the west. Quavering shadow bands dance across the white sheet I taped over a large piece of cardboard, the earth’s atmosphere distorting the sun’s rays. Excitement fills our hilltop hay field band of observers.
With totality imminent, I zip over to the crest of the hill just in time. “Look west everyone! Look west!” I cry, pointing to the fast encroaching darkness. Seconds later, a ghostly shadow envelops us. An orange sunset glows on the horizon from every point of the compass. Our crowd erupts into sounds of wonder and amazement. “Wow.” “Cool.” “Oh my god.” “Look!” I even hear myself: “oh my golly!” and “holy smokes!” or some such exclamations. I find it hard to describe the unexpected emotion that has overtaken me. I look back at the crowd to see daughter hugging father, husbands kissing wives, bewildered children looking around, a young girl crying. At this moment I don’t know what to do. The hours leading up to this point have preoccupied me with gazing through and adjusting telescopes, taking pictures, portraying images of the sun through my binoculars onto the sheet to make “cartoon eyes”, examining the towel by the trees to see the crescent shaped dapples of sunlight, taking temperature readings, and interacting with the assortment of people who have collected here for this fantastic event. Now, I just don’t know what to do. I trot over to the crowd around the scopes. As I do, I am intercepted.
“Could you take a picture of us?” the man from Kentucky implores as he shoves his camera into my hands. “Hurry up everyone, there’s not much time,” he instructs his crew of about 13 kids and adults. They oblige immediately. I snap a quick picture and go over to the spotting scope.
“I can’t see it in here,” the Michigan college student tells me. I stoop to adjust the scope but can’t get it in view. I don’t want to waste my time taking the filter off and fiddling. We only have two and a half minutes of totality.
“I think this is just something we need to experience,” I explain. We gaze at the sun, unaided now, to behold the black pupil of a moon surrounded by a glowing bright iris of the sun’s corolla. My husband and the man from Ohio are discussing the identity of the planets now visible – Jupiter, Venus and they think they may see Mars faintly.
In the world’s fastest two and a half minutes, the sun starts to reappear. “Here it comes,” I say to no one in particular. People put their glasses back on and we see the diamond ring effect. Our surroundings brighten. The magical moment has passed.
“Now I get why the ancients were so frightened,” I overhear one of the Alabama college students share with his buddies. People are milling about, exchanging “that was amazing!” comments and marveling about what a spectacle the moon and sun showed us.
Before long this band of strangers starts to disperse. A few kids and adults linger to peer through the telescopes, make shadow puppets on the sheet, and ask my science teacher husband questions. Basically, the show is over. The moon is revealing more and more of the sun behind it and the temperature will soon reverse its downward trend. We documented a 13-degree drop in all – from a scorching 96 degrees Fahrenheit to a respectable 83 degrees in the shade.
Tents are dismantled and cars drive off to join the gridlock of eclipse viewers already clogging the highways. In talking with other malingerers, I learn this spectacle surprised many with its magical and unexpected emotional affect. It sure gripped me.
Luckily, my husband had the presence of mind to get a photo from his tripod-mounted camera.