Part 1: A quick description of the experience (Part 2, below, is my reflection. Also, see the comments for an additional story)
I was so freaked out by grim weather forecasts that I drove much, much farther than was necessary. Hindsight is 20/20. I wasn’t about to rely on luck, though. My brother Kevin, and his wife Ruth, joined me in Casper, Wyoming, and thanks to many hours of driving, we experienced a clear sky. It made me happy they were both with me.
I didn’t really saw any stars, like I was hoping. I think I only saw one planet (Venus?), for certain, but maybe a second. Like millions of others witnessing the same event, I was focused on totality and the corona of the Sun. I couldn’t be bothered to spend time looking at planets or stars.
What really struck me was the sky wasn’t very dark, which is sort-of what I expected after the annular eclipse I saw years ago. It felt like twilight, where the only “stars” you see are actually planets. In fact, usually the first “star” most people see at dusk is Venus or Jupiter. Basically, if you “wish upon a star,” you are likely wishing upon a planet.
To the West, it suddenly looked like a dark storm on the horizon, and maybe 30 seconds later, we were under the shadow of the Moon.
As the eclipse entered totality, the sky remained twilight-blue near where the sun had been only moments before, and the only thing that was actually black was the dark side of the Moon. It really did look like a hole was punched out of the sky. It was stunning and surreal.
There was a 360° sunset all around us. Everywhere you looked at the horizon, it was a dull orange glow as if the sun was just below the horizon. The light was eerie in a way that’s difficult to articulate. It reminded me of that unique and foreboding light you see just before the kind of thunderstorm that births tornadoes. Rather than a wall of green, like accompanies a really nasty thunderstorm, it was an peculiar orange. It was like looking through the heat rising above a desert, or being underwater.
The “diamond ring” you hear about and see in photos was actually minor compared to the massive full corona, which overall, was easily three times the width of the sun. It was bright and much larger than I anticipated, and much larger than even in my corrected photo, above. Photographs, mine included, really don’t do it justice. Photos make the corona seem thin, like the atmosphere around the Earth. Yet, the corona stretched well beyond the width of the Moon. I was hoping for a solar flare, but I didn’t see anything like that. It looked like long wavy bright white lines – the wild mane of an albino lion.
You’ve probably read plenty of descriptions and you’ve seen thousands of photos online.
Naturally, I thought a lot about Beth, and that’s really why I’m writing this.
Just a few days after my wife’s death, a full lunar eclipse occurred.
At her wake, before the Lunar Eclipse, I asked everyone gathered to honor Beth by looking up at the blood-red moon and thinking fondly of her. A lunar eclipse is nothing compared to a solar eclipse, as a celestial event. I think Beth found it funny and peculiar how I obsessively tracked the planets and stars, so she might have enjoyed it.
It’s now been almost two years since Beth left this world.
As everyone knows, on August 21, 2017, totality occurred from coast-to-coast for a thin swath across the United States, at least, for those in the path, who were also lucky enough to experience clear skies.
There’s a wonderful article you might have read, which compares partial and total solar eclipses to kissing someone versus marrying them, as well as flying in a plane, versus jumping out of one. I encourage you to read it later.
I’d been waiting for this particular eclipse since I was a child. As boy-Tim looked forward to that day, he/I barely gave a second thought to what life I’d lead, just that the year seemed an eternity away. The future-solar-eclipse-day seemed so impossibly far away.
It’s been an indescribably and simultaneously wonderful, yet tragic, ride, and I just wish one specific person were here to have shared the eclipse with.
I’m lucky that my oldest brother, Kevin, and his wife Ruth, stepped up in ways I never would have anticipated. It’s somehow cosmically appropriate that they were with me for totality that afternoon. I was so grateful they were there.
The Sun reappeared after only 2 1/2 minutes, which felt like only 30 seconds, and I wished Beth could so easily and magically appear. The two years since her death has felt like an eternity.
It’s been almost two trips around the Sun since I last held Beth.
The hole in my heart is still as profound, astounding, and empty as the hole which appeared in the sky.