Nearly a year ago, when we first learned of the solar eclipse, most motels in the Northwest Totality Zone were either booked, or charging up to $750 for a room. So we reserved a B&B in the Eastern Oregon town of Moro, a forty minute drive to Totality. As the day approached, epic traffic jams of eclipse chasers were reported. We left a day earlier than we’d planned, taking two days to travel 270 miles, with emergency gear: food, water, sleeping bags, gas can, read-aloud book and our Kingston Trio CDs.
Traffic on I-5 was heavy, but we traveled east over the Cascades, cruising the speed limit, and sighting only the occasional RV heading to the Totality Zone from Yakima.
All the guests at our B&B were eclipse chasers. There were two couples, first-time viewers up from California, and a German couple, first-time visitors to the US, who had crossed an ocean and a continent for a ninety second peek at a natural phenomenon they’d seen many times before. I took that as a good sign.
Moro’s population is 316. Its only cafe had gone belly up, and the tiny market closes early on Sundays, but the local history museum was open. We picnicked and were playing board games in our room when Thom discovered on Facebook that college friends were also staying in Moro at the only other accommodation in town, just a five minute walk away. Lona and Scott were as enthusiastic about the eclipse as you’d expect a science teacher and a librarian to be, and they had spent the last two days scouting out the best view spots. They invited us over, pulled out their maps and notes, and suggested a viewing place just south of Shaniko, for its off-road parking and territorial views.
Taking no chances, we allowed four hours to travel the 38 miles into the Totality Zone. Rising at 5AM, we learned that the other guests were long gone. But the roads were clear and we were halfway there before the sun rose. At least sixty people were camped at our viewpoint, with more arriving all the time. The buzz of excitement filled the air, though the eclipse was still two hours away. One youngster kept a faithful watch, but I dozed, catching snatches of conversation between friendly strangers.
Finally the moon’s shadow began to pass over the face of the sun. Through protective glasses it looked like a sky cookie, with a bite taken out of it.
There was a drop in temperature and a subtle change of light. We couldn’t tell over the noise of the crowd whether the birds stopped singing, but the people-watching was superb compensation. For an hour, the moonshadow inched across the sun, its effect hardly noticeable, except through protective glasses. Without them, even with just a sliver of the sun peeking out from behind the moon, its light was blinding.
All at once, darkness eclipsed the world. It was as if a one-eyed sleeping giant had suddenly awakened, and the sky was staring back at us.
The crowd erupted into wild cheers, and Thom and I shared their exhilaration.
I’d seen it depicted on canvas, demonstrated in planetariums and National Geographic specials. But seeing a total solar eclipse with my own eyes was like hearing ‘Ode to Joy” sung by a heavenly choir after seeing only the musical notation on paper.
(Ivan Generalić: Solar Eclipse, 1961, CMNA )
Our dear Sol had pulled off his glasses and shirt to reveal his Superman costume. Ninety seconds later–it felt like the blink of an eye–the sun emerged from the shadow.
We took a deep breath, hugged each other, and hit the road, hoping to beat the crush of outbound traffic. We were elated as we drove north, verbally processing the experience. We both questioned whether we’d used our few precious seconds wisely. Ironically, Thom regretted not taking a single photo, while I wondered if I’d made a mistake by placing a lens between myself and an awesome once-in-a-lifetime-celestial event. Thom knew just what to say. “Argentina in 2019.” Yes, please!
A friend asked, half joking, if the eclipse had changed my life. Maybe. Especially if we go chasing the next one, which will appear in the Argentine sky in 2019. Meanwhile, there is a whole lot of Awesomeness right here on the mother planet.
I read that awe is the emotion created by an extraordinary encounter that drastically affects one’s assumptions of the world. Experiencing this emotion can make us feel small, yet connected to something larger outside of ourselves, especially when the experience is shared by others. This was borne out in Shaniko, where traffic bottlenecked at the crossroads with the only stop sign in town. Traffic on the big road had the right of way. I feared we’d be at a standstill for hours waiting for an opening.
Then some generous soul hit the brakes and gave cuts to a person who was stuck at the stop sign, before continuing on. The next person with the right of way also stopped to allow a car through. They were still graciously taking turns when we reached the intersection, and were also waved on. There was a mile of backup, but not a single horn honked, no one hollered, everyone was patient and polite, and we all moved forward together. It was an awesome display of human nature.
There are other kinds of Awesome that sneak up on you.
These days we live under a dark shadow that has eclipsed our country, and the planet too. Instead of chasing shadows, it feels like we’re trapped in the dark, fumbling for the light switch. I found the light when I accompanied family and friends to the Women’s March in Seattle last January.
I was awestruck.
And I was not alone.
The solar eclipse did not move me to tears. But at the sight of 135,000 people speaking up for equality and compassion, and speaking out against oppression, bigotry and hatred, I couldn’t hold back tears of relief.
Tears flowed again.
If it’s a solar eclipse that fills you with awe and purpose, you need only wait a year or two, and somewhere on this planet there will be a next time, another chance. But in the United States, if you’re looking for an extraordinary encounter, or want to feel a part of something larger than yourself, if you want to be more than an observer, you’d better start now. Because in a year or two, who knows what will be left to save.
We can’t sit on our hands hoping no one will get sick, or disenfranchised, arrested, abused, deported, or thrown into a concentration camp for no good reason. Our national parks, our environmental protections, our healthcare and social safety nets are being systematically carved up and sold to the highest bidder. Our politicians and our elections seem to be for sale as well. Our civil rights, our human rights, our right to protest in our own defense–these too are endangered by the deranged sociopath in the White House. We can only hope he won’t get into a pissing match with another tyrant and launch us into nuclear war.
We have no protective glasses for this unnatural phenomenon, but we can’t afford to look away. It’s time to invoke our inner superheroes. Our superpowers will be to speak for those who have no voice. To protect those who cannot protect themselves. To organize, educate, donate, speak out, rally and march.
This isn’t a solar eclipse; there are no do-overs. I’m keeping the glasses, because I want to be prepared for the next big event. 2019 will be here before we know it.
And so will 2020.
All images and text ©2017NaomiBaltuck.
I was in the Badlands during the eclipse, without glasses, although a kind woman loaned me hers for a look. It was quite something. I’m looking forward to the next one.
I’m glad you got to see it. We brought a few pairs of extra glasses, in case we met someone who didn’t have any. I’m glad you got a peek! I hope to see another one too.
Excellent. Empathetic comments and observations as always.
Thank you, Richard. It’s always good to hear from you.
Thank you, Richard!
Right on, sister! Love this post. It’s been an emotional week for me, thinking big about the Universe and myself (my birthday was the same day as the eclipse). I am buffeted about by Awesome and Disgusting every time I look at the national landscape. What gives me hope is that I believe the critical mass of our country is on the side of Awesome and that I can be counted in that. Thanks for sharing your photos and your personal story!
Thank you, Priscilla. It’s hard to keep one’s spirits up when every day brings news of the next outrageous decree. But you’re right–I think what happened couldn’t happen again (no matter what Michael Moore says). I’ve connected with a whole new community of activists who, like me, have been galvanized into action because it’s better than passively watching, and it really does help combat that feeling of helplessness. I do hope your birthday was a good one. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to share your thoughts and your story.
Hi Naomi! I dragged 5 kids, urban kids, up a tall mountain in New Hampshire for the eclipse. As with your experience, the folks who came to the top were sharing the eye saver glasses, comparing notes, chatting, waiting to be awed. Of course it did not get dark in this part of the world, but we still could watch the progress of eclipse, as I watched these wonderful sibling grow unafraid of insects, aching muscles, and a terrain they were unaccustomed to. So many miracles.
What a great way to partake in the wonder! What a treat for urban kids. It’s so good to hear from you, Judith. I hope you are well.
It was beautiful🌞
Thank you, Kathy!
Love you too, Sis. I hope your birthday was a happy one!
Great, insightful post, Naomi. I shed a tear in the cafe when I read it. That crazy maker tipping the scales … threatening disaster … but the protest movement getting stronger by the minute. More to you! M
Thank you, Meg. I hope you are well–I think of you often. You probably recognized the tower in Edinburgh from our trip to the storytelling festival last October.
What great photos!! We feel like we were there with you – thanks!
And more moving were the words of protest and encouragement – double thanks!
Kurt and Judith in Munich, where we saw the full eclipse here on Kurt’s Dad’s 90th birthday.
Wow! You saw the full eclipse in Munich? So cool. What a great birthday present!
I think the eclipse was a welcome diversion from the reality of our world now. The floods in the south, the fires in the west, the political climate reinforcing our division all combine to create a bleak mood, at least for me. I think about our forefathers (immigrants all) who built our country one step at a time, one battle at a time, one wish for a better future at a time, who must be feeling great dismay as they look upon what is happening and they must wonder – will it survive the present?
It was a rare and wonderful escape, and I just ran away to the Tetons. It is refreshing, a coping mechanism to get away now and then from the grim news each day seems to bring. Sometimes the most one can do is to keep one’s spirits up. A good book or movie, a bowl of popcorn, and a glass of wine sound really good. Don’t forget to take good care of yourself.
As always, a rich read. You’re probably already familiar with it, but if you’re not you’ll find a treat in Annie Dillard’s essay, “Total Eclipse.”
Thank you, Megan! It’s always good to hear form you. I need to look up that essay and read it.
Thanks for your blog😊
Thanks for reading and taking a moment to comment. I will see you very soon!
Your posts are always worth the wait Naomi, both for your insights and the great pics. That said, I’m among those who wouldn’t bother glancing up at an eclipse – it’s all a bit remote and too much of a mind-leap for me. But…I never thought the Jersey ‘filter-in-turn’ system would turn up in the US 🙂 It’s a very civilised way of dealing with slow-moving traffic.
Thank you for your kind response. It’s always good to hear from you. I love even the name of the system, ‘filter-in-turn.’ Perhaps the sort of people who are drawn far out of their usual orbits to marvel at something rare and wonderful, are more likely to step into line and take their turn. It all felt so civilized, from start to finish.
I hope you are well. I’ve been very busy with my neighborhood action coalition, and not able to spend so much time blogging. How have you been? Are you working on a new book?
Such a beautiful post full of active hope! Thank you for putting out the call to action, for leading and lighting the way.
“We have no special protective glasses for this unnatural phenomenon, but we can’t afford to look away. It’s time to tear off our glasses and invoke our inner superheroes. Our superpowers will be to speak for those who have no voice. To protect those who cannot protect themselves. To organize, educate, donate, speak out, rally and march.”
We cannot afford to look away !
Thank you for your generous response. It’s so good to hear from you. When I last heard from you, I think you were getting ready to make a move. I hope it went well, and that you are all settled in by now. Warm wishes, Naomi
Terrific post Naomi. What an amazing trip you had. Especially like the photo of the two running with backs to camera My grandson celebrated his 12th bday while viewing the eclipse with his family who had driven from Columbus OH to Kentucky to see it.
It’s funny–I hesitated to use that photo, but it just seemed to capture the joyful spirit that followed the eclipse. I heard from friends who celebrated their 90 year old father’s birthday in Munich by watching the eclipse. I’m sure it will be a birthday your grandson will remember forever. So good to hear from you. Best wishes to you and your family!
Thanks Naomi. Good to hear from you. So glad you included that image!