Thanks to my 86-year-old father’s planning (we all thought he was nuts), 24 members and four generations of our immediate family flew from Maine to steamy Athens, Tennessee for the day yesterday to see the Aug. 21, 2017 Total Solar Eclipse, the first since 1918 to cross the entire U.S.
This was surely a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most of us, although we now hear there is another “total” on April 8, 2024 whose path will cross Maine. Maybe Stonington isn’t such a bad place to live.
In the photo at top, our group (from six-months-old to eighty-six) is posing about 15 minutes before totality. Note the crescent shadows in front of us, a lovely eclipse phenomenon as the light filters through the trees.
Our jet took off from Bangor airport at about 6:30 AM. We landed at the modest Athens, TN airport just before 9:30 AM. It was already steamy hot, but the sky was clear and blue. What a relief, after days of going back and forth about our destination (initially to be Columbia, SC). Lugging giant coolers of cold drinks, a newly-purchased tent from Target, and a handful of folding chairs we set up camp in a grove of trees near the runway.
Then we waited. We’d brought snacks and a few sandwiches but our daughter Eliza enterprisingly ordered takeout from a local restaurant to be delivered to our campsite. Just before noon, a pickup truck appeared loaded with 30 hot lunches (pulled pork, fried steak and chicken dumplings). The food was tooth-achingly sweet, but delicious.
We waited some more. It got hotter. We rested. We played cards and catch. My nieces braided everyone’s hair. Our seven-year-old granddaughter Dorothea befriended an older couple sitting near us who had brought two impressively large parrots in cages.
Finally, just after 1:00 PM Eastern, the show began. As we all peered through our eclipse glasses (including the three and five-year-olds) we could see the moon moving slowly, slowly across the sun like a perfect bite out of an apple getting bigger and bigger. We’d peek and then retreat back to the shade. It was still broiling hot and bright. It was taking too long.
Then, about 15 minutes before totality, we felt rather than saw the slanted light of dusk. The air temperature dropped, a little. The crescent shadows multiplied. We swore the cicadas in our grove of trees got louder, thinking it was dusk. The parrots squawked, I think. Still, with five minutes to go, we waited for something more dramatic.
And then at 2:32 PM Eastern, right on schedule, it was totality. We ripped off our protective glasses and gazed and gazed in awe. The sun was a tiny, dark disk in a pure clear sky. The fiery corona flared neatly around it, as promised. It was as magnificent and inspiring as the New York Times said it would be. Oddly, while it was never pitch dark, an orangey sunset bloomed in front of us and behind us.
To my surprise, I felt tears. Here, almost touching us, were the mysterious workings of the universe. It was as if we were seeing a lifetime pass by, in a handful of minutes. The slow creeping of the moon across the sun, in those pre- and post-totality minutes, is the purest illustration of the passage of time. And also, of rebirth. For a moment we witnessed, we saw, the fleetingness of life and the beauty of four generations, and more, continuing.
So thanks to my father for a brilliant idea and for his extraordinarily generous gift to his family of an indelible experience. It was a day and a moment to remember, to savor and to reflect on forever. Thank you Dad!
We were back on our plane just after 3:00 PM, with the air conditioning barely cooling the heat that had built up inside. We took off, after waiting behind seven or eight other planes, and landed at the Bangor airport by 6:00 PM, sinking into the lovely cool of a Maine evening.