Some events get way over-hyped by the media and when they happen you are just like, “meh… that was OK I guess.” The 2017 solar eclipse was not one of those events. Quite the opposite, actually. It was perhaps the most under-hyped over-hyped (not a typo) event in the country.
Cool enough, it actually fell on my birthday! Extra cool was that it also happened to be my mom’s birthday. Despite my paranoia that, as such, if we stood too close together during such a powerful, cosmic event we would somehow switch bodies – sort of like in that 1980s movie Dream a Little Dream – only without the awesome soundtrack, I decided to meet up with her for the big event.
I don’t want to make you jealous of how much fun it was driving 14 hours from MA to TN in a truck with a 3 year old, 5 year old and two 80 lb dogs, so let’s just pretend I clicked my heels and was magically transported. And that I was still sane when I got there.
Someone named “Fast Eddie,” who apparently has a small grass airstrip in the path of totality, posted an open invite on Pilots of America for anyone wanting to camp out for the weekend or hang out for the day. I didn’t really know this Fast Eddie guy, but was happy to take him up on the offer. I figured his location was probably going to be far less busy and chaotic than somewhere up in the Smokies.
Traffic on the roads the day of the eclipse was bad, but not as bad as feared. We were amused by the many signs on I-40 warning drivers not to stop for the eclipse. I have a feeling those signs were not well-heeded.
What I enjoyed most about that day was the happiness and excitement in the air. All of the horrible things going on in the world… threats of nuclear war, racial and political divides, vehicles doubling as weapons… all of it was pushed aside and replaced instead with a magical childlike wonder.
It was an infection that had taken over the minds and spirits of the people, and one I wished we’d never heal from.
At Fast Eddies, we found a fun, eclectic mix of folks. Apparently he hadn’t just posted the invite to pilots, but to people from various walks of life… motorcyclists, hippies, aviation enthusiasts, etc. He even welcomed a few random passerby’s.
Fast Eddie, a tall, thin older gentleman in a bright tie-dyed t-shirt, was a pleasant surprise. He and his wife were warm, welcoming people, the kind I could see myself telling stories around a campfire with.
Mrs. Fast Eddie offered us some temporary tattoos. My daughter opted for a feather.
This eclipse tat seemed especially appropriate.
I forgot how bad southern bugs bite, by the way. Up north, when something bites me, it kinda hurts a little and I might be itchy for a day, but that’s about it. Down south, the mosquitoes have actual teeth and come at you with forks and knives! Days later and I still have giant, painful welts the size of golf balls all over me.
It was worth it though.
At 1:04, the first sliver of the sun was shadowed out by the moon. Everyone’s eclipse glasses came out and the real fun began.
Eclipse shadows through the trees.
Around 2:15 everyone began making their way down to the grass runway in anticipation of the big event. The temperature was already starting to drop. Instead of a blazing 95°F it was now a nice, cool 93°F or so…
It started with an odd glow in the air. It felt like dawn. Or maybe dusk. I wasn’t sure if I should get ready for bed or make a pot of coffee. Birds began to fly over the field, heading home for what they thought was the coming night.
Before it got too dark, my mom and I grabbed a quick “Birthday Girls” picture, rockin’ out our sweet NASA-approved shades.
Funny thing about those glasses is that, other than the sun, you can see nothing – absolutely nothing – when you are wearing them. So we really had no idea what direction to look for the photo or when it was done being taken, a fact my husband made sure to have some fun with.
As the moon made its final stretch across the sun, people in the field cheered. Then suddenly it went dark. The cheering stopped, crickets and cicadas began singing and stars lit up the sky. For two precious minutes, there was peace. No one was fighting over political, racial or ideological differences. The sun and moon merged, and unity existed.
Would you call it a sunset or a sunrise? Really, it was neither.
As the sun began to peek back through, a confused rooster crowed. And, just like that, it was over. Sunlight flooded the field. Everyone looked around dazed, like they had just awoken from a dream they never actually went to sleep for. The only voices heard were those of soft whispers.
I wish there were words that could do it justice. It was unique and humbling, and as close to real magic as I’ve ever seen.
Strangely enough, my husband later learned that in 2045 a total eclipse will span across the U.S. again, but this time on HIS birthday! What are the odds of that? Who knows, but we are already making plans. Maybe we’ll buy some property up in northern Maine and this time it will be our airfield the party descends on!
If you missed this one, make it a priority to get to the next in 7 years. Trust me, your soul will thank you.
I’d love to hear about your experience with the eclipse! If you are a pilot, were you airborne during it? Did you spend it on the ground with family and friends? Go off alone? Miss it, but are making plans for the next one in 2024? Please feel free to share!