Editor’s Report: A Thing of Beauty

The August total eclipse was worth the wait… And more!

Seronik--Eclipse triptych

WE HAVE CONTACT! This trio of images by Gary Seronik shows, from left to right: second contact, mideclipse and third contact, as seen from The Cove Palisades State Park, in Oregon.

That was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.

As my precious 1 minute and 54 seconds of totality ended with a chromospheric burst of light, that thought flitted through my mind. But I’ve probably said something similar after every eclipse. It’s hard to compare one totality with another—memories eventually fade and are gradually corrupted by impressions accumulated after the fact. Even so, this one really did feel special. That’s partly because it seemed to occupy a space in the distant future for such a very, very long time. Anticipation has a way of making rare things seem more special.

A few days before the eclipse, my wife and I loaded up our little travel trailer and drove south from our British Columbia home to The Cove Palisades State Park, situated a few kilometres southeast of the eclipse hot­bed of Madras (a.k.a., “Madness”), Oregon. This was one of the regions Jay Anderson highlighted in “Waiting for the Big One,” which appeared in our July/August 2016 issue. A lot of people heeded Jay’s advice. Our campground was, as expected, full. The Oregon Parks and Recreation Department had added more sites a few months earlier, and those quickly filled up too. Every farmer on the path of totality seemed to be offering a plot of land for “self contained camping,” often at sky-high prices. (One nearby location was charging $90 per night but didn’t seem to have many takers.)

To noneclipse people (in other words, the vast majority of the human race), all this probably seems like madness. One question I was asked over and over again by friends, neighbours and relatives (as I’m sure many readers were as well) was, Why travel all that way? After all, the argument went, if I can see a 90 percent eclipse from home, why go through so much bother for an extra few percent? I tried to explain the many important ways a partial event differs from totality, but I could tell I wasn’t getting through, even as they nodded in agreement. A 90 percent (or even 99 percent) partial isn’t like seeing 90 percent of a total eclipse. It’s as if the two phenomena need different names—referring to both as an “eclipse” badly undersells totality. If you’ve been there, you know. If you haven’t, you have to trust me that no photo (even the superb ones we present starting on page 30 of the November/December issue) or video can convey what the experience is really like. A partial eclipse—even a deep partial—doesn’t begin to hint at the shocking grandeur of totality.

And that brings me back to my original impression. All the preparation, effort and expense were simply about trying to see the most beautiful thing ever. What’s that worth? For a die-hard eclipse fan, the answer is “a lot.” But everyone’s conception of beauty is different. Maybe it’s an eclipse that quickens your heart; perhaps a fine piece of music or artwork does the trick. In the same way an ardent art lover wouldn’t think it was nuts to fly to Paris and queue up for hours at the Louvre to spend a few moments taking in the Mona Lisa, a dedicated eclipse chaser has no qualms about travelling to the ends of the Earth to briefly stand in the Moon’s shadow. They’re two sides of the same beautiful coin.

Check out the November/December 2017 issue of SkyNews (on newsstands now) for an expanded version of Gary’s Editor’s Report.

Categories: Editor's Report
3 comments on “Editor’s Report: A Thing of Beauty
  1. Jeff Carlson says:

    Hello Gary, thanks for your interesting article on the August 21, 2017 TSE. I experienced it in Casper, Wyoming with some old and dear friends. For me it was indeed worth the trip from Calgary and the experience of totality was sublime.

    I think American astronomer Dr. Jay M. Pasachoff said it best in 1983:

    “Some people see a partial eclipse and wonder why others talk so much about a total eclipse. Seeing a partial eclipse and saying that you have seen an eclipse is like standing outside an opera house and saying that you have seen the opera; in both cases, you have missed the main event.”

    Best regards,
    Jeff Carlson

  2. We likewise saw a beautiful total eclipse in the desert a few kilometres east of Shoshoni, Wyoming, due south of our Alberta home west of Edmonton. We tagged up with other friends who likewise drove down and made a trip of it. We arrived at about 8 a.m. in the morning with just three or four other groups in the area. By 10 a.m. (half-hour before first contact) there were more than a dozen groups from all over the U.S. Besides the beauty of the event, we found the camaraderie among all these strangers to be special as well.
    We were the only Canadians in this area (boldly flying the Canadian flag) and many came over to talk with us, both before and after the event. One of our group was a 12-eclipse veteran and he ensured everyone understood what was happening and how special it was that we were seeing it through mostly clear skies (there was some wildfire smoke that wasn’t an issue looking up, but actually enhanced the view of the horizons).
    (I got some good wide-angle photos of the event, but because we continued our trip to the west coast, I wasn’t able to get them reduced in size in time for your photo contest, but I will post them on my blog in the next few weeks.)

  3. John Bontius says:

    this was my second eclipse I was in north dakota in 1979 and I enjyed that one more then i had simple SLR and no problem taking pictures
    now with a DSLR it was too dark for pictures. since then i have figured the camera out still nowhere as easy as the old one
    Along with my nephew(his first eclpse) we traveled much farther than Gary from the Niagara peninsula to Athens Tenesse We had n0 set destination origanally it was to b carbondale but it promised sun and clouds and further west was worse yet checking different cities we saw athens offered cloud free skies and so it delivred we went on awing and a prayer leaving on sunday afternoon and arriving back on tuesday sleeping on a mattres in the back of the van. It worked out near perfect

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