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