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There Is a Difference Between a Partial and Total Solar Eclipse
It was the first time it would happen in 99 years, and I didn’t want to miss it.
I’m not talking about the fact that I finally got the top of my desk organized. We’re talking about the Great, Tremendously Stupendous, Made-in-the-USA, Totally American Eclipse.
My wife and I had never experienced a similar celestial event. A total eclipse will darken our farm in 2106 but we didn’t want to wait that long. We determined that our best path would be to put ourselves into the path of the Great Eclipse of 2017.
Fortunately, our youngest son, Chris, and his wife, Megan, live in Kansas City. KC would be on the southern edge of totality (or the umbra, named for Umb, the Greek god of parasols), so my wife and I decided that the third weekend in August would be an opportune time to visit the kids.
The plan for eclipse morning was to hop into our car and drive north from Kansas City until we reached the center of the path of totality.
Thuds of thunder shook us awake on the morning of the eclipse. We checked the weather on our phones. Thunderstorms were expected to linger most of the day.
We made the command decision to drive east and south instead of north. Our hope was that we would run out of the clouds before the moon’s shadow outran us.
Apparently, the entire population of Kansas City had the same idea. We soon found ourselves mired in a traffic jam as rain fell in quantities often associated with Niagara Falls. It looked as though the eclipse might take place as we languished amidst a sea of semi-stationary cars in a pounding rain.
With a little luck and persistence, we managed to extricate ourselves from the slow-motion traffic jam – only to become part of a slightly faster traffic jam. But we were encouraged by the thinning cloud cover as we made our way east.
We stopped at the town of Boonville, Missouri, to scope out the viewing situation. A stubborn layer of clouds made the sun look like an indistinct, greasy smudge. Our weather apps and a lifetime of monitoring meteorological mood swings from a tractor seat told us that we should continue driving south and east.
After motoring some miles down a lonely country highway, we finally found an area where it appeared that the skies would be fair. Somewhere near the town of Prairie Home we randomly pulled over onto a gravel road and set up our lawn chairs beside a soybean field.
Megan had made grilled cheese sandwiches which we gratefully narfed down. She had also thoughtfully brought along a bottle of wine, so we drank a toast to totality. Then we waited for the show. And waited. And waited some more.
Peering through my super-dark welding goggles, I could see that a humungous Oreo cookie had covered part of the sun. The cookie gradually slid eastward until the sun was reduced to a golden crescent.
As the eerie duskiness deepened, a large black dog randomly trotted past us. We tried to engage him in conversation, but he seemed discombobulated by the bizarre phenomenon of evening arriving at midday.
A cool breeze washed across the prairie as the moon’s shadow barreled toward us at 1,450 mph. Suddenly, silently, the last sliver of the sun disappeared.
It’s been said that the total solar eclipse experience is indescribable. This is true, so I won’t even try.
I witnessed a partial eclipse some years ago. The difference between watching a partial eclipse vs. a total eclipse is like hearing your favorite band on a tinny transistor radio vs. sitting in the front row at one of their concerts. The band’s leader smiles and points at you and says, “This next song is dedicated to…”
The horizon turned crimson with a glowing, 360° sunset. Crickets began their nighttime serenade. We could hear people on neighborhood farms whooping and setting off fireworks. Dogs barked and yawped.
For the first time in our lives we could stare directly at the sun. Its gleaming halo bathed the planet in a soft, otherworldly sheen.
After what seemed like mere moments, the sun peeked out from behind the Oreo and the eclipse was over. Like many of life’s firsts, after a long, drawn-out buildup, it came to an end much too quickly. In other words, it was similar to such life-changing events as your first rollercoaster ride.
We climbed back into the car and wended our way through the countryside until we found the freeway. We joined a slow-rolling traffic jam of cars carrying people who wore goofy, post-eclipse grins on their faces.
Just like ours.
Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at Workman.com and in bookstores nationwide.