8/21/2017 eclipse

Today we traveled to St. Clair to view the eclipse. St. Clair is a very small town off historic route 66 in Missouri, about an hour south of St. Louis. All week I'd been checking the weather, hoping it wouldn't be cloudy or stormy, ready to change course if needed. We had lucked out getting a hotel in St. Louis at a decent price, as pretty much every hotel and campground in the path of the eclipse sold out about a month ago.

We got to St. Clair around 10:00 o'clock in the morning. The small town of 5000 people had setup various viewing sites to accommodate the influx of visitors from all over the midwest and beyond. In a neighboring field pilots were readying private planes, planning to be in the sky during totality. The weather ended up being perfect, 90 degrees with only thin high clouds that dissipated as the sun came out. The sun was directly above us and was brutal -- a swampy, unrelenting Missouri heat that amplified the river smells and the chorus of cicadas. We sat ourselves down under a shady tree with a tall glass of lemonade and watched Joe sweat profusely as he checked and rechecked his portable BBQ smoker. He paused to wipe his brow from underneath his cowboy hat while his coworkers continued to shout orders from within their air conditioned trailer: "Joe! Need a Mac and cheese! Hotdog!" In the background an electric generator hummed along as kids played a frisbee toss game and evangelists setup camp, prepared to spread the gospel. We wondered if there were pagan sun worshippers doing a dance in the forest nearby.

As we waited, more and more people started showing up at the park, and the line for the BBQ place grew longer and longer. A few folks from the local town council pulled out a megaphone to congratulate the organizer of the event and we all applauded.

At 11:48 pm the partial eclipse began. Looking up at the sun through eclipse glasses, barely anything could be seen, just a round yellow orb. It felt wrong to look at the sun, to feel such intense heat directly on my face. Just a few minutes later, it looked like someone had taken a tiny bite out of the top right corner of the sun.

There were definitely moments during the partial eclipse, especially at the beginning, where I felt almost manic, like I was hyping myself to a frenzy. Maybe it was just the heat, maybe it was the vibrations from fellow eclipse watchers, maybe it was simply excitement and eager anticipation...

For weeks I had been recalling my mom's account of seeing a total eclipse years ago. She described it as the sun losing its strength, an eerie and humbling event that makes one appreciate the power and importance of the sun. I also read many accounts online, many which described the experience as both foreboding and spiritual, while others compared it to falling in love for the first time. The event grew immensely important in my mind, and I felt intense pressure to choose the right spot so we wouldn't miss it. I researched and monitored the weather and traffic for days in advance, but I was still nervous.

I had read that all the animals and bugs start behaving differently once the darkness of totality hits. We moved to a quieter spot to get away from the steady hum of Joe's electric generator. Over the course of an hour we watched the moon bite get larger and larger, slowly swallowing the sun. Through the glasses it looked like we were watching phases of the moon, except it was the sun that was turning into a smaller and smaller crescent. I didn't really feel like I was seeing the moon at all, but rather a black void overtaking the sun.

At around 1:00 pm the sunlight hitting the ground seemed to be losing its yellowness. It was becoming a pale sepia, sort of like how the light looks right before an intense rainstorm, but only more anemic. Despite this, the sun still shined with a brilliant white intensity, even if it was only a crescent sliver at this point. I was amazed how bright it was outside even with 99% of the sun covered.

I looked at my skin as the silvery pale light hit it, and it was noticeably cooler now. I would guess the temperature probably dropped 10 degrees. There was no radiant heat felt on my skin, just a cold light. A breeze rolled through and the cicadas started making noise like it was dusk. I felt like the moon and the sun were in a david and goliath-esque battle, a tiny moon up against an impossible adversary, the massive glowing giant at the center of our solar system. "You can do it Moon!"

At around 1:10 pm I looked up hoping to see flickers of light caused by light passing through mountains and valleys on the moon's outer edge. At this point the sun was barely visible, just a tiny speck in the sky. Even with just a tiny speck it was *still* surprisingly bright, like evening twilight. I watched the speck disappear and my glasses went completely dark, and an airhorn blared behind me signaling the beginning of totality. I heard screams and shouts from people all around me.

I took off my glasses and was instantly stunned and overwhelmed. I had an involuntary response to start shouting and basically just started yelling nonsensically and cursing over and over -- "Oh shit! Oh shit! Holy fuck!" The blackness that I had just seen in my glasses had transformed into a now brilliant blueish-white light flaring out from behind the dark circle of the moon. It was insane how long the flares extended out, almost double the diameter of the sun itself...the sight was not like anything I have ever witnessed or seen. Typically pictures and drawings of a total eclipse show a red or white ring and this was more like whispy translucent blue flames radiating and whipping out in all directions out of a deep column of darkness.

The immediate sky around the corona was like an intense silvery blue...looking at the horizon it had turned a purple-reddish hue, like a sunset in all directions. It was also dark like night time, but not pitch black -- more like a bright moonlit night. It was much cooler. Nearby planets were visible, appearing like strong stars. The charter planes streaked across the sky, appearing to fly behind the sun. The din of the crickets and cicadas grew very loud, confused and convinced it was suddenly night time. Families struggled to explain what was happening to their kids; I kept cursing and laughing. It was beautiful, overwhelming, angelic even. It felt quite peaceful.

Suddenly a horn blared behind us, signaling the end of totality and to put our glasses back on. When the totality broke it was like a pinpoint of a sunrise opening up in the sky. Within seconds there was much more light, as if it was dawn. The insects quieted down. I had a huge yearning to look at this pinpoint of light. I get now why they warn people not to do this, it's really hard to resist the urge.

The entire totality lasted only around 2 minutes and 40 seconds but while it was happening it felt like time was passing both very slowly and very fast. During totality time appeared to slow down and stand still. But afterwards it felt like 10 seconds had just elapsed. Surreal...

Around us folks immediately started packing up and leaving. The remaining partial eclipse no longer captivated their attention and they wanted to head out before the traffic started. We felt a duty to see it through, so refilled our lemonades and had a picnic until the partial eclipse ended at 2:43 pm. The sun was blazing again at full strength and we were sweating like crazy. An overly concerned old man holding a beer slowly hobbled towards us and asked if we'd return for the 2024 eclipse. We said we hoped so and he warned us to stay out of trouble and wished us a good life.

Afterwards, and now back at the hotel, I find myself staring off into the distance and trying to remember the moment of totality. It feels like such a distant memory now, like an intense dream, even though it was only hours ago. I wanted to write this all down in the moment so I don't forget what it was like. I feel really humbled to have witnessed what Griselda described as "God's eye." I'm tearing up a bit as I write this actually. I feel I'm repeating myself at this point, but it was just an indescribably beautiful and surreal experience. I hope to see one again in my lifetime...