Now That Was a Great Eclipse

When my brother Bruce sent an email to the whole family telling us that this summer there would be a total eclipse of the sun visible from mom’s backyard, I thought “big whoop.”  I mean, I’d seen a few partial lunar eclipses before and they were interesting but not life-changing.  Nevertheless, a major celestial event seemed like as good an excuse as any to head home to Idaho for a few days so I booked tickets and didn’t think much more about it.

Gradually, the light dawned on me and I figured out this was going to be a Really Big Deal.  Several people recommended Annie Dillard’s essay “Total Eclipse” so I read it and was intrigued–and a little spooked–by her apocalyptic recollections of seeing a total solar eclipse.  I also read an interview with astronomer Neil DeGrass Tyson  who, when asked about one travel destination that everyone should see, replied “a total solar eclipse, wherever in the world that may take you. . .the ‘destination’ is the event, not the location.” Maybe seeing a total eclipse was a bucket list item after all.

Helen Macdonald’s essay “How to Stay Sane During A Total Solar Eclipse” convinced me that experiencing the event with my extended family was going to be memorable despite the attendant inconveniences of travel, housing, bathrooms, meals, etc.  “When you stand and watch the death of the sun and see it reborn, there can be no them, only us,” she wrote.  What better bonding activity could there be than to experience a total eclipse with my Loosli-related clan?

As it turned out, forty-one members of my family gathered at mom’s place—a farm located eight miles outside of small town Ashton, Idaho. In order to accommodate everyone a small tent city rose up in the back yard. Fortunately, only one of the tents got completely soaked by a large rolling irrigation sprinkler in the adjacent field and had to be moved at 3:00 a.m.

The night before the eclipse we kicked things off with a “Light & Dark” opening ceremony where we sang songs both sacred (“Lead Kindly Light”) and silly (“You Light Up My Life”), did interpretative dance to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and played an eclipse-themed game of charades.  My brother Joel’s contribution was a dramatic reading from Stephanie Meyers’s Twilight volume “Eclipse” while other family members acted out the purple prose.  The program concluded with a scientific explanation by my brother Bruce, a Boeing engineer, about what we would experience the next day.

Everyone was up early the next morning to feast on Joel’s pancakes decorated with pink hearts. (Joel and his wife Barb raised four girls which is why he knows a thing or two about heart pancakes and the Twilight series.) I put on my Pink Floyd “Dark Side of the Moon” T-shirt and an eclipse necklace featuring a charcoal labrodite disc surrounded by tiny diamonds. We all pulled out our goofy paper eclipse glasses.

Bruce set up a demonstration area where we could use a colander to see moon-shaped shadows on white board and look through a telescope with special reflective coating on the lenses. We cranked up the eclipse playlist our daughter Sydney had put together  featuring tunes like “The Sound of Silence,” “Moon River,” and “Ring of Fire.” Everyone laid out blankets or set up chairs facing the Grand Tetons in the east.  We knew something was up when the cows in the nearby pasture all stood at attention and stared at Sydney’s husband Dan, a PhD candidate in atmospheric chemistry.  What cosmic knowledge were they trying to convey to him?

As we moved from the demonstration area to the driveway to watch crescent shadows filter past the leaves or arc through our interlocking fingers, we’d occasionally put on our eclipse glasses to check out the progress of the moon across the sun. The temperature grew distinctly cooler, enough so that MJ slipped on a sweatshirt. Mosquitoes swarmed at midday. The air grew matte and wavy. I wanted to clean my glasses. Or switch on the sky.

Then at 11:33 a.m., just as predicted, the last tangerine sliver of sun disappeared and the lights went out. Though not completely.  A band of orange at the horizon created a 360 degree sunset that silhouetted the Tetons. The big black hole where the sun had been was surrounded by a feathery white light and the sky beyond that was a pleasing purple—less Twilight magenta and more Crayola blue-violet.

We all cheered. Dan, normally so reserved, threw his arms in the air and spun around yelling at the ebony moon.  I, too, raised my hands to the indigo sky and cried “Wow!”  I wish I’d been more articulate, but “wow” pretty much summed up how it felt to be inside your own sci-fi movie.

Both Dillard and MacDonald wrote that their eclipse experience was terrifying.  Dillard said that “seeing this black body was like seeing a mushroom cloud. . .it obliterated meaning itself.”  MacDonald, too, referenced atomic tests and said her reaction was “shock . . . and a sense of creeping dread.”

As for me, when the heavens dimmed I was elated, awestruck, transported to another place. It seemed like the travails of this world were behind me and a new frontier lay ahead.  I’ve continued to tell people, only half-joking, that I saw the face of God.

Afterwards someone noted that none of us had been taken up in the rapture. (So what did that say about our clan?)  Everyone grinned at the sight of each other.  MJ kissed me and said, “We made it.”

A couple of family members left almost immediately to sit in the terrible traffic that everyone had anticipated for months but which didn’t materialize until the sun began to fill out again. Joel and his family were some of the unlucky travelers. “Worth it,” he texted at midnight after it took twelve hours to make his normal four hour journey back to Salt Lake. “Totally worth it.”

We toasted the eclipse with Tang. Later we’d share an orb-themed dinner of spaghetti and meatballs, frozen peas, melon balls and Moon Pies.  When I asked MJ what word he’d use to describe the experience, he said, “Something old fashioned . . . like ‘sublime.’”

Thanks to my brother-in-law David Kimball for the beautiful opening shot of the Great American Eclipse as seen from Ashton, Idaho on August 21, 2017.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
This entry was posted in Shelter, Spirit, Style, Sustenance and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

8 Comments

  1. Michelle
    Posted August 31, 2017 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    Perfect capture of an amazing moment.

    • kathryn
      Posted September 10, 2017 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      So glad you made the trek out to be there. Wouldn’t have been the same without you!

  2. Posted August 31, 2017 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Next time I hope I go.

    How spectacular to see it with your family. I would love to do the same. xox.

    • kathryn
      Posted September 10, 2017 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

      It really was wonderful to see this with them. Hope you can do the same at some future date.

  3. Barb Loosli
    Posted September 2, 2017 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    Thanks Kathryn! Glad to have been there with you. This truly was a “sublime” experience and I am glad we lived to tell the tale :)

    • kathryn
      Posted September 10, 2017 at 4:44 pm | Permalink

      Indeed! So glad we were able to share it together!

  4. Lisa Wrenn
    Posted September 2, 2017 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I loved reading this. Ours, too, was a family event on a much smaller scale — we stayed with a distant cousin I’d met once at a family reunion and had stayed friendly with on Facebook. They hosted Peter and me and the four of us watched from the front of their home in a Christian Retirement Community, and also got to say hello to my father’s favorite aunt who is in hospice nearby. Peter’s the one who got the ball rolling a few months ago — I had no interest, but didn’t want to squelch his enthusiasm. But what an amazing thing to experience. We turned it into a 1-week road trip, and so glad we did. But turning it into a big family event — what a wonderful experience this must have been for you all.

    • kathryn
      Posted September 10, 2017 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      Yes! It was really wonderful to experience this extraordinary experience together. So glad you got to see it!

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

*
*

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Kathryn Pritchett

writes about Things Elemental — where we find shelter, why we connect, what sustains us and how we strut our stuff.

  • On Instagram

    • Persimmons are Fall’s peonies.