The volunteer guide at Silver Falls State Park asked if we were “eclipse chasers.” My response: “This is the second one we’ve chased, so I guess we are.”
Monday’s solar eclipse was much hyped because it was the first one since 1918 that could be seen by folks in all times zones of the continental U.S. The 70-mile-wide path of totality ran from Lincoln Beach, Oregon to Charleston, S.C., with the potential to be seen by more than 300 million Americans.
And from where we watched in Salem, Oregon, this meeting of sun and moon delivered spectacularly.
Our party had gathered at a relative’s house beginning on Friday. By Monday morning, our numbers totaled about a dozen. Luckily for us, a couple of our group were professional chefs and bakers, so it was a culinary overload exceeded only by the eclipse’s visual overload. That allowed us to focus on the big event instead of non-stop food preparation and cooking.
A total solar eclipse, where the moon blocks the sun for a few minutes, is so rare that we only get a few such experiences in a lifetime. Our family “chased” one to Hawaii in 1991, and I thought that might be my only chance. The next solar eclipse is predicted to cross parts of the United States in April of 2024. It will pass through Mexico before entering Texas, Kentucky, Ohio, New York and Maine.
But on Monday, several weeks shy of my 70th birthday, I got another opportunity, and this time, the experience was even better. The first time, Hawaii got in the way. It’s hard for anything, even a total eclipse, to overshadow a visit to Hawaii. And it rained the morning of that eclipse, hindering visibility.
This week, as beautiful as Oregon is, the trip was dominated by the sun/moon thing.
It began just after 9 a.m., when a small bite was visible off the upper right of the sun. That bite got larger for the next hour or so, until 10:17 a.m., when we could take off our eclipse glasses and — for almost two minutes — see the moon totally in front of the sun. It was reported by NASA to be the first total eclipse visible in the continental U.S. since 1979.
During that hour, the morning darkened increasingly until, at totality, it was late-dusk dark and decidedly colder than it had been at 9. We could see lights were turned on in buildings in Salem, and stars were visible.
Triumphant shouts and firecrackers could be heard from the neighborhood. Our gang was more sedate, in awe but not too vocal. Some high fives and fist bumps. Awesomeness doesn't have to be screamed about.
Parts of Oregon, especially in areas that hosted festivals, reported crowds, traffic jams and gasoline shortages. The Solarfest drew several thousand visitors from almost 40 countries to the Jefferson County town of Madras. The Oregon Eclipse Festival, at Big Summit Prairie in the Ochoco National Forest, was planning for 30,000 people from 90 countries.
Salem, in the zone of totality, seemed sedate by comparison. Some folks camped along the Willamette River, but as late as Sunday afternoon, the city did not appear overcrowded. In the hours after the eclipse, it was reported that Interstate 5 had heavy traffic leaving town.
Which was fine with us. We came to be with family and friends and witness a spirit-lifting act of nature’s awesomeness. We planned to return to Selma on Wednesday.
Sometimes smaller is better. In my younger years, I would have relished being part of a large group of like-minded strangers at an Festival-styled event. Now pushing 70, relaxing and enjoying a small group was preferable. It made the main attraction all the more meaningful.
Few things made by man are as inspiring as natural beauty. The most beautiful building in the world is no match for Yosemite. The world’s finest artwork tries to capture the beauty of seven seas, but often fails. And, yes, an eclipse beats any piece of music or theater for inspirational value.
As long as there are total eclipses visible to mankind, we will continue to marvel at the wonderment and magnitude of the natural realm.
Oregon had that for us this week. We were fortunate to be here and see it.