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You really ought to see this once in your life

In the days and weeks leading up to yesterday’s Great American Eclipse of 2017, my wife and I were aware of many people having conversations about whether or not to travel within the path of totality. Having just witnessed over 2 minutes and 20 seconds of totality, we too are convinced it is a sight you should try to see at least once in your lifetime. Fresh off the experience, here are some of the best thoughts and quotes from my immediate circle about what makes a total eclipse so special.

First off, a quick lesson in solar eclipses: There are two types: 1) a total solar eclipse, and 2) an annular solar eclipse. During a total eclipse, the moon completely occludes the sun; whereas during an annular eclipse, a ring of the sun is visible behind the moon. There’s a big difference between the two as it’s only when you’re experiencing totality during a total eclipse that you can look up at the eclipse with your naked eye.  Based on what I’ve heard, total eclipses occur for only about two out of every five solar eclipses. That leads us to this first quote from my brother:

Viewing a total solar eclipse is a completely different experience from viewing a partial one. One moment you’re viewing it like a scientist with solar glasses or a pinhole camera, the next moment you’re looking up at a surreal, otherworldly spectacle.

Speaking of otherworldly, our family’s viewing spot was on a dock in the middle of a lake. As totality first set in, I looked up with my solar glasses still on just to be safe. Seeing absolutely nothing, I took them off to see a pure black dot with the wisps of angels’ wings tailing off all around. I encouraged everyone else to look up and see.

Everyone began to exclaim in wonder and fascination. There were no disinterested, dispassionate observers. The world was awash in 360º of twilight, but we were in the shadows. I half expected to see a white unicorn come bounding out of the trees on the far bank and run across the lake.

As we were driving home later in the day, I was fascinated by the contrast in environments. Just a couple hours before we’d all been standing on another planet. Now, somehow we’d traveled through space and time and been transported back to familiar East Tennessee backroads. It was like traveling “through the wardrobe” and back again.

Another of my brothers chose to spend the day playing golf on a course within the path of totality. He and his wife almost had the entire place all to themselves. Except for another couple who’d driven down from Wisconsin and rented a golf cart just to drive the course during the eclipse, they saw only a handful of other people.

During totality, my brother said a dog appeared from out of the brush. He’d been rooting around when all of the sudden his midday frolick had turned to a nighttime excursion. He saw my brother and his wife and came up to them looking like he just needed a friend. He sat down at their feet looking up as if to say, “Is it okay if I hang out with you guys?” He sat in silence and watched with them until daylight returned. Then he got up and went back about his business.


The next time you’ve got the chance to see a total solar eclipse first hand, don’t just “go about your business.” Make the effort to be within the path of totality. We didn’t take our youngest daughter yesterday because we were too worried she might look up at the wrong time and hurt her eyes. So that she can experience the same thing her older sisters experienced, we’re already making plans to travel and see the next eclipse over America on April 8, 2024. Hopefully I’ve convinced you to do the same.


Also published on Medium.

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