Savanna Mabey and Noelle Dravis, both 11 and from Williamstown, look at the total solar eclipse at an event at Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Mo., on Monday, Aug. 21.
I had imagined night coming like a warm blanket on a cold night, slowly cocooning me in coziness until all the remained exposed to the chill were my eyes and nose.
Instead, it was more like that warm blanket being ripped off.
That's what experiencing the recent Great American Solar Eclipse felt like from within the path of totality. I had underestimated the strength of the sun.
Here in the Berkshires, the sun only was covered around 70 percent during the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse. Not content with that after a fifth-grade year of being encouraged to learn more about astronomy, my daughter wanted to see the eclipse in totality. And so my husband (iBerkshires sports editor and Williamstown reporter Stephen Dravis) and I and our 11-year-old daughter Noelle set out on an adventure.
We picked out two locations and reserved hotels months ago: Charleston, S.C., and St. Louis, Mo. We watched the weather and up until Friday morning, Aug. 18, we didn't know which way we would go. We did not want to drive all that distance only to have clouds and storms ruin our view. We decided the weather looked better in Missouri, so we headed west.
It was the right choice. While there were some fluffy white clouds in the ski over Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Mo., where we went to an eclipse event, it was cloudy and raining over Charleston, and a friend who lived there reported she saw nothing.
But in Hillsboro, we saw it all.
We arrived just as the campus gates were opening at 8 a.m. For only $5 a carload, we were invited onto the pretty campus, where they had games for the kids, lectures and demonstrations, plenty of reasonably priced souvenirs and snacks, and, more importantly, a plethora of wide open areas to watch the skies.
"The eclipse is starting!" Noelle shouted as we exited a lecture on the science of eclipses shortly after noon. With the naked eye, the sun showed no sign of being in distress, but once we donned our safety glasses, there it was: a tiny slice of the sun hidden by the moon, looking like a cookie that a naughty child had taken a nibble out of. (That's how it was described by another 11-year-old girl, a friend of Noelle's from Williamstown whom we completely and totally unexpectedly ran into the day prior at the Six Flags park outside of St. Louis. Talk about a small world!)
We stopped inside for a bite to eat and watched the live NASA feed of totality as it blanketed Oregon. Then we headed back outside to watch the rest of the magic happen.
And this is where my surprise happened. I expected to feel the dusk was settling in, then midnight, then dawn, as the moon covered the sun. I thought it would be gradual, like that blanket being pulled up over me. Instead, until the sun was about 90 percent covered, the brightly sunny day didn't look or feel any different. Even then, it was almost like the slight dimming of a dying light bulb, a haze that makes you blink and wonder what happened.
At 95 percent, it started to feel more like dusk, and then, it was the moment of totality. Almost in an instant, the sky was a medium purple, and a beautiful sunset surrounded us. People were cheering and clapping and hooting and hollering. Noelle was on the ground, repeating, "This is so cool," over and over again. Fireworks were set off in the distance. The crickets were chirping their nighttime songs. And the bats — the poor, confused bats — flew out of their nighttime nests, shrieking and circling.
For two minutes in the middle of the afternoon on a hot and sunny August day in Missouri, twilight came.
I had been told to not try to take pictures, to just enjoy the moment. But I couldn't resist. All around me, magic was happening. The sun was the least interesting object at that moment, even though for those two minutes I didn't need to wear my glasses to look up at it. I snapped pictures of the fireworks, the sunset, the girls on the grass.
And then I put down my phone and watched the bats.
Two minutes later, they were gone, flying back into their nests, where hopefully they could reset their circadian rhythms. The crickets quieted. The fireworks stopped. Night became day, and the sun was back, lighting the sky. And once again, within mere minutes, without the glasses, you wouldn't even know an eclipse was happening. The cookie was being nibbled on again.
Many poems and stories have been written about the power of eclipses. Some people say it's a life-altering journey, a religious experience, a moment of zen. I don't know about that. I do know I can't wait for the next total solar eclipse, which is only seven years away and will be a much shorter drive, with the path of totality coming through upstate New York and northern Vermont.
One online newspaper asked people to describe their eclipse experience in six words. So here are mine: It was an epic two minutes.
Rebecca Dravis is the community editor for iBerkshires.com. She lives in Williamstown with her family.
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