I watched the totality of the Great American Eclipse from Monteview, Idaho on August 21, 2017.
I had travelled there with a group, but separated to scout ahead for viewing locations. I was laser-focused on the task of photographing the event. I was tense from three long weeks of overtime and was fixated on getting perfect photos. It was a relief to break away from the group, their revelry and dogs distracting from the magnitude of the task at hand.
Simultaneously, I missed them during the event. Story of my life as of late, given lots of reflection during the drive. Balancing letting go while staying focused is a challenge.
I wasn't alone, though.
A man named Charless asked me to email him my photos as his buddy and travel partner cleaned the bugs off my windshield with great squeegee precision. There we sat, in a hay field in the middle of Idaho, along with a Canadian man and a couple from California.
The non-totality phases don't move very quickly. The whole event is just over two hours long. I was in knots with anticipation, checking the phase through my solar glasses every few minutes.
I hadn't set my camera up for anything but the totality.
It rested on a tripod, cloaked by my jacket to protect it from the sun before totality began. A full frame Canon 5D Mark III, with 400mm of reach achieved by a 2.0x teleconverter attached to my 70-200. I set it up with a 7-stop bracket based around 1/8th of a second, going up to 1/5000th and down to 30 seconds.
In spite of all the anticipation and planning, I wasn't ready for what I was about to experience.
The surrealness begins when the temperature drops.
I'd characterize the final minutes of pre-totality as a rapid sunset. The light was very strange, like nothing I'd ever seen. It had a blue tone that made everything around me look vivid and detailed. Shadows of a crescent at our feet. The horizons cascading shades of pink and orange through the smoky haze.
The two-minute totality began as my watch struck 11:32:06.
I frantically removed the jacket cloak, focused, and managed to get off two sets of the brackets (14 photos total). As I leaned back and looked up the totality ring blazed above like a message from heaven. The summer air was frigid, pink twilight in the horizon and a heavier blue to my immediate surroundings. Charless and the others cheered. A shiver ran down my spine, suddenly I felt more bonded to the people around me and to humanity as a whole than I ever had. It sounds cheesy, and that's what everyone said they felt when they watched it. It's real. We really need to all look up together more often. The universe is a beautiful and humbling place.
I didn't sit through the post-totality phase. I quickly packed up and hit the road anticipating heavy traffic on I-15 North. It was heavy. Probably the most dense traffic ever seen on an otherwise desolate stretch of highway. A three hour drive took closer to five, with some occasional dead-stopped bumper-to-bumper traffic.
I sent Charless the photos the next day.
He was grateful and shared more of his life with me in response. In his younger years, the 60s, he worked for NASA, rode motorcycles to the tip of Baja twice, and built a passive solar house of his own design.
He's the exact sort of guy you'd imagine meeting in the middle of nowhere to watch an astronomical phenomenon.
He shared well-organized pdf journals accounting all of the above, and inspired me to start delivering content in more of a story-driven, journalistic form rather than a constantly nebulous stream of consciousness.
So, here's the first entry. Cheers.