On August 21, 2017 I and my family were lucky enough to be able to travel into the path of totality to view a solar eclipse. I’d been wanting to do so for a few months and with a little planning and a ton of luck we got what we came for.
I recall having seen one in grade school which must have been 1984; I’d have been 11 and in 6th grade. South Florida wouldn’t have gotten a total eclipse but I remember learning about pinhole “cameras” and not staring at the sun. We got to see what I recall to be maybe a 75% coverage and thought it was pretty neat. I’m not sure I’d have gone out of my way to see that again but the more I read about how unique totality is, the more I wanted my family to experience it.
By the time I made plans, everything in the path was booked. Savannah, less than two hours outside the path had lodging available so that was our spot for the night before. We drove there on Sunday without hassle and somehow got the kids asleep in the same room after a great dinner by the river.
With talk of bad traffic into and out of the path of totality (for us that meant somewhere between Columbiam, SC and Charleston, SC), I wasn’t quite sure what to expect but we headed up the back roads for Orangeburg, SC - a city large enough to have some lunch options and small enough to be off the radar of most eclipse chasers.
We arrived in the small town as the moon began its transit across our view of the sun and found a sandwich shop. As we walked into the building I noticed the relatively empty parking lot and expansive lawn from the adjacent bank. I asked the folks behind the counter if we could stay parked there to watch the eclipse - they agreed and we had our location!
The kids were excited, as was I, so I handed out glasses and we all had a look. At this point only a small portion of the sun was occluded so we went ahead and ate. By the time we finished, things had progressed nicely and I got my camera set up. More about that setup in a future post - I learned a lot and it paid off. I just need more eclipses to practice the art.
Once the eclipse was well under way – perhaps 85% or so – things got interesting. To avoid textual rambling, I’ll put my thoughts into bullet points:
Without a way to observe the sun (glasses, pinhole), you wouldn’t know anything is happening until about 80% unless you are really looking for it. With one exception…
Heat disappears before light; at least it seems that way. On a 90-plus-degree day in the South, we felt quite comfortable at 2pm outside with no cloud cover. This was odd.
Once the eclipse is at around 95%, things progress rather quickly. Outdoors feels a bit like a cloudy day but shadows are still hard and colors not so grey.
At around 98% light drops off quickly. Totality is imminent. More about that below.
Totality is fucking cool. Everything feels more or less like 20min or so after a normal sunset, including colors on the horizon. Nothing odd until you look up and there’s a fiery black hole in the sky.
The experience of standing in a 360-degree sunset during the afternoon staring at a deep black hole in the middle of the sun is surreal, to say the least. And the appearance of the corona is really quite spectacular, doubly so when you realize it’s always there but unable to be seen due to the magnitude of the sun’s light. Till just a few months ago I had thought the pictures of total eclipses were all modified in some way to show the sun’s “rays” emanating from behind the moon. Thie is not so at all – the sun’s corona is easily visible with the naked eye and serves to make the darkness of the moon’s coverage that much more dramatic.
I can’t overstate how much different the experience of totality is even to a mostly occluded sun. A partial eclipse is neat but a total eclipse is near spiritual. I highly suggest trying to see one in your lifetime if travel and time permit. I do not regret our journey at all.
All images in this post are my original work.