One day I was driving around in a California oilfield when I heard the writer and astronomer Kelly Beatty on NPR’s Here and Now, talking with Jeremy Hobson, about how stunned and awed he is whenever he sees a solar eclipse. In grade school, I’d seen a partial solar eclipse that looked like some had taken a shot at the sun and had only grazed it. For years, I’d ached to see a total solar eclipse and as life goes, I was never in the right place or could afford to travel to the right place. When I’d first heard about the eclipse happening on August 21, and that the shadow was going to pass right over where I’d worked and lived for years, I was dismayed. I was going to miss it. It seemed like wretched fate that I’d spent years of my life in the path, only to be in California when it came. It was conceivable, an almost 14-hour drive, I could make it. My main concern was the eclipse would happen at the beginning of the fall semester and both my girls needed to be in class at the high school.
But hearing the interview woke my childhood desire to see the sun blotted out and stand in the darkness during midday. To be in the actual shadow of the moon. We would literally be a part of something astronomical. I’d have the opportunity to teach my daughters the science of eclipses as we get ready and make our trip, and then they could be witness to it. It would also be taking part of something literal and historical that has shaped cultures. We are all familiar with the Connecticut Yankee forecasting the eclipse to wow King Arthur and his knights, but also the eclipse is filled with a rich tradition of superstitions, fears, and omens.
I’m a photographer as well as a writer, so I’ll need to learn how to photograph a solar eclipse. I would only have 2 minutes and 13 seconds to get any shots I could get and who knows if I’d ever have the chance to try again. My oldest daughter is an artist and my youngest is a budding photographer/scientist, so each will learn along with me. I wondered how learning the science and history, and then witnessing a total eclipse would inspire them and change the way they look at the world? How will it change me?
Importantly this will be a homecoming for my daughters. They were both born in Idaho and spent many a summer at remote fire camps in the mountains where I worked. In fact, their last summer in Idaho they went rafting on the Payette River with my last helicopter supervisor and his wife, who now own the campground in the eclipse’s path where we are going to stay along the same river. We’ve all wanted to get back to Idaho, as the state has a special bond for us. I weighed these things as the interview went on. Was I just pursuing my own boyhood desire? Was I only concerned with the spectacle of it? What was I looking for and hoping to find in the moon’s shadow? What was I hoping to give my daughters by taking them on this adventure? Sure, I thought, all of the above things, but what of the things we can’t know until it has happened? For the unknown. I thought about taking risks and the role it plays in life. In the past I’ve jumped at opportunities, ignoring the conventional advice of always adhering to the known and steady schedule, that resulted in life changing experiences, reshaping how I understood the world. It’s how I ended up in Idaho, fighting wildfire. It’s how I ended up in the Bering Sea. It’s how I ended up at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica. What would this short one-week trip yield? Sometimes, you just need to forget what’s required and take the chance. As Beatty talked with Jeremy Hobson, I decided my girls could miss a few days of school for that. Who knows, maybe the school will work with them and let them report back on what they learned.
I’ll share thoughts and photographs of our preparations for the Trip to Totality, our journey there, the witnessing of the event, and what we discover about ourselves and our place in the larger context to the world. This includes our Trip to Totality playlist, starting with Bruce Springsteen’s “Blinded by the Light.“
Next up: Finding the right lens filters and helpful Eclipse 2017 links.