Over the Moon: The Day of the Great North American Eclipse

– By Thomas Miller

Monday August 21, 2017

How clever are we. Up at 4 a.m., heading from Boulder, CO to Casper, WY early Monday all packed by Sunday night with PB&J, tuna salad, dog food, extra bottles of water, more food, two pillows, a blanket and a gallon of gas in a spare container.  So refreshing to be seeking opaqueness when the overused false promise of today’s politics is “transparency.”

Road north from Boulder to Lyons – empty. Lyons to Longmont – neutron bomb quiet. Then on the way east to I-25. Nada. I’m giddy with self-conceit. By 4:30 a.m. we hit the main intersection to the highway that connects Denver to Casper. And…there must be some mistake. It’s hood to tail light as far north as I can see. A city and a half of clever procrastinators heading toward Casper or Douglas or Glendo or some other destination in my way, butting in line in front of me, stealing my place and my idea.

My wife talks me down from the U-turn that calls me like a dog whistle. “It’s a once in a lifetime event!” she reminds me. I merge into the idiot lane which, in my view, the jam of traffic has become, instantly reversing that earlier hotshot notion of myself. In the first tense mile north I consume all my sandwiches and a couple bags of chips, sloshed down with my entire thermos of Earl Grey tea.  There’s still plenty of time for a game of gin and an episode of Seinfeld, but I must attend to the gas and brake pedals and keep myself occupied with thoughts of how stupid I am.

Eclipse map_ Courtesy Tom Miller

Slow-forward four self-critical hours and one spanking spousal soliloquy about going with the flow. We stumble upon a once bucolic spot in Glendo State Park and open our camping chairs to claim the site. There’s a guy in a Cadillac Escalade behind us and a couple from India in a tent behind him and a crew of 15-20 maybe family members with an RV, an awning and a couple of giant Great Danes farther south. Cars come and go, stirring up the road dust looking for just the right viewing area but the serious spectators have the big telescopes set up near the porta-potties down below.

“This is gonna be good!” promises one lady walking back from the john, rubbing her hands together as though she’s about to pull a quarter from behind my ear. “We haven’t missed anything, have we?” jokes a fellow driving slowly by our view spot. The chatter of strangers riffles through the trees as time drains away. It occurs to me that this is my one-time, natural-event family and we all are in love with our little, new baby, the 2017 eclipse.

At about 11:15 my wife asks, “When’s totality?” “I think it’s 11:42,” I answer, “or 11:24.” Then we look up through our science-approved shades and see that the sun is half gone!! No oohs or aahs from the campers next door, no noticeable march toward darkness. Our glasses are on to stay.

At the ersatz witching hour, a forest of voices sends up uniquely human expressions of elation – “Awrigh!” “Yeah” “Ooowow!,” and short unpracticed bursts of applause.  The corona shines a brilliant white – not yellow – with awkward spurs nothing like a royal crown. The camp turns from warm to cool like stepping into Costco’s fresh fruit room, the dog jumps in my wife’s lap, prolific ants keep at their toil, a bird flies a bit haphazardly over our site, two hot air balloons fire up in the soot-colored sky and the horizon costumes itself in a party orange.  I see a planet. I don’t notice if the crickets have stopped their chatter. I can’t speak. I’m transfixed. Not in a transcendent way. Just in awe of this remarkably rare and striking circumstance and my uncharacteristic willingness to endure the massive crush of onlookers to get here.

Shadow on eclipse day_Courtesy Tom Miller

Now everyone’s heading home. Except us. Two days ago, I ingeniously booked the last room tonight at the Motel 6 in Casper, so we’ll be heading north when the throng of my new favorite cousins will be heading south. We mosey over to our car, repack, start to plan what we’ll do in Casper (about an unobstructed hour away) and then look to the single lane exit from the park. It is jammed. Our escape route is blocked. We can’t get to I-25 to head north, in the smarty-pants lane.

Trapped for four hours, I crack through the bag of peanuts, eat the fruit, the cheese, write this remembrance and contemplate my ultimate once in a lifetime event – maybe a trip with my wife to Mars where totality will be more common and the crowds are sure to be scarce.

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