One More Eclipse Story

I have been studying for forty years how humans are influenced by events in the sky. I knew I wanted to experience the April 8, 2024, eclipse at totality, after all, it would be in the neighborhood. A good friend of mine told me it was like a religious experience. I heard from eclipse chasers it would be worth all the hype. Months ago, I cleared my calendar and bought my eclipse glasses when they were plentiful.

I was a little naïve. I just thought I’d drive north, in my case less than three hours, park somewhere and gaze skyward. After all, I was on Cape Cod for a 2017 eclipse, while not total, there were no crowds and I simply sat on the beach with my eclipse glasses. But a few weeks before the eclipse, dire warnings started coming out of Albany. Millions expected to arrive in upstate New York to view the eclipse. Governor Hochul warned people to arrive early and stay late. Weeks before the event, large signs appeared along the New York State Thruway warning drivers of the event. Niagara Falls declared a state of emergency. I knew I had to have a specific plan.
When Hochul announced all state parks would be open for the event, I took a look at a map. I chose Crown Point State Historic Site for a few reasons. One, we had wanted to visit it again. Two, it has picturesque ruins on the shores of Lake Champlain and is the perfect background for a celestial event. Three, the grounds are huge and could easily accommodate crowds without feeling crowded. Lastly, it is not a quick exit off a highway so I figured crowds would be going to places close to major highways. Still, it was a crap shoot. We rose before sunrise and headed north.

We arrived at Crown Point before 9 a.m. While not overwhelmingly crowded, it was more crowded than an normal day. We were quickly and efficiently parked and we had our chairs set up and were ready for whatever the day offered before 9:30. With many hours to the event, we decided to tour the grounds. It was immediately clear, everyone was here.

Two young Mennonite children asked if they could pet my dog. A Hasidic family wandered around; their children wide-eyed. Women in hijabs wandered happily through the grounds crowds. Two women in colorful saris walked slowly elbows linked. There were mothers carrying babies, fathers playing catch with their children, bird watchers (there was a large osprey nest near our car with four osprey), and well-behaved dogs. Around noon, a busload of Catholic school from New York City arrived, their chaperones in billowing white habits could convince anyone the rapture might happen when they stood on top of the redoubt. Young girls flew kites in the field next to us. Bunches of college students lay indolently on the lawn. There were old people, viewing their last total eclipse, with their walkers and wheelchairs. Crowds continued to build all day. When school let out, families with school age children started to mob the site. Barbeque wafted in the air. Lawn games were in full swing. I commented that it had the feel of a Fourth of July celebration.

About 2:10 p.m., a young girl next to us shouted to the sky, “It’s started!” We all snatched our paper glasses, placed them on our eyes, and looked skyward. For the next hour and fifteen minutes, the crowd hushed, even the children and dogs, as we watched the celestial dragon slowly devouring the sun. As the sun disappeared, it became dusk, and the formally warm day became chilly. People wrapped themselves in sweaters, hoodies, and blankets. Birds gathered and quieted as the shadows lengthened. About 3:27 p.m., the voice of a young man shouted in jubilation from the redoubt and thousands of voices joined his as people yelled joyously and applauded. Our glasses came off and everyone, mouths gaping in amazement, looked around.

Remember that hypothetical situation someone always brings up, the one where your house catches on fire and you have five minutes to grab whatever you can? This was that scenario, only instead of a fire, it is the totality of the eclipse, lasting a little over two minutes. You have two minutes to view as much as you can, what do you look at? This is my two minutes in a nutshell: the eclipse itself was surprisingly achromatic looking black and white against a darkening sky. A bright star, I assumed it was the planet Venus, appeared in the sky, lights flickered on the Lake Champlain Bridge. Orange burned at the far edges of the lake like sunset. The osprey had hunkered in their nest wishing we’d all go home so they could get some rest. Someone across the lake set off a volley of fireworks. The world was dusky and took on a bluish-purple tone, something like just after sunset on a perfect summer night. Then I sat, without glasses and gazed at the eclipse. It was something I had never seen before and may never see again. I wanted to remember exactly what it looked like. For those two minutes, it seemed like everyone in that park was in a perfect bubble of wonderment and joy. Another shout went up from the redoubt as the first ray of sun poured out from behind the moon. Everyone applauded. The spell was broken.
While people packed their cars and headed home, we stayed, glasses on, making sure the dragon was going to vomit up the entire sun. You never can be too sure. An hour later, the park, now mostly empty, became sunny and warm again. Just the lingerers, like us, who wanted to squeeze every moment from the event. The sun was safe, and we could go home now. We took the long way on the back roads to get home. It took five hours but was probably still quicker than the highways that were clogged with eclipse viewers.

I know people are going to ask “How was it?” and, at least for right now, I’m going to need some time to process the experience so instead of me trying to, I’m going to end with Ellie Arroway’s testimony in the movie Contact. It’s close enough for now:

I was given something wonderful, something that changed me forever. A vision of the universe, that tells us, undeniably, how tiny, and insignificant and how rare, and precious we all are! A vision that tells us that we belong to something that is greater than ourselves, that we are *not*, that none of us, are alone! I wish could share that. I wish that everyone, if only for one moment, could feel that awe, and humility, and hope.

Leave a Reply

x  Powerful Protection for WordPress, from Shield Security
This Site Is Protected By
Shield Security