Below are my unedited (with one exception) reflections on the total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017.

Before:

It’s begun. Still over an hour until totality, so I wanted to capture some thoughts. Of course with no internet connection I won’t be able to post until tonight or even Tuesday, but these are my reflections just before I see my first total solar eclipse.

As I wrote before, there’s nothing particularly special about an eclipse. The Moon always makes a shadow (unless it is being eclipsed itself). It’s just that usually that shadow isn’t directly on me. Today I will see the diamond ring, the moment of totality, and the usually invisible solar corona. I don’t know if it will change me – will I be a different person when I come back to this reflection? Maybe.

So many people here to share this experience. I’ve talked with locals, but also from a guy who drove all the way from Oklahoma. I’ve seen Massachusetts and Illinois license plates, and every place in between. Also Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina. It gives me hope that so many people, from so many different parts of the world, take enough interest in the world to come see something so rare and esoteric. What will we get from it? I’ll know in 72 minutes.

And after:

Wow. Wow. Totality is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Never have 2 minutes and 40 seconds flown by so quickly. I wish we could do it again and again and again.

A beautiful day. White, puffy clouds popping up out of nowhere. Clouds! No! Don’t you dare, cloud. A large one looked like it might be in exactly the wrong spot in exactly the wrong time. But no. As the eclipse progressed, the cloud dissipated, and a beautiful dome of blue sky surrounded the shrinking Sun on all sides. It was going to happen.

As totality approached, the light all around us took on a strange hue. It reminded me of the light near sunset after a big thunderstorm, when the sunlight is shining under the clouds. Darker and darker it grew, as the heat of the day subsided. The sliver of Sun in the sky got smaller and smaller. A sheet of white paper on the ground showed dark ripples, as you see at the bottom of a swimming pool. Bright planets or stars (not sure, but as they were on the ecliptic I suspect they were planets)  came out, one on each side. (EDIT: yes, they were planets; Jupiter to the left and Venus – Venus! – to the right. Venus is never visible high in the sky, well, except during an eclipse!)

And then the diamond ring, and then totality. Suddenly there was a dark hole in the sky where the Sun had been. The corona shown on all sides, looking hairy and white against a suddenly dark sky. The time ticked away so fast, oh, so fast. A dog howled. A hawk flew low on the horizon. People exclaimed, thrilled, delighted, amazed. And then it was over. So, so fast. So beautiful. So wish I could do it again.

As I sit here, I’m already a different person, not even sure if what I just saw was real or a dream. Did that really just happen? Yes, as I glance at the sky through my filtered glasses I see the reverse crescent of the Sun as the invisible Moon slowly slides away, blissfully unaware that she’d done anything special today.

This really happened. I’m hooked.

Later, I looked over the photos I’d taken, hoping for some glimmer of what I’d just seen. The photos were all terrible. Honestly, though, even the best photograph doesn’t do justice to this event. It requires an epic poem, or a painting.

Or a symphony.

Every human should see a total solar eclipse at least once. It is nothing – nothing! – like a partial solar eclipse, or any lunar eclipse. It is a different beast entirely. When I see a partial solar eclipse, I think, ok, that’s a cool science phenomenon. A total solar eclipse is beyond science, beyond words. It links us to long-forgotten ancestors, who looked up at the sky in awe and wonder. If they were anything like me (and I think they were), this phenomenon would have touched them deeply, so deeply that they’d want to understand.

I am an optimist. I believe that humans will one day break the shackles of this planet, this solar system, and move out into the stars. Wherever we go, whatever new planets and new star systems we make our own, I believe we will never, ever find the perfect set of coincidences that lead to these amazing total solar eclipses. Long after our planet is gone, I believe it will be remembered as the world on which, every so often, the Moon made a hole where the Sun once was.

The only decent picture I have from my life-changing trip came quite a bit later, as I had my post-eclipse celebratory meal at Sonny’s Barbecue. So I suppose I’ll share that.

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Notice that little drip of barbecue sauce on the left, with the “solar flare” coming off it? That’s kinda like the Sun, and . . . oh, never mind. Ribs are good.

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