The Great American Total Eclipse
This year, North America was treated to a rare event: a total solar eclipse starting in Oregon, crossing the great plains and then ending over South Carolina. The Moon’s shadow swept over the contiguous US with an average speed of one thousand miles per hour. The eclipse took place over a period of four hours and lasted only one to two-and-a-half minutes in certain areas along its 73-mile wide path of totality. Though much of the country experienced a partial eclipse, only those within the path of totality experienced a total eclipse. My wife and I decided to make the trip to South Carolina (the closest point of totality for us) with our friends from Deremer Studios, who planned to photograph the event from start to finish. Not to be outdone, we brought our film equipment too.
Watch the video at the end of the article to view our trip from start to finish and our experience of totality.
To prepare, Jessie and I watched videos on YouTube from the popular channel Smarter Everyday and we also watched two movies on Amazon Prime (Totality and Chasing Shadows) that were very informative and enlightening. My biggest fear traveling to see the eclipse was that we might see nothing due to unpredictable weather or dense cloud cover. Quick, violent thunderstorms and cumulonimbus clouds are common every day in the South during the summer months. But, our good friend Nate from Deremer Studios had spent considerable time choosing three different possible viewing locations with special attention given to being on the exact center line of totality. The plan was to check the weather reports intermittently on our way up and then vote for what we considered would offer the best odds for viewing.
We left early in the morning on the day of the eclipse from Jacksonville and drove along the back roads and lonely state highways to avoid the traffic jams predicted by media outlets in the days ahead of the event. We made our way through Georgia, up to South Carolina to an area called Gaston, just south of Columbia. We arrived about 20 minutes before the eclipse was to begin. The skies were clear within approximately a 5-mile radius, surrounded by towers of cumulonimbus thunder heads and anvils. We quickly found the exact spot Nate had planned and set up our cameras. I also brought a drone because I had heard that one should try and get some elevation in order to also see the moon’s shadow approaching and leaving our location.
At the beginning of first contact, known formally as C1, my goal was to enjoy the experience with my family and friends and try to capture some video of totality. Jess was wise enough to score eclipse glasses several days in advance so we could all witness the event together. As we placed our solar viewers on, it was amazing to see this rare phenomenon beginning. I really enjoyed seeing and sharing the experience with my wife and seeing my children’s reaction to the moon beginning to cover the sun. They were impressed by the sight and the ability the eclipse glasses gave them to be able to actually look up at the Sun. As C1 progressed, I live-streamed a few times to share as much of the experience as I could with friends who couldn’t be there. As the eclipse advanced, I began to realize that nothing can prepare you for the experience.
Moments before totality (C2-C3) begins, daylight starts to fade into an odd mid-day twilight. You notice a yellow haze and the hint of a phenomenon called shadow bands. You can also see the phase of the eclipse on the ground via naturally occurring pinhole camera obscura produced by shards of light that make it past tight groups of tree leaves. Then the light begins to shift from yellow to orange, then quickly to gray and then deep blue night. Once you look up to see the eclipse in totality, nothing can prepare you for it. The Sun looks like it has a hole in it with just the burning embers of a shell still remaining. The moon appears much larger and closer than what you are accustomed to and it is surrounded by beautiful, glowing streams of light and energy. You can see a sunset all around you on the horizon. Stars and planets become visible, the temperature drops 10-20 degrees, small clouds evaporate in seconds of the temperature change, bugs begin to chirp, and the air becomes still. Serenity.
Totality is an experience that just really can’t be shared without being there. On a scale of 1-10, a partial eclipse is about a 4, but a total eclipse in the path of totality is 1 million times more than that. It’s incredible, it’s unexplainable, the experience can not be transferred by words, metaphors, or colorful pros. It’s just something you have to experience in order to comprehend. It’s truly majestic, grand, and beyond the human condition. I can’t recommend it enough. If you get the chance to see a total eclipse in totality, DO IT.
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