He excitedly told us that he'd wake up early, leave the hotel, drive to the total eclipse zone, and wait by the side of the road so he'd avoid the worst of the traffic. He knew about all the different possibilities for viewing, depending on what percentage of eclipse you wanted to see. Then asked if we wanted to come. He was positive we would want to take Malia to witness it.
I know this reflects poorly on me, but I think I laughed. I hadn't heard a peep about the eclipse. And I knew that trying to explain to our teenage daughter that we were going to take a road trip that would involve driving for hours and hours and then getting up in the middle of the night—all at the beginning of her school year—in order to see a solar eclipse would be an exhausting exercise in frustration for me. (Again, I realize this may reflect poorly on our family because my dad rightly understands the importance of nature.)
I insisted the eclipse wasn't going to be a very big deal, but he insisted it was going to be a very very big deal—a huge, once in a lifetime event. And while it hasn't become quite the big deal my dad was imagining, it in now being covered on the news. (In fairness to my dad, I don't think any of us could have predicated the political climate of 2017. I imagine had things been different, there might be more news coverage of the eclipse.)
And he was right about finding a hotel room because they're all full now. So, although he was right, I am a little bit right too since I'm not seeing a constant barrage of news about the eclipse. I admit that he was more right than me. For one thing, people who are science-minded seem to be very excited.
We were in London in 1999 when there was a solar eclipse, and I don't remember it being a huge deal. (I could not be remembering it correctly though.) I do remember buying some paper eclipse-friendly glasses for a pound at the Oxford Circus tube station the day before the eclipse, because people were talking more about going blind from looking at the eclipse than they were talking about the excitement of the eclipse itself.
And I remember, in typical London fashion, that it was overcast on eclipse day. It must have been on the weekend because my husband was home, so we went outside with our glasses on and stared up at the sky and just saw a wall of clouds. So we went back inside, turned on BBC 1, and watched the news coverage of it.
Mostly what I remember about the eclipse was that it got dark. It was like a normal sunset but it happened faster. I also remember how weird it was that it was dark in the middle of the day. And I remember being surprised that the darkness didn't feel any different from nighttime darkness.
It was a bit magical, and it felt like there should be scary movie music emanating from the universe to accompany the strange darkness. Then, as it started to get light again, it was just like sunrise in fast motion. There was also a hush over the city that I hadn't noticed had occurred until it was broken by the tweeting of birds who (not having watches) reacted as they always do to the appearance of rays of light in the dark.
Then, before I knew it, it was light again—like a regular day—and it was over.
I hadn't thought about the upcoming eclipse much until a couple of months ago when I started seeing some news articles pop up about it. And again, I'm seeing more warnings about the possibility of retinal damage from the eclipse than I am seeing stories about the actual event itself.
A couple of weeks ago, after seeing a Facebook news article on it, I checked Amazon.com for some eclipse glasses only to discover that all of the available packages in quantities of less than 50 were sold out or backordered. Fortunately, I found another distributor and was able to order a more manageable 5 pack, so I have them waiting. On eclipse morning, I will shove a pair into the hands of my daughter and husband so they don't go blind.
Even though it's not something that is particularly important to me, I do want to experience it. I have no idea what percentage of eclipse we we'll get in Los Angeles, but I want to share in the experience of knowing that so many friends and family will be standing under the same sun and, if the skies are clear, will be staring up with their goofy glasses to watch the universe do something magical.
I asked my mom some questions about this upcoming event.
So, were you as excited about the news of the eclipse as dad was?
No. But I think that's partly because I already saw one. There was a total eclipse of the sun in Nova Scotia in the 1970s and we were living there at the time.
In addition, your dad has always been interested in astronomy because his own dad was an astronomer. His day job was as a newspaperman, but he also worked at the Morrison Planetarium in San Francisco—one of the great planetariums in the world. He was one of the lecturers for the planetarium show. He lectured on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons. He was so good that, when there was a new show, people waited for one of the two times he'd be lecturing to go and see show. He also wrote a book called The Handbook of the Heavens and recorded some LPs.
So, your dad grew up in that environment and astronomy runs deep for him. As a matter of fact, he's going with his brother to see the eclipse because astronomy is something they share from their childhood.
If you saw the eclipse in Nova Scotia, didn't dad see it too?
Yeah, he did. Actually, his mom and dad came all the way from California to see it. We had to drive a couple of hours north from where we were living, near Halifax, in order to see the full eclipse. I remember pulling off to the side of the road and watching it. Your brother was still a toddler. It was really exciting.
For your dad this new eclipse means, "Great. Now I can see another one!" For me, well I can't travel anyway, so what's the point in getting upset. I'm just glad he's going.
Have his initial plans changed?
Oh yeah, several times. You mentioned in your piece that he was going to get a hotel room. Well he did. A year ago, he got a hotel room in Pocatello, Idaho. He was going to stay overnight there and then drive to get into the path of totality on the day of the eclipse. But then he got concerned that there'd be too much traffic and he might miss it.
So he found a campground that's in the total eclipse path. It's actually a dune buggy RV park, so it's basically a concrete parking lot where he's reserved a spot to camp. It's pretty funny because he's not much of a camper, but he bought a tent and a cot and he and his brother will be camping out there for two nights.
Are you concerned about his trip?
Well, I guess my concerns are the same as his concerns. First is that they could run into too much traffic to get there. He's plotted a route that he thinks most people won't be taking because it's not the main route from Nevada or from the Salt Lake City area where there are a lot of people.
His and my main concern, though, is gas because once they get into the eclipse zone, they'll be in a pretty remote area with only a few small towns around—and lots of people needing gas. He's devised a strategy which is to top off the tank every time they see a gas station while on their way to the campground. That way, when they start to drive home, he should have a full tank and be well into Nevada before needing gas.
I know things won't go exactly as he's planned, but I hope he gets to see the eclipse and that he enjoys himself.
Most importantly, did you get the goofy glasses so that you don't blind yourself trying to see the eclipse?
Yes. Actually your dad bought the ones that NASA recommends. He thought he was buying four, but it turns out it was four boxes with five in each box, so he's been handing them out to people. He mailed some to your brother.
Will you go outside and see what you can see?
Absolutely! I'm going to go online and find out exactly what time it will be happening here. It will be partial, but yes, I will watch it. I loved your comment about how nice it will be to share the experience with friends and family no matter where they are because we'll all be doing the same thing—looking up at the sky.
Mara note: If you want to see what time and what percentage of eclipse you will see you can go here:
|Photo Mara took of the London eclipse in 1999 off of the TV because it was too cloudy to see outside.|