I rolled my eyes when my dad told me he had bought eclipse glasses. I was among the group that looked down on the nerdy "eclipse people" who were taking this whole thing seriously. It all felt a little forced, a little overdone. A couple nights before the eclipse, my friends and I got "Eclipse Magic Cones" from Wiz Bang Bar. They don't make commemorative soft serve ice cream cones for things of real importance.
On the morning of August 21, after some initial jostling with Google Maps to make sure our destination would be in the path of totality, we hopped in the Subaru and headed for McMinnville. By the time we hit Newberg, K103 was playing Christmas music for "Eclipsemas" (yes, really) -- which only strengthened my judgement that this whole thing was a little hokey.
The drive was nice. It was a beautiful day, and I always feel a little nostalgic on the way out to Mac. It reminds me of going to St. Barnabas on Sundays as a kid, or visiting Grandma Marm or Uncle Bri. McMinnville is a significant place in Bowman family lore. It's where my Dad grew up and where my grandparents are buried. It's also where we spend every Memorial Day, decorating the graves of Bowmans, Peerys, Oldses, Fergusons, and other ancestors buried around Yamhill County.
On this Monday morning, my dad and I were en route to a special place in Mac. High Heaven Road. It's the place we used to go to find snow when I was a kid. On winter days when the snow line wasn't quite low enough for Mac, we'd all hop in the car -- kids in the back seats, grandma in the front -- and climb up High Heaven Road to search for snowflakes.
Today, we were searching for something else, and so was everybody else. As we drove along Baker Creek Road, there were dozens of families parked on the side of the road, setting up camp in the open fields. Kids were sitting on blankets, sharing their special glasses to peak up at the partial eclipse that had already begun. Parents were drinking beer and laughing. Everyone waved and smiled as we drove by. People were happy.
I felt patriotic. It was the same feeling I get in the early evening every Fourth of July after the barbecues are over, when grandmothers and uncles bring folding chairs down to the sidewalk to watch the kids run around in the street with sparklers and pop-its. I love those moments. I think I got that same feeling on August 21 because this -- this strange, cosmic event -- was an experience that we all were about to share together. Me and my dad. Those families parked on the side of the road. Elon Musk. Ellen. Bill Gates. All of us wearing goofy glasses and looking up at the sky.
After we had scaled High Heaven Road for a few miles, we found the perfect spot. A clearing in the trees with wide open sky above us. All to ourselves. We pulled over, prepared the glasses, grabbed something from the cooler, and got ready. This is when they started playing Eclipse-themed pun songs on the radio: Dancing in the Dark, Bad Moon Rising, Moon Shadow, Moon Dance, Blinded by the Light, etc. I turned it up and we laughed for a bit.
But then it started to get noticeably darker. And noticeably colder. Everything started to look and feel different.
I turned the music off. It didn't feel right.
Every minute or so, someone would comment about how it's getting closer. A little darker. A tinier sliver of sun.
Then it happened. The total eclipse. This is was the precise moment that I became one of the "eclipse people." A believer in whatever this was.
The coolest moment was when the last sliver of sun was finally hidden, and we all took off our glasses. It was insane. That's when you could hear the faint whooping and cheering in the distance. That's when we all kept saying "this is amazing," or "this is so awesome," because we literally did not have the words to describe what it was like because we had never experienced anything like this before.
And then, before we were ready for it to end, the sun peaked through. The glasses went back on. It was over. Like Annie Dillard, we all hurried away.
In 1932, the New York Times ran an article with the headline "ECLIPSE TO BE BEST UNTIL AUG. 21, 2017." In 1932, they were talking about today. They were talking about the moment we just witnessed.
My favorite take from the day was from Lin-Manuel Miranda, America's unofficial Poet/Playwright Laureate. Here's his tweet:
“The eclipse said to portend
And the end of the world
But for me
The eclipse brings no fear
No, I gaze joyfully”
That's how I felt, too. Joyful. Lucky to have been a part of that fleeting moment of darkness. A small moment in history that might be briefly referenced in a New York Times article in a few decades.
The Great American Eclipse of 2017. I was there, on High Heaven Road, watching with my dad.