The eclipse had a far greater effect on me than I had anticipated. I knew it would be cool, but what occurred was far more than just cool. It was exciting, it was moving, it was downright magical.
We barely made it back in time. I had been out in Oregon with Eva and Gaia for a week, plus a week on the road to drive to Asheville with a moving truck. I timed our whole journey across the country so that we would be back in time for the eclipse, which would pass right over our area in Western North Carolina.
Asheville itself was not in the totality, but within an hour’s drive, we could experience that momentary lapse into darkness, beneath a radiant halo of mathematical celestial alignment. I had never seen a full eclipse, and I didn’t know when I’d get another chance.
We arrived on the night of the 20th, driving through rain on the curvy descent of I 40 from Knoxville. The girls and I hadn’t seen Lila or Laura for almost two weeks, and it was a fine reunion. We were all home, with all of our stuff now close at hand. (Where we were going to put it all, I didn’t yet know…)
The very next day was the eclipse. We figured there would be lots of traffic on all the roads, but Laura got online and found us a route that seemed to be more off the beaten path, our destination being the Glenville Reservoir, southwest of Asheville. We packed a picnic and got going that morning, getting on the Blue Ridge Parkway. We encountered little traffic the whole way out, though we passed several viewpoints where the street was lined with parked cars and people had set up with lawn chairs overlooking the hills and valleys beyond.
When we arrived at the lake, we were delighted to find that it wasn’t extremely crowded. Certainly people had turned out with their eclipse glasses, but we had no trouble finding a spot and having our picnic.
Shortly after we ate, the eclipse began. Without the special glasses, one would never know. At least not at first. The brightness of the sky did not noticeably diminish, but when looking directly at the sun through the dark plastic lenses, one could see a tiny sliver of the curved edge was reversed, making a fat crescent. The girls and I swam a few times, and we all ate snacks like we were at the movie theater. As time went on, the crescent became more pronounced, and by the time it was halfway across, I thought I could tell a difference in the daylight. Subtle, but definitely a little bit darker. I found a man who had some eclipse film made to cover a camera lens, which I borrowed to take a few pictures. My Nikon doesn’t have a good zoom lens, so the pictures I got with that camera were not as telling, but my video camera can zoom quite far, and the lower quality of picture didn’t matter as much through the dark lens.
As totality approached, everyone got out of the water and took their seats. It was past three quarters across when the clouds rolled in and blocked out the sun. Murmurs of what a shame it would be if we missed the big finale because of clouds went up, the glasses coming off and restlessness rippling through the crowd, which was probably over a hundred people.
Then, when the clouds parted again, we could tell that it was getting close. The sky was definitely darker, though it still looked like daytime. I took some footage, finding that the camera did not really pick up on the eerie reduction in daylight. But one could definitely tell that something was happening, even though to the naked eye the sun still looked very bright, and was not possible to stare directly at.
In the final minutes of the totality’s approach, all eyes were on the sun, which shrank steadily, sending waves of excitement through the gathered crowd of observers. Feeling the energy build, I got out the video camera to film the crowd behind me, while watching the sun through my glasses. I was glad I did, because the moment when the totality came sent up quite a cry of amazement and joy to the crowd. Even filming it couldn’t capture the depth and wonder of that moment as the sky went dark and all of us began to cheer.
After the last of the sunlight was blocked out by the moon, the glasses became useless, and one could look right up at the auroral halo in the sky. It was such a sight to behold! I was transfixed, and it took me a moment to remember that I ought to film the sight of it. Again, nothing does it justice, but you can get a pretty good idea of the look and feel of that experience from the video I compiled.
The totality lasted only a minute or two, and as soon as the tiniest sliver of sun reappeared on the other side, daylight resumed as if a switch had been turned on. That’s how radiant the sun’s light is. Only in complete totality does the darkness really fall.
Watching the crescent sun get bigger wasn’t as exciting as watching it recede, so we packed up our stuff and made ready for a hike. By happy coincidence, we were also very near a large waterfall, which was just a short hike down into the valley below the dam. So off we went, descending a steep trail that would definitely be a lot more difficult to climb back up. Still the girls marched ahead, complaining only a little of how far we were going. It helped that we were finding thimbleberries along the trail, a delicacy that we always enjoyed in Oregon, which I didn’t know could be found in the Appalachians. Such a berry can only be enjoyed in the wild, for they are far too delicate to ever be gathered and transported to markets.
The waterfall was actually a series of waterfalls, the final two drops being the most accessible. They were very impressive drops, and we had a nice time poking around the creek at the bottom. It wasn’t too hard to climb around the lower falls and stand on the ledge between the two falls, so I made my way up there, my mind still reeling from the feeling of being plunged into darkness for a moment by the eclipse. It had a very profound effect on me, and I had something of a high, I suppose you could say, from the experience.
I went right up to the brink of the second falls, trying to get some cool footage that leans out over the drop off, and while I was being extra careful with my own weight, my sunglasses fell out of my camera bag and went over the edge, only to get lodged on plant growing out of the cliff, some five feet below me. I considered trying to get them with a stick, but decided that it was far too risky. Instead I went below, where I gathered some rocks to hurl up at the bush that held my glasses captive. After several misses, I finally hit the mark, sending the glasses falling. Only they didn’t reach the level where I stood. They got caught up again on another small rock ledge, some thirty feet above my head. I very much wanted my glasses back, and I scouted the cliff for a way to climb up, but no safe route could I find. The spot was very near to the falls, and the rocks were all wet and slippery. Otherwise I probably would have at least attempted a rescue, but as it was, I had to say goodbye to my sun glasses and be on my way.
We enjoyed the waterfall spot, but we didn’t stay long. It dawned on me as we began the hike back to the car that the drive home would probably be worse than our drive out, as many people had probably come to their place of lodging the day before, but all would be leaving now, as it was a weekday and people would surely be bound for home to return to work.
I was correct in this assumption. What should have been an hour drive took over three hours, and it was long past dark when we finally got home. So intrigued and delighted was I by the wondrous eclipse that I didn’t get upset about the traffic, though by the time we were on the outskirts of Asheville, I was certainly ready to be traveling faster than fifteen miles per hour on the freeway.
If you have never seen a full eclipse, I highly recommend making all possible efforts to do so. I learned that another great solar eclipse will cross the US in 2024, going over parts of Texas that I frequent, so I might even get another chance. For those who are within a day’s drive of the totality’s path, I urge you to consider it worth your while to make the journey to bear witness to the glorious, mysterious phenomenon. It really is a powerful, evocative experience.
And of course, if you want to dig even deeper down the rabbit hole, you can begin to wonder just how it so happens that the moon is placed just so to create an exact overlay of the sun when the three bodies line up. If it was a coincidence, it would be one really big coincidence. It seems more likely to me that the placement is intentional, not only for the aspect of eclipses, but for the effect of the tides and the moon's effect on our emotions and the reproductive cycles of animals and plants. My sense of things tells me that there are mysteries to the moon that are not yet understood by most, and that those who have been telling us all we know about space have not been fully forthcoming about what has been discovered.
Regardless, it's hard not to appreciate the beauty of the moon, and its always wonderful to contemplate the possibilities while gazing up at the heavens. Nothing can compare to the totality of a solar eclipse, though, and I think it's something that everyone should see at least once in life, if at all possible. Road trip to Texas in 2024!