Moon Shadow

Ever since the last significant eclipse we had here in Maine back in 2017, I’d been looking forward* to the total eclipse that was coming 4/8/24. The asterisk there is due to the fact that I was pretty pessimistic that we’d actually be able to see the eclipse. Maine is typically quite cloudy this time of year, and so I was more than a little skeptical that the big day would arrive and all I’d be able to see was things getting a bit darker for a few minutes. (Heading into the date, most estimates I’d read said we had a 15% chance of sunshine on the day in question.)

However, the closer we actually came to the eclipse, the more it looked like the weather would work with us for once, so I moved from just toying with the idea of trying to go see the totality to actually making plans to do it. Everything I’d read and heard about the experience of a total eclipse said that it was basically totality or bust. Even 99.5% totality just wasn’t supposed to be close to 100%.

Thankfully, I lived all of about a half hour away from totality. I didn’t really fancy just going up and back for a glimpse, however, and some friends have a camp that was deeper into the zone of totality. From there, we’d have a bit more than 2.5 minutes of total eclipse. I’d already bought glasses well ahead of the day, just on the off chance that it would come together, and we finalized our plans on Saturday. In the end, we drove up on Sunday afternoon, spent the night at the camp, and then had a nice relaxing morning as we waited for the eclipse to arrive.

It completely lived up to the hype, and I was very happy to have spent the time to go check out the totality.

Not that my experience is much different from everything else you’ve read about, but there’s a big distance between reading about it and living through it. At first, I was just impressed by how well astronomers can predict it. (I know I shouldn’t have been, because they can calculate all sorts of things when everything’s in constant, known motion along steady paths, but still.) 2:18pm came, and right on time, someone started nibbling the sun.

Bit by bit, the sun disappeared more and more. We got to see the crescent-shaped shadows, and we watched while the crystal clear, sunny sky became . . . muted. The sun was still there. If I hadn’t had the eclipse glasses, I wouldn’t have been able to see a difference, really. It’s just that everything looked like I’d put on sunglasses. The wind changed. And then I watched as the sun dwindled to a little tiny sliver that kept shrinking. It was darker, but still not stunning.

And then the sliver went away completely, and it was just plain eerie. You could look up at the sky and see this hole where the sun was supposed to be. We saw Venus and Jupiter, but I couldn’t make out Mars and Saturn, which were also supposed to be right in alignment at the same time. Those 2.5 minutes were unlike anything I’ve ever lived through before, which is one of the reasons why it’s so special. You might wish you could repeat the experience whenever you’d like, but you only get one shot at it, and it’s got a very defined beginning, middle, and end.

All in all, it was incredible. We stayed out until it was mostly over, though the time after the totality had passed wasn’t nearly as enthralling as the time leading up to it. Our drive home took about twice as long as it should have, due to the heavy (heavy) traffic on the way back. Even having given it a couple of hours before we left, we still were in bumper-to-bumper traffic for a good hour and change. The back roads of Maine just aren’t built for that many people. I heard that on the way up north yesterday morning, traffic was moving through town at the rate of twelve cars a minute. That’s pretty pokey.

Would I do it again? You bet! Would I plan a trip around a totality? Not sure. A lot of the country was covered in clouds, and I’d hate to go up and just see a cloudy sky. Whether I see one again or not, I’m really happy to have had the one I did get to experience. Truly a once in a lifetime experience.

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