In Other Words... (9/7/17)

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, September 6, 2017
I, like many other Iowans, found myself in Missouri on Monday, Aug. 21. As my wife and I took to the road early that morning we really had no idea where we would end up.

Our plan was to travel south, to find a spot somewhere along that giant imaginary line projected by NASA that stretched east to west across the United States. Sure, we could have stayed in West Liberty to witness a partial solar eclipse, but we wanted more. We wanted totality.

So we hopped in the car and drove miles upon miles south along minor highways by golden corn fields. We traveled through the little piece of Iowa jutting into Missouri thanks to the Des Moines River. We passed over the state border by Missouri by fireworks businesses, built there before Iowa changed its fireworks law. We scooted right on by Mexico and Florida, while passing straight through Paris, wonderful little towns with big names. We came upon Highway A, and Highway B, and Highway C and the rest of the alphabetically named roads.

Ultimately we found ourselves in Columbia, Mo., a good 4 1/2 hour drive south of West Liberty, in Steven’s Lake Park. A moderately sized park, there were probably several hundred people scattered throughout its entirety. On the little spot on top of a hill we chose, there were around 30 to 40 people, most of whom were not from Missouri. After all, the people in town had houses to watch the eclipse from, those of us who traveled did not.

My wife and I grabbed a couple of lawn chairs, our special eclipse glasses and found a great spot right under the sun. We were ready to see the first solar eclipse to be visible from the United Sates since a bitter cold day in February, 1979. However, it was hot where we were in Columbia, a good 85 degrees that felt a lot warmer as we sat directly under the sun. We made it, to the path of totality. The path touched 14 states that day, while a partial eclipse was visible for the rest of the country.

Unfortunately, a thin layer of clouds blanketed the sky. It wasn’t enough to stop the heat, but it was enough to hinder our view. We took out our special glasses anyway and looked up. Despite the clouds we could begin to see it, just the tiniest sliver taken out of the perfect circle that is our sun. I decided to lay down on the ground instead of use the chair, my neck wasn’t having it that day.

Slowly a giant dark circle began to overtake the sun. Before we knew it, it looked like our giant star was smiling at us. It resembled a giant mouth in the sky, wide open, with the sides curled up in a cartoon fashion. Others mentioned it looked like Pacman, I guess I’d agree if Pacman’s mouth was circular. The moon inched its way in front of the sun’s face minute by minute, slowly stealing its glory.

It’s funny, the only time we stand around to appreciate the sun and its beauty is during a solar eclipse, when its being covered by the moon. Poor sun.

Either way, a half hour in, the sun was about 50 percent covered by the moon, but the clouds began to darken above us. I overheard our neighbors panic, mentioning that rain was coming. This once in a lifetime moment was going to be ruined by the clouds blocking the moon, which was blocking the sun. Jerk move, clouds.

But, my wife and I stayed the course. We laid back on the grass and watched the eclipse continue through our glasses. I mean the sun was still visible, after all, it’s pretty bright. However, the clouds dampened the image, bringing our visibility down from 100 to 20 percent. At certain moments it all disappeared completely from the sky behind a layer of depressing gray. When the sun was 80 percent covered by the moon the clouds remained above us while the world around us began to darken. It was an odd twilight. A medium darkness fell over the park, street lights turned on and the temperature dropped a good 10 to 15 degrees.

It wasn’t until the sun was 95 percent covered that the darkness could be mistaken for night time. At that point the crickets kicked it into gear, chirping as loudly as they could. The little bugs must have been a bit confused by the short day, but they were quick to get to work as soon as it was dark out.

Then it happened, slowly over a ten minute period. Coverage jumped to 96 percent, 97 percent, 98 percent, 99 percent. Like a count down for a rocket ship headed to the moon, the people around us slowly got more and more excited as we reached 100. At this point something truly remarkable happened, the clouds cleared up. Our best view of the sun was happening seconds before the total solar eclipse.

The only way to describe a total eclipse is the word ‘awesome.’ The sun basically turned off, then five seconds later the sun’s corona, which extends millions of miles into space around the sun, became awesomely visible. This wasn’t your groovy 1970s awesome, or you high school skate-punk awesome, this was a truly back-to-the-origins-of-the-word awesome. I was completely in awe, I was awestruck by the sum of its awe (or something like that). The way the blazing light danced around the circumference of the moon, while the inside was completely black, was just awesome. During that brief minute-and-a-half of totality, the crowd ooh-ed and ahh-ed, floored to the earth by what they were seeing in the sky. The outside of the sun danced in vivid color.

Just like that it was over, though the sun received a standing ovation from the crowds watching the solar eclipse. We all just sort of stood around for a few minutes, taking in what we had just witnessed. Slowly people began to leave the park. Right on cue an accordionist began to play “Here Comes the Sun,” a little tongue in cheek moment from humanity.

My wife and I continued to lay there and watch the moon disappear from the front of the sun. The big moment was over, but we traveled far to see it, so we hung around for another half-hour after the total eclipse. I couldn’t help but think about the beauty of creation or the ingenuity of its author. Movies, books, paintings and photos just don’t do justice to the originality of God’s work.

We are such small creatures on a small planet floating out in the vastness of space, waiting for celestial moments to touch our lives. It truly is a wonderful thing.
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