It’s been over two years, but I still think about the eclipse of 2017. It was an amazing experience.
We took a road trip to Oregon to see it, and ended up in in Molalla, a small town near Portland, where totality would last a little over one minute. The weather was perfect, warm and not a cloud in the sky. A small crowd gathered at the library. Volunteers passed out safety glasses. Kids played at the playground and adults projected the developing eclipse onto the ground.
The first thing we noticed was the crescent shadows. Like pinhole cameras, the gaps between leaves projected hundreds of crescent moon shaped shadows onto the ground.
Perceptually, the sun stays fully bright until right before totality. What surprised me first was the chill in the air. As the eclipse progressed, it went from a warm summer day to feeling like late autumn. Avery Pennarun made a visualization of the difference between perceived heat and light during an eclipse that shows how this works.
At the moment of totality, the sun shut off like a light. A chorus of “Oh my God!” went up from the crowd. The inside of the moon was the deepest black. The sky was the dark of night, but strange. Stars were visible but the horizon was rimmed with twilight all around. In photos, the corona looks white, but in real life, the moon is ringed with a ghostly blue fire. I swear it moved as I watched. I watched videos and looked at photos beforehand, but pictures don’t do totality justice.
At the end of totality, volunteers shouted, “Glasses on!” As quickly as it began, it was over. I turned away after a glimpse of Bailey’s beads and spent the rest of the trip home worried I’d ruined my vision.
I didn’t bother taking any photos. I don’t have the equipment that would have made it worth it, but I did try to draw what it looked like in my notebook.
My daughter was scared, not just of the sudden darkness but the shouting. I wasn’t sure if she saw the corona, but the whole way home she kept asking to “Talk about the dark.”