I remember one afternoon, while in junior high, being led outside by my gym teacher. We were instructed, one at a time, on how to look into a pinhole box and view the partial eclipse taking place. “Do you see it?” she asked. I looked into the box, not really sure what I was supposed to see, not feeling all that impressed, and nodded “yes” so as not to hold up the line. I guess I saw a shadow, but I didn’t see what the big deal was. From all the buzz, I gathered that an eclipse was something special, it just didn’t feel spectacular to me- at that time.
Fast forward 20+ years, and I started hearing the eclipse buzz again. When we started planning for our mobile journey, we planned to head to Oregon and then to Washington, because going north seemed the logical way to spend the rest of the warm summer months. As we started planning out the month of August in Oregon, it hadn’t occurred to me that we would be positioning ourselves in prime totality area for the eclipse. In fact, it was Cay who made the connection. Since we had already planned to visit Corvallis, which fell within totality, we began mapping out the route to ensure that we hit that city for the August 21st eclipse. We had planned to visit Corvallis, a university town, as it appeared to offer lots to do, coupled with sunnier days and an assortment of outdoor activities. That it happened to conveniently fall within the path of totality, made it a no-brainer.
Because we do not want to feel constrained by timetables, nor rushed from one destination to the next, we generally only plan out our stays about 1 week in advance, which was a risky gamble when it came time to consider where we would stay during the eclipse. With less than 2 weeks to go before eclipse time, and increasing news reports indicating that we were about to witness one of the largest human mass migrations in recent history, I felt a bit reckless in having not secured some type of accommodation. Given that every last minute planner like us was probably headed to BLM land to claim their free “first come, first serve” camping spot, we specifically avoided that idea. Hotels? Hah, not likely, and definitely not going to be within our budget. With less than 2 weeks to go, I didn’t even bother wasting my time looking for a hotel. Established campgrounds and RV parks had booked out months in advance. However, city parks, private farms, and landowners who won the geographic lottery and found themselves situated in the path of totality were capitalizing on their win and renting out camp sites on their property.
I identified a few make-shift campgrounds within the Corvallis area, all within the $100-$200 price range for 2 nights of dry-camping. A little steep for squatting on a patch of grass/ gravel, but far cheaper than a hotel and not too outrageous given the rarity of the event. We ended up selecting the camping weekend package at the Crystal Lake Sports Field hosted by the Corvallis Parks & Recreation department. At $200, it was pricey for a grass parking spot, but the proceeds were going to help support the parks, and it looked to be a more pleasant area to camp. This particular location was also one of the most centrally located for downtown Corvallis, which meant that we wouldn’t have much difficulty getting into town to explore. So a win-win in terms of both checking out a city on our list and situating ourselves for the eclipse.
I want to give kudos to the Corvallis Parks & Recreation department and the many volunteers for putting on such a well organized camping weekend. The campout event itself was sold out, but not oversold, so while it was “at capacity”, we were not crowded on top of each other. Getting checked-in and checked-out was a smooth process without any traffic or confusion. At check-in, we were handed a welcome bag, which contained local information on the city of Corvallis and things to do in the area, a timetables for the public bus, local medical service information, 2 pairs of NASA approved eclipse glasses, and a timetable of events being hosted at the Crystal Sports Field (such as: group yoga, star gazing events, a beer tent, food vendors, and a music stage featuring local bands). The whole weekend was super relaxed and set the stage for an awesome eclipse experience. I want to also give a special shout-out to the event volunteers, who were very helpful and welcoming to the thousands of strangers that had descended upon their town, and who even walked around while the eclipse was taking place to hand out extra pairs of glasses to anyone in need.
On the morning of August 21st, the campground slowly came to life as people set-out their lawn chairs and gathered outside to wait, play games, blow bubbles, fly drowns, or set-up telescopes and camera gear. We positioned a camera and our GoPro skyward to operate independently in time-lapse mode so that we could both capture some images, but more importantly, not spend time fussing over a camera lens and miss the experience. The temptation and desire to catch the perfect photo was great, but we aren’t experts and we imagined that we could easily miss the entire thing trying to fumble with camera settings, or at least that was what we reasoned before the event started.
An alert buzzed on someone’s phone signaling that the eclipse was starting. We put on our glasses and looked up. Sure enough, I tiny section of the upper right corner of the sun had a small crescent shape bite missing. Yelps filled the air with excitement as the eclipse was upon us. Atmospherically, the sky got gradually darker, but if you didn’t know what was happening, you would simply think a cloud was obscuring the sun. As totality neared, the air got cooler. Not outright cold, as the sun was not leaving for that long, but most definitely cool, and objects began making some of the crispest shadows I have seen with natural light. Normally, shadows feel a little fuzzy and elongated, but it was as if we were in a photography studio and these shadows were manufactured with spotlights without any of the fuzzy business. We began noticing mosquitos and flies, as if it were dusk.
Finally, I heard screams of delight, and when I looked-up with my eclipse glasses, I saw… nothing. Frantically scanning the sky with my glasses, I still saw nothing, and this was my cue that it was time to stare at the sky with my naked eye. NOTHING I had read or seen in photos prepared me for totality. I had goose bumps, my heart was racing, and my voice gained about 100 octaves as my speech came out in squeaks in response to what I was seeing. I was so overwhelmed I couldn’t concentrate. I looked up, I looked at Cay, I looked at the people reacting around me, I looked up again, and I was in total awe trying to register the moment. For lack of a more elegant way of describing it, the total eclipse looked like a black hole where the sun should be, surrounded by a gaseous ring of bright white and blue hues beaming outwards. It felt terrestrial, and is so unlike anything I have ever experienced before- I am honestly at a loss for words. The sky was dark, but not totally dark. It was the kind of dark you see just after sunset. The horizon was in cascading shades of dark blue, except, it was different than a sunset because there wasn’t the telltale lightness in the west where the sun had recently set. The sun just disappears suddenly form the middle of the sky, and the horizon around you becomes a cascading blanket of shades of dark blue. Far too quickly, in what really only felt like a couple seconds, I began to see a bright burst of light. The “jewel” in the corona began appearing, which signified that the sun was emerging again. There was a sudden feeling of both awe and intense loss at the appearance of this bright “jewel”, because while it was breathtaking, it signified the end of totality and the time for wearing glasses, again. With glasses on, we continued to sneak peaks at the horizon to watch as daylight gradually came back and the air warmed back-up.
Even as I write this now, not long after the event, I am having a hard time registering what I saw because it was just so amazing and far to fleeting. People remark all the time that looking at the Grand Canyon is way different than seeing a photo, because a photo can never do justice to the magnitude that is the “Grand Canyon”. This sentiment is absolutely true and applicable, but at least you can stare at the Grand Canyon for as long as you like, to burn the images into your memory. With a total eclipse, the Universe keeps moving forward, there is no time to pause and absorb until your heart’s content, you only have a few seconds to try to take in everything- what you are seeing, what you are feeling, the change in the atmosphere, the excitement of other living things around you, etc…. Experiencing your first total eclipse is overwhelming and absolutely amazing. You are seeing something for the first time without compare, and even though you may logically understand what is about to happen, your brain is processing completely new information. For me, it felt like I was on a delay- I “saw” the eclipse totality as it was happening, but I didn’t really even begin to register the event until it was gone. One thing I know for sure, is that I feel very lucky and moved to have experienced totality, and I am completely hooked and will be planning to chase the next one!