Is planning a vacation seven years in advance overdoing it? I hope not, because I’ve already got my sights set on a future road trip. My destination? Bloomington, Indiana. April 8, 2024.
If you’re wondering why Bloomington, it’s because of Monday. Not to sound overly dramatic, but that day turned out to be one of the most memorable of my life.
Let’s just chalk it up to eclipse fever.
I’ve always had an interest in astronomy. As a young boy, I dreamed of becoming an astronaut – though I’m not sure I wanted to fly around in a spaceship so much as drink a lot of Tang. One of my first-ever college electives was an astronomy class. I quickly dropped it because, holy shit, who knew so much math was involved?! I just wanted to look at stars and maybe learn the names of a few constellations other than the Big Dipper. I guess the intricate math shouldn’t have been such a surprise. It’s pretty amazing that scientists know, down to the second, what time an eclipse will occur 100 years in the future. Half the time, I can’t even remember to turn the oven off after baking something.
So as August 21 approached, my excitement grew exponentially. My mom picked up eclipse glasses for us about a month ago, and I remember thinking, thanks…are we actually going to need these? I knew we were missing out on the path of totality, but did not realize we would still get to experience 99% coverage in Vancouver, WA. Which, it turns out, is still pretty incredible.
I was actually getting annoyed with a few Facebook friends who were rather blasé over the whole thing. I don’t understand how anybody can brush it off as “not a big deal” considering an eclipse is something that occurs very rarely. I mean, this was the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in 99 years. How is that not a huge deal?! Woodrow Wilson was in office and automobiles were still a novelty, but hey, to each their own, I guess. I do appreciate that some of these less-than-enthusiastic people admitted to being surprised by how much they enjoyed the event, so in the overall scheme of things, it’s all water under the bridge.
I was so jazzed I was having vivid eclipse dreams the night before. And when I woke up a few minutes after 5:00 I tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t, so I got up, showered, made coffee, and fired up the laptop to do some work from home. I knew I was going to be away from my computer for a couple of hours and didn’t want to shirk my responsibilities. Not that this was an issue; my boss told me later there was no need to be working at 6 a.m.; he’s happy as long as I get my work done, which I appreciated.
I headed out the door a few minutes after 9:00, just as the eclipse was getting started. I decided to walk to the park near my apartment complex. When I arrived, people were already set up in chairs and on blankets, some of them with cameras and tripods. Not a lot of people; there were maybe a few dozen folks total, which was perfect as I didn’t feel like dealing with large crowds. I slipped my eclipse glasses on, glanced up at the sun…
…and was blown away.
There was only a small sliver missing, but even that was impressive. I had never seen a crescent-shaped sun in my life before, at least not in person! It only got better over the next hour, as the moon steadily ate away at the sun, bite by bite. It was the first time the moon actually looked three-dimensional, I realized. Like an elementary school science project – just this big round ball in front of the sun.
I actually managed to take a couple of halfway decent photos with my Android phone, using the eclipse glasses as a makeshift filter. I mean, they’re not great – they wouldn’t even rank in the top 1,000 best eclipse photos – but so what. The real treat was seeing this in person.
About 20 minutes before the peak of the eclipse, it grew noticeably colder. I read afterwards that some areas experienced as much as a 15-degree temperature drop. That’s when the light took on a very strange quality. It never got completely dark, but was comparable to dusk, in a washed-out sort of way. Weird, because the trees were casting typical mid-morning shadows, but they were dull. The best way to describe it? Like the sky was a sponge, and somebody squeezed most – but not all – of the water (in this case, light) out of it. I became aware of the birds in the trees chirping, and even managed to spot a couple of stars in the sky. My arms were covered in goosebumps, and that was only partly due to the sudden chill in the air. The whole event was mesmerizingly surreal, seeing just a tiny sliver of the sun like that. A truly awe-inspiring experience. And all I could think when it ended was, I want MORE!
That’s where Bloomington comes in. It’ll be in the path of totality on April 8, 2024.
I mean, there are plenty of other places we could go. Like Austin, Little Rock, Indianapolis, Cleveland, or Rochester. But I’ve actually been to Bloomington, and found it to be a nice, quiet little town with lots of cornfields, fireflies, and a really good Mexican restaurant. It should be a lot less crowded than those other cities, and depending on where we are living at the time, might not be all that far away.
Time to start planning!