August 21, 2017




9:00 a.m.: Somewhere east of William Finley National Wildlife Refuge we turn onto a dirt road and pull off near a field, where a local farmer has recently harvested hay.  We wade through a fringe of volunteer grains onto tawny stubble that stretches before us to the eastern sky.  That is the object of our focus.

We aren't alone, we five.  Within minutes the road that climbs up a hill to the north has dozens of cars, all parked and empty.  Around 75 people are settled in folding chairs beside their vehicles and clustered in groups on blankets spread out across the field.  Everyone is facing east.

9:10 a.m.: Someone yells, "It's starting!" A small black blob appears, a dark mole on the face of the sun.  It begins to slide down the northeast side, slipping across the orb that gives us light, life.  It's hard to imagine that this is the moon – such a small body compared to the mighty sun. 


An excited hush wafts across the field that has become our stage for a celestial happening.  We are joined in a communal convergence over an event 238,900 miles away – perfect strangers we will never see again, assemble in shared fascination.

Across the field a cell phone amber alert breeches the harmony:  Rocks are falling from a mountainside at some unknown place.  Nobody cares.

9:40 a.m.: The moon has cut a deep crescent into the sun.  The brilliant glare of mid-morning fades, leaving all of us in an aura of pale ocher light.  A kid who has been running up and down across the stubble sporting a mischievous grin stops, suddenly transfixed in the fading light.


9:59 a.m.: The crowd grows silent as darkness spreads.  An evening-like breeze comes up, rippling the knee-high grains along the road behind us.  The subtle, moist smell of new-mown hay envelopes us in sensual perfume.  A woman across the field begins dancing with two small umbrellas, one salmon-colored, one bright yellow.

10:10 a.m.: The light is dimming, dimming.  A woman beside us pulls a bright purple shell over her head and ties the hood beneath her chin.  It's suddenly chilly.

10:15 a.m.: Somewhere nearby a man starts howling.  A wind comes up as a con trail arcs across the sky now as dark as twilight.  Dogs begin barking from the farmhouse across the road behind us.

10:12 a.m.: The sun is reduced to the tiniest of slivers.  It's almost dark.  Crickets from nowhere begin chirping all around us. 

10:15 a.m.: I am shivering.  A bright star-like pinpoint of light emanates from the southeast side of what used to be the sun.

10:21 a.m.: Totality.  I am light-headed, shivery beyond the chill.  I hear a voice like mine saying, "Whoa! Whoa!" over and over in a dumb-ass mantra.  It is midnight dark. I take off my cardboard NASA glasses and aim my camera where the sun should be.  It is a black-as-black orb illuminated by the splendor of a silvery halo.  The air is completely still, not a whiff of wind. The woman in the purple shell gets out of her chair and – astonishingly – leaves.


10:23 a.m.: A new crescent of light is already growing in the sky where the sun should be.  I am tingly with goose bumps. More people leave.  Someone breaks out a cell phone and starts texting.  The smell of hay returns, wafting over the dark field like a late-summer blessing.

10:35 a.m.: The sun is a fat crescent, brighter than the moon. The western sky is a brilliant blue. The kid that was running and running is walking away with a group of adults, his back to the east.

10:55 a.m.: Light is returning to the stubbled field.  It is oddly unsettling, not the warm amber of an hour ago. The crickets have stopped chirping. No one is howling.  I fold up my tripod and take off my NASA glasses.  It's over.

But it isn't. As we drive back toward Eugene I keep peeking out the window. The moon shadow is persistent, keeping its bite on the sun for another 30 minutes. No one is paying attention, moving on to the next Tweet. My skin still tingles and I cannot stop shivering. 

11:22 a.m.: The moon is sliding away, going to bed for the children on the other side of Earth.

11:37 a.m.: It's over.  Life resumes.  But does it? Will it ever? We have witnessed an event these celestial bodies have performed over and over through millennia.  They do not do it for us.  They do not care about us or the miasma of CO2 we have spewed around the our planet or the sea levels rising to claim islands and entire cities or the forests we have felled.  The sun and the moon are not even aware of us. 

And this is the legacy of the eclipse: the humbling.  We have glimpsed realities beyond us, mechanical, methodical and mesmerizing.