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A personal reflection preparing for the 2024 total solar eclipse.

Published onMar 01, 2024


A personal reflection preparing for the 2024 total solar eclipse.


Excited, I take the large manila envelope from our mailbox, carry it to the kitchen, and carefully cut it open along the top flap. I pull out our first delivery of solar eclipse glasses wrapped in cellophane; thin cardboard frames with lively illustrations of the Sun’s surface, a corona, and a solar flare. Five in the pack, made in the USA, and ISO certified. I’ve been reading up about the upcoming total solar eclipse that will occur in about two months. Safety eyewear is essential when looking at the Sun, up to and right after totality: those minutes when the Moon completely obscures the Sun. I trust these particular glasses. Although if you go to NASA or and read about “certification,” you read that those organizations do not recommend particular brands of solar glasses, and that manufacturers may drop those names as encouraging labels (ie NASA certified) for marketing purposes. Nevertheless, these particular glasses are ISO certified (International Organization of Standardization) and recommended on a number of sites. So, I trust my choice. My husband, Ken, and I plan to travel to Texas for the April 8 total solar eclipse. We’re getting ready.

We will be receiving another shipment of eclipse glasses in the next week or so. Another certified company, made in the USA. Ten glasses will be better than five, which are better than two. It’s my be-prepared-you-never-know approach. If there is a scratch or damage of any kind, then you don’t use them. Retinal safety is essential, and I worry that my carry-on luggage may not provide sufficient protection for my eclipse glasses (although I will encase them between sturdier pieces of cardboard or a large hardback book.) The what-ifs…. Plus, it will be fun to have extra glasses to share with folks in Bonham, Texas who forgot their glasses or failed to protect them well enough during their trip there. And we can leave some pairs for family and friends here; California will see a 45% eclipse.

I heard, first-hand from a friend who witnessed the total solar eclipse in Oregon in 2017, that to see the Sun totally blacked out by the Moon, to stand under the shadow of our Moon while it’s passing in front of our star, is life changing. To be there. I wonder. I can imagine the scenario; total darkness, maybe seeing stars revealing themselves in the middle of the day, a brilliant corona around a blackened Sun, a perception of stillness, the birds quieting (I hear the insects start chirping).

But I take a step: I trust that feeling the phenomenon is different than imagining, even understanding, the physics of it all. I feel inspired watching a hawk circle, a bee nestling into the center of a flower, the Sun climbing up from behind a mountain; a hummingbird hovering close, the slow motion of a waterfall, every time I see a rainbow (the list goes on)—so, I trust I’ll experience the difference between feeling and imagining, witnessing and understanding.

I remember thinking that I needn’t actually see the Grand Canyon. Needn’t visit it in person. I’d seen plenty of postcards, even large photos — oranges, reds, ecru — almost two billion year old layers of rock. Then I went there. I was bowled-over. I felt awe. I felt the enormity, the chasm, the space, the air, the incredible story. I was surprised by the intensity; compelled by the ancient rock. Time, water, wind had scoured an immensity I could hardly grasp and revealed a history I couldn’t really measure. I could’ve sat and stared and felt it for days. I did so for hours. So, I’m convinced that standing under the path of the total solar eclipse will be kind of like that. Something that defies words.

I looked ahead to the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse a few years back. We read a bit, knew that it would pass over Buffalo, New York, where my husband’s brother and family live. We’d go there. Simple. As the years, months passed, I did not give it much thought—until recently speaking with a good friend who had booked a flight, car, hotel for April 8 in Texas. Texas? Texas, she explained, as well as Mexico, were favored destinations to view this eclipse, due to best prospects of good weather. Oh…right…Buffalo, famous for weather off the Great Lakes, for fathoms of snow. I started to reconsider. Started to look at the myriad websites about the eclipse, its path, its timing, duration, and best places in terms of historical weather data. I started to worry.

Okay, my husband and I would look at cities and towns in Texas that lie under the path of totality and book a place, secure airfare. We quickly learned that eclipse glasses weren’t the only commodity interested in a profit. Hotels, even the ones with inflated prices, five times the usual rate, were booked. Airfare just before and after that special Monday had sky-rocketed unless we were willing to spend a few days getting there. Discouraged, I was about to abandon my dream, when we found vacancy at a restored Victorian B&B in a small town under the path of totality, northern Texas, on the border with Oklahoma. I booked a room, three nights. Now to find airfare. Now we had two computers open.

“Hey Nan, look at this,” Ken called over from his desk. “This sounds reasonable, good fare. We can fly to Dallas. Just one stop on the way.” I left my screen to look at his. “Great! Let’s get it before it disappears!” Done! Next, rental car. Our trip was coming together.

My relaxation and then ensuing excitement segued into further research…and then concern. Concern, approaching obsession, about weather in Texas in April. I’ve never been to Texas. I consulted with a friend who moved there a few years back: she reported that “as far as visibility, one never knows,” and added that in her area, year-round, the weather ranged from clear to thunderstorm gray, sometimes all within the same day. And that we best bring a “good old- fashioned map” because there are many areas where GPS won’t work due to lack of coverage. Trying to understand the complexity of historical weather sites, overlayed with predictions—and which sites might be most reliable—as if weather were reliable—became a new source of anxiety.

I reasoned the best approach might be to practice letting go…consider grasping as the source of suffering…be grateful for what may come…que sera…but this approach has ebbed and flowed, and, frankly, I’m feeling a bit driven. I admit, I have hopes.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on my computer. I’ve learned that there are countless humans who spend countless hours planning for the best totality experience—over many years, in many places around the globe. Travelling, predicting, contingency plans, last minute drives, flights, boats to escape an overcast sky but stay under the blackened Sun, to touch down within the path of totality (which this year, in Texas, is 115 miles wide). I read sites that advise: get ready, be ready, to launch from your chosen spot to increase your chances of your once-or twice-or more-in a lifetime experience. Keep a highway map (that good old-fashioned paper map) ready and the rental car stocked with water and snacks should you need to drive two hours to get from under a weather front or a thunderstorm. And know that hundreds or thousands of other seekers may be on the same route.

Deep breathing seems to help with things over which we have little control. I breathe and email the proprietor of the B&B in Bonham. “What kinds of things might we do around Bonham; sites to see; places to visit?” in case. And as totality there lasts three minutes and four seconds, there will be lots of time for other things, even in the best-case scenario. There is a list of activities on the B&B website, but the owner responds promptly and shares that there are six lakes, a wildlife park, antique shops, and a winery. My breathing has naturally slowed, and I am smiling.

I wonder about the draw to witness this natural phenomenon, the moon totally covering our Sun. I know my friend quite well who travelled to Oregon in 2017 to experience totality. Right afterwards he shared, “Oh my god, that was amazing! You HAVE to do this.” He sounded serious. “In three years, there’ll be a total solar eclipse in Chile. Get a ticket!” I didn’t go to Chile. It was 2020. I watched a livestream. This eclipse, in 70 days, is just a few states away. I think about timing. I’ve been fortunate in the past—seeing the aurora borealis for six straight nights in Alaska after flying by Denali, shining huge and white and bright in clear skies. I felt lucky, grateful. And recently, a moment of serendipity; Ken and I took an Amtrak train a week ago to visit a used bookstore featuring an exhibit of macro insect photography. The photos were great. I looked at every one, and then practically walked into a book standing on end, on display. A hardback titled Totality, A Complete Guide to the Most Amazing of Celestial Sights, The Great American Eclipses of 2017 and 2024. I bought it, a $29.95 hardback for $5. I thought it auspicious, promising, perhaps providential. Lucky again. A good sign. Again, grateful.

I’m enjoying our new book with lots of historical and scientific information, photos, detailed maps of the 2024 path of totality, and more. I am avoiding watching YouTube videos of past total solar eclipses. I want to experience it fresh. But I’m imagining what ancient peoples, distant ancestors, felt when our life-giving star blackened out in the middle of their day. Would they have reached towards the heavens, pleading with Raven or Tawa or Inti to return the brilliant Sun to their sky, along with its light and warmth and life. Many myths describe an eclipse as a battle: the Sun fighting spirits of darkness. A myth originating in India has a demon-head seeking revenge on the Sun and Moon—chasing and swallowing them. The people below shot arrows into the sky to scare the demon away. The Lakota tribe held a ceremony known as a Sun Dance, to reconnect with and heal the Earth. We are bound to our Sun. We have worshipped it, recognized our life depends on it, is because of it. We now understand the physics, can predict the eclipses for years to come, but we are just observers of this solar lunar dance. We might feel, actually will feel, deeply, a connection, a reverence, and clarity of our place in this whole phenomenon.

I imagine: we lie on our backs, on firm Texas ground, firmly grounded, heads propped on little pillows. Glasses ready. Or maybe we’re sitting, arms around our knees, holding on. The air cools as we lose light, we feel it. We edge closer. Colors shift: around us, in the sky, on the horizon. We are still. It is quiet. And I see, I feel, our life-giving light blink out. Darkness wraps us, it feels like surrender. And awe.

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