My wife Gayle had put witnessing a total solar eclipse on her bucket list, and now that rare opportunity was presenting itself. She had researched the closest possible spots to go and view the celestial extravaganza from Los Angeles, and then suggested to me we should consider traveling to Idaho or Oregon a day or two before the event to see it ourselves.
As every husband knows, that is “wife speak” for “we’re going.”
We flew to Boise, Idaho on Aug. 20 and spent the night. Gayle had mapped out a couple of places to see the eclipse in Idaho: Horseshoe Bend and Weiser were considered prime viewing spots. But hotel personnel were discouraging those plans, saying we could probably run into humongous traffic jams both going and coming. In fact Weiser (population less than 6,000), in part because noted astronomers and scientists were heading there, would absorb 100,000 people in its very small town over three days.
We decided instead to go to Ontario, Oregon, just on the other side of the Idaho border, about 50 minutes from the Boise Airport. We arrived there early on Aug. 21, had breakfast, and were told by our waitress to consider viewing the eclipse at Treasure Valley Community College, less than a mile away. We arrived and found perfect conditions. The skies were cloud free, there was ample parking by the school gymnasium, and there was plenty of room. I’d estimate maybe 500 people were there.
I still privately wondered if it was worth the fuss, even as the eclipse began. But as the moon, orbiting from right to left, had blocked about 70 percent of the sun, things around me were changing. The temperature, which was already in the 80s, had dropped precipitously. The sky was growing darker. Birds grew quiet and the dogs on the grassy knolls had stopped barking, while crickets were beginning to chirp. As a poet once wrote, “day and night were becoming one.”
I was spellbound, eager to remove my safety sunglasses and see what I could see with the naked eye, wondering if, as scientists say, you could stare into the center of the universe. Finally at about 11:26 Mountain Time, the totality was complete. The moon had covered the sun. The planet Venus was to my right. It was dark — night time dark. It was cool enough to want a jacket. I took off the glasses and stared as the ring of light seemingly circled the moon’s perimeter like some kind of CGI special effect.
Only it was real.
It was wondrous.
Gayle was right. It had been worth every effort for the two minutes of eclipse viewing I got before the moon began to move away.
I can’t believe I have to wait seven years for the next one.