I’ve had the August 21 total eclipse on my calendar for four years; I’ve never experienced one that I could remember, and definitely wasn’t going to miss this. I cancelled the first day of my college class I’m teaching, we shut down the office, I took the kids out of school, and I plotted my way north to stand right on the centerline of totality.
There are lots of small towns north of Lawrence that were in the band of totality, but I wanted to be directly on the centerline. After all, if you’ve waited for years, taken the day off, and are devoting a whole day, why not get the maximum experience? What’s one more hour of driving?
So, I found a country intersection that was exactly in the path of totality, just south of the Nebraska border, and more-or-less due north of where I live. We left the house around 8:30am.
It was amazing to see traffic start to file up north toward the band, and we chose back roads (really out there they are back-back-back roads). The day was partly cloudy, but full of sun when we left. A few scattered storms up ahead.
move over clouds
We got to our chosen intersection and checked our radar apps, as frequently as we could get data coverage. The storms were rolling in and boiling up unpredictably, so it seemed like one place would be as good as any other, and we trusted to luck. It was cool, in the 70s and a bit cloudy - almost obscenely pleasant for a midday in August.
We’d brought a picnic lunch, snacks, books, board games and a soccer ball. We played around, played a game of chess and connect four, and chatted with our fellow eclipse-hunters. At this one intersection in the countryside, there were about eight groups - young, old, families, singles, astronomy experts and novices from Texas to Minnesota. There was a distinct feeling of bonhomie, like we’re all fans of the same sports team except we were rooting for the moon and against the clouds.
As the eclipse started, we donned our glasses and looked upwards hopefully.
The clouds parted for several good showings of the eclipse in various stages, and as totality approached we got more and more excited. The partial eclipse doesn’t have much effect on the ground - it’s just a bite taken out of the sun, but it’s not appreciably darker or spookier.
But man - as the totality got closer, it got dark, and fast. I expected a kind of 6pmish twilight, but probably lighter than that. Several times I thought ‘OK, yeah, it’s dark now’ and then it KEPT GETTING DARKER. During those moments, it was amazing to spin around and see the sunset in all directions - up the corn fields and range land around us. The clouds obscured the totality for most of those two minutes, but we got two good views. One, the clouds thinned enough that you could see the totality ring around the sun, and look right at it with the naked eye (maybe we shouldn’t have). But it was great to get that solid fifteen seconds of seeing the perfect ring and corona. And two, there was a patch of blue sky just to the right of the sun that turned black, and we could see stars in it.
It was amazing, and truly weird in the best senses of the word.