We followed the North Platte River westward across the Great Plains of western Nebraska. Buttes of sand and clay stood like sentinels guarding passage west. Courthouse and Jail Rocks, Chimney Rock, Scotts Bluff. Home to the Arapaho for centuries. Transient passage for Easterners heading west in the mid-1800s: the Oregon Trail, the Mormon Trail. Riders of the Pony Express knew this land.
We came to experience a total eclipse of the sun. For over 25 years I had anticipated this day, August 21, 2017. Coast-to-coast the shadow of the moon would travel the United States. I studied charts, examined the probabilities for clear skies, and chose western Nebraska. With a detailed atlas of Nebraska, I plotted the eclipse centerline and its borders. I knew where the sun would disappear. Should clouds come, I knew my alternatives.
From the atlas I chose a location on the centerline north of Scottsbluff. I did not want to trespass on anyone’s property. The atlas identified several ranches scattered across that land. To learn who owned the land where I wanted to be, I called the nearest ranch. This was to be my introduction to “Nebraska nice,” something that I would experience repeatedly during our visit. The rancher graciously and warmly invited my wife and me to join her family and friends at their ranch for the eclipse.
In the days leading up to the eclipse, the weather forecast for Scottsbluff for that Monday changed daily: partly cloudy, clear, cloudy, rain. I awoke Monday morning and looked out the window of our hotel. We were encased in fog, dense fog. My mind went back to 1991 and the fog that enveloped Mauna Loa on the morning of that solar eclipse. It was threatening yet comforting. I knew it would probably burn off as the uncovered sun rose higher in the east. And it did.
My wife and I traveled north on Nebraska State Route 71. For 30 miles cars, trucks, vans, and RVs lined the highway, positioned at every conceivable space. We crossed the sandhills, left the highway, and found the ranch. Groves of trees framed the house and buildings. On the acre or so of short grass and fenced from the surrounding landscape, several families and friends were settling in for the day’s event.
The husband and wife who owned the ranch greeted us as if we were old friends. We felt welcome and at home. We chose a spot. I set up my solar telescope and within minutes shouted repeatedly, “First contact! First contact!”
As the eclipse progressed, I shared telescopic views with our new friends and others who joined us. I enjoyed sharing. The image of the sun was red in the Corona telescope. We watched as the moon eclipsed sunspots. Several people took photos through the telescope. With the eclipse to be high overhead, I spread a quilt and placed pillows so my wife and I could lie down and observe totality in comfort.
About 15 minutes before totality, we noticed the diminishing sunlight. My anticipation grew as we looked westward over the trees for the approaching umbra. About five minutes before totality, an area in the west seemed a darker blue, then it darkened, and grew wider. As the shadow approached, it appeared as the black wall of a massive thunderstorm raging across the plains. Quickly it grew higher in the sky. Venus appeared brightly in the shadow while the sun’s final crescent was still shining. Then sunlight was gone from the land and a beautiful diamond ring hung in the sky for an instant.
And there it was. The eclipsed sun. The corona. Venus, Mars. A hint of red from a small prominence. The landscape was silent. Words fail me. Nothing prepares you for the majesty of a total solar eclipse. Two and half minutes pass swiftly. I lay down beside my wife, held her hand, and gave myself to this moment.
All too quickly another diamond ring and sunlight returned to the land. I offered a short prayer of thanks to the Universe for that is what I felt in my heart. A precious gift. A most special gift. This was my birthday eclipse.
Used with permission. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/
Image cropped for use on this page.
© John Ballard, PhD, 2017. All rights reserved.
Co-Author, Miracle at Red Hill: A Total Solar Eclipse Adventure.
Author, Decoding the Workplace, BEST CAREER BOOK Next Generation Indie Book Awards 2016.
Please visit www.decodingtheworkplace.com.