Sunday, September 10, 2017

Total Eclipse of the Sun

According to Chip and Dan Heath, "we all have defining moments in our lives - meaningful experiences that stand out in our memory." Viewing my first total solar eclipse from Cove Palisades State Park in Culver, Oregon was definitely one of those unforgettable experiences that I will remember for the rest of my life. Normally, I try to avoid using the word, "awesome," in my everyday parlance because I think this word is overused, but on Monday, August 21, 2017, the word, "amazing" wasn't quite majestic enough to describe the celestial beauty of what I witnessed with my naked eye. Here is a brief summary of one person's experience of her first total solar eclipse. Have you ever seen a total solar eclipse? 

When you decide to see a total solar eclipse, the first decision you have to make is where is the best place to see it? Back in January 2016, I thought a good place to view the eclipse would be Salem, Oregon, which is on the path of totality, and is only an hour's drive south of Portland, Oregon. But my best friend, Peter, advised me that the eastern part of Oregon would probably be a better location due to less cloudy weather conditions.

Madras, Oregon is near the center of the path of the eclipse, which was an ideal location, but when I called every motel in Madras and neighboring communities last year in January, I was told that their accommodations have been sold out for the past three years. The motels were also charging three times their normal rate. But then we discovered that Cove Palisades State Park in nearby Culver has three "luxury" cabins and 368 campsites available for reservations nine months before the eclipse. I put the word "luxury" in parentheses because the cabins are fairly spartan. They only include a refrigerator, microwave oven and a rubber mattress pad that is only half an inch thick. But it would have been a lot more comfortable than camping inside a tent. 

Last year in late November, Peter and I logged onto the park's Website at precisely 12:01 am and tried to reserve one of the luxury cabins. Unfortunately, three other lucky parties beat us to it, but we were able to secure one of the 368 campsites. A Chinese group from Milpitas, California whom the other campers called "the scientists" also thought Cove Palisades State Park in Culver, Oregon was an ideal location because they set up several high-powered telescopes right across from our tent. They were called "the scientists" because of all their fancy telescopes and we found out that the leader of their group happens to have a Ph.D. in astronomy. 

The second decision you have to make is when to arrive. Since the eclipse took place on a Monday morning, we decided to arrive at the park on Thursday, August 17 in order to avoid heavy traffic on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday right before Monday's eclipse. We also wanted to have enough time to explore the park and find the best spot to watch the eclipse. 

On Monday, August 21, we woke up earlier than usual, quickly ate our breakfast, washed up and hiked across the road from our campsite to a lovely secluded spot right by Lake Billy Chinook. We met a family from Milpitas, California who had arrived a few minutes before we did, but we found another picnic bench right by the lake. There were trees obscuring the view of the sun, so we moved the bench further away from the trees and closer to the shore of the lake in order to catch the full view of the eclipse in all its glory. 

As the minutes ticked by, the temperature around us steadily dropped by a few degrees every ten minutes. When we first arrived, I felt perfectly comfortable in my solar eclipse T-shirt and shorts, but by 10 am, I wished I had worn long pants and a hooded jacket. It was fascinating to watch the moon gradually move over the sun like the sliding weight of a metronome until all we could see was a thin fingernail of golden light slowly blinking at us as the sky gradually darkened. 

Nineteen minutes and thirty seconds later, cheers erupted from all over the lake as the moon slid completely over the sun and twilight rapidly descended on the lake like a soft cotton blanket. I gasped at the view of a pulsating grayish orb hovering in the sky with lacy ribbons of white light curled around its face like miniature rings on the planet Saturn. Two minutes later a bright spark of diamond white light burst forth from the right-hand side of the moon and I quickly slipped on my eclipse glasses to protect my eyes from the sun. I will never forget those magical two minutes when the sun was completely obscured by the moon except for its glowing corona. 

After reflecting on such an awesome experience, was there anything "bad" about our trip? It depends on one's comfort level with hot summer temperatures. From approximately 11 am until 5 pm, the temperatures in the park hovered in the high 80s to low 90s. Of course, there was no air conditioning at our campsite so most people cooled down by going for a swim in the lake. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring my swimsuit so I tried to cool myself down by running through the sprinklers set up at various places around our campsite. I felt rather foolish doing this because I'm a middle-aged adult, but it was the fastest way to cool myself down without taking a shower. I wish the total eclipse had taken place during a cooler time of the year, but you can't control the timing of Mother Nature. 

The ugliest part of our trip was the unexpected four-hour traffic jam from Bend, Oregon to Klamath Falls, Oregon. We thought that by leaving on Tuesday morning, we could avoid the heavy traffic on Monday when most of the eclipse watchers vacated the campsite to head home, but we were wrong. Apparently, many other eclipse watchers had the same idea as we did and Tuesday's traffic nightmare was by far the worst traffic jam we had ever experienced in our lives. We did not arrive back in the San Francisco Bay Area until 2:22 AM on Wednesday. 

Why do I think I will always remember my first total solar eclipse? Research has found that in recalling an experience, we ignore most of what happened and focus instead on a few particular moments. According to Chip and Dan Heath, "when people assess an experience, they tend to forget or ignore its length -- a phenomenon called "duration neglect." Instead, they seem to rate the experience based on two key moments: (1) the best or worst moment, known as the "peak;" and (2) the ending. Psychologists call it the "peak-end" rule. 

The best moment of our trip was viewing the total solar eclipse, but the worst moment was the heavy traffic on Tuesday, which also happened to coincide with the ending of our vacation. Nevertheless because I loved my first total solar eclipse, I'm glad we made the trip from California to Oregon. I’m looking forward to my next total solar eclipse! The next one will take place on July 2, 2019 in Chile, Argentina, the South Pacific and Antarctica.

In case you were curious, the next American eclipse will take place on April 8, 2024 and it will cross the following states: Texas (including parts of San Antonio, Austin, and Fort Worth and all of Arlington, Dallas, Killeen, Temple, Texarkana, Tyler and Waco), Oklahoma, Arkansas (including Hot Springs, Jonesboro, and Little Rock), Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana (including Bloomington, Evansville, Indianapolis, Muncie, Terre Haute, and Vincennes), a very small area of Michigan, Ohio (including Akron, Dayton, Lima, Toledo, Cleveland, Warren, Newton Falls and Austintown), Pennsylvania (including Erie), Upstate New York (including Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, the Adirondacks, Potsdam, and Plattsburgh), and northern Vermont (including Burlington), New Hampshire, and Maine.

Since I'm from Indiana, I plan to view the next American total solar eclipse from Muncie, Indiana. My sister wants to join me and my girlfriend, Tammy, offered to let us stay at her farm house in Muncie. Here is a bit of trivia information about Muncie. It was featured in the film, "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." It will be fun to see the eclipse with some of my Hoosier friends! 

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