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» Monday, August 21, 2017The Great American Eclipse 2017, Part 2: The Greatest Show on Earth
Here's a definition of irony: after thirteen days of a wretched cold/infection/whateverthehell, in which sleep has been grabbed in dribs and drabs and never complete, sleepless, frustrated, and quite annoyed, I get my best sleep in a damn bed in a tatty hotel that might have bedbugs in it. I slept the sleep of the exhausted, four hours straight, a trip to the bathroom, and four more hours straight.
For the record, I woke up with no red marks, no itching, no sign that I'd been molested by insects of any kind, and neither did James. Hope to God that we have escaped this plague. Anyway, we packed up our baggage (none of which had touched either of the beds) and then went to eat the "continental breakfast" offered. It was heavy on carbs (Froot Loops and Cheerios, honey buns, Danish, mini bagels) but there were also mini-sausage biscuits and oatmeal packets, and one of those ubiquitous waffle makers, and coffee, orange juice, and milk.
Finally we were able to pack up and drive over to the Country Inn and Suites to join everyone else; we put our shareables (goldfish crackers, grape, and packages of cookies) out, and Alice let us stash the luggage in their room. We got our pink parking pass (the hotel was towing anyone not staying at the hotel who parked in the lot after noon) and settled to talk and anticipate the eclipse.
I wandered outside at one point and found a man already setting up his camera, of course with the special filter. Talked with him for a bit, then wandered back in, sat for a while...it was a long morning, yet a short morning, and about 11:30 everyone pulled out the goodies they had brought with them for lunch—we had Kroger buns and Underwood chicken spread—and we had a big indoor picnic.
Outside things started to be busy. Alice and Caran were setting up chairs under a little group of trees behind the hotel. I pulled out the little folding table we bought at Academy Sports, and that was a hit, but in the end the little tent shelter was a bust. I pulled it out of its container and Juanita and a guy named Daniel tried to help me put it up, but we hadn't gotten far when it was almost one o'clock and time to watch the sun get eaten by a dragon. Thank goodness for the trees!
In the meantime a crowd had gathered; our folks, hotel customers, folks who just walked up, people parking in the big grassy lot in front of the hotel. Bill's friend Eric showed up.
I didn't have any filter for my camera lens. I knew people would be taking much better pictures than me, so what I wanted to do was film the event as it got nearer to darkness, chronicle the birds heading for the trees, the crickets starting up, the lights coming on, the peculiar blurry dim light that happens as more of the moon slides past the sun. Unfortunately when I put my camera in movie mode it looked like everything was overexposed. (I found out later that something had jiggled the exposure settings, but too late for filming then.) Well, Caran had a spare filter which we jerryrigged to the lens of my camera with painter's tape, and then I was taking photos, too!
At first, as the moon is taking its first "nips" of the sun, you don't notice much except that the wind starts coming up a little. As more and more of the sun is consumed, you start noticing the light getting funny. It's hard to explain. It's not like it's getting dark, but the light getting dimmer, and although even before totality it isn't dark, you have to squint...it's kind of silvery is only how I can explain it.
As the sun waned, I was looking for something that had entranced me during the last partial eclipse we had here in 1991. We were still in the old yellow building in Buckhead and I remember going outside and standing under the big tree that grew out of the deck of the bar—Buckhead was full of bars in those days—on Buckhead Avenue. The partially-eclipsed sun was shining through the gaps in the leaves, and the gaps in the leaves acted like pinhole cameras: you could see the crescent of the sun projected on the concrete decking of the parking lot.
Sure enough, projected through the leaves of the trees we were sheltering under between bouts of staring at the sun in our approved eclipse glasses, there were the crescent shapes. People must have thought I was berserk: "Look at the crescents!" Even better, Clair had bought a cheap umbrella, pricking tiny holes in it hoping that the pinholes would act like a pinhole camera. I guess they were too small, but when she stood under the tree, the crescent shapes between the leaves projected on the dark umbrella. It was too cool.
As the sun dimmed, people were still milling around, including a guy with a young Sheltie he was trying to teach manners. He would have "Scooter" sit before allowing him to be petted. What a lovely dog!
And then the light got more silvery and dim, and the crescent sun through the glasses became thinner, and thinner...and we saw Baily's beads (the sun shining through the mountains of the moon) and the "diamond ring" (the final glare of light) and then it was dark—not midnight dark, but more like sunset dark—and the lights had come on, and Venus hung in the sky and the crickets were chirping like mad, and we could rip off our glasses and look full at the sun with the moon before it: a dark circle with the halo of the corona dancing around it. People burst out cheering and clapping and screaming and someone shot off fireworks "to scare off the dragon eating the sun." You can see photos but nothing compared with being there...nothing, nothing, nothing like seeing it happen in person!
IT WAS TOTALLY WICKED COOL AND FREAKING AWESOME!
And then the minute or so of totality we got was over, and back came Baily's beads and the diamond ring and back on went the eclipse glasses and the filter over the camera lens, time to dance about giddily at what you had just seen and hug people because it was just so freaking amazing, and watch the moon move on and the sun emerge. (And all those cars pick up and leave and cause a traffic jam down the main street of Helen...LOL.)
Finally it was time to pack up all the chairs and the little table and the useless tent and move back inside. Caran had said she was going to take a good shower when she got to her room, and the two of us, not being sun people, lured out into the heat, decided that sounded wonderful, too. My feet were so warm when we got inside that I put them over the vent of the A/C to cool them off. And the shower was almost as good as the eclipse!
Basking in eclipse afterglow, we all gathered back in the common room. Some of the group went to Bodensee, the German restaurant, for supper, but we walked (well, I walked and James wheeled) with the Boulers and the Gibsons to the barbecue place downtown (it really was not a long walk; the heat was just oppressive again) where the Spiveys and Terry, and Isabel and Miguel were waiting (they drove up for the day and ran into no traffic on the way up). This was the place James fell last year and they gave us ribs on the house. I remember them being good ribs, so I had those, and he had a pork dinner that was so big he ate half the plate and was able to take enough home that we had two sandwiches each of it for supper on Tuesday night. Country music played in the background and we all just smiled a lot.
After eating we walked up to the t-shirt shop with Juanita and David. Juanita saw some beautiful eclipse t-shirts yesterday and they bought some and everyone was interested when they saw how lovely they were. The gentleman at the store said he would order more if we could get thirty-six more, and from the crowd that came up to see the eclipse we made up the correct number. So we put our deposit down, and then had some ice cream from the place two doors down from the t-shirt place and then walked back to the hotel.
We found ourselves in the common room for a while with a few people, including Juanita, who had a bad tooth and was feeling terrible. I got her my shirt because she had the chills and later some Ambesol. Chatted for a while, but everyone was exhausted and we were back in our room before the ten o'clock news. We were hoping to see eclipse reports, but the Donald had chosen tonight to make an announcement about sending troops to Afghanistan and we had to wait until the interesting portions of the news came up (since we had to wait through another one of those interminable reality shows to get to it). We had spied a Fox5 Atlanta van in downtown Helen earlier and sure enough there was a news report on people watching the eclipse downtown.
When we went to bed we were still smiling.
Freaking awesome, I tell you!