Letter from Birdland: Eclipse seared into my memory

Letter from Birdland: Eclipse seared into my memory

It's good to be home in Birdland, though we returned to tomato plants ravaged by worms and anxious dogs who missed us, despite the kindness of their caretakers.

I'm sitting on the front porch in the wind. It's chilly, and in a minute, I'll either go in or put on a sweater. The sun is lowering itself into a cloud bank above the cornfield, while cicadas sing their industrious buzz.

In the twilight, I am thinking of a noonday trip a few weeks ago, when we drove to Shawnee National Forest for the total eclipse of the sun.

We had good luck driving down, traveling at a pretty good clip. Michael and I were in the car with our youngest, Ellis, and his sweetheart, Dev.

The car was in a long line, other cars presumably also traveling to view the eclipse. Traffic thinned out as we turned onto Interstate 24 toward Shawnee, but it was still steady enough to shave away any spare minutes we thought we had, to get parked and situated in time for the eclipse.

On the high embankment adjacent to the highway, people were getting ready. Parking lots of big box stores were edged with folks who had set up chairs facing east. They had coolers and tables for picnics, and awnings and beach umbrellas and sometimes tents to guard against the pre-eclipse noonday sun, which was merciless.

We had packed a lunch, ice water and some chairs. We were headed to Dutchman's Lake, so we had swimsuits, too. At the last minute, we threw my dad's telescope into the back of the car. We didn't have a sun filter, but we hoped we could project the eclipse through the lens, as I remember my dad doing when we were kids. We had only two pairs of eclipse glasses, but we could take turns.

We turned off the highway, driving deeper into the national forest. It really did feel like we were racing against the clock, or the sun, rather, since we needed to get off the road and out of the car at a place with open sky, as we'd hoped the lake would provide when we decided on that spot.

Turning down a gravel road through a deep forest, we saw we were not the only ones headed to this lake, as we were again in a long line of cars, and people were parked along the road. We got out with half a minute to spare but still had about an hour until the totality.

Almost the moment we got out of the car, an older couple settled in some camp chairs, and sporting fancy cameras, offered our young people some spare eclipse glasses. Now we were all covered.

Making our way to the lake, we set up chairs and the telescope on top of a rise overlooking the water. The moon had already taken a tiny bite out of the sun, and now it was a party atmosphere. The crowd was friendly, walking back and forth along the row of watchers.

The sun beat down. I took a dip in the muddy lake, which was almost warm, only slightly refreshing.

People chatted and visited with an eye on the sky. As the moon's bite grew bigger, the air cooled slightly, and the sky began to dim, like near dusk, or like a day with cloud cover, only the sky was empty of clouds.

The sky grew dimmer as the sun waned. Now only one tiny bite was left of the light, getting closer and closer to the "diamond ring." The sky turned dark blue, like twilight. Just before totality, the buzz of locusts rose out of nowhere, like someone turned on a faucet, and the moment the sun disappeared, leaving only a bright ring where it had been, the human watchers cheered and clapped. Now it was almost cool, and Venus appeared in the dark blue sky.

For a few moments, the moon completely blocked the sun, which only showed as a ring of light. Now it was safe to shed our eclipse glasses until the diamond ring appeared again.

The air kept cooling and the cicadas kept buzzing. We marveled at the beauty and held a few moments of timeless wonder. But the Earth kept turning, and now comes the "diamond ring" again, a tiny point of light returning, and we all donned our glasses again as the air warmed again around us.

Some folks left after that, but we stuck around, watching the sun grow again as the moon receded.

A couple from Chicago showed us their fancy camera but wanted to see how our telescope projected the crescent on the side of the case.

We ate our lunch and packed up for the long drive home.

Wait in beauty; align in peace; blessed be.

Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in all the cycles of the universe, celestial and terrestrial. You can follow Birdland on Twitter (@BirdlandLetters). Mary can be reached at letterfrombirdland@gmail.com or via snail mail care of this newspaper

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