By Morris Pike –
It happened August 21, 2017 at 10:17 am. Arnie and I were at our predetermined location to experience the total solar eclipse. We were fortunate . . . the 15-degree wide path of moon’s shadow was passing directly over Salem, Oregon the summer we were there.
“We’re going to have box seats,” I sang as we scurried over the walking railroad bridge spanning Willamette River.
“Yeah, we and a billion other sun gawkers,” Arnie scowled, gesturing at the sea of people who were already seated on the east bank of the river.
Yes, excitement at the thought of experiencing one of nature’s most spectacular events close-up had filled Salem’s Riverfront Park with onlookers. And, we were certain it was the case in thousands of locations in the eclipse’s path across the globe.
Arnie laughed, “Glad we’re living here . . . look at the pup tents . . . no place to stay . . .”
“Yeah,” I concurred. “I’ll bet there’s no space in a hotels, Air B&Bs or anywhere in the shadow’s path.”
Arnie laughed again. “You’d even likely have to fight for a spot on a friend’s sofa or arm wrestle a relative to secure a piece of his pad.”
In Salem, the eclipse would begin to show itself a few minutes after 10 am. But we, along with hundreds of others, were determined to be in position in the park well before the moon’s dark sprint across the sky would begin.
Days before, Arnie and I had identified a spot in the park that we thought would provide an interesting setting for photographing the event. At the southern end of Riverfront Park stood the recently completed Minto Island Bridge. Near it rested the huge metal acid ball decorated to represent an Eco-Earth Globe. A remnant of a papermill that once thrived on the banks of the Willamette, the ball had stored acid used in the paper making process.
“I hope we’ll find an spot to stand in when we get there,” I said referencing the menagerie of tents, blankets and lounge chairs strewn everywhere.
“We could shout that we are scientists studying the eclipse, ”Arnie quipped.
I raised an eyebrow.
“We could say we were working with Einstein and Ellington,” Arnie boasted. “Those two names ought to help part the sea of people.”
“That’s what I like about you Arnie . . . always joking. What does an eclipse have to do with relativity?” I asked smugly. “Isn’t that what Einstein is famous for?
Arnie chuckled, “You dare not look directly at the sun, now . . . but if you could, its brightness would prevent you from seeing faint stars in space behind the sun. In a total eclipse the moon completely covers the sun so the scientists can train their telescopes on the sun’s corona and see the stars in the background space beyond.”
“So?” I said marveling at Arnie’s knowledge.
“So, Einstein theorized that gravity caused light to bend when it passes a massive body. And . . . looking at the eclipse allowed scientists to measure the amount of bend in the light from distant stars as it passes the sun. Scientists measuring the position of the stars in the 1919 eclipse corroborated Einstein’s theory of general relativity.”
“I get it,” I said stretching the truth a bit . . . quite a bit.
“And his theory has been corroborated through many eclipses and other methods since 1919.”
“Looks like there are some would-be Einsteins here today ready to corroborate the famous man’s findings once again,” I gestured. Dozens of long lens cameras and a few telescopes were at the ready.
“Reminds me of a rock concert,” I noted pointing to clusters of people waiting for the rock star to appear on stage.
“Smart moms, too,” Arnie said gesturing at a blanket full of young ones. “These are teachable moments.”
Arnie and I neared the spot where we hoped would still have room for us to get set for the big event. People in a festive mood lined Minto Bridge.
“Look at that, Arne,” I said gesturing at a man who stood leaning against the bridge railing. He held a white cane with red end. “Why do you think he’s here?”
“May not be totally blind,” Arnie said, “and I’ve heard there is an atmospheric change during the minute or so of darkness.”
It looked like we picked the right spot . . . the press was here getting the scoop.
About 9:30 or so the Willamette Queen sternwheeler arrived and anchored near us awaiting the magic moment.
Speaking of magic, I asked Arnie if he knew about Hank Morgan the Connecticut Yankee who, after a blow on the head, found himself in King Author’s Court having to defend himself against Merlin’s considerable powers. Hank knew a total eclipse was imminent. He embarrassed Merlin by causing the earth to go dark in the middle of the day . . . and threatened to do worse if the famous magician and the king didn’t knuckle under.
And here we were August 21, 2017, 10:10 in the morning waiting for the shadow to arrive. Everyone wore some form of eye protection. All heads were raised to face the sun.
Being in the cusp of anticipation was a breathtaking moment.
Then, it began. The slightest hint of grayish brown began to settle on our surroundings . . . more bluish gray brown . . . and still more. An eerie hush settled on the scene. People were frozen in awe, almost afraid to breathe. It got darker and darker . . . again not a sound . . . yet there was a faint sound of silence.
Yes, it took our breath away. Then, almost like a ghost… a slight chill descended on us… as if to say, “You take me for granted . . . but beware . . . there is a delicate balance in nature. I assign the celestial bodies to their orbs and maintain them there . . . Be thankful and beware.”
The darkest moment came.
In the distance beyond Minto bridge, there was a band of light on the horizon . . . the shadows swath was 10-miles or so wide . . . beyond the band it was daylight.
At the speeds the moon moves and the earth spins . . . the moment didn’t last long. As quickly as it came it went.
On the sidewalk was a lingering reminder of the event. Someone had said . . . “Don’t just look at the sun . . . look at the ground as well.” And there it was . . . the shadow of the moon’s curvature was etched in the patterns of the sun’s light falling on the cement.
One minute and a few seconds. It came and went so quickly, we almost felt cheated.
Images and feelings of that cosmic event are etched in my memory. I am aware. I am thankful.
Photos taken August 21, 2017 by Morris Pike