California Forum

‘Oh, my God’: What totality was like

The moon covers the sun during a total eclipse Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, near Redmond, Ore. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
The moon covers the sun during a total eclipse Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, near Redmond, Ore. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren) AP

The sun is nowhere to be seen. In the predawn darkness of Sunday, Kathy and I are about to embark on our journey to Madras, Ore., under the center line of the solar eclipse’s path of totality.

The car’s packed with the essentials: CDs, wine, Cheetos. We reserved a $35 parking spot in a field in Madras, a bargain compared to five Benjamins for a night at the Super 8.

When totality arrives, the space glasses come off. You catch your breath and repeat three words in your head.

The prospect of the trip has generated conflicting emotions. There’s excitement about seeing a full-on eclipse. But there’s also the dread of passing a significant marker in a life that’s getting too close to the end. On the other hand, maybe, when it’s supposed to be all over, we’re like the sun, eclipsed for just a moment.

When we arrive in Madras, the $500 Super 8 looks better. We are in the “Daytrippers” parking area, whose main environmental feature is dust. But that’s meaningless at sunset, when a fire spreads through the clouds in a beautiful, metallic blue sky.

On the morning of the eclipse, the shadow of the moon starts to cross the sun at 9:08 a.m. After three minutes, looking through the required space glasses, the sun looks like Ms. Pacman floating in an infinite black void.

When totality arrives, the space glasses come off. You catch your breath and repeat three words in your head:

“Oh, my God.”

What awesome beauty from the heavens. The sky is dark slate, and the sun’s corona confronts you with a great cosmic irony: At this moment, blocked from view, the sun reveals the truth of its power as it surrounds the moon with a wild, white ring of fire.

It produces the stunning effect of a 360-degree sunset. Then the sun starts to reemerge and shoots out a massive flash of ragged light.

There is no time for reflection as you watch totality. When reflection does come, you wonder whether some grand hand put the show in motion. As never before, you understand your tiny, tiny place in the scheme of all things.

You believe, though, that some part of you was up there with the sun and moon. And you feel connected to all the people through all the centuries, and all the people on this day, who have beheld the same mystery and magic.

You cannot have a journey more fantastic than one that ends there.

Tom Dresslar is retired and has lived in Sacramento for 42 years. Reach him at t.dresslar@comcast.net.

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