Great American Eclipse well worth the drive

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An eerie chill filled the air. The wind picked up and the landscape fell into darkness. I was finally where I had dreamed of standing my entire life.

For me, Monday’s total solar eclipse was the fulfillment of a life-long goal of seeing the moon swallow the sun and turns the world dark.

My love of science began at an early age. For the majority of my childhood, my father served as the biology teacher for my hometown high school, but his love of science did not stop with biology. In fact, it probably didn’t start with biology, but that was the only science class the high school had available for him to teach when he began working there.

His love of astronomy and the heavens had a profound impact on me as a child. I remember countless nights scanning the sky for meteors, learning about the constellations and even driving out to our family ranch to see Halley’s comet in 1986.

When Mexico City got to see seven minutes of a total solar eclipse in 1991, it was excruciating to be so close but unable to make the trip (I grew up in central Texas). I made the promise to myself then that when the next eclipse came to the United States, I would be there to see it. When my dad passed away in April of this year, I knew I had to fulfill the promise.

With a tank full of gas, three cameras, two cell phones and my faithful malamute Juno, I headed out for Chilly, Idaho just after midnight Monday morning.

Five-and-a-half hours of driving later, I found my spot, halfway between the towns of Challis and Chilly, near the Salmon River in Idaho. I met up with my good friend Kirsten Goldstein, and we waited patiently in the desert for the event to begin (okay, maybe she waited patiently).

One-by-one, more cars, trucks and RVs joined us, until there were around 25-30 people in that field.

I found out Thursday the special solar filters I had ordered for my camera were not going to arrive in time, so I spent the remaining time before the eclipse began delicately dissecting a pair of eclipse glasses and creating my own simple filter (thanks North Lake County Public Library!) to go along with one I had crafted Thursday.

The excitement continued to build as the moon began making its way across the sun, slowly darkening the surrounding mountains and desert.

Though I had been waiting to see it my entire life, I have to admit I was unprepared for the moment when the last sliver of the sun faded and the corona of the sun became visible.

There truly are no words to describe it. The temperature dropped instantly. The wind picked up. Most awe-inspiring and, perhaps spookiest of all, the stars became visible in the middle of the day.

I scrambled to get the filters off my camera lenses so I could photograph the spectacle, but for just the briefest of moments, found myself simply standing there in awe of where I was and what I was witnessing. Fellow photographer Brenda Ahearn from the Daily Interlake may have put it best on her Facebook page yesterday when she quoted the movie “Contact,” saying “They should have sent a poet.”

Alas, the moment did not last. I continued to take photos, but it was the quickest one minute and four seconds of my life. Before I knew it, the sun made its dramatic return and the landscape began to return to normal.

The event continued to replay itself in my mind on the long drive home. Almost as amazing as the eclipse was the single line of unbroken traffic that accompanied me from Challis until I passed through Missoula. I’m not sure how many people or cars were on that road, but it was staggering.

In the end, the wait and the journey were well worth the effort.

I find it interesting to note that I was born just 10 days after the last total solar eclipse passed over the United States in 1979, and the next one will pass within miles of my parent’s house in Texas.

I only wish my dad could have been here to see it.

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