I was in Nashville for the solar eclipse on August 21 and it was everything I had hoped it would be – there aren’t enough superlatives to describe the spectacular display. I didn’t know what to expect in terms of crowds and visibility so I left my husband at home with the caregiver. Even long-time residents of Nashville weren’t sure what traffic patterns or gridlock would be like in the city. “We’ve never had this happen before,” Sophie told us over dinner the night before the eclipse.
We nabbed a spot at Centennial Park near the Parthenon and joined fellow eclipse viewers. There was a convivial, tail-gate party atmosphere under the trees in the shade as we sweated in the 90 degree heat. But there were wide, open spaces to stretch out and view the sun and horizon. Viewers had come from San Francisco, Washington DC, New York and Seattle to watch.
I had read all the articles and tips on what to pay attention to – the moon’s shadow approaching, the shadow bands, the diamond ring, Baily’s Beads, the 360-degree sunset, the corona, scanning the sky for bright stars, and the behavior of animals at darkness. There were a few moments when clouds blocked the sun and there was collective panic in the park. What if we missed the whole thing?
But the clouds parted and we could see a notch in the sun when the moon began moving over the face of the sun. The crowd applauded. At the moment of totality, there was too much to attend to. I gazed upward as the sun disappeared behind the moon. What were all those things I was supposed to look for? I heard the man in the party next to us, shouting, “Go moon, go!” I heard the titters and oohs and aahs of those near me. I felt like I should at least capture the change in light and set my phone to video and aimed it in front me while I watched the moon’s path blocking out the sun. Right before total darkness, crickets began singing and the lights in the Parthenon came on behind me. For 1 minute and 55 seconds, I took off my solar glasses and tried to stand still and be as present as possible. I watched a red rim surround the corona while the temperature dropped. I didn’t scan the sky for stars or look at what the dogs near me were doing. I didn’t look to see if flowers were closing and I didn’t look for Jupiter or Mars. My eyes were glued on the corona.
And then it was over. The park was bathed in a strange twilight that I have never seen before. It wasn’t a soft light like sunrise or sunset. I hugged my son, my niece and my neighbor. I looked at the video on my phone but I mostly captured expanses of grass and our shoes. On the walk to the car, we noticed crescent shaped shadows from the leaves on the trees.
“It was an astronomical wonder,” said a five year old boy, looking up at me as we crossed the street together. His lips were stained purple from a Sno-Cone and his eyes were still wide in amazement.
Indeed it was.