We loaded up in the pre-dawn hours and headed for Nashville – me, my husband, our daughter, and her boyfriend. This was to be our first total solar eclipse, and I’d made meticulous plans. The boyfriend’s compact car followed behind our pickup truck on a tow dolly, so we could all ride together and then the kids will cut loose to their own plans once we reached our destination.
We’d heard of the possibility of traffic jams, gasoline shortages, and price gouging along the way, and were prepared with full gas cans, food and drink for the road, toilet paper, CB radio, and old-school maps of alternative routes.
The trip was uneventful and, despite the dire predictions, nothing materialized to slow us down. We drove it all in one day, arriving at the home of our son and his family that evening. It was two days before the eclipse and we were one short block south of the path of totality.
I’d put a lot of thought and research into choosing a viewing site. A 30-mile drive toward the centerline would be close enough to get us almost two and on-half minutes of totality, which is about what we could expect with this eclipse. Goodlettsville in Tennessee was my first choice. Their Moss-Wright park had the essentials: open spaces, clear view of the horizon, plenty of parking, and restrooms. Fretting about that day’s traffic on I-65 had me plotting an alternative site, a park in Mount Juliet, just east of Nashville. The shadow of the moon would swoop down to us and we’d get about the same length of totality time.
When the big day arrived, we wound up somewhere else entirely. Not wanting to take the chance of being stuck in traffic for hours, we opted to stay much closer in and drove a mere six and one-half miles to one of my son’s favorite haunts. TailGate Beer, a local brewery on the southwest side of Nashville, had all the essentials plus some killer beer and pizza. A respectable one minute and 17 seconds of totality would have to be good enough.
We breezed into our spot just in time, ahead of most of the crowd, and ordered a stack of pizzas and beers all around. There, along with family and friends, we set up our chairs in the covered pavilion located in back of the main building. It was hot and the shade was welcome. And we waited. It wasn’t very long before partiality began – first contact!
My daughter had set up a solar telescope and as we and others from the growing crowd watched, the moon’s disk slowly started to slip over the sun. I had a pack of eclipse glasses handy, which I’d purchased over a year ago. It was plenty for our small group and enough for some of my son’s friends, those unfortunates still waiting for their order to come in the mail. A small hole in the tin roof of the pavilion made a perfect projection of the eclipse on the concrete floor and was a handy way to monitor the progress.
Soon enough, things started happening very quickly. The few puffy clouds I had worried might block our view had scattered, yet I noticed the sun, whose rays had been quite hot on the skin, was no longer uncomfortable. The temperature started to cool and the surroundings seemed not quite as bright. Then, the light started to change, not like the slanting rays of a setting sun, but like a dim light bulb from directly overhead. And as it got darker it became more surreal, with visual images getting dimmer, yet sharper, by the moment.
The crowd started to perk up and everyone turned their attention to the sun. As the darkness increased, I noticed what is called the “Belt of Venus” forming on the northeastern horizon. This atmospheric phenomenon, caused by the backscattering of reddened light from the rising or setting sun, is a pinkish anti-twilight arch visible above the horizon in the opposite direction from the sun. This, however, was all around the horizon.
Turning my attention back to the rapidly diminishing sun, I watched through my eclipse glasses as the last bit of light disappeared. Then I took off the glasses and stared in awe at the beauty above me. The sun was completely covered with the pitch black disk of the moon, with the rays of the solar corona all wispy around it. The sky had deepened to twilight and my daughter pointed out first Venus, to the right, and then Mars, to the left. The crowd cheered and clapped, oohed and aahed. Then everyone got very quiet, and although I stood in a crowd of people, it felt as if this was mine alone.
Just before the first sliver of returning sun peeked through, a chorus of cicadas started up. Then the light started to come back quickly but gradually. There was more cheering. People were on their phones, calling other people. I may or may not have shed a tear and hugged my husband and thanked him for helping me make a baby that grew up and got married and moved to Nashville so that we could come to visit and see the eclipse.
It was an absolutely marvelous experience, something I’ve always wanted to see and will never forget. I encourage everyone to see a total solar eclipse, if at all possible. Make your preparations, but be open to change your plans if the need arises. One special memory is the image of my granddaughter, Abigail, sitting in the grass, eating ice cubes out of a plastic cup, oblivious to the spectacle going on around her. But, she was there. And in seven years when the next total solar eclipse cuts across the U.S. (and through Texas, too!) we’re going to do it all over again.
Fort Bend Astronomy Club