Solar Eclipse, Oregon, August 21, 2017—Looking up through the dark glasses, we watched as the moon eclipsed the sun, taking its unhurried time. Here, in the empty high desert, in the middle of nowhere, a group of us sat in chairs or laid on the ground staring intently in the same direction at the sky—an unusual scene of uniformity, heralding how atypical this unfolding heavenly event was to be.
At first, just a little bite appeared at the top of the orange disc then, slowly, as the moon covered more and more, the sun’s shape changed from a full circle to a crescent and finally just a thin wire before the eerie two minutes of totality, the darkness when the moon obliterated the sun entirely. Roosters had already crowed in anticipation. The shadows of the bushes had weirdly remained the same, not lengthening as usually happens with the end of the day.
We humans spontaneously blurted out a chorus of “wow oooh wow” as night fell mid-morning. Safe now to remove our glasses, with naked eyes we looked at the sun—or where it had been—now a black circle oddly resembling those bullet-shot stickers that people plaster on their cars. It was surrounded by the sun’s corona, visible in all its magnificence, dancing. And those with good eyesight pointed out the red and purple prominences, the solar flares, normally undetectable to us. Turning away from the sun, I put on a sweater as temperatures dropped and I looked around at the landscape, amused that a neighbor’s porch lights came on, triggered by the change in light.
Too soon, the two minutes of darkness ended with unexpected drama. A brilliant flash of light, known as a diamond ring, burst like a massive firework and then was extinguished just as suddenly. I’d been told earlier this is caused by the first rays of the re-emerging sun reflecting off the irregularities of the moon’s surface—its craters and mountains—but even though I’d been educated by an eclipse enthusiast, I was still taken by surprise, shocked and delighted, as were others who repeated the “wow wow” chorus. We put our glasses back on and watched as the sun emerged, powerfully bright even as a thin crescent, gradually gaining width.
Giddy with the experience, we packed up, walked down the hill, had a late breakfast, compared photographs and observations, and fell asleep on blankets in a friend of a friend of a friend’s front yard, basking under the brightly shining sun, restored to its standard form.
Editor’s Note: When Andrea Ehrgott queried us about writing an obituary for her husband, she found she couldn’t bring herself to write a formal obituary. “My husband had carefully planned this eclipse trip but sadly did not get to see it,” she told us. “I was fortunate enough to be invited to Oregon to watch the eclipse. It was a wonderful experience.”
She wrote this tribute in his honor and as a published record of his time on earth.
By Andrea Ehrgott