August 23, 2017

112.8 Seconds

T minus five months: On a whim, I booked travel for a single night in St. Louis. I would land the night before, and fly home five hours after it was over. The southern half of St. Louis was within the seventy-mile band, and so I figured I'd show up and do my best on the day of. No further planning needed. (This incidentally is not my girlfriend's favorite quality of mine)

T minus one week: My monkey brain, desperate to exert control over an absolutely uncontrollable situation, has me constantly refreshing several sources of cloud-cover forecasts. And tragically it was looking grim in eastern Missouri. Even as late as the night before it was a mostly cloudy punch in the gut. I considered cancelling the trip. But that silly thought was quickly quashed; a chance to see this is worth the time and money. And even if it all gets completely clouded out, I'm sure I'll still see something interesting.

T minus twenty-five hours: Welp, no use trying to think about anything else now. All packed up, on my way to BOS, full of Aussie meat pies. I didn't bring my Nikon because I didn't want to waste a single moment futzing around with it. And I knew it would be hard to not find substantially better photos than what I could capture anyway. Traveling with little more than my laptop and two days of clothing was a nice change of pace.

T minus seventeen hours: The check-in staff at the hotel ask "One night? You must be here for the eclipse! Do you remember what time it will be?" I answer but all I can think is 😦. I chose to not take them up on the complimentary "honor bar" in the concierge lounge. I'm already intoxicated over here ma'am! The lovely sunset that also greeted me served as a good omen.

T minus six hours: Armed with the best weather information I could hope to get, it's time to commit to a solid plan. I'm told this is when the real eclipse chase begins. Forecasts improved to suggest clouds would probably cooperate in the St. Louis area. However, there was widespread concern of a uniquely monstrous traffic apocalypse immediately afterwards. That spooked me away from points further afield, nearer to the center line. Festus would get two and a half minutes, sure, but I didn't want to risk trying to make the 46-mile drive back to the airport in "only" four hours. (Though if the weather suggested a clear Festus but cloudy everywhere closer, you bet your ass I was absolutely prepared to miss my flight). Since the entire region had essentially the same forecast, the plan became easy. Just use the light rail to get as far south as possible. The last stop, in Shrewsbury, would get sixty-five seconds. And so, with a MetroLink day pass, I headed into the city proper. Paid my respects to the Arch. Unfortunately it was a mess of construction and fences.

T minus one hour: Off the metro in Shrewsbury. I decided to push forward a little further still towards the center line. Nearly doubling the duration was surely worth an eleven-mile drive. To hell with the traffic. And so I hailed a ride to Fenton, population 4000. Part of my rationalizing was that Fenton City Park was just close enough such that, even if every paved surface were tessellated in automobile, I could still jog back to the train in time. Probably. My driver almost cried when I gave him my spare eclipse glasses, and I urged him dear god please stay put.

I parked my butt on the grass and watched the sun slowly shrink away. In the middle of the sky.

T minus fifteen minutes: The sun is encased in a thick, dark puff of cloud. Not much to do but menacingly watch it inch along, subconsciously reckoning the integral of its speed using whatever proto-calculus is innate in all of us. It would obviously clear the sun in time with nothing but blue skies in tow. I'm so very lucky and grateful that it did.

T minus ten minutes: The quality of light has changed dramatically. These clouds were really just as rosy pink as they look in this photo. The best way I can describe it is that it looked like the white balance on life itself was mis-set. (Also, check out that crescent lens flare)

T minus thirty seconds: Gosh that last fingernail of sunlight is shrinking really really fast. Heart thumping. It's time.

.

.

.

Totality.

I'm ordinarily a fairly stoic guy. But I'm not too proud to admit I started bawling my goddamn eyes out immediately.

I didn't get a chance to see the 360° sunset around me in the horizon. I also didn't get to look for Mercury or Regulus (though Venus made it difficult to not notice her). The sky must have been a little too cloudy or too polluted with light to see any stars or the Milky Way. And just as well, I was completely transfixed on totality itself.

Well before I was ready for it, Baily's beads started peeking out. Then the diamond ring. I resisted putting my glasses back on for as long as I could, as the sparkle of the sun quickly grew to push out the sheer blackness of the moon.

The one minute, fifty-two-point-eight seconds passed by so incredibly quickly. But it was all overwhelmingly spectacular. The most wonderful thing I've seen in my life.

T minus seven years: I've started mentally planning the next one.