There are few experiences which leave a mark on your life so indelible that you can’t ever forget it. A mother can remember with pinpoint accuracy the details and events that transpired during her child’s birth. Scientists and doctors call these ‘flashbulb memories’. Many people remember the assassinations of JFK and Martin Luther King Jr. as flashbulb memories and there are countless other events across the globe that are remembered this way. My most recent experience of this magnitude was the solar eclipse on August 21st, 2017.
Say what? Yeah, the solar eclipse. I didn’t think it was gonna be that great either…until I saw it. Words and photographs cannot do this thing justice, but I will try. I made the journey up to the Grand Tetons in order to get inside of ‘the path of totality’, the small sliver that would encounter total darkness. Luckily for me, it was only a 4.5 hour drive.
The initial portion of the eclipse started at 10:16am with totality coming at around 11:34am. As soon as 10:00 rolled around, we pulled out the camping chairs and solar glasses and set up shop next to a dirt field on a back road.
As the moon began to eclipse the sun, not much was noticed. It was still bright outside, the temperature just starting to get intense prior to midday. It wasn’t until the moon was about 75 percent of the way across the sun that things started to get interesting. The sun was still too intense to look at, but you could tell that the shadows started to become diffused. Those normally sharp, crisp edges began to get fuzzy. The temperature was noticeably cooler and small pockets of light that made it through tree leaves and pine needles were now crescent shaped. It was like I was back in my childhood bedroom with a constellation night light projector.
11:32–With the solar glasses you can see just a small sliver of the sun left. As each minute passes, the temperature drop is very apparent. It felt like it was dropping 5 degrees a minute at this point. When you look around you can see that the light is similar to dusk and the temperature matched.
11:34–Right on time, a celestial light switch was turned off and the world went dark. Just like the soft glow of light around your window drapes in the morning, a soft white ring of light was all that was left of the sun; the corona of the sun visible from around the moon’s edges. The ring wasn’t uniform, but it was random and sporadic. It seemed like you could almost see solar flares coming off the surface of the sun and projecting into space. The temperature now as cold as night, with the only light coming from the distant horizon in all directions. Instead of having a sunset in the west, we had a sunset in every direction. The normally yellow sun now only a thin ring of white light. Putting my solar glasses back on, I could see nothing; no sun, no light, nothing. The sun had finally been conquered by the small, gray rock that orbits the earth. For that one moment, nothing else mattered. The stars didn’t care that it was midday, they all came out to say hello. We all stared up at that white ring knowing that what we were experiencing was special and un-repeatable in that place, with those people, and in our lifetime.
11:36–A large enough sliver of the sun emerged, completely illuminating the world again. Solar glasses back on with a slight temperature uptick. The lighting now looked like someone had turned on the lights at a baseball park at dusk. You know, that real faint light piercing through the darkness at the edge of the dirt field?
They say that most flashbulb memories change a person. The ferocity of those details and memories can have a significant impact on one’s life. Our lives are so small in the scheme of the universe. I can honestly say that I have seen the most beautiful thing this world has to offer and I won’t easily forget it.
Incredible timelapse photos by Dave Hanks