Just over two weeks ago I was in line at the Canon Repair center, feeling anxious about how much my camera repair would cost. While waiting, I picked up a flyer advertising a Canon Eclipse kit for the upcoming total eclipse on August 21. I had heard a little about an upcoming eclipse, but seeing the flyer piqued my interest.
Calling Dr. Google
Not knowing what was involved with photographing an eclipse, I quickly took to Google to find out. Finding an interactive Google Map with the path of the total eclipse was an immense help. But, it also showed me I lived far from this and it would require travel. I love traveling so I got excited. Looking into places to go, I soon found most most flights were crazy expensive around the day of the eclipse, along with expensive hotels, and no rental cars to be found.
Too Many Options
While looking for where to go, I also began looking for what I would need to bring. For gear I had found all I needed was a special filter. That brought options. On one end was a cheap $30 solution with unknowable results. On the other end were filters in the $200+ range, coming with good reviews. I don't like to skimp on quality, especially for a once in a lifetime opportunity. But, being near broke, I took the gamble on the cheaper filter and saved the money for the trip.
Friends on the Road
When traveling I often go alone. Many places I go are on whims or when others can't go along. But, a couple of friends were just as excited as I was and I was glad to have companions. We settled on driving up to the Grand Tetons in Wyoming, to a spot right on the path of the total eclipse.
Just like that we were off. One of the fun things about a roadtrip, when you're not in a hurry, is stopping at weird places. One place we found near Las Vegas is called, "Seven Magic Mountains." If you're thinking acid trip, you'd be close. Just off the highway are several pillars of brightly painted rocks. Why are they there you ask? I don't know. There was a sign with the story, but it was getting hot out and I didn't want to melt.
Driving further into the desert, I enjoyed watching the scenery slowly change. The fairly flat California and Nevada brown slowly merged into Utah with rolling hills and storm clouds.
We got into Salt Lake City and settled in for a few hours to eat and sleep. Walking around downtown a bit, it seemed like a cool city but hardly anyone was out. I wondered if it was quiet because it was a Sunday evening and if Mormon's stay in?
At O Dark Thirty
Trying to fall asleep at 11 (10pm California time) was a real challenge. Needing to be up and outta there by 3:30am, I could feel the ouch of a long day coming. Thankfully we all woke up and were ready to hit the road within minutes, even without coffee. Traffic was nice and light as we got into Idaho. The sun eventually met us we got into Wyoming, and it was definitely worth a stop. After a few minutes to stretch, it dawned on us that we needed to keep going to make it before a million other people get to the Tetons.
It Was Real, and It Was Spectacular
Getting into the National Teton park, I was a bit perplexed if we were there yet. Soon enough, the famous mountain range was in sight and I knew we had arrived. As expected, we became part of a train of cars entering the park and heading to a designated eclipse viewing spot. Parking seemed like a miracle to find, but our driver quickly produced a legit handicap parking placard and we got to park right away. I don't know if it was cheating, but it was a genuine placard I assure you, and it worked.
Having over an hour to go before the eclipse, we got to settle into our spot and just enjoy the scenery. It gave me time to set up and learn how to find the sun with my camera. The solar filter I was using makes the sky completely black, aside from the sun of course. The one filter (a piece of cardboard with the filter film) that was in stock was way too big for my lens and it just sort of dangled to block half of the picture.
Going through a few ideas, I rolled some pieces of gaffers tape into a spacer and wedged it between the filter and the lens. Then I taped the filter even more around to secure it. The camera was ready to go.
Nearby were all sorts of folks. Some had telescopes and were letting people take a view. Also nearby was a guy playing guitar and that drew me in. He told me how he'd been living out of his car after his wife left him. I don't know how much to say, but I'll leave it at that. I was glad to get to meet the guy and somehow I hope he was encouraged to not be alone to experience the eclipse. The time was coming and everything grew dark fast. My friend had pointed out how a nearby tree was making shapes. I ran off to quickly go see before the total eclipse began. At first I thought, "oh big deal!," but it was pretty cool actually.
The air quickly became cool and all of a sudden we were in darkness. Just then I flipped the solar filter off my camera and began playing with unknown settings, hoping to quickly capture what was going on in the sky above me. Just looking at my screen, I was amazed, but also frustrated I wasn't getting it right just yet. I was fumbling around in frustration and then I looked up with my actual eyes. As a photographer it's easy to forget to stop being a photographer and just experience where you are, who you're with, and be a person. I looked up an was quickly in awe of how surreal it was. It seemed like there was a big black ball, glowing and floating in a faintly blue sky. I don't want to equate it to the Second Coming of Jesus, but this was it amazing in a way no words or pictures could describe. It was a Vin Scully moment where the best thing to do is stay silent. And handle the camera of course...It was real and it was spectacular.
Sad to Think...
As quickly as it came, it was over. It was over too fast for me. Not long after, we began packing up and were gone (into a 4 hour traffic jam). We moved along and I sort of sunk into thinking. It was a spectacular sight that only so many people got to experience. We exercised faith in knowing where to go and when, exactly, and got to see an awesome sight few get to see, and I wanted to bring more people to see for themselves.. But it occurred to me that the next total eclipse isn't for another 80 years or something crazy like that. And all of a sudden I was sad to think that by then, I would be dead, my friends would be dead, and we'd all miss it. I believe in Jesus and the resurrection, so I know I'll be delightfully surprised in what is to come, but life now, it became so much more fragile for me. To think now is the time to love someone, to go for it, to experience life now, not just wait until later.
Appreciating God Here, Now
Driving back, places like Utah with cows, it seemed to pale in comparison. But slowly I began to remember something a Bible teacher had taught me about God creating. He taught me not to dismiss a place (or people) we don't find to be beautiful. The same God that made the beautiful tropics made the Utah deserts. The same God that made the eclipse also made the people I sit with. When I take the time to see, I can see beauty only few get to see, and get rewarded with life unexpected. Let God eclipse your heart and see for yourself what I'm talking about.
"Love the one you're with..." - Stephen Stills
Let's go in 2024