Path of Totality

My husband Chuck had been making plans for last Monday’s solar eclipse since 2017.

Part of those preparations included determining the optimal place to experience the longest period of totality.  Criteria included maximum duration of darkness, unobstructed views of the sky, in a setting within less than half a day’s drive from home with overnight accommodations.

The winner turned out to be a ski resort in the far northern reaches of Vermont. This is not a place we would normally find ourselves.  We’re not downhill skiers.  But this resort was smack in the middle of the sweet spot.

That settled, Chuck created a spreadsheet showing times and intervals of the various stages of the eclipse so that he could have his camera ready at crucial points.

On the day before the eclipse, we drove to the resort.  Making our way through its condo villages and smaller lodges, we arrived at the main hotel and conference center.  The host at the desk presented a map orienting us to the hotel maze that led to the restaurants, shops, conference center, work-out room, and indoor water park, as well as the indoor skating rink adjacent to the parking lot, and to the spot where we could catch the shuttle to some of the other restaurants, shops, and movie theatre.

Also, there was skiing.

To the right of the desk were swag bags reserved for guests who purchased the eclipse package. They contained t-shirts, posters, glasses, and tram tickets to the summit. We didn’t see the need for these things and opted out.

Behind us I heard the ga-lump, ga-lumping of skiers traversing the lobby in their boots, and slap-slapping of bare footed, bathing-suit clad children running from the water park to their rooms.  Over-sized luggage carts piled high with bags, skis, and snowboards squeaked and groaned as helmets swayed on the hooks above.

At noon on Monday the activity level shifted as the resort closed ski trails.

Eclipse viewers began sorting themselves into various camps around the property. Some were on the patio at the base of the trails.  The picnic tables and Adirondack chairs had mostly all been claimed by 11:00.  These guests had food, beverages, and live music at their fingertips. Near the patio the swag-bag group lined up to ride the tram to the chilly, wind-swept summit.

The unpaved parking lot in front of the hotel was home to tailgate parties with their coolers, grills, and music. At the corner of the lot a vintage VW bus flew the Jolly Roger.

Then there were the hard-core eclipse-chasers and photographers who assembled their equipment between the cars on the rooftop deck of the parking garage. We had found our people!

As Chuck secured the tracking spreadsheet to our car’s windshield and set up the camera in our parking space, we got to know our new neighbors.  Beside us was a couple from New Jersey, who decades ago had planned their wedding so that they could go skiing on their honeymoon. This resort had always been a favorite of theirs.

Behind us a young man in a NASA sweatshirt had arrived with his wife and four small children.  His sophisticated camera and telescope identified him as a serious astrophotographer.  He seemed happy to let us look through the telescope and to share photography tips.  In a lot adjacent to and just below us two busloads of students from an out-of-state prep school gathered in their “advisories” before heading off to view the eclipse.

Along with everyone else, I settled in and watched as the moon passed between us and the sun.  I was awe-struck as the sun turned to a sliver.  And then it was blocked completely.  The moment of totality was everything others had described.  The change in the light, the drop in temperature, the behavior of the wildlife.

I was struck by the fact that Chuck and I were sharing this moment of sheer wonder with a group of people we had just met and about whom we knew next to nothing.  We were clueless about their political, spiritual, social, and cultural values – the things that usually either unite or divide us.  But none of that mattered as we collectively gasped, teared up, giggled with joy.

Then it ended. We all went our separate ways, back to life as usual.  And I knew our paths would likely never cross again.

Now, a week later, I find it strangely comforting to be part of this parking garage eclipse viewer diaspora.  It gives me hope to remember that in such troubled, fractured times it’s still possible to share a glorious moment of unified glee.

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