Celestial event exceeds every expectation

Celestial event exceeds every expectation

At risk of sounding cynical, it’s unusual anything in our ceaselessly hyped modern world lives up to expectations. It’s rarer still to experience something that blows those expectations right out of water. I’ll bet I’m speaking for thousands, if not millions, still basking in the afterglow of the recent solar eclipse when I say I’ve finally experienced something entirely beyond my most optimistic dreams.

My path to solar eclipse nirvana had been paved in potential obstacles, the first being the odds of finding myself in a sunny spot on an April day in Ohio. (The odds are just above 1-in-3 in case you were wondering.)

Early on I’d figured on staying put in my own little chunk of the path of totality, knowing the sun was just as likely (or unlikely) to shine on the lawn outside my office door as it was anywhere else within a day’s drive.

My plan was to stay at work, maybe pop outside near the height of it all, snap a few photos and be done with it. I’d done the same during our most recent annular (nontotal) eclipse several years ago and had grabbed some great photos from the sidewalk outside my office in downtown Millersburg. That scheme changed dramatically when my son-in-law paid back the gift I’d given the family of a yearlong pass to the Akron Zoo with tickets to a “members only” Eclipse Party among the animals.

There we’d have the opportunity not only to keep the kids entertained in the slow run-up to the blackout, but also to observe the reaction of all different sorts of wildlife to the celestial event. After weighing the idea of spending the day at work against the blessing of being with my kids and grandkids for a once-in-a-lifetime event, the zoo trip won in a heartbeat.

Enter yet another obstacle. I needed to take pictures of the whole thing. That’s just how I roll. But to do so while at the zoo with thousands of people mulling about seemed a long-odds task. Still, I packed my camera and tripod in my backpack along with a telephoto lens to which I’d affixed a homemade eclipse filter with blue painter’s tape. An authentically goofy-looking setup to be sure, but it had gotten the job done back in 2017, so I figured it would do just as well this time around.

My grandsons, who were checking off their first eclipse at the ages of 2 and 4, were all about wandering the zoo with Mom, Dad, Grandma and Grandpa and presented a continuous challenge to the idea of me sitting in one place with a camera on a tripod to take a progression of the proceedings. In a day of many miracles, however, I was able to set up in an out-of-the-way corner while the boys waited in line almost forever for a ride on the zoo train with Grandma. We were halfway to totality by the time they finished their ride, and I’d shot a satisfactory string of pictures along the way. Within moments it was time to strap on the eclipse glasses and sprawl out on the tarmac.

The moment the sun winked out is one that will live in my memory forever. A hushed crowd of hundreds in our immediate area gave a single synchronized gasp as darkness fell and next a spontaneous shout for the greatest show on earth — make that the entire solar system! Bats flew, coyotes prowled, day birds grew silent and night creatures stirred. The temperature dropped 10 degrees.

For a moment, in the midst of the miracle, I fretted over a darkness so complete my camera couldn’t find its way through it but then quickly resolved to set the whole mess aside and bask in the once-in-a-lifetime moment.

If you have comments on this column or questions about the natural world, write The Rail Trail Naturalist, P.O. Box 170, Fredericksburg, OH 44627, or email jlorson@alonovus.com. You also can follow along on Instagram @railtrailnaturalist.

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