John Shearer: Enjoying ‘Totality’ In Spring City

Tuesday, August 22, 2017 - by John Shearer

I had vaguely heard something about an eclipse a few months back and saw a TV report on the fact that hotel rooms in some small town in Tennessee had been booked for months.
 
But not until about six weeks ago did I realize this was going to be quite a rare occurrence – a total solar eclipse not far from Chattanooga.
 
As a person whose adventurous streak is probably not as great as it should be, I would have probably been content to look at the 99-percent partial eclipse from my backyard in Hixson.

 
But due to the fact that my stepson, former Chattanoogan Robert Whitelaw from Alabama, was interested in taking my wife, Laura, and me to Spring City with his family, I ended up being in the path of totality.
 
And I must admit, it was totally worth it, even though we also had to be in the path of futility on the way home afterward by sitting in slow-moving traffic for miles on southbound U.S. 27.
 
The day began a little before 8 a.m. Monday, when seven of us pulled out of our house. After a quick stop at the Walmart for an open-sided tent like athletic teams use at outdoor swim or cross country meets, we were on our way.
 
We were actually surprised how easily we made it up to Spring City with minimal traffic problems. And after we talked with a nice police official – who told us the shuttle bus drivers were volunteering their efforts – we quickly saw an open parking spot at Spring City Elementary.
 
In fact, we were so pleasantly surprised to find a parking place near the center of all the activity that we kept waiting for some grumpy official to come up and tell us we could not park there. But we did not see anybody.
 
It was now about 9:30 a.m., so we decided to walk over to downtown Spring City and buy some T-shirts. What is any event without a T-shirt?
 
Although I had brought some reading material and envisioned being in some very crowded field passing the time by reading, we actually then went shopping for thrift store items and other goods.
 
I found that everyone was extremely nice and glad to see visitors flock to their small town for a once-in-a-lifetime event.
 
It also dawned on me that Spring City, by being in darkness so long during the eclipse, was finally getting the better of rival Dayton, which had become much better known due to the 1925 Scopes Trial and maybe its strawberries.
 
About noon, we headed back to the school, set up the tent in the grassy area that had plenty of room for spreading out, and ate our food we brought. That included, of course, Moon Pies.
 
This eclipse watching experience was too easy, I thought.  And I was beginning to realize that most people did not really know exactly what all to expect with a total eclipse, so it was not like the familiarity of seeing your favorite college football team play on homecoming weekend.
 
It was quite relaxing, to tell you the truth, despite the hot sun.
 
And speaking of sun, about 1 p.m., the partial eclipse started, and everyone began getting excited. Game time had begun!
 
I pulled out my eclipse glasses Robert had bought for all of us, and they seemed to be working. I could see the moon slowly start to cross over the sun.
 
How often does the moon seem from the Earth to be dominant over the sun? And it was creating a crescent sun to boot!
 
To help demonstrate this, some nice man was walking around with a small silver ball that looked like an old disco ball, and was showing people the reflection of the sun on the brick wall.
 
I kept checking every five or 10 minutes, and the moon was slowly eating at the sun like in the old Pac Man game.
 
But the sky did not seem to be getting any darker. Shortly after 2 p.m., however, I noticed that the air started to get a little hazy-like, or the lights in the sky appeared to be dimming ever so slightly.
 
And by about 2:25, I could stand out in the sun and not get the sensation it was beating down on me in an unhealthy way. It was quite comfortable. I was also enjoying the experience emotionally.
 
By this time anticipation was reaching epic proportions. We could even hear crickets making noises, as if twilight had arrived.
 
And then, as if someone upstairs had hit a switch, nighttime and almost dark skies quickly arrived.
 
Everyone around us started clapping enthusiastically, and I looked up and realized why. Without needing to wear the special glasses, I saw in front of me about the prettiest sight I have ever seen in the sky – a black moon with an orange ring completely surrounding it.
 
For some reason I was so overcome with emotion I almost started feeling like crying. It was beautiful!
 
I guess that was partly because I had not seen anything in person quite like that before, and I knew it was such a rare occurrence.
 
I enjoyed it for a little over two minutes, and then a big flash appeared in the sky. Totality was over, almost as quickly as it began.
 
But another loud applause erupted in our area.
 
And then, as light was quickly returning, almost everyone began packing up their belongings and taking them to their automobiles. That surprised me, as I thought people would stay longer.
 
I did peek a couple of times back up at the sun with my glasses as we were getting ready to leave, however.
 
We then began the slow journey in our vehicle back home. This part was like a major college football games due to the heavy traffic.
 
But the 3-plus-hour trip back home to Hixson from the Spring City Elementary parking lot was worth the 2½-minute experience of totality.
 
And at a time when Americans appear to be looking across at each other with disdain after all the social discord of recent days, it was neat to see so many people across this country looking upward as one.
 
It was truly a gift from the heavens that America sorely needed.
 
Jcshearer2@comcast.net


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