Thursday, August 24, 2017

Eclipse was educational even without my own pair of 'eclipse glasses'

Downtown Evergreen, Ala. during 'height' of the eclipse.
Like a lot of folks on Monday, I got caught up in all of the excitement over the solar eclipse, and while it didn’t get as dark in Evergreen as I had expected, it was still an interesting event to experience.

Even though I knew about the eclipse well in advance, I messed around and didn’t get a pair of those cheap eclipse glasses that a lot of people used to watch the eclipse. I figured I’d just “wing it,” which is what I did, and that worked out OK in the end.

In Evergreen, the eclipse began a few minutes after noon, and viewing conditions were very good thanks to relatively cloudless skies. It was around that time that Facebook and Twitter began to blow up with all sorts of pictures of people using eclipse glasses and welding masks to view the eclipse.

I would say that it was around 12:45 p.m. before the quality of the light around town began to change and for some reason it reminded me of how the light looks late in the day or early in the morning in the desert. While looking on Facebook, I saw where Donald McDonald, from the “Killing Bigfoot” crew that visited Evergreen earlier this year, was using two ordinary pieces of copy paper to “view” the eclipse. His “old school” method of viewing the eclipse involved poking a tiny pinhole in one sheet of paper and holding it over another while standing outside, allowing the shadow of the moon to be projected onto the bottom sheet of paper.

This looked simple enough, so I snatched two pieces of paper out of the printer beside my desk, used a pushpin from my bulletin board to make a tiny hole in one sheet and went outside. Our office manager Cheryl Johnston and I put the bottom sheet of paper on the hood of her brother Butch’s pickup truck, and when we held the piece of paper with the hole in it over the bottom one, we could clearly see the shadow of the eclipse.

Jim Ryan from the insurance office down the street joined us a few moments later with a similar contraption he’d made out of a heavy-duty file folder. The hole in his folder was larger and projected a larger “image” of the eclipse.

A few minutes later, I learned that the crew down at Dr. Mike Cartwright’s dentist office on Court Street was having an “eclipse party,” so I walked the short distance down the hill to find them (and Courant publisher Robert Bozeman) all sitting around two pickup trucks across the street from Cartwright’s office watching the eclipse through eclipse glasses and a welding mask. While there, I got my first good look at the eclipse using both methods and I was somewhat blown away by how clearly I could see the moon passing in front of the sun.

This was around 1:30 p.m., and the sky had gotten noticeably darker, but not what I would call “real dark.” It was more of a dusk dark. Dr. Cartwright noted a mockingbird that flew by silently and into a tree behind his office and wondered if it was going to roost because it thought the sun was going down. To me, the ambient noise of insects had also decreased as had the temperature.

My plan throughout the morning was to be on top of the overhead bridge at the peak of the eclipse to take a picture of downtown Evergreen, looking toward the depot, when conditions were at their darkest. I’d expected the street lights to come on and to get a shot of cars with their headlights on. Unfortunately, it didn’t get that dark.

In the end, the experience was educational, and I suspect that a lot of folks learned more about solar eclipses than they’d ever expected to know. At some point during the day, I heard that the next solar eclipse to pass over the United States will occur seven years from now, on April 8, 2024, which will also fall on a Monday. If I’m still around then, I don’t plan to mess around: I’m going to be first in line to buy a pair of cheap eclipse glasses.

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