We were out of the house before 6:00am, thinking that if we waited too late in the morning we’d find ourselves making a tortuously slow drive down into the path of totality. With all the dire traffic predictions I’d been hearing, I’d worried a little that Dave would lose interest in seeing the eclipse, but I shouldn’t have been concerned. After all, he was the one who’d told me to put it on my list as an activity, almost five years before.
Even that early there were a lot of cars on the road, but we still cruised along pretty well, and were in Salem getting ourselves breakfast before 7:00. None of the kids had gone back to sleep in the car, not even Mica, so we were all a bit strange and under-slept. For me that added to the sense of adventure. Dave looked up a nearby Salem park, and we got there early enough to get a parking space.
It was not a large or fancy park, seeming to exist mainly to provide two soccer fields and two baseball diamonds. On this particular morning it was dotted with the tents of people who’d dodged the traffic issue altogether. One man was cooking breakfast with the help of a camp stove and a well-stocked tailgating setup; the air smelled like sausages. We parked next to two guys fiddling with telescopes and cameras on tripods. Camp chairs were everywhere.
There was no play area, but there were sticks, some low, shrubby trees, and a pile of river rocks used for landscaping, so the kids occupied themselves pretty well. We whiled away the hours until the eclipse by talking, reading, taking children to the bathroom, and debating whether it was ok for the boys to try to break some of the rocks in order to make arrowheads. (Hint: Making arrowheads is harder than it may seem.)
During the last hour we began to check on the sun occasionally through our eclipse glasses, watching the crescent of darkness slide slowly over its face. We’d stapled a pair of glasses into a cloth mask for Mica, so we could tie it around her head, which helped me worry less about her accidentally staring at the sun. The world grew dimmer and cooler, as though heavy smoke were obscuring the sun, although it was a clear day. The shadows of the trees became composed of crescents, as though painted by an impressionist.
And then, in the last minute, the world visibly dimmed around us, until the sun was a black hole in the sky, ringed by fire. I had seen pictures of eclipses, so in a way it wasn’t a surprise. But it was beautiful and unearthly, the world suddenly twilit, with Venus presiding over the sky overhead.
Within two minutes the sun was back. Tree shadows were again made of crescents, oriented in the opposite direction from before. The boys went back to banging on rocks.
I know that the world didn’t pause during those two minutes of totality. I remember talking to Mica, who seemed unimpressed by events, and looking around at the sunset encircling the horizon, and noticing the lights of a drone over the field. But already in my memory, when I think of that black circle in the sky, it seems as though the world was holding its breath.