I had a funny feeling that we were about to spend bookoo bucks on air flights and travel about 1,000 miles just to get skunked. . . and that's kind of what happened. God has a funny sense of humor. But it was still an awesome experience.
I had the bright idea that it would be more fun to see the eclipse in the countryside rather than in the city. I thought we'd hear more strange animal sounds and maybe experience more of the wildness of this rare phenomenon. And I wanted to avoid city crowds and traffic. Tina, Gavin and Mike agreed, so we traveled just outside Charleston to Magnolia Plantation for the event.
I'd never been on a plantation before. The idea of visiting one always creeped me out because all I could think about was the enslaved Africans toiling to make the plantations prosper. But we went anyway.
It was about 98 degrees out that day, with about 98% humidity. I could barely walk. I don't know how the slaves could work in such oppressive weather.
We grabbed a sandwich and escaped the searing heat in Magnolia's air conditioned (God bless it) little theatre. There we watched a short film narrated by a young man who is a descendent of the original owners. In telling the history of the plantation, he definitely tried to give credit to the human suffering involved in making rice production successful amidst alligators and malarial mosquitoes.
We watched the film at least four times. Finally our sweat dried and it was time to go outside for the show.
Along with a couple hundred other visitors, mostly parents and children, we walked onto the massive lawn near the slave schoolhouse. The big house loomed in the distance. The skies were filled with big grey clouds, but the sun was uncovered. We put on our eclipse glasses and looked up. There was the start of it: it looked like someone took a perfectly-round bite out of the sun.
|Gavin, Mike, me, and Tina hamming it up at Magnolia|
|One of the Magnolia peacocks; the tail feathers had molted.|
At that point, I got a phone call from the United States Postal Service. I had signed up do to a postal diary with them and they had been trying to reach me for days to do the initial interview. I thought, Why not take the call? Maybe if I do, the clouds will clear up!
So I took the call and answered the lady's questions about our mail. About how many bills do we get a week? Do we look at the ads that come in the mail? Do we use the coupons that are delivered? Do we pay bills by mail or online?
As I answered the questions, I wandered away from our group so as not to be annoying. But I thought, This must be one of the dumbest things I've ever done. Here I travel all this way and spend all this money to see something that may a once in a lifetime occurrence, and I'm on the phone answering a bunch of questions about the US Mail?
Finally the interview ended. But the clouds were just as thick across the sky.
And then something happened. It had to be the totality; we just couldn't see it. It got really, really dark. The rain slowed down to a mist. The people slowly emerged from the shelter of the picnic area and the trees.
We walked back onto the massive lawn. It was quiet. We looked up. It got darker and darker. Suddenly the two peacocks near us flew into their roosts. A flock of wild birds flew out of the woods. The birds knew something weird was going on.
And that was it, really.
Later, when we were back in Charleston, the skies cleared partially for the second half of the eclipse and we saw the sun with a bite out of it on the other side.
We learned that the totality had been visible in the city - if we had only stayed there!
My son and his family traveled to St. Louis to view the eclipse, and got a great view of the totality. He said to me, "Mom, it was better than any photo you've seen. It looked kind of like a picture that kids draw, with spikes coming out of the sun. And the cicadas stopped their noise."
Someone told me that in Northern Wisconsin, the coyotes howled like never before during the totality, even though it could not be seen there.
There's another total eclipse coming on April 8, 2024. I plan to go see it. I'll only be 73 then if I'm still alive, a fine age to travel, I think. The closest place to Milwaukee for the path of totality would be Cleveland, but as my son says, those spring days in the north can be rainy and cloudy. So we may be headed south to Dallas or Hot Springs.
I'm saving my eclipse glasses.
Gail Grenier is the author of Don't Worry Baby, Dog Woman, Calling All Horses, and Dessert First, all available from Amazon.com.