Gateway: Living

Magee: Unique viewing sites make Great American Eclipse a memorable event

The Great American Eclipse as seen on the wall of a port-a-potty at a viewing site in Kimberly, Oregon.
The Great American Eclipse as seen on the wall of a port-a-potty at a viewing site in Kimberly, Oregon. Courtesy

When our son Zach was little, he was fascinated with a book we read about the solar system, but there was one incontrovertible fact that shocked him and me. Some day, billions of years into the future, the sun will burn out.

As my husband Ken and I traveled to Hood River, Oregon, our first stop on the way to view the solar eclipse, I thought about how much we depend on the sun. We played in Hood River for several days (hosted by Ken and Mimi Fielding), where a group of us cycled in the sunshine, through hill and vale, with views of orchards, vineyards, Mount Hood and Mount Adams.

On the day before the eclipse, 15 of us departed Hood River loaded with camping gear, bikes, and big expectations for viewing the eclipse in the tiny town of Kimberly, Oregon. We left at 4:45 a.m., headed east on Interstate 84. The stars were brilliant at that hour with stalwart Orion on the horizon, his three-starred sword proudly displayed. Turning south, we drove through golden hills with towering, whirling wind turbines. The sunrise glowed peach.

There was no traffic (a surprise after all of the warnings we’d heard), so we made good time. We arrived in Kimberly early and set up tents and one tent trailer, called a Kamparoo, for Ken and me (compliments of Terry Mace and Anne Wood). We camped in an orchard along the banks of the John Day River, with peanut brittle-like rock cliffs on both sides.

That day we had time to eat a hearty breakfast, do a bike ride in the sunshine from Kimberly to Monument, and take a refreshing swim in the John Day. That evening we gathered for a lecture by a speaker from NASA, who fielded questions about the eclipse. He used three youngsters on stage to demonstrate the positioning of the sun, moon and earth.

On Monday morning our final preparations began, with several astronomy enthusiasts in our group setting up powerful telescopes for viewing and picture taking. We lined up folding chairs facing east and waited for the sunrise, eclipse glasses at the ready. You could feel the excitement surging through the campsite as the hour of the eclipse approached.

Shortly after 9 a.m., we could see a small indentation on the sun, at about 1 o’clock. The telescopes afforded us crystal clear images, as did a pair of protective binoculars. Slowly, the moon turned the sun into a crescent, a real role reversal. We held a colander up to the eclipse, and it showed hundreds of crescents on an orange towel. The air got cooler and cooler. I thought of that prediction about losing the sun billions of years from now, and felt grateful that this current loss would only last a couple of hours.

Suddenly, word spread that you could see the eclipse inside a port-a-potty! We raced over and saw the sun shining through a screened window onto the opposite wall. The crescent suns resembled ancient symbols.

When the eclipse was total, Theresa Creatura recorded the sounds of all of us cheering. Rick Creatura yelled, “It’s totality!” Anne urged us to catch a glimpse of it through the telescopes, as it would last under two minutes. It was a thrilling moment.

At the tail end of totality we could see “the diamond ring,” where the beam of light at one edge showed like a huge diamond, and the corona surrounding the moon resembled a band. A ring for every earthly being!

I am so grateful for our sun, for the heavens, this beautiful earth, and good friends.

Reach Mary Magee at marymagee@harbornet.com.

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