Rena and I packed away the cinnamon schnapps Barbara gave me, along with the rest of my eclipse equipment. Solar viewers. Check. Solar binoculars. Check. Go-Pro camera. Check. Digital SLR. Check. Big ass astronomical binoculars. Check. Big ass tripod for big ass astronomical binoculars. Check. Cinnamon schnapps. Check. Little red shot glasses for filling with cinnamon schnapps. Check.
Our intention was to break out the schnapps as totality approached.
The morning of Monday, August 17 found us in extreme Southwestern North Carolina, near the Georgia border. The evening before, after a meal at the famous Dillard House...
... we had checked out nearby Black Rock Mountain State Park. Black Rock Mountain was where, when I heard the park would be open for viewing at the summit, I planned to watch the eclipse. I had envisioned an open summit like that of nearby Brasstown Bald, but it seemed the entirety of Black Rock Mountain, or what we saw, anyway, was forested. Maybe not, as the above shot from the park's website suggests, but when a ranger told me the entire plan for the eclipse was to open the gates as usual at 7:30 am, allow cars in until the parking capacity was reached, and then lock the gates, I relocated our viewing to nearby Franklin, North Carolina. Our motel was there, anyway. It was a fortunate decision.
I had a wound on my leg that was looking inflamed, so after breakfast on Tuesday, Rena drove me to a walk-in clinic near our motel so I could get it checked. I was quickly in and out with a prescription for antibiotics. Downtown Franklin was filled with people there for the viewing, but the clinic had views so spectacular we decided we would watch from there rather than join the nearby throngs.
As the eclipse started started we set up chairs and our cooler under a tree. The husband of one of the clinic's staff members was already there, waiting for his wife to take her lunch break, and we chatted as the moon increasingly blacked out the sun.
Off to the south-- toward Dillard and Black Rock Mountain-- heavy clouds covered the horizon. The skies above Franklin, however, were clear.
When totality was about fifteen minutes away I went to the car to fetch my binoculars and the bottle of cinnamon schnapps Barbara Whitlow gave me for my birthday. In just the couple of minutes I was away a bank of clouds had condensed overhead and was moving northward toward the sun. It was clear they were going to be a problem. The clinic had closed for the totality and the couple watching with us were hurriedly packing their gear. They were, they said, going to drive northward, toward Cowee, to try to outrun the clouds. Just continue up the road, they said, and turn left on Highway 23.
Rena and I made the decision to follow, and as she went to get the car I dragged our gear to the curb so it would be staged for instant loading. When Rena popped the trunk I piled the gear inside and slammed the trunk and jumped into the passenger seat and we were on our way.
It's a good thing we relocated, as the eclipse was obscured in Franklin. Here's a video from the Asheville Citizen-Times.
There was no traffic on Highway 23. The few cars present were parked and their occupants outside, looking upward. We drove for five minutes at forty miles an hour, and when instinct told me it was time, I hollered "Stop!"
Rena pulled quickly onto the shoulder and we jumped out and looked upward and there was the sun, with only a sliver still visible. We had outpaced the clouds! Our view was, gloriously, unobscured.
Within seconds totality was upon us. Being as we were near the center of the totality zone, we had two minutes and forty-three seconds. Night suddenly fell. The temperature dropped, the planets became visible, and tree frogs and crickets began to chirp. As I looked directly at the sun with my naked eyes (allowable during totality) I could see bats and swallows flitting about in the sky. The corona of the sun was visible, and there was a big black hole in the sky where the sun usually was. It was an eerie and wonderful sight.
Having now seen an eclipse NEAR the zone of totality and an eclipse IN the zone of totality, I have to say that when it comes to solar eclipses, unlike horseshoes and hand grenades, close is NOT good enough.
Then it was over. The sun turned back on, as if with a switch, and within minutes it was daylight again.
Rena and I drove happily away. Only later did I realize that in our scurry we had not touched the schnapps!
I'm saving it for another occasion, I think maybe moon watching on some clear cold New Jersey night. I will think of Barbara when I drink it.