During the 1999 solar eclipse, the line of totality passed over Agilent’s (then HP’s) site in Waldbronn, Germany. (YouTube) This year’s eclipse would only be 75-percent visible from Agilent’s Santa Clara headquarters where I work. So I took a few days off and drove 650 miles north to see the totality.
We had purchased eclipse glasses well ahead of time. A week before the event, we discovered they were fraudulent. Fortunately, we had purchased back-up glasses online. Unfortunately, they didn’t arrive in time. At the last minute, my wife searched all over town and found a college that had just received a shipment. We were in business.
My wife and I traveled with her 88-year-old mother. We spent three days on the road, as news warned of overcast skies (or rain), smoke from regional forest fires, and especially traffic. (One 6,500-person town was expecting 100,000 visitors.) Motels were renting rooms for $600-800 a night – nonrefundable.
On the morning of the eclipse, we set out at 3:30 am for the 10:15 event – giving ourselves six hours for a normal one-hour drive. (We didn’t need it.) We settled in a parking lot in tiny Perrydale, Oregon (described as “not quite a ghost town”).
At our viewing site, several dozen strangers became friends. This was repeated all over the country, as millions shared the same cosmic experience. People honked and waved. They hugged each other at the moment of totality. A couple came by passing out glasses to those who didn’t have them. The eclipse seemed to bring out the best in our humanity, and we all felt it together.
We were impressed not only by the spectacle, but by how accurately it was predicted. There were no deniers, no doubters, no arguments. There was going to be an eclipse, and it came to pass exactly as expected. Modern science is truly amazing.
(Granted, someone asked why the eclipse couldn’t have been scheduled for a more convenient time. But that’s another story.)
And the eclipse itself? It was incredible. It was humbling. The moment of totality, when the air suddenly cools and everything suddenly goes black, is nothing short of breathtaking. You may read many accounts, but words cannot describe it. Photos and videos cannot do it justice. A friend who shared my adventure commented, “Your photos are good, but that’s not what I saw.” Nothing can match the live experience.
If you ever have a chance to witness a total solar eclipse in person, please go and do it.
Thanks to Agilent employee Steve Luke for his story about the 1999 Waldbronn eclipse!
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