The Great American Eclipse–it promised to be a once-in-a-lifetime event. Originally, I’d planned on driving to Oregon to see it, since from there the entire sun would be covered. We live in northern California, so it wasn’t that far. It didn’t seem like an unreasonable expectation.
But unfortunately, real life intervened. We own a construction company—waterproofing, which is a subcontractor job, and thus we are at the beck and call of general contractors. So of course our contractor down in San Luis Obispo, seven hours to the southwest, chose to schedule us that week.
Well, drat. The Sacramento area where we live was only going to get to see 80% of the eclipse, and traveling further south would only reduce those numbers. Still, it’s not as though I’ve never seen an eclipse before. I viewed one from Los Angeles in the nineties, and we had an absolutely perfect day to go with the last total eclipse in Eureka, California, back in 2012.
Besides, I couldn’t find the approved glasses anywhere. I’d tossed the last pair, never thinking that these things might be hard to come by. It had been no big deal to find them before. Ha. I don’t know if they were deliberately made scarce to drive up the prices, or if retailers underestimated the numbers of people who would want them, but I couldn’t find the special glasses in stores anywhere. And there were plenty of warnings about buying them online, even if I was willing to pay fifty bucks for them, which I wasn’t.
Plus, we were going to the coast. During my first solar eclipse, we had also gone to the beach, and we were frustrated by clouds blocking the view. They cleared at the last moment, but that’s not the sort of thing you can count on. So I told myself it was no big deal and to just get over it.
But in the back of my mind, I didn’t quite let go. I had the eclipse time memorized, and the morning of the twenty-first, I scanned the beach eagerly.
This was easy to do because we’d found the best campsite of my entire life, and I’ve camped a lot. In Avila Beach, almost due west from San Luis Obispo, they have many RV sites, and we scored the best possible one—on the bluffs above, overlooking the beach, with our view framed by aloes and a purple-flowering bush that I never found out the name of but still quite liked.
Not only that, but the site came with the coolest address I’ve ever had. The bluffs were on a road called Babe Lane, and we were in campsite number one. So for a week, my address was #1 Babe Lane, Avila Beach, California.
But the morning of the twenty-first, my nifty address was socked in. We could see across the bay, but everything overhead was solid cloud cover. I told myself it was just as well. I still didn’t have the special glasses, and nobody else in the campground seemed to have any either. As interesting as viewing an eclipse might be, it’s not worth damaging my eyesight. Best just to have the temptation removed.
But around ten o’clock, just before the peak of the eclipse at 10:19, the clouds started to break apart, enough to see the sun if you just glanced up. Really, it was so bright that what I mostly saw was the afterimage when I looked away. But the dots dancing on the back of my eyelids shaped themselves into a crescent. It was better than no view at all.
And then something wonderful happened.
The sun went behind a cloud—not a big, thick, heavy one, but a wispy veil with just enough substance for the sun to shine through. Everyone could look up without even squinting. It was marvelous, and it lasted the entire two minutes.
In the space of just a few minutes, my day had changed from a disappointment to one I’ll always remember.
What a terrific gift.