Early this spring I heard someone on the radio discuss the upcoming total solar eclipse. When I found a map of the path of totality, I saw that Boise was just south of the path. My sister-in-law Roxanne Houston and her husband, Will, have a home in Star, Idaho, in the Boise area. I’d wanted to see their home, and the eclipse seemed like the perfect excuse.
I took an astronomy class in college, and, during that semester, there was a partial eclipse. The astronomy professor set up a station outside the science building. Students could view the eclipse using several different tools. That experience launched my interest in eclipses. A few years ago, Gridley experienced a partial eclipse. I remember seeing the image of the eclipse reproduced by the hundreds on our house by sunlight filtering through shade trees.
Roxanne and I made plans to go, and taking my son Dave along seemed like the perfect bookend to his summer break.
As the eclipse approached, news stories, websites, and apps multiplied, and so did stories of the tens of thousands of eclipse chasers that would descend on little towns across the country. And so, undeterred, we prepared to have an amazing eclipse experience mixed with torturously slow traffic and masses of people.
We made our way to Boise through Reno and then Winnemucca. We looked for unusually heavy traffic and didn’t see any. Traffic in Star and the surrounding cities seemed normal.
However there were signs we were in eclipse country. Gas prices had jumped--higher even than gas prices in California. Boise residents were posting pleas on online classified sites for solar glasses. And restaurants and stores were posting eclipse specials.
We initially planned to head up to the Weiser, Idaho area, but we were hearing reports that Weiser was already heavily impacted. Will suggested we head north to Emmet and then beyond through Ola to the dirt road to Sage Hen Reservoir. He expected that locals would be the only ones that knew enough to head up that way. So we took his advice.
Monday morning we headed out well before light. There was traffic on what would otherwise be sleepy country roads, but cars moved at a good clip. I had downloaded an eclipse app that used GPS to determine our location, and then calculated our totality duration accordingly. As we passed through Emmet, our totality increased from 18 seconds to, in our final parking spot, two minutes and 11 seconds. We weren’t far from maximum totality for our area, which was just a few seconds more.
We pulled off into a grassy area north of Ola where three other vehicles had parked. It turned out to be a great group of fellow eclipse chasers.
Parked next to us was the Coulun family from France—father, mother, and two teenage daughters. Mr. Coulun was a high school physics teacher from Besancon, in eastern France. We were quickly impressed with his preparation. He had several ways for viewing the eclipse: a slotted spoon, a mirrored eclipse box, filtered binoculars, solar glasses, and paper signs printed with names of countries which were punched to produce eclipse shadows.
They shared that they were in the middle of a month long road trip, making their way through San Francisco, Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Boise for the eclipse. I asked Mr. Coulun if he had planned their trip to catch the eclipse. He replied, “The eclipse is why we made the trip.”
Other members of our group included three English men and then several locals. One local man was especially prepared with a telescope, filtered binoculars, and an air thermometer. He was happy to let all of us check in on the telescope image as the morning progressed.
Coming from Gridley, where there are strong community ties and interaction, it was easy for us to make connections to the little international community parked on our knoll.
There were also people parked near us, but not in our group. There was a good buzz of excitement at first contact, when the moon first began its passage in front of the sun. After waiting for five hours—enjoying the sunrise, hiking the area, and getting to know those around us, it was exciting to see the eclipse finally begin.
We had solar glasses. We also cut up a pair of solar glasses and attached the solar film to the front of our binoculars. And we enjoyed using the viewing tools others had brought. I was hoping we would feel a sense of community with the eclipse and was happy to see it develop. I’m sure this reflected the sense of community experienced by many people across the country.
About halfway to totality, there was a gradual, but noticeable cooling and darkening. The darkening had an eerie feeling—it wasn’t the dawn, dusk, or cloudy darkness we are accustomed to.
As totality approached, we watched through our solar glasses. The app was announcing ten minutes, five minutes, and one minute. I pulled the glasses away just in time to see the diamond ring effect. As the last bits of sunlight pass through the valleys of the moon and the corona begins to shine, the eclipse assumes the appearance of a beautiful, shimmering diamond ring.
And suddenly it was dark. People cheered! We looked around at the immediate darkness and felt the drop in temperature.
The corona, the sun’s outer atmosphere, was clearly visible, shining out from the moon. A few stars shone. A faint light created a 360 degree dusk-like glow on the horizon. With binoculars, we saw three prominences—large, bright, gaseous features that grow out from the sun.
We had 2:11 minutes of totality. We expected this would feel like a good duration. However, before we knew what was happening, totality had ended and we complaining that we’d been cheated! The light immediately returned and we could feel the warmth of the sun.
Totality was a singular, awe-inspiring, and exciting experience. We were in the moon’s shadow—a shadow created by the perfect alignment of the size of the sun, the size of the moon, their distance from each other, and their distance from Earth. Totality is a gift, and we felt awed to have experienced it.
We live in a time when eclipses are exactly forecasted, totality maps are easily viewed and downloaded, apps countdown to your totality by GPS, and millions are able and interested in stopping to view it. The Great American Eclipse of 2017 was a happy event that brought us together.