Remember the eclipse? Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay back when it was still summer? The most recent solar eclipse visited North America August 21, traveling west to east, and wowing millions from coast to coast. Whether you made a point of witnessing the partial or total eclipse itself, or had something else going on that day, you probably still remember the excitement, anticipation and the outright craze leading up to that moment. Sort of like Christmas, but in August.
Normally I’m a planner, and would have booked a trip for such an event several months in advance. But I claim “too busy” as my excuse for not knowing. So when I finally looked up–in June–decided to go, and hunted for a place to stay, the area of sold out hotels and other assorted rentals matched up perfectly with the path of totality. From where I live, Salem, Oregon was the closest town in that path.
I found a room about 50 miles north near the Portland airport. Now that stretch of road between these two towns is busy on any given weekday, but this wasn’t going to be your average weekday. This would be your average Monday morning of commuters, plus about a million. Time to hit the road early. Like oh-dark-thirty. So we did.
Eclipse: the experience
Targeting Salem as our general destination, I narrowed the category of possible venues to wineries. After all, Oregon’s Willamette Valley is well known for its excellent pinots. And Salem—quite conveniently—finds itself in the heart of that valley. Several Salem wineries, sure enough, were hosting eclipse events, and I found one in particular that seemed delightfully different: Cubanisimo Vineyards. Having watched the movie Chef, the appeal of trying Cuban tapas was a big draw. Discovering a new winery would be fun. And having a vineyard as a backdrop for the eclipse? Perfect! So I purchased tickets via their website.
We arrived just before breakfast, and were greeted by a friendly and helpful staff, and one of the most beautiful countryside venues I’ve ever seen. The sky was pre-dawn clear, revealing just enough light to find Mt. Hood, purple on the horizon. Watching the sunrise was the first celestial treat of the day, the mountains changing to blue, and the grapevines to their pre-harvest green. And the crisp morning air…well, you get the idea.We checked in at their tasting room terrace and received our eclipse viewing glasses, our commemorative wine glasses, and drink tickets to save for lunchtime.
Breakfast over, we grabbed our picnic blanket and made our way up the path to the lawn facing the mountains, found our spot and waited. At 9:18 am, the partial eclipse began—time for our viewing glasses! We watched the black moon drop down over the sun, changing the appearance of our star to shapes that resembled a wedged out wheel of cheese, a banana, and—ironically—a crescent moon. And then at 10:20 am, the ring: totality.
Our hillside crowd gasped in wonder as the blue color of our canopy changed from pale to midnight, complete with twinkling stars. Feeling the temperature drop as we removed our glasses for the two-minute window, the ring’s odd, almost artificial light cast interesting shadows on the ground. And it was the sharing of this rare experience that truly affected us all, uniting us in spontaneous conversations, skipping past formal introductions and other precursors to dialogue with total strangers. Everyone was happy. Excited. Moved. One.
While the eclipse slipped back into its partial stage and began heading east, our vineyard hillside crowd continued buzzing about what we all just witnessed as we made our way back to the terrace and tasting room in anticipation of the food and wine festivities. Seated at our tables, we laughed, talked and continued to marvel at the events of the sky, using our viewing glasses to steal another glance, until our moon and sun were no longer competing for visible space.
The salsa band played, we enjoyed our tapas and wine, and the vineyard’s owner made his way to each table of guests. Talking about the totality, he noted that it was one thing to see the eclipse, but quite another to feel it; feel the temperature actually drop, and experience the odd light on the ground and the suddenly starry sky. Our thoughts exactly.
Post event: the Oregon Trail
The euphoria lasted well into the afternoon, but was challenged from time to time as millions of people began making their way home together. Yes, at the same time. Traffic jams as far as the eye could see (and beyond) lasted well into the next day. Assuming you’ve experienced a rush hour or two or several, you might be able to relate to some of the common behaviors exhibited by other drivers: honking, shoulder driving, weaving, or trail blazing through someone’s property.
The sun, now unobstructed, heated the inside of our car despite the air conditioning. With our seats feeling less cushy and our playlist overplayed, a rest stop couldn’t come soon enough. What kept us from getting too crabby though was talking about the eclipse. The true wonder of it all. About how everyone was friendly toward each other, like the gas station attendant who let scores of desperate travelers use his washrooms, even though we weren’t all customers.
And then, on one of many side roads, we saw it: a covered wagon replica, marking the official end of the historic Oregon Trail. Whoa. Traveling cross country in that?! Suddenly our cluttered and toasty vehicle seemed quite luxurious. Protected from the elements (and bugs), we continued on our well paved road toward home, having all versions of GPS, highway signs and landmarks to get us there.
Sharing: My Eclipse Manners
If I learned anything from the eclipse, it was to remember my manners. To acknowledge people more, smile more, be more respectful to others and to Earth, and have a greater sense of awareness for the natural (and human made) wonders of our world. The two-minute totality was a great reminder to me that windows of appreciation can be very brief. Don’t waste them.
Will I seek out other wonders? You bet! Will I marvel at them? Most likely. But what will I take away from the experience? What impression will have a lasting affect on me? I look forward to letting you know.
Until then, I wish you safe and pleasant travels. And a smile. J 😊