Totality Awesome! Experiencing the Solar Eclipse of 2017

[click on the image above to view the short video of our Totality Experience]

Envisioning Totality

How Dreams Eclipse Reality. The Power of Vision and Family

by: Pauline Allen

SSH-SolarEclipse2017 143-PaulineSkywatchI knew I wanted to go to the eclipse. I first heard about it a year ago from a teacher at one of our workshops. As it got closer to the eclipse I heard other people excitedly making plans to make a pilgrimage to the path of totality. I’m going to Oregon. We’re going to Wyoming. It’s going to be big! This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

Stuck in the stress of school and life I could do little more than voice my desire to go. Then I decided to do a summer field studies program in a remote part of Alaska where my only connection to the outside world would be via mail plane. And half of the time we would be in the backcountry, where one could send a letter on the resupply bush plane if someone in McCarthy was then willing to take the mail to the mail plane—needless to say it made communication a little complicated. So much for making plans to see the eclipse. I put all my positive thoughts into hoping that when I returned to the lower 48 someone would miraculously allow me to join their travel plans, then I turned my attention to my schoolwork and the moment I was living in. I knew that there was only a slim possibility of going to the total eclipse, since after beginning my final year of undergraduate studies I was now officially a broke college student—for the first time I had run out of money. Putting off my summer job for summer studies had certainly not helped my bank account.

Ten days before the eclipse I flew from Alaska to California. I was almost ready to accept the fact that I would not be able to make it to the path of totality. I was however thankful to get to visit with family and friends. Perhaps an hour after my parents picked me up at the airport, my mother said, “When you go to the eclipse you guys are going to–”

Wait. What?! We’re going to the eclipse??”

“Yeah. Your father’s been obsessing over it. You two are going to drive up to Oregon.”

This was it. This was the moment I knew that it would all work out.

Compilation of images of the solar eclipse at different stages as projected using binoculars. Center image created using pinholes in aluminum foil along the letters. by Pauline Allen. [click on image to enlarge]
Compilation of images of the solar eclipse at different stages as projected using binoculars. Center image created using pinholes in aluminum foil along the letters. by Pauline Allen. [click on image to enlarge]
The last article we read in my summer program was “Envisioning a Sustainable World” by Donella Meadows. In her work Meadows discusses the importance of visioning. She says that visions ought to reflect our values and not be limited by what we think is possible. This vision making is an important step that should come before taking action and implementing a plan. Too often our culture makes us feel “childish and vulnerable to admit a vision.” Many people working towards noble causes don’t stop to envision a world where the fruits of their labor have created a new reality. For Meadows this visioning process is useful for all sorts of things in her everyday life. Creating a vision means that you don’t know what steps are needed to make it happen but it will guide you towards your goal as you make plans. In the end you’ll get farther along than you thought was possible.

After reading Meadow’s article it took me a few days to realize that I had been vision-making for years. For example, for many years I dreamed about being an exchange student in Norway to fully learn the language and connect with family. When I graduated high school and went to college I thought that I had missed my opportunity. Then I met a woman who told me about her experiences at a folkehøgskole. I immediately went home and applied and the next year found myself studying Kunst and Norwegian in Oslo, Norway.

I realized that experiencing the total eclipse in Oregon was another vision of mine. We weren’t there yet but as soon as my dad began to share my vision we began to make a plan to implement our vision into a reality. Sharing visions meant that we began to collaborate and incorporate each other’s ideas.

            My dad said, “There’s a story to be told. There are art projects and teachable moments.”

            I said, “I’ll start sketching out a story. Where are we staying?”

            –“Let’s do a Watt Trekker episode.”

            “Can you check if I can drive the rental car?”

            –“We can stay in Monmouth, but it looks like there are some interesting events happening in Corvallis. Can you make a grocery list?”

            “When should we leave?”


            I don’t know if everyone experiences this, but I’ve noticed that when packing for a trip the closer it gets to takeoff, the more stressful it gets. The bigger the trip and more unknown variables, the more the stress increases. People get tired, tempers shorten.

“Did you figure out the bike rack dad?”

            –“I can’t HEAR YOU!”

The thing was my dad wasn’t just tired or angry—well maybe a little—but he actually couldn’t hear me. Four days before the eclipse, one day before we were supposed to leave home, my dad contracted a severe ear infection. His outer ear was so swollen that he had to visit the doctor in between running errands and get some special ear drops. Besides causing my dad a lot of pain, the ear infection pushed our departure to 4:30am on Friday as we gambled with the projected traffic of the apoco-clipse. (And no we didn’t figure out the bike rack—apparently they purposefully make rental cars difficult to attach racks to for fear of people damaging the roof.)

            Leaving on Friday shortly before 5am, we managed to beat the crowds and crazy traffic. We arrived in Corvallis by 4pm. Asking around a week ago, we managed to jump on eclipse plans of some friends. You know, a friend of a friend is my friend too. The funny thing was it’s such a small world that my dad actually did know the friend of our friends—from 20 years ago. We really lucked, our gracious Corvallis host had prepped his yard for about 30 of his friends to camp out and watch the eclipse together. As Monday and the eclipse approached more and more people kept arriving until we found ourselves in the midst of a festive assemblage of creative EV-car, Makerfaire and Burning Man folks. Camping with a large group of people sent me back to Alaska and the now familiar feeling of community living. By comparison though, backyard camping was glamorous—heck we had barbeques and an indoor toilet!

            With all the hype, you really wonder—what is it about a total solar eclipse? People plan 22 years in the future to have a place to stay for their next eclipse. Folks travel for days to reach the path of totality. On the morning of the big day everyone gathered in the yard. We had each prepped for this moment in our own way; some people dressed up for the occasion, some set out offerings, some had special filters for their cameras or binoculars.  When the partial eclipse began people cheered and put on their NASA-approved viewing glasses. With some help, I set up an optical projection using a pair of binoculars and we watched as the sun was slowly eaten by shadow. The shadows filtering through the trees transformed from circles to crescents, then thin lines.  As exciting as this phase of crescents is, it seemed to drag on as people awaited the climactic moment of totality.

            And then suddenly time seemed to speed up—the moment that had brought us all together. We watched as the remnants of the sun crawled away from view into complete darkness. Murmurs of–Is it safe now? Take off the glasses. Removing the glasses revealed the most other-worldly sight visible in the sky. Chills crept over my body. An orb of perfect darkness surrounded by washes of light wisping away sat overhead where the sun should have been. Planets and stars were faintly visible in the morning night. Erie and captivating—words seem too weak to describe this moment and the feeling that washed over the Earth. Many cultures throughout history have considered eclipses to be fearful events and although our experience was joyous and festive there definitely seemed to be an air of something else—something powerful, mysterious, and older than anything we could understand. Before I could fully comprehend it, the moment was passing and we began to see the light. Rushing to put on our glasses, we would now experience the reversal of this moment. Light came back, stars disappeared from view, temperature increased, and over the next day we’d all disperse and travel back to our separate homes. But we would be forever linked by those brief minutes of totality that we shared together—which we agreed was TOTALity WORTH IT.