don't just be there. be here.

August 21, 2017 1:21 PM


Expert advice from veteran eclipse chasers

Expensive Eclipse Lodging: 

When the long-awaited day of the total solar eclipse arrives and it’s pouring rain, imagine how you’ll feel when your non-refundable “eclipse-package” reservations made long ago at the luxury bed-and-breakfast turn out to be an expensive, essentially worthless ball-and-chain. Experienced eclipse chasers always plan to remain mobile up until the last moment. Their original eclipse-viewing location choice, along with affordable accommodations, were merely Plan A. Right up until the day before the eclipse, experts are always ready, at a moment’s notice, to road-trip hundreds of miles to wherever clear skies are forecasted in the path of totality. Nobody can guarantee clear skies at the actual moment of totality. But smart eclipse planners know there’s always a chance it might rain at their original site. It why Plan B flexibility really can save the day—--and tons of money.

Eclipse-Party Blackout: 

Some of life’s greatest moments call for wild celebrations. With a total solar eclipse—--often called the greatest natural wonder on Earth—--tempted partiers might decide it’s the perfect opportunity to enhance reality and celebrate with a serious, mind-blowing party. Call it the intoxicating mistake of a lifetime because exactly the opposite is true. Nobody should ever experience the greatest natural wonder on Earth when they’re under the influence of anything other than a perfectly clear state of mind. Once the moment of totality arrives, eclipse experts promise, you will instantly understand this essential, lucid point. Once totality has passed, feel free to pop a cork and toast the unbelievable event everybody just witnessed, an event experts also promise you will never forget for the rest of your life. But first you need to be able to remember it. Old hippies sometimes joke about not remembering Woodstock in 1969 even though they were there. This isn’t Woodstock. Once more: A total solar eclipse is the greatest natural wonder you will ever witness in your life. Why on Earth would anyone not want to remember that?

Staring at a Camera Instead of the Eclipse:  

Millions of photographs and movies will be shot during America’s next total solar eclipse. Many will be recorded under the direction of scientists. Unless you’re an experienced solar photographer, it’s unlikely you will snap anything that remotely does justice to the experience of staring skyward in absolute awe. Totality lasts for just a couple of minutes. Don’t deny yourself the joy of the spectacle by wasting time fidgeting with buttons and dials as you frantically attempt the perfect, self-celebrating exposure. Look around you. Observe how the world you have always known is not that known world anymore. Try to remember the unexpected details, the eerie colors and dreamlike shadows. If you are in an open landscape, all around you in all directions on the distant horizon it will appear as if early dawn is approaching—--yet it’s starry evening overhead under the cool shadow of the moon. Everything will appear as an impossible reality. Immerse yourself in the experience. No photograph or movie of an eclipse has ever compared to the experience of actually seeing the greatest natural wonder on Earth. It would be a foolish error if the only thing you recall from a total solar eclipse is the one-dimensional video you recorded while believing you were capturing the multi-dimensional wonder others actually saw.

Crank Up the Music?

Think you have the perfect soundtrack to accompany totality? Think you need to inflict your music choice on the surrounding community of witnesses? Music played during a total solar eclipse is not a matter of personal preference. It’s simply not an option at all. Absolutely nobody wants to hear anyone’s music during totality. The only soundtrack of a total solar eclipse should be the voices of witnesses themselves as spontaneous gasps and cheers unite people with our shared universe. If you are a witness, you will play a vocal part in that spontaneous human soundtrack. Failure has taught us this lesson: During the 1970 U.S. eclipse along the Atlantic coast, a rock band was hired in one college town. Totality arrived and as the stage plunged into darkness, within moments the band stopped playing. The sudden, public embarrassment of their unwelcome noise remains, to this day, an unforgettable eclipse-planning lesson. Sure, play whatever crowd-pleasing music you like before and after totality. Or add some music to an eclipse video you make on your computer. But nothing should ever interfere with the natural and spontaneous sound of human exaltation for the few, irreplaceable moments when a total solar eclipse takes center stage in our universe.

Improper Eye Protection:  

Even small children know they mustn’t stare at the sun. It’s a survival basic. Yet both adults and children still need to be told it’s not safe to look at the sun when the moon obscures only a fraction of it. During every solar eclipse worldwide, uneducated eclipse-watchers inflict temporary and even permanent eye damage because they stared at the partially eclipsed sun without proper eye protection. Safety-approved solar-viewing glasses are required to watch the sun at any time, including during a partial eclipse before and after the few minutes of eclipse totality. It’s often said the only time it’s safe to look at the sun is during the few minutes of eclipse totality. Technically, we’re not actually looking at the sun during those few minutes. We’re looking at the black spot of the moon that perfectly covers the dangerously blinding sunlight. Don’t be fooled by solar-eclipse percentage numbers that appear to suggest reduced risk to eyesight. For example, even an eclipse that’s 99 percent total—--with just 1 percent of the sun exposed—--can cause severe solar blindness. It’s like believing it’s safe to stare directly into one laser beam instead of staring into 100 laser beams. Either way, your eyesight will be fried. Inexpensive, safety-approved “eclipse glasses” will be available everywhere during the upcoming American eclipses in 2017 and 2024, so there’s really no excuse for risking your eyesight with one, truly blinding mistake.