A spectacle beyond words
I, like so many others, infiltrated the state of Nebraska to witness the total solar eclipse, which took place on Aug. 21, when the moon passed between the sun and Earth to block the star from our view.
The opportunity of a lifetime, some called it. I would have to agree. The last time the contiguous U.S. saw a total eclipse was in 1979.
My travel companion and I stayed in Omaha, Nebraska, with the plan being to watch the eclipse from Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo, just outside of the path of totality.
But on the morning of eclipse day, we woke up to thunder wailing outside of our hotel window. We tuned in to the local news channel, and sure enough the weather forecast threatened to ruin our chances of seeing the eclipse through clouds and rain.
It was time for Plan B, which meant fighting through the crowds of cars clogging up the interstate and driving southwestward out from under the clouds.
We were headed for Grand Island, Neb. but as 11:30 a.m. approached, the moon began to creep into sight and we knew we needed to find a place to stop.
Each and every rest area and gas station along Interstate 80 was crowded with travelers that had set up their lawn chairs or blankets and were now gazing toward the heavens with their silly paper eclipse glasses emblazoned with "Eclipse 2017," as though they were ringing in the new year.
We pulled off the interstate in Henderson, Neb. to stop at a little no-name gas station that was being remodeled. Of course I needed to use the restroom, so I had to wait in line with 12 other people. Upon entering, I could visibly see the abuse the bathroom had taken from the volume of use that the establishment was nowhere near prepared for.
One man asked the cashier for eclipse glasses, she politely answered they had sold out the day before. Her response appeared to be well recited.
The parking lot outside was lined with cars displaying license plates from all over the country. Upon counting them, Minnesota was well represented.
I spread my blanket out across the green grass, laid back and positioned my own eclipse glasses over my eyes to look up and discover the eclipse had already begun, as though the moon had taken a bite out of the sun.
As time ticked on, the moon slowly crept across the sun, consuming it further as though it were some hungry beast and the sun began to take on a crescent shape until it was just a small sliver of light and the sky began to darken.
Birds and insects that had been singing an orchestra became silent as the street lamps clicked on. At exactly 12:59 p.m., the light in the sky went out as the moon stood between Earth and sun like a burly bully. Then, I saw what I can only describe as the most breathtaking sight I will likely ever witness. The solar corona, shimmered around the moon's disk like a brilliant cut diamond.
As I gazed at the spectacle in the sky through my camera lense, it became apparent to me that the most capable photographer could never take a picture that could capture it's true beauty. I was stunned.
I snapped a single photo, knowing it would never do the moment justice.
For the next 2 minutes and 34 seconds, I was completely unaware of anything else going on around me. I could not bring myself to look away.
For one frightening moment, it felt as though the sun would never appear again, leaving the prairie in total darkness.
My whole body was trembling with excitement and I could hardly believe what I was witnessing. The sun, so powerful it couldn't be silenced, began to creep back into view over the top right of the moon's disk.
And just like that, it was over. The sky filled with light and the birds went on singing. Spectators packed up their belongings and the interstate flooded once again with traffic as though nothing unusual or out of the ordinary had ever happened.
I will never forget that moment. Lying under the Nebraska sky as the closest star to our planet was extinguished for a brief moment in time.