Mack Williams: The Great Schlotzsky’s Eclipse of 2017
I first saw a picture of a total solar eclipse in the old Golden Nature Guide, “Stars,” carried in my childhood jeans’ back pockets (even in daytime) on the Old Concord Road.
I saw partial eclipses in the 60s and 70s, the annular solar eclipse of 1984, then “The Great Schlotzsky’s Eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017” (name explained later).
On the morning of Aug. 21, we (son Jeremy, daughter-in-law Rose, and 90 year-old mother-in-law Doris and me) left before dawn, taking hard-boiled eggs to eat for breakfast on the way to our eclipse totality destination, Greer, South Carolina (our morning sustenance appropriately derived from “orbs”).
We and the sun seemed to be hurrying to keep that lunar appointment.
We sometimes avoided the interstate, using the road “app” (that abbreviation’s sound always reminding me of my college days in Boone).
The ride was beautiful, full of country and kudzu! If not for the highway department’s trimming, that “overwhelming” plant, like the chicken, would have crossed the road. Windblown, roadside kudzu seemed to be standing up, ready to do just that.
Sunlight made its daily route through branches and leaves to forest ground; but come 2:38 p.m., it would be stopped at its source (well, 248,000 miles away, the Moon’s distance from Earth).
We passed little South Carolina shops selling peaches and fireworks. Other businesses threw them in too, except for one, “Adult Fantasy World.” It advertised “adult toys,” no addition of “peaches” or “fireworks” (I guess there was no need to).
Our car was sometimes “eclipsed” (cut off) by another driver.
Malevolent-looking storm clouds loomed on the horizon, but remained far off, frozen by my malevolent look towards them ( sure!).
Radio stations played “appropriate” music: “Walking on the Moon,” “Slippin into Darkness,” “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” etc. (but I heard no Pink Floyd).
Reaching Greer, there were people in yards with telescopes and eclipse glasses. One man seemed to be looking through a pizza box (in front of a pizza restaurant) directly at the sun!
We decided upon Schlotzsky’s Restaurant for stomach fueling and eclipse “eye fueling” in its parking lot.
Eclipse glasses on noses, Schlotzsky’s patrons “united in astronomy” (well, one facet of it).
The moon had already begun “notching” the sun’s disk (if like an Old West gunslinger, imagine the accumulated “notches” for the times it “beat the sun to the draw.”
Through eclipse glasses, the sea of blackness surrounding the solar disc seemed to flow into that notch which was slowly taking it away. The deepening-blue sky had a strange “smokiness” about it.
Under a nearby tree, dozens of natural pinhole projection “sun-crescents” were formed on the ground by empty spaces between the leaves (and maybe a hole or two chewed by a caterpillar). People thanked me for showing them this (hard to keep old “science-boys” in check).
The sky darkened (paraphrase: “it was a dark and un-stormy day”), then — wondrous “Totality!” Different than pictures, it seemed alive, almost with breath and heartbeat (more likely mine, sped up and transferred).
The sunlight disappeared, not like sunset’s sliding angles, but instead, a “snuffing” up in the sky.
Venus appeared, lights came on, a breeze stirred, and temperature decreased (not mine, the air).
Hearing fireworks (not solar, the South Carolina kind), I tongue-in- “cheekedly” ( new adverb) said: “The eclipse brought its own fireworks!” (but their audio couldn’t match its visual).
The sun’s outer corona resembled an unevenly spiked crown (not even, like “Liberty”), with two spikes on the left and a longer one on the right.
Then the sun “spilled” out from one edge, and totality ended. It seemed like a “Song of Simeon” moment (almost).
Schlotzsky’s manager gave out Moon Pies, so I grabbed two for my daughter Rachel, at her home, not feeling well. I picked up one vanilla and one chocolate (both necessary for illustrating a solar eclipse).
Going home, I saw a “cloudless sulphur” butterfly. Seeing it before the eclipse would have portended our cloudless viewing of the event; but coming afterwards, it was only a footnote.
In the mass of cars ahead on the interstate, each automobile’s back glass reflected an image of the steadily “uncovering” sun. Slight variations in road level made them “twinkle” like stars.
I thought of the great time elapsing between total solar eclipses in one location and suddenly remembered reading about an ancient pyramid shaft through which a certain star’s light fell upon the dead eye sockets of a mummified pharaoh.
I was glad this total solar eclipse’s light and shadow had fallen upon me while my “eye sockets” could still see.