“Have you noticed how the sun and the moon are getting closer in the sky?” Johanna asked yesterday.
I guess I’ve been too busy to look up, but last evening at around 8 PM I did. Sure enough: Hanging in the west, low to my right, was the setting sun. Just to my left, fairly high, the moon.
Definitely too close for comfort.
We’ve known for several years that the sun and the moon will meet almost directly over Dubois around midday on August 21. So have thousands of dedicated eclipse watchers, many thousands of vacationers and family members and distant friends. Some of our own relatives will be occupying every bed in our house.
A team from Google and Berkeley will be here, crowd-sourcing images of the eclipse. A reporter from National Geographic will be live-streaming the events. Untold numbers of travelers will want to nip over from Yellowstone. All these people will descend on our extraordinary little town starting about two weeks from today, all waiting to witness the total eclipse of 2017.
Months ago, when planning began, some people were calling it “the Apocalypse.” Lately, informational fliers about how to survive the eclipse have been turning up on counters in restaurants and gas stations. They’re like disaster preparedness warnings.
“With a total solar eclipse your environment changes within seconds and it’s quite startling,” said eclipse-chaser Fred Espenak in an interview on CNET, as he gushed about the unique joys of the experience–the sudden darkness, the goosebumps, the reactions of animals. We know that our environment will change too, but not merely for two minutes.
In the past year we’ve endured a fire and a flood. You’d think, given ample warning, we could prepare for this one, and we’ve given it our best shot. But as the mayor and the head of the Chamber of Commerce have been saying with a shrug, we have no idea exactly what will happen. There’s no good way to predict it, being so close to the world’s favorite national park and all.
I’ve had moments of tremendous pride in my townsfolk, who have risen to the occasion with an impressive array of events to entertain visitors for the entire weekend. We’ve addressed many questions: Will there be phone service? Do we have enough bathrooms? The two medical clinics will both be working overtime that weekend, as will police and emergency services. Armies of volunteers will be busy doing all sorts of things.
Meanwhile, we’re waiting.
I fervently hope the people of Dubois can retain the friendly good nature that our visitors enjoy.
Yesterday a car pulled into the driveway, carrying three adults and two adolescents from China, all of them obviously worried. A signal light was flashing on the dashboard of the rental car. None of them could speak English.
It was nothing more than a tire pressure problem. My husband got out the tire gauge, tried to convey the details with hand signals, and directed them toward a gas station in town.
Not long afterwards he encountered the same family at a gas station, in confused conversation with by another American, who was also consulting a tire gauge. “They’ve way over-inflated this tire,” he said.
This was a calm Thursday two weeks before the Big Event. I sighed when he told me about it. Multiply this vignette by a thousand or two, and you get the picture.
However, for those who have planned prudently, this could be (as it says on the Dubois Eclipse website) the best place on earth to view the total eclipse. Our views are spectacular on any normal day. Here are a two of the eclipse-viewing sites officially recommended to visitors, the Scenic Overlook and Union Pass.
I will be up at the Chariot Race track with Craig Tupper of NASA, who will be giving a play-by-play as events unfold during the eclipse. Craig and a friend specifically chose Dubois as their viewing point during a cross-country bicycle trip. He’s one eclipse watcher we’re delighted to welcome.
Those who choose that spot, for one thing, will have the advantage of hearing an expert tell them when to put their special eclipse glasses on and when it’s safe to take them off. A few hours later, it will all be over. The next day, the visitors will begin to leave, and we will begin to take stock.
© Lois Wingerson, 2017
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