My Totality

As everyone undoubtedly knows, there was a solar eclipse yesterday. Idaho was fortunate to be in its path, the band of totality beginning about an hour north of Boise, where I live, and ending less than two hours north — a mere fifteen minutes south of my wife’s family’s cabin in McCall, where me and my family regularly visit. We decided to make a go of it.

We headed to McCall on Friday, and started plotting possible viewing locations over the weekend. On Sunday, my step-father-inlaw and I drove south from McCall to scout possible viewing locations, eventually deciding on a “plan A,” “B,” and “C,” depending on how things looked and panned out. Idaho was expecting huge crowds, and it was difficult to predict how crowded each location might be.

On Monday, we got up early, ate breakfast quickly, packed up two vehicles with mountains of gear, and headed south, trying to beat the traffic to our preferred, “plan A” spot. Fortunately, we made it. It was an idyllic spot, located at a campground on a small peninsula jutting out onto Lake Cascade, a beautiful reservoir in west-central Idaho, situated in a valley between two mountain ranges.

As though this wasn’t good enough, I had a plan to make it even better. We would bring our kayak and paddle boards — not only to give us something to do while we waited for the eclipse — but also to provide the most epic eclipse-viewing experience possible. As I figured, I could paddle out onto the lake in our two-person kayak along with my oldest daughter, who had recently broken her arm, while my wife and youngest daughter paddle-boarded along with us. As totality drew near, we could join our vessels together out on the open water and hold hands as the the world went completely dark.

Only, that’s not how it went down. Yes, I floated my great idea past my wife, who wasn’t at all keen on the concept. She didn’t think she would be comfortable lying on a paddle board when totality came, and decided instead that she’d prefer to watch from the beach. I can’t say this surprised me. My wife doesn’t have the same “epic” gene as me. She’s more about comfort and practicality. She worries about anything that might cause the slightest logistical hiccup — obsessing about sunscreen and bug spray and water bottles and snacks to a degree that I can’t quite fathom, and to the point that even the most minor excursions take hours of preparation and leave us looking more like a team prepared for the Iditarod than a family embarking on a half-hour hike in a state park. To her thinking, it would be pointless and illogical to float around uncomfortably on paddle boards and kayaks (presumably, without water bottles and snacks), when there is a perfectly good and practical beach from which to view the whole thing, with all of our necessary provisions at hand.

At this point, I decided that I’d head out on the kayak on my own, and attempted to recruit my oldest daughter (who inherited my wife’s worrisome gene), to go with me. Part of her wanted to join me, but she, too, was worried she wouldn’t be comfortable in the kayak, and would have to strain her neck to look up to see what was happening. I could tell her heart was on the beach, with my wife, but (being the worrier that she is), she was also worried that she would disappoint me by choosing to watch the eclipse there, rather than with me, which led to a bout of uninterrupted worry and indecision that lasted a good hour or more, despite my repeated reassurances that it was fine with me either way and that I would completely understand, however she decided.

In the meantime, my youngest daughter had paddled across the narrow inlet where we were camped, along with my wife, to an unpopulated beach on the other side, and had momentarily convinced my wife that we could watch totality happen from that location. That would have been an ok compromise by me, however, after they had returned, my wife had second thoughts, realizing (correctly) the extent of the logistics involved in schlepping all our Iditarod-like provisions across the lake, and decided it wasn’t meant to be. She informed our youngest (who, coincidentally, shares my “epic” gene) that we weren’t going to do it, which set my youngest into an uninterrupted frenzy of whining, pleading disappointment, which I thought, for a time, might never cease.

The discontentment and worry were now palpable. My youngest, upset that my wife had reneged on her private beach idea; my oldest, still worried that I was offended by her not joining me in the kayak; me, wondering, as I often have, how I possibly managed to find myself amidst so much worry and angst, turning what was supposed to be (in my mind) an epic, once-in-a-lifetime experience into something to be endlessly fretted and fussed over.

At this point, I had a choice to make — to paddle out into the lake by myself, where I could enjoy my epic moment alone — or remain on the beach with my family as the world went dark. I decided, as I have innumerable times since becoming a husband and father, to remain right where I was. I wanted us to share this experience together, as a family.

And we did. And the hour eventually drew near, and totality approached, and the temperature dropped unexpectedly to the point that we were all suddenly chilled, and the darkness descended upon us, and the moon fully eclipsed the sun, and the world became eerily dark and still, and we all held hands for a brief moment before the excitement of what was happening caused us all to stand, and the whining stopped and the worrying stopped and the water bottles were momentarily forgotten and the sunscreen was of no use at all, and it didn’t matter that I wasn’t out on the lake in a kayak . . . and we all looked up and around and were stunned and amazed by all that we were seeing and experiencing, and I knew that I was exactly where I belonged, and that it was indeed epic — there on the beach, with my wife and my daughters, amidst my totality.

Photo Credit: Tim Fearnside, Copyright 2017, all rights reserved.

13 thoughts on “My Totality”

  1. So glad it all turned out so well. You did a great job of conveying the tension, a dramatic container for the climactic event.

    We experienced totality with no hassle at all in 1979 in Richland, WA. My parents lived on a bluff in West Richland, overlooking family farms to the Yakima river, then across town and the Hanford nuclear plant to the Columbia River with a corresponding bluff filled with orchards and vineyards on the far side. This is surely a uniquely eclectic vista of contrasts: urban and rural, irrigated and desert, technology and nature. My husband ditched work (I doubt anyone was in the office that morning), and the kids skipped school. Along with our one good film camera and a couple of mica viewers my husband obtained at work (small mica circles secured over a punched hole with a hole reinforcer), we headed out to my parents’ house.

    In addition to watching the sun, we were gobsmacked by animal behavior. Cattle, sheep, pigs, dogs, roosters and wild birds created a constant panicked cacophony ten or fifteen minutes before humans could discern any dimming. When it finally grew dark, they became eerily quiet and quickly resumed normal behavior when the sun popped back out. To me that was as fascinating as the eclipse itself! I’d be hard-pressed to choose between that eclectic view and soundtrack and the towering beauty of the Idaho woods for an event.

    Suddenly I wonder if your family’s fretting was anything like that animal panic? Sparked by some primeval sense of impending cosmic chaos?

    We’re fortunate to have another chance to view from our own Austin yard in seven more years, weather permitting. This time we saw only 65% in clear skies, which created the light equivalent of a normally cloudy day. We’re already doing sun dances for that day not quite seven years hence that occurs during our rainy season.

    1. Thanks, Sharon :). It’s great that you were able to experience that with your parents back in ’79. I’m somewhat familiar with that area, and can picture the scene you describe nearly perfectly. It’s amazing what a difference totality makes, compared even to the moments just before and after. While I’d seen partial eclipses before, the experience exceeded my expectations.

      I’d like to attribute the fussiness I described in my post to some “primeval sense of impending cosmic chaos,” as you elegantly suggest (and in fact, that might have made for a great metaphoric device!), but I have to concede, it wasn’t entirely unusual. My wife is a worrier, but takes great care of all of us. My oldest is quite sensitive, but has an enormous heart. My youngest is a complainer, but has a massive, untamable spirit. As the only male in the family (even our animals are girls!), I sometimes get overwhelmed by their collective energy and feel a pull to go sprint up a mountain by myself with nothing more than a granola bar, a jug of water, and a pair of sneakers. Sometimes – but only occasionally – I do. More often, we’re in it together, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    1. Thanks, Susan ‘ appreciate it :). El’s arm is healing well — only two more weeks in the cast. Back to school today for both girls — 3rd and 8th. Amazing how fast time flies. ‘Hope all’s well in the north country!

  2. Tim — I laughed out loud when I got to the part, “Only, that’s not how it went down.” And I knew you were in for a bumpy ride from that point forward.

    I don’t have an up-close-and-personal relationship with worry or angst; they’re simply not part of my blueprint. But I sure enjoyed reading about the hiccoughs they caused in your EPIC plans.

    As a minimalist, I don’t own enough stuff to schlep. Len, Willa, and I drove up to the parking lot of the wine warehouse Len manages on the hill above Fred Meyer on Federal Way (Boise). We had 99.5 percent totality and enjoyed the experience immensely.

    The Pacific Northwest is due for another grand showing of a solar eclipse in four years. Maybe if your wife starts planning now…

    1. Thanks, so much, Laurie. Yes – I do believe four years should be enough time for Jacki to ready us for the next one. Plus, now we’re “experts!”

      I’m glad we were both able to experience it with those we love, gear or no gear, which is really the essence of “totality.” 🙂

  3. Fabulous description of all aspects of the “epic” event, Tim! Buster and his old pappy must share your dear spouse’s less “robust” spirit, as the pup remained napping, while I stumbled out back, a minute or so late, to note the silly sliver of light which is probably all one could see here in good old Boiseeeee.

    1. Hey – thanks for reading, Walt, and great to see you back online! So much for supposed effect of eclipses on animals — it sounds like ‘ol Buster didn’t so much as twitch an ear! As for the photo, I feel fortunate I was able to snap a couple decent ones when things went dark. I wasn’t able to pick up a solar filter for my camera in time for the eclipse, so I had to wait for totality, then only gave myself a few seconds to try and grab a few. I was worried they’d all be blurry. Thanks for reading 🙂

  4. I am so glad that you and the family all got to share this special time. I love Jacki’s planning gene and the difference in personality of the girls but it is truly wonderful when they all come together so perfectly. This is a great memory and one that won’t be forgotten although I bet they will all forget the angst that went along with it.

    1. Thanks, Ma :). It really was an incredible experience and a great time, despite my attempt to portray some of the usual kiddo/marriage/family dynamics and differences that often accompany these sorts of efforts (and which, while part and parcel to “totality,” tend to — perhaps mercifully — get scrubbed from our memories). Anyway, I know I won’t soon forget the experience, and I’m so glad we made the effort to experience it together as a family.

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