I’ve known for years and years that on my wife’s, Kim, bucket list was to see a total eclipse of the sun. She began over a year ago researching weather conditions and making reservations, researching camera equipment, buying the special eclipse lens so that she could shoot the sun.
By the time we left on our road trip to visit first our tribe of sister family in the Midwest at an annual gathering, and then to visit various friends, she had four reservations for the eclipse viewing—all in different states. She patiently explained to me (again) that she would be checking weather conditions and “chasing” the eclipse if need be. I understood, because as I said, I’d heard about the eclipse for a while (lol). I knew we’d be making friends with the NASA weather page which I checked continuously for the last two weeks. I would put in the different locations where Kim had made reservations over six months ago, cities near the center line of totality: Illinois, Nebraska, Missouri…then there were cloud predictions in all of those states and it seemed she should have stayed on the west coast and gone to Oregon or Wyoming.
She started wildly looking for clear sky predictions; it looked like we might end up, among other places, in Alliance, Nebraska in Carhenge (a Stonehenge made of cars), where totality was supposed to be perfect.
A bit crazy making. But, I understand bucket lists, so I was (literally) going along for the ride. And then, while at our gathering of sister-tribe-friends in Michigan a woman said she was deciding at the last minute to host an eclipse party—that her town was in totality. And she owned a farm.
This sounded great, but I knew it had to be right for Kim after so much planning on her part.
We decided to be with friends after all, as long as totality was fairly assured. But, up until the moment we drove out to the farm outside Paducah, Kentucky we were checking weather predictions and totality conditions.
In the end, Kim said if there were clouds—there would be clouds. She had planned, checked, scheduled, re-scheduled, cancelled and remade her plans so many times trying to get us in the path of longest duration and totality. Here we were, in Paducah, at the home of new friends and my fingers were crossed.
The women were wonderful. Their soybean fields were magical and a gathering of over thirty women was family-like, under meteor filled skies the night before, camp fires and friends. The next day predictions were good but there were scattered clouds.
Ahh….the best laid plans.
As we all set up our different viewing spots, it was obvious there were several photographers in the crowd, but Kim had got the special eclipse shooting lens which several were interested in. She set herself up in the field, with the help of our gracious hosts.
As the moon started to eclipse the sun an hour and half before the once in a lifetime viewing, we looked through her lens and also through a colander to see hundreds of moons projected on a white sheet as the eclipse started—we looked for bands of waving snakes, we looked through trees and hundreds of crescent moons danced on the grass and pavement around the hot tub.
And as we gathered, looked, heads craned with our eclipse glasses fixed on the changing sky, the clouds as the eclipse started drifted away to reveal that we were standing in a bowl of total blue with some clouds along the edges—we were for sure going to be in totality. Kim’s camera was set up to catch everything. It was perfect.
And then the sun was moving in to totality. The waving snakes started. Kim and I ran to see them. A 360-degree sunset rolled around the edges completely off the field, planets appeared in the sky and the birds were silent. It was night during day — I cried and Kim was screaming, “Oh my God, oh my God.”
We all hugged each other. Kim and I kissed in the middle of the soybean field, under totality. I noticed other couples kissing, people screaming with joy and awe. Nothing, nothing, nothing beats the show Mother Nature puts on
And in the end, the diamond ring appeared at the edge of the moon as the sun peaked through and we lay under trees as two women started an impromptu concert on cello and guitar of “Here Comes the Sun” and then Cat Steven’s “Moon Shadow” – I cried. I felt I had gone through something and come out the other side blessed.
And…so did Kim. Even, though in the end she realized she had forgotten to take the picture she had planned for—there was no picture of totality, of the diamond ring, of any of the two minutes twenty-one seconds she had planned to shoot. All that happened was she experienced it—she experienced it –kissed her wife under it, hugged her friends, her dog, and we both agreed after all the excitement we were lucky we even remembered to look up at all. 😉
We ended up with a video of her and I screaming and crying and running around – the camera wildly moving from grass through the sky—and we captured the love of friends and experienced a once in a lifetime vision of community and magic.
A total eclipse of the heart. The magic happens while you are making other plans.
Photos by Kimberly Esslinger unless specified otherwise.
Marie Cartier has a Ph.D. in Religion with an emphasis on Women and Religion from Claremont Graduate University. She is the author of the critically acclaimed book Baby, You Are My Religion: Women, Gay Bars, and Theology Before Stonewall (Routledge 2013). She is a senior lecturer in Gender and Women’s Studies and Queer Studies at California State University Northridge, and in Film Studies at Univ. of CA Irvine.