Over Easy: Marvels in the heavens, and in the yard

Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

Dan Mackie (Courtesy photograph)

Dave Bossier of Granby, Conn. and Quentin Roohr, of East Granby, Conn., pull off to the side of the road on Route 5 in Putney, Vt., to view the 96 percent partial solar eclipse on Monday, April 8, 2024. They were trying to make it to totality but with traffic decided to pull off in Putney. (Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer via AP)

Dave Bossier of Granby, Conn. and Quentin Roohr, of East Granby, Conn., pull off to the side of the road on Route 5 in Putney, Vt., to view the 96 percent partial solar eclipse on Monday, April 8, 2024. They were trying to make it to totality but with traffic decided to pull off in Putney. (Kristopher Radder/The Brattleboro Reformer via AP) Kristopher Radder—AP

By DAN MACKIE

For the Valley News

Published: 04-11-2024 5:01 PM

It was Traffic vs. the Eclipse on Monday, a showdown of celestial proportions. Would I risk everything like Marco Polo who bravely set out to see the world, or follow the example of his brother Rocco, who said their hometown of Venice was “plenty good enough?”

We stayed home. On Monday, at our cozy bungalow in West Lebanon, traffic was light and two bathrooms were within 25 feet of my lawn chair observatory.

It was certainly pleasant. The skies were blue and bright with a thin veil of clouds drifting in the heavens. My brother and sister-in-law and two grown nephews drove up Monday morning from Massachusetts, happy to arrive after sessions of stop-and-go traffic on the interstates. We don’t see them often enough, so this was an occasion.

I had debated with myself — these monologues can go on for days — whether to settle for the near-total eclipse here or make a hero’s journey to Montpelier or St. Johnsbury, Vt., for the full Monty. Video clips of the 1969 Woodstock Music Fest played in my mind. What if things went really bad and we were stuck for three days in muddy fields? I am too old now to take the brown acid and prance naked in the mud. Also, I like to drive home before dark.

To tell you the truth, I was not overly excited. When I was in grammar school we had a partial eclipse that was much hyped but not anything near 100%. They told us to make pinhole contraptions to project a circle onto another paper. I saw a blur that looked like a dead tick.

This time the view was much better, thanks to solar glasses. Still, I was not comfortable staring at the sun for long. Some instinct or maybe mythology — stories where everyone ends up blind, dead or turned into goats — made me wary of ogling it.

My nephews had done some actual research about the eclipse, and had a phone app that announced things like “first contact” in an authoritative voice the likes of which I hadn’t heard since the original Star Trek. They also brought a spatula with round holes that projected mini circles onto a white sheet if held just right. The holes changed shape as the moon elbowed its way in front of the sun. Gadzooks! What sorcery is this!

A couple of neighborhood kids strolled by to update us about karate and current boy facts, such as birthdays, school and other essentials. Their minds were not on the skies, just the rolling wonder of growing up. A cat slinked over and checked us out, perhaps amused by our odd change in behavior — humans, you never know what they are up to.

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We kept looking skyward. The moon seemed to be nibbling away at the sun. When the eclipse reached 99% or so, the air grew cooler, the light oddly dimmed, and the phone app called out “peak,” or something like that. I whooped. Someone on a nearby street honked a horn. Several mosquitoes came from somewhere and one tried to bite my brother’s forehead.

I thought our experience was fine, fun, interesting. My daughter sent a photo from her phone in Rangeley, Maine, where she and friends had gone for peak eclipse. The sky looked dark, exotic, stunning. I sighed.

After our company left (hurrying to beat the traffic, which they did), I hopped into the car and took a ride to places where I could observe interstate traffic. It was busy, but not “crazy’’ or “insane” as I’d read on the internet. But wait, there was more to come.

Someone I know posted online that it took her 6 hours to return to the Upper Valley from St. Johnsbury. Yikes. WCAX found someone who took 12 hours to travel from Newport, Vt., near Canada, to Hooksett, N.H. Double yikes!

After the eclipse, I am left to think about comfort and challenge and risk and reward. I hear that the two or three minutes of totality were amazing. The internet tells me there are 525,600 minutes in a year. Maybe something else will come along in 2024: a comet, a super blue moon, a new Jersey Mike’s. Next time I might carpe the diem.

Oh, well. I appreciate the comfort and attractions of home. As I am writing this, a normally shy and secretive cardinal just landed on my deck outside the window right in front of me. It’s pleasant to watch it hop around. The sun is shining, bright as ever, and soon I will step outside to let its warm beams reach my face.

There is a whole universe out there, and that’s a marvel too.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.