When Paul heard that we were going to be at a friend’s wedding in Baltimore two days before a total eclipse was due to occur in Charleston, SC, he informed me that we would, in fact, be heading south to witness this incredible feat of sun and moon. I tried to explain to to my dear Englishman that, although they might LOOK super close on a (small) map of the US, Charleston, South Carolina, was in an entirely different part of the USA than Baltimore, but there was no changing his mind. He was determined. He pulled the “But I’m a SCIENCE teacher” card, and I had no choice. He booked what might have been the very last hotel room in Charleston, ordered us some of the very last over-priced eclipse glasses and that was that. And so I found myself in our trusty CR-V last Sunday morning, slightly hung-over and too tired to argue, being driven 600 miles south from Baltimore, to see this spectacle of nature with my very own eyes.
It took us about 11 hours to get down there. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones heading south to see this eclipse thing-y. When we started to get sick of the radio, we entertained ourselves with Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes stories—SOOO GOOD! When we arrived, bleary-eyed and road-worn, at 9pm, we checked in and went straight up to the roof-top bar of our hotel and enjoyed views of the city with a fine glass of Malbec.
Monday was THE DAY. The astral bodies were kind enough to put on this show for us at a civilized time of day (1:33-2:48pm), so we had the morning to wander around the French Quarter. We stopped off at the Savannah Bee Co. and did a Mead Tasting. Yep, you read that correctly….a Mead Tasting. Some of them were delicious. Some of them were just okay, but the experience was fun and the whole store had such a cute festive vibe, and was all abuzz (ahem) with excitement for the impending eclipse.
After the tasting, we continued down King Street, and then wound our way through the side streets drooling over the verandas and flower boxes and the little secret gardens and courtyards hiding behind iron gates until we got to Battery Wharf–a beautiful park on the headland of the city of Charleston. It was 12:15 and totally empty and we wondered if we were missing something. Paul figured out where the sun would be in an hour’s time (thank you, scouts!) and we staked out a bench that would have prime viewing. Here’s the thing though….it was CLOUDY! I mean patchy clouds, sure, but definitely cloudy. And they clouds were rolling in from the sea, and there was not a bit of blue sky over the ocean. We were wondering if we had made a giant mistake. We thought about grabbing the car and heading inland a bit, and given the empty park, thought that we might just be the only losers that didn’t get the memo about where one should be to see this thing, but then we heard some reports that it was actually raining pretty hard inland, so we stayed put. We knew it would at least get dark at the time of the eclipse, even if we didn’t get to see the Corona or the Diamond Ring, or the cool crescent shadows on the trees, and that would be pretty cool. Over the next hour though, hundreds of people started arriving in the park. The benches were all full, and people were lined up all along the railing. There were grumblings about the clouds, but Paul and I kept eyeing a few blue patches that were slowly creeping over in the right direction. Around 1:25 or so, I put on my glasses and looked up to see a teeny tiny little moon-bite out of the sun, and I have to admit, that was kind of cool. Even that. For the next hour, it was a game of “oooh! I can see it!” and “damn cloud!” as the sun/moon dance came into and then went back out of view. The tension in the park was building. People were walking by offering their extra eclipse glasses to anyone who didn’t have them. (and yes, others were trying to hawk them for $20 a pair!) and little kids were selling water and lemonade out of their red-flyer wagon for $2 a pop. I mean, it just doesn’t get more All-American than that, people.
As things got closer to the expected time of totality, cool things started to happen. First the light around us started to take on this dusky yellow tint, then the crescents appeared in the shadows of the tree leaves on the ground. Then those shadows got seriously clear–like, I could see individual strands of hair in my shadow–clear. But a dark, moody rain cloud was moving in on the sun. Everyone knew that we weren’t going to get anything other than darkness, and were were just waiting for that, but then it happened! At just the right moment we saw the diamond ring flash as that big dark rain cloud moved out of of the way, the sky got dark, and the entire park burst into cheers and applause as the corona appeared around the sun and moon for a full, glorious minute. And just to add to that drama, we could hear thunder and see lightning in the distance as this was all happening. Pretty surreal. It was dark for a while, and it was eerily quiet. Then the clouds parted again, we saw the 2nd diamond ring effect as the moon passed the other side. And we could watch the whole thing in reverse. The sharp shadows, the crescents, the yellow light and then life went on. As is always the case, there is a bit of “oh, okay….now what?” amongst the crowd. Some stayed and meditated and chanted, but Paul and I went off in search of a snack. We found it here. at this charming place.
So, was it worth it? 22 extra hours of driving just to see this eclipse? Well, it was an adventure, for sure, and I was reminded of how much I love the city of Charleston and will now make it my mission to go back and actually spend some quality time there. And I know that looking back, it is something I will never forget. I have often told Paul that I loved him “to the moon and back”. Now that feels a bit more literal.