August 21, 2017

Follow The Sun

I had lots of excuses for why I didn't travel to the "Path of Totality" for today's solar eclipse.

I leave for the Ukraine in just a couple of weeks and will be gone for eight days. I've got another trip planned to New Mexico in October.

Both have been a strain not only on my bank account, but also on my heart—because each will be the longest duration I will have been away from my cat since I adopted him last year.

I made a commitment to him when I brought him into my life—and that wasn't so I could go gallivanting all over the country chasing eclipses without him.

But since missing out on something epic is literally one of my worst fears, I took the opportunity to seriously consider the total eclipse of the sun and what it might mean to me.

If I didn't position myself directly underneath it, what would I actually be missing out on?

At first, it occurred to me that I might drive or fly to some far-flung location and still not see the eclipse because of cloud cover. And in that cost-benefit analysis, it seemed that I would be missing out on more by going than by not going.

"I would be so mad," I told my friend Erin, "if I hauled my cookies all the way to Oregon and then I couldn't see it. I would be so mad."

Even more, those moments of "totality"—what I wouldn't see if I stayed in LA—were all of two minutes.

Two minutes!

I get that it's a life-changing experience for some people. I get that watching it on a screen isn't the same as experiencing it in person.

But I can't imagine any two-minute event that would be worth that kind of expense of time, energy, and money—not to mention the opportunity cost of being away, even if it was only for a day.

Two hours? Maybe. In the past, I've traveled some distance for a concert or a rare tour of some place on my list.

But two minutes is nothing more than a commercial break.

Beyond all considerations of practicality, though, eventually the question of whether I should stay or go became somewhat of a philosophical conundrum.

And I decided that while maybe I could justify traveling to see something—say, Halley's Comet—I just couldn't justify going to see the absence of something.

To me, the sun transforming into a crescent shape is far more interesting than it being blacked out completely—and I could witness the moon taking a bite out of the sun if I just stayed right here in LA.

I had a number of viewing options to choose from. I could've traveled up to Santa Barbara or out to Joshua Tree.

But I chose to stay local and be a part of my community—heading to Westwood (or, the recently-rechristened "West Beverly Hills") for the event at UCLA.

There, I chatted with astronomy students and space-minded volunteers and faculty, peeked through a variety of pinhole cameras, borrowed eclipse glasses and filters, and scooped up some science flyers.

An overwhelming line for the solar telescopes had formed at 7 a.m., and those in it still had at least an hour's wait at the point that LA reached its peak eclipse (maxing out at only 60%), so I just sat on the steps of the Court of Sciences, ate my lunch, and watched the crowd exclaim and marvel.

No one bemoaned that it wasn't dark enough, or that the sun hadn't been eclipsed enough. We were delighted to see crescent shapes emerge in between the shadows cast by the leaves of trees overhead.

And the best "viewer" of all turned out to be a standard kitchen colander.

For the year 2017, I think I made the right choice. But the eclipse that will occur seven years from now may be an entirely different matter.

We shall see. A lot could change before then.

Related Posts:
Dark Matters
Photo Essay: The Big Parade Day Two Part 2 (Franklin Hills, Los Feliz, Griffith Park)
Chasing the Moon

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