09/14/2017

Total Eclipse Seeking in Missouri

By Margie Lavender


This summer I journeyed to middle America, in the path of the total eclipse of the sun. A longtime family friend who spends part of her summer each year at her family home in Windsor, Missouri invited us to join her for the occasion. Both small town Missouri and the celestial event greatly exceeded my expectations. It was a truly memorable three days.

My Mom described Windsor as "a precious town that time and the interstate forgot". Quietly situated in the lush farmland of Amish country, with a slower pace, small family run businesses, and neighborly support, this seemed to prove true. 

Linda’s Grandmother’s 1956 Mercury repainted in its original, wonderful salmon color - she thrilled Morgen (my husband) and Alexis (his brother) by letting them take it for a spin (Photo by Alexis Fleisig)

From the porch of Kim’s Cabins at the crossroads of the Katy trail (263 miles from Clinton to St. Charles, augmented by the Rock Island Spur, another 47 miles) making it the longest "rails to trails" trail in the US.  

Bothwell Lodge Historic Site 

Bothwell Lodge view over the valley from the porch

Downtown in nearby Sedalia (Photo by Alexis Fleisig)

Detail of Carnegie library in downtown Sedalia

Leading up to the eclipse we read obsessively on what to expect, how to prepare, sharing each interesting essay, gadget, or vision damage horror story we could find. On average, a total eclipse occurs once every 18 months somewhere around the world, and only once every 375 years or so in a single location. So to see it near our friend’s home at this moment was, as my Mom exuberantly pitched it, a once in a lifetime experience.  A total eclipse is impossible to sufficiently describe, to portray that feeling, an unnamed emotion somewhere between happiness and fear. It is surreal, profound, unnerving, and awe-inspiring. It really has to be experienced to truly understand. In Annie Dillard's classic Essay: 'Total Eclipse' she aptly asserts, "Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him."

Warm Springs Ranch in Boonville minutes before total eclipse and then in totality. (Photo by Alexis Fleisig)

Though I’ve struggled with putting it into words, my friend Benjy, a NYC writer and photographer, who sought totality in Kuttawa Kentucky with his family, captured the experience beautifully in the following passage and photo.

Eclipse of the sun. Kuttawa, Kentucky. August 22, 2017. 1:24:01 PM 

"It is not the mild and familiar thing itself, which you recognize from the pictures in the newspapers and in magazines and on the internet these past weeks, that makes your heart beat a little faster, but the wind that comes in out of nowhere off the glassy lake, the crickets and tree frogs that start up in the oaks as if the August night had come back at the wrong moment to the park, the cheers of the college students who arrived at the last moment in three cars whose doors still hang open by the road, and the darkness that has swung down from the moon as if on a mechanical arm, and the clouds on the world's rim all peachy and dim: the photographer from Texas with the endless up-pointed lens who gave you his card when he saw you making panoramas of the crowd, and your wife and sons beside you whispering in the gloom whose end none of you wants to come, but which comes anyway, and so soon you all groan in surprise and disappointment; so that the single bright beam that shoots down from the moon, white as if from a strobe, and flashes down into the park like the first glare of sun on a snowy morning in the mountains is in fact depressing in its merciless brightness, because, like an alarm clock, it signals the end of the darkness and the resumption of all those things from which, for a moment, the darkness has allowed you to escape." (Final photo of the corona and text by Benjamin Swett)

Next time it hits the US, will be 2024 – I’ll be there!