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Marla Jo Fisher
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Trigger warning: There may be insults directed at the state of Texas during this column, so if you have a “Don’t Mess With Texas” bumper sticker on the back of your pickup truck, you may wish to turn to the sports section now and come back next week.

Got that? Great. Now I’m ready to talk about our recent long weekend to the Lone Star State to see the 2024 solar eclipse.

Now, I know some of you are thinking, “Hey, I saw the eclipse right here in my own So Cal backyard with a pair of eclipse glasses I got at the library.”

Well, good for you. Pat yourself on the back for your spirit of scientific inquiry. And for going to the library. However — and I’m going to break this to you as gently as possible — seeing a partial eclipse might be interesting, but it’s nothing like being in a total one.

To be honest, I never thought for a single second about solar eclipses until I read a book called “The Marriage of the Sun and the Moon” by , which is an interesting series of essays on mind-altering experiences.

After I read that book, I became intrigued at the idea of someday seeing an eclipse, though I was hardly one of those intrepid souls who trots off to the wilds of Africa to view one.

My brother is interested in astronomy and so we found ourselves talking eight years ago about making a trip to see the 2017 eclipse, which went through a swath of the American Southwest.

We did end up seeing it, on top of a bluff in Idaho, and it could only be described as a life-altering, sublime experience. We all vowed to assemble again in 2024 to see the next one that came close.

Well, as some of you know, I then got this . And I spent too much time feeling sorry for myself, including bemoaning that I’d be dead before having a chance to see the 2024 eclipse.

But, hey, here we are five years after the diagnosis. And I’m not even slightly dead.

As usual, my stubborn brother and I spent more than a year feuding over where we should see this event. I wanted to go to Mazatlan, Mexico, and see it with a margarita in my hand. He refused to go there, and for once I let him win.

So we ended up in the Best Western hotel in rural Llano (pronounced lah-noh), Texas, because my brother insisted we needed to be somewhere we’d see the maximum amount of darkness. Llano and adjacent areas had more than four minutes of darkness, compared to Austin, for example, which had less than two minutes.

The bridge lights came on during the Total Solar Eclipse in Texas, which we watched from the banks of the Llano River. It's 1:30 pm. (Photo by Marla Jo Fisher/SCNG)
The bridge lights came on during the Total Solar Eclipse in Texas, which we watched from the banks of the Llano River. It’s 1:30 pm. (Photo by Marla Jo Fisher/SCNG)

Now, I’m not saying that Texas is the most boring state through which to drive. I might give that title to Iowa or Kansas. But it’s the biggest boring state through which to drive, by which I mean much of it is flat as a pancake with nothing to look at except grass and cows. My dad was a rancher, so I’ve seen enough of those to last a lifetime.

At least this time of year, the highways had a nice sprinkling of wildflowers to enjoy, especially bluebonnets.

The last time I was in Texas — 45 years ago — I found myself in a car with a bunch of people who were entertaining themselves by yelling racial epithets at people walking down the street. I still feel traumatized, but I was too young and shocked to tell them how horrified I was.

This time around, we didn’t hear any racist comments, I’m happy to say. While we were there, we visited the Cathedral of Junk folk art installation in an Austin back yard, which is well worth seeing if you’re a folk art nut like me. Or if you just want to feel better about how junky your own yard is. And we saw the Baby Head Cemetery, which is a pioneer graveyard named after an atrocity involving a dead baby supposedly decapitated by marauding Indians. People still leave baby dolls on the graves there. Again, for those of us who love old cemeteries, worth seeing.

The big event, of course, was the eclipse, and it looked like it was going to be a bust, because cloudy skies and even rain had been forecast for April 8 over the entire state.

However, the gods smiled on us, the clouds parted and and the sun came out over the Llano River, as we sat on its banks wearing our stylish paper eyewear.

Wearing our glasses enabled us to observe over the course of an hour as the moon gradually nibbled away at the sun, like a wheel of cheese being eaten by mice, until that last particle of sun was gone and the moon completely obscured it, except for a slight halo. There was a huge roar from the crowd around us, as people took in the spectacle. It didn’t get pitch dark — just very deep twilight —and the confused crickets immediately began to chirp. The lights on the bridge above us also came on, and in the parking lot behind us as well.

It was a spectacle worth traveling for, and we were so lucky with the weather, because the next day, as we drove back to the airport, it poured rain.

Apparently the next total eclipse is in Iceland, and some of my friends are talking about going. Sounds too cold for me, so I’ll stay home and wait for the highlights reel.

 

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