I remember the last time I witnessed a solar eclipse. It was 1994. I was in the 5th grade. It was an annular eclipse, where the moon turned the sun into a glowing ring. We were outside for it, and the thing I remember most was the odd quality of the light. Even then, while the thing that most of the other kids were excited about was more outside time and less class time, I was amazed by experience.
I spent all of last weekend preparing for my eclipse adventure, packing a backpack full of necessities: a sketchbook, my glue book, magazines for collage-ing, a towel to sit on, water, snacks, bug spray, mace. Mace just in case the eclipse made people act weird in the middle of the woods. You never know. I was buzzing with anticipation and energy. Come Monday morning, I was up early and out the door.
The place I chose to watch day turn into evening (I live in Ohio and we were not in the path of totality - the sun would be about 87% eclipsed) was Conkle's Hollow in the Hocking Hills region. There is a somewhat intense hike up the Rim Trail, and I thought picking a spot high above the valley on a cliff sounded just about perfect.
Across the bridge and over a cute little creek:
After going up a big set of wooden steps, you continue climbing up a fairly steep incline. It was a beautiful, hot, sunny day, and the shade of the trees was welcome.
Little patches of sunlight peeked through the leaves and it was just absolutely beautiful. I wasn't sure where along the trail I was going to stop. Not knowing exactly how dark it was going to get, I was a tiny bit nervous being all alone in such a remote place. When I pulled into the parking lot, it was a relief to see a dozen or so cars. I figured once I saw the right spot, I would know. Shortly after reaching the top of the rim, I saw this, and knew:
The trail opened up immediately at the top, and just to the right around that corner is where I set up my little area.
It was just beautiful. I could hear a couple of girls a few hundred feet or so further into the trail who were set up to take photos, which made me feel safe. Alone but not in a scary way. It was awesome. The sun was positioned between a couple of trees like this:
And I was just in love with this little tree in front of me to my left:
Once I had taken in all of the sights and got situated, I started working in my sketchbook and gluebook. The night before, I had cut out several images of the sun to use, and also brought a couple of National Geographics that had articles about the sun in them. It was about an hour until the eclipse was starting, and I could not have been happier in that moment if I tried.
Describing what it felt like, sitting there, is hard. There was an energy in the air, the ground, the trees, everywhere. You could feel it in your fingertips. It's like nature knew that something amazing was about to happen. As I was sitting there working, I felt what I can only describe as a shift. So I put on my eclipse glasses (Thank you, Dad. You are awesome.), and there was a little black arc taking a bite out of the sun. It had started.
A minute or so later, I heard the girls down the trail (I could only hear them from time to time, when one of them got loud) yell, "Oh my God, it started!" It made me smile. They were geeking out at my level. I continued working, inspired by the energy in the air, my hands not moving as fast as my brain wanted them to.
It took a while for the light to really start to change. The wind completely stopped. Slowly, everything became utterly still and quiet, and the only thing I could hear were the crickets. The trees took on this flat quality and the sky turned a beautiful shade of blue gray. Every time I put on my glasses, more and more of the sun had disappeared. A few people had joined me at my spot: a couple with two children, an older couple of men, a young couple. I was quiet for the most part, and the entire group went through long periods of silence broken up by times of exchanging our amazement. We talked about other eclipse experiences. The older couple remembered one from the 60s, the young couple wasn't alive for the 1994 eclipse. The youngest of the two children was struggling to understand what exactly was going on. The crickets sang and sang.
Now I do not have the right camera or lenses to photograph the sun at any time, let alone during an eclipse. I also didn't want to get caught up in taking photos instead of being in the moment, so I only took a few with my camera and a couple with my phone.
That was taken with my phone. It captured the color of the sky better than my actual camera, and I am still dying over the reflection of the little eclipsed sun.
This was at about the darkest point. The sun was perfectly positioned between the trees. My work area looked really cool in the light:
I had started recording everything I was noticing and feeling, and what time it was happening at. I never wanted to forget how it felt to be in that moment. It was magic.
As the sunlight started increasing, all of the people wandered away and I found myself alone again. The chirping of birds began. The air started to warm. All in all I spent three hours in that amazing little spot. The entire experience was more than I ever expected and I'm smiling right now thinking about how it felt.
Eventually, I packed up all of my things and had to decide where to go. The rim trail is about a two mile loop and it was in the high 80s with few clouds that day. There is also a gorge trail that looks like something out of Lord of the Rings with a waterfall at the end and is shaded and very cool, so I decided to say good bye to my three hour heaven, hike down, and head to the gorge.
I definitely plan on going back here and hiking the entire rim trail in the fall. Looking out onto the valley while the trees are changing seems like it would be pretty badass.
Here are some favorite shots from the gorge trail:
The last photo is when I turned around and started walking back. I didn't make it to the waterfall, because I could hear a group of guys screaming and yelling (because of the echo in the gorge I could hear their obnoxiousness from pretty far away) and fake opera singing about walking with God. I wasn't really looking to walk with God at that moment; I just wanted a quiet walk in nature, so that was my cue to head back.
I felt this weird sadness that I was all over. If I could do that day over again, I would a hundred times. Inspiration has been fickle for me lately, but on that day, it was thunderous. There is another solar eclipse in 2024, and I am absolutely going to be someplace in the path of totality, lost in the woods, making art.