Solar Eclipse 2017: We were not in the swath of the umbra whose residents were able to view the total eclipse of the sun today, but Vancouver’s visibility was 87% or so. Morgan and I awoke early, showered, and went over to Mundy Park–our favorite running grounds–and made a two-hour camp in the same field we went a few years ago upon a clear midnight to try to view the Aurora Borealis. The morning was warm and humid. We had a sneak preview of fall last week, but temperatures are now rising again to peak-summer heat and the poor grass is as brown as it can be. In fact, when I did notice the bear not long ago, I realized our back yard has quite a few dead leaves already, not due to cooler weather but stressed trees in a drought.

Watch the shadow of the pine tree move with the eclipse

Being at Mundy Park felt so good. I went on a little hike of my own, and reveled in the morning sounds of the forest–a woodpecker, the clamoring birds, dogs barking, insects buzzing around my face, the soft murmurs of the few people who were out there. The sky had not a cloud, and a rich sheet of blue stretched across the horizon.

When I got back to our camp chairs, I noticed that my cousin Pam had called and I had somehow missed it, so I called her since we still had some time before the eclipse began. She lives in Washington State. She is my first cousin on my mom’s side. Our mothers are sisters, and the only two left in our Pappaw Collins’ family that settled in Appalachia.  Family trees document Mammaw’s ancestors were from Scotland and Pappaw’s have been traced all the way back to the 13th century, Donegal, Ireland. My Uncle Don, Pam’s dad, was the technical editor for my novel Back to the Garden. I remember from when I was very young he would give me rocks he’d brought from out West, as he was a geologist in a national park. I would collect these rocks and put them all over the dresser in my bedroom, unlike my friends who would adorn their dressers with perfumes and jewelry. I think this just speaks loudly to the influence my family had as I was growing up, to get me interested in science, nature, and the great outdoors. Pam and I had lost touch, actually, for a long time. Because their family lived out West, we simply did not see them as much, but I have great memories of Pam from childhood and our teenage years, before they moved so far away. We’ve recently reconnected, and she said that she and her parents are planning a road trip to come and visit in October. I am so excited to see them. We’ll either go camping nearby or just stay here at our house–we’ll see.

It was a morning of thinking of my cousins, as my other cousin Kristine, who I saw in July, was planning a solar eclipse party today. She has property in North Carolina, and it sounded like so much fun.

Well, we were equipped this morning with safe viewers from Canada’s Royal Academy of Science, and were trying to take photos and view the sun during the eclipse. It started as the moon began to edge into the sun in the top-right quadrant and then slowly began to drift across. At totality, a small portion of the sun, like a thin banana, was still visible. The air had considerably cooled, and the hues of the day became surreal. We did not have the right kinds of cameras with us to try to photograph the sun during this time, but I did take a series of photos of a pine tree, as its shadow quickly moved across the meadow. I felt, as usual, when I see such wonders of this world we live in, that there’s something that brings everyone together at times, and that is the excitement of watching a marvel from space happen. As my eyes extended upward through the viewer, I thought about my cousins watching up at that moment too–one down at her cabin in North Carolina, one going to a football field in her city in the Pacific Northwest–and all the millions of others who were looking up.

It was a feeling of humbleness to know that we are short-lived on this planet, relatively speaking. Not just individually but as a species. But while we’re here, despite the strife, the corruption, the hatred, the anger that exists, when it comes down to I think most people have goodness inside, and during times when we are drawn outside of ourselves and our personal struggles, we find a bigger reason to exist, a bigger meaning to it all, even if it is just to feel connected with people around us and watch the wonder in the world.

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