Eclipse called 'epic,' 'eerie,' 'amazing' | News | Palo Alto Online |


Eclipse called 'epic,' 'eerie,' 'amazing'

Palo Altans travel to Oregon, Idaho to watch phenomenon from path of totality

The total solar eclipse showing a "diamond ring effect" as seen from Amity, Oregon on Aug. 21, 2017. Photo courtesy Jamie Formato.

View a collection of social media posts chronicling the eclipse on our Storify page which can be found here.

A handful of Palo Alto residents had a prime view of Monday's solar eclipse from the path of totality, an experience they described as once-in-a-lifetime.

Tanya Buxton and her family drove to Bend, Oregon, where they spent the night at her brother-in-law's home before leaving around 4 a.m. for Culver, 40 miles to the north. They managed to find a farm where they parked next to six other cars with permission from the owner. They were near a valley offering an unimpeded view of the eclipse that she described as a sunrise and sunset happening at one time.

"It was awesome. It was just epic," Buxton said.

They experienced a minute and 55 seconds of complete darkness, during which time the crickets made noise but the birds stopped chirping. Venus was visible in the night sky and the sun sparkled like a diamond ring, Buxton said. People were yelling for a minute before becoming silent.

The timing worked out for Buxton, a biology teacher at Menlo School, which starts classes Aug. 24. Her 15-year-old son, William, is also a student there. Her husband took time off from his engineering job at Analog Devices, and her 19-year-old daughter, Maddy, has yet to begin classes at Wellesley College, where she studies physics.

The family of four held a colander in the light, which created crescent shapes on a piece of solar paper, and took pictures of light coming through tree leaves with cameras that had special filters.

Buxton also spoke to the numerous apps that allowed the public to be citizen scientists during the eclipse, collecting weather-related data such as temperature and humidity. The teacher recorded a temperature drop of 4 degrees Fahrenheit during the total eclipse. She hoped the event will inspire children to become interested in science.

For Julia Nelson-Gal, watching the eclipse from the Madras Municipal Airport in Oregon was better than any picture of the event that she could have seen.

The 14-year Palo Alto resident and her husband, David, trekked up in their RV to Madras, where they reserved a parking spot at $300 for five nights. She estimated 100,000 people gathered for the Oregon SolarFest, a "solar town" featuring tribute bands, food trucks, water stations, a NASA tent and the National Guard, who were there for crowd control.

She found it fun that a bunch of people were gathering in one place to do the same thing together - look up at the sky.

"It got very dark and it was pretty amazing," said Nelson-Gal, who added people were also skydiving during the two minutes of totality. "It felt like something very rare and very special."

Her only wish was that her two sons, ages 20 and 24, were with her to watch the eclipse.

The Nelson-Gals were joined by Ann Crichton and her husband, who brought their own tents, water and food because they weren't sure what supplies would be available in Madras, a city of roughly 6,000 people.

Reached by phone after the eclipse, Crichton called it "fabulous" and "wonderful" -- but then said she had to hang up and navigate the post-eclipse traffic.

John Cassidy, a 40-year Palo Alto resident, also had an optimal view of the eclipse from his home in Stanley, Idaho, a city with a population of roughly 63 people that welcomed thousands, including astronomers and T-shirt sellers for the event.

Cassidy, his wife, Nancy, and a handful of friends wore "silly, goofy glasses" as they viewed the phenomenon from his front lawn, just 25 feet away from the Salmon River.

Cassidy was most struck by the black hole and surrounding bright ring that blocked the sun, a "dramatic, qualitative change" that was met with whooping and hollering.

"It's the black hole that will knock you down the ground," Cassidy said.

Jamie Formato, a Menlo School physics teacher, headed up to his family's vineyard in Amity, Oregon, which conveniently fell within the path of totality. As he watched the eclipse with his family on their yard, he described the "weird" aura as totality approached.

"The light changed dramatically to something that's hard to describe. It's not nighttime or daytime but some weird in-between state," he said. "It certainly got chilly, and once the totality began the spectacular corona just erupted behind the moon."

Formato, who calls himself an astronomy person at heart, was most interested in seeing the corona with his own eyes.

"Photography fails to capture its splendor. It's sort of this eerie, ghostly thing up there behind the moon," he said.

"I've followed astronomy my whole life and learned a lot about these things but nothing prepared me for the actual experience," Formato said.


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6 people like this
Posted by Barron Park dad
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 22, 2017 at 11:56 am

I'm sure it was spectacular to see. For me, the 'return on investment' of missing work and school and driving many hours to Oregon was not so good for 2 minutes of wow.

2 people like this
Posted by Theresa Carey
a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 22, 2017 at 5:46 pm

I found the experience of totality completely worth the drive up, the three nights of camping, and the mega-drive back. I have been running those last 10 seconds before totality through my mind nearly constantly since totality ended. It was an overwhelmingly emotional event for me, partially because my reptile brain kicked in hollering, "There's a black hole where the sun should be! It's never coming back!" the second the sun was blotted out.

It was fun to experience totality with a group of friends. We are all still talking it over, even after the 16 hour drive home.

And I'm planning to go to either the South Pacific or to Chile on 7/2/2019. Then to Chile on 12/14/2020. I completely understand how people become eclipse addicts. It's a truly extraordinary experience that photographs cannot adequately represent.

5 people like this
Posted by Neighbor
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 22, 2017 at 6:32 pm

Due to reasons out of our control, our trip North to experience the eclipse didn't happen.

But the positive was that we did see the clouds dissipate in time to see the partial eclipse through our glasses. We also did the colander thing and noticed the shapes of shadows through trees looking odd and the light looking different.

The other positive is that we saw groups of people all along the street doing the same as we were doing. Neighbors sharing their eclipse glasses to people walking by and neighbors speaking with neighbors they had never seen or had contact with before. It was good to see the neighborliness of people to their neighbors and to complete strangers. The vibe was good and positive. It is a shame that we have to wait for something like an eclipse to be so nice to each other.

5 people like this
Posted by Deep Sigh
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2017 at 6:48 pm

So nice that people can take so much time off from work without it adversely affecting their careers!

This time of year, most of the local tech companies are playing catch-up after all the summer vacations.

4 people like this
Posted by Penny
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Aug 23, 2017 at 11:12 am

Penny is a registered user.

We were dropping my daughter at Willamette University where the school organized a "Woodstock" event around the eclipse with speakers and experts from around the world.

Experiencing totality in a large crowd is amazing. Approaching totality, people were playing with the shadows, pinhole boxes and talking loudly and excitedly, commenting on changes in quality of light--which was something I'd never seen before at any time of a normal day. The color of light changed rapidly. The air got cold and the wind picked up as the sky darkened. A friend told me that the ducks on the mill stream that runs through campus came on shore and tucked under as though to go to sleep. (Wish I'd seen that.) At full totality the crowd cheered, but just for a moment, and then went silent.

In full totality, Venus shone brightly. The solar flares made light, wavy shadows on the ground. It was eery. No camera can capture the full ghostly glory of that hole in the sky with its phantasmic ring of fire.

The weekend was mostly a lot of hard work moving my daughter into her apartment, but the eclipse experience was wonderful--in the largest sense of that word. I'm grateful I could be there!

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