The total solar eclipse transfixed the nation

I drove nine hours to see a few minutes of totality in South Carolina. It was worth it.

Montana State University


WESTMINSTER, South Carolina — When I was a little kid, I loved the sky. I loved it for its bigness, for the endless feeling it evoked.


When you’re a kid, the daytime sky is like a movie screen. Clouds were characters caught in an epic, endless drama. The night sky was even grander: an eyepiece into the infinite; a great black canvas upon which to project light, imagination, and color.


Time has a way of shrinking things. As a child, I dreamt of becoming an archaeologist, artist, writer, philosopher, and scientist. It’s a cliché, but the future was full of untold, endless possibilities. Time taught me what was realistic. It made me choose. Life becomes smaller; even the sky shrinks away. The nighttime stars shining start to seem a little less extraordinary, a little less new.


Intellectually, I know, the world is still huge, unknown, and haunted with promise. But it’s just so hard to really feel it. You can’t get back the beautiful, ignorant bigness of youth. You just can’t.


Monday’s total solar eclipse — and the small adventure getting me here — made the world, the universe, feel big again.


I watched the eclipse from a small farm in Westminster, South Carolina. Bill and Mary McGinn bought the place five years ago to retire, raise chickens and goats, and host city folk wanting some time out from their busy lives. They never expected a total solar eclipse was going to pass through their front yard, drawing eclipse chasers from hundreds of miles away.


About 20 people assembled on their farm — from as far as Massachusetts and Mississippi — bringing together a crowd that looked one part Duck Dynasty, one part REI catalog.


Some came because this was the last eclipse they thought they would see for themselves. A 70-plus-year-old man from Mississippi remembered learning about eclipses in sixth grade and wanted to finally see one for himself. Others wanted a moment to share with their kids. A high school teacher was there to take pictures of the eclipse and to bring back a hero’s story to his students.


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