Dodging clouds, chasing the eclipse in Nebraska

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Shaking your fist at the sky does not make clouds move faster. That’s just science, folks.

But I gave it a shot Monday around 12:20 p.m. on a prairie hilltop just south of Plymouth, NE. The great eclipse of much hype and lore was well underway. A bunch of clouds, nevertheless, persisted. Things were looking pretty bleak for our humble expedition, which had braved the wild interstates and numerous potty breaks to see the moon block out the sun. The whole sun.

But would the zone of totality now be a total bust?

Despair not. In the distance, we saw roofs and a grain elevator in a nearby town basking in sunlight from a patch of blue breaking through. Load up the van, kids. Soon, we were hurtling headlong toward Harbine, NE, population 47.

How did it come to this?

Not long ago, I was indifferent to this eclipse. I figured I’d watch the partial version from home. And yes, I know, a partial eclipse is a weak single up the middle. A total eclipse is a grand slam. Burgers vs. ribeyes. Whatever.

But my friend, Josh, convinced me to join him on his quest. Once in a lifetime, he said. So on Sunday, my daughter Ella and I joined Josh and his kids, Ethan and Erin, in an overstuffed minivan packed for a 2-week campaign. We would be gone only overnight. This is how Josh rolls.

He even packed a portable toilet. Seriously?

Josh’s sister and her family own a beautiful acreage south of Plymouth, a patch of wide open Nebraska sure to be darkened by totality. It’s not far from Homestead National Monument, where thousands would gather to watch the eclipse, including Bill Nye the Science Guy, no less.

At the last minute, with clouds in the forecast, we mulled detouring to sunnier southern Illinois. But we stuck with the plan and rolled the Husker dice.

It looked like we came up snake eyes until skies broke over Harbine. We pulled into town, with Josh’s niece, Megan, as our guide, and found a park where a small group of locals waited in lawn chairs. The moon already had taken a major bite out of the sun. Skies dimmed, although it’s amazing how much light the sun still gives off even when obscured.

Totality approached. The big moment loomed. Any minute now.

“I’ve got to go potty,” Erin said.

“So do I,” Ella said.

Seriously? OK, so the portable toilet was a stroke of genius.

Then it happened. An abrupt wave of darkness. The sun’s corona flared around its moon-darkened face. All around us was a 360-degree glowing sunset. Streetlights popped to life and the temperature cooled. Ella pointed to white flowers dotting the park, which closed in the darkness.

About all you could say is “Wow,” when you weren’t struck silent. Necks craned. Jaws dropped. It was a grand slam.

So, yeah, my indifference nearly made me miss something amazing. There’s a lesson in that, I suspect. It’s also nice to know it’s still possible in our era of constant, digitally-enhanced astonishment to be awed by something so beautiful and simple.

Look up from your screens. Remarkable things are happening. That’s science, folks.

l Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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