NASHVILLE – Millions of sky-watchers gazed heavenward Monday as the moon’s shadow raced eastward along a slender corridor bisecting the mainland United States, blotting out the sun in a grand celestial show that had not been visible all across America in nearly a century.
The magic began exactly as calculated in the morning, with the moon taking its first “bites” from the sun, to the enthrallment of watchers in the Pacific Northwest and swiftly eastward.
Utter darkness descended. The air cooled. Birds fell silent. Watchers erupted in cheers.
In the eerie, failing light, cattle lay down in the fields. The stars came out. The contrails of passing planes jumped into sharp relief.
The eclipse, moving along a 2,600-mile, 14-state swath, seemed to bring out everyone’s awe-struck inner poet — or curious amateur scientist.
All too soon, it was over, and its passing left some feeling almost bereft. Watching, some embraced. Others wept.
Outside Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry, the wonder of it was still in the voice of Lisa Wilbanks, 57, of Louisville, Ky.
“I felt a sense of awe about nature … the whole totality of the universe,” she said after light returned to the sky.
At Lake Jocassee in South Carolina, water and surrounding hills were slowly engulfed in a shadowy, pink 360-degree sunset. “Whoa,” said a woman on a paddleboard, leaning to kiss her girlfriend. “I didn’t think it would be so dramatic.”
Skies were mainly clear along much of the 60-to-70-mile-wide eclipse corridor, but clouds and smoke from forest fires spelled anxiety for some. In north-central Oregon, a wildfire forced the temporary evacuation of the Kah-Nee-Ta resort, packed with solar tourists, just days before the event, but firefighters halted the blaze’s progress toward its camera-wielding hordes.
The stretch of enveloping darkness as the moon fully blotted out the sun was the longest in southern Illinois, where totality lasted nearly three minutes.
For anyone who missed the show: Just wait until 2024. That’s when the next total solar eclipse will be seen in the U.S.