The Great American Total Eclipse Southwell Migration

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COLUMBIA, MO — The end of the total eclipse on Aug. 21 shows the sun peeking around the moon showing the "diamond ring." Red solar flares are visible. (Photo by Steve Southwell)

 
“Mom, I want to see the total eclipse,” my 18-year-old son said two weeks ago.
“Honey, in seven years Lewisville is going to be in the path of totality. We won’t need to go anywhere then.”
“True, but then is not now. Let’s road trip!”

And that is how The Great American Eclipse of 2017 Migration began for the Lewisville Southwells. Two weeks ago, a simple off-the-cuff conversation between mother and son culminated into a two day, 1,000 plus mile round–trip to Columbia, Missouri.

Like most moms, I tend to over plan for trips. I wanted to not do that this time. Originally, my son and I chatted about leaving Lewisville at midnight and driving up I–35 to get as close as possible to Lincoln, Nebraska. That’s roughly 740 miles, as the crow flies, one-way. We’d enjoy the moment together and then drive home, taking turns at the wheel.

This was the “spontaneous non-plan” we had worked out. Not wanting to be a jerk and leave the rest of the family out of the adventure, I excitedly spoke of the “non–plan” to my husband, Steve, and the younger son. The younger son felt he needed to stay home for work, but Steve was all in. So three of us Southwells were ready to do the trek.

I posted on Facebook about our upcoming family funtastic adventure, which caught the eye of a friend who used to live in Flower Mound and now resides in Columbia. She and her husband invited us to come stay with them, be in the path of totality, actually have a rest between driving escapades, and best of all enjoy their company before heading back to Lewisville. How could a sane person say no to that? We were very happy to take them up on the offer.

Surprise, the teenager that proposed the road trip ended up backing out. (Insert glaring mom look.)

But you know what that meant? My husband and I were going alone. It occurred to me somewhere in eastern Oklahoma that we have not been on a road trip without the kids since I was pregnant with the 18-year-old.

We loaded the truck and headed out at 10 a.m. Sunday morning and arrived into Columbia around 7:30 p.m. We made good time, and it was a very pleasant trip. For the record, if you haven’t seen Lake Eufaula in Oklahoma, it’s beautiful and definitely worth a Google search and a weekend exploration.

For the eclipse viewing Monday afternoon, our friends took us to University of Missouri to the Francis Quadrangle. “The Quad” is a large courtyard with a lush green grass and sits between beautiful buildings with six iconic Greek columns at the head of the common area. We were lucky to find a vacant spot of bricks at the base of a statue to sit on. We’re all over 40 and need some extra support.

The Quad had maybe a few thousand eager cosmic event observers, and each of those was waiting for the eclipse. And boy it did not disappoint! People were laughing and mingling. Some brought picnic lunches and their dogs. Others brought telescopes and high-powered cameras. Steve rigged his Canon up with welding glass using masking tape to get some magnificent shots of the eclipse.

It was at about 80 percent coverage when I noticed the atmosphere starting to change. What started out a very hot and muggy afternoon shifted to a few degrees slightly cooler and muggy afternoon. The insects started making their collective twilight noise. It was so subtle that I didn’t notice at first.

At about 85 percent coverage, one of our friends pointed out that the birds had taken off from the trees and buildings. My guess is that the sound of the cicadas maybe coincided with the birds instinctively deciding it was supper time, but that’s my non-scientific hypothesis and not in any way to be taken as fact, only folksy observation.

COLUMBIA, MO – Jennifer Southwell and Regina Fierke applaud the totality phase of the total eclipse on Aug. 21. (Photo by John Fierke)

The darkening of the sky was almost undetectable minute by minute. I kept looking toward the sun, with special eclipse glasses appropriately on, to see if we were in the totality. Little did I know how very noticeable that moment would be when it happened. I was sitting in my spot on the bricks next to my friend, looking down at my feet and listening to the crowd and the insects, which both were getting quite loud at this point. I really wanted to just be in the moment.

And then it happened. It was like someone had flipped the switch. It was immediate shift into dark. I can’t emphasize how immediate it was. Without looking up to the sun, I knew we were finally there.

And the hootin’ and hollerin’ began.

I was so excited, I forgot I could take my special Daniel Boone Regional Library-issued eclipse glasses off. Thank goodness I had a friend right next to me that set me straight.

I saw the Baily’s Beads. I saw red flashes off the corona, the sun flares. I could hardly breathe because of the fantastic nature of what I was experiencing. I was overwhelmed and transfixed. It was incredible. Visceral. So amazing that it was spiritual as well as scientific. The word awesome comes directly to mind. Totally awesome.

More eloquently than my description of the event, Steve shared his own thoughts. He said, “What moved me was the fact that we were there as fellow humans – insignificant in an unyielding cosmos barely aware of our existence. For a moment, all of the things that divide us and make us argue – that was gone. For two minutes, 40 seconds, it was all about watching with child-eyed wonder in witness of the universe doing what it does.”

After a few moments, I could see the light getting stronger as it would eventually emerge again to shine brightly, ending the eclipse totality. It was gentle coming back to us, at first. Two seconds later, it was the brutal blinding flash of the diamond ring effect. Brutally bright, I tell you.

Time to put the glasses back on. Fast.

In its entirety, the total eclipse was extraordinary. It absolutely was worth 22 hours of driving with our fellow eclipse migrants from Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas. It was worth every single mile y’all.

When we got home, we found out that the son who initiated the idea of road tripping to experience the total eclipse didn’t even go outside to see Lewisville’s partial eclipse. (Insert glaring mom look.)

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