As of 8:00 last Monday morning, I still hadn’t decided where to watch the solar eclipse. I’d gone to bed the night before determined, if clouds were predicted in this area, to drive to a location someplace within the line of totality that promised clear skies. When I learned that our weather here was likely to be ideal, I narrowed my possible viewing spots to three:
- A venue with big crowds and lots of excitement
- The wilderness with a small group of friends
- The second-floor deck of my house
Each of those options held some appeal. I love a party, so it was tempting to brave the traffic and head over to Tennessee Tech to celebrate with thousands of other enthusiasts. On the other hand, I was hoping the eclipse would be something of a spiritual experience. The second-story deck right outside my bedroom would provide the perfect solitary spot to contemplate my place in the cosmos as the moon blotted out the sun.
And then there was the wilderness possibility. I’d been in touch several weeks earlier with Chuck Sutherland, an accomplished nature photographer from Sparta. He told me he was going with a handful of others to an isolated bluff he’d discovered through his job as a Geographic Information Systems specialist with the Upper Cumberland Development District. I was welcome to tag along.
“Where is it?” I asked.
“In a remote part of White County,” he said. “If I tell you more, I’ll have to kill you.”
As I pondered my choices on Monday morning, Chuck’s wilderness spot won out. I’ve seldom been able to resist a mystery. I tossed some snacks and drinking water, my reporter’s notebook, a folding chair and my trusty eclipse glasses into my car. Then I headed for Walgreen’s in downtown Sparta, where our little group had been instructed to meet. From there, we took a circuitous route that eventually led to a steep gravel road in the middle of nowhere. We passed three cars (all from New York) going the other way. When they were out of sight, we pulled over and parked and began unloading.
“Don’t head for the trees till we’re sure the coast is clear,” Chuck warned.
Once the dust settled and we could see that we weren’t being spied upon, we hurried into the woods and bushwhacked our way through mud and brambles and poison ivy, over downed trees and past at least one copperhead snake until we reached our destination. It was worth the struggle. A gigantic flat rock thrust out over a pristine valley. In this spot, the sun would be shining down on us the entire afternoon. Chuck set up his camera equipment while the rest of us set up the chairs. Then we settled in for the show.
Next week, I’ll try to describe what we saw.
(August 27, 2017)