How I saw the total eclipse of the sun on my birthday in Franklin, North Carolina.
By Terry Rader, Freelance Writer
We felt blessed to get away and devote a couple of days to experience a natural phenomenon that occurred on Monday, August 21, 2017.
Three of us traveled west across North Carolina from our homes in Greensboro and Kernersville to Franklin with Chaco, Sara Neal’s beloved Jack Russell terrier. At the cabin, on Goodview Trail (that’s right), we met our gracious hosts Pamela and Alan Steinbeck. They got us settled in and made us feel right at home. We took time to play behind the beautiful Dry Falls Waterfall and to visit Highlands, NC on the day prior to the eclipse. The friendly officer we saw at Dry Falls said that they were prepared for a gridlock. I shared a story of my friends who were texting me from Yellowstone Park. They were advised to stock up on cash as the ATMs could run dry and that Costco had already run out of bottled water. We laughed as I recounted the truck hauling two ATM machines that passed us on the way there.
Once back at our cabin, we settled in and had a great dinner of homemade meatloaf, turnip greens and potatoes on a second story deck with a full clear view of nothing except sky. I told my friend, Cindy Edwards, that she did a great job of finding the cabin. We felt like we were suspended between heaven and earth. We certainly believed we had just about the best view and we were planning to stay put.
The next morning, Cindy and I headed out for a walk along the winding hills amongst the trees. We spoke of how excited we were for being in the path of the eclipse. Cindy had asked me to choose my preferred location for my birthday. I chose Western North Carolina over Charleston, South Carolina. I was born in the mountains many years ago, raised in the city and am now ready to return to where my heart is most happy.
We arrived back at the Cabin to a bounty of buttery scrambled eggs and leftover greens. We prepared a beautiful table to express our gratitude to a mystery unfolding before us. We were outside, just as hundreds of thousands of other people were, to witness the sun and the moon coming together in a spectacular union.
Through safe and special lenses under a clear, cloudless sky, we gasped in unison as the moon kissed the sun on the cheek. As they began to merge, I felt that as humans, we were only getting a glimpse of the full spectrum of what was actually happening. Standing on the two-story deck below the direct path of what was to be the total eclipse of the sun, it was hot, almost white-hot. As each minute ticked by, the air changed while we studied this mystical merging. I felt about as small as I have ever felt, yet more aware. At my leg, a large bee was buzzing and a little blue lizard whisked past my toes. All of nature began to take note. As the moon began to crescent the sun, we saw the dappling shadows on the driveway below as earth’s canvas turned into sacred geometry, projecting perfect patterns. The scene around us became even more surreal.
As the moon moved in and the sun gave way, powerless, surrendering to her encroaching peace, her offer to rest, nature began cheering them on! We stood in awe as the temperatures plummeted ten degrees cooler and Sara exclaimed that it felt like it does just before a storm. I agreed in recognizing those positive ions turning the air cool and moist. That was intriguing to me since lightning is attracted to a high concentration of positive ions. It made me wonder just what sort of electrical energy was being dispersed.
We smiled as we heard the night sounds begin with the evening bird songs and cicada, all singing in harmony. One by one, the solar lights along the driveway blinked on and lit up in the middle of the day-less day. We blinked to refocus our vision as the crisp shadows of the trees and plants below us gave way to a black curtain of soft, lineless separation being drawn. Everything began to fuse and just as it all went pitch black, the dogs in the surrounding homes began to howl in an eerie unison. I could imagine them in my mind’s eye, kneeling, as if in downward dog yoga poses all over the hillside.
I stood in awe as the joy shifted to sadness deep in the core of my soul. It felt as if the dogs were pleading for the sun to return. In this deep darkness, Cindy exclaimed: “Look! What are those lights?” Down below us amongst the ferns and plants along the driveway, there were lights flickering, lights that were not reflected from anything. There were no streetlights and we had turned all of the cabin lights off. They were twinkling off and on in various patterns and shapes, unlike fireflies. Someone said they thought it must be the fairies. Of course, we may never know for certain, but we did all agree that it was magnificently magical to behold.
With smiles on our faces, wonder in our eyes, and childlike hearts, we experienced a mysterious dance of nature in the darkness that blanketed our deck and everything around us. I literally felt my body shift and sway as some sort of electromagnetic wave rushed through me from head to toe. For just a moment, I felt as if I were disconnected from the earth and from my physical form and at the same time, fused into something huge. I felt joined with nature and all life around me. As I gazed up through my safety glasses and saw the total eclipse of the sun, I felt warm wet tears flow down my face. As the sadness began to wash over me, I felt the full absence of the sun and envisioned a dark planet in countless miles of galaxies – a barren disc with no water, no trees, no plants, no animals, no people and my heart felt like it was squeezed tight. I was barely breathing as I felt myself melt into the darkness and all that was black. At that instant, the crowd in the field on the other side of the trees began to cheer and yell a victory cry as if someone had scored the winning touchdown! Children were squealing and men were hooting and women were giggling and talking. We all laughed and for a moment we felt zero separation between each other and the world around us. For just a sliver of time, we were all as one. We were all focused on something breathtakingly beautiful and mesmerizing, fragile and powerful and the joy that emanated from each of us washed over me and through me in waves. As my mind remained blank, and my body motionless, I felt a sense of peace in my heart of feeling fully human and so grateful to be alive.
That is truly the best birthday present I have ever received and as the sun responded proudly to our encore, the moon gave way to the ring of solar fire. The show was a grand success and the crowds applauded her as she took a bow and gradually exited the stage for the sun to return front and center.
We giggled and laughed like children on a playground as we watched the crescent shadows dance upon the ground and the soft shadows return to crisp edges as each solar light along the driveway blinked off. I felt myself breathe a sigh of relief as the sun returned.
While the crowds drove away, we relaxed and stayed put for our last night on Goodview Trail. We had stopped and bought some firewood from a man who used to clean out smokestacks, quite an amazing storyteller and I am sorry I did not get his name. We lit up the cloudy night with a fire and shared our experiences of the eclipse.
The next morning, we packed up and headed into the town of Franklin in search of a newspaper with a photo of the eclipse. We walked inside an interesting store with super friendly folks that directed us to The Macon County News, just a couple doors down, where we could help ourselves to a free newspaper. We went inside and met the owner and editor, Betsey Gooder. She took time out of her busy schedules for a gracious visit and in connecting us to a photographer, Eric Haggart. He had taken some amazing photos with his telescope and was happy to share a digital one with us, trusting us not to spread it around as he planned to sell the images professionally. Talk about true Southern hospitality! I promised Betsey I would send her a story and she recommended Motor Co. Grill diner with a dog-friendly patio. What an amazing diner, with a fun black and white checkered floor, gumball machines as tall as me and other icons, we felt like we were on a Happy Days set. The staff was super-friendly and Chaco was given a bowl of fresh water while the three of us enjoyed tilapia, burgers and fries. We were happy to find a gluten-free menu as well.
Next time, we plan to allow time for a visit to Café Rel. Cindy has eaten there several times and raved about the food and how surprised she was to find a five star restaurant tucked in with a gas station. We left Franklin that day full of good food, appreciation of new friends and lifelong memories of the eclipse. We will absolutely be back.