Sunday night, the thickest layer of marine fog we’ve seen possibly all summer crept in and blanketed our piece of the coast in thick, cold grey. I didn’t mind. I’ve always enjoyed the moodiness of the fog. But you couldn’t help but note the timing. All week, we’d had sunny, warm days, with just enough light breeze to keep things comfortable. Now here we were on the eve of the eclipse and here was the fog, too, thick as the proverbial pea soap. It seemed yet another reminder from the universe: you can prepare all you like, in the end, what will be will be – as we had already learned just days before.
I wrote about the total solar eclipse here in the spring of 2015. It was an exciting prospect, particularly with landfall occurring right here on the coast, but it was still two plus years out, and few seemed aware of the still-distant event. Over time, however, the hype grew. Word had it that hotels were already sold out and those rooms available were going for astronomical rates. Soon, the county and state began weighing in with planning and preparations. Individual towns readied, too, some hosting parties, festivals and watching events.
But somewhere in the mix, the talk grew more ominous, including warnings that ATMs might run out of cash, likewise gas stations, fuel and grocery stores, food. Odds were good cell phones would not work and, in the event of an emergency, responders would be a long ways away. As the date grew closer still, the governor authorized deployment of the National Guard, the county declared a state of emergency and more than once we heard those simple words: “shelter in.” Increasingly, talk turned to gridlocked roads, trespassing, wildfires and the litter — as if we didn’t have enough of that already — and it began to feel like there would be a lot more shadowing our world than the moon.
And so I prepared. I had houseguests coming, and while they planned to stay for one night, I knew I’d need to plan on them being here — whether they wanted to or not — for at least a few days. In the week leading up to the big day, I found myself at the grocery store daily stocking up on supplies: water, toilet paper, propane, nutrition bars, milk, bread, tuna, frozen foods, soup … Wednesday morning at 8:45 — a time when the store is usually fairly empty — there were repeated calls for backup cashiers, further cementing my sense that all hell was about to break loose. I drove home, satisfied that we at last had enough to get us through whatever was coming. As it turned out, my guests cancelled. One feared she would have trouble getting back home to her cats. The others, a trio of usually adventurous college students, decided it might be wiser to forego the traffic jam and watch from home. I understood. Soon “No Beach Access” signs appeared on local streets along with road closure barricades awaiting use by the sides of the roads, and signs on private parking lots offering space for $100 a day. With daily press releases from the governor’s office, ODOT, the Red Cross and the county emergency office, things were looking kind of grim.
And then came Thursday. I left 15 minutes early for a hair appointment five minutes away, and found the roads surprisingly quiet. Soon, the quiet, got, well, quieter. And then, eerily so. There was no one here. As more than one person said, it was the greatest non-event since Y2K.
Eclipse Monday dawned with a layer of coastal fog, but the sun burned through, and moments before show time, the fog drifted away. We put on our eclipse glasses, loaded up the cameras we’d protected with eclipse filters and settled in for our first total solar eclipse. We were not disappointed. Soon, the temperature dropped, the fog moved back through, but the show went on. At the moment of totality, a cheer went up around the neighborhood, the street lights flipped on, dogs barked and then it was quiet again. And beautiful. A one-of-a-kind moment. Too soon, it passed, the world began to lighten again. The garbage trucks rumbled up the road. Fred Meyer sent notice that eclipse souvenirs were now half price. And once again, it was just another Monday at the coast — albeit quieter, cleaner and once again, reasonable, too.
Lori Tobias is the author of the novel “Wander” and a journalist of many years. Follow her at loritobias.com.