My Solar Eclipse Experience in South Carolina


Clayton Lovell, Staff Writer

Late Saturday night, two days before the total solar eclipse, my family and I arrived in a desolate Columbia airport. The terminal décor emanated a plantation house-like aura with its white walls and its neoclassical columns. As we paced to the baggage claim – our clunky weekend bags trailing from behind – an advertisement, which showed a man recklessly unleashing his pistol’s power on a firing range, broadcasted across every television in sight. Plastered onto the wall above the escalator was a slogan that read, “Columbia: The Most Military-Friendly Community in America!” What a welcome to the South that was.

After reuniting with my uncle, a chaplain in the army, we drove to his house and crashed after a draining day of travel. The next morning, I awoke to the bark of my aunt and uncle’s welsh springer spaniel, Wyatt, accompanied by the smell of a freshly baked blueberry buckle. Once we finished our coffee, the men tightened their ties, the women combed their coiffures, and we all trudged to church. The pastor had a special sermon that day, apropos of the solar eclipse, as he was unable to let this special opportunity go by without preaching about the passage in Joshua that describes a biblical solar anomaly. Everyone in this city (yes, even the “church people”) was ready for the once in a lifetime event on Monday.

Fast-forward 24 hours, and my family is scrambling to prepare for those two minutes and forty seconds of astronomical grandeur. My aunt had purchased Sunkist soda, Starburst candy, and Eclipse chewing gum for the occasion, which made for a nice sugar high before noon. My uncle had arranged every mount and camera apparatus on the kitchen counter that he could find, and I brought out my Canon as well. He went on to explain to me the ISO, aperture, and F-stop necessary to photograph the eclipse. We set up mounts to take time lapses on the back porch, and then put out a tripod for the canon. After an hour of frantic preparation, we stopped to wait for the start of partiality at 1:30 p.m.

Sitting in the back yard, I took in the sweltering heat of South Carolina, and read a physics book to suck out any last details about eclipses. My quiet time was cut short by the incessant noise of Wyatt the puppy digging little trenches in the grassy, dirty yard. I wondered what all the dogs in the path of totality were thinking about while their owners sat around outside with cardboard glasses on, but I concluded that they probably didn’t think much at all.

Inside, my parents watched the nationwide broadcast of various masses of people waiting for the eclipse, singing eclipsey songs and eating eclipsey foods. There was nothing of that sort in the serenity of my uncle’s back yard; it was the most perfect, peaceful place to observe the event (that is once we put Wyatt in the house).

And then it happened. I called everyone out to see the lunar disk slowly covering the solar disk, and we all put on our glasses. “Whoa!” my aunt called. “That’s amazing,” my uncle said. “What now?” I said. Of course, partiality is not what we made a 7-hour trek (between flight connections and what have you) to see. After another hour of waiting and watching, we got ready for totality. Waiting and preparing seemed to be two themes of the day, but now it was time for the EXPERIENCE. And because God knew it was that time, he put a big fat cloud over the spectacle. All this way for that? However I knew something great could still happen. The pessimists went inside, but the optimists stayed still. We waited for that spiteful glob of cumulus to scoot, but it stayed. Then everything went dark. Crickets started to chirp. It was happening. We all put down our eclipse glasses and watched what little sliver of the disks we could see. There was nothing to take a picture of, so we set our cameras down and absorbed the experience. I had never felt anything like it before. I looked back at my Mom and Dad and smiled with enchantment. For almost three minutes, we were captivated by nature.

 The cloud cover negatively affected the experience, but only for the cameras. For the people, on the other hand, and maybe even the dogs, the experience was unforgettable. Now for those who only got to see partiality in the penumbra, you’re in luck. In 2024, as many know, another total solar eclipse will pass directly over Cleveland. I urge every one of you (even though many of you will be in college or out of it) to come home and experience what I saw with my own eyes. You will never see anything else like it.