On August 21, thousands of people will gather in parts of Oregon to experience one of the world’s great wonders–a solar eclipse. Linda Bugbee will be there for sure. Linda, who joined GAB online from Virginia back in the spring of 2016, told us all about eclipses. She and her husband had been following eclipses for years. She got us all very excited and, in our enthusiasm we all vowed to meet in Oregon for this magic event. That’s not happening but I know we’ll all be thinking of Linda and her husband, George, this August 21 and wishing we could be there with them.
This is Linda’s story of how she and George got hooked on eclipses and how it’s changed their life.
Sometime in 2003, George asked me if I would like to see a total solar eclipse. He was watching astronomy lectures while exercising in the attic those days, and had learned about them in his lessons. I hesitated and made some kind of face, until he added, “It would involve a two-week cruise around Tahiti.”
“Yes!” I replied immediately. I was in.
Thus started our career as eclipse chasers.
It turns out there are quite a few folks who go to the far corners of the earth every year or two to witness the moon traverse in front of the sun and totally occlude it in the middle of the day. There are several tour companies who organize travel to the eclipses and pick the best sites for viewing based on things like location along the moon’s path, weather, and moisture content in the air.
At first, it was the allure of Tahiti and being on the marvelous cruise ship “Paul Gauguin” that pulled me in. Indeed, I loved the luxury of the small ship, the fine dining, the midnight chocolate buffets, and having breakfast on the balcony of our cabin every morning while overlooking the South Pacific. But I found I came to enjoy traveling with so many intelligent people–some hobbyists like George, some bona fide scientists and, of course, our favorite Berkeley professor of astronomy, Alex Filipinnko.
Our first eclipse was the most exciting. We were far out at sea, hundreds of miles from Tahiti and far beyond where ordinary cruise ships go. The veteran eclipse watchers, serious photographers, and NASA scientists set up their elaborate photography equipment in all corners of the deck. There was a palpable excitement on the ship all morning as people staked out their spots with deck chairs.
As we got closer to the actual time of the eclipse, it was cloudy. The astronomers and the captain of the vessel maneuvered to find a viewing spot that outwitted the clouds.
The moon began to cover the sun about an hour before “totality” (when the sun is fully eclipsed by the moon). Someone yelled out, “First contact!” and everyone put on their special protective eclipse viewing sunglasses. About an hour after first contact, as the moon was almost directly in front of the sun, the captain finally made the turn that positioned us so that a pesky cloud did not spoil our day. The cloud moved, someone shouted, “second contact!” and everyone whipped off their glasses to view the black disc surrounded by the sun’s corona, seen clearly only during the full eclipse.
It was magnificent. The black sun surrounded by rays of light in a sky that looked like twilight. People screamed. People cried. I must have shouted, “Oh my God!” a dozen times.
It only lasted about a minute but the beauty and awe lasted in my mind forever.
Then there was the after eclipse party. Everyone was on an eclipse “high.” There was dancing, music and high spirits the rest of the day!
George and I became avid eclipse chasers and travelers. We loved the eclipses but they were also an excuse for travel. We went to places we would never have gone on our own. The following year, for example, we went to Egypt, accompanied by machine gun toting security guards everywhere we went. In 2008, we brought our son, Matt, with us to the far reaches of Mongolia–viewing stars alongside local nomadic people. Over the next few years we ventured to Australia, Indonesia and Taiwan.
George and I were both doctors with enormous responsibilities. We led stable, ordinary lives. Eclipse chasing brought us adventure. Rather than planning a vacation somewhere predictable and comfortable, we went to places we would never have gone on our own and had experiences we’d never anticipated.
Travel became my favorite way of learning geography and history. Adventure changed my life, and me.
Planning the trips years in advance, making the decisions together, anticipating and doing the travel added interest and fun to our marriage. It made us more interesting. Friends ask us to share our eclipse stories when they introduce us to new people. One friend wrote a story about us in 2012 that was picked up nationally!
I am a spiritual person and, for me, the best part of our astronomy travels has been a renewed sense of awe for God’s great universe. I always think of Good Friday during an eclipse and how dramatic and frightening it must have been for people on that day when the sun stopped shining.
The eclipses don’t last long but the sense of connectedness, awe and renewed spirit live on and on.
Linda Bugbee is a retired psychiatrist with a degree in information systems. She now helps others share their life stories by presenting them as online memoirs—a story form she created and which can be seen at her website, http://creative.lindabugbee.com.