I thought we would take a break from the seriousness of business and talk about another aspect of life that is just as important. I have been very lucky that through my work I have been able to travel and see awe inspiring sights that this world has to offer. I know that I have become rich in memories for taking advantage of these opportunities.
The Ignorance of Youth
I will tell you that when I was a young man, before I had the world laid before me that I took it for granted. My mentality was what is there really to go and experience that I could not experience from around the geographical area that I lived. And then it happened… I was sent to Germany … Berlin in fact, and I was staying in a hotel that overlooked the Berlin Wall. Not only could I see the wall, but I could see the city that was on the other side of the wall. I will not enter into any political statements here, but I will tell you that the sight of a blighted city just several hundred yards from where I was standing in a modern facility had a profound impact upon me. It was that trip that taught me that if I had the opportunity to see an important location or event, that I would make the effort to go have the experience. I learned that the world really is a big place and it must be experienced. These experiences have shaped the life I have led and the man that I am.
Taking the Opportunity
When I heard that the continental United States would experience its first total eclipse in 99 years, I paused and thought about whether I should take the time and effort to see it. Should I travel to the zone of totality? Should I see if I could take any photos of the event? After a life time of being presented with these types of opportunities I had to say yes and see if I could not only get there, but to see if I could capture the event.
Why Expend the Effort
In the early 1990’s, I spent 3 weeks in Paris training a computer graphic system to a production company. They were long, difficult days. The system was not widely used, so it did not have any real documentation. I was asked to go and do the training by the manufacture of the system, so I felt that for my business it was important that I go and represent them and my company. And to top it all off, I do not speak French, and they spoke very little English. These long hard days, one after another, not only imparting how this unique system worked, but to do it with out being able to speak fluently with the people I was training took its toll on me. After about 10 days, the owner of the production company told me something had come up and I would have a off day. He asked me what I was going to do. I replied, “sleep!” He laughed and said that I should take a day trip out to the Palace of Versailles. By now my fine reader, I am sure you know the answer is I did take that trip. It is a day I will never forget. Seeing the gardens, walking the grounds, the Hall of Mirrors, all left a deep impression on me. Most of all was the Birthing Room. It really isn’t a room, its more of a audience chamber, with lots of room for spectators. Just what a women in labor needs, an audience!
Why You Should Make the Effort
We all only have so many days on this blue marble. We all get caught up in the cycles of our lives and have a tendency to forget about these opportunities that will leave a positive mark on our souls. Let me tell you about my little trip to see a total eclipse. And its not about the 900 miles I traveled. Or is it about setting up cameras in the brutal heat and humidity of the Mississippi River Basin. Or the seven hour drive home that took 12 hours. No, I will not regale you with that story, Let me tell you about the 81 minutes leading up to the eclipse and the two minute and forty two seconds of totality.
After researching the path of the eclipse, which you can see on the map, I decided that Perryville MO was the best spot for me to go to.
The fact that they were setting up their regional airport for people to view the eclipse was a big factor for me. I would be as close to the center line of totality as I could be without being in the Mississippi River. Being at the airport meant that I would have a very unobstructed field of view, a lot of room, but also a lot of company. I arrived at the airport at 8 am and started to setup. The entire time I was there leading up to the eclipse, there were small airplanes landing. Now, I have to admit I was a little jealous of these people, flying in, landing and parking, pulling out their lawn chairs and setting up to watch the event! Makes me think it might be time to learn how to fly! I had more then enough time to set up my two cameras, so I was able to pay attention to what was happening around me. There was a group of students from SMU setting up several telescopes. They had an information desk with displays and literature for the public to come by and partake in. There were the two college guys that were part of an experiment to take footage of totality from 70 different location across the entire path of the eclipse that would be combined into one 90 minute movie of totality. Or the other college professor that was releasing two helium balloons with cameras to take pictures of the shadow of the moon as it passed through the area. Besides the people there for the science, there were people there just to watch, which made for a carnival like atmosphere.
The first 75 Minutes
Unless you had on a pair of eclipse glasses, when the moon started to pass in front of the sun, you would not have been able to see that anything was happening. And it stayed that way for about 75 minutes. But, looking through the view finder of one of my cameras that had a telephoto lens on it, you could watch the moon as it passed in front of the sun, slowly covering it up. I remember remarking that I had never seen a crescent sun before. I could also see that there were two areas of sun spot activity.
Without the glasses or the camera, everything seemed just the same all around me. Except for the professor and when he released his balloons.
10 Minutes From Totality
Now I could see with my naked eyes that something was happening. I was not looking at the sun, yet the sky seemed the same to me. But the light was changing. Most people would say it was getting darker, but it wasn’t. The sunlight was getting flatter. As a photographer I could see that the quality of the light was different. You could see all the detail around you just as well as you could 5 minute prior, but now the light just looked different. When you looked through your eclipse glasses you could see that the sun was about ninety percent covered.
So, standing there in this grey, flat light, the crowd starts a countdown, 5, 4, 3, and your are still able to see everything, the sky is still bright, 2, 1…. And it is dark out. Dusk is around you for 360˚s. You see the pink, purplish sky on the horizon no matter where you turn. You look up and you see this brilliant ring of light where the sun was.
You see that the stars and planets are now visible, and it is 1:20 in the afternoon. Then I look through the viewfinder of my camera and I start to shake… I forget how to operate my camera… I start spinning dials hoping muscle memory saves me and I am able to expose my camera correctly. Sweat is pouring off my head and stinging my eyes… all because I am looking at the corona of the sun. I can see the plasma trails as it is jetting into the atmosphere of the sun. I am clicking away with my shutter, hoping I am acting like a professional photographer. I pull my eye away from the view finder and am still releasing the shutter, just to see this spectacle with my naked eyes. I notice that it has gone quite. Running up to the countdown there was the din of noise you always associate with a crowd. Then there was the group falling into a single voice to sing out the numbers… then quiet. There are people whispering to each other as if they think using their normal voice might break the spell we have all fallen under. But the clock is ticking…
Two Major Formations
During totality, you see the atmosphere of the sun. But right before and right after totality you get to see two important formations. I missed them when we hit totality, so I wanted to make sure I got them as the moon uncovered the sun. The first is called Baily’s Beads. This is the rays of light coming through the valleys created by craters on the moon. The light refracts and what you get is a look of a beaded line of light.
Then as the moon uncovers more, you get a formation called the Diamond Ring. This is the first large rays of sun coming past the surface of the moon and you get a ball of light at one point and a ring of light connecting it.
And Then It’s Over
The diamond ring has formed and then a sliver of the sun is back and we are back to daylight. It is still that gray, flat light, but we are back to daylight. You stand there and take a deep breath, trying to take in everything you have just seen. There are people jubilant with the experience. There are people with tears in their eyes. You have a sense of just how magnificent this world is. All from standing in the shadow of our homes only satellite, the moon. For most people, this was a once in a life time experience. For me, it was a moment that will live with me forever.
I started with, “Experiencing Life”
Taking advantage of the opportunities you are presented with in life is very important. You never know what you will take away from any of these opportunities. I will leave you with this thought… to see what is on the other side of the door, you must open it, experience it and live it. Whether it be in your personal or your professional life.
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