Once in a lifetime


Seen from Oregon to Georgia, the solar eclipse last Monday was the event of the century and perhaps the greatest natural phenomenon of our lifetime. If you gazed towards the heavens a little past 2:30 pm. on Aug. 21, you saw it. If you missed it, join the crowd. But there’s still a chance for your great-great-great grandchildren. Next time the total eclipse will be visible from the same area will be in about 375 years from now.

For over a year, I’ve known about the total eclipse and made plans to be standing right in the middle of the path of totality as it swept across north Georgia. In March, I bought eight pairs of official ISO safety solar eclipse glasses and an official American Eclipse guidebook. I started to study. By the end of July, I was a walking encyclopedia when it came to lunar, solar, partial or full eclipses. Some of the stuff I learned was amazing.

Did you know that on Feb. 29, 1504, a lunar eclipse saved Christopher Columbus along with his entire crew? They were stranded along the northern coast of Jamaica. Seems they had worn out their welcome with the native inhabitants and, for safety reasons, retreated to their worm-infested ships, surely to die of starvation. That’s when Columbus opened and studied Ephemerides (the second volume of the “perpetual almanac”) produced by Johannes Muller, a prominent German astronomer and mathematician.

Although not knowing the exact time of the event, Muller predicted a total lunar eclipse on the night of Feb. 29, 1504. The day before the event Columbus called for all the tribal leaders to heed his warning. If they did not welcome him and his crew, then the moon would disappear from the sky the following night forever. He was laughed at and mocked as he boarded the rowboat back to his ship.

Just before dusk the next night, Columbus returned to shore and gathered the tribal leaders once again. He repeated his warning. They laughed. He raised his arms towards the heavens as the full moon rose in the night sky. The Earth’s shadow slowly bit into its face and soon the entire moon was completely obscured by the shadow. In its place was a faint red disk. The natives were terrified.

All who witnessed the event begged forgiveness of Columbus and asked him to return what he had taken. He stated he wished to consult with his deity and retired to a nearby tent. Once inside he started a half-hour sand glass to gauge the allotted duration of the lunar eclipse cited by Muller. When the moon reached totality, Columbus returned outside, informed the leaders he would now return the moon to the sky, and once again reached towards the star-filled heavens. After that night, he and his entire crew were welcomed and lived among the natives until their eventual rescue in June of that year.

On the morning of the eclipse, I had set reminder alarms on my phone: two hours before, one hour before, 30 minutes before, and one at the start of the event. I was taking no chances. I wasn’t missing this once in a lifetime natural phenomenon for anything or any reason. Nothing was more important to me.

Even so, when the last alarm had finally stopped ringing, my glasses remained unused. They were still in a secured package with the official American Eclipse safety seal unbroken. You see, at the very same time of the solar eclipse, all of my attention was given to another once in a lifetime natural phenomenon.

It had taken over three years to get to this point, and I wasn’t about to miss the event for any reason. Not even for a total eclipse of the sun. The event could not be delayed. Like with Columbus and his lunar eclipse, timing was most important. But unlike Columbus’s eclipse, there are no charts in Ephemerides that could forecast the duration of the event. Our lives were about to change forever.

And all it took was the utterance of six little words from the smallest of small, our red-headed granddaughter, Sweet Caroline.

“Papa, I got to go potty.”

It may have taken missing a once in a lifetime natural phenomenon of a total solar eclipse, but diapers are now a thing of the past in our house. And if you ask me, nothing eclipses Sweet Caroline finally being potty trained.

(Information on Columbus and the lunar eclipse is taken from, Ivars Peterson’s article, “The Eclipse That Saved Columbus,” retrieved from https://www.sciencenews.org/article/eclipse-saved-columbus.)

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001. To read more of Rick’s stories, visit his blog: storiesbyrick.wordpress.com.]