Wyoming Sun Worshippers

Nothing prepares you for seeing the light go out in the middle of the day

By Rob Breeding

Sometimes you have to go all the way. A solar eclipse isn’t a game of horseshoes. Close doesn’t cut it.

For those forced to remain in Montana last week for the eclipse I can only say this: the difference between an eclipse at even 99 percent, versus totality, is roughly equal to the difference between first base and making it all the way home.

One is a nice stop along the way. The other is what the game is all about.

I had a suspicion this was so. I’ve seen plenty of partials before, all rather blasé. At the anointed time you peer through proper eyewear at a glowing cookie in the sky, with a bite taken out. It otherwise seems like a partly cloudy day.

The Full Monty awaited in nearby Wyoming, however, so I was forced to utter a phrase I once believed would never pass my lips: “Look’s like I’m headed to Shoshoni.”

Shoshoni, Wyoming, is the butt of many jokes in the Equality State. It’s a windswept town that is mostly pass-through country for folks headed elsewhere. As eclipse day neared, however, Shoshoni, near the center of the path of totality, was hopping. There was fresh paint on a building or two of the otherwise boarded up Main Street, and all along the highway folks were hawking eclipse glasses, T-shirts and cold beverages for the descending hordes.

When we arrived we stopped at the Lucky 5 Lounge for a beer. While there we got the skinny from one of the regulars on how the new high school had been built over a massive den and rattlesnakes had overrun campus. We were told staffers had been trained in the nuances of serpentine wrangling in order to protect the children.

That set the mood perfectly as we headed south of town where we could watch the event from a decent sized hill that would give us 360 views of the skies above and the surrounding plains.

It turned out this barren moonscape was just about perfect for a celestial event of this sort. Our viewing hill was mostly a sandy, sage-covered butte, but strewn about like giant marbles were large, egg-like rocks that resembled alien life pods from a low-budget sci-fi flick.

We later learned that these orbs are called cannonball concretions and are formed within sedimentary deposits. The western tip of the butte was covered with old sedimentary formations eroded to scraggly pinnacles, which contained more cannonball concretions. Some of the orbs appeared to have recently fallen free as if the rock towers were birthing more alien pods for the return of the mothership.

As for the event itself, it was mostly ho-hum in the hour or so leading up, but things got weird in the final few minutes. It was like dusk yet it wasn’t. As the light faded, shadows grew sharp and dark. Stars appeared yet there was light along the horizon in every direction.

Then the sun went black and I yelled from the depths of my bowels. It was an involuntary reaction. I wasn’t alone. Shrieks rang out across the desert.

Nothing prepares you for seeing the light go out in the middle of the day. Nothing could. But when you see it, from the moment the wedding ring diamond blinks out, you have a new understanding of the power that golden orb holds over us. We are a species of the sun.

It was primal. I couldn’t take my eyes off it for as long as the sun was dark.

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