I’ll admit to being an eclipse totality skeptic. I’m married to an amateur astronomer, so it’s been a topic of discussion for quite some time at my house. But as the media and the state braced itself for the onslaught of people who were expected to arrive to watch the eclipse, I began to wonder if it was worth the stress and work to see it. We live roughly an hour from the path of totality, but it was starting to feel like it was gonna be difficult to get there.

I’ll cut to the chase right now and say it was completely worth all the effort and stress and planning to get down to Salem to experience one minute and fifty-five seconds of totality. And, to be quite honest, I’d travel much further to experience it again. There really are no words to describe it.

Our day started at 3am waking up and getting ready to catch a 5:05am train to Salem. Amtrak added an Eclipse Special to get people to our science museum’s event, so it dropped us off, quite literally, at a railroad crossing. But we didn’t have to worry about traffic, and we were in the path of totality—all that really mattered to us.

By 7:15am we were in a city park in Salem that was right along the river. There were people who’d camped overnight, as Salem allowed that in all city parks for the days leading up the eclipse. There were also others arriving all morning long. We chose our spot based on what we could walk to easily from where the train dropped us off and we wanted to ensure there were bathrooms and drinking water. Salem did a fantastic job of preparing for the eclipse and publishing information online, so we could easily find a park that met our requirements.

Then it was time to wait. I brought along a small Scout blank book and some pens and spent my time drawing my way through the event. Urban Sketching has intrigued me for quite some time, and it turned out to be a really fun way to spend my time.

Line drawing of a tent from the day of the eclipse
A quick line drawing of a tent nestled among bushes in the park where we viewed the eclipse.

But once the eclipse started, I used my notebook for notes and drawing all the phases as well. It was a fun way for me to record the day, think about what I was seeing, and get my reactions in real time.

taking a break with my glasses off during the phases of the eclipse
Taking a break while watching phases of the eclipse and jotting down thoughts and drawings.

During totality, I stood in awe, looking around, seeing Venus and Sirius pop out in the sky. We looked up at the corona, which is amazing. The park lights came on, and people cheered. In addition, we saw Baily’s beads right as totality ended. Unfortunately, some in Salem decided fireworks were a good idea, so I didn’t get a chance to see if animals were reacting differently, the startling loud booms made dogs bark and birds were startled. I wonder if the eclipse startled them as well, but I’ll never know. On the bright side, some of the people playing really bad eclipse playlists stopped early on during the phases.

using our hands to make webs to see the crescents
Using our hands to make webs in which we could see the crescents.

During the back half of the eclipse, after totality as the moon moved off the sun, we played around a lot. G put his hands in a web to see the crescents in the open holes. We looked at the crescents coming through a nearby tree. G brought a compact mirror with, and he shined the reflection of the sun on a fence to see the crescent shape. We stayed in the park until the very end, when the eclipse was completed at 11:37am.

packed up and ready to catch a train home
Packed up and ready to walk back to catch the train home.

With that we made our way back to the strange railroad crossing to catch the train home. Unfortunately our train was delayed several hours due to mechanical issues, and since this wasn’t a station, all of us just sat on the ground on sidewalks by industrial buildings. I took the opportunity to fill up my Scout book, sketching the people around me.

person waiting for the train, reading
Loose sketch of a person waiting for the train, looking down at something in their lap.

Two things about the day stand out to me. One is that totality is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before and there really aren’t words to describe it. The second is that sketching my way through an event like this makes it more fun. It cemented certain details about the place, people, and event into my brain in a way I never would’ve gotten in any other way. I still have a long way to go with my sketches, but doing it is a huge part of the enjoyment, no matter the outcome.