What a difference a year makes: This week, we're looking at the gray, dark skies around the mid-valley and cursing the smoke created by the region's wildfires.
But a year ago this week, we gazed into darkening skies and cheered as a total solar eclipse — for many of us, a once-in-a-lifetime experience — worked its way from west to east across Oregon as it started a remarkable journey across the United States.
Or maybe you were lucky enough to see if from atop Marys Peak. Maybe you joined the throngs on the campus of Oregon State University to view it. Maybe you joined friends and neighbors in parks in Lebanon or points west. Maybe you were one of the folks who hopped onto a plane at the Albany airport to get an airborne view.
Maybe you just watched it from your backyard or stepped outside your office, slapped on your pair of eclipse glasses (the one essential fashion accessory from the summer of 2017) and witnessed what turned out to be an astonishing cosmic spectacle: The moon passing across the surface of the sun, plunging the world below into two minutes or so of darkness.
But wherever you managed to watch the eclipse, you weren't alone: You were among the millions of Americans who were watching the skies that day. A story this week in The Oregonian cited a survey from the University of Michigan concluding that 88 percent of Americans (it works out to about 216 million) watched the eclipse either in person or electronically.
Despite fears that hundreds of thousands of people would descend on the mid-valley (deemed among the best spots in the nation to view the eclipse), the crowds here were well-behaved. The massive traffic jams that people worried about by and large did not materialize, although traffic was backed up in some locations in the hours after the eclipse.
And, although it seems to odd to say this about a celestial event, the event itself delivered the goods: In fact, it's hard to think of any other event in recent history that generated so much hype beforehand and then managed to live up to the hype.
It helps, of course, to be lucky: Although wildfires were burning in the West last Aug. 21, the skies that morning in the mid-valley were crystal-clear. There was cloud cover on the Oregon coast, where the eclipse first made landfall, but those clouds did not make it to the mid-valley.
In fact, no matter your location at about 10:15 a.m. on that Monday, during the two minutes of totality, our hunch is that you could hear the gasps and cheers from others. Maybe you joined with the cheers, or maybe you were stunned into silence. You and millions of others might have experienced goosebumps, and it wasn't because the air suddenly seemed (and was) cooler.
Our overuse of the word "awesome" has devalued the word's meaning; it is not "awesome" when the person taking your lunch order gets it right. On that Monday morning, a spectacle so much bigger than any of us gave us a refresher course in the true meaning of "awesome." And that's why those of us lucky enough to see it will carry it with us.
Well, that and our eclipse glasses, which we chose not to recycle.
The next total solar eclipse in the continental United States is scheduled for April 8, 2024; it'll start down in Texas and work its way up to Maine. We're not planning to make the trip to see the event, but we know people who already are making plans to do so. A little more than a year ago, we might have scoffed at such an ambition. Today, though, as we recall the memories of Aug. 21, 2017 — the way the eclipse looked, sounded, felt — we completely understand the impulse.