How a bunch of old dogs watched the eclipse and lived to tell about it

Published 12:16 pm Thursday, April 11, 2024

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It was a trip that eclipsed all previous trips.

We headed west to Arkansas, the home of my people, planning to spend some catch-up time with them, see some childhood landmarks and watch something I may never again see.

It wasn’t my first eclipse. We saw the 2017 eclipse on our farm in Rutherford County and actually participated in a citizen science project to document the behavior of animals during the event. We had a wide variety of critters to study: dairy goats, chickens, guinea fowl, turkeys, horses, dogs, cats, honeybees and a wide variety of pollinators.

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But, we knew that the 2017 eclipse would be seen at a mere 99.7 percent. Close but no cigar.

Anita is a star-struck astronomer, not trained but highly knowledgeable. She was giddy about seeing a total eclipse and did all the research in advance to confirm that my sister’s home at Greers Ferry Lake in North Arkansas was smack dab in the middle of the path of totality. As in, four minutes and twelve seconds of totality.

So, we had nothing to do but load our three dogs into our camper/dogmobile and head west. Did I mention three dogs? Do you know what two old dogs and one middle-aged dog love to do in a small space with their humans? Let’s just say the windows were up and down regularly.

During the trip, Anita reported every single change in the weather pattern along the path, even suggesting that if North Arkansas was going to be socked in we might have to head up into Missouri. Or to northwest Pennsylvania. Or 20 additional driving hours to Vermont.

But my people? What about my people?

As the big day drew near, the weather forecast began changing for the better, and when the sun came up on the big day, the skies were crystal clear save for those deadly contrails.

With siblings gathered at my sister’s place, we passed out eclipse glasses and warned everyone for the umpteenth time not to look directly at the partial eclipse without wearing the glasses. Shortly before it began, we gathered on the lawn and staked out places to stand and lean against my brother’s SUV (so we wouldn’t fall over while looking up) and began the watch.

It was eerily quiet as a darkness slowly began to cover us like a blanket. The birds stopped singing. The road was quiet. When it reached the point of totality, I removed my glasses and looked at the sun and moon in their unique dance, then looked at the family members.

All of my life, I have been a people watcher, fascinated by my fellow humans’ movements and reactions. Their facial expressions told the story of how they had never seen such a mystic and otherworldly event.

Laugh if you will, but I’m going to say it. It was spiritual.

And then it ended.

We marveled at how we could look at the sun without glasses at the peak of a total eclipse, see this ethereal event with our own eyes, and try to understand its meaning.

There have been a variety of claims going back in time up to just a few days ago that an eclipse is a disruption of the natural order, a sign that we are evil and must repent. That the rapture is at hand, that, as Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene put it in her poppycock statement, “God is sending America strong signs to tell us to repent. Earthquakes and eclipses and many more things to come. I pray that our country listens.”

This may sound too simple, but here it is. The meaning is that we are merely specks in time, alive to watch and enjoy a wondrous celestial event.

And, perhaps nearly as amazing, able to return safely to North Carolina in a dogmobile that might need fumigating.

Larry McDermott is a local retired farmer/journalist. Reach him at