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Moments of Wonder...

Updated: Apr 13

To be a complete human, I believe we need to regularly experience things that connect us to our soul – moments of kindness and joy to be sure, but also, seeking out moments of wonder to round out my sense of my humanity.  

Wonder comes to me in many forms – watching a bee carefully pick its way across a flower, pollen clinging to its tiny under-body; gazing down on the baby soft face of my new-born granddaughter; feeling the heat of a sunbeam on my arm in the middle of winter – moments of wonder are aplenty if you’re looking for them.

Yesterday was, however, one of the days of WONDER… yes, all caps… as I experienced the totality of a solar eclipse. On April 8, 2024 across a narrow band of North America, the path of totality could be seen. The path of totality simply means that 100% of the sun was to be covered by the moon for up to three minutes depending on where you stood. I’d heard that seeing this phenomenon was unlike any other eclipse, and I wanted to be part of it.

The path of totality in my region basically followed along the great St. Lawrence River, about 90 minutes south and east from where I live in Ottawa, Ontario. Hubby and I got in the car and sped down to a park on the river, driving along with thousands of other people in a nose-to-tail convoy, everyone peeling off at different points depending on where they planned to be for their viewing experience.

Bruce and I drove to a spot called “Galup Canal Park” where the St. Lawrence narrows and the way is blocked by rapids. Galop Canal was built in 1846, part of the original canal system that helped ships avoid the rapids as goods moved from place to place along the river. It was abandoned in the 1950s with the modernization of the canal system, accommodating much larger ships to move goods across the Atlantic Ocean into the Great Lakes system. Now, the tiny island that remains shows the ruins of the canal, old concrete footings gradually being covered by moss and soil. It’s now part of the South Nation Conversation Area and a key way point for birds and bird migration. It’s a beautiful spot to picnic and, it turns out, to watch a solar eclipse.

Hubby and I have a habit of pulling into things “just in time” and today was no different. We parked on the country road we took along the river, and walked down the gravel road that was full full full of parked cars... parked by people who arrived before us and who were already settled at the park. Crossing two small bridges that spanned the old canals, one concrete and the other wooden, we found a spot on the grass and got settled.

Groupings of people peppered the park, telescopes and cameras at the ready; a carnival atmosphere buzzed in the air. Out came our necessities: the lawn chairs and warm coats, the charcuterie board with the fixings (cheese, sausage, crackers), and the eclipse glasses, flimsy cardboard glasses that did a surprisingly good job of both protecting our eyes and helping us see the moon journey its way across the face of the sun.

Sliver by sliver, moment by moment the moon obscured the sun, and along with it the temperature dropped and the quality of the light shifted, getting darker and kind of rosier as daylight turned to dusk. More and more of the sun disappeared until it was gone completely. The temperature dropped suddenly, and a ring of light appeared around the moon, the sun bleeding out like a string of pearls, iridescent in its beauty. We took off our glasses as this could be seen with the naked eye, without fear of being blinded.

As I looked up, sun flares appeared here and there around the circle, some gold and others, slightly orange. The sky itself was kind of cloudy, but at this point was slate grey and utterly unreal. Pictures don’t do it justice. I watched, hoping to keep the memory in both my mind’s eye and heart.

My heart pounded, and I felt breathless as I looked up at this natural phenomenon. I felt transfixed at the black moon, its detail completely obscured.

I was glad we were watching with other people, as their cries of wonder created a collective experience I won’t soon forget. And when the moon moved just enough to create the much anticipated “diamond ring,” and the sun peeked out from behind the moon, people yelled and cheered as if the Sens (our local hockey team) had finally scored a goal! Wonder and joy rose to crescendo!

The air got suddenly warmer as the sun reappeared, eclipse glasses back in place as daylight returned, full strength. And then, just like that, people packed up, returned to their cars, and drove home. Back to their lives.

Bruce and I both felt a sense of emotional whiplash as the crowd moved so quickly from wonder to practicality. We sat in our chairs for a while, people streaming past as we stayed still, basking in what we had just experienced, watching the crescent move across the other side of the sun’s face until it was no more. Still feeling the tingle of wonder.

For your added enjoyment, please visit my podcast to hear the sound I recorded while viewing this incredible event.

photo credit: Bruce Akins



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