I am writing this column as a foreign correspondent this week.
OK, I’m not really outside the borders of the U.S. I just started with that to get your attention. In fact, I’m not even outside the borders of Wyoming, although, if you give me about 20 minutes, I could be in Nebraska.
This relocation has two purposes: One is that it gives my wife an opportunity to visit with her family, several members of which have traveled to this location — including a few she doesn’t often have a chance to visit with. This is not an unpleasant thing, because I like my in-laws. They are mostly the product of rural upbringing and are friendly, pleasant people — although I have avoided political discussions to make sure the visiting remained on a friendly basis. That was a good thing, even though eliminating politics from my thinking for several days robbed me of a major source of inspiration for writing this column.
The second reason for our visit is the result of something that happened a few years ago. That’s when my sister-in-law’s husband retired from ranching and his family sold the ranch. After that, they moved from their rather remote former home to a nice house just outside of Torrington, from which we were able to see the total eclipse of the sun.
We had a lot of company. The intense interest drew relatives and a few friends from North Dakota and Colorado to join the party. Better yet, it enticed our Minnesota daughter’s family — which visited us in Powell just a month ago — to return for a second helping of Wyoming to visit her cousins. As a side benefit, her husband, an avid fly fisherman, was able to join most of the men on a rather successful fishing trip near Laramie Peak, leaving me, a non-fisherman unable to negotiate rough terrain, at home to be cared for by the ladies and my grandson, who, at the age of 8, hasn’t learned to fish yet.
Given all that visiting, watching the eclipse might have become just a sideshow. It is, however, the catalyst that brought me to Torrington last weekend. I could have stayed in Powell and seen 97 percent of the eclipse, but I’ve seen partial eclipses before, in Worland back in the ’60s and, a couple of decades later, in Greybull. Having an opportunity to experience a total eclipse was too tempting to let go.
Even so, I could have taken a much shorter drive and watched the event from Thermopolis, but the added attraction of another visit with grandchildren made the 400 or so mile trip across the state mandatory. One can never get enough grandchildren time, especially when they live so far away. Besides, in Thermopolis, I would likely have oohed and aahed in a crowd of strangers. Here I have been among family — even if I am only related to most of them by virtue of marrying the right woman.
Chinese astronomers understood the cause of solar eclipses before the birth of Christ, and by about 200 A.D., the Greek astronomer Ptolemy was able to predict some lunar eclipses. By 1600, western astronomers had developed more accurate methods and by 1715 science has regularly predicted solar eclipses.
Now, though, science has reached an extreme level of accuracy, which is why I knew exactly what time the eclipse would take place, how long it would last and where I could stand in order to see the moon almost completely darken the sun.
I have only a layman’s understanding of the mechanics of the universe I live in, and I have no skill at all in the mathematics used to predict this eclipse. Consequently, I am in awe of the precision of the prediction that brought me clear across Wyoming for this event.
Sure enough, the moon began its rendezvous with the sun right on schedule and just before 11 a.m., it provided the anticipated spectacle. The sky darkened, the air cooled and the horizon glowed with shades of pink and orange. Along with the kids, we were all wowed as we viewed the sun’s corona from the shadow of the moon.
By the time you read this, we will be back at home in Powell, but the spectacle we saw will be with us forever. It was well worth the trip.