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Solar Eclipse 2017 Greenville, South Carolina

I really don't even know where to start with this blog post. I guess I'll start with my personal experiences with stargazing and viewing celestial events. When I was younger my father had a love for stargazing. He bought me a telescope when I was around 10 years old and he would help point out the planets and of course the moon. When I was about 11 years old, we were able to witness a full solar eclipse where we lived in Venezuela, South America. I still remember that day but I know now that I didn't fully appreciate what I had witnessed. When I first read about the 2017 eclipse, I decided I wanted to witness one more in my lifetime.

I started planning about 8 months prior. At the time, hotel rooms were already filling up. I had chosen Columbia, South Carolina and hotel rooms within downtown were completely booked. I was lucky to find one in the suburbs 15 minutes from downtown. This was 8 months prior!! I checked prices the week before the eclipse date and the scant few rooms available in Greenville and Columbia were going for $800 / night!!! Tip: Plan well in advance!!

Personal commitments and the start of the next college semester prevented my husband and son from coming with us so it was another mother-daughter adventure. The trip down was uneventful and traffic was not too bad. Seven hours later on Sunday, 20 August, 2017, we made it to Columbia. I had been watching the weather diligently for a week and the cloud cover was questionable. I decided late Sunday evening that we would travel to Greenville, SC, 104 miles northwest, since the predicted cloud cover was approximately 25-30% while Columbia, SC was predicted to have 50% cloud cover. Tip: Be as flexible as possible and have a back up location.

I'm so glad we chose Greenville. It is a beautiful and quaint city. There is currently quite a bit of construction in the downtown, Main Street area so that detracted a bit from the overall scenery. But we weren't here to see the city. This was a down and back trip. In and out. Catch the eclipse and hopefully photograph it in all its glory

I knew there would be an influx of people so I researched available parking lots. We left Columbia by 9am and arrived before 11am. The paid parking lot closest to the downtown river park, Falls Park on the Reedy was only a 2 minute walk away and only half full when we arrived. The parking meters were under maintenance and parking was free for that day! Bonus!

My daughter researched restaurants the night before and we found a wonderful organic health food restaurant with build your own salads, great selections of smoothies, and bowls. Happy + Hale on Main St. gets our thumbs up. You can find them in Raleigh and Durham as well. After brunch, we decided we would come back to get an after eclipse açai bowl to fuel us for the ride home.

We found a spot by the river. I calculated the direction of the sun's movement with the app The Photographer's Ephemeris to ensure I had a wide open view of the sun for the entire eclipse. Tip: Walk around to the other side of the river and don't attempt to cross it despite how shallow it looks in some spots. We saw many people fall in and get their belongings (i.e. bags and phones) wet.

Now it was time to wait. I had done my research early on about camera settings. I had my own handmade solar filter cover for my 70-200mm lens with the attached 2.0x and 1.4x teleconverters. The two stacked converters gives me the equivalent of 680mm lens for the big show.

Luna the Frenchie, another eclipse chaser! We try to meet Frenchies wherever we go.

As we waited, people began talking to each other. One lady kindly offered a man her umbrella to give him shade. Another photographer reminded me to keep my camera covered from the hot sun to keep it from overheating. People offered extra glasses they brought along. We spoke to one couple who had flown all the way from San Francisco to Charleston, SC but since thunderstorms were predicted for Charleston, they made the 4 hour drive to Greenville. Another man stated he had been waiting to see and photograph a full solar eclipse for 35 years. One woman became our official timer as she watched her solar eclipse app to give us a countdown. The closer it approached you could see and hear the huge crowd's anticipation building. Finally, it began.

1:19pm Sunspots visible

It started, very slowly at first. Some of the younger kids were a little underwhelmed but parents assured them and reminded them to be patient. The photographers began snapping away adjusting their settings. Drone operators, the two present, hovered their crafts over the crowd recording the event. We watched, snapped photos, talked to each other and looked up constantly. It was, at first, akin to watching grass grow. It was gradual. About halfway into the eclipse, the sunlight had dimmed but it was a different glow. It's similar to when a cloud passes by but the light isn't diffused. it's still sharp, just not as bright. It's hard to describe.

Suddenly, to the crowd's surprise, the 2 dozen geese that had been peacefully swimming in the river departed all in the same direction, west towards the sun. The crowd laughed, clapped, and cheered.

At almost 90% obscured, the crickets and insects began to chirp in unison??!! It was the oddest thing, as if a switch had been turned on. The street lamps automatically illuminated and the crowd's fervor intensified. Some hollered. Some clapped. Some whistled. The sun was about to give us a show of a lifetime.

Our countdown lady gave us the minute warning and we counted down as if it were New Year's Eve. 3-2-1... We were all watching with our glasses on and finally, nothing. Not a single peep of sunlight could be seen through the glasses. I took it off and like everyone else around me, I gasped. It just took my breath away. People were laughing and cheering, clapping, and hugging. It was gorgeous unlike anything I had ever seen in the sky before. I know I witnessed it as a child but I didn't remember how beautiful it was. I turned to my daughter and she still had her glasses on. I told her to take it off and watched her reaction. The smile on her face? Priceless! The photographer next to me who had been waiting for 35 years kept saying wow over and over again.

For two short minutes, we gazed and hurriedly took photos. We knew what was coming next... the diamond ring. I wanted badly to make sure I captured that first bit of sunlight reappearing. It caught us by surprise since we were now looking at it with no glasses. When the sunlight's first rays made it past the moon, it was a piercing and brilliant ray of light, similar to a laser beam. We scrambled to put our glasses back on.

The diamond ring - solar eclipse 2017

As the moon made it's way past the sun, we were all still aghast at what we had witnessed. We gave each other high fives, shared our photos we captured, gave each other a short summary of how it felt and as each person packed up to leave, we all wished each other a safe trip back. Everyone there in that city, in that park, by the river was happy, elated, loving, friendly, and kind. We knew absolutely nothing about each other with the exception of the few bits of information we had shared about ourselves in that short time. We were strangers to each other but we are now connected by this experience alone. This not so subtle reminder by our universe and for many, our God, is that we are infinitesimally small and ephemeral in existence. I took a few post total eclipse shots but didn't photograph the remainder of the eclipse. The die hard photographers and videographers stayed till the very last second. I had to attend to my daughter's needs. I gave her a mama bear hug packed up my lenses and we made our way back to Happy + Hale for a celebratory açai bowl.

The next full solar eclipse will be in 2024, only 7 years from now on April 8th. I've read that at centerline in the path of totality, the full eclipse will last for 4 1/2 minutes! Make plans to see it. Don't settle for a partial eclipse. Choose to see the full eclipse. You won't regret it. Tip: Plan to stay in whatever city you choose the night after it happens. It took us 11 hours to drive back home which normally would have taken 7 hours. Millions watched the celestial show. I overheard someone say on the radio, for the first time in many years, people were looking up at the sky instead of down at their phones.

I'll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite books and a video slideshow below.

Created By
Grace Protzman
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©2017 Copyright Grace Protzman Photography

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