Once in a Lifetime Event

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“Wrong Turns Write Life”

My daughter called from Washington, D.C., to say she was going to fly in for the Total Solar Eclipse.

“The what?” I asked, unaware of the hype beginning to build for a celestial event nearly a year away.

I wasn’t in the dark any longer. I learned that we could drive just 90 minutes to Greenville, Ohio, or four hours to Avon Lake, Ohio, at the opposite end of the state to see TOTALITY—a word that was becoming all the buzz. These two towns were predicted to have the longest time in “totality.” The weird thing is Greenville, near Dayton, is where my wife’s parents live, and Avon Lake, near Cleveland, is where my family lives.

“So, which side of the family should we make plans with? I asked my daughter.

She said she was not committing until the day before to check cloud cover, etc.

This phenomenon would take place, after all, during spring in Ohio. I was convinced that we were not going to see anything spectacular except the daylight dim no matter where we ended up in Ohio. The once-in-a-lifetime event last happened here about a hundred years earlier, give or take, and wouldn’t happen again for another hundred years from now. So, we had to make an attempt to do it right.

As the magical day neared, the fear-mongers were out in force, saying the roads across the state would be at a standstill. What would normally be a one-hour drive might take eight! The governor even declared a statewide emergency well in advance.

Meanwhile, my sister in Avon Lake took on the role of unofficial promoter for her town. Come here, there are all kinds of activities and events happening that day so even if it’s cloudy, we’ll have fun. No matter the pitch, we were going where our kids decided, and that’s not happening until the day before. Our son lives in Columbus, and he’d pick up our daughter at the airport there, putting them a couple of hours or less from each possible destination, or if the fear-mongers were right, 16 hours.

Being in the world of Ohio tourism as a profession, every town, whether expected to have a partial or total eclipse experience, advertised the best of times if you came there. To each their own, some were seeking the festive atmosphere, crowd reactions, and a communal experience. Others, like me, wanted solitude to really be all-in, so to speak.

Meanwhile, my sister was openly willing good weather in our family text group 3—2—1 day out.

“It’s so nice here right now. Absolutely gorgeous for this time of year.”

Yeah, yeah, sis, but this is Ohio, and what is nice now may not be in 3—2—1 days.

The forecast was as predicted the day before E-Day, with about 50 percent cloud cover blanketing both ends of the state. Our daughter made the big decision—we were going to meet up in Greenville. It was simply closer. Our son had to work the next day and was worried that the roads would be in such gridlock that it might take well into the night to get back.

The more imminent problem was sleeping space at my in-law’s house. They were very active collectors/archaeologists/historians. They had long ago turned spare bedrooms (any spare space, really) into scenes that one would imagine a museum has going on in back rooms. There, mountains of this or that needed to be inventoried, cataloged, or stored.

However, the weather forecast had the overnight temperature a bit chilly, but it was ideal for pitching tents in their country yard. Besides, a night in the natural elements would ground us for the natural wonder to take place the next day. That was my thinking, anyway.

One tent was newish (compared to the other, at least), but although it said 4-person, we all knew four of us inside would literally leave zero wiggle room. That meant bringing the larger and older tent. The one that had the cord in the poles rotted and snapped. I had bought the supplies to repair it but never did. My wife restrung the poles, so we set it up next to the other one.

“Eww, it’s musty inside,” my wife said.

“Hey kids (they’re in their 20s), which tent would you like, the spacious one or the smaller one?”

My wife told them about the musty smell, so of course, they chose the non-musty-smelling one. Later, I was happy they did.

That night, it rained! My wife woke up and said she was getting wet. Sure enough, the tent was leaking, and a puddle formed inside. We picked a dry corner, huddled up, and assessed that if things didn’t get worse and we made it until morning status quo, we’d chalk it up as a win.

Midway through the night, I needed to go inside to use the bathroom. It was about 3AM, so my father-in-law and I startled each other when our paths crossed.

“I woke up with ideas about the project I’m working on over at the fort, and if I don’t write it down, I’ll forget,” he explained.

He’s been known to wake in his man cave at the computer chair to look at the clock, see it say 2:00, and wonder if it was day or night.

At first light, I asked my wife how she slept.

“Well, let me see, one foot kept touching water if I stretched it out, and you were snoring right in my face so loudly my hair was blowing whenever I turned toward you.”

My in-laws were headed to the local park for the eclipse because of the local historical tie to Ohio’s last total solar eclipse. Tensions were mounting in the years before the War of 1812. The legendary Shawnee Chief Tecumseh and his brother nicknamed The Prophet, were challenged in 1806 by William Henry Harrison. Harrison wanted to discredit them before their followers. He asked The Prophet to cause the sun to stand still, the moon to alter its course, rivers to stop flowing, and the dead to rise from the earth. And if he succeeds, then he will have proven he was sent from God. Legend has it that The Prophet leaned into the demand and proclaimed that in just 50 days, when the sun was high overhead, the Great Spirit would hide it, and day would turn to night. Indeed, the prophecy was fulfilled, and Ohio experienced a total solar eclipse.

Being well-steeped in this local history, Grandma and Grandpa chose the Tecumseh experience. The rest of us contemplated the traffic compounded afterward by adding an hour or more to get from the park back here and from here to home and work. We chose simplicity, solitude, and serenity over crowds. At the last minute, my wife’s empty nest cousin drove solo from Cincinnati to join us.

The property next to my in-laws was vast vacant farmland. We walked about 500 feet and laid out chairs, blankets, and snacks. My daughter turned on her eclipse playlist, and we talked, laughed, and waited. The sky looked promising.

We made a pact: There would be no cameras, music, or talking during totality—all four minutes of it.

The event proved to be a bizarre experience none of us expected. I mean, photos of other eclipses online gave us an idea, but the reality was something that will be remembered as a once-in-a-lifetime event (unless you choose to become an eclipse-chaser). The next one is in Iceland. But imagine if, after making that trek, it was overcast!

The horses across the creek sensed the peculiarity and reared, kicked, and whinnied in objection.

Birds were silenced, but some called out. Those were the morning birds, confused, explained the birders in my family.

The stillness and silence made each of us one with the grand celestial event. The black disc slowly engulfed the fireball high in the sky.

Then, there was nothing to see at all.

A warm day was suddenly so cold!

That’s when my wife reminded us it was now safe to remove our eclipse glasses.

When we did…

WOW!

A farm family over the next hill cut through the silence, gasping at the sight.

My son, who never seems moved by much, gasped, “Oh, Wow!” Completely unprepared by the actual human sight of TOTALITY.

It’s how we all felt. No photo out there represented what we saw. Either the pics were just lousy or overly edited or enhanced to show something our naked eyes didn’t see.

It was a moment.

And four minutes of totality was a long moment at that.

I looked away from the spectacle in the sky and was taken aback by the strange, unworldly hue of the treeline nearby and the uncut tall grass field. There isn’t a camera filter made that resembles this hazy Martian-esque look. It was surreal.

We were purely living in the moment. Everything connected in that solemn field.

No other people, cars, planes, or the hum of electricity—you know, the hum you didn’t know was so loud until it stopped.

Someone reminded me, “No camera; use your eyes instead.”

We soaked it in. The scene was genuinely absorbed by our senses.

It was an unobstructed, uninhibited moment of purity in nature (or near so) on an overpopulated planet and culture where peace and quiet are almost extinct—even on nature trails.

When totality ended, we put our protective eyewear back on and chattered non-stop about how much more it was than even our imaginations prepared us for. And speaking of imaginations, the roads were nothing near the Armageddon the news folk warned us about.

But I’ll remember more than just the eclipse. The series of events brought my immediate family together for an unforgettable experience—something rare now that everyone has grown and flown.

“Hey, anyone up for Iceland 2026?”

By Frank Rocco Satullo, The OhioTraveler, Your Tour Guide to Fun! 

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