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Under the totality

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The Observer and family decided last minute to ditch work and school to make for central Missouri on Aug. 21 so as to be among the millions of folks who did the same to catch the shadow of the moon, creeping coast-to-coast during the eclipse. As a lad, we'd seen a partial eclipse. The Boy Observer was helping tear off and replace the roof of a house over in the Broadmoor neighborhood in Little Rock at the time. We remember the dusky light, the wispy horsetails of sunlight on the concrete, projections of the eclipse crescent refracted through the trees, an hour so full of strangeness that it caused even sunburnt old roofers to pause.

This year, The Boy grown gray, Yours Truly, Spouse and Junior wound up at St. Joe State Park in Farmington, Mo., a lovely little place that's half green oasis and half moonscape, the parched and dusty tailings of a vast old mining operation having been opened to ATV riders and dune-buggy riders. Our eclipse perch was a huge expanse of manicured grass on the shore of a lake that shimmered in the lee of tree-lined hills. Perhaps 75 others were there, coming from as far away as Minnesota, New York, New Mexico and The Queen's England.

The buildup was pretty much what you got if you watched in Little Rock: first a monster-bitten cookie, then the moon coming on, upstaging her more brilliant sister. The last few moments before totality were extraordinary, though. The light became queer and dreamlike; blue, purple, almost unfocused, iridescent, if iridescent can be said to be a color. Then, in the span of a second, the moon dropped fully over the sun like a lid on a deep well, covering us.

You can look at the sun with the naked eye while it is totally eclipsed. It's a strange feeling to stare at something your eyes have avoided by instinct since the day you were born. What we observed was almost unfathomably beautiful and truly defies description, though we're giving it the ol' college try here. The crickets began to sing in the woods, and the temperature dropped 15 degrees. Around the black disk of the moon and ghostly corona of the sun, the brighter stars and planets swarmed through the darkness. Out on the lake, the image of the eclipse played on the rippling water, and when The Observer looked around, we were greeted with a 360-degree dusk at the horizon, red and yellow and black, the daylight still out there and trying to retake the world.

It was like that for two minutes or so, and other than Junior's birth, it was the most beautiful thing we've ever seen in this life, bar none, no exceptions. We turned Spouse's face and planted a kiss on her in the half-light, grabbed Junior and hugged him; told them both they were loved and thought the unspoken: that I was glad to be there with them and alive in a world so full of wonder. Your Old Pal doesn't exaggerate when we say it was life-changing.

While we're usually content to observe in the moment rather than through some gadget, we shot video of some of totality with our phone. When we watched it later, The Observer realized he'd laughed all the way through the dark, gibbering in unmitigated awe like a person in the thick of an LSD trip. "It's like a hole in the sky!" we exclaimed at one point, to no one in particular. Thinking of it all now, it feels like a beautiful dream we had, not quite real, not quite imaginary. There's a lot of stuff we say we'll never forget, but that moment will truly and surely be among our deathbed recollections, as we cast off the mooring lines and set sail for the Far Shore, a reminder that the intermittent loveliness of this existence, however much we get of it, was worth all the pain.

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