For one day, sun, moon unite frac­tured coun­try

Austin American-Statesman Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael E. Ruane

The cen­ter­line of Mon­day’s to­tal so­lar eclipse comes ashore about 10 a.m. Pa­cific Day­light Time on the rugged coast of Ore­gon near a place called De­poe Bay, where 40-ton gray whales spout and feed in the shal­low wa­ter.

At 2,000 mph, the line, like one down the mid­dle of a high­way, streaks in­land south of Salem.

It goes over an ex­tinct vol­cano in Idaho, a Stone­henge-like sculp­ture of junked cars in Ne­braska and crosses the Mis­souri River blocks from where Jesse James was killed.

Weather per­mit­ting, the cen­ter of the 70-mile-wide band of

to­tal­ity will de­liver the most sec­onds of com­plete eclipse, ex­perts say, as it links a frac­tured coun­try for one day on a path of his­tory, geography and the moon’s rac­ing shadow.

“When the Earth re­minds us that there are tremen­dous forces out there be­yond our con­trol, it helps us to re­mem­ber who we are,” said Cheri Ward, 56, who has a blue­berry farm out­side McClel­lanville, S.C., near the path’s cen­ter.

Along its 2,500-mile jour­ney, it crosses the Ore­gon Trail, the Santa Fe Trail, the Ap­palachian Trail and the route of the Pony Ex­press. And it ex­its the coun­try just be­fore 3 p.m. Eastern Day­light Time over Five Fathom Creek, in the Cape Ro­main Na­tional Wildlife Refuge, with its two aged light­houses, north­east of Charleston, S.C.

While the band of to­tal­ity is miles wide, “it really mat­ters how close you are to the cen­ter,” said Geneviève de Mes­sières of the Smith­so­nian Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum.

“Along that cen­ter­line you have a better chance of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the full glory of the eclipse,” she said.

One place that will see max­i­mum time of to­tal­ity is the old rail­road ham­let of Makanda, in south­ern Illi­nois.

To­tal­ity: more than 2 minutes 40 sec­onds.

The event has “taken a lit­tle town that’s not on any­body’s map to ... the cen­ter of na­tional con­ver­sa­tion,” said Jeremy Schu­macher, who works at the Eclipse Kitchen restau­rant there.

Makanda, pop­u­la­tion about 600, now seems like “the cen­ter of the sun, and moon and Earth and ev­ery­thing,” he said.

This is the first coast-to-coast eclipse in the United States since 1918, the Smith­so­nian In­sti­tu­tion said.

Mil­lions of Americ ans are ex­pected to con­verge on the zone of to­tal­ity to ob­serve, clog traf- fic and munch pan­cakes, bar­be­cue and pizza.

Com­mem­o­ra­tive T-shirts and eclipse glasses by the thou­sands have been made.

Many schools will be closed, in­clud­ing at least one that has de­clared Aug. 21 “a snow day.”

Some lo­cales are wary of the hordes of eclipsers, fear­ful that small com­mu­ni­ties and in­fra­struc­tures will be over­whelmed by hun­gry peo­ple who also have to go to the bath­room.

Oth­ers see an op­por­tu­nity to preach, make money or wel­come visi­tors to for­got­ten way­points of Amer­i­can his­tory and land­scape.

Ar­row Rock, Mo. — pop­u­la­tion is 56, “on a good day,” said Sandy Selby, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Friends of Ar­row Rock — was once a thriv­ing port on the Mis­souri River. The river has long since changed its course, and the vil­lage is now a his­toric site. But it is com­ing alive again for the eclipse.

“We’ve got some­one com­ing in from Ire­land,” Selby said. “We’ve got some peo­ple com­ing in from Canada . ... We’ve had peo­ple call­ing from all over. They want to be here. Or they want to be some­where on the line.”

“If you’re com­ing from Ire­land, you don’t want to be a mile away from the line,” she said. “You want to be on the line.”

“My hope is that when it hap­pens, that peo­ple will be quiet,”

she said. “That for two minutes and 39 sec­onds we’ll have si­lence, and we’ll take that time to just re­flect on how spe­cial this is.”

On the high plains of north­west Ne­braska, north of Al­liance, where Army pi­lots trained in World War II, a mys­te­ri­ous cir­cle of gray ob­jects rises from the flat ex­panse of farm­land. The ob­jects closely re­sem­ble Bri­tain’s 4,000-year-old Stone­henge, a mys­ti­cal place of pil­grim­age for neo-druids, sol­stice watch­ers and le­gions of tourists. But this mon­u­ment is made of 39 junked cars.

It’s Carhenge, per­haps the most cos­mic spot in the coun­try to watch the eclipse. And it has an im­pres­sive two minutes and 28 sec­onds of to­tal­ity.

Carhenge was as­sem­bled in 1987 by Jim Rein­ders, the son of a Ne­braska tenant farmer, to honor his late fa­ther.

Rein­ders, 89, plans to be at Carhenge on Mon­day, re­port­edly along with Ne­braska Gov. Pete Rick­etts and thou­sands of oth­ers.

But the cre­ator of “Stone­henge west,” as he calls it, sees no mys­ti­cal as­pect to the eclipse.

“It’s an astro­nom­i­cal fact that’s been pre­dicted for hun­dreds of years, and they know when the next one will be,” he said.

“I don’t see any sig­nif­i­cance to it what­so­ever,” he said. “It’s just an event that will hap­pen ev­ery 99 years, or what­ever.

“Let’s en­joy it.”

‘When the Earth re­minds us that there are tremen­dous forces out there be­yond our con­trol, it helps us to re­mem­ber who we are.’ Cheri Ward Owns a blue­berry farm out­side McClel­lanville, S.C., near the path’s cen­ter

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