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Totality in Vermont


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Totality in Vermont

 

by Gil Violette

 

In April, 2024 at the age of 64,  I made my first attempt to see a total solar eclipse. The April 8, 2024 eclipse shadow passed through northern New Hampshire, a five hour drive from our home in Connecticut.

 

 

Four months before the event, a friend from New Hampshire found a hotel in Gorham - just outside the path of totality - that had vacancies. We booked rooms, but by April 1st had not yet found our viewing location for the 8th.

 

Our best plan at that point was going to one of the many public parking spots in Colebrook, NH, a 75 minute drive from Gorham. It was a good location but came with some compromises. First, there were very limited restroom facilities for the large crowds expected. Also, we planned to set up a couple of telescopes which required some space. Complicating matters further, the fourth member of our group was meeting us at this yet-to-be-determined parking location. They were arriving a couple of hours after us, and we had serious doubts about being able to find each other.

 

Not being sure what to expect, I posted a message on Reddit (/r/newhampshire) offering compensation to a landowner in the path of totality willing to host our group of four. We needed to be able to stay put for 6-8 hours, and requested limited restroom usage (we are not young folks).

It was a shot in the dark, but I’ve met Reddit users in real life before and lived to tell the tale. I had nothing to lose.

 

The initial responses were - interesting. They ran the gamut from “Mods need to remove these posts!!” to utter shock that an older human might need to use the bathroom once or twice in a twelve hour period. One comment suggested I try Massachusetts.

 

I got one PM and replied, but did not receive a response. As another day passed, it looked like Colebrook was going to be our primary viewing spot. We were running out of time, when a ray of sunlight broke through the dark clouds.

 

 

I sent them a PM; we spoke on the phone the next day. Within 48 hours, our plans were final for a new viewing spot in Essex County, Vermont. It was April 4th, four days from totality. Being a short drive from Colebrook, we kept our original plan as an emergency backup. Perfect.

 

Snow

 

A snowstorm hit northern New England on April 4th and 5th. The prospective host sent a photo - along with her doubts the field would be usable on the 8th.

 

 

On the 6th, we packed up our minivan. We headed north on the 7th and hoped for the best. Here is how our (and a couple hundred other folks) eclipse experience panned out.

 

Field of Dreams

 

We left Gorham for the site on 4/8, eclipse morning. When we arrived at 10am, the field was dry! Miraculously, the snow had melted, and Artichoke had decided to extend her outreach.

 

 

We were early, and Artichoke gave us the grand tour - guiding us to a preferred spot for the show.

 

 

 

Artichoke and her husband owned 100 acres - purchased from their ancestors. They built their home on the land themselves and grew their roots deep in the community. They loved the idea of sharing their land for eclipse outreach.

 

As more people arrived over the next four hours, the viewing site gradually turned into a festival for space nerds. The hosts provided eclipse glasses to those without them. Many had passed the site on their way to Colebrook, and turned around when they encountered traffic.

 

We watched all of this unfold as we relaxed in the sun, ate a picnic lunch and set up our gear.

 

 

The homeowners were delightful, explaining the history of the area and making everyone who chose to stop feel welcome. They were available throughout the early afternoon, riding around in an ATV chatting up the guests and providing the occasional needed ride. They rented a port-a-potty! We met a couple hundred wonderful people.

 

Three television news and weather personalities arrived, and brought their families. Several telescopes were set up in the field. Some folks made very clever sun viewers, such as the one shown here.

 

 

We played informal games. One was to nominate someone to say “There’s something you don't see everyday” during totality. Another was to find the person who traveled the farthest to get to the site (California). Folks tossed footballs or played bocce. I went for an extended walk, as did several others. A couple of folks brought dogs, which were allowed if leashed.

 

The sky remained perfectly clear throughout the entire eclipse. Everyone had a great time. We all cheered through totality, and truly shared the experience.

 

 

Ten days prior, Artichoke had no idea she was hosting this event. But she saw my shot-in-the-dark Reddit post and reached out beyond the haters. And together, we became the genesis for a remarkable eclipse experience.

 

 

 

 

 


  • Jim7728, RichNH, markb and 27 others like this


24 Comments

Thank you Gil for sharing this with us , I was a tad worried when no article about the eclipse appeared. It reminded me of the 1999 eclipse in Romania that I witnessed from my home town , it was practically a day long fiesta with the grills at full throttle ( 11th of August , middle of holiday season ! ) 

    • Gil V likes this

Excellent photograph, this is like what I remember seeing, but with Jupiter and Venus visible. 

    • Gil V likes this

Just north of your location, in Magog, Québec...

2024 04 08 Composite 1080p
Album: 2024 Total Solar Eclipse
3 images
0 comments

    • Gil V and Zednik like this
It is amazing how good our weather was that day. Especially on top of all the other things that had to fall into place!
    • Zednik and Bivanus like this

A wonderful read.  Sounds like it was a great experience.  Thanks for taking the time to record your experience and share it here.

    • Gil V and aman125 like this

Thank you for sharing, Gil.  '...reached out beyond the haters' strikes a chord with me and probably applies to the strangers I met in the parking lot of the Derby, VT gas station (just off I91).  I had been chasing totally blue skies for totality; driving from Lebanon, NH to Burlington, VT and finally landing in the Derby gas station.  I asked the store attendants if I could spend a few hours in the parking lot to watch the eclipse.  They replied, 'just stay away from the pumps and the trash bins.'  With that stamp of approval and appreciation for the social convention, I purchased a candy bar and a bottle of water, set up my camera next to my car far away from the gas pumps and the trash, unfolded my chair and proceeded to enjoy the sky show.  Random folks showed up and we shared the fascinating experience together, peacefully and in awe.  We exchanged emails and shared pictures.  Its moments like this that restore one's faith in humanity.  The ground was common.  The time was extraordinary.

    • RichNH, Gil V, Brian1976 and 1 other like this

one of the most amazing things about this eclipse was that the cloudy/clear weather pattern 'almost' matched to April 8 2023 cloudy/clear weather pattern. This is really unheard of in meteorological sense as each day is different and each year would be different too. Many who saw that pattern made pilgrimage to those clear sky spots and were rewarded with amazing views...Gil being one of those people.

    • Gil V and Zednik like this
Don’t give me more credit than I deserve. Once we made the reservations, we were going to northern New England come hell or high water.
    • RichNH, aman125 and mrkhagol like this

That Spring snow storm was a surprise- closed I91 down to one lane in northern Vermont. Got to enjoy the eclipse near Derby, VT -absolutely wonderful! So many people came up to Newport VT the state police closed the exit to the town. 

    • Gil V likes this

My wife and I drove to Burlington VT where we had a great experience with a number of other folks.  We were set up in the parking lot in a commercial/industrial area.  I tried my hand at taking some SER videos of the eclipse but spent most of the time viewing naked eye with occasional looks through my 8X56 Celestron Ultima binocs and my 25X77 spotting scope.  It was an emotional experience for me, generating a profound joy that at 72 I finally got to see a total eclipse, something I've wanted since I was a child.

After the eclipse we ate dinner at the Olive Garden and then at 6PM joined everyone else on Rt 89 for a very leisurely drive (5-15mph).  Waze told us to get off the highway so we did and took to the back roads, going up and over mountain ridges on roads that sometimes turned to dirt at the ridge tops.   Finally gave up and at 10:30PM we grabbed a room at a hotel on the VT/NH border where Rt 89 crosses. Normally that would have been about an 80 minute drive.

The next morning at breakfast we and the other guests shared experiences driving on backroads that turned to dirt roads as they went over the ridges of the Green Mountains and going up the slopes with switchback after switchback to the point where my wife just closed her eyes and said prayers!  A bunch of the cars in the hotel parking lot had mud on them, we weren't the only ones who traveled on dirt roads!  Finally got home about 9:30AM.

It was quite the experience and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

    • ajaymandke, AndrewHC and Gil V like this

We live in way southern Vermont, and had planned to make the drive north and stop in some random roadside pull-off or parking lot, but then I had the idea to contact the Vermont Astronomical Society, and ask if we might visit their observatory site in Hinesburg, about 20 mins south of Burlington.  They graciously invited us to come up, and we spent the day with about 25 other astronomers and some of their families.  I had met some of the members at Stellafane, so we weren't just strangers on the field, which was nice!  I set up my 120ED with a filter, and offered views with that all through the event, and the weather co-operated with some light high-level clouds which fuzzed the view out a bit, but didn't have much impact on totality.  We drove both ways on VT Rt 7, the main north-south route through western VT, and there were slowdowns approaching some of the towns, which added maybe 15 mins to the drive up, and maybe 45 to the drive south, a minor inconvenience compared to those of you who endured the 89-91-95 adventure.  I had seen three partials, but never a total, I was glad and honored to be able to witness this event!  Thanks again to the VAS for their hospitality!

    • RichNH and Gil V like this

Thank you for sharing your story, and for persevering the melting snow. Great that the weather cooperated! My extended family and I enjoyed the eclipse from Jasper, Indiana. 

    • Gil V likes this

Sounds like you had a great adventure. We traveled to Texas for totality but was met with thick clouds for most of the eclipse. We still observed and took many pictures but the clouds did give an ominous look to the eclipse. 

    • Gil V likes this

Great report... thanks!

    • Gil V likes this
Photo
musikerhugh
May 04 2024 05:17 PM

Great story - an astronomical Woodstock.
I am also from CT (maybe hook up sometime?) and improvised at the last minute as well. I found out an old friend had rented a big house in Burlington that could sleep 14 and he still had room for 4 of us. So instead of driving up before dawn on the day of the eclipse and dealing with traffic and crowds, we went up the day before, shared communal meals, bottles of wine, a night of guitars and singing, cemented some old friendships and started some new ones. I brought my 8" Dob with solar filter, which was a big hit with adults and kids, and during totality was able to point out Venus and Jupiter. Our neighbor, it turned out, was a photographer for Vermont Public and shared her photos with us in return for a peek through the telescope. During the 4 minutes of totality there was cheering and crying and that feeling you get when you know you will always remember where you were and who you were with on this day.

Historically, the shared experience of astronomical events like this have made lasting impacts on cultures and communities. Maybe, just maybe, this part of the world became a little smaller, people a little closer, haters a little hushed by that touch of awe we were all seeking together. 

    • Gil V and Zednik like this
Beautiful thoughts.

Our little group had made plans to go to Texas back in 2020! We were going to follow the best meteorological models. Well, it was touch and go until we got to the little town of Killeen and a lovely park. Although I had been nervous about crowds and traffic, my anxieties proved without merit. Just several families were picnicking as we set up our cameras. We had to view partiality through some clouds, but as totality approached, the clouds parted like the Red Sea and we all were once again awe-struck. This was my 5th total eclipse and I hope to see at least one more.

Michael

    • Gil V likes this

Hi Gil.  Glad you had a chance to see the eclipse and share your story.  It's been a long time since the Criterion days, hope all is well. 

    • Gil V likes this

thanks for this amazing story, and the pic is amazing

    • Gil V likes this

 Gil, I am glad you had a great experience, there's plenty of room for things to go wrong in a situation like this. I really enjoyed the one time I threw a trip together which went well!

Here at home in Va., we expected the worst and got much better. The clouds cleared for the first half through maximum, and then returned to block the second half. I purchased two boxes of eclipse glasses and gave them to my neighbors. All thanked me and some apparently viewed when they had not planned to.

I even managed to get a few images myself. All in all, I think this may have been the most viewed eclipse with the highest level of interest the US has seen.

Thank you for the account of your trip, it was good to read and relive my own experience!

    • Gil V likes this

This is lovely.  Reddit has many nuggets of goodness, just like all online communities I guess.  Glad you got to see it.

    • Gil V likes this
Vineyard,

Thank you for your kind remarks! A lot of my writing isn’t very good, but even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while.
    • vineyard likes this

Thanks for the great narrative Gil.  Allowed me to relive my time in VT for the eclipse.  Where Waze took us at the same time as you to avoid 89 was amusing to my wife and I.  Not the main road (I 89) or the road it replaced (US 4, although we spent some time on that) but some random dirt road that happened to be in the right place.  Hearing from other folks 89 was a picnic compared to coming down 93.

    • Gil V likes this

Thank you for sharing. Good pictures and good writing.

    • Gil V likes this


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