As a small group of office workers stood outside their downtown Astoria business Monday, quietly watching the moon eclipse the sun, the overture from the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey” began playing in the background. For listeners, the music and the images it conjured provided an appropriately funny and memorable moment. It also provided an immediate reminder of the wonder of the universe and the small role each of us have in it — just one of the many takeaways from an event not soon forgotten.
Across the state, Oregonians and the throngs of visitors who trekked here to watch the solar eclipse came together and experienced the awe as part of the state turned to darkness during midmorning. Stars came out and temperatures dropped throughout the “path of totality,” the 70-mile-wide swath across Oregon where the total eclipse was visible. For the rest of the state the eclipse was partial, with 97.4 percent coverage viewable in our region. Oregon was one of 14 states in the path of the total eclipse and the first to experience it.
Somewhat like Y2K, there were dire worries beforehand about the influx of traffic and visitors who would jam highways, cause gridlock and overload telecommunications, complicated by wildfires in the rural areas near and along the path of totality. But forest fires didn’t trap anyone, and telecommunications didn’t crash. Traffic jams weren’t as bad as expected. On the North Coast it was “just like a busy weekend,” said Oregon Department of Transportation spokesman Lou Torres. “We didn’t encounter anything we couldn’t handle.”
But because of the concerns, it gave the state and regional emergency planners a live opportunity to test preparations for worst-case scenarios, wisely using practice runs for a massive earthquake as a template. In the coming weeks they’ll evaluate the experience and tweak future plans. Total visitor counts aren’t in yet but will also be taken into consideration, planners said.
Closer to home, one of the thankful takeaways was that common sense prevailed. Watchers heeded warnings not to look at the sun directly and there were no local reports of eye damage or other problems.
For many who watched, the largest takeaways were individual and the reflections of wonder the eclipse spurred.
That wonder need not stop with the celestial event. Our universe is full of wonder on a daily basis, in and around us everywhere for those who take the time to notice and experience it.