The End is Near(er)


OPINION — For those of you who’ve been living in a box of Post Toasties behind a dumpster for the past year or so, there’s a total solar eclipse scheduled for Monday, April 8. The planned itinerary is for the eclipse to hit North America at Mazatlán, just south of the Baja Peninsula, and then traverse Texas from Eagle Pass through Kerrville and Fredericksburg, on up over Indianapolis and Cleveland, all the way up through New York and Maine, before heading out over the ocean, running into an iceberg, and sinking tragically in the North Atlantic.

Well, that’s pretty much the center of the path, although just about anyone in North America will be able to see at least a partial eclipse. The farther to the northwest or southeast of the path you happen to be, the less eclipsing you’ll get, though. Not only that, but I have it on good authority that the totalest part of the total eclipse will occur in Central Arkansas. Which means the Clinton state will finally have something to recommend it besides moonshine, bad roads, horrible drivers, a saxophone-playing ex-president who needs a belt and suspenders, and the invention of the toothbrush. Not listed in any particular order, for the record.

Total Eclipse happens on April 8, 2024

Total Eclipse happens on April 8, 2024

The only eclipse I remember seeing in my lifetime occurred, I think, in March of 1970. It was only partial in Central Texas, but the schoolteachers played it up admirably. We were told we couldn’t look directly at the Sun with our naked eyeballs without sustaining permanent, irreparable retina damage, whereupon all of us kids immediately turned and looked directly at the Sun, to see if we were being lied to. Which of course we were. Most of us can still see today, more or less.

To be safe, we were told, we had to build ‘eclipse viewers,’ cardboard boxes with holes in them, aluminum foil taped over the holes, with a little pinhole poked in the foil. On the day of the eclipse we all went outside, laid a sheet of white paper on the ground, and held the viewers over the paper, so we could watch a pathetic facsimile of an eclipse, a shadow of the truth, on the paper. It was sad, really. Sort of a preadolescent version of Dante’s cave allegory, I guess.

Instructions on how to create an eclipse viewer out of a box.

Instructions on how to create an eclipse viewer out of a box. 

But it wasn’t sad for long. The paper sheets started to blow away, some kids stood over other kids’ viewers, blocking the sun, fights broke out, and general mayhem ensued. Pretty much what you should expect when you take a bunch of fourth grade kids outside on a pretty day. Or any day.

Later on I read Mark Twain’s ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court,’ and realized how valuable it could be to retain information about when certain eclipses in history occurred. I decided I would memorize the dates of as many impressive, historic, celestial events as I could, in case I ever found myself unexpectedly whisked back into the past for some reason. In fact I never memorized anything, but I’ve also never traveled in time, so it all worked out.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain

But I digress.

The last time I can recall a total solar eclipse happening over a significantly populated piece of real estate, instead of over an ocean someplace, was 21 August 2017. I believe the path of that one crossed the United States from the northwest to the southeast. The path of the one coming up Monday will cross the country from the southwest to the northeast, so the two paths will form a huge X on the land of the free and the home of the brave. And you know what that means.


The conspiracy theorists, of course, are all over it. ‘God is saying he’s going to wipe out our nation, because we’ve abandoned faith and disrespected Earth and disregarded truth and used plastic straws. We’ve banned open prayer in schools and kicked God out of congress and used aerosol deodorant. God’s done with us.’ We have done all those things, of course, I readily admit, but I don’t believe sending two eclipses seven years apart, crossing paths over Cedar Lake in Jackson County, Illinois, is God’s response. If they crossed over Chicago, or St. Louis, or Washington D.C., well, no, not even then. But what do I know?

The entire City of Del Rio is holding The Eclipse Fest with concerts for three nights including Stoney LaRue, William Beckmann, and John Michael Montgomery.

The entire City of Del Rio is holding The Eclipse Fest with concerts for three nights including Stoney LaRue, William Beckmann, and John Michael Montgomery.

For more details about the upcoming Eclipse Fest in Del Rio, see the website.

I know you shouldn’t look directly at the Sun, or else you’re liable to sustain permanent, irreparable retinal damage. I know that. And I know looking at a shadow on a sheet of white paper is no way to enjoy the wonders of nature. What you need is a pair of Solar Eclipse Glasses, which will set you back anywhere from a buck and a half to $1,200, depending on the level of protection you want and how stupid you are. Not that it matters, since those have been sold out pretty much everywhere for the past month.

My advice is to watch the eclipse through the dark lens in your welding hood, but if you’re going to be around other humans you might want to take the lens out and duct tape it to your face, so you don’t look like a goober standing around waiting for the mother ship. What you can’t do is ignore this momentous phenomenon, or you may end up like the two poor fellows memorialized in the old Chinese poem about the solar eclipse of 2136 B.C. –

‘Here lie the bodies of Ho and Hi, whose fate, though sad, is risible; being slain because they could not spy th’ eclipse which was invisible.’

So there’s that . . .

Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and minister who never ignores a celestial event. Write to him at [email protected]

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