We went to see the eclipse and found a community.
We traveled 350 miles from our home in Tulsa to Fairmont, Nebraska to witness the solar eclipse. Despite 70% cloud cover, at the time of totality the sun was in patch of blue sky, giving a clear view of the event. It was indeed an awesome sight.
This short diary isn’t about that, though. It’s about our experience in the village of Fairmont.
First, the community had spent months planning for the event. They anticipated a rush of outsiders arriving and, with planning and foresight, welcomed us to their small town. There were viewing areas in two local parks, a fly-in to the local airstrip, and many community volunteers serving sandwiches, water, and other sundries to the visitors. The community had rented porta-potties for their guests. The library even had a supply of viewing glasses. along with eclipse information.
Fairmont welcomed us with open arms.
We found a place to park on a street near downtown where a family from Texas had set up a telescope for viewing. As I got out our car, I heard them asking if anyone had an extra set of viewing glasses. As it happened, the place I’d purchased ours sold them in packets of five, so I had three spares. I gave one of them to the telescope guys, which they used to jury-rig a filter for one of their cell phones. They were sharing their telescope with anyone who wanted to look—this was about noon, when the moon already occluded about 25% of the solar disk.
The local AmVets was nearby, so I strolled down there to get some bottled water. I overheard a distressed man who was looking for viewing glasses for himself and his daughter. It seems the library, despite their preparations, had run out. I offered our remaining two spares to them. They seemed thunderstruck and kept insisting on paying me for them. I asked, “Why would I want that?” After all, they were (a) inexpensive; (b) I didn’t need them; and (c) they’d be worthless in about an hour in any case. He eventually just agreed that a handshake was enough payment.
When totality came, the telescope guys took the filter off their scope and placed their cell phone next to the eyepiece to take stunning pictures. They even did the same for bystanders—they took the picture on this diary using my cell phone. Bear in mind, they took time to share in this way with strangers during the all-too-brief 150 seconds of totality.
When it was over, we thanked the telescope guys again for their generosity. They, too, shook our hands and wished us a safe trip home. We did the same for them—they had travelled from Texas.
In this small, doubtless conservative, Nebraska village, we found community and common purpose. The eclipse brought us together.
If something inanimate can bring us together, I was left to ponder why it is so hard to come together on the many challenges facing our nation. But that’s not for this diary. Instead, I’m grateful to have, for one day, found so much good will in a community of strangers.