In search of wonder, a family heads north for the solar eclipse

We’re minutes away from a total solar eclipse, and I’m scribbling in my green notebook, trying to record my impressions of a family trip in search of wonder, a once-in-a-generation celestial event. So rare and special that Sylvester is missing a day of fifth grade. 

I tell myself that he’s being schooled in the science of the cosmos, the movement of planets. You can’t learn that in a classroom. Actually, you can, and he did already. (We have the artwork.) But here we are, sprawled out on a town common in Waterbury, Vermont, along with dozens of other eclipse watchers, counting down to the magic moment.

Why We Wrote This

Our reporter Simon Montlake, like many parents, wanted his son to experience the wonder of a total solar eclipse. As so often happens with parenting, the one left most in awe by the celestial event was not the fifth grader.

Sylvester peers into my lap. “Will you be able to write in the dark?” he asks. 

Sure, I tell him. But when the eclipse happens, I can’t. Words fail me. Or I fail them. Only afterward do I pick up my pen. But nothing will measure up to the majesty of the light that we see and the vertiginous sensation of day becoming not-night, not-day. It lasts less than three minutes. Three head-spinning, heart-stopping minutes.

“I can’t wait for it to go dark,” says Sylvester. He wiggles in his camp chair, and I look over at my son. His dark hair flops over a pair of protective eclipse glasses as he angles his head toward the waning afternoon sun. 

We’re minutes away from a total solar eclipse, and I’m scribbling in my green notebook, trying to record my impressions of a family trip in search of wonder, a once-in-a-generation celestial event. So rare and special that Sylvester is missing a day of fifth grade. 

I tell myself that he’s being schooled in the science of the cosmos, the movement of planets. You can’t learn that in a classroom. Actually, you can, and he did already. (We have the artwork.) But here we are, sprawled out on a town common in Waterbury, Vermont, along with dozens of other eclipse-watchers, counting down to the magic moment. And we’re not the only ones skipping school. Friends have gone even further north to St. Johnsbury, which is smack-dab in the path of totality. And we unexpectedly run into another family we know from Cambridge, Massachusetts, on the common. 

Why We Wrote This

Our reporter Simon Montlake, like many parents, wanted his son to experience the wonder of a total solar eclipse. As so often happens with parenting, the one left most in awe by the celestial event was not the fifth grader.

Sylvester peers into my lap. “Will you be able to write in the dark?” he asks. 

Sure, I tell him. But when the eclipse happens, I can’t. Words fail me. Or I fail them. Only afterward do I pick up my pen. But nothing will measure up to the majesty of the light that we see and the vertiginous sensation of day becoming not-night, not-day. It lasts less than three minutes. Three head-spinning, heart-stopping minutes. 

As the crowd whoops and wows its appreciation at the spectacle, Sylvester turns to me again, his brown eyes no longer hidden by dark plastic panes. “The moon is covering the sun! Take a photo of it, Dad.” 


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