April 17, 2024

COLUMN: Something greater

Make your own case

Those glasses may be somewhere in the basement in one of those boxes.

That was part of a recent discussion I was in about the solar eclipse to happen next Tuesday. In the U.S., people in certain parts of Texas, and those following the path of totality as it goes in a northeast direction through Cleveland, Buffalo, the eastern Great Lakes and New England states, will proverbially be first in line to have the best view.

That may remind us here in southwest Iowa when we had a better view of the same thing that happened in August 2017. I remember it, not just because of the event itself, but how society responded to it in preparation. The big thing was schools, including the one my kids attended at the time, delayed the first day of the school year by one day so students could watch the event early in the afternoon.

I remembered being in junior high when Halley’s Comet made its appearance, which is about every 76 years. Now, after seeing the eclipse in 2017, I regret not taking time to find Halley’s Comet in the sky. My wife Jennifer remembers being awaken in the overnight hours by her father to watch. Halley’s Comet return is to be July 2061. I’ll be old enough as a president or senator by then. Great American writer Mark Twain was born and died the years Halley’s Comet was visible.

If you want an interesting story about comets, research Kohoutek.

I’ve mentioned it before, but it seems that space science events are getting more attention and fans. That’s a good thing. Next week’s eclipse is another chapter.

Back in 2017, for weeks, maybe months, stores were selling the special heavy-paper framed glasses to safely watch the sun get blocked by the moon for a few moments. Stories of hotels, close, or really close, to the path of totality, were booked for the night before. It became a very short-lived tourist attraction. The risk is where you chose to watch doesn’t have cloudy skies the moment the eclipse happens.

Where I watched in 2017 was odd. It was the middle of an afternoon and during those moments, the temperature dropped enough to feel the difference, the street lights turned on and the crickets started singing. After the moon passed, it warmed up, the lights clicked off and the crickets were quiet. St. Joseph, Missouri, was in the path of totality and security cameras in the city during the eclipse were eery. It got much darker there than where I was some 80 miles north.

Those kind of feelings created by natural moments are hard to replicate with manmade items. I even wonder if they can be created?

Last fall the Sphere opened in Las Vegas. Fitting to be in the entertainment and bling capital of the country, the Sphere is a music and entertainment performance venue that can sit about 19,000. It also costs about $19,000 to get in (sarcasm). Not having been there, the best reviews I’ve heard is it’s an IMAX screen on a much, much grander scale.

But sometimes what man does, like building the Sphere, can’t be compared to what happens in the natural world. In the middle of a sun soaked Friday afternoon on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, you constantly see people taking pictures of family and friends with the massive canyon as the backdrop. The people come and go for hours getting the same pictures that have probably been taken millions of times over the decades. Those who work the park say they can feel the disappointment from visitors who are the the canyon the day it is filled with fog or low hanging clouds.

I do wonder if the same amount of the same pictures will ever be taken outside the Sphere? But more importantly, will it have the same emotional impact compared to the Grand Canyon or a total, solar eclipse?

I don’t think it will for the Sphere. Because there is something greater that can’t be made on a blueprint or factory.

According to NASA the next total solar eclipse completely visible from somewhere in the states is August 2044.

John Van Nostrand


An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.