MARLBORO- As a total solar eclipse swept across the United States on Monday, a crowd gathered for a relatively impromptu viewing party at Hogback Mountain. The party was the brainchild of Wilmington resident Nicki Steel, who helped plan the celebration with Mike Clough, assistant director of the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum, which hosted the event.
“It was a relatively spur of the moment thing that turned out really beautifully,” says Steel. She says last week Clough posted about the eclipse on the museum’s Facebook page, offering information and viewing tips. “So I said, ‘How about a party?’”
Clough loved the idea and created a Facebook event for it, which was shared, and shared, and shared. Steel says she didn’t really dig into the details for what would happen until hours before the eclipse was to start, when to her surprise, it turned out over 100 people had shown interest in the event on Facebook. Steel jumped into action, gathering boxes to make homemade eclipse viewers and calling a friend, Shelly Park, who said she’d bring hula hoops and popcorn to add to the festivity. Clough gathered everything he could find that might foster safe eclipse-viewing.
Starting around 1:45 pm, people of all ages began gathering on the lawn between the Hogback Mountain Gift Shop and Vermont Distillers. Though Clough says when Steel initially suggested the idea he thought maybe 20 people would show up, he estimates that around 200 people ended up joining in the fun under the (partially covered) sun.
For Steel and Clough, the magic of the day was equal parts celestial and community. Steel says that one of the best parts of the celebration was an exchange of eclipse-viewing methods. “Everybody had their own way of viewing the eclipse, and we all shared,” says Steel. Eclipse-viewing glasses were passed around (Clough says he didn’t see anyone who had glasses hesitate to share them), and through a range of objects including several types of colanders, binoculars, and a piece of wood with a hole drilled in it, tiny shadows of the eclipse were projected onto a sheet.
“I’d put out the sheet to use a spotting scope to view the eclipse, which didn’t really work,” says Clough. “I left the sheet there, and soon people started putting all sorts of things over it to project the crescent.” Another method of viewing was a kid pool. Clough got the idea that morning from his mother-in-law, who said she viewed an eclipse via a reflection in a bucket of water when she was a little girl. “The pool ended up being one of the clearest ways to see it,” says Clough.
Steel says the opportunity to see the eclipse in a range of ways was exciting. “If we’d all stayed home we would have had our own way of seeing it, the glasses, a colander,” says Steel. “But because everyone was together, we got to see it so many different ways.”
Clough tells an anecdote about an attendee who gave an impromptu physics lesson. “He explained the particle physics as to why, with a hole in the colander, that little open spot of light gets the crescent across it,” says Clough. “It really takes a lot of physics.”
Steel notes the rarity of a group of people who don’t necessarily know one another coming together for one common purpose, especially a nature-related one. “It wasn’t glitzy or high-tech,” says Steel. “It was just cereal boxes, colanders, water, and cheap glasses. But the eclipse was really cool, and it was also just wonderful to have all of these people outside together sharing something. We don’t get to do that enough.”
The felicitous togetherness of the day culminated in applause just after the peak of the eclipse. “At 2:45 when the eclipse was over, Mike thanked everyone and we all applauded for the sun and the moon,” says Steel. “And then eight or 10 people started doing a sun salutation yoga pose, while kids were hula hooping. It was just all wonderful.” Adding to the merry atmosphere, the Hogback Mountain Gift Shop gave away over 100 free ice cream cones.
Steel notes that other than taking pictures, she didn’t see anyone on their cell phones. “You didn’t see that ‘cell phone hunch’ that you see in a crowd these days, with everyone texting or posting,” says Steel. “Everyone was just present. And probably that’s the best compliment of all.”
Another total eclipse is headed our way on April 8, 2024, and with parts of Vermont projected to be in the path of totality, the views should be even more spectacular than they were this week, when Marlboro was in a zone of approximately 65% of totality. Steel and Clough both say they’d love to plan another party then. Though Clough says he’ll start planning earlier this time, Steel jokes that given how serendipitously this week’s last-minute gathering came together, maybe she’ll hold off on planning anything too soon.