Letters from the West

Solar eclipse totality in Stanley takes gazers’ minds off of the world’s troubles

For a brief moment, the troubles of the world went away.

Several hundred people gathered at a viewing area in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area where they could see the iconic Sawtooth mountains to the West and the White Clouds peaks to the east. Champion Creek, murmuring in the background, was the only sound.

Franz Peter Pauzenberger of Munich, Germany, has seen three total solar eclipses and said this one was best.

“The black moon was so clear, the corona was so bright, and there were streamers coming out far beyond,” Pauzenberger said.

Moon shadow chasers had come from all corners of the earth to the sagebrush-covered flats in the Sawtooth Valley because something told them this would be the place. But there were lots of places along the 70-mile wide path of totality that crossed the continental United States.

“After everything that has happened this year, it was a universally unifying moment,” said Sarah Bahan of Ketchum.

“It didn’t matter who you voted for, we were all brothers and sisters of the sun, moon and the earth,” said Nancy Bertelsen of Point Reyes Station, Calif..

“It’s like a ball floating in the sky,” said Eric Haarala, a Maricopa County Deputy Sheriff who came from Phoenix with his daughter Kelly, a teacher.

Paul Beaton was 14 years old when he became fascinated with the total solar eclipse in India in 1994. He decided he wanted to see this event in the future, and he looked up where the least chance for clouds would be. Sun Valley came up.

“I’ve been waiting for this for 26 years,” said Beaton, a study director with the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. “It was worth it.”

Smoke obscured the Sawtooths and made the eclipse’s shadow hard to detect. But the wedding ring of light that was all that was left of the sun was “exquisite,” Beaton said.

In Stanley’s Pioneer Park, several hundred people were scattered over the grass. Children played during the early stages of eclipse, but joined their families in the moments before totality. When the moon covered the sun, they cheered.

More than 5,000 backpackers watched the event from the Sawtooth and White Cloud wilderness areas, with even more in the Hemingway and Jim McClure-Jerry Peak wilderness areas to the south. But the crowd in Stanley was smaller than expected.

Still, viewing areas set up by the Forest Service were full, and eclipse chasers were spread out across the 756,000-acre Sawtooth National Recreation Area.

Caroline Leib had come from Thailand to watch the event, which connected her with a deeper reality.

“It’s nature, and nature is telling us what we need to know,” Leib said.

It’s telling us there’s hope.

Rocky Barker: 208-377-6484, @RockyBarker

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