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I Traveled to See the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse and Discovered Mindfulness

What was it like seeing the 2024 total solar eclipse? Our staff writer Elizabeth Gamillo shares her solar eclipse experience from Indiana.

By Elizabeth Gamillo
Apr 16, 2024 7:30 PMApr 18, 2024 7:24 PM
Total Solar Eclipse
(Credit: Elizabeth Gamillo)


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My journey toward the line of totality started with a road trip from Milwaukee, Wisconsin to southern Indiana. It was the first time I went on a road trip alone, and I felt thrilled about the adventure. A few hours' drive was worth seeing a rare event like a total solar eclipse.

I didn't plan for the 2017 Eclipse and only briefly saw the partial eclipse from Wisconsin after a benevolent stranger handed me an extra pair of solar glasses. It was cool, but it didn't shake the ground for me. Fast-forward seven years later, and my perspective on everything changed.

My First Solo Road Trip to the Solar Eclipse in Indiana

(Credit: Elizabeth Gamillo)

I had been dreaming of the eclipse for a week in preparation for the reporting trip. The road seemed short, and I arrived in Indianapolis in no time. I scoped the city for images or signs of the impending eclipse.

At White River State Park, signs stated facts about when the next eclipse would ascend over Indianapolis and what time the 2024 total solar eclipse would begin. T-shirts with 'Indy' and graphic eclipse art decorated the state park's store. After the quick stop, I returned to the road towards Brown County State Park about an hour away.

Read More: How Long Does a Solar Eclipse Last? It Depends

Setting up the ‘Reporting Pod’

The reporting pod (Credit: Elizabeth Gamillo)

At the campsite, I met Kristen Bellisario, an acoustic ecologist and assistant director of the Center for Global Soundscapes at Purdue University, and her family. She booked the site months in advance in preparation for the event but invited me after I had trouble finding accommodation for the reporting trip.

I was greeted by Bellisario's husband, Tim, her daughter, Iris, and four dogs. Two of the dogs, Cosmo and Daisy, were chocolate Labradors, and the other two, Gidget and Gizmo, were mixed breeds. I set up my tent in a mound of papery leaves near Iris's camper.

We closed the evening out with hot dogs in the trailer because it started to rain. I stayed in the trailer to talk to Bellisario about the plan for viewing the eclipse the next day when Tim brought over two perfectly toasted and melted chocolate s'mores. I ate mine with gratitude and then went to my tent to prepare for the main event. I packed my camera, reporter's notebook, Zoom audio recorder, extra batteries, and chargers.

Gidget in the reporting pod. (Credit: Elizabeth Gamillo)

That night, I slept in my orange tent (which I affectionally call the reporting pod) with some hand warmers, a sleeping bag, lots of layers, an extra blanket, and Gidget to keep me warm.

Read More: Disoriented Animals Behave Strangely During Total Solar Eclipses

Prepping for the 2024 Total Solar Eclipse

(Credit: Elizabeth Gamillo)

Bellisario and I left the campsite early and drove an hour to meet Bryan Pijanoskwi and his Purdue students. When we arrived at the site, four RTVs were waiting to take us all deep into the forest. The team loaded their gear, and I loaded my backpack into the pack of an ATV and headed off. After a winding ride through ravines and branches, we were dropped off into a clearing that had water near a marshy area.

There, the team split off into two groups for observations. One group was situated near the water line, focusing on observing aquatic animals and life, and another was located higher on a hill away from the water.

Bryan Pijanowski (right) and his team observe the sounds of southern Indiana.(Credit: Elizabeth Gamillo)

I opted to observe near the water. As we walked towards the water, thorny brambles kept scratching at my legs. In the early afternoon, Pijanoskwi, Bellisario, three of his students, and I settled into our camping chairs and observed the birds and forest quietly. Pijanoskwi instructed his students to observe every 10 minutes and to write down what was heard, seen, and felt.

Read More: 20 Of The Best Places To View The 2024 Total Solar Eclipse

Embracing Mindfulness Right Before the Solar Eclipse

The hydrophone resting on a tree and Kristen Ballisario. (Credit: Elizabeth Gamillo)

I took the forest in and found myself releasing a tightness in my chest that I felt for months. I sat there with the team, just listening to birds chirping and buzzing bees. There, it was like practicing a type of mindfulness.

Francisco Rivas Fuenzalida, a graduate student research assistant at Purdue in Pijanoskwi's lab, set up a hydrophone in the water that would record the sounds of insects, their larvae, and fish in the water. When listening to it, you can hear the crackles and pops of underwater insects, almost like Rice Krispies cereal in milk or pop rocks in your mouth.

The wind picked up as it got closer to the total solar eclipse time, 3:06 p.m. ET, and the morning heat cooled. Birds were less chatty, and spring peepers started to chime in. The team made more observations, including the Moon's slip across the Sun.

Read More: Eclipses Are Beautiful To Watch, But Only If You Have The Right Protective Eyewear

Experiencing Totality: A Moment of Awe

(Credit: Elizabeth Gamillo)

As totality approached, I placed my eclipse glasses on and watched as the Moon made its way across the Sun. Before it completely shrouded the Sun's light, I removed my glasses and gasped at the shadowy domain I was in. Then I looked up just in time to see the 'diamond ring effect' or when the Moon covers the Sun's last bit of light. I saw totality and was overtaken by a sense of awe. My eyes flooded with tears — a dark circle in the sky, framed with bright white light.

The world stood still. Our forest, bursting with bird song and vivid light before, transformed into a different realm — at first slowly and then all at once. At 3:06 p.m., the skies were reminiscent of dusk or dawn. The forest was shrouded in dark blues and purples.

As totality approached the temperature dropped and the skies darkened. (Credit: Elizabeth Gamillo)

The research team quietly expressed their awe and would point toward the sound of any animals they heard, occasionally gesturing a thumbs-up when they listened to a sound they predicted they would hear in their hypothesis.

I panicked, figuring out how to best use the time in darkness. I took only three photos with my phone and then just took in the sight. The void in the sky ringed with white light and a flash of pink-red spots. These red splashes were prominences or filaments of the Sun's plasma. My senses were heightened, taking in the cosmic light show, listening to the sounds of the forest, and feeling the cool drop in temperature. All the exhaustion I felt from the road trip to sleeping in a cold tent vanished.

Read More: 25 Tips To Take The Best Eclipse Photos

How Could I See the Total Solar Eclipse Again?

(Credit: Elizabeth Gamillo)

When the Moon exited totality, I found myself feeling a multitude of emotions. I felt joy, with a hint of somberness and excitement, from observing the other scientists around me in awe of what they saw and heard. The colors of the forest transformed from a gloomy twilight to a vibrant wave of oranges and yellows. The spring peepers were all chorusing against a background of continuous fireworks. And just like that, the eclipse was over.

In 2017, I was still in college, on the cusp of starting my writing career. Now, I am in the middle of it. Who knows where I'll be for the next total solar eclipse. All I know is that I'm grateful to have experienced the event and have so much gratitude for my entire journey up until now. Here's to the next one!

Read More: An Omen Of Doom And Other Myths Surrounding Solar Eclipses

Elizabeth Gamillo is a staff writer for Discover and Astronomy. She has written for Science magazine as their 2018 AAAS Diverse Voices in Science Journalism Intern and was a daily contributor for Smithsonian. She is a graduate student in MIT's Graduate Program in Science Writing.

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