By 7am, people abandoned their camps — some trudging, others skipping, depending on the nights they’d had. Most of them hadn’t gone to bed and it showed. Dust clung to their hair and clothes. The glowing lights stitched into their faux fur coats flickered, the batteries in need of a recharge. Nine out of ten pairs of gold leggings had lost their sheen.
But they were buzzing. You could hear the excitement trilling in their voices as they filed out of tightly packed camps. This was it — a celestial event rare enough to bring 30,000 people to a dusty plot of land in Eastern Oregon. The vibe was high. Friends high fived while waiting for the Port-O-Potties. Strangers wished one another “happy eclipse.” Crystals were in abundance.
As one massive mob, we headed past stages and art installations, vacant for the first time since the Oregon Eclipse Festival began. All but a few rebels wanted to watch the big show together — atop a rocky field. Considering how awful humans generally behave in crowds, this gathering was defined by a pervading sense of kindness. People apologized with they bumped one another. They laughed freely and introduced themselves with overlong, soul-warming hugs. It was all enough to make you roll your eyes if it didn’t 1) seem so damn genuine and 2) seem impossibly lame to pop anyone’s first-US-eclipse-in-38-years-so-just-let-me-hug-you bubble.
Picking our way up the stony path, we arrived at the sprawling field. Our group of ten laid blankets down on the dirt while the two photographers in our crew started to set up their cameras. Behind us, a sea of people crowded around a massive “sun temple.” In front of us was another half-mile of open space, with at least five thousand souls loafing in the patchy grass.
A few minutes later, a wild howl went up from the back of the field and washed forward like a tidal wave. Thousands of people imitating wolves to celebrate the moon slipping partially in front of the sun. It was just a sliver at first, but by looking through cardboard eclipse glasses it was easy to see.