ON THE SCENE: Keene welcomes visitors for solar eclipse

Michael Harriff, of Syracuse, poses with his solar telescope Monday, April 8 along the East Branch of the AuSable River in the town of Keene. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

On Monday, April 8, a large crowd, well into the hundreds, filled the south end of Marcy Field in Keene, with many spread out into the north end and large pockets filling the town beach, pull-offs on either end, the overlook at the base of Spruce Hill, and, south of the field, the park across from Rivermede Farm.

Many had been traveling to Lake Placid, but seeing the wide-open space and view of the sky, they seized the moment and parked there. Indeed, many of the smaller pull-offs were full by 7 a.m.

Over the weekend, visitors arrived in waves, first on Friday, second heavily on Sunday, and beginning early Monday morning, day-trippers poured in. In Keene Valley, Noonmark Diner and Old Mountain Coffee were quickly filled as soon as they opened. At times, long lines of cars waited to get gas and snacks at the Stewart’s in Keene. Predictions of potentially large numbers of visitors coming for the eclipse were fulfilled, numbers bolstered by forecasts of sunny skies and overcast in the southwestern part of the state and beyond.

“We’re from New York City,” said Tessa Ann Bookwalter, exiting the Noonmark Diner at about 8 a.m. Monday. “My mom lives in Copake, so we drove there on Saturday and came up here this morning. We planned on coming up no matter the weather unless it was treacherous. I feel sleepy but good. We’re not sure where we will look at the eclipse, somewhere that gives us the sense of being surrounded by nature.”

“While Tessa saw one about 10 years ago in Utah, this will be my first time seeing an eclipse,” said Blaine, her partner. “It’s going to be cool. I’m excited.”

Members of Favro’s Frog Alley crew watch the solar eclipse in the town of Keene Monday, April 8. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

Anticipating a large turnout and people needing sandwiches, snacks and supplies, stores like Valley Grocery in Keene opened on Sunday, when it’s usually closed. No question, the town, State Police and local fire departments’ planning ahead made a difference. Knowing that the soft soils of Marcy Field would be damaged by cars, the field was roped off, and Airport Road at the southern end turned into a giant, if long, parking lot filled by noon.

“While this is the biggest event ever, I have to say this is a very well-behaved crowd,” Keene town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson said at the Holt House. “Nobody has tried to drive on Marcy Field; nobody is arguing with us when we turn them away. When we had to close Airport Road, nobody complained; they just followed our suggestion to look farther up the road. It’s a nice crowd, but there are a lot of them. Look at how many people are here: they’re playing Frisbee, lying in the sun, some swimming in the AuSable, others fishing, others picnicking. Everybody’s psyched.”

“I don’t think anybody knew what to expect,” said Nathaniel Caner. “But, being on the main route to Lake Placid, I think it was understood that some people would say, ‘Hey, this is a great spot to view the eclipse.'”

As most of state Route 73 in Keene and Keene Valley afforded great views, as did side streets like Beede and Hurricane roads. Many locals watched from their decks, driveways and lawns, inviting friends and family to join them.

One such group was the Favro’s Frog Alley crew of about a dozen family, friends and cousins with a nice spread on the table, plenty of lawn chairs, and a small fire pit for warmth.

Gabrielle Schutz shows off her solar eclipse cake on Monday April 8. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

“We don’t really know what to expect, but we’re ready,” said Cori-Anne Favro, who, with the crew, was just back from volunteering at the fire department all morning. There’s a lot of people in town. What’s nice is that we don’t have to drive anywhere to see the view; all we have to do is sit back. I’m excited.”

“I think this is awesome,” said young Aubrey. “It will get very dark and drop about 10 degrees.”

“We are going to have a great time,” said Stacy Martin. “We’ve got the perfect place to watch it, don’t you think?”

Indeed, they did.

Parked at the town beach across from Marcy Field, Michael Harriff from Syracuse had set up a motorized sun-filtered telescope set to the rotation of the Earth so he could take sharp pictures and videos of the eclipse and provide those near him with an exciting closeup of the surface of the sun and moon.

Keene town Supervisor Joe Pete Wilson poses at Marcy Field on Monday, April 8. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

“I have a tracking mount that follows the Earth’s rotation, keeping the sun in the center, and a solar telescope used only for viewing the sun,” said Harriff. “It filters out hydrogen alpha light so you can see details of the sun’s surface. Meeting people and introducing them to the surface of the sun is half the fun of this setup.”

I joined Barbara Tam and Gabrielle Schutz on their Hurricane Road deck. Gabrielle celebrated the day by cooking an eclipse cake, a dark chocolate deep-dish cake surrounded by a fiery orange and red fringe that well-illustrated the moon-covered sun.

“The eclipse was amazing — nothing like I have ever seen before or am likely to see again,” said Tam. “It is such a blessing that we live in the part of the world where we can actually see it.”

The light had a blue quality to it. Impressive was the power of even a sliver of the sun’s light. Yes, it got steadily darker, but it was close to the end when the darkness came in, starting from around the edges of the sky and then filling in, with the temperature rapidly dropping as the stars and planets like Jupiter and Venus popping out. From where we were, soon an owl started hooting. Neat was seeing the flashes and blooms of solar flares around the moon and the ragged edge as the moon’s rough surface pocketed the ring of light.

“To me, the most amazing experience was before the totality and watching it darken, and then after, having light come back again; the transitioning from light dark and back out again,” said Tam.

Tessa Ann and Blaine Bookwalter pose outside the Noonmark Diner in Keene Valley Monday, April 8. (Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

“What struck me was our experience of time, which is so tied to the sun and the moon,” said Schutz. “And, it’s so slow; it’s the same cycle every day over 24 hours, so the last 10 minutes watching it go through dusk and twilight to almost full darkness, and then out the other side. It’s pretty unnerving from a biological standpoint. It’s so unusual and so wonderful.”

“When it went to dark, there was a quality to that light unlike anything else,” said Tam.

(Naj Wikoff lives in Keene Valley. He has been covering events for the Lake Placid News for more than 15 years.)

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