In their back yard in Texas, on April 8, 2024, our 9-year-old granddaughter Liesl shares her eclipse sunglasses with family dog Hobbs. Photo courtesy of Heidi Shellhorn Moorhead

By now the total eclipse of the sun on April 8, 2024 is old news.   

Due to its path along the eastern part of the United States, we Alaskans were left out of all the hubbub surrounding this fascinating phenomena — or were we? 

Know those maps which show Alaska shrunk to about a tenth of its actual size and then stuck somewhere in a lower corner, usually floating at sea? One sleepy-eyed meteorologist imposed a redhead band of the eclipse’s path on such a map, and there we were at the tail end of it. 

Oops, it missed us. 

Reminded me of the time Wade and Cade Goodridge, twin sons of longtime CHS Shop teacher John Goodridge, showed up in my geometry class with welding helmets to witness a partial eclipse right out the south facing windows. 

The boys were born with astronomy in their bones. They gained national acclaim on Paul Harvey News, as one had his first glimpse of the sun right here in Cordova while the other emerged several hours later after a medivac flight to Anchorage. 

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This eclipse generated all kinds of wacky moments, including inmates at a New York prison suing for the right to view the eclipse because being banned from doing so violated their religious beliefs.   

They won the case, yet one has to wonder if extra guards armed with spotlights were on hand in the prison yard during the brief two minutes of darkness when perhaps something else was afoot. 

I was surprised to learn the next total eclipse will be on Aug. 23, 2044 with Montana and the Dakotas the only contiguous part of the U.S. in its path. Maybe the cowboys will be out yippee-kay-yahing and make sure the herds don’t stampede like in Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove. 

Speaking of surprises, the Goodridge boys showed up in class the next day with welding helmets to see whatever part of the eclipse that might be visible again. They donned the helmets and were disappointed to see nothing but sun. 

But talk about a memorable geometry teaching moment: spheres, orbits, the solar system, and the amazing probability that the moon — diameter 2,159 miles — being just the right size and distance proportionally to block out the sun — diameter 865,000 miles — 93 million miles away.  

While we here in Alaska missed the eclipse, not so my grandkids Huck and Liesl down in Texas. In fact their parents allowed them to skip school so the whole family, including four dogs, could view it from their backyard. 

Naturally they texted photos of the event and my favorite one was not of the eclipse, but of 9-year-old Liesl using her special sunglasses to make sure Hobbs, the mischievous mutt of the bunch, did not damage his eyes. 

They described how it became dark and chilly, but no, the dogs did not howl at the moon, nor did they seem to gaze skyward.   

It turns out Huck, age 11, plays the bass in a unique sounding three-man band that includes an electric guitar and a violin. Math and astronomy must be part of the standard dinner time fare, as the group calls themselves “Half way to infinity,” which gets Liesl quite agitated, arguing “You CAN’T go half way to infinity!” 

And as far as I know, there were no cattle stampedes in Texas nor prison breaks in New York. Hobbs eyes were OK. The question about reaching infinity will have to wait for calculus. And of course, the sun did come back out.  

Once again the Beatles were right. And all along the eclipse’s path “Here comes the sun” was the most popular song to celebrate this celestial happening. 

This story originally ran in the May 10 issue of The Cordova Times.

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Dick Shellhorn
Dick Shellhorn is a lifelong Cordovan. He has been writing sports stories for the Cordova Times for over 50 years. In his Cordova Chronicles features, he writes about the history and characters of this Alaska town. Alaska Press Club awarded Shellhorn first place for Best Humor column in 2016 and 2020, and third place in 2017 and 2019. He also received second place for Best Editorial Commentary in 2019. Shellhorn has written two books about Alaska adventures: Time and Tide and Balls and Stripes. Reach him at [email protected].