The 2017 solar eclipse was the first 11-year-old Conner Lolley witnessed.
On Saturday morning, standing on the dock at Riverfront Park with his parents and little sister, Conner listened intently as Dr. Elizabeth Perkins spoke on the astronomy, myths and metaphysics of the eclipse, to the couple hundred people gathered there, primary on their minds to pocket a pair of glasses the Apalachicola library was handing out for Monday afternoon’s cosmic crisscross overhead.
Mattie, his little sister, a second grader but as tall as Conner, took less of an interest in the substance of Perkins’ remarks than her brother did. She was as patient, though, while she, her brother, and mom and dad, Angela and Derrick Lolley, worked their way through the sunglass line, one of two that stretched for several minutes about half the length of the dock.
In addition to moon pies, Karen Kessel, the youth librarian in Apalachicola who got the glasses through a grant, doled them out as expertly as can be imagined to the many adults and children, all thirsty for shades after not having drank in an eclipse in many years.
Michael Allen, who brought along his two curious young children and an infant in the arms of wife Lena, recalled he was at Brown Elementary School when he first watched a solar eclipse, through a pinhole in a shoebox.
Because of an abundance of clouds on Saturday, Conner speculated that we might not be able to see anything when the time comes.
“Who stole the sun?” he asked, looking up into a darkening gray sky, before answering his own question, that the wind had done it by using the clouds.
The question was asked, what went through his mind when he thought about space, the solar system, the universe?
“Pitch black, emptiness, no gravity, no air,” he said, adding later that “the internet connection is great near the satellites.”
On Monday afternoon, the eclipse party began at 2 p.m. The Franklin County School had closed 90 minutes before that, but the ABC School was still in session, minus the large number of students who were excused early.
Since Angela works as a paraprofessional in the ABC School’s computer lab, she and her kids stayed in school, where students watched it on television and learned all about what was going on between the earth, the moon 239,000 miles away, and the sun 93 million more miles high in the sky, and the highly unusual effect the moon’s shadow has on the sight from earth.
Tony and Debbie, from Placida, said the cicadas sang briefly during the totality moments of the eclipse, when some others said it grew darker and the waves whipped up, while others did not detect the changes as distinctly.
“The sun kind of looks like the moon, and it kind of looks like the smile on the cat in Alice and Wonderland,” said Conner. “The sun looks like the moon, not only because of its shape. I see little spots on the sun, like the craters on the moon.
“It’s like a tiny little, I don’t even know how to explain it, a tiny little smudge of yellow,” he observed.
He does have experience peering through a telescope into the night sky, but not presently. “My sister messed up all the settings,” he said.
Curious how dark the afternoon would become, Conner concluded it turned out to be far from a night sky. “I did not see any stars outside. I tried looking out every 10 to 20 seconds,” he said. “I saw no stars.”
Conner’s scientific interests are far more drawn to what has been and will be on this planet, than anything elsewhere in the solar system.
“It takes a lot of gas to get to Mars,” he noted. “Why would we need to go there? It’s pretty much just a lot of empty red dust.”
Instead, he has talked about becoming an archaeologist ever since kindergarten graduation. What has been here on earth is his greater concern.
“Maybe we should look back at our history, so we don’t make the same mistakes,” Conner said. “Maybe look at our history a little bit more.
“Before we visit other planets, we have to fix this one first,” he said.
Mattie offered a mixed review of the event itself.
“It’s exciting and boring at the same time. It’s just a slow-moving shadow,” she said. “The slow-moving shadow thing was kind of boring. You just had to sit through it.
“I liked the flavors of the Starburst I got,” she said, gratefully.
Kessel said visitors came from as far away as New Jersey and Kentucky, as well as nearby cities. She said of all the glasses and goodies given away, there are a few of the 300 pieces of Eclipse gum left over.