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Awe and community unite eclipse viewers; a diverse crowd of young and old gather at Mount Abe

BRISTOL — Monday afternoon in Bristol saw clear skies that were slightly less sunny than usual as a crowd approaching 100 stood next to the Mount Abraham Union High School track, their eyes turned upward.
Spectators of all ages had united at a solar eclipse party to watch the moon gradually block their view of about three-quarters of the sun.
The event was organized by the Bristol Recreation Department — which provided 25 pairs of NASA-approved viewing glasses — and by Carl Engvall, a Bristol resident, Middlebury Union High School science teacher, and basically a self-confessed eclipse geek.
Engvall said with regret he has never viewed a total eclipse, but thought that creating Monday’s viewing event to share his enthusiasm was his second option after his proposal to drive hundreds of miles to see a full solar eclipse, known as a totality, drew a veto. Viewers across the middle of the nation saw a total eclipse on Monday afternoon.
“I couldn’t be in the path of the totality. I couldn’t convince my family to drive to South Carolina, so I figured this would be the next best thing, have a little party and share it with people,” Engvall said. “And I wanted to make sure people who wanted to absorb the eclipse were doing it safely.”
Engvall is scheming to see another total eclipse even farther away next year, in part because the next Vermont totality will come in 2024 in April — a month, of course, not known for cooperative weather.
   MORE THAN 80 people of all ages gathered at Mount Abraham Union High School on Monday afternoon to see the solar eclipse. The Bristol Recreation Department provided safety glasses that viewers shared. The gathering was the brainchild of Carl Engvall, a Bristol resident, Middlebury Union High School science teacher, and eclipse enthusiast.
Independent photo/Andy Kirkaldy
“So the next one is going to be in Chile next year, and I’m going to try to convince my wife to get at least one plane ticket,” he said. “Because I really want to see one in totality. And there’s going to be one in Vermont in 2024 in April. But there’s no guarantee there’s going to be blue skies in April in Vermont. We lucked out today.”
Those who gathered at Mount Abe on Monday came from around the county and said they were happy to get a look at the partial eclipse.
“I just thought it would be a neat thing to see and experience with other people,” said Addison’s Ed Blechner. “And it’s seven years to the next one, and you never know what’s going to happen in seven years.”
Blechner said it would have been even more “amazing to not know it was coming and all of a sudden it happens,” the way “the ancients” experienced eclipses. But he still believed seeing the rare alignment of celestial bodies created a sense of wonder.
“There are some things we can’t control,” he said. “Those are the things that bring out the wonder and the awe, and this is one of them.”
Blechner was one of several who commented on the turnout, which included members of the Mount Abe girls’ soccer team, families with young children, a group of young day campers, seniors, and at least a few representatives of every generation between.  
“I think people also are wondering why there are so many people here,” he said. “It’s because people want to do it with other people, have a sense of community about it.”
Engvall was happy to see so many show up and share the viewing glasses.
“You throw a party and you never know,” he said, adding that interest in the eclipse nationwide appeared to be strong. “I just heard the NASA site crashed there were so many people logging in.”
Some who showed up shared Engvall’s scientific bent.
“I’m intensely interested. I took a physics class in college,” said East Middlebury’s R.J. Adler, who self-identified as about 33 percent of the millennial generation in attendance.
Adler also confessed to a professional connection to the eclipse: He is an employee of a solar energy firm.
“I work for SunCommon, so I can actually probably say on the record I apologize to all my customers for the slight dip in production they’re going to experience today,” he said.
Adler saw the eclipse as a unifying event.
“I think about all the things that are going on in the world, and this happens regardless,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun to have people from all different walks of life experiencing excitement about this thing, because we’re here, not because we’re of one group or on one side of the aisle or something like that.”
Probably the farthest-flung visitors were the Spindeldraher family from Berlin — Germany, not Vermont. The family, including 9- and 11-year-old daughters, came to Bristol to see relatives. According to Christian Spindeldraher, he and his wife had no idea to expect the eclipse, and they, like many other parents from closer to Bristol, wanted to make sure their children could experience it.
“Actually, I was not aware that there was an eclipse at this time here, and my aunt told me,” he said. “It was really luck. The last time we had an eclipse in Germany it was many years ago, and the kids were very small. So we can’t miss that chance.”

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