Personal Journey: Three generations go West for the solar eclipse

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Three generations of Fischer-Milch birders in Grand Teton National Park.

“Take a good look, because we’re not stopping,” my dad had purportedly told my mom as they sped through the Tetons on their honeymoon in 1970. They were in the middle of a nine-week, cross-country camping trip to see the natural wonders of the U.S. — a trip that prompted their wedding. (My dad wanted my mom’s company on this college-graduation trip, and my mom said her parents would never let her go unless they married. So they married.)

Forty-seven years later, they returned to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park — actually staying this time — accompanied by me, my brother, my husband, and our children, ages 6 and 8. The occasion was the solar eclipse, since Jackson, Wyo., and Grand Teton National Park fell in the path of totality.

That we were able to all go together was a small miracle and a substantial gift. In early June, my dad underwent triple bypass surgery. In September 2016, my brother, who has developmental disabilities and some coordination issues, broke his hip when he slipped in a restroom. My mom has bad knees. My kids are little and prone to whining during long hikes.

Incredibly, we all made it. And despite a few glitches — an hour-plus traffic jam caused by a motorcycle accident, a canceled horseback-riding tour, a broken-down car — the trip was magical. Within our first hour of entering Yellowstone, we happily found ourselves in what the rangers call a “wildlife jam.” We gaped in awe as a herd of bison sauntered across the road. We couldn’t get over their massive, furry beauty and their indifference to traffic. We heard the low rumbles of rutting males and saw a calf nursing. Spotting bison became so commonplace for our kids they started warning us before drifting off to sleep in the car: “Wake us if you see something interesting. But not bison.”

Together, we explored the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Norris Geyser Basin, Old Faithful, and my favorite — Grand Prismatic Spring. One night on a hill behind the Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton, we spotted a mother grizzly with two cubs. As a hotel employee called us down, warning we were too close, I started to worry that I had put my kids in danger. Just then, my son whispered: “This is kind of like heaven.”

My dad, who had witnessed the 1970 total solar eclipse from Nantucket, turned out to be right — experiencing totality was unforgettable. The light was otherworldly. The diamond-ring effect was stunning. Before I had a chance to fully absorb the experience, the 1 minute, 52 seconds of totality were over.

As parents age and children spread their wings, I know these multigenerational trips are numbered. But for these three generations who bird-watched; rafted; spotted wolves, moose, pronghorns, and eagles; and saw a total solar eclipse in one of America’s most breathtaking locations, it truly was a kind of heaven.