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A Rochester mother and daughter took a road trip for the last eclipse. They returned forever changed

In a selfie, two women stand side by side with eclipse glasses on looking up toward the sky and smiling.
Debra Ross
Debra Ross and Ella Ross don eclipse glasses in Kimmswick, Missouri for the 2017 total solar eclipse.

With just one month until Rochester is cast in the shadow of a total solar eclipse, people all over the community are getting ready for the big event. But for some, April 8th is a day that has been years in the making.

What follows is the transcript of a story aired on WXXI.

HOST: One month from now, on April 8th, Rochester will experience a total solar eclipse. And while some folks are just gearing up for the big day, WXXI’s Veronica Volk has this story, about a mother and daughter who have been preparing for this moment for seven years.

ELLA ROSS: So when I was little and still now, I always loved astronomy.

VERONICA VOLK: This is Ella Ross. She’s a multimedia editor, and a filmmaker. But back in 2011, she was a 12-year-old girl, taking an astronomy class at the Strasenburgh Planetarium. And that’s where she first heard about the total solar eclipse of 2017.

ELLA ROSS: So I came home that day, I told my mom, “Mom, in 2017, I'm gonna be 16, I can drive. I'm gonna drive to the path of this eclipse.” And my mom, like a good mother said, “OK, yeah, sure.”

VERONICA VOLK: So five years passed. Disney released Frozen. Prince died. And Donald Trump moved into the White House. But Ella never forgot about the eclipse. And by August of 2017, she was ready.

ELLA ROSS: Once we got closer, I said, “Mom, how about we go towards St. Louis? Because we'd been before and we love St. Louis.” And she said, “OK, yeah, sure! I’ll go with you. Here we go.”

VERONICA VOLK: Because if your 16-year-old says she wants to take a road trip with you, you go.

VERONICA VOLK: The solar eclipse of 2017 stretched across the continental United States, from northern Oregon to South Carolina. The day of the eclipse, Aug. 21, Ella and her mom found themselves in Kimmswick, Missouri — a small town just south of St. Louis.

VERONICA VOLK: They found a quiet spot on a side street near a railroad track, with a clear view of open sky. And Ella experienced the eclipse she’d been hoping for. Something private, and personal.

ELLA ROSS: I have always been a sort of, you know, anxious person, like, you know, did I get all the pieces together? Did I get mom in the right spot? Are we in the right spot? And the moon completely covered the sun. I just felt an utter sense of calm.

ELLA ROSS: So it wasn't until after totality had ended that I really got to know what was going on with my mom.

DEBRA ROSS: What was going on with me was a transformation from skeptic to convert.

VERONICA VOLK: This is Debra Ross, Ella’s mom. And full disclosure, she says she wasn’t terribly excited about the eclipse that day.

DEBRA ROSS: A total solar eclipse is not a complicated celestial phenomenon. I know what a shadow is. I know what it means to get dark. So I thought, What is the big deal?

VERONICA VOLK: But as the shadow of the moon fell over Kimmswick, Debra watched the light fade. She felt the temperature drop. She heard the bird songs go quiet. And she also felt something she had never felt before.

DEBRA ROSS: You feel the solar system move with your whole body. You feel the sun and the moon and the earth and yourself, and you feel it all hanging there in space in a way that ... just no other way to make you feel that way.

VERONICA VOLK: That moment changed Debra and set into motion a chain of events that will culminate with Rochester’s own eclipse on April 8th. In fact, if you’ve heard about the eclipse in Rochester at some point before today, there’s a chance you have Debra Ross to thank for that. Because as soon as she experienced totality for herself, she wanted others to do the same.

DEBRA ROSS: This is something that everybody can do and everybody should do. And they will come out with their own experience.

VERONICA VOLK: And so for the last seven years that’s what she’s done: Inspire folks to come together to work out every last detail of the eclipse. She leveraged her connections in the community — she has a lot as the creator of the web calendar Kids Out and About, and she’s currently chair of the Rochester Eclipse Task Force.

VERONICA VOLK: But it all started with her and her daughter, in that small town in Missouri, feeling their place in the universe.

DEBRA ROSS: The other thing that I completely did not expect was the feeling of kind of tapping into thousands of generations of mothers who would have seen that and not understood what was happening.

VERONICA VOLK: Generations of mothers — and daughters — looking up. Together. That part speaks to me. I recently had my own daughter. And this will be her first eclipse. (BABY BABBLING)

She won’t remember it. She's just a few months old. But maybe she’ll remember the next one to pass over the country on Aug. 12, 2045. The path of totality will stretch from California to Florida. Ella and Debra say they plan on seeing that one, too.

DEBRA ROSS: Probably.

ELLA ROSS: Yeah.

DEBRA ROSS: Why not? But in 2026, there's one in Greenland, Iceland, and Spain. We're gonna go to that one. 2027 is Egypt. 2028 there's a huge one across Australia.

ELLA ROSS: For that one, I'm going scuba diving and then going to see the eclipse.

(FADE OUT)

VERONICA VOLK: Veronica Volk, WXXI News

Veronica Volk is a senior editor and producer for WXXI News.