A Cheyenne Indian's blessing helped part a cloud this morning for 2,000 persons gathered at a museum here, 90 miles north of Yellowstone's National Park, to see this century's last total solar eclipse over the continental United States.
Hidden by the overcast, the moon's shadow had already begun to take a bite out of the sun when John Woodenlegs mounted the podium to give his blessing.
Dressed in a red robe, he began shaking Indian ceremonial feathers at the crowd and chanting a prayer in the old language of a people who viewed eclipses as objects of fear and awe.
Just as he started chanting, a sliver of brightness appeared from behind the clouds.
"You're the creator of all," the Indian said in English. "Bless all the people here."
People in the crowd yelled, "Oh, it's coming," as the sun, almost completely hidden by the moon shadow, emerged.
A slate-colored darkness descended as the total eclipse came to Bozeman at 9:24 a.m.
"I feel like we're in a cave," said William Stafford, a poet known for his sun and moon images who had been invited to Bozeman for the Eclipse '79 celebration.
The crowd sent up a cheer, yelling, "All right, all right!" as the bright diamond ring light of the corona, shining from around the moon's disk, became visible.
As daylight began to return to Bozeman after the almost three minutes of total eclipse, bright-colored parachutes popped into sight carrying skydivers whose appearance brought to an end a five-day, $10,000 festival of the eclipse that brought together speakers on everything from black holes to dark nights of the soul.
All across the 175-mile-wide path of totality that began in Oregon and swung across five states before passing into Canada from North Dakota thousands of scientists and amateur viewers flocked.
Those in the path of the eclipse suddenly saw stars appear along with with the planets Mars, Venus and Mercury.
"Anyone with the privilege of seeing a total eclipse will agree it's the most awesome thing they'll ever see flat-footed on this planet," Dr. Russell Maag, chairman of the eclipse expedition committee of the Astronomical League that arranged 80 eclipse observation sites, told United Press International.
There were so many private, scientific and commercial planes flying above the cloud layer that shouded much of the eclipse path to view the spectacle that the Federal Aviation Administration reported lengthy delays in takeoffs and landings from Seattle and Spokane airports.
But in Bozeman, the eclipse was only the climax of the Eclipse '79 celebration.
Lynda and Mike Sexson, its directors, obtained from the Montana Committee for the Humanities a $10,000 grant that brightened up this white, snow-covered city with speakers propounding thoughts about the future.
Fritjof Capra, a physicist with the Berkeley, Calif. Lawrence Laboratory, related the eclipse to the "Tao of physics."
In his formulation, physicists often make the mistake of becoming so immersed in their speciality that they fail to embrace the whole of the universe.
"Physicists used to see the universe as made up of building blocks and explained all activities by relating them to these blocks, such as atoms, neutrons and electrons," he said, adding that this kind of thinking no longer works. "Now physicists are looking at the interconnections between things. We see that mass and energy are interrelated and time and space are interconnected."
Later, 800 people packed themselves into a standing-room-only crowd in an elementary school gymnasium to hear Kip Thorne, professor of theoretical physics at the California Institute of Technology, discuss the ultimate absence of light -- the black holes of the universe.
Relating the eclipse of our nearest star to what recent research has discovered, he said, "The first X-ray telescope, launched in 1971, brought back evidence of a black hole that weighs five million times the weight of the sun."
Black holes are created from dead stars, stars that have run out of nuclear gas and contracted upon themselves, curving space and sucking everything near them -- even light -- into their swirling center, he said.
But the eclecticism of the Eclipse '79 presentation was perhaps best demonstrated by Ted Flicker, creator of the "Barney Miller" television program, who spoke of his own valley of darkness -- "Hollywood, the Black Hole."
"Hollywood is a small place with incredible density into which the whole nation is falling," Flicker said.
"Hollywood is America to the one-thousandth power, the collective consciousness of the United States," he said.
He told members of the audience it was their responsibility to organize and let producers of television shows know what should be broadcast on television. "It's a struggle to get anything meaningful on television," Flicker said.
"Every day it's a big game of "What's Your Price?'" he said.
He undoubtedly did not know that in Goldendale, Wash., as he was speaking, entrepreneur Rick Malsed was marking the eclipse by selling "Canned Dark," a standard size soup can that he said contained darkness gathered during the eclipse.
Instructions accompanying the can said: "The only care your canned dark will require is an occasional rotation and turning end-over-end so that dark will not all accumlate on one side at one end of the can -- this would cause the dark to become sluggish and could shorten its life.
"If properly cared for, your dark should last until the year 2017, the next solar eclipse over North America..."