I’m a sucker for things astronomical. That’s why it made perfect sense for me to drive for nine or 10 hours to a friend’s home in the middle of Oregon, and endure a party with a bunch of strangers (lovely people, I’m sure, but I don’t do parties and I was dreading it), and sleep in a tent despite vowing never to do such a thing again the last time I did it, and then spend a day hanging around because I didn’t want to drive back in traffic, and then the next day drive back home in traffic because I wouldn’t be the only one waiting until the day after the eclipse to hit the highway … in order to spend a little over two minutes experiencing totality. That was the plan. At the last minute I had to cancel, thereby maintaining an unbroken record of celestial events that don’t quite live up to expectations.
Take the Perseids. No, first, take the showers of shooting stars that light up the nights over the South African bushveld. I know about these because my grandparents had a farm in the Northern Transvaal, and every year we visited them and all the adults would sit around after dinner, staring at the sky and going ooh while I sulked and wondered what the heck they were going on about. By the time someone figured out I needed glasses, the old folks had sold the farm.
Okay, so now you can take the Perseids … and do what you want with them. I’m not going to talk about them in this post – I meant to, but I just realized I already did so here, and I have nothing to say about this year’s shower because it was rendered invisible by the smoke sent our way courtesy of forest fires in Alberta, Canada. Turns out I’ve also already discussed comets and harvest moons (speaking of which, the next supermoon is on December 3. Wheeeee! I’ve put it in my planner! I will pack a picnic supper and drag the Hubbit out for a romantic drive in the country!) – so … moving on to the most recent celestial event…
… the Great American Eclipse of 2017. It happened, and I was there.
It started here at 9.09AM. I was busy with an urgent email so I didn’t watch the beginning, but my desk faces a large window overlooking our pastures, and beyond them the Columbia. While I was working I watched the world slowly go dim.
I got the urgent out of the way and focused on the important. I found my magic eclipse glasses and grabbed a sleeping bag and scurried out to the backyard. The light was still bright enough that I thought the sun must be only half covered, but when I lay down and looked up I saw there was only a narrow crescent of sun showing.
The air was chilly, and it was very quiet. I switched my view back and forth between the shrinking sliver of sun and the world around me. The light was strange … not gloomy the way it gets when there are fires and the sun glares through smoke like an angry red eye and the horizon squeezes up too close. It was like normal light, but there was too little of it. It felt alien. I thought that might be what sunlight is like on Mars.
When the eclipse peaked at 10.24AM, the sun was about 98% covered.
I had an almost irresistible urge to sing “How great thou art”, but I did resist because I couldn’t remember the words, and there was no way I was about to take my eyes off the heavens to look them up on my cell phone.
No matter how carefully I watched I couldn’t see the movement of the moon across the sun. I couldn’t see the crescent growing, only that it had become bigger, apparently without going through any process of change.
The Hubbit came wandering up from wherever he’d been puttering around doing farmerly things, and complained that the eclipse had been a non-event because insufficiently dark. I could have got up after that, and got on with the this and that of daily life, and occasionally glanced through windows to see the light return.
But I wanted to watch the bright come back. I lay on my sleeping bag spread out on the grass as the crescent embiggened and the air warmed. I heard birds discussing the return of day. In the veggie garden Mr. Roo crowed, and he and his girls began a conversation about the grapes just ripening in their arbor. I became toasty, then uncomfortably hot. The heat roused the flies and they became annoying, and still I watched. The crescent became fat, became Miss Pacman, became an imperfect disc with one rough edge. And then I missed the actual moment of parturition because I got sweat in my eye. Maybe some things aren’t meant to be seen.
Later on Facebook I saw a cellphone video a friend had posted some miles south of here, just inside the path of totality. You can’t see anything on the video but a glaring dot, but you can hear the voices of other watchers. They murmur and chat for a few minutes, and then the dot dims suddenly. There are whoops and hollers, and someone nearby – it may have been my friend – says, “Holy crap! Wow! It doesn’t show on video – too bad… oh wow…”
That really pissed me off.
Seriously? What did I miss? What happened while I was looking in the other direction? What?
I’m going to have to stay off Facebook for at least two days to avoid being tormented by all the brags and pictures.
There are two more eclipses in 2019 – a total eclipse across South America in July, and an annular eclipse in December that crosses India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Guam (if it’s still there). The Girl Child was all gung ho to meet me in the Andes, but since both happen in winter it’ll have to be the one near the equator.
If I don’t make that one, a more conveniently located total eclipse will scoot up from Mexico to Maine during April 2024. It’s already promising to be bigger and better than today’s.
I hope we’re still here.
Do you have an eclipse experience to share? And is it just me, or is there something in your life that gets you all wound up, so that your friends just look pitying – and if so how well do you do at fully enjoying it?