Wednesday, April 8, 2015

365 True Things: 11/Eclipses

I was reminded today by a friend on Facebook of the solar eclipses I have seen. The first was in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1979. We did not experience totality there, and I did not have proper eyewear to actually look at the sun, but my grad school classmates and I used pinholes punched in cardboard to project the shadow of the eclipse onto the front steps of UW's Science Hall. (I believe this is the event Annie Dillard writes about in her essay "Total Eclipse" from Teaching a Stone to Talk. Well worth the read.)

In 1991 I saw another not-quite-total eclipse while in Arizona traveling with my mother. We were in some woods, aspens or some such, and I remember the crazy light show of the eclipsed sun dancing through the leaves of the trees onto the ground—little grins of sunsplash.

In 1994, David and I drove down to the San Diego area to watch an annular eclipse as the sun dropped into the ocean. The best sunset ever!

BUT, now we get to the real eclipses—the total ones:
  • 1998, Curacao, under a perfectly clear sky, in the splendid company of iguanas
  • 1999, Cornwall—a bust, as the sky was completely clouded over, but also highly amusing: I was standing with a friend on a bluff overlooking a bay, and as darkness fell, hundreds of lights started winking in the distance—people taking pictures of each other with flash!
  • 2001, Zimbabwe, up on a small hill, which made it easy to see the moon's shadow racing toward us
  • 2008, Xinjiang, China—on David's and my 27th anniversary
Here's what I wrote about the last one on Flickr:

August 1: The eclipse was less than 2 minutes—not long enough! When the second diamond ring appeared I wanted an instant replay (over and over would have been just fine). . . . The sky was somewhat cloudy, and optimism kept swapping spots with pessimism as to our chances of seeing the eclipse bright and clear. About ten minutes before totality, it was looking pretty bad. A few of us decided to run toward a distant hill that was still in sunshine. But halfway there we realized the clouds were chasing us, and we gave up—climbed to a high spot and decided to see what we could. About a minute or two before totality, however, a miracle occurred: the sun dipped down into a perfectly clear pocket of sky. I watched the moon eat the sun through eclipse glasses, and my chest got tight and tears started to flow. (Some people giggle at eclipses, I cry.) It was incredible—yet again. And then, the corona on the totally eclipsed sun was magnificent, splendid, perfect, with long streamers. (The sun being at the minimum of magnetic activity now, you get an asymmetric corona.) And there were Mercury and Venus winking at us. And that gorgeous effect of being blanketed by a dome of darkness, with a sort of sunset coloring the horizon in 360 degrees. It was as good as it gets.

Since then, no great eclipse-chasing adventures, just one small one: another annular eclipse in 2012 with the friends who convinced us to go to Curacao. We met at Mt. Lassen, spent a few days hiking and enjoying lovely warm summer days together. It was so nice to experience another eclipse with them. The above photo is of the "ring of fire" as it played through the foliage of a pine tree.

And next? August 21, 2017, and we won't have to travel far. Eastern Oregon is the current plan. Can't wait! And you? Do yourself a favor, and go somewhere where you can experience one. Here's a map. Put it on your calendar. I don't want to hear any excuses.


  1. I am so enjoying the mix of description, information and the personal. giggles or tears….. isn't that all of us?

  2. …… let me rephrase. a lace of interdisciplinary wanderings that informs in a lovely lyrical way

  3. I am ready. Got my glasses. Already situated in the path of totality!