I was lucky enough to see the total solar eclipse from Baker City, Oregon on Monday. It is an experience I will never forget and one that is difficult to describe. It is one that no pictures can do justice. You have to be there to see the eerie darkening and feel the temperature drop. And when that last burst of light fades into totality, it is pure magic.
Since I couldn’t find the words, I turned to literature.
“The sky snapped over the sun like a lens cover,” is how Annie Dillard describes it in her classic dark and eerie essay Total Eclipse about the 1979 total solar eclipse she witnessed in Yakima, Washington.
David Baron describes the feeling of otherworldly transcendence in his book, American Eclipse. “A total eclipse is a primal, transcendent experience. The shutting off of the sun does not bring utter darkness; it is more like falling through a trapdoor into a dimly lit, unrecognizable reality. The sky is not the sky of the earth – neither the star-filled dome of night nor the immersive blue of daylight, but an ashen ceiling of slate. A few bright stars and planets shine familiarly, like memories from a distant childhood, but the most prominent object is thoroughly foreign. You may know, intellectually, that it is both the sun and moon, yet it looks like neither. It is an ebony pupil surrounded by a pearly iris. It is the eye of the cosmos.”
But my favorite description is from Leigh Ann Henion in her book, Phenomenal, as she watched a total solar eclipse on an Australian beach. “Slowly, the plasma that has been hidden in the sun’s harshest rays begins to push out from the center of the moon, like iridescent petals blooming in darkness. Before me, the corona cries out in streamers of light. The face of the sun is white as stars, lilies, snow. It expands until it is a ring of pure light pulsating in the sky. Its edges have the same twinkling as those pale fingers that play music in the solar winds.”
As we took off in an airplane from Baker City shortly after totality, we saw coyotes roaming in the grass nearby. The air traffic controller warned pilots to watch out for a “flock of coyotes” on the runway, perhaps more accustomed to warning of hazards of the winged kind. There was something raw and surreal about taking off as a pack of coyotes roamed the runways. It was a little haunting but mostly humbling. It was a reminder of how little control we as humans really have on our universe and a reminder of how lucky we are to live on our spectacular planet Earth.
American Eclipse by David Baron
In the summer of 1878, a total solar eclipse swept across the country from the Rocky Mountains of Montana to Texas. Astronomers and scientists clamored and braved the arduous journey west to witness the rare event. Among them was the famous Thomas Edison who was testing out a new invention that measured the amount of heat radiating from the corona of the sun and the astronomer Maria Mitchell who brought a team of female students to observe and record data in a time when the field was largely male dominated. Baron recounts this exciting time in history that brings together astronomy and adventure in this fascinating book.