Sunday, March 10, 2013

Star Craving Mad

In November of 2012 our family flew up to Cairns Queensland to see a total solar eclipse.
A solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the sun and the earth and casts a shadow on the earth.  People in that shadow spot experience the dimming of the sun behind the disc of the moon.

Seems like it would happen all of the time, but a total solar eclipse is quite special.  I remember one happening in my hometown in 1973.  I was at school and only a few of us in class that day knew anything about it and expressed any interest in observing it.  (My house was directly behind the school and my dad came over to the school that day, bringing safe observing glasses!)

Our trip to Cairns was quite beautiful and tropical and memorable.  But that total eclipse is a moment in time that I think about again and again.  I can only describe it as ...magical.

The eclipse occurred quite early in the morning, about 7am.  We went down to the beach, along with several hundred observers from all over the world.  (Apparently there is a solar eclipse subculture out there where enthusiasts travel all over the world to observe these moving phenomenon.)  We set up our camera and viewing equipment and waited for the ridiculously heavy cloud cover to move out of the way.  Sadly, it lingered.

I did not get a good shot of it
Through our eclipse viewers, through the thinning clouds, we could see when the eclipse began.  The lighted disc of the sun looked like a broken cookie, then a waning moon, then a Cheshire cat's grin.  The light of the day didn't seem to dim for a long time.  The tide slowly crept in.  Sea gulls continued their crustacean search.  And people on the beach were silent.

The crucial moment came and there was a small break in the clouds!  Just long enough for a ten second glimpse of the total eclipse!  The sky dimmed to early dawn light.  The birds were absolutely silent.  People cheered.  The light was so eerie, surreal, affecting.  I remember sitting there, with full understanding of the mechanics of the dimmed light, thinking "If I didn't understand why this was happening, I would be frightened of a supernatural event!  I would run and hide in fear!"  The darkness, the silence, the creeping chill...  Totality.

That moment, when everything seemed to go still.  I was alone with my family at the beach, holding arms around one another, in the pre-dawn-like light, bonded.  It was a primal feeling.  It is a moment that I find absolutely indescribable. 

I go back to that moment in my mind and feel that mysticism of the moment...

Slowly the locals moved up the beach to begin their day.  But we stayed on the beach that day as the cloud cover moved away and through our safety lenses we could see the moon passing to the left of the sun like a bite out of an Oreo.  For almost an hour we sat as the tide crept towards our toes, the moon crept out of sight, and the sun so much brighter and clearer than imaginable.

I recall that very human pull of religion, magic, mysticism...even in spite of knowing the science.

Looking forward to being home in St. Louis for the next one in 2017.
Now I understand the Total Addiction.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a once in a lifetime experience! :-)


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