Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Field Notes from the Total Solar Eclipse

The total solar eclipse ventured into my neck of the woods on August 21st, putting my hilltop in the path of totality--a 70-mile wide band stretching from Oregon to South Carolina. The last event of this kind passed over the United States in 1918, and it won't happen again on this hilltop for a long, long time. According to Space.com"The mean frequency for a total eclipse of the sun for any given point on the Earth's surface is once in 375 years." 
Needless to say, we were totally excited to watch day turn into night. My husband closed his office and bought donuts (if you lived near a Krispy Kreme, you could have waited in line for "Eclipse Donuts." My daughter-in-law and granddaughter waited 38 minutes). Bandwidth ordered glasses, and my contribution was lunch, sunflowers, and chairs.

All day, the light had seemed harsh, odd and oversaturated, the way it does at the beach. But we were in the Tennessee hills. My husband and son agreed that the light was more peculiar than they'd ever witnessed. Just for reference, in my town, the partial eclipse started at 11:59 A.M. The totality began at 1:28:01 P.M.


Stranger things were yet to come.
My husband had bought a special lens for the camera, but unfortunately, it didn't work. I grabbed the iPad, put it on "selfie" mode, and turned away from the spectacle, peeking around the disposable glasses. 

Darkness seeped out of the ground. Everything was quiet--no bird chatter or grinding lawn mowers. The air itself seemed tinted, grey and cloudy as mop water, but that didn't last long. In the distance, city lights came on. A few stars popped out, too.
During the totality, the remaining light was tamped down, as if a great wheel had pulled a curtain over the countryside. When I looked at my feet, I saw the vague outline of my white shoes, but I couldn't see the grass.
The totality lasted 2 minutes and 37 seconds.

As a side note, 532 years ago, a total solar eclipse occurred in England, supposedly at the exact moment of Anne Neville's death. She was the wife of King Richard III, and during his brief reign, the sons of Edward IV went missing in the Tower of London. Anne and Richard's own son and heir died, too. This was in March 1485, when portents were seen in everything, from plagues to crop failures. Due to the princes' mysterious vanishing and Richard's usurping of the crown, his reputation had darkened, and it darkened even further after Anne's death and the eclipse. Both events were seen as ill omens and, more importantly, God's judgment.
At this time, Henry Tudor was preparing to invade England and fight for the throne (his own birthright is dubious, but that's another story). Astrologers claim that an eclipse can influence one's life for six months or more. Interestingly, Richard III died five months later at the Battle of Bosworth.
But today at noon, standing in our dark yard, we felt humbled. And eager to see what came next. (If you look closely at the photo, way over in the left-hand corner, you can see my husband taking "selfies.")

Light and shadow collided, changing moment by moment. More stars appeared, and we saw an object that was definitely not a star: could it be Venus? According to the star map, she was in the vicinity.

On our road, quite a few spectators had gathered, and cheers went up, echoing in the hills and hollers. Way over by the fairground, fireworks lit up the sky. I found out later that the temperature fell 6 degrees. I could only imagine how people in the Dark Ages must have reacted to a total eclipse. Even in Elizabethan times, people believed in superstitions and sorcery, dreams and prophecies. The mathematician, John Dee, was court astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I. During the Renaissance, when people learned more about the night sky, astrology fell out of favor, and by the early 1700s, Edmond Halley had mapped future eclipses, allowing scientists -- and everyday people -- to anticipate natural events, rather than dreading them.
Nowadays, we know that an eclipse is just the solar system doing its thing--and what an intoxicating thing!
During totality, wWhen the sun was completely eclipsed, we took off our glasses (it's safe, but only during a total eclipse, and only for a minute). It was a once in a lifetime moment.

Bandwidth managed to document the eclipse with his camera.
Through the glasses, the sun looked a bit diabolical, but I was unable to capture it.
It looked like something you'd see on Game of Thrones (a dragon's eye, perhaps).
They say that eclipses are a time for closure, to put old matters to bed. If something isn't working -- relationship, house, career or hobby -- it may be time to "eclipse" it. 

 Then, just as suddenly as it had arrived, the darkness blew away like smoke, and the light returned.

Bandwidth got a shot of the fireworks.

The temperature shot back up to 93 degrees, and I went inside. If you missed this grand event, you won't have to wait another 99 years to see another. On May 8, 2024, another total eclipse will pass over America, and the path of totality will begin in Mexico, passing through Texas, slanting up to Niagara Falls and northern Maine.

Post-eclipse, the light no longer held a hard edge--it was the same August light I've seen my whole life. Or maybe I was imagining it.



Everything is back to normal, but we're still a little excited. 

RESOURCES:



30 comments:

  1. I tried to do a timelapse on my camera but it was an ultimate fail :-( we weren't in the path of the total eclipse, more about 80%. To see the whole thing I feel would've been way better. I can't imagine how those in the Middle Ages must've felt, certainly some witchcraft must be involved, right?!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think history is pocked with eclipse moments. It was stunning to see. We're still looking at pictures (and eating donuts).

      Delete
  2. Great report! I have many friends who traveled to places within the path, so it has been fun to see their photos and read their reports. Thanks for sharing! Love the sunflowers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bandwidth is already planning to travel to the 2024 total eclipse. :-) As for the sunflowers, I got the last bunch at Publix. Seems as if everyone had the same idea. LOL

      Delete
  3. My family had an eclipse picnic. It was a little chaotic. I had scheduled some work from our contractor later that day. He called & asked if he could come earlier & he ended up coming in the middle of our little party!

    Still, we had fun, our contractor is a good friend. We had Pieology pizza & salads, watched through our eclipse glasses & enjoyed the company of our son & daughter-in-law.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Great documentation of the eclipse Michael Lee...
    Love, Mona

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks for sharing Michael Lee, I was in the 82% range and thought it would at least darken to twilight, but I couldn't tell any change at all...I will say that I was hyper aware of the lighting, and did think it looked odd for a while, but I don't know if it was just my imagination...It must have been quite something on your hilltop!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. With your artist's eye, you are keenly aware if light and shadows. I bet it wasn't your imagination at all!

      Delete
  6. Wonderful captures! It was exciting. I love the sunflowers, too. Didn't try to capture the eclipse but I did have fun photographing the shadows cast by the eclipse.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I just watched on TV. I didn't have the glasses.
    Brenda

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I worried about my husband because his glasses kept falling off! We kept the cat and dog inside for fear of retinal damage. We watched tv coverage, too, and it was awesome.

      Delete
  8. Wonderful eclipse recap! We traveled from Texas to north Alabama where it was 97% totality.... which was still very bright. I think the 2024 eclipse will offer totality over my house. If not totality at my house, it will be within minutes from me. I definitely plan to be in the totality path.

    Judith

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Judith, I'm excited for you! My husband says if we're still around--and ambulatory-- in 2024, we may go to Maine, a state we've always wanted to visit. Well, it's fun to dream!

      Delete
  9. What a wonderful experience!! We saw the partial eclipse here, but in 2024 will be in the path of the total eclipse. Love the sunflowers!!!

    ReplyDelete
  10. Best report yet! We just had some weird glow the sky. Almost like a haze. I was driving home so I didn't see much. What cracked my up is the panic to get glasses. When I was a kid in '79 we just poked a pin through a piece of paper lol

    Jasper is a doll and those videos were hilarious!

    The house is looking beautiful. I love the table and chairs you decided on :)

    love you,
    rue

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Back in the day, we did the same thing with a pin and paper!

      Delete
  11. Great play by play.... I watched much of the coverage on TV in the west and east but went to the grocery store at about the same time the eclipse was occurring in our area. Since I didn't have glasses I decided to avoid the temptation to observe in real time. The light was almost indescribable pre eclipse, though... hazy, shadowy, a light unlike anything I've ever experienced before. Who knew something like a solar eclipse would make me cry? I still can't explain why.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great descriptions, Cindy. The light was remarkable!

      Delete
  12. Your report was stellar, Michael, and thank you for sharing it. Ours was approx 90%, and in its peak, had that greenish-yellowish tint of a storm brewing through sunshine. Very eery. I was outside snapping garden photos. It was a very unique experience for many of us across the US, but especially intriguing for those of you who saw the total darkness!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. More great descriptions, Rita. I love the image of "greenish-yellow tint of a storm brewing through sunshine."

      Delete
  13. We were in the 87% range. It never did darken, it looked like an overcast day except the shadows were oddly enhanced. We did enjoy those shadows, though. They were lacy and doubled followed by the arc of the eclipse repeated over and over again. It was beautiful. The earth and sky both held wonders. BTW, I love your paintings. Would you ever care to feature them and the artists who painted them in your blog?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The shadows were so interesting and unusual--I've never seen anything like them. And the light! Love your image of lacy and dcoubled shadows!

      Delete
  14. Your description of the eclipse is beautiful. Our area was 78% so not nearly as stellar as the areas of totality. I watched on television and did go outside as a few changes occurred. I love how so many people came together to enjoy the moment.In 2024 we will plan to be in an area of totality if at all possible. Thanks for sharing your experience.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Thanks so much for sharing, you did a terrific job on this post. Here in SO CA, it didn't even get dark and I didn't even go out side and look. The best place around on the west coast was Oregon and Idaho. But your post was better than ABC's
    Thanks so much.

    Mary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're so sweet, Mary. I remember partial eclipses when I saw nothing out of the ordinary, too.

      Delete