Did anyone notice anything strange in the sky this past Monday? Or, failing that, did you notice anyone looking at the sky wearing (hopefully) something that looked uncannily like 3D glasses?
Of course I kid. Over a large swath of the United States this week, a solar eclipse was visible in the sky. Millions of people watched the sun get partially blotted out, while a smaller few got to experience the real deal, a total blocking of the sun by the moon.
I was one of those people. Situated in rural Idaho (far away from the throngs who crowded into Oregon, and possibly near where Neil DeGrasse Tyson saw the eclipse) I was fortunate to stand in a field of only a few hundred people, enough to feel like part of something, but not too much like Woodstock.
I had never seen a total eclipse before. I had seen pictures, of course, and many people I knew had seen a partial eclipse, but as the author Annie Dillard famously said:
“Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him.”
(She also, less famously but more poignantly, likened it to the difference between “flying in an airplane” to “falling out of one“. “Although the one experience precedes the other, it in no way prepares you for it.“)
Given how close this was to my home, there was no way I was going to miss it.
I won’t even attempt to describe the moments, the odd sense of shaky panic and foreboding that preceded it, the light changing and then disappearing, the ecstasy of totality, grown adults whooping and hollering all around, the evanescence of it all. I would never be able to do it justice.
Instead, I recommend you read this essay by Annie Dillard. It’s imperfect, as of course it must be, but it will give you a flavor.
But it left me with one singular and powerful feeling: When can I see that again?
And with that, I became an eclipse chaser. Hello.