The Big Black Dot in the Sky
An eclipse happens on the earth every 18 months, but it has been around a century since the last total eclipse passed across America. For the past week, social media has been filled with pictures and comments.
Where I live there was 99.97% totality. Pretty good. But my father, a scant 50 miles away, would see 100% totality. Well, that solves that. Unfortunately, my wife had to work and help with the local library’s eclipse program – they had almost 200 kids that day!
So my daughter and I headed to grandpa’s house. Her cousins headed further south with their mom and dad but my other sister drove down from Indiana to see the eclipse. So we would have a nice visit with her and grandpa.
My father said he remembers a partial eclipse in the late 1960s or very early 1970s because we were in the old house (we moved in 1972 and my father still lives there) and remembers telling my sister and I not to look directly at the sun. I do not remember that.
I DO remember the partial eclipse in 1978 or 1979: there was snow on the ground (unusual for where I live) and I made my own cardboard box/viewer. I watched the eclipse through the viewer, drew the stages of the “bite” taken out of the sun and as the shadow swung around the sun’s lower half, and wrote up a report about it for my high school science class.
The next eclipse (all of these partial) happened when I was a lawyer working in Belleville – 1993 – 1995. I was driving from court on the interstate and saw the cows in the fields herd together as if it were nighttime.
But this was my FIRST total eclipse.
The family was outside at 10:30. It was very hot and humid and we spent most of the time under the old tree at my dad’s house. My daughter wanted to go inside frequently to cool off and get some drinks. I joined her.
We waited and waited for 11:12am.
You could barely see a “dent” in the sun in the upper right – if it were a clock it would be near the one. My sister and father relaxed in lounge chairs and watched. I played basketball and softball with my daughter and waited.
By 11:15 the “bite” in the sun was noticeable. My daughter was excited – much more excited than she had been sweating it out – literally – a few minutes before. I loved the look on her face.
Now it was easier: we’d play a little bit but then she would grab her glasses and watch the “bite” of the sun get bigger and bigger. She grew more and more excited and wanted to keep watching it. I said it was like looking at a clock – it was slow but you could see it move if you were patient.
It was down to a crescent, then it was as thin as a fingernail.
Of course, I had to peak at it without my glasses once in a while, but the sun was still too bright to see the shadow upon it.
I know, I know, I wasn’t supposed to do that. But I am only human. A dumb, blind human; but a human nonetheless.
At first, I was surprised (and disappointed) that I could not see the moon. I couldn’t even spot it at 8:00 that morning when we left. Even the hour before and after I couldn’t spot it – the sun was too bright.
And we were very lucky to have a perfectly clear sky that day!
While waiting outside under that old tree (under which I played with my bucket of soldiers and, later, taught myself to play guitar) we enjoyed listening to the crickets – even at 10:30 before it started getting dark … well, less light. My daughter listened to her first owl hoot! This was a disappointing part of the eclipse – my wife told me at work they heard crickets start chirping and birds calling … but we heard crickets before anything happened!
Finally, the sun was a tiny sliver – the size of a child’s fingernail clipped away and laying on the bathroom floor. Then an even smaller orange dot.
It was amazing, truly. Pictures do not do it justice. It was as if someone painted a dark black dot in the middle of the sky. A bright halo surrounded it – but not so bright you had to avert the eyes.
It looked like those science fiction shows about black holes.
I was expecting night time – but the sky was still the blue of pre-dawn and after dusk – just before the sun pops up or disappears on the horizon for the day. We could see Venus, but no other stars.
It was darker on the ground, but again no darker than it is first thing in the morning. I took a photo of my daughter during totality – it shows how “dark” it was outside (note the sun was still casting shadows) …
No wonder the pagans of aulden days panicked! Where the sun once was hung a dark, round … thing. A thing that ate the sun!
I was stunned. Even my dad thought it was amazing – and that morning he said he did not care too much about it. My daughter was “wowing” through the entire thing.
I was still looking at totality when it ended. I literally said, “I wonder what happens when AAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!” I looked down quickly as the sun popped out from behind the moon on the upper right side, but it really hurt my eyes. The sun appeared on the opposite side of where it disappeared – as if someone flipped the film and ran it backwards.
No snakes. My cousin told me that sometimes an eclipse causes waves of light to flutter on the ground – as if it were the writhing of snakes. Reading social media posts over the next few days gave no sign of anyone seeing snakes.
My sister told me about crescent shadows. THOSE we saw. I even managed to get some good pictures.
But no pics of the totality – my poor camera was not good enough. This is as good as I could get:
It was a once in a lifetime event – until 2024 when the line of totality crosses North America again! Next time the line of totality will go right over our house, so we can stay home without fighting the traffic. Travelling wasn’t as scary as I expected going there and back – I took the blacktops driven in my wilder youth – although the interstates and major state and US highways had long lines of cars. I had to wait some time for a large enough gap for me to roar through to the other side!
Friends who camped out in state parks met people from Japan, Australia, and the east coast who all came to view the totality – wandering the world like Deadheads following their dark star. I don’t blame them.
I can’t wait to see it again!
Photos and text copyright 2017 Michael G Curry
About the author:
Michael is the author of Abby’s Road … the Long and Winding Road to Adoption; and How Facebook, Aquaman and Theodore Roosevelt Helped!
WINNER: Honorable Mention, 2015 New York Book Festival!
WINNER: Honorable Mention, 2014 Great Midwest Book Festival!
WINNER: 2015 Reader’s Favorite Book Award Finalist, Non-Fiction Humor!
Abby’s Road leads a couple through their days of infertility treatments and adoption. It is told with gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) humor from the perspective of a nerdy father and his loving and understanding wife. Join Mike and Esther as they go through IUIs and IFVs, as they search for an adoption agency, are selected by a birth mother, prepare their house, prepare their family, prepare themselves and then wait for their daughter to be born a thousand miles from home.