Experience, Eclipsed

An eclipse event, in two parts

Eclipse, part one.

Like many others in Ontario who live in or near the “path of totality” for the April 8 solar eclipse, we made plans to view the event.  We live about 15 kilometres away from the northern limit of totality as it crosses eastern Ontario.  Why not make the short drive to experience the Whole Thing?

Using an online map, we identified some possible parking and viewing locations in a small community within the path of totality.  We drove there the day before the eclipse to scout out several parking options, depending on how busy eclipse day turned out to be.

We needn’t have worried about traffic.  When we drove south early afternoon on April 8, we encountered few vehicles on the road, and certainly not streams of traffic heading south.  The parking lot of a local community service group was empty, as was the public park next to it.

After setting up camp chairs in the park, we passed the time reading and writing and chatting.  We had arrived about 45 minutes before the beginning of the partial eclipse phase and during that time a couple dozen other people arrived at the park to view the eclipse.

Once the partial phase began, we used our eclipse glasses to periodically monitor the moon’s progress as it nibbled away at the sun.  The process seemed slow, and it took a long while before there was any noticeable change in the quality of light at ground level.  There was still daylight, just somewhat diffused.

But within ten minutes of totality, when the moon would completely block the sun, daylight dimmed quickly.  Automatic exterior lights at a nearby school came on, as did streetlights.  The blue of the sky deepened, much as it does around sunset.

Then the magnificent period of totality.  We had only one minute, from 3:25:54 to 3:26:57.  With no sun visible at all, we could remove our eclipse glasses and gaze at the spectacle of the black moon surrounded by rays of light from the hidden sun.  It’s a sight we wished would last longer—those lucky enough to be at the centre of the totality zone would get almost four minutes to view the total eclipse.

I spent part of our precious minute of totality gazing around at the landscape.  Despite the sun being obscured, it was not dark like night.  Everything in the landscape could be seen clearly, and objects still cast shadows on the ground—like they do under a full moon.  The sky was a dusky purple, and clouds still discernible.  Around the horizon’s perimeter the sky displayed the colours of sunset.  We could see two planets: Jupiter and Venus.

All too soon, our minute had ticked away, and we donned our eclipse glasses to see the sun emerge from behind the moon.  The landscape brightened surprisingly quickly.  The main event over, we packed up our chairs and headed home.

Eclipse, part two.

We got home by 4pm.  While the partial eclipse continued for another half hour at our place, the quality of the light seemed little different than normal daylight.  I felt really chilled.  The temperature at our eclipse-viewing location had dropped from 21°C to 14°C in the half-hour before the total eclipse, so my chills didn’t surprise me.

Then I began to feel weirdly fatigued.  Had I gotten too much sun?  I’d worn a brimmed hat the whole two-and-a-half hours we spent outdoors, and I’d had my back to the sun for part of that time.  A look in the mirror showed my face didn’t appear sunburned at all.  But by early evening my fatigue was overwhelming, and I could barely hold up my head.  I didn’t feel particularly sleepy, just drained of all energy.  I collapsed on the sofa at 7pm.

At 8pm I staggered to bed and remained there for the next ten hours.  By then I had a fever.  Despite my fatigue, I woke every half hour or so, burning hot and parched for water.  I don’t remember if I dreamed, but during the foggy transitions from sleep to waking I experienced persistent vivid images and sensations.  They are impossible to describe and seem bizarre now, but at the time they felt normal, even comforting.

Waking again around 4am, just over twelve hours after the eclipse, I noticed the fever and all other sensations had eased.  When I got up later, I had only a lingering tiredness due to fractured sleep.  Otherwise, I felt fine again.

Curious if there was any possible connection between my symptoms and the eclipse, I searched online.  I discovered that some people report experiencing fatigue and fever in the 24 hours after a solar eclipse, but nobody knows why.  (Some scientists pooh-pooh the connection, scorn often being the refuge of scholars who have come up against something they can’t explain.)

Although it’s possible for anyone to exhibit psychosomatic symptoms, I can’t accept that mine were mental constructs.  I didn’t expect to feel any physical effects from the eclipse, and I’d never heard that such effects were possible.

I didn’t find the total eclipse exhilarating, exciting, or spiritual, as others have described it.  The one minute of totality was interesting, and I’m glad I experienced it.  But the experience of the post-event effects have, in a way, eclipsed the event itself.

Two days later, my post-eclipse symptoms have completely disappeared—now replaced with a renewed respect for the power and influence that the sun and moon wield over our puny selves.