It happened; or, for us here in the Tooele Valley, it nearly happened. You know, that little cosmic event that had people scrambling across the country, filling national park and private campgrounds, overflowing hotels and jamming highways. Yes, the solar eclipse.
Unless there is a cure for aging that comes along, this will be the second-to-last eclipse in the U.S. in my lifetime. There’s another one coming across the southeastern states in April of 2024.
Even with the relative rarity of these happenings, I do have a confession — I just wasn’t all that enthused about seeing the sun being almost blocked out for several minutes. I enjoyed the event, but almost as an afterthought.
Evidently, I’m not alone. I was listening to a radio station where they put out an informal survey the morning of the eclipse. It was a simple two question affair — something like, “I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time and can’t wait to see the eclipse today” or, “This just isn’t a big deal to me, and I’m tired of hearing about it.”
You guessed the results. The nonplussed category was the winner by a good margin.
In our area, I saw a fair amount of folks taking a look with their special glasses. It was good to see folks out, young and old, sharing this event that belongs to us all. As the moon passed between us and the sun, the light changed across the valley, to an almost silvery tinge.
It was somewhat like when the sun is shining on you through the edge of a cloud.
In addition to a change in lighting intensity, the temperature dropped, almost feeling like a mid-spring or fall day. I also noticed the animals reacted a bit differently. The chickens seemed oblivious, but the cats appeared a bit nervous and came seeking some consolation.
One thing that was really cool was how shadows appeared. Instead of the usual hard-edged image cast on the ground or other objects, there was a weird double or triple margin around the main shadow. One striking effect was the altered light coming through one of our trees and casting a somewhat-fractured image on the driveway blacktop.
Another phenomenon was shadow bands, or “snakes” that appeared on light surfaces, just before and after a total eclipse. We don’t fully understand why this happens, but it’s interesting to see, nonetheless. I feel totally inadequate trying to describe the snake concept, so I invite you to do a web search using “eclipse snakes” and view the video.
Since the sun’s temporary dimming was not on my list of events to be prepared for, I didn’t have any special lenses with which to look at the sun. Forget trying to get quick glimpses either. It’s just too bright and harmful to the eyes.
So, what’s a guy to do? … Improvise, of course. Maggie and I got a look at the earth’s light and heat source by looking through two layers of black plastic trash bag. You could definitely see the moon shadow (with a nod to Cat Stevens. If you don’t get that, look it up) in front of the sun.
However, a trash bag, while blocking out the majority of light, isn’t optically clear. So, the image wasn’t very sharp.
We also utilized our large-scale passive camera we have here on our property — also known as the tractor barn. What, you ask, is that? I learned a trick way back in high school in my photography class.
Any large darkened room, with a small opening facing an illuminated area, and a movable white board can act as a crude camera. The lit area is the subject; the small opening acts as the lens.
The white surface is where film would be. The white board is moved forward and backward until the image comes into focus. When we did this, an upside-down image of the outside came into view.
One of my fellow high school students, back then headed out and began walking about and we could see him, like a video camera, as he made his way around the inverted scene.
As an aside, this is how your eyes work as well. Yes, the image that is transmitted to the back of your eyeball is inverted too. However, your brain does the work of interpreting the image as right-side up. Fascinating stuff.
So, using these principles, we located a small round nail hole in the metal roof of the barn. Sure enough, there was a brilliant beam of light threading its way from the puncture to the floor. When I placed my hand in front of it and moved it up and down, an image of the sun partially obscured by the moon came into focus. Awesome.
While I hadn’t really been anticipating the eclipse event much, there’s a fringe element who had and who have assigned all sorts of meanings, ranging from Biblical prophecy to doomsday predictions, economic collapse and (I’m being serious here, although I’m trying to keep a straight face as I tell you this) the whole event being a hoax since the earth is flat anyway.
You can’t make this stuff up.
In reality, the moon is casting a shadow pretty much all the time (with the exception of a lunar eclipse). A solar eclipse is when the moon passes between the sun and us — where we lie in the moon’s shadow. A lunar eclipse is when we (on earth) pass between the sun and the moon, and the moon goes into the shadow of the earth.
So, if the moon is throwing a shadow almost all the time, why is the type of eclipse we just experienced so rare? The vastness of space along with other variables are the causes.
It takes a long, long time for everything to line up in such a fashion that the moon is precisely positioned for it to cast its shadow across the face of the earth. Even then, it does so on a relatively small path. Hence, all Americans rush to get to the states just north of us.
It’s a matter of vantage point. As the earth orbits around the sun, and the moon orbits the earth, both the moon and earth are casting shadows, as are all objects, such as comets and planets. You would just have to be in the right place, at the right time, in your very fast and well-provisioned spaceship, to see it.
The uniqueness, or rarities of events like these make them valuable and noteworthy. A friend of mine from Boston posted that he experienced a solar eclipse as a child. It was shared with his mother who made sure he got to see it and understand what it was that he was experiencing.
He told her that he wanted to be sure to be with his mom the next time one occurred. Understandably, she told him that doing so was not likely. He was pleased to tell his friends yesterday that he and his wife headed to his mother’s home and were able to enjoy Monday’s event with her.
He felt it was one of the most meaningful promises he’s made — and kept — in his life.
Speaking about rare experiences, our friend Barbara Barlow (of Speirs Farm and Annual Garden Tour fame) hit a remarkable milestone this last week. She is 85 years young.
Several of her Garden Tour committee and close friends got together this last week to throw Barbara a surprise birthday party. They colluded to get her to the right place at the right time and it really paid off. She was a bit overwhelmed and shed a few tears at the sight of seeing her friends assembled to enjoy time with and honor her.
Right now, I’m repairing an antique round pedestal dining table that has been in Barbara’s family for a long time. That table will be back in her dining room next week — a family reunion of sorts. May that table bring back all sorts of great memories. Happy birthday, Barbara, you are a grand lady.
Jay Cooper can be contacted at email@example.com, or you can visit his channel at youtube.com/dirtfarmerjay for videos on the hands-on life of gardening, shop and home skills, culinary arts and landscaping.