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A solar eclipse in the garden

March 20, 2015

So, how was it for you? The eclipse, I mean. Social media is awash today with images of the solar eclipse, which was visible this morning from northern latitudes. In our own area of Scotland it peaked at 95% totality (if that’s how you say it). It was not to get completely dark, in other words, but it promised to be a good show. My husband and I decided to watch it from the garden, which faces south.

The morning dawned bright and clear. Hurray, we thought: despite forecasts of cloud cover, we will be able to see the eclipse after all. It was to begin at around 8.30 a.m. At around 8.29, the first clouds began to drift across the sky. Curses! Plenty of blue up there, however: there was still hope. After breakfast, I found a shoe box and made it into a rudimentary pinhole camera. At around ten past nine, we put on coats and went out to the garden.

From every tree, birdsong rang across the lawns. You would never guess that our last snowman melted only a few days ago: in the garden, spring has begun. Crocuses and snowdrops embroider a patch of grass. The flowering currant, one of the most fragrant of spring shrubs, is in leaf against the south wall of the castle, and the first little lenten lilies or wild daffodils are blooming under an ancient yew tree. We seated ourselves on a bench and enjoyed the mild, still air.

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Gradually, we began to notice that it was getting darker. It was like the dark that comes on a bright day when a thick cloud drifts over the sun – except that the clouds over the sun were wispy and translucent. The sun was throwing shadows, yet the gloom increased. Weird.

The cloud cover began to thicken: oh no, perhaps we weren’t going to be able to see anything of the eclipse after all. A chilly breath of a breeze sprang up.

‘I see it!’ exclaimed my husband.

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A tear in the clouds revealed, momentarily, the sun with a distinct dark bite taken out of it. For the next quarter of an hour we sat, fascinated, as the light died in the sky to a strange, wan twilight and the birds’ chorus diminished. Although the thickening clouds meant that my pinhole camera was of little use, they did mean that we felt we could risk the odd peek heavenwards, where the sun gleamed like a crescent moon through a turbulent sky.

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Given that we now understand the science behind the appearance of an eclipse, I was surprised at how unsettling it felt. There is something undeniably eerie about the light dying when it should be strengthening; about an evening chill seizing a bright morning. I can understand now why so many cultures have worshipped the sun, and have treated solar eclipses with superstitious dread. We joke now about how long we could survive a zombie apocalypse – but how long could we survive without the sun?

After several minutes, it suddenly became clear that the maximum totality had passed. The sun was too bright to glance towards even through clouds. Earth’s solar charger was not dying on us after all: we were safe!

The thin chorus of birdsong strengthened along with the returning light. As we walked back to the house at a quarter to ten – the daylight grey but brightening, the birds carolling, the dew still chill on the grass – my husband put his finger on how the moment felt.

‘It feels as if it’s about 6.30 in the morning,’ he said. ‘It feels like another dawn.’

Two dawns in one morning: what a memorable way to mark the equinox. From here on, across the northern hemisphere, the light is growing stronger, and we have spring sunshine and sunny days to look forward to. Even as a confirmed lover of autumn, I’d say that is pretty good for us all, wouldn’t you?

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You might enjoy Spring is springing! (this year’s spring seems to be pretty much keeping pace with that of 2011) or Starry-eyed over Magnolia stellata .

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. March 20, 2015 11:08 pm

    Dear k,

    Enjoyed reading this. I was with ursie at nursery and I felt very unsettled by it! Have been painting furiously since so eclipse has energised me!

    Xx z

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    • March 20, 2015 11:12 pm

      Hello, thank you for reading! It’s a new moon today too – a perfect time for beginning a fresh bout of creativity. Hope it goes well. 🙂

  2. boyd permalink
    March 21, 2015 12:41 am

    Thank you

  3. March 21, 2015 1:54 am

    I’ve been seeing photos from friends back in Argyll of today’s eclipse. Some got really good photos so they must have had less cloud in Mid-Argyll. I remember vividly that loss of birdsong from my last solar eclipse.

    I’m glad you are seeing signs of spring. Sadly we just got a dumping of thick snow today so the grass that was just emerging from a blanket of ice and snow is submerged once again – and just as the chipmunks had reappeared too. Sigh. I think I might dance a hearty jig when I spot my first spring flower. I’m very much over winter now.

    • March 21, 2015 5:11 pm

      Ooh, you are having a loooong winter. I’m not surprised you are over it – even here, we are itching for proper warmth and green leaves on the trees! Still a month or more to go, probably.

  4. March 21, 2015 7:39 am

    This was beautifully written. I felt like I was there, in that garden, to see such a thing. Nature continually amazes me. Thank you for writing this so I could experience a little of what you did. Glad spring is here.

    • March 21, 2015 5:12 pm

      I’m so touched and pleased that you say this read as if you were there, as that’s just what I was trying to achieve for my readers. Thank you very much!

  5. March 21, 2015 8:02 pm

    Lovely photos, and I am glad you had a glimpse of it! We did too, through the clouds (and occasionally against a blue sky). I felt the same, rather unsettled and strange, and I noticed a chill wind which came from nowhere. Colin said it was like the day of two nights, and I have to agree! But what a fantastic spectacle. There was a sliver of a new moon hanging in the sky tonight, a joy to see. Your crocus are gorgeous too, by the way!

  6. Toffeeapple permalink
    March 21, 2015 8:06 pm

    Thank you for your account, it was a washout here in my bit of East Anglia, the sun was really bright and I couldn’t find my eclipse glasses or even some old exposed negatives to look through, so didn’t risk looking up.

    Your flowers look pretty.

  7. March 21, 2015 10:14 pm

    eerie, yes.
    I have some Plectranthus celebrating autumn here for you.

  8. hmunro permalink
    March 22, 2015 1:48 pm

    This is so beautifully told, DB; I feel as if I was there with you! As disappointing as those clouds may have been, they actually allowed you to capture better images of the eclipse than your camera could have captured otherwise … so, yay! And your description of the eerie silence and weird light took me back to *my* last near-total eclipse, in Mexico City, in 1977. Isn’t it wonderful that, even with our scientific understanding of the phenomenon, it can still provoke such wonder and awe?

  9. March 22, 2015 3:18 pm

    Two dawns in a morning – what a lovely way of saying it. Quite a magical event and the telling of it. (We had rain, so the pixs are so appreciated)

  10. Karin Van den Bergh permalink
    March 22, 2015 8:29 pm

    Two dawns in one morning – a memorable way of celebrating the equinox! Yes it is. Wonderful. It was pitch black where we live but I’ve spent a white night here in TX 😉

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