“Oh no! Not another eclipse blog!” Well, yes, but since we weren’t in the path of totality, we had to do things a bit differently. No fancy filtered photos of a brilliant corona hanging in a black sky (let’s face it, unless you’re an astronomer, almost every eclipse photo taken since cameras and eclipses got together look pretty much the same).
This is Part Three of a week-long series on my recent trip to the West Coast of Vancouver Island. It just so happened that the eclipse was happening while we were there (yeah, we could have gone to Oregon, but why fight the crowds?). Find Part One, about the beaches, here, and Part Two, my take on comfort camping, here.
Everyone was excited the morning of the eclipse, and we rushed through our morning tea to get ready. Being in the fog zone, we weren’t sure if we’d have to get in the car and go inland a bit to escape it, so we were prepared. But the sky cleared quite early, leaving a clean blue dome above the trees.
Um, right, trees overhead. But no worries — part of what I wanted to watch was the effect of light through the dappling of leaves. During the second of the two total eclipses I’ve seen, the one that crossed the tip of Baha California back in 1991, I noticed something I hadn’t known about before, and only vaguely understood at the time — the eclipse light passing through the dappled shadows of palm leaves created tiny pictures of itself on the ground! Later I learned that this was the same effect as created by a pinhole camera, or camera obscura, and even our own eye pupils. I spent the totality of that eclipse waist-deep in the surf, not looking at the sun, but enjoying the effects on the land-and-seascape around me.
My companions were prepared to test this dappling effect scientifically (heh) with a homemade pinhole camera. Seems it doesn’t have to be anything as fancy as JPL’s DIY pinhole camera — after all, if leaves can do it, why not a piece of cardboard? So they went up to the clearing at the top of the hill, with a couple of pieces of scrounged cardboard, one with a small hole poked in the middle.
Alain managed to hold this steadily and patiently throughout the eclipse, as fellow campers and camp staff came and went. As the eclipse progressed, we could see the moon’s shadow in the projected image wax and wane. Mike had folded his mylar space blanket five or six times, and we took turns looking through that (mylar being one of the recommended viewing materials). In previous eclipses, I had looked through totally exposed and developed black-and-white film, which was the recommended DIY material in those days (and still is one of them).
Well… yeah, it could have been a prettier piece of cardboard to project it on, but it was what we had around camp…
While the eclipse was progressing, I was waiting for the moment when the dappled shadows on the ground would start showing me the drama in the sky. I ran around the campground, looking at leaf shadows on different surfaces. The light got more and more eerie, but no little eclipses on the ground. Finally, some definition began to appear!
I tried photographing the pond to see if the reflection would be distorted. Nope. But it made a nice picture.
I ducked into the hot tub area to see if a harder surface made a difference. Now I was starting to get some definite crescents!
Back up to our camp — by now getting quite dim, like a cloudy day but with a strange, watery quality to the light. Crescents were appearing on the tents:
Out in the path, some well-defined crescents were starting to form, eclipse clones of different sizes scattered all over the gravel.
The attenuated sunbeams struggled through the campfire smoke hanging in the air. A hush came over the woods. I had witnessed the well-known effect on wildlife during the first total eclipse that I saw, back in 1979; my boyfriend and I had driven as high up into the hills above Yakima, Washington as we could get before the eclipse started because we wanted to see the umbra coming towards us. When the time drew near, we stopped the car on a hill crest in a landscape of rolling hills — perfect! What we didn’t expect was to see a herd of elk nearby — bonus! As we watched the great shadow come rolling over the hills toward us, the elk yawned and lay down, one by one, preparing to go to sleep. As the eclipse waned, they got up, looking a bit puzzled, and resumed their grazing. I’ve always imagined a little conversation between elks:
“Hey, did you see that?” “See what?” “Um, nothing, nothing…”
I wasn’t sure if the partial eclipse would have any effect on the wildlife (and I didn’t have any elk handy anyway), but sure enough, part of the hush was that the birds had stopped their chatter. The camp is usually noisy in the morning with crows and stellar jays announcing, well, whatever it is they announce with their raucous calls, as well as smaller cheeping-type birds. The humans seemed to feel it as well, and we all talked in quiet voices.
I discovered that I could hold an eclipse in my hand, making a shadow puppet like a big-nosed, sleepy rabbit:
Too soon, it was over, and we watched the shadow give back the sun on the pinhole camera as the birds resumed their conversations. After a post-eclipse breakfast, we went off to the beach; Victoria (who tends to be poetic) observed how the sunlight seemed washed clean by its brush with the moon.
Tomorrow, Part Four: poking around on the beach: tidepools and seaweed