A Short Eclipse Story
I was bobbing in the ocean fifty yards off the South Carolina shoreline wearing my official eclipse glasses and watching the moon swallow the sun when I felt something brush up against my leg. Good Lord, I thought, please tell me I haven’t driven 500 miles to see the Great American Eclipse only to be eaten by a Great White!
Beach patrols and umbrella renters had been advising people to stay out of the surf during the eclipse because low visibility would increase marine animal activity.
Sharks, you know, are known to feed at dusk, and the eclipse would provide them with an extra dinner hour. Earlier I’d witnessed all the seagulls flying towards land to roost.
Thankfully, I saw no shark fins in my vicinity, and happily concluded it must have been some random fish. It happens. I did note that as far as I could see up and down the beach, I was the only one watching from out in the ocean. Shark or no shark, I took great pleasure in knowing I was among the last group of “ecliptomaniacs” to experience the moon’s shadow on its roughly two-hour and 2,400 mph journey from Pacific to Atlantic.
You will note I didn’t refer to myself as an “umbraphile” or a “coronaphile,” more dignified and serious names for eclipse chasers. Until this particular eclipse, I’d never given it a thought. At least not since 1970 when an eclipse bisected North Carolina moving south to north. In grade school, I recall we made box pinhole projectors to safely watch it.
Who in their right mind—besides scientists and amateur astronomers—would travel around the globe to chase an experience other than sex that lasts less than two minutes? Ancient civilizations watched and tried to predict eclipses, but it wasn’t until 1715 when the British astronomer Sir Edmond Halley figured out how to accurately predict where eclipses would occur and how long they would last that people began to chase “totality.” A CNN poll taken before the eclipse predicted that half the population of the United States would watch the eclipse.
Of course, not all of them were going to experience “totality,” that most desirable state where the moon blocks the sun 100% and plunges daytime into nighttime. Only those 11 million Americans in the direct 70-mile wide path would witness the mechanics of the solar system in action and feel the euphoric rush as the rules of nature turned upside down for a few minutes.
I didn’t experience totality and that’s okay with me. My father and stepmother’s piece of the South Carolina low country only got 99.5% coverage. It wasn’t quite the “diamond ring” effect but it was darn close. And we got to avoid the crowds and spend the day picnicking on the beach.
Floating in the ocean, I watched the darkness rush eastward, like a reverse tide flooding everything in darkness. The temperature dropped. Children screamed. And, the lights of oceanfront cottages began to come on. Looking eastward, I witnessed a Polynesian sunset and waves that glittered like silver. It was magical for an entire 39 seconds as the shadow wave washed over us and rolled out to sea.
Just as quickly as it came it was over. As the sunshine returned so too did life. People began moving about on the beach. The seagulls returned. Trump was still president. Ready for a beer, I strode in like Neptune from the sea, my eclipse glasses perched atop my head like a crown. As I exited the surf, a man who was fishing all during the eclipse caught a baby shark. I’m just saying….
Rich Barnett is the author of The Discreet Charms of a Bourgeois Beach Town, and Fun with Dick and James. More from Rich Barnett.