Total Eclipse of the Sun

The picture shows me and my lover Frank during a total eclipse of the sun on February 26, 1979. Along with our dear friend Connie, we went to Washington state where we viewed the eclipse from the Columbia River Gorge. It was the most spectacular natural event I have ever witnessed. Seeing a partial eclipse of the sun is about one percent as exciting as witnessing totality. It is awesome. It is inspirational. It is totally COOL! Some say that it is "seeing God!"

As the moment of totality approaches, the sky grows darker and darker. The stars begin to appear. Animals become quiet and an uneasy anticipation wells up in the observers. It is incredible that the apparent diameter of the moon in our sky is identical to that of the sun. Is this a coincidence or another indication of the perfection of nature? Anyway, this causes the moon to completely block the direct light from the sun and permits us to see the corona, the ring of fire around the sun.

Moments before totality, the shadow of the moon rushes across the land, momentarily plunging us into darkness, and then light, and dark, and light. This is due to the valleys of the moon allowing sunlight to pass intermittantly as the moon moves into position. Then we are plunged into the darkness of midnight. The stars come out and we can see a hint of dawn on the horizon in all directions. Up in the sky a ring of fire dances around a circular black core. The sensation caused by the spectacle is difficult to describe. It IS seeing god. It is bearing witness to the forces of nature and a reminder of our insignificant role in the workings of the universe. It is no wonder that primitive cultures were filled with fear and reverence by eclipses.

Outside of a narrow path of totality, usually around 100 miles wide, only a partial eclipse is visible and it is no more exciting than a typical twilight. Inside the path, the duration of totality is greatest at the center.

This spectacle of a lifetime lasts only a few minutes and then it all happens again in reverse. The ring of fire fades and a sparkle of light twinkles from one point on the edge as if it were from a diamond ring. Then the bands of light and dark sweep across the landscape and suddenly the sky lights up like nothing odd had ever happened, except those who witnessed the awesome cosmic light show will never forget it.

My first rational thought after the world returned to normal on that cold February morning in 1979 was that I MUST see another total eclipse before I die. My life is blessed with good fortune and so I had the joy of witnessing my second total eclipse of the sun on July 11, 1991. My parents, my sister and her family, and once again my dear Connie, along with her husband Ed accompanied me to the Island of Hawaii for that eclipse. We arranged to go on a boat ride off the coast since there was a liklihood of poor weather on the island. It was an excellent idea because most people on land were unable to see the spectacle.

There were about 25 people on the boat which left port before dawn. The sun rose in a clear sky. We thought it was a clear sky, but it turned out that the sky was full of dust from the volcano that was erupting at the time in the Phillipines. This caused refraction of light from areas outside the path of totality. The result was that the sky did not go completely dark and only the brightest stars appeared. However, the ring of fire appeared in the sky in exquisite grandeur and Dolphins jumped out of the water to see the show. It was a most thrilling and inspiring experience.

The last total eclipse of the 20th century occurred on August 11, 1999. The path of totality passed just south of Stonehenge, and continued past Paris, Luxembourg, Munich, Salzburg, Vienna, Budapest, Bucharest, Turkey, Iran, and all the way to India The weather in England and France was overcast and much of Germany and Austria had scattered clouds. Connie and Ed and I had trravelled from San Francisco to Lake Balaton in Hungary for the spectacle. We awoke at dawn on the morning of the eclipse to a heavy rain and after a bout of depression we (and most other visitors to the area) focused our thoughts on driving away the clouds. By 8 AM the sky was showing patches of blue and an hour later the sun began to shine. We headed toward a choice spot which we discovered earlier in the week, an open field on a quiet country road directly in the center of the path of totality. Most people we spoke with were planning to stay close to the popular lake resort area for a festive atmosphere..We wanted a quiet rural setting for our religious experience. We arrived at our open-air cathedral about an hour before totality.

The sun poured down on this broad flat valley of ancient farmland in central Hungary. Beyond the meadows were forrested rolling hillsides. The only sound was from sheep being herded across the far end of the field. As the auspicious moment drew closer, the bright summery landscape slowly took on the look of twilight, even though it was just past noon. Then we spotted the first wave of darkness racing toward us across the valley. With it came a mystical sense of awe, a curious blend of rapture and disquiet. In a moment it was gone and the land lightened enough to accent the next racing shadow. Then again it was light. This visual drum roll was soon drowned out by the awesome silence of instant night fall, setting the mood for the appearance of the dazzling star of the show, mother nature's spectacular ring of fire. I can't describe the profound effect this view has on the inner-being. It instills a humble reverence and respect for our world and everything in it. It inspires us to believe in ourselves and encourages hope for a better tomorrow.

Fewer than one in a thousand people ever get to see a total eclipse of the sun, and it is a spectacle that should be witnessed by everyone. The next total solar eclipse visible from land crosses India and China on July 22, 2009. On August 21, 2017 a total eclipse crosses the entire United States from Oregon to South Carolina.

GO! You won't regret it!

-Uncle Donald-


The San Francisco Exploratorium website has an archive of excellent eclipse information.
Mister Eclipse - an eclipse site by Fred Espenak, an eclipse chaser and expert on the topic.



This page created July 5, 1999 and modified June 13, 2006
• Text and Graphics © 1979 - 1999 • UD Graphics • San Francisco •
Permission to copy images is granted only for non-commercial, non-profit use.