Full/Unobservable/Worth It Annular Eclipse October 2023

Over six years ago, we had a full eclipse of the sun which I wrote about here. My brother, nephew, and I traveled to Nashville for totality, and it was worth it. In the past, I’d seen dark crescents via pinholes or special glasses. Real but not exciting. The scene on that plain in Tennessee was, by contrast, unforgettable.

What needs to be explained first, though, is a character flaw I’ve just discovered, a particularly irritating one for others. Rather than name it, I’ll just call it #47 and you can discuss among yourselves what the other 46 are.

This flaw involves the reaction I have to information I’ve a) never heard and b) don’t think sounds correct so I c) think it must be untrue. Luckily, two examples of this have occurred lately.

First, someone was discussing the fact that difficult traumas can affect later generations than the original one that experienced. For example, the Holocaust devastated individuals during a specific period of time. This person noted that scientific research confirmed that the trauma was transmitted to their children and grandchildren by changing DNA. Observable in mice quickly, apparently. I said, in effect, “Never heard of that. I don’t think it’s true.” Looking back, I might should have at least been open to the idea, humble maybe? But no. Minutes later, I was discussing the data with someone far more knowledgeable than I, plus better educated, and obviously smarter. “Oh, yes,’ she said. “It’s called ‘epigenetics,’ and is observable in mice because their DNA changes.” Always the mice, always the DNA. I apologized, obviously.

Second, someone else texted to ask if we could go to the total eclipse in October, probably to Midland. Having not learned from the previous, of course, I said something like “Oh no, that’s in April. And why would we go anywhere when it’s just down I-35? There must be a mistake.” But again, there was no mistake, but CF#47 in play. “But the links? Did you look at the links?!” Even that took some time to sink in, but yes, it was soon clear: A major eclipse was coming, and no one had told me about it.

We did make a plan, though, and drove first to Odessa, where life is centered in the oil industry, and then to Monahans Sandhills State Park. My hometown, San Angelo, is an oasis out there, literally. The dunes in the park are, by the way, completely unexpected and unlike anything I’ve seen. When Texas was under water 250 million years ago, were they the seashore? I don’t know, but it’s a great site.

For an event of this sort, there are parts: Research, preparation, implementation, arrival, interaction, observation, debrief, return. This article has many photos that touch on some of these steps. Crowds are gathered, glasses on, and professionals take the only images anyone can make something of (a clumsy sentence, sorry).

My brief summary may be underwhelming. The setting at the sandhills was great. I climbed some of them with a young companion who was prepared to push me up the dunes if needed. An impossibility, of course, but one has to admire the grace of the offer. The edge of the moon covering the top of the sun began as expected and on time. There is a drama about that, of course, and it is an experience that words fail to capture. As the crescent descended, one observer (a teen) described it as cartoonish, which seems odd, perhaps, but it’s rooted in a certain mathematical practicality. A clean circle makes a different shape on a base circle than a less-than-perfect sphere. Here are some examples. Then the moon covered the sun. Light dimmed, and shadows took on their own shadows. We visited other observers including a professional videographer and his amateur astronomer father. The clarity on their cameras rendered a beautiful image of what is popularly called the “ring of fire.” (As an aside, the Johnny Cash song “Ring of Fire” deserves mention. This older version is rather tame and features mariachi trumpets. This one is much newer and has the boom-chicka-boom prominent. June Carter used the simile “Love is like a burning ring of fire” based, she said, on a line from an Elizabethan poem which, sadly, I can’t find.) And then it was over, the totality anyway. The crescent exited the opposite side from its entrance, of course, and we watched it occasionally as an afterthought for a long time after.

The one remarkable thing about this eclipse as opposed to the one in 2017 and the one coming in 2024 is that nothing was observable to the unfiltered view. I know we were not supposed to look at the sun, but we did. Remarkably, if you didn’t know there was a total eclipse in progress, you wouldn’t have noticed any change in the sun itself. Yes, the tone of light and the shadows (both described as “funky”) suggested something was going on, but if you’d been unaware, you’d have remained unaware.

Feel free to use that metaphor freely. I still need to put a meaningful spin on it. At the very least, I look forward with more intent to April 8, 2024, 1:40-1:44 pm, in Dallas, the when and where of totality. As the sister/aunt of our professionals noted, it’s the only time you can look at the sun directly, without filters, without protection. Again, work on that for meaning, and let me know. Consider coming to my house in April. Not kidding. I can have nine of you over. Probably not chili weather, like today, but it’s Texas. You never know.