“You have seen photographs of the sun taken during a total eclipse…. The lenses of telescopes and cameras can no more cover the breadth and scale of the visual array than language can cover the breadth and simultaneity of internal experience. Lenses enlarge the sight, omit its context, and make of it a pretty and sensible picture, like something on a Christmas card…. More fearsome things can come in envelopes. More moving photographs than those of the sun’s corona can appear in magazines. But I pray you will never see anything more awful in the sky.”
— Annie Dillard, Total Eclipse
Partial eclipses, of which I have seen several, are curious, fascinating and peculiar. A total eclipse is utterly astonishing We saw the bewildering light as the sun dimmed, pale, soft and almost shadowless on the ground as the great shadow approached. We saw sunset light all around the horizons, the Tetons silhouetted ghostly to the east, Venus appearing, felt a late autumn chill descending on the warm August hills. The sun shrunk to a wickedly sharp crescent. But for all that, I was still taken aback at the instantaneous change as the dark of totality struck like a sheet of inverted lightning. The dark seemed to hit with a snap, and the orange crescent above was suddenly replaced with an inky circle rimmed with streaming colorless radiance. The black circle loomed surprisingly large, while the corona appeared vast, its tendrils so arresting that they seemed to cover half the sky. Two minutes of totality seemed to pass in a breath, until a dot of blinding white burst from the top right of the black moon, spotlighted the earth for a moment, then waxed and warmed as the light gradually returned.
To me, these photos stand out from the many others only because they happen to be mine. I’ve already seen lots of better ones, though none which even begin to capture the experience. Honestly, even though I made no serious efforts to photograph this eclipse, I wish I had done even less. Next time, I do not want to give even the smallest instant of thought to my camera during totality, I just want to gaze and be awed.
I was left with a feeling of sadness for the rest of the day, wishing those minutes of totality were twice, five, ten times as long. If you ever have a chance to see a total eclipse, make the effort – all the trouble was easily worth it! I will certainly consider seriously every chance I have to see that sight again in my life.