A song of shadows and light

Sriram Madapusi from Seattle

It was a normal summer Sunday night, which usually meant Game of Thrones. I had met friends to view the series together, where they casually mentioned that they were camping at Madras, Oregon to view the solar eclipse the next weekend. I eagerly signed up to go with them. It involved a 300-mile drive from Seattle, WA to Madras, OR. Just talking about the road trip, got my adrenaline flowing!

So began the hunt for eclipse viewing glasses. They were being sold for atrocious prices all over the place. A quick search for them on amazon turned up a pack of 100 glasses, which were to be shipped from China and delivered in 3 months. Perfect! Just in time for the next solar eclipse in 2024. I was unable to source them, and decided to wing it.

The campground in Madras, Oregon was called solar fest. Cars as far as the eye could see, I could have wagered that there were 16,342 cars and you would have believed me. After circling the camping spots for about 30 minutes, we finally found a spot and pitched our tent.

Photo-Aug-20-300x177 A song of shadows and lightWe wandered off to find something to eat and to our surprise found a stall selling eclipse-viewing glasses at 2$. Talk about an entire ecosystem built on fake demand/supply, as others were selling glasses at more than 20$ back in Seattle. Making a mental note to never buy into such hype, we bought our glasses and went back to camp.

The next day was spent in preparation of the eclipse, with photographer friends of mine checking out solar filters, focusing of DSLR lenses. We were treated to a truly spectacular sunset, and it setup the scene for the foretold celestial reckoning.

We couldn’t sleep that night. Giddy with excitement, all of us were reading about eclipse Wikipedia articles, and how solar eclipses have evolved over millions of years. Did you know that the only reason we can see Sun’s Corona (outer atmosphere) during totality of the eclipse is because the moon is constantly moving away from the earth. In all probability, a few million years ago our mammalian ancestors would have experienced complete darkness during the eclipse, as the Sun’s outer atmosphere would have also been covered.

The D-day arrived, August 21 2017. It was a cloudless blue sky, no one could have asked for a better day to witness the eclipse. We had around 2 hours to setup all our camera equipment. Everyone worked in silence, except for the clattering of camera tripods and mounting of lenses.

Photo-Aug-20-300x177 A song of shadows and lightAt 10:20am, there were mad cheers to indicate the eclipse had begun. Quickly glancing up at the sun, (with our eclipse viewing glasses on, of course!) one could see that a small sliver of the sun was being eaten up.

The next 40 mins or so, passed by without much change. After which, we started noticing subtle changes, the shadows had lost their depth. It looked as if somebody was applying an instagram filter on the world and toning down the saturation. A wind picked up, and we could feel a sudden chill settling in. The moment of totality was right around the corner.

What happened next, cannot be explained in words, but I shall try. The world went dark with a mysterious ring shaped object in the sky. The sky nearest the ring was pitch black, followed by dark blue to orange/pink towards the horizon in every direction. Stars and planets could be seen. The crowd went bonkers, and one 7 year old’s cry stood out “This is the best thing has happened in my life”. I found that hard to disagree with.

That moment of totality, which lasted 2 minutes, brought out so many philosophical overtures to much larger, deeper questions. We take for granted the existence of the Sun, existence of life, and even more the ability to emote with one another. My realization was that even a tiny cosmic imbalance can disrupt our day to day life. Lets try to make the best of each day, and worry not about tomorrow, for it may be the day the scales tilt in favor of chaos.

(A write up on Total Solar Eclipse, which the whole of America witnessed on 21st August 2017).


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