If you’ve ever expressed a fondness for something whimsical—let’s say, ceramic figurines of llamas—you are probably now the proud owner of an entire collection of the little Peruvian porcelains. When people find out you’re a collector of something, it makes buying a birthday present so much easier.
And so it follows that when you mention that you are jotting down a few thoughts about a specific astronomical event, that people will start sending you links to articles about said happening. It is both gratifying and annoying at the same time, because most of the articles are far better than anything I’m going to write and thus make me feel sad and inferior. But I soldier on! And rather than pretend that no one else had the unique idea to write about the eclipse, today the woodchuck will share with you the best of the internet. Think of these fascinating articles as way to fill your thirst for knowledge with actual research and facts so that you won’t be disappointed when I get back to quoting Werewolves.com.
Not for the actual event – that should be two minutes and forty-one seconds of quality silence, orchestrated by freaked-out birds and chilly cicadas who stop swiping left when the temps drop because they don’t have enough body heat to look for a date. You definitely need to be unplugged and present for that.
But there will be a lot of travel time to fill up as people make their way towards the Path of Totality, and for that you’re going to need tunes. My own journey starts on Friday, August 18 and will involve many hours in the car. Every now and then I get a little bit tired of listening to the sound of “Hamilton”, so here are a few ideas on what to look for in appropriate music.
1) It should contain factual information, and no song gets that better than “Brain Damage/Eclipse” by Pink Floyd from the album Dark Side of the Moon.
One side of the moon is always lit by the sun, but the lit side isn’t always facing the Earth. This is how we get the phases of the moon. For a solar eclipse to occur, it needs to be in its “new moon” phase. During the new moon, the dark side of the moon is directly facing the Earth.
Brian Resnick vox.com
Nobody puts the lunatic in lunar quite like Pink Floyd, and their lyrics perfectly illustrate what it will be like if it’s too crowded or the weather doesn’t cooperate:
And if the cloud bursts, thunder in your ear
You shout and no one seems to hear.
And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon.
I am going to be so mad if it rains. I know I shouldn’t worry about that but every now and then I get a little bit nervous that the rest of all the clouds won’t go by.
2) It should reference all parties involved, so anything mentioning the sun, the moon, or a shadow are acceptable. Easy enough, as there are a million songs that touch on all these things. “Here Comes the Sun” will be great as it emerges from behind the darkness. “Moonshadow” is a twofer! If you’re a Smashmouth fan (and who isn’t!) “Walking on the Sun” can merge right into “Walking on the Moon” by the Police. I’m putting together a mashup of “Big Hard Sun” and “Moondance” – it worked perfectly when I sang it in the car this morning so I just need a sound editor to mix it together for me and maybe add some reverb and autotune my voice. (Fun fact: I always thought the song was “Big Hot Sun” until I googled it just now. One of those “someone ate my wife tonight” situations.)
3) It should probably be something pretty obvious that everyone can sing. Come on, you know what I’m talking about! “Then you flew your Learjet to Nova Scotia, to see the total eclipse of the sun”.
In the 1970s, a small group of astronomers used the first prototype of the Concorde to pursue a total eclipse across the Sahara at twice the speed of sound. Chris Hatherill/Motherboard.com
When I read about these scientists who chartered the Concorde in order to follow the Path of Totality across the earth for 70 minutes, I actually thought it was this episode that Carly Simon was referring to in “You’re So Vain”. But apparently this happened in 1973 and the song was written in 1971, so I guess not. Unless . . . the plane went fast enough to reverse the spin of the earth and turn back time so that Warren Beatty could go with them! Turn, earth! Turn around!
It’s so easy to find the correct info on the internet. And I’ll only be making it right, ‘Cause we’ll never be wrong together! We can take it to the end of the line –
this blog is like a shadow on me all of the time (all of the time).
I don’t know what to do and I’m always in the dark.
It’s like I’m living in a powder keg and giving off sparks.
Nothing I can do.
But let’s just return to the start . . .
You’re going to need a playlist.
Note: Here are some songs you should NOT add to your iPod A Whiter Shade of Pale
On a Clear Day You Can Nazi Forever
Waitin’ for the Robert E. Lee
Springtime for Hitler
Tomorrow Belongs To Me
Countless articles are warning that you will need special glasses if you plan on looking at the eclipse. Make sure you get the right kind —shameless grifters are apparently repurposing old 3D glasses and trying to pass them off as NASA approved, so be suspicious if yours have a Captain America logo on the side. I found a pair at a local hardware store for under two bucks and was surprised at how flimsy they are. For all the worry about blind woodchucks, I was expecting something a bit more substantial.
Some procedural questions for those of us who already wear glasses: do you duct tape the cardboard ones over your existing specs or shove them underneath? What if you have bifocals? Can I get these in my prescription? Are the disposables biodegradable or will they still be in landfills by the time we go through this again in 2024? Can I get the eclipse pair in those really thick, dark frames that all the hipsters are wearing?
Not peeking may be the safest option, but you can’t hear all the hype about this event and then elect to just stare at your shoes while it is happening. Looking at your feet should at least remind you to make the classic Pinhole Shoebox experiment. This diagram shows how to construct this project. It works exactly as described but should come with a warning— opinions may vary on its effectiveness.
The last eclipse that was visible from the midwest area of the U.S. was in 1994. Chicago wasn’t anywhere near the path of totality so there wasn’t quite the amount of coverage there is now, but it was still in the news. I had been talking it up to my kids (who were nine and four at the time) and perhaps raising expectations for this great event in the sky just a tad more than I should have. Since I was all about Safety First and crafty as hell to boot, we constructed the Pinhole Shoebox as a family project. It was very low-tech but I assured them it was going to work perfectly. They seemed doubtful.
The afternoon of the eclipse found us out on the playground of the elementary school with kids milling about waiting for something momentous to happen. As the time approached, the light started to vaguely dim but it wasn’t as if total darkness fell. It just seemed cloudy. I had the shoebox positioned correctly to catch the light and as the moon moved in front of the sun, a perfect crescent shadow slowly advanced over the white circle that was the sun projected at the back of the box. It looked exactly as Carl Sagan had promised!
The problem with this whole experiment is that it happens inside of a shoebox and the image is about the size of a pencil eraser. You could call it anticlimactic. Others might use the words profoundly underwhelming.
Excitedly I called the kids over to show them that it had worked and they looked baffled. They had imagined something like the stream of light hitting the crystal staff and sending a laser beam through the darkness of the pyramid tomb in Raiders of the Lost Ark. What they got was their mother with her head in a shoebox acting like she had discovered something about the sun that Galileo might have missed. As I handed the box to my daughter so that she, too, could marvel at this astronomical event, I caught the look on her face. It was the dawning realization that this was to be the first of many moments when her up-to-that-point cool mom was actual going to turn out to be the embarrassment of her life. She’d heard about this in the girl’s bathroom but hadn’t expected it to happen this soon. And why was the waist of her jeans so high?!?
Shortly after this, she refused to be picked up from school in the battered old Chevy Chevette I was driving at the time. My advice is don’t try the shoebox experiment with anyone over the age of eight. You’re setting yourself up for humiliation. It’s going to happen eventually, but why add fuel to the fire? And for God’s sake, stop wearing those mom jeans.
Fun fact: Galileo was completely blind by the age of 74. Coincidence? I think not.
An interesting factoid about the solar eclipse is how it will affect the behavior of animals. Clearly the woodchuck* may be regretting some of his decisions, but how will his furry friends react to this natural phenomenon? According to the internet, not well.
“Researchers of the Zoological Survey of India studied rock bees during an eclipse, finding that the number of them leaving and returning to their hive every minute increased dramatically during a partial solar eclipse. These social bees are known for their aggressive defense strategies and vicious behavior when disturbed. As the sun dipped behind the moon, more than 150 bees buzzed about, when normally only a few would move away from the hive. Said the researcher, “It would appear that during the partial solar eclipse, the rock bees became distinctly restless and more active.”
Distinctly restless and more active is not how I want my bees to behave, and that was just during a partial eclipse. They are going to totally freak during a total one. It also appears that the colonial orb-weaving spiders of Mexico will have no idea what to do with themselves, as they start ripping apart their webs when the day goes completely dark, then reconstructing them when the light returns. Even the hippos are going to need Xanax:
“Hippos on a sandbar in the Zambezi River began entering the water as the eclipse set in — possibly mistaking it for the onset of evening, when the animals typically leave their resting places and traverse the bottom of the river. Sunlight returned before any of the herd had reached the riverbanks, and the study reported an apparent sense of confusion, even apprehension among the animals. They continued in this state, seemingly, for the rest of the day.”
So now we’ve got angry bees, confused spiders and apprehensive hippos all running around, as well as an extra million cars on the roads trying to get to the Path. And apparently ground squirrels go completely nuts as well, as the length of their “non-stop running sessions were much greater than normal during and for two hours after the eclipse.” This should make for some interesting roadkill. Between the angry bees and the manic squirrels, I may not even get out of the car.
Oh, sure, you say, it’s just a squirrel. They are small and cute and can be beaten to death with a shovel if necessary. But have scientists considered how this lunar event is going to affect werewolves? The moon will be full as the shadow passes in front of the sun, even though it’s the middle of the day. If this is messing with the hippo’s heads, what will it do to werewolves? Once again, I turned to the internet for expert advice:
“A lunar eclipse during a full moon will cause a werewolf to de-transform from their monstrous hairy wolf form during the eclipse. Yet they will maintain their mindless violent werewolf rage while in human form and will totally lose all sense of humanity, causing them to go on a serial killing spree of anything that crosses their path.”
And I was worried there wasn’t going to be any cell phone service.
*There was some chatter on Facebook about the fact that a woodchuck and a groundhog are the same thing. While that may be factually correct, please be assured that nothing on this blog can be assumed to be true as my main research tool is werewolves.com. But it would explain the nightmare that I had where I kept thinking I had written a new post, only to wake up each day and find it was the same one over and over.
I think the answer is obvious. The first rule about watching the solar eclipse is don’t watch the solar eclipse. Foolish woodchucks who don’t wear their special glasses during this event will find themselves scorned and mocked by the other rodents. They can be very mean.
I hope the rest of the woodchucks have already ordered their glasses from NASA, because on August 21, 2017, North America will be able to experience its first solar eclipse in almost a century. For a total of 2 minutes and 41 seconds, the moon will move in front of the sun, blocking the light and warmth of the star we depend upon for our very survival. It’s a preview of what life will be like if Donald Trump stays in office much longer.
A total eclipse is said to be an awe-inspiring moment. The light dims and goes flat, the temperature suddenly chills, birds and animals go silent (except for my cats, who will assume it’s time to eat since it will be dark). Woodchucks will make bad choices.
Most of the U.S. will be able to see at least a partial eclipse (or as Congress calls it, “a skinny eclipse”), but to get the whole experience of Black is the New Orange, you will need to be in the Path of Totality. The Path is not some flower-laden trail of dirt that little girls skip along; it is a wide arc of the sightline that swoops across the country, suddenly throwing tiny little midwestern towns into the spotlight simply because of where they are geographically located.
One of these towns is Hopkinsville, KY, population 31,000. That’s for today. On August 21, it is expected to be more like 150,000; or rather, 150,011, as my entire family and I will be there, too.
The Blind Woodchuck, besides being a cautionary tale, is also your guide to All Things Eclipse. Check back frequently for a first person narrative of how to prepare for this great event, and moment to moment observations about whether thousands of people standing together in a field staring up at the sun will simultaneously burn their retinas to a crisp. We can all learn from the woodchuck.