I am an umbraphile, I finally found the word that describes me, or at least one aspect of me. The first time I saw the word was when I read an article describing other umbraphiles experiences during a total eclipse of the sun.
My first total eclipse was in March of 1979. I was a high school teacher at the time and read of the eclipse in Star and Telescope. As I read the article I learned that the umbra’s shadow, the path of totality, would pass just one hundred and fifty miles north of where we lived.
So, I looked at my atlas and noticed that the central part of the shadow passed near the town of Jordan, Montana. I asked my brother in law Phil, who was living with us at the time, if he would like to join me as I drove up north and attempted to take images of the event.
Now if I could just get the school to give me a couple of days off, which of course they didn’t. I ended up taking the days off by using my precious convenience days, (we could take two days off per year, for any reason).
Driving to Jordon was a real eye opener. North of Miles City, wheat fields stretched across the horizon, and there was only one tree that dotted the landscape. Some wag had put up a sign declaring it a national forest, but at least we wouldn’t have to worry about trees blocking the eclipse.
Checking into a motel we spent an anxious night. We were the only ones there but the weather forecast came on and they were predicting cloudy skies for Billings. The next morning the motel was packed! There were some clouds in the west and so after talking with some other umbraphiles we took off chasing after a patch of blue sky, (we later heard that the clouds passed and Jordan had great skies for the eclipse).
Setting up our cameras on a remote and snow-covered hillside, we sat down and waited for the eclipse to start. I had purchased an optical solar filter for the two cameras and sure enough the sun started to be eclipsed by the moon.
I really didn’t know what exactly to expect and for the first hour very little happened. It finally got dusky and then we saw shadows racing across the snow. They were shadows of the mountains of the moon!
In the distance coyotes started to howl, as the total eclipse started. As the moon eclipsed the sun the first sight was called the diamond ring effect. A small part of the sun’s surface showed, the photosphere hence the diamond, and the solar chromosphere burst into a ring of fire, the gold band.
I almost forgot to take a picture and so I almost missed it. I became busy, switching cameras, as the solar corona appeared and the starts came out. It was night time in the middle of the day. Glancing north and south we could see that it was still daytime. Anyone who thinks that ninety-eight or ninety-nine percent is enough is wrong. You must be in the path of Totality!
The eclipse lasted for nearly nine minutes. In that time, I took nearly two rolls of film and almost missed the diamond ring effect when the suns photosphere started to reappear. We sat there as the moon finally passed from view and without saying much tore down our equipment. As we drove away we saw a lone tree filled with roosting sage grouse.
Seeing a total eclipse certainly changed me. While it was happening, several cars passed by and I was amazed that people were so busy that they wouldn’t pull over and view the eclipse. I vowed that I would spend my life taking the time to stop and appreciate the beauty that surrounds us.
Now I am anxiously awaiting this year’s t total eclipse. We are only twenty miles from the edge of the umbra, but we plan on driving further. Fifty thousand people will descend near us but we know a place where a rocky road will take us to a special place where we often rock hound.
However, we are ready to chase a patch of clear skies. Forest fire smoke threatens to cloud the view, so if we must we will fight the crowded roadway. I haven’t decided if I will take a few images or just simply sit and watch, mesmerized by the events. Clear skies, oh please let there be clear skies!