So, what does one do on the day of a solar eclipse when one is just a hop, skip and a jump from a beach hut on the south coast? Well, one hops, skips and jumps down to the beach to view the spectacle of course. At least, one ambles down with a flask of coffee and a danish.
When I say danish, I don’t mean that I’m going down to the beach with someone from Denmark. Or a rasher of bacon. Although either of those would have been nice. In this case though, I am referring to a vanilla croissant crown left over from yesterday’s ‘breakfast meeting’. The actual total eclipse, (“turn around, bright eyes…”) is actually eclipsing over the south coast at approximately 9.35am. I arrive at my beach hut at 9.04am and drag a chair down to the tide line to settle myself into a strong easterly facing position.
Last time I sat on the beach waiting for the sun to do something was in Argelès-sur-Mer where all I demanded of it was that it rise. It was still a dark, starry night when I carted a wicker arm chair down to the water’s edge from a beach cafe and plonked myself down expectantly. After about two hours I began to doubt that it would ever happen. The sky didn’t appear to be getting any lighter, the moon was still out and there was definitely no sign of the sun. Then I started to worry, as you do, that that day was in actual fact, the official end of the world. There would be no sun. Here was I, a tiny speck on the sand in Southern France, witnessing the end of civilisation as we know it. Then it popped up over the horizon. A bright, burning ball of orange flames streaking the sky with pink, hazy scuds of cloud. I was so relieved I wrote a poem.
Then there was the total eclipse, (“Once upon a time there was light in my life…”) of August 1999, when a bunch of mates bundled up to Hampstead Heath with a blanket and some champagne and viewed it through funny little cardboard glasses with one red lens and one green lens that had come free with the paper. We all expected the bright, sunny day to suddenly turn to night - completely dark with full visibility of discernible constellations - but it just got a bit colder, felt a bit spooky for a few moments and left us all commenting on how weird it was when the birds stopped singing.
Today I didn’t need any silly cardboard glasses as my eyes were fully protected by a sheet of dense, grey cloud but still I sat, moving my chair slowly up the beach as the tide gradually drew in, waiting, watching for the universe to do something amazing.
I’m not going to use the word ‘disappointing’. That’s a nasty word. Especially when the only reason such an awesome event could be disappointing is if a human being decides that it should be some sort of dazzling display provided as free entertainment. Like The Aurora Borealis, or a meteorite shower. Or when a leaf falls off a tree. We don’t deserve dashed expectations because in actual fact, these things do not happen purely for our enjoyment. They happen because that is what happens. That is nature innit? So massive, so palpable so… ‘there’. So much bigger, more powerful and more significant than any of us could ever be and yet so humble. Spring is the perfect time to appreciate this. Just look at all the pretty little flowers opening up. In the words of Joan Walsh Anglund, ‘Spring does not ask an audience, but shapes each blossom perfectly, indifferent to applause’.
So, okay, I didn’t really see much of a solar eclipse today. The clouds wisped open for a split second and I saw what looked like a shadow of a crescent moon, except it was the sun and it was the moon that was causing the shadow…and hey, I’m happy with that. That is what was supposed to happen. That was what the universe was supposed to be doing at 9.35am this morning. And I was supposed to be sitting on a beautiful, tranquil, peaceful beach with a calm, approaching tide lapping at my chair, appreciating it. Acknowledging it. And being grateful for it. Just as I was grateful that day over 25 years ago when the sun truly did come up and this wonderful world didn’t end after all. Phew.
As I walked off the beach I was greeted by a old guy wearing North Face gear and a big smile who asked me, “Did you see it?”. I was so cheered by his enthusiasm and reassured by the fact that he too was returning home after viewing the event. At least I knew I wasn’t going to miss the grande finale. How lovely, I thought, to meet a fellow eclipse viewer, a nature lover, a like-minded soul, someone else in tune with the universe, someone aware of the importance of appreciating the happenings of nature. “What’s that? Some sort of fancy viewing device?” he asked, pointing to the thermos flask in my hand.
“No, it’s a thermos flask” I answered, but I raised it to my eye anyway. It seemed the right thing to do.