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Posts Tagged ‘1999’

A Sun-eating Dragon or Why I won’t mind if it’s cloudy tomorrow morning

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Tomorrow, at about 8.30am, I will be standing at the Ring of Brodgar with like-minded souls, hoping to catch a glimpse of the sun being eaten by a dragon. Or a solar eclipse, as the scientists insist on calling it.

We are well-placed in Orkney to take advantage of this phenomenon, as the further north you go, the more of the earth will be cast into shadow by the moon. 96% of our natural light will be extinguished, and we will have night time in the middle of the morning. And if it’s cloudy….well, it won’t matter in the slightest.

In August 1999 Mr Dragon and I travelled to his home town in south Devon to witness the total solar eclipse. With a couple of pals we headed to Windwhistle Farm, and staked our pitch in a field overlooking the lovely River Dart. The media build-up had been extensive, and as well as the safety advice and instructions on how to make a pinhole thingy for viewing, there was talk of Bailey’s Beads and Diamond Rings and all sorts of magically-named things. Many of these phenomena depended on a sunny day, and we were to be disappointed in that respect. But the event itself was amazing: here’s why.

Firstly, the clouds went funny. They made strange, beautiful patterns, probably responding to the drop in temperature as ‘dusk’ started to approach.

Then all the insects came out, as the light levels were telling them that twilight was here and they should get busy.

Because all the bugs came out, so did the birds! Cue much swooping and diving as the swallows of Windwhistle Farm enjoyed a bonus snack in the middle of the day.

Strangest of all were the sheep. As the artificial dusk gathered, the sheep clearly took this as their cue to head for the edges of the field where they normally slept at night. Slightly confused, they set off for the stone walls, softly chewing. Then, when the path of totality hit them, they all stopped dead in their tracks and remained motionless until the light had returned.

In the meantime, we humans had caught glimpses of the sun through the cloud, and could see chunks being taken from the circle. It was also rather disturbing to see a long black line cutting across the landscape and heading our way – as the shadow of the moon fell onto the earth.

Cloudy or no, I know this much, it got bloomin’ dark and it was very exciting. On the opposite side of the river someone set off a firework.

After the eclipse was over, we headed back into town and I purchased a lovely silver ring which depicted the phases of a solar eclipse, made especially by a local jeweler for the occasion. Then, we went to a tearoom and had a huge cream tea. When in Devon, etc.

Another reason why it will not matter if it is cloudy tomorrow: the eclipse will give me an excuse to go to a stone circle. Of course, I could go there any time, and I drive past them frequently. I also take groups of tourists round. But I rarely go on my own account, for the fun of it – there’s always work to go to or studying to be done or admin for various other things I’m involved in.

At the Ring of Brodgar I will also hang out with some pals – always a nice thing to do (and likewise, probably something I don’t do enough).

It will give me the perfect opportunity to wear my eclipse ring AND my Ring of Brodgar ring.

Above all, I will be thinking of the people who built the stone circle thousands of years ago and wondering what they would have made of an eclipse. Was it the Gods speaking to them? Was it a punishment or a boon? Was it a sign of a good or bad year ahead? Either way, we will stand in the footsteps of our ancestors and look at the sky and wonder!

Enjoy the spectacle and stay safe.

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